16 November 2013

FLORENTINA (For International Day for Tolerance)

Guest Writer: Dike-Ogu Chukwumerije
Image Credit: wesfaulk
I grew up in the darkness because there was always something wrong with the transformer in our estate, on the boundary between Lagos and Ogun. This was 1992 when Sango-Ota was still a quiet backwater. And the roads in Ojuore were all sand, and crooked. But my brother had a guitar. And at night he would sit, with a lantern at his feet, stroking strings at the edge of the kerosene-scented halo.

We sang his songs. None of them ever played on the radio. But I heard them, even in my dreams. It’s been many years now and sometimes I don’t remember that I still remember. You know what I mean? Then I was lost in Rome, one day, trying to find my way on the metro, surrounded by people some of who looked at me out of the corners of their eyes. I never understand when people have souls but don’t use them to see. Because I sat in a restaurant with a friend, but the waiter would only speak to him, never to me. And when I walked into a Post Office, the lady at the counter preferred dealing with the people that looked just like her.

Image Credit: thenews
It makes you paranoid, things like these. So, I too glanced out of the corners of my eyes, searching for shadow racists. Till the name of my stop flashed past – Laurentina. And I saw my brother again, in my mind’s eye, with the lamp at his feet. He wrote a song once, you see; called it – Florentina – the name of a girl another brother had fallen in love with. It is what brothers do for each other – put an arm around your shoulder and whisper, ‘Be strong’; or give you words when you lack them; find you when you need to be found. And, on that cluttered metro, I found myself again, singing lines from my brother’s old song: ‘There’s something I see in your eyes when you’re looking at me that tells me, that when I was gone you were thinking of me. And you were not complete…’

Ah! I tell you this, my friend, if you had walked over, and pulled out the empty chair at my table, you would have discovered that I glanced out of the window one day and fell in love; that I have pictures of my children on my phone and I can’t wait to talk about them; that I prefer taking the bus because I like staring and wondering where the people on the sidewalk are coming from, and where they are going to; that I have never been shopping in Italy, but I have walked for miles just to stand outside the Coliseum; that when it rains I sit on my verandah and watch it; and there’s a question you carry within you, a question you will never answer until you talk to me. 
Because we are all incomplete. Not because there’s something missing. It’s just that the Universe is not an extension of our selves and no one has found its end yet. No. There is always something more; something different. Try it. When next your heart (or your conscience, or whatever it is on the inside of you that still remembers the songs that made you dream once) dips its toes in new waters, follow it. Who knows? You might just end up – perfect as you are already – a better person. For it is the one who holds it that is held back by prejudice, never the one against whom it is held. So, when I opened my eyes again on that metro, it was all I saw – people, as broken and tired as I have been many evenings on my own way home, looking back at me. And, this time, when someone caught my eye, I didn’t ask why, I just smiled, until they looked away, or (imagine that) smiled back.

Dike-Ogu Chukwumerije is a writer, an author, a poet, and a performance poet. He has a Law degree from the University of Abuja and a masters degree from the University of London. He is the author of several books – including the celebrated poetry collection, ‘The Revolution Has No Tribe: A Collection of Poems on African History, Culture and Society’. An award winning Performance Poet, he has won several Performance Poetry Competitions in Nigeria, including the prestigious Abuja Literary Society (ALS) Grand Slam. His novel, ‘Urichindere’ recently won the 2013 Association of Nigerian Authors (ANA) Prize for Prose Fiction. He maintains two blogs, dikechukwumerije.blogspot.com and touchmeintheheart.blogspot.com. His works are available on Jumia, Amazon and Youtube.

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