I sat underneath the Ukwa tree writing to my mother or her spirit.
“Dear mother,” I scribbled.
“It’s a good day today, for the storms to remind us of the day father went off the face of the earth. Since then, we had swallowed the ills together, with most travelling down your throat, but then you also left too soon. It’s raining today. I’m in front of that gutter you used to mock father for cleaning. Do you recall how we would laugh about it? Well, today I drained the gutter. I did it while telling myself in your words that maybe I’d be able to taste a little of what you’ve been through.
The masons worked on the building last week. They cemented that spot, where you used to fry the best Akara balls in the entire neighbourhood. I wanted to shield the spot and the memories it bore. The adjacent spot is still there, though Mama Ebuka left it unopened for the past few weeks. I guess she must have left with her family for Biafra. That is the only reasonable explanation I can hold unto. There is also Mama Chukwuka who lent you money to pay my school fees. Her house is now inhabited by two strangers; a fat, short one and a taller, slim one, I think they moved into the house at night when I was meditating. Perhaps, they came to greet me and inform me that they were the new neighbours, but I was too busy sleeping. It’s what I’ve learnt to do to comfort myself.
Just yesterday I visited them to fetch water from their well. I had an ulterior motive though. I wanted to see the new form they had given the house. They were not quiet men or even gentlemen, they would play Omah Lay’s entire album in a single night and smoke the night out of its shell. There’s not a single tree in the house now. The mangoes, oranges, guava and even the flowers and little garden in the front yard are not there anymore.
The rocky part of the house and the cage that used to hold their poultry were also not there. They have dissolved the business. And lest I forget, they also stopped allowing people to fetch water, they are strange. The neighbours call them wizards, fetish people.
“Fetch just one bucket of water, we no get water.” They repeat that statement every time I craved water. They have erased the cross carvings cemented on the wall. They have hurled rough lettering of “No rules; Marlians” in its stead.
Mother, I fear I have lost a whole lot of contacts and relationships as a mango tree loses its leaves. Our street looks smaller now. It is now a strange place even to people like me who once had only its scent inflected in their nostrils. The only thing which has not been left is the spoilt borehole in front of our house. It is still not functioning. Perhaps, the people who would have repaired it didn’t care anymore. Mother, I fear that Baban Musa, our neighbour has left the state too. He took his entire family with him to Katsina. I heard that he now has a third wife and they’re living well together.
The shop wherein I had learnt tailoring, Oga Mustapha’s shop has now been transformed into a barbing saloon. I do not know the owner and I do not care about him either. I barb my hair myself, letting my mirror guide him. I can do that much myself. Yahuza and Ezekiel are not on this street anymore. Their shops are now provision stalls. I heard that both of them are now in Lagos and that they each got a huge grant, but I am not quite sure if it is more than a rumour.
Mother, the three mosques are still standing, and the churches have multiplied their numbers. I think every day is now a Friday and a Sunday over here, people have become more religious or more hypocritical. Either of these conjectures would perfectly fit into the present reality of spirituality.
Mother, I’m afraid because I don’t pray anymore. I sleep, meditate, write and try to be human. I sometimes fast though. I sometimes go to church. I sometimes go to the mosque. I am unsure and ignorant of the essence of religion. When I pray, it is only for you and father. Mother, I’m afraid you might think I have departed the roads you raised me on. I’m afraid the God you’ve raised me to worship might burn me, seeing how ungratefully inert my faith has been. I am afraid that I have moved closer to the devil.
Dear mother, Afnan won a poetry contest today and the prize money is what I have used to fence our home. I do not know where your grave stands or where father’s stands. I have built a little graveyard at home, however. Every day, I bury a piece of your clothes. I hold unto these last pieces of you for respite. One last thing, our house is falling apart. Yesterday, the roof was ripped off during a storm. I fixed it this morning, I’m afraid I can’t hold unto our home any longer. I’m afraid I can’t hold even my bones together anymore. I do not know if I’m afraid that we may meet in heaven soon.
Abdulrazaq Salihu is a panel member for The Nigerian Review, poetry editor at the Teen Lit Journal and a Hilltop Creative Arts Foundation member. He won the poetry category of the 2022 Nigerian Prize for Teen Authors and was the first runner-up for the prose category of the same Prize. Salihu won the Splendours of Dawn Poetry Foundation Poetry Contest and the 2022 MASKS LITERARY Magazine Poetry award and his works have been published internationally and nationally. He is currently learning better ways to heal and exist as a man. Salihu is @Arazaqsalihu on Twitter and @abdulrazaq._salihu on Instagram.