Archive for December, 2011


Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 17)

                              Dad’s “hit and run” tactics with Mama

Mama often tends, in every discussion, to wander off into all sorts of  by-paths, hardly germane to the main topic of discussion. As old age developed, both her mind and body grew quiescent, she became less and less focused. “Why was Mama insisting I should not forget to take my toothbrush and even asked what color my tongue was?”

   Mama is now in retirement; she has allowed her once fertile brain to grow feeble through desuetude. When my two half-sisters were still around, I had the excuse to remain idle. I lacked fortitude. After leaving secondary school, I got nowhere through occasional and desultory efforts to find a job. Mama often reproved me for lack of effort.

“You always say you will do this and that, but when it comes to the crunch, you always do nothing.”

“Mama don’t get me wrong. This time, I promise to be as resolute as an Old Testament Prophet!” I re-assured Mama.

I could realize that Mama was in a really bad mood that morning. In a low guttural growl she said:

“Just make sure you don’t follow the footsteps of your Dad.”

   I knew Dad left Mama for another woman when I was only two. He returned to Mama’s fold when he got broke and I was six. He left Mama again for a younger woman when I was thirteen, returned when I was 21, left when I was 22 and came back when I was 24. It was indeed irritating to see Dad hold on to Mama during hard times, but would have no conscience jettisoning Mama for other women once fortune begun to smile upon him.

There are some women who will forgive a husband his sexual peccadilloes as long as he cherishes and provides for the family. Mama was that sort of woman. Dad was an elderly gentleman; he was old-fashioned, but often tended to regard pretty young females as delectable young ladies.

   Even when Dad was still with Mama, he would leave home for days without calling back to ask of our well-being. I remember once Dad left home for days and never returned. We were running short of money and I suggested to Mama that we break open Dad’s suitcase and forge his signature in order to go withdraw money for our upkeep. At first, Mama hesitated, then gave me the green light after she was convinced Dad was not coming back soon.

 To be continued…

Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 16)

                                          A Dollar Short 

I was lounging one Sunday afternoon at home with Mama when I heard a knock at the door. It was a timid, hesitant knock. When I opened the door, I looked down to see a pair of big brown eyes staring up at me. There stood a frail little girl of about ten. She told me with all the courage and determination her little heart could muster, that she was selling fruit candies, it was a masterful presentation—several flavors, a special deal and only one dollar per pack. How could anyone refuse? Finally, with a big smile and ever so—politely, she asked me to buy. And I wanted to. Oh how I wanted to! Except for one thing, I didn’t have one dollar! I asked Mama if she had money to buy me a pack or two. She hadn’t money either. We were so embarrassed. Here was Mama—a mother, a college graduate, gainfully employed—and yet couldn’t have a dollar or two to her name!

Naturally, I couldn’t tell this to the little girl with big brown eyes. So I did the next best thing. I lied to her. I said “Thanks, but we’ve already bought fruit candies this year. And we’ve still got plenty stack in our house. That simply wasn’t true. But it was the only thing I could think of to get us off the hook. And it did wonderfully!

 The little girl said, “That’s okay please. Thank you very much.” And with that, she turned around and went on her way. I stared after her for what seemed like a very long time. Finally, I closed the door behind me and, leaning my back to it, cried out, we don’t want to live like this anymore, we’ve had it with being broke, and we’ve had it with lying. We’ll never be embarrassed again by not having any money in our pockets! 

    It was 4.a.m. one day in August. Mama was already awake. It was an unusually cold day in such a month. I watched Mama as she sat in solemn silence in a dull corner of the living room.

“Ayoma!” Mama called.

“Where are you?”

“Come over here my boy!”

“Have you packed your suitcase yet?”

“Don’t forget to pack your toothbrush”

“Mama I’m packing my suitcase, but I’m not taking my toothbrush along.”

“You would need it my boy,” Mama assured me.

“What color is your tongue?”

“Mama, I’m not getting what you are up to?”

      To be continued…

Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 15)

                                The Inquisitive One

I continued:

“He was mean and violent when he had too much. He walked out early in marriage but would visit Mama once or twice a year—drunken and demanding sexual satisfaction. By the time his visits ceased, Mama had another baby—who died during birth—and a broken jaw from his blows.”

Digressing from the topic, I wanted to know more about what happened to Xiao-he in the then war-ravaged Sierra Leone. 

 “So were you aware there was an on-going civil war in that country before going there?”

“Yes. Before I left for that country, the news coming from those three countries—Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia—all in West Africa wasn’t good. I’d been doing business with all these three countries until they became a scene of fierce waves of internecine bloodshed…”

“And you still decided to go there?”

“Yes.”

“So you weren’t afraid of being killed?”

“I was, but I knew as a foreigner, I would probably not be targeted.”

“So what exactly happened?”

“I arrived at that village at half past noon, after a five-hour drive through Sierra Leone’s axle-breaking roads. It was only about 100 kilometers away from the capital—Freetown—where I started my journey. I was gripped by anxious thoughts that often rattled me to tears on the five-hour long commute to that village. I couldn’t anticipate what awaited me over there. Upon arrival, I quickly noticed how the village had turned into a corpse-littered wasteland with derelict buildings and furrowed alleys.

” I…”

Was it your first time there.” I interrupted.

“No. I’d been there together with my business partner on three other occasions.

“As I…”

Were you traveling alone?” I interrupted again.

“No, I was with…”

“Another Chinese?” I interrupted him again.

At this time, Xiao-he became impatient with my interruptions and cautioned me.

 To be continued…

Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 14)

                                          Children For Sale

“I don’t care. Whatever their reasons, I tend to be a bit leery of them, they need to find ways of breaking through the rut they are in and educate the masses.” Xiao-he insisted.

“But the masses are leaving in droves to Europe and elsewhere due to the unending civil wars—I’m one of them.”

Lao-he, there wasn’t any civil war in your country, but why did you still choose to leave?”

“You are right. I left because I wanted to have something. So that I won’t have to ask anybody for anything like I did when I was a child.”  

“You wanted to have what?

Something. I mean something” I answered nervously as if his question bothered me.

Gulping back my tears and trying to smile, I continued:

“There came a time when Mama became unemployed and offered to sell us in desperation and anger after not being able to feed us anything but watery milk for two days. She wrote ‘children for sale’ with black paint on the white iron gate that opens into our residence.

“Why did she had to write those contemptible words with black paint?” Xiao-he inquired.

“It was because that iron gate was painted white.” I answered without hesitation.

“What else was painted white in your house.”

“The wall surrounding the whole house was.”

 “So what do you mean by that question?”

“Nothing.” Xiao-he replied.

“Are you suggesting the iron gate and the walls should have been painted black?”

“No. Not all.”

“I was never drawn to going abroad just to become rich. I was driven to leave Africa by the pain of the past. ‘I’m going to work hard, Mama, so I that I can have something.’ I told Mama when I decided to leave’”

“What are you talking about?” Xiao-he asked, interrupting my speech.

 “Growing up, Mama and my other two half-sisters lived in one room under a leaky zinc roof between four brick walls. Every night, before we go to bed, we had to first place empty Milo cans in strategic locations to catch leaks when it rained…”

“Where was your Dad then?” Xiao-he interrupted again.

“Dad was a drunkard.” I replied quickly.

I continued…

 To be continued…

Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 13)

                             A  Political  Discourse                                                                         

Xiao-he did n’t want to continue the story of the blind boy, despite my insistence. It was, as if, he had made a pact with the boy soldiers never “to tell”.

 Wanting to know more about Xiao-he’s take concerning Africa’s plight, I insisted on continuing the political discussion.

“But you can’t just lump the politicians and the intellectuals together.”

“Why can’t I do so?” He retorted.

“At least you do know the plight of these intellectuals. Their voices are not often being heard. Moreover, some even become targets of these very politicians.”

“Yes, I know. But there are also some of these intellectuals who run after every caller and bend in the direction of every political wind.”

Xiao-he, I don’t understand what you mean by some intellectuals running after every caller and bending in the direction of every political wind.”

 A moment of silence then descended upon us. I knew Xiao-he was no longer interested in this discussion. He wanted a change of topic, I guessed. I felt the same too. After quietly taking a few sips of brandy, he became garrulous once again. I often disliked his idea of always carrying along an alcoholic drink where ever he went. He drank in every occasion—in both his sad moments and happy moments.  

“But I can’t also absolve some of the journalists from blame.” He said with a twisted face and widely opened eyes.

To Xiao-he, the nature of the relationship between the journalists, the politicians, and the intellectuals in Africa could be likened to what happens to three porcupines when they’re cold in winter—they get as close as possible to one another to keep warm—but not too close so that they don’t  hurt one another. His reason was that, even though some of them did concentrate on Africa’s capacity for greatness, a good majority of them rather concentrated on blaming outsiders—especially Western ones—and colonialism—for Africa’s problems. He thought that often lead to they shooting themselves in the foot?”

I countered by making him realize the fact that most of these are actually a stranded intelligentsia. They’ve been trapped in backwaters. They often find themselves reduced to poverty and rustic irrelevance. If they refuse to sing the song of those in power, they aren’t going to survive.”

To be continued…

Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 12)

                             The blind boy–Africa 

“I do recollect how one of those drugged-up minors specializing in amputation shoved a short gun in my face and said: ‘You either let us take away this boy to slaughter or you both get perished.’ The little blind boy was too young to understand what was going on. However, after hearing these boy soldiers shout and shoot into the air he knew something had gone wrong. The boy became terribly frightened and as a result held me so tight.”

Xiao-he, what had been your mission there at that village, and how did you find this boy?” I interrupted.

“I had gone there to look for my business partner who had gone there to bring his family back to the capital. Before he left, he told his private secretary that he’d be back the following day. He didn’t return after five days. As I had very important issues to discuss with him, I decided to go find him at the village.”

Xiao-he, how did you know he was still in that village?”

“I couldn’t have known without first going there to find out.”

“But you could have called him on his mobile phone to find out?”

“It wasn’t possible to reach him by phone.”

“Why wasn’t that possible?”

“You’re talking about Africa aren’t you?”

“Yes, I know. But Africa is a continent—not a country. There are other parts of the continent that are relatively developed.”

“Yes, I know. But the overwhelming number of poor and underdeveloped countries situated in that continent alone makes it impossible for us, the Chinese people to differentiate between them.” To us Africa is Africa. Okay? Let the politicians and the intellectuals do the differentiation.” He said fearlessly and angrily.

” The the blind boy was snatched away…”

“Then what happened to that innocent boy?” I asked with a shaky voice…and tears dropping down my tired cheeks.”

” I cant’ tell, but I do believe the boy wasn’t spared.”

“How do you know?”

“Shortly after the boy was taken away…”

Xiao-he paused for a moment.

“I heard gun shots.

“And then?”

To be continued…

Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 11)

                        The Blind Boy      

I entered the bathroom to empty out my bowels before getting ready for the once-in-a-year meal. Living far away from Africa, one could only afford to enjoy such a meal once in a year. Since most of these ingredients were unavailable in traditional Chinese markets, they had to be shipped all the way from home. Coming out of the bathroom, I realized that Xiao-he had vanished. I knew he was some where in the apartment. Could he have been in the second bathroom or was he in the balcony? He couldn’t have left without at least saying a good-bye.      

Xiao-he where are you?” I asked, with my eyes gazing toward the second bathroom.

There was no response. The water in the kettle was boiling. I rushed to the kitchen to put off the fire. To my amazement, I found Xiao-he sitting at the kitchen table with a hot cup of coffee. He appeared to be in deep thought—just staring at the wall. I watched as he wiped a tear from his eye and took a sip of his coffee.

“What’s the matter, Xiao-he?” I whispered to him as I stepped into the kitchen.

“Why are you sitting here in the kitchen instead of being in the living room?” 

Xiao-he looked up from his coffee.

“Did I ever mention to you the story of a blind orphan I met in one African country fifteen years ago?” 

“No, you didn’t.” I replied.

 Xiao-he paused. The words weren’t coming easily…

“During one of my trips as a businessman to Africa fifteen years ago, I met a blind boy who had been orphaned by AIDS—both of his parents had died with the disease. At the time, he was only three years old. He used to call me “Daddy”.

“What country ? I asked, lowering myself into a chair beside him.

 He hesitated at first, then, with a face covered with sweat he answered:

“Sierra Leone.”

Wiping out the sweat on his face with tissue paper, he continued,

“I feel terribly guilty for my inability to save one innocent boy from being killed when some rebels from a rival clan descended into his village, wiping out every living being—including animals. They called that ‘Operation No Living Thing.’”  

Wiping another tear from his cheek, he continued.

To be continued…

Ayomah’s Story (Sequel 10)

                               Fufu and Goat Soap

Xiao-he, look, let me tell you something. This guy is a typical racist. He lied to you. I’ve taught English in other schools before. There, the kids liked and played with me so much so that some of the Chinese teachers often became envious. Those kids used to call me “Michael Jordan” any time they saw me. They would even hug and kiss me in front of their parents.”

“Michael what?”

“Michael Jordan, don’t you know him?”                                                      

“Oh! Do you mean that great legend of basketball?”

“Yes.” I answered with great pride.

I then returned to the kitchen to continue my cooking. There was a long and eerie silence. Xiao-he had remained silent ever since Jordan’s name came up. I really couldn’t guess his next move. He’d been talking all this while, why was he now so quiet. It could be that he didn’t like Jordan that much. Or perhaps, he was just too drunk and wanted to take a nap.

“Food is ready.” I cried out.

Xiao-he seemed uninterested. Before this time he’d complained to me how much he’d missed eating African food. I’d promised to prepare a sumptuous African meal for him any time he came to my residence. I knew he was hungry, so I did just that. But he wouldn’t even look at the food. It was his favorite African dish—fufu with palm oil soup. There was also nwo-nwo or goat soup. It’s a soup made of goat intestines, heart, liver vegetables, onions and pepper—served as a starter. Ginger beer was also ready at hand—to wash all these down. It’s a non-alcoholic beverage made from fresh ginger, lime juice, sugar, cloves (or cinnamon) and water.

 To be continued…

    Xiao-he and The Bananas

I headed to the kitchen to prepare a meal as dinner-time was fast approaching. While cooking, I heard Xiao-he cry aloud.  “Lao-hey, come, come, I already told you so…you didn’t just want to believe me.” Whenever Xiao-he’s predictions became a reality, he was always too apt to be smug about it—as he did always pronounce those inevitable words, “I told you so.” “Ms. Huang said she’d been told to say so…and I did realize she had an accent.” “What do you mean by that?” “She doesn’t speak good Chinese.”

“But she’s Chinese any way, right?”  I asked.

“She should be an overseas Chinese.” Xiao-he replied.

“What do you mean by an overseas Chinese?”

I mean either of her parents should be a foreigner. We identify them as bananas.” Xiao-he concluded.

“Why do you call them bananas?” I asked.

“Its because….as you know…bananas are white but covered with yellow skin…so it means that although, they maybe yellow-skinned, they are white in essence.” Xiao-he explained.

Xiao-he, you are not serious. What do you have to call someone a banana? I empathized. 

“I mean no harm. It’s our way of identifying such people. It only means that such people have yellow skins but consider themselves as whites.”

“That is, if one of their parents is white right?” I asked quickly.

“Yes.” Xiao-he answered.

Xiao-he what if one of their parents is black?” “I have no answer.” Xiao-he retorted.

 “You always have answers, why now?” I hit back quickly.

Xiao-he relapsed into silence. I really couldn’t tell what was going on in his mind.

“So you believe what she said?” I asked.

“I even talked to the school principal and he affirmed it.” Xiao-he replied emphatically.

“Did he affirm he was a racist?”

He said it was the school’s policy to exclude blacks. It was based on the premises that, most of the children were often scared of blacks, and that some parents often complained of having their children taught by blacks. He was unapologetic about it.” Xiao-he replied matter-of-factly.

To be continued…