Perhaps, years later you would say she had been dreaming when she spoke to you of the boy she had loved many years ago.
You would think of her life as an ancient building with two doors, tired of its place on the earth;
She lets you enter into her history through one door full of darkness and through the other door, before she melts into dust, she sends you away with light to understand your roots.
The place is Ogbe Asawa, in Asaba.
It is an unremarkable December morning and you, away from the voices of the city, are home in the village, sitting in the dark when your nose is filled with the pale whiff of a body weary of life, the body of an old woman.
She enters with a dim-lit lamp, takes a sit across you on the iron bed and takes a deep breath. You watch her. Then she calls out, without a forewarning:
“Nwa nwa m…,” she draws out the “grandson” from the hollow of an almost toothless mouth.
“Oge m bu ebe a. Onwu bu ihe nwute.” My time is here. Death is an anguish.
The wrinkles on your grandmother’s face are roads to the things and the places she had lost.
And if they are landscapes, they belong to a broken country ashamed of its history.
That is the face she uses now to look at you, with eyes so ancient that they seem to say,
“I have touched the misery of daylight. This is me bending my body into twilight,” eyes that seem to dig into your eyes and ask:
“Who are you? Who are you, sixteen-year-old-dust? You are one who came long after the making of history.”
The old woman who sits before you says she holds the past in her body.
It runs through her fingers like brown earth through a farmer’s hands…
She says she remembers history in the small miracles of songs. She says the secrets of God are hidden in songs.
She says that is why children like you will always return to childhood songs.
She talks of history and says the beginning did not come with bombs and bullets.
She says history once belonged to the beating of drums, in the Okpala (mouthpiece of the winds) brother to Ichaka, and Oja.
She says she remembers the shape of her youth to be one with the universe as she surrenders her hips to the voice of Joe Naeze and his “Baby Nwa m Gi Nosike,” Eddy Okonta, Osadebe, and Mbarga’s “Christiana.”
She says sometimes, she finds herself in the body of the Udu braced in between the legs of a girl (that was her sixty-five years ago, before the earth embraced your feet) in Asaba as she sings of love to a boy who bears in his body a place for love, for dreams, and the voice of God.
She says she loved a boy who took up guns and went to war. And each day the sun rises in Asaba, she would rise each morning to peer into the first light of dawn that had begun to fall in long strides over Ogbe Asawa and called out:
“Mgbe i na-alota?” When are you coming home?
“Uwa na-adighi na-eche anyi” The earth is not waiting for us.
And one day, when the sun began its rise from the east, the only thing she saw when she went out calling the boy’s name after the war ended were birds perching on the trees of Asaba, tall trees rising and reaching out to God as if to say to the winds:
“The ground is wet with blood. Uproot us. We are witness to the loss of songs and of love.”
She says the boy returned from the war. In a casket.
The winds have blown a wounded bird home just to hear the rest of his songs before he dies.
She says she had thought childhood is enough to save a child from misery.
She was sixteen when she first tasted the loss of love.
And now, she sends you out through the door of her history.
She says, “Your innocence is not enough to save you from grief.
You should watch and search the universe for light because the rivers of darkness are watching you.
They will drown you even if God made the rainbow with your name.”
On a cold, unremarkable December morning in Asaba, you walk out of a room where an old woman gets ready to meet a boy she had loved many years before the war broke out, you told yourself:
You, who met her in total darkness, emerge with her voice, knowing how a child will always think history is falling apart until he falls into the mouth of an old woman.
Innocence Silas Katricia is a writer restless with imagination. He is the winner of the Korea-Nigeria Poetry Feast 2017. His work covers fiction, non-fiction and poetry.