168291710_e7d01552d2_oVII

“Greatest Nigerian Students!”

— “Great!”

“Upon the Greateeeeesst Nigerian Students!”

–“Great!”

“‘For in the final analysis,’ John F. Kennedy said, ‘our most basic common link is that, we all inhabit this small planet, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish our children’s futures, and we are all mortal.’ Death is a common human condition, it will happen to us all. And what honor can we give a fallen comrade than an evidence of our love even in their death? We all one day will hit the dust. What is most important, however, is the much we make out of our planetry experience…”

Ibim who for the day was Mach’s rum bearer, opened a knapsack and handed him a bottle of rum. When rum touched the ground, Mach stepped down, and the procession continued, with choruses.

“There shall be no more weeping”

— “No more, no more”

“No more, no more”

— “for many thousand years”

It was an insisted procession, and everyone wore black. A student had died, the third in Mach’s level. He died in his room and no one knew until smell started coming from his apartment. The neighbors forced his door open, the corpse was bloated, he had been dead for days.

It was a peculiar case, so students insisted on a procession even when the institution did not approve because they had, according to the school, violated a bureaucratic process. But, it was something as sensitive as death. For the other two Mach’s class lost, procession for other excuses, was not approved. The school authority frowns at students gathering, for fear they’d embark on a protest.

The procession, which for the first time went off-campus, culminated at the Hostel H car park and Friday, scheduled for the burial.

On Friday morning, buses arrived Niger Delta University Teaching Hospital, Okolobiri, parked outside. A few students went into the premises to conclude arrangements in the morgue. Some sat in the buses, some gathered elsewhere rehearsing choruses for the burial, and a few had driven into a quiet road for orange.

Those outside had waited till about 3pm, when a few of them strode in to ascertain the cause of the delay. Again, it was bureaucracy. The doctor in charge of the morgue said it was a homicide case and that since the police escorted the corpse to the morgue, they needed to approve its release.

The police had been notified. They promised to come, but never showed up. The students who had arranged logistics for the burial were told to return on Monday. They refused.

At about 4pm, Ibim noticed the ambulance that they had come with from school leaving. If it does, they would be unable to convey the corpse for burial even if they got approval. Ibim ran. He took a different road, running as his sinews hurt, and got to the gate as the ambulance got there. He ordered the security not to let the ambulance leave, though they would have, if they understood the situation.

While there was momentary confusion, Ibim shouted to the students outside, ordering them to block the gate and not let the ambulance leave. A protest was beginning at NDUTH.

The hospital littered with black, saw students all over the place screaming, demanding their corpse. At that same time, a protest had started in Gloryland campus over the welfare of students in the CHS campus. It was too much for the school to handle.

Fearing the effect a possible riot could have on patients, the Chief Medical Director came out to address the situation, and Ibim was the focal person.

The CMD called the state commissioner of police, who having higher jurisdiction, ordered the release of the corpse.

Mach would dedicate his final year project to the coursemates they lost, and in the weeks that followed, Ibim would become popular for his bravery.

VIII

In Niger Delta University, “runs girl” is entirely different from “runs man.” Not merely in gender or the characters that make the words, but in deeper meanings too. Eniye was a runs girl, but no one was certain if her boyfriend was a runs man—he looked like one.

“If  Lloyd call you, abeg. Tell am say na for your house I sleep,” Eniye told her friend over the phone. When her friend asked for a reason, she said, “No worry I go text you.”

The sms which came a few minutes after the call, read: Am in Yen wit Chief Zincwari. Pls cover up for me. No wori, me and u go commot wen I return.

Chief Boroindi Zincwari was a big shot, a senior stakeholder in the Peoples Oriented Party (POP), and was notorious for his questionable lifestyle.

Eniye did not know, however, that her boyfriend was passing the night at her friend’s place. They had a coded affair. When the sms came, he went for the phone before she could. He heard the conversation as she took the call lying on his chest.

When he tried calling and Eniye’s phone was switched off, boyfriend, though cheating, was bitter and had transfered aggression to the innocent indulgent friend. He feigned indifference, only unravelling his anger when he mounted her. She told him to stop, but he did not till she planted a number of teeth in his chest, drawing blood and plucking a few strands of hair. It was drama.

Eniye walked into the trap, or perhaps Chief Zincwari did. They both did. She had received an sms when she turned on her phone: Shebi na d guy go kom drop u. I 4lyk mit am so ‘im fit link me 2som of ‘im frndz. Hw u c am?

By sunrise the following morning, Chief Zincwari drove into Amassoma with Eniye, singing along to the music from his car stereo: “Egberi gbola wari bo fa… Egberi gbo loemi ina ma egberi gbo loemi…”

The black SUV parked, and Eniye alighted. Before the shock of seeing her boyfriend could register on her face, rapid slaps did, and a fight began.

Chief who did not immediately connect the fight and robbery offered his wallet, but the guys, one pointing a small gun at him, collected his cellphones, told him to strip, and oredered him to drive out of the town naked.

The police did not raid the town, but it began a new set of events.

IX

The shelling had without warning, started like Bayelsa’s rain. At the engineering block, lecturers naturally close to the door, were the first to scamper. In the confusion, four-five students a time, struggled to exit classrooms through the windows.

The guys who knew the guys they came for, let students pass them by the staircase as they advanced upstairs to create a maze for their enemies.

Eniye’s boyfriend who like Chief Zincwari was unsuspecting, had to use the balcony, the only seeming available exit. Before he could break bones jumping two floors down, he was riddled with bullets mid-air, a corpse before the thud was heard. At death, bones broke still.

Rival gangs had not recently had confrontations, but instinct told both the innocent and guilty to run.

As abruptly as it started, the Engineering Block was calm within minutes. The visitors who came in a mini van, left with his corpse, leaving the area on the white sand where he landed, a sad artistic smudge of red.

Students who ran into the uncompleted management building,  Diamond Bank and other buildings around, returned to assume Paparrazo. They only came to snap the area where the corpse was picked, after snapping the other victim till the ambulance arrived to pick it.

Nobody knew the other guy. They did not call for help, they just kept snapping till he went limp having bled to death. Instagram, Facebook, BBM, soon had photos of blood presented in different filters, some editted to emphasize.

Apart from gossips and the armoured vehicle by the school gate, there was no reminder of the afternoon’s event.

This marked the continuation of a set of events already begun, but it was a great day for Ibim. A girl who was scared to leave his place, passed the night.

X

Orange Cathedral has known happy moments, sad moments too. There were times when fun was plenty, devastation too. In celebration a man necessarily has friends, but in dry times, in mourning, only Brothers stick around.

Time, they say, wounds all heels. And when it does, even the strongest of men cry.

Departure point was the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Yenagoa. It was a black day for the Brambies, a black day for Orange Cathedral.

Body-built guys arrived in a loud fire of huge motorbikes. Family members lined FMC’s entrance, some in tears, some with faces crisp by dried up tears. Young men from the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) who came in a Coaster Bus, pieces of red tied around their biceps, paced, fighting back tears.

Bish welcomed Brothers from the Cathedral, took them to a buka and bought them food. He was buoyant, having won an online bet–he always won online bets.

Every heart was heavy, engaged in the exercise of staying strong. People, in clusters, would laugh once in a while, but no laughter was rich. Hearts banged on chests. When the casket was brought out of the morgue, everyone cried.

The convoy was led by the bikers. The Brambie son united with The One was one of theirs, a strong man who, when he bought his first bike as a teenager, had rode it from Lagos to Port-Harcourt. He had never biked before. He was born with the passion.

The sad event occured along Isaac Boro Express Way off Mona Lisa Hotel. He rode his motorbike from Yenezue-Epie road entering the express way, and that was when a vehicle on high speed hit him. He had not intended going far that day, so he wore no helmet.

When the news got to Orange Cathedral, everyone sat around Bish doing what brothers do. Weed burnt, but everyone was quiet–he needed it.

Though East-West road was a snail pace, the entourage weaved through the mad traffic and soon arrived Agbere.

The Brambies were giants, people could not hold them when they fell mourning their son, their brother. His mother at some point collapsed, as her strength was too little for the pain. In Africa, young people aren’t meant to be buried by their parents. This one did, leaving behind little kids and a young widow.

After the corpse was crossed to the other side of the sea to be laid to rest, Mach, Kasa, Tucky and other friends who came, sat under a mango tree by the sea shore, sucking on the oranges of Agbere, Bish telling them stories about his family and community. Wherever they visited, they always tried the oranges, taking some back to the island if it was good. This one was good. It was strong and had a rare feel, so Mach reserved some to take to his girlfriend. He would soak it in honey, process it with heat, and tap her a honey-flavoured jumbo.

It was not a great day, but friendship was proven. True Brothers would stand firm to hold you from falling. Though Bish mourned, he was grateful his Brothers stood by him.

XI

“You do not philosophize in a vacuum,” Dr. Pere always said, the truth of which just dawned on Ibim.

Leaving his garri soaked in a bowl, Ibim embarked on a stroll, optimistic that on returning, it would have tripled, enough to quench his hunger.

It was a great day, and he impressed a few girls. Idle, he had walked into a rowdy classroom where he could not help but join the argument of some students waiting for their lecturer to arrive.

“Man’s problem started from the Garden of Eden with the woman,” one said. Before she could build on the argument, another interjected saying it was for a good reason as the entrance of sin brought about wisdom. “Their eyes became open, remember,” he said.

Ibim who had started enjoying Philosophy disrupted them saying their argument began on a wrong premise so they should not hope to have a reasonable conclusion. “You cannot verify the Genesis account even,” he added. “Besides, there are other accounts more plausible than it.”

Within a short period, the group was circled by other students, the argument gaining momentum by the minute. They did not notice their lecturer walk in until he said with deliberate calmness, “Settle down, please.” Ibim quickly left the class, giving a bow as he did. He was the man of the moment.

Walking to the bank to use the ATM after he left the class, Ibim whose popularity on campus was on the increase, every now and then stopped to hug girls and shake hands with guys. He could sight the ATM from a distance and was glad there was no queue. Famished, he would withdraw and head straight for Beans Up, he thought.

It was worse than a heartbreak, and to think that it was Friday. The machine did not read “Temporarily Out of Service” with the usual yellow font on blue background. The LCD was black, the blackness a mockery; a supply of sadness to him. He would either go to Yenagoa to make the withdrawal, or wait till Monday. He could not afford both. Instead of going to the bank at a time when he could have had the option of withdrawing over the counter, he thought, he had sat with those idle students philosophizing in a vacuum–his empty stomach.  He had coined this meaning from the expression which in actuality, means that philosophy sprouts from events affecting man and his world.

A rumble in his stomach tugged him back to reality, so he decided to walk for some three more minutes before turning back for his rising garri. It was then he bumped into Teri. “Abobi, this one wey your face interlock like this. Wida nau?”

“Omoba, nothing. I jes dey,” Ibim replied dryly.

Teri who said he wanted to get to Ikoki-Ama waterfront for some oranges told Ibim to join him, but he declined. “Guy, my eyes dey pink as you see me so,” he said, “I never chow nattin today.” After a moment’s contemplation, Teri said, “Oya nau, make we enter Chop Rite. Na two-two meat she dey serve, and her food dey large wella.”

After the meal, they both strode to Ikoki-Ama with toothpicks in their mouths like lollipops, an I-spent-a-lot indication.

Leaning on the rails of an abandoned jetty, they smoked and talked about the regular, girls, while watching the calm sea.

Tucky who always had stories to tell had just arrived the jetty having called them earlier. Sucking on Ibim’s as Teri tapped him a triple jumbo in flavoured roll bonds, he gisted them about the event he had met: “No be small thing o. Madam Chop Rite dom run. Guys dey find her to knack her. Dem say na dead-body meat she dey carry tidy her chow…” Not noticing the worry forming on the faces of his friends, Tucky continued: “My joy na say I no dey chow outside. All thanks to my barney. Omehn… I need to marry tha’ girl.”

*********

Post image by Roy Blumenthal via Flickr.

About the Author:

portrait-sotonyeSotonye Dan lives in Port Harcourt. He loves brown leather shoes. 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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