I started naming the cities in my body when I was ten. Some I named grief, sorrow, agony, and mental disorder. Others I named brokenness, injustice, and infirmity. There was nothing named joy or happiness where I grew up though, so, I didn’t bother to ask why, and neither did I bother to name any the same.
I named these cities so I could remember how I spent my childhood craving for those things that never came. Childhood was a bitter experience, a mess; there were nights we begged death to come and rescue us from the universe but it vanished immediately without a second thought. It was afraid of taking us as captives because our problems were bigger. We went for nearby demons but they smiled mischievously and drew maps on our bodies; maps showing us how not to die but live. I won’t tell you how I survived this, when we see tomorrow, look into my eyes there are hidden stories of such experiences you would see because I have not totally deleted them. Isn’t it too obvious that living is as scary as dying itself?
Tomorrow when you see me walking on these streets talking to myself, know that Aba started this madness in me; joining emptiness with fullness of heart, enfolding dusty verities of emotions into somehow understanding of humanity. Aba started this madness for Boys like me who were struggling not to be seen as stones. Aba wrapped her hands around our necks trying to strangle us into believing what we could not see or behold. They said the wind has mouth and nose: it has taken more breath than men have. They said the sun is as mischievous as a child: even if you climb on the ladder of understanding before seeking our help, you’ll die to freedom. This is not a story you hear them tell in the market; this is sadness from the hearts of Boys like me roaming the street; Roamers, they call us.
I won’t forget to tell you how Boys were raped in Ngwa road. I won’t forget to tell you how we had waited patiently in Ohanku road just to paint the gory miseries that some boys pass through daily. I won’t forget to tell you about those boys shot dead in Ariaria market, those slaughtered at Shopping Centre.
What about those who were arrested in Asa road and were called Yahoo boys? What about those who had no bed to lay their heads even when the absence of many beds haunt those that have them? Aba clothed these memories in me and I always beg her to take it easy in tormenting me for I’m just a sad song that people have forgotten its lyrics. Don’t let me tell you how we were said to be handkerchief drenched in isolation yet, we held our souls trying to infuse joy in them but died at the first page of trying. We don’t write stories of ourselves. Every part of our lives die at the first letter even though the book runs into hundreds of pages, even thousands.
… For those boys that won’t be stones after painting your first misery. For those souls that won’t be stones after reading this and breaking up into ellipsis: don’t swallow the last song in your throats; sing it out and allow it to flow effortlessly into the air. The birds would join you not as singers but as companions because they have their own solidarity songs to give to the universe. Sometimes, learn how to close your mouth and allow the words in your throats revive those lost ghosts. Make your tongue a secret you keep away from the world. If looking at the sky can make you realize the colour of your mind, learn how to drop your ego in the hands of little children painting their words into bodies.
You won’t be stone again; you won’t be another stone under the sun. I have much laughter stored in many souls though they are not visible yet, but be of good cheer, you have overcome the many daggers life planted on your chest. You won’t remember to say my names to the wind and forget to tell your stories to the earth. I have decided to keep donating a bandage of sanity to the boys in the street and those in asylum. If the new wave of sanity has to beckon on the redemption of our ego, let it be told that there were thousands of pages to be written even before the universe would be masked. I’m switching places: as a saint and as a miscreant.
I’ve been intentional about creating memories that would last. I have been intentional about holding to the dreams yet to come. I’ll always be the dreams you thought you had years back. I’ll always be the laughter you thought you let out years back. And I’ll always be around you to hold onto your fears, like switching places for the universe to welcome you and your kind.
Two days ago, a woman had buried her son in a grave near a vegetable blotch in their ancestral birthplace of Nkporo, surrounded by sympathizers. She did not remember now and would not remember tomorrow if called upon. The day before, she had driven the said boy in the boot of their Honda to the home of a friend, who tried to smuggle him out of the country. They said he was on dreadlocks and he looked like “a gay” and gay boys are not needed in a country like ours. They shot him dead to cleanse the land of its insanity. And the day before that, she hadn’t needed to take a look at how her son looks and the kind of songs he liked to sing. Few days from now, she would no longer recognize her life and that of her son; she would have laughed and cried at the same time hoping to live the kind of life she was used to. Such is the way memories are built and forgotten. Such is life and how it was made to suit us all.
In case you remember this, tell those wayfarers that home is not home again because our boys are losing their senses trying to be normal. We will sit back here tomorrow and wait for the coming rain to wash away these tears. Maybe the clouds will savour our pleas or maybe we will be rejected. But in all, there is glory in waiting for those souls that won’t be stones.
John Chizoba Vincent is a poet, author, cinematographer and filmmaker. He was born and brought up in Aba and later moved to Lagos where he had his tertiary education. His works have appeared on allpoetry, Voicesnet, Poetrysoup, Poemhunter, Africanwriter, TuckMagazine, Gaze, Naijastories, Praxismagazine, Nairaland, black boy reviews and forthcoming in BrittlePaper. His writings have featured in many anthologies both home and abroad. He has five books published to his credit which includes Good Mama, Hard Times, Letter from Home, For Boys of Tomorrow.
Find him here: Instagram, @OfficialJohnVincent; Twitter, @Chizoba_Vincent