It’s only us market roads that can tell you of your mother,
Of the tattooed dither on her lips.
The shrieking aches that caress her folding skin and
Suck the sleep from her jelly bones
Thank you very much, we are not tattletales, we have nothing to tell you if you don’t ask. Eke was the day you crossed the sea; away from your mother and her devolving hut, when you got there, you tried so frantically to scrub us off your feet, maybe your mother didn’t tell you that mud is thicker than water. We are not just mud, we hold the caking blood of the dead, the sweat, and spittle of market women, the shit of mad men and toddlers, tell us how you intend to wash away a lifetime of identity. We will let you try sha.
While Mama’s feet were swelling with pain and loneliness, your big head was swelling with emptiness and lust, you got lost in the sparse-haired blonde breasts of your neighbors’ daughter, feeling like Joshua in a Canaan land. Mama searched for you with every shuffle of her feet, in every cup of rice and porous bags of millet;
‘I sell rice and beans, but I can give you a basin of stories if you just sit with me…’
‘You have the eyes of my son…always searching for something.’
We watched you brush out chunks of your accent every morning, brushing your tongue until pieces of last night’s dinner creeped out of your throat, we blamed your mother for this one, she should have told you that an exposed buttock was the same as a fucked one—Akara and Moin-moin all na beans, and they’ll all smell the same when shat. You have forgotten those nights you stooped on a dirt road with mama keeping watch—releasing your atrocities while we— out of love, took it all in. Tell us why you crunch your nose at the smell of your shit. It’s okay sha.
The stench still follows you. We follow you.
Orie was the day you told your neighbors to call you Paul, your effort to shroud your accent evident. You invited them over, bribing them with crystal glasses of foreign. Mama was running around in a game of kpakpangolo— hunger chasing her with a whip as she divided her sole sachet of peak milk into three portions, but you did not ask, so we did not tell you. Your neighbors too did not tell you; that you looked like a man who had feasted so much on hunger that it left tattoos of ownership on your bony face. They did not tell you that your aura reeked of mud, decaying blood, morning spittle, and shit, but you saw it in their sad eyes, and you plucked the whispers from thin air;
‘Sad black man, trying so hard.’
Orie was the day you wondered why you were ‘black man’ and not ‘man.’ You learned, quickly, to call yourself black man too, even though it made you feel like an object; black shirt, garbage bag.
You let your water boil, and you unlearnt yourself in the shower, picking at your skin like you were a huge pussy wound.
The stench still follows you, we follow you
Afor was the day you were caught fucking the neighbors’ daughter, she called you all sort of things as she bobbed underneath you and your stinking aura;
You went in even harder then, as if trying to prove her right. Fucked her like an animal until her moans cracked open the boiled egg of a night, fucked her still when she began to beg, maybe you were trying to make her smell like you, fucked her with the years of rage and hunger boiling in you, until she lay lifeless in your bed. Then you would remember Mama, right before someone called 911, but she now lay like chalky dregs of milk at the bottom of your mind, A woman wielding a flashlight as you exposed your buttocks for the wind to penetrate. A black woman.
The stench still follows you, we follow you.
Your whole life was a race, and nobody told you that black men don’t run when they are caught, especially not in their thrift-store checkered boxers. Mama should have told you that running from a crime was not the same as running from hunger; Though both were after your existence. Both would catch you. Moin-moin is Moin-moin, and Okpa is Okpa, or maybe she told you, and you scrubbed it out of your throat. Black man.
Thank you very much we are not tattletales, but we’ll tell you this; Mama died the same night as you, she died of solitude and hunger, you died in your thrift-store checkered boxers, drowning in your blood, flooding from your broken dam of lungs, ripped apart by sixteen bullets. You did not die a man, you died a black man; smelling of mud, decaying blood, morning spittle, shit and a little of crystal glasses of foreign — still like us.
James-Ibe Chinaza, Davina
James-Ibe Chinaza, Davina is currently an undergraduate of English and literary studies in the University of Nigeria Nsukka. She lives in Imo, with her Mother.
Photo by Javier Allegue Barros on Unsplash