America, America Okafor Emmanuel Tochukwu
The night before I leave Onitsha for Lagos, I tell Mama that I now live with a man. Full-time. As a married couple, as man-and-man. We sit on the faded red and black chequered cushion, in the spacious parlour that is home to chirping crickets at night, and geckoes and spiders by daytime. With her face as gloomy as a faithful at a funeral mass, Mama wraps her arms around her, pressing her fists into her sides. Like she did when the news of Papa’s death swept in through our front door.
“A man. You. Live with a man. Isi gini?” Her words emerge one after the other like a four-year-old counting numbers.
Perhaps, I should also tell her that she owes me a certain kind of gratitude for coming out the way I just did—boldly, without mincing my words, without having to send revelatory letters from across the Nigerian border. Doesn’t she know that her son could spend fourteen years in prison for this? I may never get to see the four walls of a Nigerian prison or even get close as to smelling the foul stench of that sort of place. What if I am stoned to death or burnt at a stake for committing the crime of loving a man? But Mama shifts in her seat as if shifting will make what I had said settle well in her stomach. She kisses her teeth and then bites her lip. Her face loses its glow sigh by sigh, breath by breath, to the moonlit room. Somehow, I can feel her shock. Even the tremor in her last words had lisped pain. The pain of robbed grandmother-hood?
“I love him, Mama. Oh, I really do. I only wish I had told you this earlier when Papa was still with us.”
A long silence falls between us. I watch her eyes roll deep into their sockets, deep into thoughts. They seem to peer into blank nothingness, drooping upon the formless shadows hanging on the walls. Our breaths grow louder, louder than the insects scraping about us. I look away. Then, again, I let my gaze rest on her. Pretense, false life, is not my thing. She deserves to know. Everyone deserves to know. Even Papa in his grave.
“Bode and I plan to adopt a child. But, given the Nigerian condition, it won’t be possible. So we will be moving to America next month. There will still be grandchildren, you know. You can always visit us in America.”
“Mama, what about America?”
“It is America.”
“It is America. Yes. America. You have been infected with their disease. Nwa’m, ifugo ihe ndi ocha n’eme? They give you not only their education, but also their disease.”
“Mama, I’m not infected with any disease.” I also want to tell her that I never had a thing for girls. My eyes and heart have always been for boys.
“Look. Your father and I made a mistake. You should never have gone to America. Eish! America! Ndi ahu ocha egbuolam o.”
She sinks to the floor, outstretches her legs, and lets tears stream down her aging cheeks.
Sleep refuses to come. Restless, with my thoughts flying off in many tangential directions, I roll from one edge of my bed to the other. I try to summon my father just long enough to hear whatever he has to say. I see only his head. Not at once. His hair, gleaming with gray wisps, comes first. Then his brown, half-open eyes. And his nose, aquiline and pinched by the corners, appears before his quivering lips do. Finally, flesh comes—wrinkled, furrowed, lined. But no ears.
“My son, why do you bring us shame?” Papa’s voice is still the way I remember it—gentle, full of emotion, but firm.
“I love him, Papa. I love Bode.”
Papa talks while I talk. He seems not to listen.
“You bring me grief. More grief. My body turns in my coffin, in that sad, lonely grave. Where can my spirit wander to for joy? You have brought this illness from America. Now, you must return it.”
“Papa, wait. Hold on a second. Let me tell you about Bode, the love of my life.”
“Return it, I say.”
Papa disappears feature by feature, exactly the same way he came. I clutch my pillow to my chest, fighting back threatening tears, and shutting my eyes tight as if shutting them will make the hurt of rejection light and bearable. At last, sleep takes me away. In my sleep, I find myself wide-awake, and Bode sprawls naked by my side, crying. I promise him everything will be alright, that I will leave home much early before sunrise and when I get to Lagos, I will take the soonest available flight to America before news circulates. Bode does not stop crying. I take him into my arms and love him the only way I know how to.
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