A Tale of Hope | Uchechukwu Osondu

A Tale of Hope Uchechukwu Osondu Agbowo Art African Literary Art

We were tired and frustrated. We were the future when the Nokia 3310 was king, and phones had more keys than screen, when the internet was accessed through stuffy rooms with numerous desktops and passwords that made no sense; but that was long ago. The Blackberry rose and fell, smartphones are all screens and no keys, and the internet is only a click away. We are still the future. Everything has changed, but everything is the same. The future is not here. Our dreams of being presidents, senators, and ministers; of changing the world have been shelved away because everything is the same. The future is not coming. 

We were tired and frustrated. The men on the table opposite us were extoling the virtues of our nation. They were going on and on about how we are lazy and too eager to leave for other countries in search of greener pastures – too eager to become “second class” citizens; about how our laziness and impatience prevents us from getting a seat at the “table”. One of the men cited the upcoming elections as an example of our laziness, the others shut him down with laughs. We would not leave our phone screens, they said. What do they know that they will be voting? When they are not going there to press phone? They laughed louder, drowning the music in the background. One adjusted his belt beneath his protruding belly – it was difficult to tell if the adjustment was done to free the belly or to cage it, to shrink it. The conversation shifted somewhat, dropping to barely whispers, they were discussing contracts or business deals. It was hard to be sure over the music playing in the background. The bottles of beer were sweating onto the table. We assumed it was because the bottles could hear the amounts that these men whispered in their presence. 

We were tired and frustrated, so our table was quiet-er. We played deaf as they extoled the virtues of a nation that was robbing us of our future. We made jokes of the man’s belly as it wobbled when his wallet fell and he tried to pick it up. Our ears twitched in disbelief when they started discussing contracts and business deals. And in the darkness of the bar, beneath the cloud of smoke that pervaded the room, our eyes found light in our key-less screens. On our phones we had voices, we felt seen. So we stood and spoke without fear beside our hashtags and threads, transfiguring them slowly, steadily, to small monumental marches. We developed digital bubbles and defined progress in these bubbles, coded success in these spaces and hope flourished. We were the future, and these elections we would wrench back from those who had stolen it from us. And though a few of us resembled the men on the table in thoughts and deeds, and pushed back even within our safe spaces; there was progress, and there was hope. Our fingers danced across our screens searching for things it seemed like our country was not keen on providing. And one by one, we each saw something that brought smiles to our faces in the dark, while we sipped on our various brews. The music played on and on in the background even after the men had left. We left long after, our feet unsteady but our hearts awash with the hope we saw that night, the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel, right there on our screens. 

We had waited for the elections from the sixth month of his reign – this was no democracy. We had believed in change and voted with hope. When things got worse, worse than the change we imagined, some of us made sure to remind the rest of us that change was what was promised and change was what was being delivered. After all; even though the price of a bag of sachet water had doubled, two spoons of rice suddenly felt like half a spoon at our favourite bukka and fifty naira meat was now the size of a Panadol tablet, how bad could it really get? We had showed the last president that this was a democracy and voted him out. We could do it again. We just had to adapt for the next five years of his reign. The easiest way to lose belly fat is by reducing food portions, and who didn’t want to have the stomach of one who ate because he had nothing to prove.

So we watched, and waited. Na condition wey make crayfish bend. It was a miracle that we were not broken yet. It seemed like we were always at the precipice, that the next sign of the shambles that was this reign would be the one to push us over the edge – ignite a revolution. But days after lives had been lost to their greed, lives had been lost to their callous disregard of life itself, or our lives were made jokes by the sheer magnitude and ridiculousness of the crimes they committed against our rights, our common sense; we bent a little more, farther than we thought we could before. We drowned out the hurt with humour, choked it with music and silenced it with furious outrage behind our screens, till all it was a thread of justifications, thoughts and prayers, and then silence. The next day would come, and we would be back at our desks, away from our digital bubbles, searching for food, for purpose, for an escape. 

Babatund3 (@babiTee) lost his father when the army was sent to secure the peace in a land that was not at war, because they believed that that was where the cries for their impeachment were loudest. When Imma’s (@Immatrixx) mother lost her shop to a fire, and Imma and his sisters were finding it a herculean task to source their next meal, we banded together to give from the little we had, so that they might get back on their feet and join us in the struggle. AishaYerima (@AishaYerima) fought with us – calling for them to do better as regards the blatant corruption, the lives being lost to their greed, and the poor economic plans. We rallied behind her, our champion. In the second year of his reign, her bio read Public Relations Officer to “them”. Gone was: Advocate for the People by the People. We did not know when we had lost her but we knew we had. Her words mocked our hope: encouraging poverty was a means to end corruption, to secure our future. We knew what had happened and even if our fingers denied to type the words, our minds thought it: hunger, like death, comes for all. 

When the registration for the elections finally came around, hope walked in as well and found a home in us again. It did not matter that the queues were long and windy; the process long, tiresome and inefficient; or that the sun was unforgiving, we were just eager for a new beginning, our arms itching to snatch back our future. ChiomaChristy’s (@ChiChri) hope transfigured itself to words every weekend reminding us to brave the elements (civil servants who thought themselves gods) and register. Some vendors (@FunkySmoothies, @delightchops, @glowensembles) had taken to offering pop up sales at registration centres in order to encourage more of us to participate. And it worked, for some of us. Some of us were more realistic, so we moved silently, dancing around debates about candidates and the elections but we registered anyway.

Hope, like love, arrived in a myriad of forms. For some of us, it came wearing a mask of denial. Danladixx (@Danladixx) continued to narrate stories of a functioning nation. Where he stood, the system worked and corruption was being hunted down and rooted out. We had become the poverty capital of the world, but for him – and those who retweeted him – it was always darkest before the dawn. Couldn’t they see the malnourished bodies, the hardened bodies, the dead bodies? Just how dark did it have to get? How many more bodies would it take? Others among us clothed our hope with fear, hiding like the big bad wolf from Little Red Riding Hood. After all, how many times would the “future” arrive before we saw it was just another hoax? We were the ones that hoped in our houses, away from the threads, the debates and the long queues at registration centres. Better to be safe within your home than for the ‘Armageddon’ to come and find you on a queue ready to plead with a ‘god’ to do their job. The rest of us had no hope, and never failed to laugh at those who did. And when you think about it, who could blame us?

The elections were postponed. We had had no hope so we were not surprised. Our fears were beginning to devour our hope from within, so we acted surprised. We had done sales, given out goods for lesser than we could afford, so we were annoyed. We had moved silently so while there was outrage, and banter being thrown at those who openly hoped, we were glad we were not seen. We had hoped, and hoped deeply, encouraging others to hope and so we were furious and felt betrayed. We would have to find a way to get ourselves excited again, to care again, but we knew we had lost a good number of ourselves to despair. Some of us had been won over due to the fact that we felt they could not be allowed to get away with this. The figures would have to balance out, they had to. For something that had been heralded for what seemed like eons, no excuses made sense. None sufficed. The elections were postponed on the eve of the big day of change, and then… they were not postponed. We bent even further than we thought we could, again. They held a couple of weeks after.

Election Day. We could have been forgiven for thinking that this was just going to be another normal day. We would find humour in our sadness, and everything will be okay in the end. Then news started filtering in, the hashtags and the threads formed and just like that hope came to rest on our lips and fingertips. @AishaYerima told us that where she was the officials had arrived and everything was proceeding in an orderly fashion. @Danladixx quoted this, followed with a thread on how our fears were invalid. The system was working, progress was here. Some of us heard this and felt our fear loosen its grip on our hope. Maybe it would get better, all of it. Maybe this was it.

Then the news came in. Election Tribune (@ElectionTribune), a group of international election observers, reported that they and a host of others were being detained at their hotels and not being allowed to leave to the polling units. We did not believe #FakeNews. Then the pictures and videos followed: doors barricaded from the outside, armoured trucks parked outside hotel buildings, and press members being asked ‘politely’ by armed officers to sit in the lobby and not leave their rooms. One recording ended with “Hey! You! Give me that phone now! What are you…?” Some of us thought that the phone was smashed. Others worried about what had happened to the owner of the phone. There was panic everywhere. We had had hope and here was it being replaced aggressively, and without prejudice, with despair. We had had no hope and yet this was not what we had imagined. We were surprised. We were all afraid. When NamibReporters (@NamibReports) sent in their videos: fires raging at polling units, children thumb printing at units, and bodies dropping to the floor during a stampede, despair had made its way into our homes. Hope was no longer “on seat”.

Some of us had allowed hope to carry us to polling units. We were churning up update after update about where we were. With a side of humour, a side that showed you were nonchalantly passionate, not afraid. Daniel (@Danitricks) was looking for his father. He had gone to vote at one of the units where fires were being reported. His number was switched off. @ChiChri was missing. We had not seen her updates for two hours and when we called, her number either kept ringing till the line ended or got forwarded to another number. Those of us who had moved silently, found our voices. We could not find our loved ones; our mothers were missing and our fathers feared dead. We were sharing their pictures everywhere, asking for news of any kind. Sometimes, we got questions asking what colour of shirt our father wore, and then for a second our hearts leapt in anticipation. Only to find out that it was not them. MohammedIsa’s (@MIsaa) brother came running into their compound with news. He was beaten, his shirt torn and his phone lost in the ruckus. The violence was not everywhere, only in places where hope was strongest. He had heard that some places had already even finished the voting without any issues. They had starved our dreams and now they wanted our hope too. But @MIsaa’s brother came back. He was alive. We waited by our windows. We sat by our doors. We began to hope again, silently. They would return to us.

We turned on our Televisions. We switched them back off. The analysts were cracking jokes and reporting peaceful elections in most parts of the country. What of our missing mothers, we thought. Or our fathers whom we had begun to think were dead. One station said there was a minor scuffle at two or three polling units but that the Commission and They had had it handled. The hours ran by till the time for the election’s end was reached. @ElectionTribune said that they had been released from the auditorium and their confiscated gadgets returned. @NamibReports reported that the fires were dying down, the streets were emptying and all that was left on them was that history – in whatever shape the story took, or whoever told the story-  had been made that day. More of ours returned to us; beaten, bruised and broken. But they were alive, they were with us. Some, we heard were dead; from the lips of those who saw the colour of shirt we described, or a shoe. Others, we knew were dead; we saw their dead bodies amongst the ones that were in snapshot that was circulating. We turned on our Televisions and waited.

@Danitricks found his father. Almost dead at the corner of their street where he fell while running from the men with the sticks and guns; almost dead, but he found him, and for now that was enough. @ChiChri was dead. Her brother had found her lying in a ditch with a ballot box, and its scattered contents, by her side. The people said that she was defending our right to vote when the men pushed her into the ditch and threw the ballot box on her bleeding body. The people had watched her bleed to death, out of fear they would be next. While we continued to receive news about our bodies and what had become of them  – those who dared to dream, to hope, to believe, @NamibReports announced through a highly trusted source that it seemed like power had been seized from the people and democracy abolished. We did not believe #FakeNews. Then @ElectionTribune confirmed it, so did @SureNG and a host of others. We stared at our Televisions and waited. Our Televisions showed us the weekend soap opera like it was just another day.

We stared at our screens, our fingers scrolling through each piece of information, searching for hope. International communities were reacting to the ‘rumours’ like it was in their constitutions, an undisputable fact. @Danladixx and his ilk, had begun to embrace the change, preaching that this, discipline, was what we needed. This was the way out of our suffering. The greater the suffering, the greater the peace. Some of us continued to doubt, fear dragging hope from wherever it hid and forcing her down our throats. We unearthed old funny videos, memes and laughed like nothing was happening. Some of us had already begun to make plans for escape, but we could not be sure of such plans because nothing was concrete. Some of us… we just waited. There was nothing we could say, nothing we could do anyway, why fret and panic? The rest of us prayed. For where else can you turn when it seems like all else is failing you, but religion – the greatest proponent of hope. God was in control. Dry bones shall rise again.

And so we waited- all of us- by our phones, by our laptops, our televisions. We waited for confirmation of what we all feared, confirmation of what had begun to take deep root in our hearts regardless of how much of hope we had allowed in. And we are still waiting. 

That was three days ago. Everything has changed, and nothing is the same. We are still not the future, a certainty that never seems to fade. Our numbers have dwindled at our table. The music playing tonight is courtesy of the crickets and the frogs. The other men are not here today. We miss one’s belly for the small relief our laughter would have offered us. We miss their boisterous laughter, and their tales extoling the nation, anything but the chorus being raised by this “band”. Tonight, our own bottles are sweating on to the table. 

We are tired and frustrated, so tonight we do not look at our screens. There is nothing to be found there.  We have been waiting and still nothing, just rumours and conspiracy theories. We are staring at each other, the events of the last few days running through our heads. Questions are forming somewhere amidst the chaos in our minds, but our lips do not birth them. We just stare into each other’s eyes in this darkness, searching for the light of hope that we once had. The light of hope that we once held in our phones, and in our hearts. A singular question seems to dominate our minds, you and I. How bad can it really get? We acknowledge each other with wistful smiles, reach for our bottles and drink.

 


Uchechukwu Osondu Agbowo Art African Literary ArtUche Osondu is a Nigerian, tragically. He swears by two things: food and anime. He is currently working on writing and living, in equal measures. He writes from Abuja.
Twitter Handle: @TheOsondu
Photo by Jimmy Jimmy from Pexels

Leave a Reply

INSTAGRAM
KNOW US BETTER
Please Add Widget from here