Believe it or not, this is a love story…
Christmas nights are sometimes silent in Onitsha, rarely holy, but all is never calm, nor bright, because concealed in the shadow of night, are people who do things, evil things; as there are everywhere else in the world.
Christmas morning of the year 1999. I had woken at first light, giddy with the prospect of gorging on fried chicken, coleslaw and rice —nothing out of the ordinary, but cooked with deliberate care, and served with Christmas generosity. In my mind that was something to look forward to.
I rolled my mat after saying my prayers —my mother wanted me to help her in the kitchen, so attending Christmas morning mass at St. Agnes wasn’t an option —but the moment I stepped out of the bedroom I shared with my parents something strange happened to me. I felt swamped by a strange heat, my vision dissolved into pinpricks, and slowly, distantly, I felt myself fall. I didn’t feel my body impact the ground. I had retreated to a cold, dark blankness.
I didn’t die though. I could have died, but I didn’t.
When I woke up several hours later, it was to the sight of my mother sitting by me on the bed, her face stained with tears. She saw my eyes flutter open and she called for my father in a voice, which though flooded with relief, was still angry. “Npa Chioma!”
My father appeared instantly, his eyes cored with worry like I’ve never seen in them. He was wearing only the wrapper around his waist, sweat a sheen on his face and beads between the tangles of hair on his chest. He knelt at the bedside and held my hand in his.
“Nwa’m o… How are you feeling?”
I tried to talk, tried to nod, but I couldn’t. I felt so tired, so weak. I must have had a subconscious awareness of this bone-melting tiredness as I came to, because I didn’t attempt to sit up. I couldn’t have in my state.
I saw that my hand, held up by my father, was coated by a chalky-whiteness, which to the untrained eye might have seemed like Calamine lotion, but which to me meant one thing and one thing only: whatever had happened to me, witchcraft was involved.
“Npa Chioma, you know who’s behind this, right?” My mother whispered, her body crackling with static energy.
My father didn’t respond, just rubbed his thumbs across my knuckles, the friction wearing the chalky coating to reveal the pustules underneath. I realised with horror, tilting my head with great effort to a side, that my entire body was covered with these pustules, marked by the dry, caked coating that spanned my entire frame. I didn’t need to touch my face to know that my tears, as they leaked down the sides of it, were leaving tracks in the off-white ointment plastered thereon; an ointment my father had been given by a medicine-man at Aguileri.
“What happened to me, papa?” I asked, in an almost-inaudible croak that sounded like it had come from a tiny insect I’d swallowed; my head pounding with the ringing laughter and jeering remarks of children at school when I show up on Monday, covered in pustules and sores in the places I’d scratch.
My father didn’t respond still, just kept working his fingers, and I was seized by desperate pessimism. What if I didn’t live long enough to be jeered at and made fun of? Was I going to die? Why wasn’t papa saying anything, and why did he have tears in his eyes, and that fixed concentration like he wanted to take in all of my features as he possibly could for the last time?
I wanted to protest, wanted to say something to shake him back to the present, to reality. I am alive, I wanted to yell. I am alive!
I looked to my mother and she too was looking at me like I wasn’t there, and in that instant it was more than I could bear. And so I shut my eyes. The darkness embraced and took me in.
When next I woke, it had been to a sense of being in motion, or more correctly, a break in it: a drop from kinetic to potential energy. I would be amazed later how my Elementary Science lesson had come to me at such a time.
“Good afternoon, Oga Officer” I heard my father say.
We were in our family car, a Mercedes 500E; I was lying on the backseat, and both my parents were sitting in front, and wherever it was we were headed, our car had just been flagged down at a police checkpoint.
“Who’s that in the backseat?” I heard the police officer ask, his tone sharp and laced with suspicion. I imagined him fingering the trigger of a tear-gas gun strapped across his chest, like he could do any mortal damage with it.
“That’s my daughter. She’s sick. My wife and I are taking her to the village.”
“Why don’t you take her to the hospital?”
“Her ailment is beyond orthodox medicine.”
There was silence then. I imagined the police officer staring at my father with the intensity of laser-light, trying to see beyond his face to the intent behind his skull, and my father meeting his gaze head-on with one of innocence, of a man truly desperate.
I heard the officer take in a sharp, raspy breath —too many cigarettes, I thought; just like my father —and he must have imagined the worst because I could feel his shadow fall over me like an eclipse as he looked in on me through the car window, and I knew what he must have been thinking: that if whatever was happening to me defied orthodox medicine and my parents were driving me to the village, then it had to be because they wanted to save the cost for transporting me inter-state in a hearse. He must have thought they were taking me to the village to die.
And maybe it was just as well, because he let us on our way just as soon with a few words of encouragement for both my parents. I knew my father’s driver’s license was expired, and that his car papers needed renewal, but pity is powerful enough to make a man put his daily bread on the back-burner.
I fell back asleep as the car hummed beneath me, stirring half-heartedly with each bump as the threadbare tyres encountered potholes.
The car slowed as the quickly-disappearing trees of the expressway gave way to the bamboo trees and cassava stalks and underbrush, all stained with red dust that settles after rising in the wake of crawling, climbing cars and motorbikes on the dirt roads; roads that branched and forked and led farther and farther away from civilisation.
The car stopped finally, by which time a fire had started in my stomach that melted all the last reserves of my energy, spilling out of my body in hot sweat that soaked through my clothes and dampened the leather of the car seat.
“Chioma!” I heard my father yell.
“Chioma!” My mother gasped and screamed. I was shaken. Perhaps by my father, or it could have been my mother, but I couldn’t open my eyes. Then I felt myself being heaved and carried. I felt my head jerk up and down, up and down, and my legs swing carelessly; felt the powerful arms that cupped my mid-section and upper-legs; heard the patter of feet on hard-beaten earth; but through it all I felt myself retreat from my senses: the sounds dimmed, the feelings numbed. I was tired, so so tired, and all I just wanted to do was dissolve in the blackness and…
And what? I didn’t have the energy to think.
“Nna’nyi!!!” It was my father’s voice; hoarse and choked with tears.
Faintly, I heard my mother crying, shrieking: “Chi’m egbuom o! Chi’m egbuom o!”
“Ogini? Ogini? Japheth, what is it?” I recognised the voice, and I knew where I was, where my parents had brought me. It was to the house of the medicine-man at Aguileri, Deé Bushman, who had given my father the chalky ointment I was covered in to ward off the effect of witchcraft spells, curses, and jinxes.
“Nna’nyi o!” My father bellowed, “Ndi iro’m achola imegide’m!” My enemies are out to destroy me.
I felt myself being lowered, felt the solidity of the earth against my back, and I felt myself rise slowly to the surface, to my senses: the heat of the sun on my forehead, the smell of dust and sweat, the sound of my mother’s sobbing and the incomprehensible babbling of Deé Bushman as he muttered incantations, his words looping around me like the ropes of a pulley and lifting me out of the well of darkness I had begun succumbing to.
My eyelids, leaden, fluttered open, painfully, and my vision was assaulted all-at-once by the dazzling, blinding sunlight: overbright yellowness that dissolved into the face of Deé Bushman, crowded by the worry-etched visages of my parents. I could make out my mother’s tear-stained smile when I squinted hard enough.
‘Ada’m nno‘ Deé Bushman said. Welcome. Then he carried me into his obi, gently laid me on a raffia-strewn bamboo bed, and fed me a bitter-tasting liquid with a balmy tang from a calabash.
“Ebe ka ono ngbe ihe’a mere?” He asked my father where he was sitting on a bench beside my mother at the head of the bamboo bed, opposite Deé. Where was she when this happened to her?
My mother said how she had been in the kitchen and had heard me scream, only to rush out and find me covered from head to toe in pustules, writhing on the floor. I listened. I was getting my strength back. I could move my fingers and my toes.
“O’nsi ka ozoro n’ukwu” Deé Bushman said with the self-assuredness of a Doctor bearing bad news. According to him, I had stepped on some juju, which had brought on my severe bodily reactions.
Deé Bushman rose and went to a goat-skin bag on the wall, from whence he produced a mirror. He resumed his seat and looking in the mirror, started to mutter more incantations. He paused in between esoteric sentences, laughed to himself for effect, then continued.
He dropped the mirror face-down finally, then looking to my parents he informed them: “The juju wasn’t intended for your daughter. It was intended for you.” He looked pointedly at my father. “And it was spread across the door post of your bedroom by your neighbour.”
My family lives on the groundfloor of an old five-storey building populated with families that had more children than they could cater for and hustling street urchins that lived like rats to afford the flats they communally rented. Hence, we had a lot of neighbours, but my parents neither expressed interest in specifics nor inquired which of their neighbours it was who had planted the juju. They knew. I knew. And I was strong enough to be angry, to sit up and notice that the pustules on my skin were fading slowly.
Our apartment was the kind that was known in Onitsha as a “general flat”, one step up the ladder from the apartments that were referred to as “face-me-I-face-you” in the films about the hard-knock life in Lagos. It had one corridor that ran between its two parlours, two bedrooms, two kitchenettes, two toilets, two bathrooms; seperating the two families that lived therein, but not far apart enough to keep the peace.
My parents and I lived in GF1. My father, the longest-standing resident on the building had lived there for twenty-five years, long before my mother, and long before me, and as long as I’d known we had generally lived in relative peace, until the family in GF2 had moved out two months before, to be replaced by another family from Enugu state.
My parents and our new neighbours didn’t hit it off from the get go. The fact that they were from Enugu —people casually referred to by my parents as “ndi azumba“: backward people —didn’t help, and it wasn’t long before the first quarrel between my mother and Mrs. Aroh, our neighbour, the woman of the Aroh household.
It had been some triviality, something Mrs. Aroh’s only daughter had done —splash water all over the corridor, I think. But what had been maternal chiding on my mother’s part had turned into a heated argument when Mrs. Aroh had emerged from the family’s bedroom, offended by my mother’s scolding of her child and vocal about it.
Affronted, my mother had gone ballistic, her voice rising till it rang off the cracked ceiling and rattled our wooden windows, frightening the Aroh children into hiding. She had given Mrs. Aroh a severe dressing down, insulted her till she cried, and in the heat of rage, had said things she probably shouldn’t have: calling her ugly and shapeless and illiterate. The three cardinal belittle-rs in Onitsha.
Mrs. Aroh just before she ran into her bedroom had promised —no, threatened —to say a Novena with my mother’s name, all the while yanking at the Rosary beads that were intertwined with the Scapular of our Lady of Monte Cristo —what my Anglican classmates called “bom n’ihu, bom n’azu” —around her neck.
One week later, her infant son died.
I had been woken by screams in the Aroh bedroom to find my mother seated calmly on the edge of the bed, my father snoozing behind her, his face to the wall.
I didn’t try to stand. I just watched my mother as she listened, and made no attempt to find out what the cause of the early morning disturbance was, why her neighbour was so distraught at five in the morning. It was so unlike her to be so filled with hate, so uncaring and unsympathetic, but there was no other explanation for her inaction that morning. There couldn’t be.
It was very cold down the corridor of our general flat in the days that followed and little by little sprang signs of what was to come: a latch and padlock appeared on the plastic one-thousand litre drum the Aroh’s used to store water, and on their kitchen, toilet and bathroom doors. Soon after, ours underwent the same subtle transformation.
Then whispers of witchcraft began to trail my mother in the streets, upsetting her, naturally, so much so that she wanted to confront Mrs. Aroh. My father managed to calm her down, but when a fellow aspirant to the Knights of Saint Mulumba order who lived three streets down had come to him with an uncensored version of the slander peddled by Mrs. Aroh about my mother being a witch and killing her infant son, it was my father who was pounding on their bedroom door and waving a fist in Mr. Aroh’s face, veins ticking on his temples, threats on his lips and in the way he held his body, promising physical pain if nothing else should Mr. Aroh fail to keep his wife in check.
Around 3:00 AM the next morning my father, when he woke to go and take a piss, caught Mrs. Aroh redhanded as she splashed some liquid in a bottle across the doorpost of our bedroom.
He literally flew off the handle, bringing down the roof with his stentorian voice till all five floors came alive with sixty-watt yellow lights and unanswered questions.
The neighbours were curious. My father gave them answers. And in her defence Mrs. Aroh claimed it was only holy water in the bottle she had been pouring from, but wouldn’t drink it when my father demanded so.
The neighbours decided to deliberate on my father’s implicit accusation and Mrs. Aroh’s watery defence at a more godly time of day, and they did, but it came to nothing.
When my father returned home from his trade at Ogbo-Ogwu the next day, it hadn’t been with cooked groundnuts or okpa per usual, but with packets of incense, St. Michael’s oil, and bars of ‘Back To Sender’ soap. It was war, and by the time a prayer meeting was organised amongst all the principal residents of the building including Mr. and Mrs. Aroh, and my parents weren’t invited, it was clear which side was winning.
Days after that an Eviction Notice came from our Landlord. My father got a lawyer to write a legalese-laden letter, and that was the end of it. A small victory, but it was clear we couldn’t keep the fight up much longer.
My father started to talk seriously about moving. He used to speak about his being the longest-standing resident with so much pride, but twenty-five years down the line, everyone he’d known had moved out, and the house had been taken over by “ndi azumba“. We were the only Enugu non-indigenes on the building. We were outnumbered.
In a silent unacknowledged way, I think my mother and I were filled with controlled happiness at the turn of events, at the prospect of moving, finally. For many years my mother had tried to get my father to get us into a new flat, but as a child who should only be seen, not heard, I never could say just how tired I was of using my head like a tune-fork while in our bedroom, my nose seeking, through the grey blanket of tortured sleep, areas with the least concentration of the fetid air that oozed from the compound’s constantly-overflowing septic tank at the foot of our window; neither could I say that I never had friends over because I was ashamed of our apartment.
It was all going to change though, since my father had seriously begun to consider moving; I was ecstatic in my own little way, but it was a bit of mixed feelings nonetheless. I really did hope that when we moved it would only be a couple of streets down.
I wanted to stay in the same neighbourhood, in the same school. I wanted to keep seeing him…
In the last few days before my near-death, things had even quieted down a bit in our general flat. The dust had started to settle from the all-out, in-your-face unprovoked verbal-attacks to cold tension that hardly translated to words, and which to my naïve mind was a sign of an advancement —of peace or silent hatred however, I wasn’t sure. Even the choral competition between my mother and Mrs. Aroh in which they took unsubtle jabs at one another in a battle of hymns from both sides of the flat (Mrs. Aroh usually started the chorus-and-response with ‘Aka nsi ga ba gi n’onu‘ while my mother replied with ‘Thunder enigwe gbagbuo ha!‘) had run out of steam. And now this happens… Out of the blues, Mrs. Aroh tries to kill me —or more correctly, my father, which is still inexcusable, and I fell under whatever curse had been brought on by whatever juju she had invoked at our bedroom door.
I was livid, because in some way I had thought that though my parents didn’t see eye-to-eye with Mrs. Aroh and her husband, the Aroh children and I were somewhat removed from all the high emotions going between them; that no matter what, we would always be protected, untouched. And that yes, even though I didn’t get to play with the Aroh children anymore since all of these accusations and counter-accusations began to go up like fireworks in our little flat, the connection between me and them wasn’t only just redeemable, it had prospects; the possibilities of the future a manured soil in which it could thrive, and better. In my delirious girly daydreams even, Mrs. Aroh really liked me, loved me like one of her own. I could as well have been one of her daughters…
Chioma Aroh. I’ve always thought the name had a nice ring to it.
“What would you like me to do,” Deé Bushman asked, his question directed at my parents, “send the evil spirit of death back to this neighbour of yours, or just appease it and let it be on its way?”
My parents looked at each other, and my mother gave an imperciptible shake of her head, but it was my father who spoke:
“Nna’nyi, we wouldn’t like to stain our hands with blood”—
“Oh, you’re not!” Deé Bushman cut in solicitiously. “You’re only letting her have a taste of her own medicine. Obiara igbu’m gbuo onwenya, ngbe onala aka apukwalaya n’azu!”
My father sighed. I thought I saw my mother pinch him.
“Nna anyi” he repeated, more heavily this time, “we would much rather this spirit of death is appeased. This our neighbour has sold her soul to the devil, but I —we” —he adds looking at my mother —”we cannot live with something that weighty on our conscience.” My mother was nodding vigorously.
“I don’t agree with you father” I heard myself say.
Deé Bushman turned to me, as did both my parents, as if they had only just remembered I was there.
“She should pay for what she’s done” I continued, resolute. “I could have died, your only child. What’s to say she wouldn’t try again?”
My parents looked shell-shocked at the words coming out of my mouth. My father especially looked like he was a few more seconds of indecision away from coming and slapping his hand over my mouth.
“What do you want, my daughter?” Deé Bushman asked paternal-like, the concave smoothness of rich baritone conveying instantly that he was in my corner, effectively shutting out my parents’ muttered protests.
“I want her to taste her own medicine, Nna’anyi” I stated resolutely.
“No!” My father barked and shot to his feet. “Nna’anyi, she’s only a child! She doesn’t know what she’s saying. She doesn’t realise the implications of what she’s asking.”
“Do you want me to send the spirit of death that had come for you back to the one who sent it?” Deé Bushman asked me without giving my father so much as an acknowledging glance.
“Yes” I said, with eyes only for Deé Bushman, and a heart only for Jekwu…
“You do realise what that means, right?”
“She would die. Yes, I realise what it means Nna’anyi.” I could seat straight easily now. I had all my strength back.
Deé Bushman nodded, rose and left his obi, an awkward silence settling in his wake. My mother was looking at me like I’d broken every string that held together her fragile heart, and my father peered down at me from where he sat like I had become unrecognisable as of seconds ago.
They didn’t understand. I had crossed them, hurt them, undermined them —and to their faces, but it was for the best. It was what was best for us, Jekwu and I.
On the way home, it was a silent ride. It was going to be a silent Christmas too. I knew my mother was going to dutifully cook Christmas rice, and mix in salad cream to the melange of sliced and diced vegetables; she might no longer bother with frying the chicken, but I was going to have a generous helping nonetheless, only I was no longer looking forward to it. But it wasn’t out of guilt or anything of the sort, because in some way I was happy, ecstatic even, that I had gone ahead in time and made the waves calm for Jekwu and I. I had a difficult choice before me and I had done the cleverest thing in protecting my heart, and that was what was a bit disheartening: that though I had done this brazen forward-thinking thing, I could never speak of it; my parents were never going to understand it, and because of that would never really forgive me for it, or forget.
I had crossed them: that is all they’d ever think, and I had stained my hands with blood; my soul was tainted, and I suppose what to them was worst of all was that they, my parents, had been unable to protect me from myself; and in that way they must have thought themselves as having failed, resentful of the fact that I hadn’t given them a choice, that there hadn’t been a possible alternative where they could have done better, because ultimately, they had put me in the position where I had to sit on the judgment stool and make proclamation to the end of a human life.
It was never the same again between my parents and me after that day, and this —I have to be honest —I hadn’t anticipated. Though silent, the hatred that has grown in the place of my parents’ adoration for me has been coated over the years with layers of denial and excuses: ‘You know I haven’t quite warmed into this phone technology. I’m still stuck in the past where people send letters and wait months for a reply‘ ; ‘God knows, I really wish I could be at your graduation, but the fever came out of nowhere. I couldn’t move…. And your mother was caring for me. But thank God, I’m better now.‘ (Thought, but unsaid: Just hours after I needed you by my side. Convenient, or miraculous?)
Back on that Christmas afternoon though, I hadn’t seen as far into the future as I thought I did. So blinded was I by the puppy love of childhood that it would be years before I can scrutinise the events of that day objectively. However, sitting in the back of my father’s Mercedes 500E, on the way back home to Onitsha, all I could think of was Jekwu, Mrs. Aroh’s son; imagining a grown, handsome him, and a bloomed, beautiful me walking down the aisle of some grand church with high vaulted ceiling to the boom of bagpipes and plucked harp strings. In my mind, I could see my parents in the faceless crowd, waving and cheering; see them through raining confetti, as Jekwu, my husband, held my hand in his and we went out to the horse-drawn carriage waiting at the foot of the church’s sweeping limestone stairs.
When later on our wedding night he’d come to me and whisper how much he missed his mother, and how he wished she was there to watch us be married, I knew what I’d say to him: It is all for the best, Jekwu, my love… And the daydreams had made me so giddy I was lightheaded; replaying in my mind over and over again as the Mercedes eased past Ngbuka junction, what Jekwu had said to me weeks ago, while we played “Daddy and Mummy” under the stairs that led up to the first floor of our tenement: He’d pecked me and said, ‘One day when I am big and I have plenty money, I’ll marry you and take you to London.’
I’d known him less than a week at the time, but I believed him. That was why his mother had to leave the picture. It became too clear to me in Deé Bushman’s obi, that she was never going to let Jekwu and I be together, and I wanted to be his wife so; I wanted to have his children, to fly all around the world with him, to places I’d only seen on TV or read of in English textbooks with more pictures than words.
One day when I am big and I have plenty money, I’ll marry you and take you to London…
That had to be; Jekwu and I just had to be, but his mother was going to be a stumbling block in our way. Do you understand now what I thought then? Why I said what I said?
In my head, a little girl of ten, the future didn’t go beyond what I thought it would be; couldn’t go beyond the people I projected into it from my present. A little girl of ten, my present had been my future, and cloaked by the invincibility of childhood, I’d never imagined I had no say in what was to come, what was to become. My life was my parents, and me…and Jekwu, because he’d caught my fancy and he was the handsomest little boy on my street, and he liked me. He liked to play Daddy while I played Mummy; he put his hands under my skirt, and smiled when I did not protest. He said we would be married and I believed him.
A little girl of ten who saw the world through a mind that never thought it’d grow.
Jekwu, his father, and siblings moved out of our flat shortly after his mother died —the doctors said it was Fibroid —and I never saw him again.
There was a feeling of emptiness in my stomach where the butterflies and everything they’d fluttered around had been hollowed out. I wondered why he didn’t even say goodbye and I had felt desolate, but that passed over the weeks as soon I started to forget to remember Jekwu for days on end, and then for weeks; especially after I had been paired on a seat with a newcomer in my class whose father, a banker, had been transferred to Onitsha from Lagos. His name was Joseph, he was half-caste —his mother was Lebanese —and the way all the girls in class fawned over him and the all the boys wanted to be friends made him cocky; but he had this curly brown hair, clear hazel eyes, and the fairest skin. He was beautiful in an idyllic way, and he liked me. I liked him too —how could I not? —and had felt no short of blessed when I let him put his hand up my skirt.
Sometimes, I wonder what Jekwu looks like now, and I’m almost certain he wouldn’t have entirely lost his boyish looks. Now, grown myself, beautiful and still unmarried, I conjure images of him, his features morphed with age through the lenses of my experiences: maybe a little firmer around the jawline and more defined around the cheeks, which would make him less handsome; but good-looking nonetheless.
It occurs to me now that should I meet Jekwu, I probably wouldn’t consider him the least bit attractive, let alone as someone with whom I could have romantic prospects, but I think that’s what was most incredible about childhood: the lights and tones were softer, judgments marked more by imagination than reality; happiness a state of being that could easily depend on something as common as a stick of Banana chewing-gum, rather than the ideal adults chase their tails trying to attain, only to find when they should have found happiness that those ideals have changed.
Jekwu wouldn’t have grown to be tall. He had these heavy-set tubers for calves that looked somewhat like they had been implanted with dumb-bells. Funny thing is I had grown to be the sort of girl who had a taste for tall men only; the sort of girl who hated Marvel comics’ calf-muscles, because I associated them with short men held rooted to the ground by the weight at the hind of their legs.
I miss my parents sometimes, but I always remind myself that it’s a comfortable life I lead now, and I only have it because moving away from home had been a relief more than anything else. My roots in Onitsha had withered and died, and the fact of my parent’s continued existence was just a — sometimes, painful —reminder.
I go through the motions of telephoning and checking up on them every once in a while, sending them money for medication, and Christmas gifts via waybill through transport companies, but I had long stopped trying to convince myself that I was doing anything more than bidding time, until one of them was to die, and the other had no one but me…
One thing I hadn’t ever done however was dreg up remorse for my choice in Deé Bushman’s obi years ago. Though my parents for their reasons had refused to forgive me for it, I had done nothing particularly wrong, even considering that my inclination that day had been shaded solely by the prepubescent, half-part sexual, half-part oneiric energy of puppy love. Mrs. Aroh had what was coming to her.
I could have died, but it wasn’t enough to survive; reasonably, I’d wanted to live, and to be assured continually that I wasn’t going to labour under any further black-magic curses, any other attempts on my parents’ lives to which I could easily have fallen prey. There is no shame in that.
It’s like the doctors said: Mrs. Aroh had been done in by Fibroid, entirely natural causes. End of story.
I catch myself thinking sometimes about the future, and always I remind myself not to get carried away; not to project into my future from the present, or worse, the past. I’ve learnt not to have expectations in tomorrows, and that is probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned in life, my own personal mantra, and it comes from recalling —and this is probably the only thing I’ll never fully forgive myself for —how naïve I had been that Christmas day of ’99, sitting in the back of my father’s Mercedes, dreaming, conjuring pictures in my mind of what was to come.
I’d heard the future call like birdsong that day: sweet, alluring, seductive, and I’d been taken by it, hoodwinked by the appeal of it, so much so that I hadn’t considered: that birdsongs are in an incomprehensible tongue, and no matter how musical, how pleasing, there was no way of knowing what it meant.
I don’t think of the future much these days, in the way I no longer listen to birds sing.
Because it all means nothing in the end.