Nkemjika – What I now was

“Nkemjika! Nkemjika!”

It was a voice that sounded familiar yet strange at the same time.

And it called from within, not without. If’anachọ had found space inside of me. I do not know how he got in there; I don’t recall making space for him but somehow, he found a way.

Even though Ugonna, Maduemesi and Izuchukwu had prepared me to find me, they had also left their marks on me. I knew who I was, I knew what I was but what I wanted or thought I wanted was tainted by what I had.

“I am here,” I replied.

But when I looked at him, I saw the outline of Ugonna, Maduemesi and Izuchukwu.

I did not think If’anachọ was what I was looking for.

He spoke plainly but I heard their voices.

He looked carefully but I saw their eyes.

He sat beside me quietly but I heard their noise.

“Is there something about me you do not like?” His calm eyes bore deeply into mine. I looked at him again, thoughtfully, this time. I kept my gaze steady; he neither blinked nor flinched. The longer I stared at him, the less I saw the vestiges of Ugonna, Maduemesi and Izuchukwu in him.

“Nkemjika,” he called again.

“If’anachọ, I responded.

“I am not them. I am me. See me for who I am. I found space in you even when you did not make it and I fitted in. Unless you permit me, I will not take of you nor bend you. Who you are, what you are, is all I want; all I need.”

If’anachọ, was the Looking that found me.

Not on a pedestal, not in the shadows, not waiting for failure to be my success.

Looking found me and filled a space it found in me.

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Opportunity

Opportunity knocked,

Sat,

Got into bed with me.

I rolled away,

Waiting

For Opportunity to touch me

Tap me

Roll me back round and

Give of herself to me.

But

Opportunity didn’t.

She saw me asleep

And Opportunity doesn’t wait for you to be awake.

So she got up and left.

I got up and ran

After her

But Opportunity was gone.

Opportunity waits for no-one.

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [V]

The group my mother joined called themselves ‘The Salvation of The Seven-Towns-Bound-By-One-Blood.’

I’m not sure I knew what it was they were salvaging; my mother said they weren’t salvagers but savers. Either way, it made no sense to me. What exactly did they want to save or salvage of the Seven Towns? What I did know and was sure of was that I hated that group. I hated all the times my mother dragged me to their many meetings where people were constantly putting hands on my head, mumbling or in some cases, shouting incomprehensible chants. When they weren’t shouting on people’s heads, they were going around the Seven Towns, beating their metal drums fashioned out of metal discarded by ọku,  the head metal worker, ( they claimed wooden drums were of the devil) denouncing everything and anything.

If you wore beads in your hair, it was of the devil.

If you wore them on your waist, it was of the devil.

If you painted designs on your skin with uli, it was of the devil.

All the rituals and preparations preceding the Week of the Remembrance were of the devil. Every established precept and principle of the Seven Towns were of the devil; even the name – Seven-Towns-Bound-By-One-Blood – was of the devil!

“Who is this devil, they speak of, Nnem, and why is everything of him?” I inquired of my mother on one of the mornings when she was getting us ready to go to one of their many dreaded meetings.

My mother muttered something under her breath that sounded like ‘etish’ and ‘delvish’.

I didn’t ask again.

Not because her face had closed up tight like my father’s fist when he gets angry but because I didn’t really care to know, if my own mother wasn’t willing to tell me.

From the day my mother joined that group till my seventh year, I wasn’t allowed to go out unaccompanied. Even when I wanted to go out and play with Udoka, Afam and my fellow age-graders, my mother will insist that Ekejiuba, the errand boy accompany me.

“Uwam, leave this child alone to run free like her mates; nothing will happen to her.”

My mother pursed her lips at my father’s admonishings and made no reply. She never made any reply when it came to the issue of my ‘safety’. What she was afraid of, only she knew. As for harm befalling children, in any of the Seven Towns, it was almost unheard of. Falls from trees, scraped knees and elbows, soldier ant bites and bee stings? Yes, but harm from another human?  Very, very, rare.

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What I was not [II]

It’s funny how If’anachọ appeared that year I got to know myself. With a direct gaze, hands held out,  palms facing upwards, clean and empty, I was tempted, heavily tempted but three thoughts dropped into my mind, kpọm, kpọm, kpọm, as heavy and loud as the rocks Somto drops into the overflowing stream to dam it.

Thought One: Did I need If’anachọ?

Thought Two: Really need him?

Thought Three: Was I incomplete unless I had him?

To all three thoughts and questions, my answer was no.

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“You know my name means ‘that which we/they are looking for/seeking’ ” He carried on gazing directly into my eyes.

I allowed a ghost of a smile to travel across my lips in reply.

His direct gaze remained on me a little longer, steady and unblinking, in expectation of a reply.

He got none.

This was me.

Nkemji-ka – ‘the one I have is greater’.

+++

Why I failed to embrace my name before now, I am yet to know.

Why I allowed myself to dance in the shadows, be a polished trophy and wait for other people’s failures, I am yet to understand.

Be that as it may, if If’anachọ thinks he is what they or we are seeking then he needs to go find where the seekers are. I will not adjust myself for him to fit in. I will not twist, bend or fold, just so that I can create a space for him. If he really thinks he is indeed what ‘they/we’ are looking for, let him bend, twist, fold, contort even and fit himself to me… if he can find the space.

+++

I may not have known myself; embraced my name previously, but now I have.

I am no longer looking but if looking finds me and finds space in me, so be it.