Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Voice 2

Ichi, 8 October, 2018

Some of you who have spoken with me, even if on one occasion, may remember that they found it hard understanding me whenever I had to say a word that has any or both of the sounds, /r/ and /l/. Of course I have a bush Igbo accent. But my difficulty in pronouncing the sounds is NOT due to accent; it IS a #disability. I AM #disabled. My /r/ and /l/ come out as -ng, as in ñ in ñuo, drink. There's a reason why this is so -- I have a #cleftPalate, a short narrow slit in the roof of my mouth. It took me till I was 19 or 20 to realize that this slit wasn't normal, that my brothers and sister don't have this slit, that this slit was why I couldn't articulate right /r/ and /l/, that everyone who articulates every sound right have their palates even. My dictionary was open before me, with ‘cleft palate’ one of the lexemes in the pages. I read the definition and knew at once that ‘cleft palate’ was the name for this slit in the roof of my mouth. I was surprised that the lexicographers knew about this condition, the name, a condition I always thought was peculiar to me because I never met anyone else who had it.

In my hearing, my /r/ and /l/ are perfect. But while I was 10 or 11, in primary 4, I was the subject of a wild, taunting laughter by my classmates. The teacher had asked us to keep quiet and place our heads on our desks. We obeyed, till a boy named Emeka #Okolo said something and the teacher asked who made the noise. I shouted, 'It's Emeka Okolo', and the whole class pealed with laughter. I knew, I just knew, that the laughter was a taunt directed at ME, not to Emeka. And I knew, too, that the matter was with what I said. I think -- I don't remember now -- that I was sure the matter was with my pronunciation of the /l/ in 'Okolo'. I didn't know before then that I couldn’t articulate right /l/ and /r/, but somehow I just knew that the laughter was because of my /l/ sound. That incidence was my great discovery, my epiphany.

Somehow, I became a teacher just after my secondary school. I taught mathematics and physics, two subjects which involve numbers, one of which is #three and its countless variants. My model and hero, Mrs Egbogota, my physics teacher in secondary school, had a culture of dictating from her notebook, while the students put down the words she read. In the course of her dictations, she would often pause to explain important concepts, derive formulas, or solve problems the students had already taken down. I adopted her methods when I began to teach, because it helps the teacher and students achieve more for a given time. But my students often frowned whenever I said ‘parallel’ or ‘acceleration’. I knew the cause of their frowns, tried my best to reduce their confusion by ‘swallowing’ the /r/ and /l/ in those words, before inching towards the board to put down what I meant. But my swallowing must not have helped much – I’ve found out long ago that my /l/ and /r/ come out as /h/, another sound I SUSPECT I can’t pronounce right, when I tend to swallow them. So if you have spoken with me, even on just one occasion, you may have heard /h/ when I meant /r/ and /l/ because of the reason above. Indeed, the only persons I speak NATURALLY to, without trying to hide my #impairment, are my siblings and parents and very few friends. Even my mother sometimes repeats my words, testament to her confusion, and I can’t help feeling hurt at my condition and cross at her for having not fully understood after all these years.

In 2016, my sister told me about a lady, Nwunye Nwoke Police, whose /r/ and /l/ sound like /n/. I knew at once that the lady’s /r/ and /l/ sound like -ng, ñ, just like mine, not exactly /n/. I knew this lady, but I didn’t know, before my sister told me, that we shared the same disability. In fact, I didn’t know one person who had those difficulties except me. I battled with a lisp while I was a kid – my /s/ and /z/ came out as /f/ and /v/ -- but I conquered before I was a teenager, and I’ve met a few persons who spoke with a lisp. I stammer and I’ve met quite a number of stammerers. But before I learned of this woman’s condition, I had not met one person who shared the condition with me. So I somehow felt nice about this knowledge and would have loved to speak with the woman, now armed with the knowledge of our shared disability. But her husband, Nwoke Police, had retired and the family had moved home to the man’s ancestral town. I told my sister that I had the same condition, that the woman’s /l/ and /r/ didn’t quite come out as /n/ but as /ñ/, and she was visibly surprised. She had never noticed that my /l/ and /r/ didn’t sound right. She said the truth, there was no question whatever of her having lied to make me feel good. I was a little hurt, then I thought maybe it’s typical of love to make a flaw, a disability, appear right, disappear. I would love to know if my brothers and father know that I have difficulty articulating /l/ and /r/, just to be sure, but the opportunity has never presented itself.

I continued to teach after I graduated from university. But I lacked the courage of my post-secondary school self: I wrote notes on the board now, rather than dictate for my students. And having compared writing on the board and dictating for students, I knew firsthand which is better to achieve more in a given time. Which was why I gave the middle finger to my cleft palate during my NYSC service and began to dictate my notes again. But I could barely stand the students' frowns and, well, taunts. The taunts were inaudible – more like mischievous smiles and exchange of discreet looks among themselves – but they were enough to make me resort to copying on the board beginning just from my second lesson with each class.

Service is over, since April, and I teach now. Today, a girl – my student – mocked me. It was unprecedented, nothing like any taunt I’ve experienced from my students over the years. She broke every record. My subject was their last lesson before break. I had not finished what I intended to when it was break time. So I continued, hoping to round up quickly and leave them to go for break. But some of them protested. So I said who ever wanted to go could: ‘You can go for break if you wish…’ Immediately, the girl went: ‘You can go for bheak… you can go for bheak… you can go for bheak…’ very loud, while her classmates guffawed with laughter. I felt very embarrassed, but like has been my manner each time I’m taunted about my disabilities, I pretended I didn’t notice.

Since I returned from school, reevaluating my day, I’ve marvelled at the girl’s courage. First thing tomorrow morning, I’ll find out her name.

Friday, 23 June 2017


Brother Onyeka gives me a hundred naira note and asks me to buy him ‘mineral’, any of the big one-litre bottle sold at sixty naira, at Mama Mike’s shop. I hop down the flights of stairs, skipping the nearest staircase and landing on the next with every hop.
At Mama Mike’s, her son Emma gives me Goldspot, sold at fifty naira, though I told him I wanted any of the sixty naira brand – Coke or Sprite or Fanta. As I clutch the misted icy bottle to my chest and leave the shop, I wonder if Emma didn’t hear or if the price of Coke and Sprite and Fanta has appreciated or if I unwittingly said fifty when I meant sixty. I wonder, instead of asking, perhaps because I am a little boy of four or six who has yet to ‘find his voice’, especially with adults.
Upstairs on the front balcony, Brother Onyeka asks how much mineral I said I wanted. He’s sure that I, a nursery three or primary one child, am the one who must have made a mistake, not Emma, a dopa whose chin is already a deeper shade than the rest of his face.
And my reply corroborates his certitude. ‘Sixty.’
‘Fifty!’ he pipes. ‘Did I say fifty or sixty? When you kids are being sent on an errand you don’t ever listen.’
It dawns on me then: my s comes out as f. He takes the bottle and change from me and I mutter a Thank God in my heart: he could have asked me to go change it and how would I have told Emma what I mean? For hours, I wallow in the doldrums and don’t join my mates I’d been playing with.
It doesn’t take long before I decipher the cause of the impairment: the tip of my tongue peeks out between my upper and lower incisors whenever it encounters an s or a z, as though I want to pronounce th like a typical Briton. For the next ten or three years, I often still wallow in the doldrums. Till I find a solution: I make a conscious effort to clasp my teeth before my tongue can peep through. At first it’s not easy – the way making sure your eyes don’t blink isn’t easy. Then months later Udoka observes casually, in reply to my remark that I used to ‘have my tongue in my mouth’ while speaking, that yes I no longer say five when I mean size.

Nsukka, 23/01/2017 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Acting Man

When she said, ‘Saa, so you have a sister who attended St Patrick’s,’ you knew instinctively she’d always – for days or weeks even – wanted to say it, only the opportunity never presented itself, only you never presented her with the opportunity. You’re a guy who doesn’t feel the burden of ‘acting man’ to a girl, to girls. Or maybe you feel it, sometimes, but you don’t ever let it give you a cricked neck, you hurl it down just as the first throbs of a crick begin.
Now, you were here because you had to be, because Oge needed help with getting typed the exam question papers. That’s why the opportunity presented itself.
            ‘Which of my sisters?’
            ‘How many sisters do you have? Do you have more than one? Do you have more than one who attended St Patrick’s? Your sister, Afma naa.’
            ‘So you know Afma!’
            ‘Haa, Afma was my classmate.’
            ‘Oh! So you’re a small girl, and I’ve been thinking you’re my senior.’
            ‘Saa, no oo! I’m not your senior oo!’
            What followed was a tale, by you, of Afma’s academic progress since St Patrick’s, all of which she, by her responses, appeared to know already.
            ‘Who told you I was her brother?’
            ‘Master Ud’erika.’
            After school, you found her and her colleague – they are student teachers on teaching practice – standing by the roadside, apparently waiting for a commercial transport to board.
            ‘Do you think any vehicle is ever going to pass this way?’ you said. ‘Better begin to trek.’ They laughed and you passed by, walking along by the roadside and looking over your shoulder now and again to see if there was any approaching transport.
When you eventually waved a bus to a stop, you boarded to find her beaming face. ‘Where, then, is Aunty?’
‘She’s alighted.’
The bus reached her stop and she moved to pay the driver, but you asked her to forget it, you’d pay for her.
‘Saa, thank you,’ she said and alighted.
The next day, you went again to help Oge. When it was about time to go, she asked you to please wait so you could go together.
‘You know,’ you said, ‘I don’t like waiting till school is over. You’d board a keke and a student would board, too, the same keke, and expect you to pay her or his fare.’ Everyone tilted their heads back in laughter. ‘But let me get ready downstairs,’ you continued, ‘clean up myself and get my books.’
So you went together – waited for transport and eventually boarded – all the while chatting about management’s subtle manipulation. She got to her stop and alighted and, without the least care to pay the driver, was already waddling away when you called out, ‘You’ve not paid the driver oo!’ She turned, and you thought her ever-smiling face was flushed with embarrassment.
Meanwhile you said to the driver, ‘Or Driver do you wish to leave her?’
She walked up just in time to the passenger side window to hear the driver’s reply. ‘No oo! I thought you were going to pay for her. I heard your conversation, it was deep. You know, this is we men’s plight, a man and a woman would board a bus and the man would be expected to pay.’
She rummaged around in her handbag, saying, ‘Driver sorry oo. Please don’t be annoyed.’ She glanced at you – the embarrassment now gave the smile a sheepish edge – when she’d paid, before turning to leave.
To the driver, evidently one of the majority of men who foment the plight he bitterly complained about, you just said, weakly, ‘You should have asked her for her fare, or at least asked me if it was on me, before assuming.’ Action truly would have spoken louder than words, for the first thing that occurred to you was to let her go, with the fare, and make the driver pay dearly for his rashness. But you didn’t want her to leave with the notion that she got her own way, perhaps for the umpteenth time, with a guy, certainly not with you. Deep down, though, you knew there was a slight chance that, like her apology to the driver might have suggested, her sheepish glance regardless, she forgot. And you have left that chance open.

Ichi, 02 – 04/12/2016

Sunday, 3 July 2016


Hello reader, seems like I’ve made some mathematical ‘discovery’. Here:
     Assume any number x. The square of x is equal to the product of the difference between x and 1 and the sum of x and 1, all plus 1.
                 x^2=(x-1)(X+1)+1      for all x
See, this is actually easy because the terms in brackets will actually multiply out to become a difference of two squares, viz.: , which when you add 1 to simplifies to . But I never saw it this way, until I began to prepare for my exams on Control Engineering and was multiplying numbers like 7 and 9 and was getting 64( ) as the answer. I quickly checked for other numbers and the ‘theory’ still stood tall, so I ‘propounded’ it above.
Of course ‘mathematicians’ must have known this long ago, but I didn’t know. (I’m not a mathematician anyway.) Or I knew but didn’t understand, whatever that means. But I’m happy I discovered this myself and didn’t read it anywhere, and I admire my observance. Thank you for reading.

Nsukka, 02/07/16.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Nsukka, 11/05/16

Mon is not the name of a day. Mon is the name of a human being. Perhaps because of a poor academic background or because it took him very long to attend university – he seems older than majority of his mates – he asks the ‘stupidest’ questions in class, wringing out the coyest of smiles from the most mature of lecturers (of course the reactions of the immature ones is beneath the scope of this story) – ‘the only stupid question is the unasked one’. Even amid the derisive hailing from some mates – ‘Mon! Mon Mon! Gupta!’ - and the direct ‘masking down’ from other mates – ‘Confused boy! Mon confused boy! This man sit down!’ – he remains unfazed and will repeat himself as many times as the lecturer is patient to hear him out. And he will still stand to ask his questions in other lectures – today, tomorrow, next semester, next three sessions.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

For Nma, without whom I may never have written this . . .

Nsukka, 27 – 28/11/2015

From the earliest part of my life I can remember till now, I’ve occasionally, almost daily, ‘suffered’ depression. Heaps of heavy wet dune on my heart; my head, thoughts, some stirred murky water; my lips heavy and clumsy, don’t impulsively fall apart again to utter some human sound; my deep husky voice strained (Celine – we became friends when I was around twenty – is the one who made me aware my voice betrays my depression: This one your voice is this way, has depression come?, she always guessed right.); countenance like shit splashed on a wall (people always wondered, by scanning my visage, whether I was fine).

For a greater part of my childhood days, almost daily, my heart dimmed with the dimming of days. My limbs lethargic, I would sulk and prefer to lounge away at the black-brown railings of the balcony of our floor at Onitsha, watching the street, missing my mum, hoping for her arrival from her shop at Affar Street, sometimes thinking morbidly some reckless driver had knocked her down. People’s near presence, voices, their prying whether I was well, their attempts to begin a conversation, irritated me at those moments and I easily took offence. It didn’t matter if these people were my dear siblings.

I felt something akin to these bouts of burdened hearts when, for instance, I broke a glass pane or a light bulb while we, my brothers and I, played football, against my father’s and other adults’ instructions, in the wide passage of the floor. I would sulk, my heart heavy, till my father or one of the adults found out in the evening. My heart bled, too, the day Brother Amechi caught us smoking just rolled lighted paper, no intoxicant inside, in the wide passage and said he’d report us to our father.

But especially of note, because the bleeding now lasted for days for the very first time, was an incidence that happened when I was almost ten. I was seven or eight when Ngozi (she lived on the first floor with her family), who should be a year or two older, and I discovered the bliss of toying with each other’s sex organs, humping with our clothes on. Even at such an early age, she turned wet down there when I touch her, I swear. Under the steps, along the steps, upstairs at our floor, downstairs inside their bedroom on Saturdays when she was busy with house chores, anytime and anywhere where we both found ourselves alone. Two months or less before I clocked ten, we had to open up to our instructor at the Catechism class for Holy Communion during the retreat. The retreat was held differently for the boys and the girls. We had only to admit yes, we’d touched some girl (or boy), judging by the question the instructor put to the boys. But somehow I and Ngozi were singled out before the whole class a few days after the girls’ retreat, which held last. I didn’t know whatever happened, perhaps she divulged more, perhaps the instructor had pressed on because she was one of the prefects. It became known to all the prefects and instructors and, of course, all those that had anything to do with them I enjoyed some dirty thing with her, and the depression, for the first time, lasted for days.

But perhaps we all feel these acute worry over some incidence, perhaps my reaction to these incidences can’t be called depression at all. But my brothers seemed perfectly calm after the smoking and football incidences, Ngozi seemed calm too after the singling out. Perhaps they thought I was calm, too.


When, at fifteen or sixteen, I discovered the word ‘depression’ on the pages of Tim LaHaye’s Why You Act the Way You Do, I immediately knew I’d eventually found a name for this lifelong inexplicable emotional turmoil. LaHaye helped me somehow, in that at least he gave me a name for that hitherto confoundment, made me begin to understand to some extent why I’m that way, made some attempts at proffering some solution to it, which worked, still works, even if a bit.

Around that time I began to visit my friend, Kene, anytime I felt depressed (not LaHaye’s prescription, just my own way of – I’m ashamed to admit it – running away from myself). My therapy worked for the time I spent with Kene, but the depression always returned with a more forceful freshness as soon as we parted ways each time. I still look out for some special friends to spend time with when I’m depressed, but staying alone in hope for it to pass, assuring myself that it’d pass, that it’s only a matter of time before it passes, and striving – because I prefer to, and mostly do, laze away whenever I’m bombarded by such bouts – to carry on with my normal routine always prove more efficacious.

Writing, though, seems most efficacious; it has proved a never-failing therapy for the very few times, as now, I have tried it.

My depression, like I’ve said, are sometimes caused, sometimes not. From experience, it seems the caused ones take longer to peter out. Perhaps what I suffer, especially when it’s caused, isn’t even depression, perhaps true depression is uncaused. Or perhaps mine isn’t the kind of acute cases that need series of therapies with some trained psychoanalyst, doesn’t need some anti-depressant. But I believe I need no medical help, believe medical help – or any therapy whatever – can’t put a stop to it for good. I believe it’s just what I have to live with all my life, like my stammering and my impairment with the sounds /l/ and /r/.  Perhaps what I even suffer isn’t depression at all, acute or not, but let’s just tentatively call it so, at least till we’ve found an apter name.

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Ichi, 12 – 15/10/2015

‘Didn’t know the love has gotten that strong,’ your phone beeps, an incoming WhatsApp message from Edu. ‘Your relationship status update on facebook. Thumbs up.’ You told him about Kay last December, when the relationship was barely two months old.

You send him a laugh emoticon; it’s indeed funny, the ‘thumbs up’, albeit you’re at a loss what he’s congratulating you for: the love that ‘has gotten that strong’ or the status you updated. Whichever, you don’t consider it a feat. You think instead it’s luck, sheer luck, you’ve dated Kay for over a year now. And the ‘In a relationship with Kay since 27 September, 2014’ status had been there until a day – less than a day – ago when you had to change it to ‘Single’ because Morgana, Kay’s elder sister, disapproved of the relationship and you had to break up briefly, very briefly, with Kay. Now everything has been resolved, somewhat, and you thought it wise to restore the former status.

‘It’s over a year now naa.’ Once you’ve sent him that, you have this inkling that it’s perhaps your ‘boldness’ at going public with the relationship that he congratulated you for. For you know how many a man (and girls too: Cindy often tell you how she wouldn’t show her guy how she love him lest it give him an advantage over her. You’ve heard some girls too lie about not dating their boyfriends, at the guys’ back of course.) think a man’s greatest tragedy is showing his girl more love than she shows him; how many a man think their love for their girls should be baits that make the girls keep begging for more.

Of course you can’t see you’ve done anything bold. You love a girl, fb asks you if you do, you say yes. Finish!

Didn’t even know
I’m really growing tired of relationships’

‘I sometimes get tired, too. If ever I break up with her, then it’s over. But I love her.’

‘Of course you do J No guy broadcasts to the world his love for a girl who doesn’t love her
You know I’ve gone deep with Ruby and due to that reason I gave up on so many other girls
I mean more beautiful and understanding girls’

You know Ruby, an uncertain – what with her heavy cosmetic titivation – chocolate-complexioned beauty. ‘Yet it didn’t work with her after all your sacrifices?’

‘No regrets tho
We still together just that am tired of the whole shit
Have come to realize that we’re not really an item’

‘Not an item?’ You miss the idiom.

Always having cash issues’

His illumination doesn’t help, but you let it be. Laugh emoticon.

‘It sounds funny right?’

It’s really the tone of his lamentations you find funny. ‘She requests money from you?’ You never imagined Ruby would extort guys. You hold her in high esteem; her openness with matters about sex and her unwanted pregnancy whenever you chat with her on fb cast her as a very considerate and mature girl.

Most girls do
And she happens to be one of them’

However truthful her comment that ‘most girls do’, you’re pissed off by it; it’s as though he’s excusing his foolishness by the comment. ‘Nawa oo.
That’s one of my tests of a girl’s love for me.
If you often request from me, you don’t love me.’

But you know as a guy you must assist your girl with little stuff’

‘And the girl should assist me with little stuff, too.’ Shit, you didn’t see he used ‘must’! ‘See, I think really it’s we guys who let girls extort us by thinking we ALONE should assist them financially.’


You think your text is clear as clear can be. ‘I think financial assistance should be mutual.’


‘And in any relationship I’m a party I make my position clear: that giving and taking should be mutual.
Indeed I don’t even “chyke” a girl at first if I found out she has that disposition that only the guy should give and only the girl receive.
It’s injustice to me.’

‘Men I’m just tired’

‘Tiredness won’t solve a thing, bro.’

‘Don’t worry sha am not letting it happen again’

But you’re already worked up by this case, like you always are by every such case, of girls’ heartlessness, guys’ stupidity. ‘It’s for YOU to put a stop to all those nonsense.
Even for a seemingly unimportant matter as calls, I insist the girl call me too. I can’t be the only one calling. It’s absolutely unfair and unacceptable to me.’

‘Really gonna do that’

‘You have to.’

‘Just that you know it ain’t as easy as it’s said’

‘It isn’t easy because all along you’ve been the one giving her. It would seem odd waking up someday and telling her you want giving to now be mutual.’

‘Not even abt giving’

‘That’s why I always define my stance ab initio. But fuck the oddity, you have to tell her.’

‘I mean letting go’

You’re surprised he’s admitted it now; some years back when Morgana – yes, she’s your ex! – broke your heart he’d told how easily you could forget her. ‘Oh, that!
Yeah, but you can.’

‘Cos I can’t stop giving and expect everything to be normal btw us still
I know
Am trying to actually’

‘Explain your newfound enlightenment to her. If she can’t cope with it then find another girl.
And be sure to sure to make your position clear to the new girl from day 1.’

‘I have a couple of girls already just that even with them being around
It’s still like my heart is stuck with her

‘See, you’ll lose many girls with this newfound enlightenment, but certainly those girls are “losable”. Any girl who sees relationships as means to amass wealth from guys is “losable”, should be done away with.
So you’ll lose many girls, but the few you’ll have around you’d be glad you have them.’

‘She’s actually the only problem when it comes to cash’

‘Women rant about feminism and how men marginalize them, but they won’t agree there’s any way whatever they marginalize men.
This, and many more, is one such way.’

‘To her and her types all she can ever offer in a relationship is sex’

‘About being hard to leave her, I’ll give you the formula I used on Morgana and hope it works for you.’

‘Ok ready to get it’

‘You know about the issue of sex, I don’t think a girl is actually offering me anything by letting me do her. At least I don’t think she’s the ONLY one offering something when we fuck. I offer her something, too. Sex is a mutual act, bro. Sexual pleasure, too, is mutual. It’s not as though I’m the only one enjoying the fuck.
OK now the formula:’


‘First minimize communication with her.’

‘Am already on that
But she calls’

‘If, for instance, you used to call her daily, you could cut down to calling her once in two or three days, depending on how far your emotions could carry you.’


‘Like how often does she call?’

‘I mean like if she doesn’t hear from me’

‘OK. It doesn’t matter, still keep at what you’re aiming at – cutting down communication with her. You could give her one or other excuse when she asks why you don’t call as often as you used to.’


‘Then when you think your emotions could carry it, extend the gap in communication to like calling her once in 4 days or once in a week. And so on. Just keep increasing the bridge in communication whenever you feel your feelings could extend the bridge.’


‘You don’t have to force anything, just go at the pace of your emotions.’


‘With time you’d find you could spend months without hearing from her and you’d feel perfectly normal.’

‘Yap definitely’

‘And all the while keep reassuring yourself that YOU own yourself. That the bad feelings would still pass, that it certainly wouldn’t last forever. That it would pass and you would feel fine again.’


‘For an analogy: identify yourself with the sky and see the bad feelings as the clouds just sailing pass through you, the sky. They, the clouds, would certainly pass and leave a clear, bright sky in their aftermath.’


‘If you believe in God, you could pray too. That s/he should take away the bad feelings for you.’

‘Ok thanks a bunch’

‘It might take time, just don’t rush it. Go at your emotions’ pace.
Alright. My pleasure.’

‘Kk Bro
Thank you’

‘Udo di. Go out there and be happy, nwanne. Nobody deserves to make you feel bad. J