Tell   Nonso That We Are Looking For Him

Her lips are moving; Her  face is wet. The oil lamp is on the table. She can smell   smoke in the air. Her hand quakes over the paper, spilling words. Some   live, others are impaled by   straight lines. There are many lines, some straight, others crooked. The shadows flood every corner of the room; shadows from Mama bed, from Lotanna `s chair. They   flicker in the light of the oil lamp. A  heaviness constricts her heart and flood her eyes with fury: A volcano of   it. The magma flows in her hands and, drip wordily onto the paper. More rows   are filled on the paper, then more straight lines drawn. Mama makes an effort to raise her head, but it falls back again. A wheezing sound escapes from her nostrils and fills Lotanna `s ears with agony causing her hand to run over the paper again and write what   Mama is saying through breaths snatched through clogged airways.

Outside    brightness   flashes momentarily. Then  darkness, then brightness   again. Lotanna   hears a   loud sound from high up. Outside . She hears it again. It swallows up every other sound. The temperature of the room drops. Through the window there is yet another flash of brightness.

“Tell him that  we have seen three  yam seasons ,”Mama says, “ Tell him that Adanna  and  Nnadi  are now one and have two children; tell him that Ndubuisi  is seeking your hand; tell him that it is only one piece of land that is left in his name; tell him that this cough is wasting me.”

Mama  has   grown thinner. Her once strong, clear voice   which affectionately fastened on the   stresses of   Lotanna `s name now struggles to string words together. Her drugs are in a plastic container   near   her pillow, yet she coughs on breathing   with difficulty

Three years   ago   fate   pulled   Okolobia  down  from  the endless height of a palm tree. When he was found, his half-full keg of palm wine was lying   close to his body on the ground near stones   soaked with blood.  Nonso  had become the only man   in the family.

If Mama lives, there may yet be money for Lotanna `s WASSCE sometime next year. She will do anything to take the examination that ends secondary school and gives students the  lottery ticket of university education. Ndubuisi   already paid a visit to wish Mama quick recovery and to say he would  return with his people

Lotanna hopes Nonso  will  respond to the  letter as if it were a  summons of  court; Hopefully, he will come and Mama`s cough and heartache will dry up; Hopefully, he will take a wife  and their lineage will linger a little longer.  Hope.

Hope reduces the constriction in   her heart. The pen feels lighter in her hands; the paper is clearer. The room grows warmer. Hope.

“Tell him that  Dumebi   is  married to a man who wears shiny clothes and drives an expensive car from Onitsha; tell him that Chigozie  came  from the city and bought three lands and went back with two boys; tell him that Obinna   has gone to Ogidi to live with Chief Arinze who sells building materials; tell him that Igwe  Dike`s Ofalla  is this year; tell him that Obioma , Adaku  `s daughter now has pointed breasts and men are visiting her father; tell  him that here in Abagana  we now have water coming from pipes ; tell him that the last time it rained, a puddle of   water pooled   in his father`s room.”

Lotanna turns to the third page. Its edges are wet.




The words of the letter cause a burning sensation in Nonso`s eyes. His vision blurs. He dabs at his eyes.

The early morning sun streaming in through the window bounces off the   bathroom`s   tiles and   walls and mirrors. Some of the   sun light comes off Shirley`s tube of shampoo.

The letter is rumpled. It is torn in some places. Words about Adanna , Lotanna  and Mama burn   holes through Nonso `s heart. From the three pages of the letter, hands from home wave at him. Frantically .

Adanna is now a mother. And a wife. A keg of palm wine, a sum   of money, kolanut, wrappers, goats are about to be brought on Lotanna`s head.

He dabs at his eyes again. His friend, Chigozie  now has lands and boys he is training. Mama is growing  weaker from the cough.

The top of the letter is blurred. Nonso can only see November 13, 2017.Six months ago. Has  Mama   survived the six months? Is Lotanna  yet   unmarried; Has the  leaking roof  finally caved in?

Are they tired of waiting for him?  He has enough money to replace the lands his absence made his uncle take away. Three years ago, he left Abagana   with his two shirts and two trousers tucked into a nylon bag   in pursuit of greener   pastures. Now  , while the pastures here have stayed lush and green, the fields in Abagana are wilting under the   harmattan  of his absence.

The call from home is shrill. He can hear it. It is not only because it is contained in a letter written  in the hand of his seventeen-year-old youngest sister, it is also because  it was spat out  of  Mama`s cough. He has had reminders to go home in the last three years, mostly   from his heart, sometimes from his memory. But this letter is rumpled with nostalgia: a siren from Abagana, invoking the return of all her children. Our roof is leaking, We are looking for you. He can hear Mama`s voice strangled by cough, calling him to come home to her warm embrace, to her deeply felt words; to her thoroughly cooked food; to her fierce motherhood; to her solicitous maternal plans for him. He can see Lotanna `s trembling hands as they beckon to a brother she has not seen in three years; He can feel the dark power of  the recurrent cough that has terrorized Mama and her family  since he was a child. At least,  since father died. They all always   suspected the cough was from an enemy`s juju. This   letter is defiant of that cough. Lotanna wrote that Mama tells me all I write in this letter. Someone who knows Mama and Lotanna   knows where Nonso is. It is not Emeka; the   man who brought him and two others   to Tel Aviv   three years ago slumped and died   that same year. It was   alleged that juju, the terror of all  African diapora , followed him from home and killed him. He died leaving Nonso , Djibril who is a Senegalese, and Kofi who is   Ghanaian, but surprisingly fair-skinned,  to find their feet in a foreign land; to fend for themselves. In the blink of bewildered eyes, they had found themselves trapped on foreign soil. Dread of the squalor first   encountered in Tel Aviv had been easily weaker than the   dread of   the idea of going back to  Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana without making it, with their poor tails between their  weary legs.  They had chosen to   confront survival in a foreign land with heads without roofs; hands without funds, but hearts flaring with hope – the kind   of hope that emerged in the face of the ends of adversity and worked miracles. They had quickly found a community like the ones they left at home: many young African men praying for   crumbs to drop off Jewish tables.

Kofi had ended in prison after he was caught with negligible quantities of cocaine. His Israeli “employers” had betrayed him to their own authorities. They branded his fate a “black fate”. He was   deported.  Djibril   worked in a meat processing factory where the chickens whose feathers he plucked off for a living never found their way to his own mouth.  Yet, he gratefully made enough   money. This money in addition to softening   the blows of his own squalor travelled   to Dakar to support his widowed mother and eight siblings.

Nonso `s  looks and ability to give good sex was his escape from the squalor which trailed Djibril and Kofi like an oversize robe  for months. Shirley had recruited him to marry her in exchange for some stability in the face of   gales of immigration and harsh security measures.

Shirley `s body touches his. Her probing eyes search the  mirror he is facing.  Nonso    looks down. She is searching for his eyes. He will not allow her see them. Home is   fast moving away from him like debris snatched away by flood.

He is twenty-eight. She is thirty-eight. She is elegant and leggy. Each time they go out, her glowing skin  radiate the sun. She has a heart for Nonso, an immigrant, and for Yael, a Palestinian youth she calls her brother.  Nonso also knows she contributed to Koffi`s deportation. It was during the whole deportation mess that he met her.

“When will are we leaving? ” Shirley asks.

Nonso is startled. “To where ?”

“Abagana .” The pronunciation amuses Nonso.

“How did you?”

“Yael showed me the letter before giving it to you.”

“So you know they need me to   come home.”

Shirley places a hand around him. “You told me it has been three years. We will go.”

“We? You have done so much for me already. Let me go to Nigeria alone.”

“You know you may never come back if you go. Your papers will not allow you too and  my life will never remain the same.”

“This is your home.”Nonso says. “It will always be. Nigeria is my home. My people are calling me.”

“You are married to me.”

“It was a contract.”

“One you are not going to breach.”

“Even  now that I must go?”

“We take a lot of prisoners for that here, unlike in Nigeria.”

“I know that,” Nonso says  .” My mum is sick and…”His voice breaks “I must go and see her .I am the only man left in my family.”

“I want to go with you to Nigeria.”

“My people will never accept you as my wife.”

“At least they will accept you back as a son.”


Abagana  , Nigeria. Mama`s is crying and coughing.  Lotanna, heavily pregnant is crying too. Shirley is blowing her nose into her handkerchief. The letter had been a dice to providence. When they heard that Chidi had returned   from Israel, Mama was adamant that he helped them find Nonso and give him their letter. Chidi who on seeing Mama`s cough   had vowed to reach  Nonso  with the letter.

Nonso cannot stop crying.

“You abandoned us,” Mama says. “Now they have taken what belongs to you.”

“I am sorry, Mama.” His words are audible above the sobs. “I was trapped in Israel. I could not get out even though I needed to see each of you every single day, to hear your voice, to feel your warmth. It is thanks to this Shirley- he points to Shirley  – that I am  back home today.”

“You know I did not want you to go abroad. A bird in hand is worth two in the bush,” Mama`s voice trails off and Lotanna pats her chest. “A lot of our children go there and never return. How can our children just disappear in the name of going abroad?”Cough. Again. “We even heard that they treat you people  like outcasts there.”Another   pat on  her chest. Lotanna begs her to stop talking.

Nonso is grateful Shirley cannot understand the Igbo   Mam is speaking.

“I missed you so much, brother,” Lotanna says. “Adanna did too. She will soon be  here.”

Uncle Udoka   is shaking his head and saying “Finally, finally,”

A cluster of the villagers is gathering outside. The big car Nonso and Shirley came with is their  an attraction.

“Obodo oyibo , tufiakwa .”  A young man   says.

“I cannot wait for my uncle to come from Japan and take me with him.”Another   says. “That place is heaven. All we have in this village is poverty and lack. ”

“Count me out,” another   says. “That place is their heaven. He swings his hands around. “Abagana  is our own heaven.”

“Which heaven?” the Japan-bound young man snorts.

“ We have our culture, tradition and values. We have our children here. These things are worth more than gold. It is heaven”

“Now that I have seen you, I can die.” Mama says.

“Tufiakwa  Mama .” Lotanna says. “Look at me , I am heavy with my first child. If you die now, who will come for my omugwo?”

“You will not die, Mama, now that I am here” Nonso   says. “You will have the best treatment available here or in the city so you can live to enjoy your son`s wealth and wife. Your son has made it”

“Which  wife? This   one? Tufiakwa ” Mama says.“ Obioma , Adaku `s daughter, has been waiting for you.”

Nonso is grateful that Shirley cannot hear any of Mama`s words.

“Mama, I will marry a woman from Abagana . This is only the woman I work for.”

“And you will not return to the White man`s land. We have lost enough children to those   shores already. As Uncle Udoka here collected that land near the stream, he said you were never coming back.”

Nonso   looks at Uncle Udoka. He is looking at the ground shaking his head.

Mama coughs again and again. Then, she   falls silent.

The   End.