Ikhide

Father, Fighter, Lover

Month: April, 2015

Ikhide loves Pablo Neruda

Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart is the most romantic novel ever in the history of mankind. Tears run down my cheeks whenever I remember the only love scene in the book. It lasted exactly 30 seconds from when Okonkwo swept his bride onto his arms to the glorious end when he growled, “Oya go cook peppersoup or I will use your skull to drink palmwine!” Achebe’s famous words are engraved in the canon of great literature: “Even in those days, Okonkwo was a man of few words.”

That was before the white man came with his wahala, declaring African men savages because they don’t coo “I love you!” to their wives. In Chukwuemeka Ike’s The Potter’s Wheel the character Obu declares his love for Margaret by giving her six plump sautéed delicacies he had caught under a lamp post. They were thoughtfully wrapped in the sports section of the Daily Times.  You should have seen the “I go love you die, Obu!” look in Margaret’s eyes. Did the white man see great romance here? Nope! He observed two savages initiating a courtship with six plump termites. Obu and Margaret had no idea they were eating termites. This was in 1946. We are the conquered; everything gets lost in the narrative. And Achebe reminds us: Until the lions gets their own historian, the hunt will always glorify he hunter.

The British introduced subversion into our marriages by introducing weird customs into our bedroom; foreplay, after-play, flowers, breakfast in bed, dinner by candle light, Pablo Neruda, climax, G-spot, G-string, blah! Blah! Blah!  It is a wonder African men can still go to farm, after all these exhausting activities (most of which cost lots of money by the way.) When the Americans came they laughed at us for being British because we only knew the missionary position, what the British imported here along with Marmalade and toothpaste. The things our women now make us do are unprintable in a family newspaper like Facebook. They even have books for making love (yes, making love, God forbid you will call it sex or nacking, that is the last time your African ass will ever get any).

My friend Mazi Uche married Nkechi, a delightful 28-year old medical doctor with a PhD in brain surgery from the University of Lagos. My friend is a 56-year old cab driver living life subversively in Baltimore praying everyday not to be shot by his clients.  Nkechi was fond of calling him “Oshodi! one way!” It turns out that Nkechi like many unreasonable young people, prefers a methodical approach to love making while Mazi Uche prefers to have sex one way, same way, and very quick, hence the pejorative,  “Oshodi! One Way!” Nkechi likes breakfast in bed, a bottle of Moet champagne cooling its heels in ice, and Adele crooning lustily in the bedroom. She hates the great love ballads of Osita Osadebe. Mazi Uche believes anyone that does not like Osita Osadebe is a cave woman. I agree.

Nkechi loves long baths in something called a jacuzzi, preferably together, followed by a book reading in bed. Nkechi loves Pablo Neruda and loves to be slowly fed freshly baked Godiva chocolates in bed; not the ones you buy at a 7-11 convenience store, no, freshly baked Godiva chocolates. You can buy them $500 a pound on sale. She also likes whipped cream; don’t ask what she does with that, tufiakwa! After all of this, if she does not have a headache, you may negotiate next steps. Unfortunately, Mazi Uche hates baths, certainly not with another person. Mazi Uche is a real chief; a titled chief must not be seen naked by a mere mortal. That is why he refuses sex in the daytime; it is taboo according to the gods of his ancestors.

Mazi Uche and Nkechi are now divorced – irreconcilable differences. Nkechi is now happily married to a 32 year old American pediatrician, a fawning woman wrapper who treats her like a goddess. We hear they take baths together and he reads Neruda to her nonstop, tufiakwa! His lovemaking lasts longer than that of a randy elephant, we hear. And he does magical things with whipped cream. Mazi Uche is suing Nkechi for all the money he paid for her medical degrees while he was slaving in America, driving cabs and fully expecting to be shot by a thug looking for money to buy chocolates and whipped cream for his baby mama.

The women in my life are allergic to suffering. The other day we had to take our teenage daughter Ominira’s late model truck to the shop for servicing. I timidly suggested that she take Anikeleja, my 20-year old van to school. Come see drama, “You hate me daddy! You don’t love me!!  You want me to go WHERE in THAT THING??? What IF a boy sees ME in THAT THING???” (Pretty princess’s cute arms sweep with unspeakable disgust in the direction of THAT THING before princess faints!). We are now in psychological therapy to address the post-traumatic stress disorder occasioned by my poor judgment. I do love my van; you have to push it to start it and it leaks everywhere like an old man in diapers.  But I love my van. Love is blind.

Please talk about it or else…

Americans talk about everything at every opportunity. They talk during meals and sex. I once had an apartment below a young American couple who liked to make love and talk at the same time. Loudly. I was miserable whenever I had to leave the apartment to go to work, so entertaining. Nigerians are simple people; the British taught us to keep mum during sex. That is what the missionary position is for. I don’t know why the British call it the missionary position; they should simply call it the (only) position since well it is the (only) position they know about. Maybe the Americans invented the missionary position. They have names for everything because they talk a lot. The British are famously tight-lipped about everything. The story is told about the British couple enjoying their annual one round of sex in the missionary position when the woman began to squirm with enjoyment. The man is said to have stopped work and curtly declared: “Dear, you should not enjoy this!”

I love watching American TV food channels. They talk to food as if they are making love to it. They close their eyes as the food meets their palate and they make sensual noises as if they are climaxing and then the storytelling begins. By the time they are finished talking the food is cold. Americans love to talk about their houses. If they like your house they will talk about it all day. If a Nigerian likes your house you will not hear about if from the green-eyed monster. Bad belle jealousy will not let her say anything nice about your house. She will keep quiet even if it kills her. Meanwhile she will start memorizing everything she likes in your house. The next time you visit her house you will think you accidentally stepped into your own house. She would have faithfully reproduced everything in your house down to the bathroom towels. You will of course not say a word even though you are dying to tell the asshole how much you appreciate her perfidy. You are a Nigerian.

I have been loitering around Americans for many decades and I have mastered everything about them down to their accent. So, let me offer a few tips for acculturating in Babylon. Say you have a dinner date with an American lady at her house. This is an opportunity to show that you are not an ajepako half-human, you know those pretend-people who brush their teeth with twigs and hold cutlery like mass murderers. Before you leave your house, brush your teeth vigorously with toothpaste, and buy breath mints because you are going to be talking. If she offers you breath mints, my brother please take it. She will offer you wine. This is not palmwine. You can tell that it is not because unlike great palmwine, it tastes like pond water. She will offer you the wine and watch you intently like a white anthropologist watching a mountain gorilla. Do not simply swallow, make a face and keep quiet. Worse do not sip a large quantity and spit on her white carpet in honor of your wretched ancestors. You are not coming back; the police will make sure of that. Sip a little, close your eyes as if you are suffering from great sex, and then say something absolutely inane like: “This is a great well aged red. Fruity, bold, with a hint of nuttiness. Sensual, like you. You have great taste in wine!” Man, she will like that, an African who knows wine; you are getting some (sex!) tonight!

You are getting close to the bedroom for the ultimate test. But first the food is coming. If the lady has cooked a meal for you, this is a good sign. She must really like you. Please do not wolf the food down like a ravenous subsistence farmer eager to go back to his yam tendrils. Be inquisitive. Ask questions. Sometimes, the American, eager to impress you, will do some research about Nigerian food and cook you egusi. You are going to be miserable all night, but this is nice of her. Ask questions that show you really care: “Wow! This is sooo nice! Was it your idea to put chunks of carrots in the egusi sauce?” Please do not call it “soup” bush man! If the rice is half-cooked, compliment her on her creativity. “I like the texture of the rice. The almonds and the peanuts give the rice a robust nutty feel.” Abeg do not say groundnuts! Drink some more red wine. You will need it.

If she offers you sex, whatever you do, don’t duplicate the only one sex scene in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. It lasted one minute and ended with the memorable line; “Even in those days Okonkwo was a man of few words.” If you behave like Okonkwo, you are not coming back to her bedroom, unless to clean it. Make love for at least two minutes. And talk a lot of nonsense. Please. Oya go for it, tiger.

 

Lost in America: At the bookstore

America. I am at the bookstore shopping for a gift to celebrate a friend’s retirement. She must leave with a piece of me. Procrastination dropped the day on me without warning and I had to go to a bookstore to buy a book. Who does that anymore? I will give my friend Teju Cole’s new book, Open City. She loves New York, classical music, art, museums, classical music, pretty people, gourmet food and wines, and stuff like that. She will like Open City, there’s lots of that in the book.

At the bookstore. There are computer monitors everywhere, you can look up who and what you want and you can even print a map that takes you to the book inside the store. I don’t like going to bookstores. I feel sheepish inside this huge bookstore. I ignore the computers; I did not come to the bookstore to play with computers. Customer Service. I tell a young man, I guess I can look it up myself, but maybe you can help me, do you have Teju Cole’s book, Open City? He looks at me with practiced faux enthusiasm, Oh sure, glad to help! I spell T-E-J-U C-O-L-E and tell him proudly, he wrote Open City. The clerk looks it up on the computer, nope, it is not in stock, I can order it for you. Nope, I say, not unless you can postpone my friend’s retirement party. What about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie? I spell A-D-I-C-H-I-E. I do not spell the other names. He divines his computer again. Ah yes, Purple Hibiscus, Half of a Yellow Sun, The Thing Around Your Neck. He says they are in Fiction upstairs. Wow, Fiction upstairs! Not in “Black American,” not in “African-Caribbean,” not in the back of the bookstore, gathering dust with losers. Nice.

I decline the young man’s offer to take me to Fiction, and thank him profusely, nice man. I will go to Fiction upstairs, browse around and pick out something nice for my friend. At Fiction, I start with G for Petina Gappah, yes, my friend will like An Elegy for Easterly, I love that book, I must have given away half a dozen to grateful readers. There is no Gappah, too bad. This is why bookstores are dying all over America, who needs this? My laptop Cecelia always has these books, point, click and pay, and they show up in three days, plus free shipping.

I scoot over to the A section, A for Adichie, Chris Abani, Chinua Achebe, Uwem Akpan. Abani’s Graceland is there posing with attitude, no, I don’t want my friend to attempt suicide with such a depressing book. Akpan is there with Say You’re One of Them, no, I don’t want my friend to attempt suicide with such a depressing book. All of Achebe’s books are there; Arrow of God, Things Fall Apart, etc. No more Achebe, please, we have skyscrapers in Africa now and we eat ice cream, she won’t like reading about cute yam farmers. I settle on Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun. I also grab a copy of Pablo Neruda’s 100 Love Sonnets; don’t ask me why, it is a long delightful story.

The cashier’s line is a pleasant line, summer is all lined up. A pretty lady behind me keeps smiling at me, I wonder what is wrong. There is a mother-daughter couple in front of me; they seem to thoroughly love being with each other and my heart yearns for my daughters and sons. I wonder where they are, what they are doing. My turn. A cashier with auburn tresses calls me up to the counter. I am a member of the store’s club; I give her my identification number so she can shave off a few pennies from my bill. She pulls up my information and pronounces my name the way my ancestors like it. Her tongue wraps around my father’s name like she owns it and she goes, Mr. Ikheloa! Wow! Lovely! I beam with pride at the mention of my name in all the right places, and I compliment her, Impressive!

She squirms happily like a puppy offered treats. Did I pronounce it right? Yes, thanks! Good! When I was young I had an impossible to pronounce name also so I take care to pronounce impossible to pronounce names correctly. Thanks, I gush with gratitude. From West Africa? Yes, I cry with pleasure, I am going to fall in love with this soulmate! Which country? Nigeria, I say with pride. I passed through Nigeria once. Really? Which Airport? Lagos. Her eyes lower into pretty ice picks, I was going to Senegal and the Congo. They stole my luggage in Lagos, it was awful. She spits out the dagger-words sweetly. Her pain stabs my anxieties. I deflect. How was Senegal? It was okay, a bit too sleek, I liked the Congo. The Congo was innocent. Innocent! Oh Africa! I flee with my bag of books. Memo to self: Please begin to catalogue all the losses you have endured everywhere in America. Beginning with this bookstore.

 

Yesterday’s tales: Of coaches and fathers

Dusk in America. I am watching our son’s team practice American football on a fall evening. There are about two dozen 8 – 11 year olds prancing around the coaches. The coaches stand around, hands in their pockets watching these lion cubs gamboling around trying to make plays for tomorrow’s playoff game. They are called the Bears but they look more like lion cubs fearlessly prowling and prancing in the shadows of their coaches, aging lions. In their helmets, the boys look like little masquerades, preening, beating their chests, talking trash to imaginary opponents. Our son Fearless Fang loves football. He probably prefers the game to going to school or doing something like the dishes. Only the threat of being banned from football practice keeps his dark side still. He does his homework because he needs to play the game.

The head coach sports a Bear Bryant hat; dark, and brooding, he is a cross between Bear Bryant and Obi Okonkwo of Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. Our son lives in awe of his coaches. We have never been late to a football practice; we don’t know the consequences because our son refuses to find out. My favorite image is of the head coach taking my son aside and giving him a stern lecture about a technique he hadn’t mastered. The look of respect on my son’s face was priceless. One game that they were supposed to win, at half time they trailed the visiting team 0-12. He took all the boys to the woods. The boys came back fuming angry; they tore into their opponents something ugly and won with a 20-point spread. Later, I asked my son what happened in the woods. He simply said: “Coach wasn’t happy, coach wasn’t happy, daddy!”

 Sunday morning in America, the day after Halloween night, spent scavenging for candy. I am alone with many children, several not our own. It is a United Nations of Children. America is browning. The world is browning. Voices are merging into new languages sautéed from the accents of remote ancestral lands. Tomorrow is Monday, there is no school, smart move, these children are going to be eating candy all day and you don’t want to be their teacher tomorrow; you’d be too busy peeling hyper kids off the walls. I am alone with these children, my spouse having gleefully fled for work; I could see her skid marks on our carpet as she enjoined me to have a great day with children suffering from sugar intoxication.

Fearless Fang, our ten-year old comes into the bedroom, and nudges me awake. He wants scrambled eggs, with onions and tomatoes for him, his siblings and his friends. He wants to make the eggs himself. At the age of ten! He would need to be supervised. I half joke to him that at his age in Africa I was already a general in the Nigerian Civil War. But this is America, why would a 10-year old be subjected to the trauma of actually making a hot meal? I shudder at the thought of our little bear setting our house on fire, inviting the drama of fire engines, ambulances, incredulous neighbors and the news media gawking at the ruins of our home – and my atrocious judgment. Who needs the stress? I get up and assure him that daddy is going to make eggs for everybody and of course Fearless Fang is welcome to supervise daddy. Fearless Fang deserves a good breakfast this morning. Yesterday, his football team had the visiting team for breakfast, Yum Yum.

I am making breakfast to order for Fearless Fang, his friends and siblings. Just like the warrior my son wants it. Just like my dad used to make it for us. My dad’s spirit fills the room. I am channeling my dad. He is making scrambled eggs his way. He is humming Jim Reeves’ Welcome to My World. First, he cuts up fresh tomatoes from his garden (my dad always had a garden, no matter his accommodations; he could grow vegetables in his bedroom if he had to), Then he cuts up onions. He breaks the eggs, adds salt and pepper, whips them into a nice emulsion, adds condensed milk (to give them a fluffy shiny look, he claims). He sautés the tomatoes and onions in groundnut oil and after a while pours in the eggs. The result is always scrumptious.

America. Necessity teaches us several lessons. I can cook now. I can care for as many children as the day throws in my face. It is called survival. My father taught me how to fight back and thrive. My father taught me how to deal with defeat – with song, dance, poetry and the stoicism of our ancestors. My father was my coach. Sometimes when I didn’t have the physical fight in me he taught me to charm my way through hell. I see my father in my son’s football coaches. They demand all that my son can give and more. And they do it lovingly albeit sternly. I shall never forget the look of respect and fear in my son’s eyes as a coach confronted him for forgetting a piece of his uniform at home. He has not forgotten anything ever since. We need men in our lives. I salute my father. I salute my son’s coaches.

For “Allah Dey” Odunewu: Ikhide, Meet Chekhov

I once wrote some nonsense on Facebook right after my second glass of cognac, the sort that comes easily to me after ogogoro has started making me see tomorrow. It went something like this: “America. Night. The trees lean on the road, limbs gnarled with need, pawing weary cars, leaves whispering, ‘Oga sah! Anything for the boys?’” An impressed white writer who happened to be at home drinking also, asked me: “There is something Chekhovian in your use of language. Do you write short stories and, if so, was Chekhov an influence?”

I had heard of Chekhov, a great white writer who wrote many great things. All African writers are on first name basis with him including those who have never read Chinua Achebe. Over the years I have acquired Chekhov’s books hoping to bone up on them in case I get that all important call from The New Yorker for an interview in which a great legendary writer, say Salman Rushdie, would ask me questions on the post-Chekhovian influences in my profound works. Unfortunately, each time I try to read Chekhov; I fall asleep on his book. It is an embarrassing medical issue. Ben Okri’s books fill me with wonder also, that there are human beings on earth that have managed to finish one, just one of his books. I have all his books and I can assure the world that I have fallen asleep on every one of them, beginning with The Famished Road. Okri is a genius but many of his books are quite simply unreadable. I said it, sue me. Life is too short to be miserable just because you want to brag that you have read Okri.

So when the writer asked me about Chekhov’s influence on my works, I panicked. This man was going to disgrace me today on Facebook with over one thousand pair of amebo eyes watching gleefully. Before I could google Chekhov, my good friends, the writers Olu Oguibe and Obiwu Iwuanyanwu (Obiwu) rushed to my rescue. Well, sort of. They assured him that Ikhide would not know Chekhov from Czechoslovakia, that indeed my drunken words were influenced by ogogoro – my number one influence in life. I am not making this up, here is word for word what Obiwu wrote: “Now dem dey say na Chekhov dey make Ikhide write as im dey write! But no, no be Chekhov at all. Na Chike Offia im next door neighbor for Okpanam dey influence Ikhide im grammar! “Chike Offia! Right after that hurtful but awfully accurate analysis of the degree of my vacuity, my white friend immediately unfriended me on Facebook. Now, thanks to my friends Oguibe and Obiwu, I have no white friends on Facebook. With bad belle friends like those who needs enemies?

It took me exactly two weeks to finish reading Teju Cole’s Open City because every sentence required a visit to Google, all these dead white people that have written wondrous things and played heavenly music. My nightmare is that I will one day meet Teju Cole AND debate him on Alexander Solzhenitsyn and something called the Gulag Archipelago, gulp!

Whenever I am going anywhere stressful, like work, I always take Chinua Achebe’s Thing Fall Apart with me, don’t ask me why. One day, at the hospital, this doctor glances at the book and said casually, “I have read that book!” I was so excited, I almost wept with gratitude, why, a Westerner has actually read the greatest book ever written by a human being who happens to be African. I don’t know any white writer who can name an African writer besides Chinua Achebe. We should call them shallow insular illiterates. I am now studying important dead white writers because this newspaper would like to interview me (yes, I am a superstar, may your bad belle not kill you). If they ask me to talk about my literary influences and I respond truthfully, it would be full of nonsense: “Well, my most powerful literary influence is Achebe, followed by James Ngugi (that’s what we called him before he got confused and started writing in Swahili!). Also, my uncle Elephant taught me about the power of words especially after a very tall tumbler of apeteshie. My mother Izuma, Razor Blade of Nigeria taught me how a woman with the right words can get a tall strapping powerful man like my Papalolo flying across a room whimpering with hurt. And Alade Odunewu (Allah Dey!) and Andy Akporugo and the comics. Fearless Fang used to ride his elephant in Boom. There was Rabon Zollo and Lance Spearman And of course all the njakiri poets I have hung out with on the rugged streets of my village, prattle prattle prattle!” I can just imagine the pen in the interviewer’s hand freezing stiff with shock, her face going, “You are shitting me! YOU don’t know Chekhov?” Now, dear oyinbo interviewer, do you know “Allah de” Odumewu? Nonsense.