If the world loves you, be careful. The world only wants a man for his head.

“Be Careful If the World Wants You” by Ebenezer Obey is blasting from the speakers. You sit there on a stool in your living room, your head bobbing to the familiar song. You’ve come to terms with your “stiffness,” as your Ma would call it. The inability of your body to move with the steps you’ve written out in your head.

While other children would dance around the chair in the “Dancing Round a Chair” game and wear the song like a cloak, you were always ready to sit your stiff legs down, so you won almost every time.

If the world loves you, be careful. The world only wants a man for his head.

What if the world doesn’t love you? What happens then? Ebenezer Obey sings on and on like he has no answer to the question. Maybe it’s because the song is on repeat. Maybe he does have the answer, but the song never stops enough to let him speak.

The world only wants a person for his head.

Your mom calls your dad Joseph. With bitterness in her eyes and on her tongue, she would say, “Your dad is just like Joseph. His family are his eleven brothers, and they’ve sold his dreams.” You were six when you knew your Pa had a name other than Pa, a name your Ma had given him—Joseph. When you dreamed and walked up to your mother for interpretation, she told you to go tell your brother.
Baffled, you ask her, “Who dreams, Ma? My brother or Joseph?”
“Your brother’s name is Daniel,” your mother said, handing you a slice of tomato. You like it, though you’re not sure what you like more. Your mom handing it to you like you’re important, like you’re someone, or the tomatoes. There was something so regal in the way your brother leaned on the armrest while he listened to you that your knees almost begged the ground.
He said to you, “A dream was given to you in the dream, and it has now been taken from you.”

Say Daniel is nine years old again, call it role play, you believed every word he said.

Your Ma would say to you between her knees, “Your Grandpa saw a seer before your Pa was born. He prophesied that your father would be great, but where is the journal it was written in? Stolen by his evil stepmothers.”

A man’s greatest enemy is his family.

Ma doesn’t like it when you eat in her family’s house. You’re watching her family chow down on hot maize pudding from where you’re seated, wondering what it would taste like against your palate. When one wrapped maize pudding is passed to you, your eyes linger for a while. You rip your eyes off an eternity later and shake your head at the food.

The weevil that eats the vegetable lives on it.

Your step-grandmother gives you bars of medicated green soap and a loaf of half-eaten bread; you toss them to your turkeys. A few of them die hours later, their blue bodies outlining your yard. Poison, or you forgot to refill their water troughs?

If Joseph had no plans to build the storage rooms, maybe he would have been an ordinary shaman. Was Joseph born with the ability as well as the gifts? Your friend says to you, “Joseph had the ability and was hardworking.” You won’t ask your mother if your father is any different from Joseph. If he would build the storage room if he were shown a dream, and if he did build the storage room after the dream was shown. You won’t ask your Ma, “Ma, maybe Pa is a different Joseph?” because saying things like that would subtract the world from the equation.

“Aye” in Yoruba means more than two things. Life, Earth, and the wicked ones—witches Maybe you are scared that if the wicked ones are subtracted from the world your Pa lives in, there will be no one to blame but you, him, your family, and Ma. Like the one time your Ma tricked your Pa into coming home from where he worked, only to leave for her master’s. When it was Pa and four children in a house as shaky as his relationship with his siblings, and he had to go borrow money to feed what was left of himself and his home.

You sometimes talk about how wicked the world must be to turn a brother against his brother. How wicked a brother must be to turn his brother and his house into the streets and away from their father’s home. How blind a brother must have been to let the world make him give the same house to his driver like, “Take, you’re even more worthy to live in my father’s house than his son.”

Your Pa once told you he dreams of things before they happen, before he jumped off your grandpa’s two-story building and broke both his legs. Before his clients came to see him in the hospital, their eyes barely concealed the thoughts they had in their heads, “Rather a bad lawyer than one with crutches for legs.” Before your Pa’s brother came to your Grandpa’s house, where you lived with your family, to tell him he was no longer wanted in his father’s house. He said he saw it before then. He said he chuckled in his face and said to him, “Mo ti gbo. I’ve heard.” Because a man need not be told more than twice before he speaks to his legs to run.

Awon Aye, the owners of Earth. Say they are called owners because they do what they like with the earth and the people on it. Push them like pawns; push your father like a pawn.

When he had to move from Abuja because he was being cheated and was promised a better life, go ahead, blame the world.

The sun, the moon, and the eleven stars.

Your Ma tells you about your Pa and his stepmothers. How your pa was made a slave in his father’s house; how he was taken to the market with a bowl set on his head and told to squat when food items were dropped. How your pa’s mother was sent away because women wanted their turns with “the law,” your grandpa.

Your Pa tells you how one of his stepmothers clicked her finger at your Grandpa one time, and he had a stroke a few days later. He fell ill every time he was to write the WASSCE until he joined his stepbrother, who was five years his junior, to write the same exam. How he couldn’t find his seat number one time and his law school result wasn’t released to him. He dreamt about that too. In his dream, his certificate was swept under the carpet. What do you think happened? Charms or coincidence?

Nebuchadnezzar dreamed too.

You dreamt about your Pa one time. He was a little boy and lively. There was a face in the room with him. a face because it changed from a woman to a man. You don’t tell your father about the change.

You told your mother about the dream first. A little boy who was handed a gift but fiddled with it instead of making use of it. Your mother hit her thigh with her palms and said, “I said it. Did you look close enough and see if the gift was switched?” Either you dreamed again, or you looked closely into the dream while still awake and nodded your mother’s doubt away, leaving her tongue clicking. Sounds can be even louder than actual words. Her tongue clicked “I said it” so loudly that you started.

When you told your Pa, his eyes clouded over for twenty blinks. He then said to you, a wild chuckle erupting from his throat, “Do tell me, child, have you been speaking to your mother?” You do not reply to him. That night you willed yourself to dream again for two reasons, to make your Pa nod his doubts away and to see if Pa’s gift was switched.

There was a third, too, wasn’t there? To see if you actually dreamed. How you’ll know from a dream if you did, you have no idea, but you slept with a dream in mind. Morning came, and you didn’t dream.

A man’s greatest enemy is his family.

Your ma sits you down between her knees and brushes your hair gently as if she is scared that one of you will break and isn’t sure which—you or the comb. She tells you how your grandma was named “witch” by your father’s siblings. how she was taken to a white garment church for cleansing and beating white garments, not because of the purity of their acts and hearts but that of their attire. She was soaked to the bone in water drawn from the well of one of the “Zion” churches in Agbala and flogged with a broom till she confessed to a name she wasn’t.

“Their own mother,” Ma says, her grip now tight on the brush and your hair. Memories sometimes make one forget, they made your Ma forget to loosen her grip on your hair.

You feel the need to pray. What prayers to pray about a curse that might have long been placed, you don’t know. You simply say, with your knees to the floor, “God, please say no.” No, because negative sometimes cancels negative, like your math teacher would say.

One doesn’t apologize in tears without a cause.

Your uncle came over to your house one day. You heard from your father that he was made to apologize.

When he stood in your doorway, his feet making no attempt to move into your house, you imagined that the house was so small that it dwarfed him. As if making it smaller would excuse his behavior.

Speak to me, woman to woman.

The woman Pa borrowed money from is shouting invectives, loud enough for the whole neighborhood to hear. You stick your fingers into your ears, but her voice is loud enough to enter them.

Pa hides in a room, and Ma goes to beg her. “Speak to me, woman to woman. He’ll pay, an jo, please.” She says your father was sent to kill her, and to do this, he was told to borrow money from her. You want to hide, like your Pa, or run away.

“A man’s foes shall be those of his own household” (Matthew 10:16).

Your mother’s junior pastor is preaching. a sermon you’ve heard from him three times. The tremors in his voice relaxed now, like the depth of the message required it. He doesn’t stammer, not today.

His words were loud, slow, and practiced enough to weigh in the air and rouse those sleeping. He spoke on Matthew 10:16.

“A man’s foes shall be those of his own household.” He pauses. Either for effect or to let the weight of the words sink. “I don’t mean you should go home and fight with your family. No, no,” he pauses again, his eyes a beacon for what he thinks is the truth. “But a man’s enemy is his household.”

You sink into your chair, wondering if everyone in the world has gone mad but you.

Speak to me, human to human.

A man is shouting outside your house and threatening to accost your father when he sees him. Your mother shakes her head and sighs; her eyes are bloodshot.

“How much is it, Ma?” you ask.
“Just 25,000 NGN, Ore. Just 25,000NGN. Is it your dad’s plan to kill me before my time?”

The weevil that eats the vegetable lives on it.

Your Pa pulls you aside sometimes, too. To tell you the history of the house you now live in. How your Ma hoarded the documents of the house even when he helped build it.

He sometimes tells you a story one too many times. about your maternal grandfather, who was made to beg in the streets because your Ma’s grandma hid all the food she cooked and gave him nothing to eat. How he had to look down at his feet and walk past your great-grandfather, who had his begging bowl between his laps for fear that someone would recognize him as Ana—one who’s marrying into the family.

How your mother behaves like her grandma at times, and even her mother thinks she had to have been bewitched by her. because your mother did the same thing. Hide the food whenever your Pa’s pockets were empty or serve him the tail of the catfish. How your Ma received money from him, her hands above his. How she’s slept in front of him for almost half your years.

“Tell me, child,” he would say, his eyes searching for answers that you couldn’t give. “Do you think they don’t have meaning?”

If the world loves you, be careful.

What if the world doesn’t? Ebenezer Obey sings on and on about a world that sometimes loves.

Your mother tells your father that she’s grown tired of his siblings calling her to pass a message to their brother.

Like his wont, your Pa walks into the living room, searching for answers you can’t give.

Your Pa is rocking on his raffia chair, his voice breaking the house apart, “Your mom keeps talking like my family does not love me.”

If the world loves you, be careful.

Pa is in his sixties and seeking greener pastures in Epe, Lagos. Ma thinks he left home to run away from his responsibilities.

He sometimes says it when he comes home. “See? Maybe I should have stayed back. All everyone does is ask me for money.”

Ma’s calling his phone for the tenth time; your sister’s tuition fee was to be paid today, and Pa has switched his phone off.

If the world loves you, be careful. The world only wants you for your head.

You see your father, small and afraid. You tell a world that doesn’t love him to love him back, and you look away.

Maybe if you were his mother, you would hand him tomatoes and tell him stories between your knees. You don’t reach for him and rock him on your knees; you’re the child, not the father.

A man is only a child.

Pa is back home from Epe; his body is. He is no longer in the body. Imagine a man with a faded briefcase and dust on his foot pushing a world that doesn’t bulge. Imagine the same man on the floor in his living room with no friends to cry with the family.

Imagine the same man, just outside of his body, floating like he has all his life.



















Photo by Dane Deaner on Unsplash