“Let’s go back to the beginning, shall we? What is your earliest memory of your Papa?”

“I have none. At least none that are very meaningful. To be quite honest, I am unable to tell which ones are real and which ones I made up out of a longing for his presence in our lives.”

“Ah, can you talk more about this?”

“Yeah, from my toddler days, the only people I really knew were Mama, Bee, Sisi, and Chisom. Mama and my older siblings… I grew up hearing from them that Mama was widowed not long after I was born.”

“I understand. Do other people come to mind? From your early childhood, I mean.”

“Uhm kind of… In Calabar, all five of us lived in a rundown one-room face-me-I-face-you, and our next-door neighbor was a madman.”

“A madman? Tell me more about this man.”

“Okay, where do I start? Hm, at night, when it was time to sleep, he tapped on the wall. Very loud and rhythmic tapping most of the time. It always took me a while to fall asleep”

“That must have been quite upsetting. But before we digress–”

“Yeah, all I know is what Mama told us. Mama told us that she’d reported the disturbance to the landlady and had even threatened to withhold some of the rent. But the landlady knew we were desperate for a roof over our heads and ignored us. Honestly, I never believed that Mama actually reported the situation though. Have you seen my Mama? She is the least confrontational person on earth. Mama also told us that she’d heard some neighborhood gossip that the madman’s family did not want anything to do with him. So, they had found him this apartment, next to ours. Out of the way.”


“Yeah, as I was saying, he tapped on the wall all night. On some nights, the tapping was more violent than usual. Like TATA RATATAT TATA RATATAT. I always felt the tapping was very angry or desperate. Or both, to be honest. On those nights, Mama, aware of the soothing effect that her words had on us, stayed awake and attempted to drown his tapping with her Igbo prayers.”

“You mean your Mama did not sleep?”

“If she did, she slept very little. In those days, many of my dreams were accompanied by the background sound effects of battle drums and Mama’s Igbo prayers for strength. Unsurprisingly, I would always wake to the dueling sounds of Mama’s prayers and the man’s tapping.”

“This is fascinating. It really is. Do you mind sharing one of her soothing prayers? I don’t suppose you remember–”

“There are many of them but here’s one she used frequently, especially on the nights the tapping was most unbearable. Let me translate it from Igbo for you. I know that you Oyinbo people that were educated in the USA don’t understand Igbo well anymore. It goes something like this:

Chineke [God], my children are hungry,
but I cannot complain
they are alive and you gave them to me
their hunger? I can deal with tomorrow
but they must sleep first
Chineke, help them sleep.

On some nights, I would stay awake long enough to hear her shakily add:

He left me to suffer alone
he left his children
left what we had
he was all we had–”

“That must have been painful to hear. As a child, no doubt. How did that make you feel?”

“You are asking too many questions and it’s starting to annoy me. All I know is that those violent nights made me miss my Papa the most. I used to be so afraid that the madman would break down the wall between our apartments and invade our space. So, I prayed hard for my Papa. Prayed for a miracle of resurrection. Until I grew older and stopped praying.”

“And why did you stop?”

“One night, I think it was a few days after I turned fifteen, the madman tapped the wall violently as usual. It was hard to remain asleep, so I woke up to the second half of Mama’s prayer and for the first time I understood.

Chineke, he knocks
let him back in
into the soul that was his
into the soul that I loved.

So, I began to tap the wall back to him. And he responded, softly and rhythmically, in the sweet fatherly way it had taken me so long to recognize.”



Photo by Roman Ska from Pexels