John Chizoba Vincent is a film maker, Cinematographer, Video Producer and writer who resides in Lagos, Nigeria.
When I bring flowers to your grave, it is not you I mourn, it is the time and the memories we shared. When I cry at your grave, it is not you I cry for, it is for our longing pasts, playing in my head. It is not you I mourn but those times we played together in Aba. Those times we walked in almost all the streets of Aba barefooted with our tattered clothes, laughing at nothing in particular. We never cared about what they said behind us. Those times you chased me around while I ran with our plate of food. Those times we stayed up in the middle of the night telling each other how much we loved “us”. I never thought of anything else better than you. Those years were magical.
You were my peace amid my storms. I grieve for those times we were rejected, abused, and bullied but we never fought back, we didn’t give up our quest for a better life; we dreamed on. It wasn’t like the storms and waves weren’t against us but we decided to move on with our life as your mother did. When I am here, I am here to bemoan our darkness. I’m here to bemoan our pains and our pasts. I’m here to mourn our fears and our shames. I am here to mourn those things we said to each other that we were going to achieve, but could not achieve before you left.
It is not you I mourn with these flowers. It wasn’t you that I cried for. It wasn’t your name that was written in the song I sang yesterday. It wasn’t your breath that I shared between my tears and laughter. It was the pains of your death that walked over me and I hope when next I think about you, I should be able to hold myself together and tell God that he was partial in his dealings. I should be able to tell God that such a beautiful soul like yours shouldn’t have left here so early. I don’t want to recycle my trauma anymore. I want to be able to create a new narrative and forge a new identity for myself but each time I look at how you left, I remember I’ve been strong enough not to have joined you.
You woke up that morning, prayed, and sang some songs like my mother said we should do always but you returned home as breaking news. They say every soul has a way of talking to another even when the other soul is not there with it, I experienced this some days ago. I sat alone in my little room, thinking aloud. I saw your shadow walk past me. It returned and sat on the ground. I watched the shadow of the head on the wall, shaking. Perhaps it was listening to my soul, I thought. Long after I could remember, it was there. I knew it was you because I touched it and felt its warmth. It was just so that I could understand that you were the one. I left the spot I was, headed to my DVD player, insert your Favorite record: Allan Walker-faded, and put it on repeat. I watched as you moved your feet and hands, then your head, and finally, you stood up and began to dance. I waited for you to ask me to join you like you always did but you didn’t, you danced alone.
The wall was your dancing mate, a mirror of your reflection, I guess. It was you. It was you I saw dancing and I could not dance along but cry. Why did you have to go after all we told ourselves that we would do together? Is there not as befitting to you as it should be? Why did you leave little Kambili to learn how to bathe herself so early? Why did you leave Onyeka to learn so much about how to call another mother? Why did you go? Have you forgotten you have a month-old Child waiting for your breast milk? Have you forgotten that your husband Kaosisochukwu has no breast to give him? Do you expect your month-old baby to suckle that of your mother? No. it doesn’t happen like that. It has never been heard anywhere that a mother left her child to be taken care of by others.
I have walked around into the memories of hunting people, forgotten people, missing people, and dead people. I walked until I found myself on the concrete slab of nothingness and then waited for people to congregate in my thought, unsure if anyone would show up in this emptiness, but determined that, on this nothingness, on this side of my life, I know you are not lost, just unfound, invisible to my eyes. And time and again, I have found the simple offering of myself and my faith as the only remedy, the only way to bring relief to every grief I carry. I have been at the back door for little things I can’t remember to name.
Today, I have will myself to grieve. I have will myself to sorrow, to forget everything that matters in life. These are the metaphor for things known and things unknown. Metaphors for a life we never begged to come. A metaphor for the life we don’t know the beginning of and will never know how it would end. A metaphor for the life that mocks us and treats us just like it pleases it and at the end, just like everything in it, it takes us to a place we know nothing of. Life is a quiet storm. But death is quieter. It comes without anybody’s being aware of it coming. It comes in the disguise of fixing our life, to take us to a better place but I have discovered lately that, fixing someone or something is more about the ego of the fixer than helping the one who needs to be fixed.
What happens when this storm of life does not pass me with time? What happens when this pain that lingers within me does not stop? When does my heart refuse to be still for your sake? When I can no longer pick my pieces from this brokenness? What happens when the prodigal does not return? What happens when you never remember how close we were? What happens when the longing won’t go away, when we continue to grieve and never stop, when our nemesis continues to taunt us, when our loved ones continue to die when the distance between what we grieve and what God intends for those we lost widens until we can’t even see the other side, when our consciences once again go silent so our inner demons sleep, forever? What happens when you can’t put your pieces together? Are you still there, Nwakaibeya? Can you deflate the ego of this pain?
I have always gone to bed with a heavy heart. But last night, I went to bed as usual not sure of what had happened the day before or what would happen over the next few days you have been away. I knew I had entered uncharted waters and the surf was rougher and tougher than I had ever experienced before. The mental currents seemed unsettled, and the best I could do was to batten down and hold on to something unrelated to being a human, it could be you or them or those you have gone to meet. Life is sacred. You know? Sometimes, the best any of us can do is: hope to land in one piece wherever the waves toss us and we try to survive or worst, try to suffocate in our grief. This feeling was more than emotional or intellectual. It hurts physically and mentally, as much as any open injury I had ever had. And the pain pulsated through everything around me.
I kept running at the sight of every shadow that takes your shape. I kept crying, hiding, and always afraid. I always thought my life would end without you but here, I have mastered the art of survival in the most ridiculous way. I have learned how to take troubles into my heart. I have learned to float on waters, and how to stay without life. I have mastered the art of leaving myself under the sun, shirtless, or going to the beachside, singing monotonously about how living is an unfair burden and leaving brings pain to the heart of those left behind.
Goodbyes always found themselves in the most unlikely places, it always likes to be seen and fixed on anything lost. Sorry but not sorry, every rant here is a relief. Every tear here is a journey of another day. Every prayer here comes back to its original mouth because every time I pray, I forget that there is no answer to it. If there were answers to prayers, how come you were run over by a Motorbike after you prayed for a good day and praised the man above us? Why?
Living is a burden and leaving is as well painful. This is why a man who hates to live struggles for his life when thrown into the ocean for him to leave. Even when he takes a poisonous substance to end his own life, he still struggles to live. I have come to your memories. I have come to you with all you’ve forgotten to take along with you when you were leaving. I have come with the children. Chiamaka is here. Onyeka is crying for your sake here. Kambili is here too. Chiamaka said she is waiting for you to laugh as usual. Chioma is waiting for you to sing for her like you do every mealtime. She has refused to eat for days now. Uchenna is with a beautiful flower for you and he said he misses your voice. I have come to tell you that you are not forgotten. You left when we needed you most. I know every life waits for death but yours shouldn’t have come too soon.
The last time I looked into Chiamaka’s eyes, I saw you there, seated, and you were begging, telling a shadowed man that you want to go back home but he refused and you held on with your pleas. There is something about holding on and letting go. It is a way of balancing how life has shaped us as a people. All goodbyes seem the same. They come in the same manner. For instance, someone has to leave. Sometimes, someone has to go somewhere unknown. However, the day I would leave this body, I would return to Aba because of our childhood memories there. You see, for instance, there are many things I have decided to keep to myself and one of them is trying to make sure I do not cry whenever I remember how I was denied access to my freedom as a lover, how much we were bullied as children and how much love taunted us. And how I have tried to fix everything that comes on my way without a second thought.
Since you left, I stopped visiting our tailor to pick up some of our clothes there. The other day, she stopped me on my way to see your mother. She dragged me to her shop to show me some of the clothes you brought for her to sew. I sat on the chair we usually sit in whenever we visited. Later, she brought out the yellow Aso-ebi clothes for Uche Chukwu’s wedding. Frankly speaking, everything in there reminded me of you. From the chair, I shared with you whenever we visited her place to the bottle of Groundnut on her table which you usually grabbed to eat some, and the mirror you usually stood in front of it to check your clothes if it fits.
When she showed me the fabric, she said it was the last fabric you brought for her. She said I could take them home and keep them. Perhaps, I could give it to Adaobi, your sister, or Ifeoma, your niece but I refused because your fragrances still hung all around our home and these clothes would make it more heart-wrecking. Your tailor narrated how gentle you were. How soft-spoken you were. How she always pinched herself and told herself that it wasn’t you she was mourning but her Landlady who had been on her neck ever she packed into her compound. I wanted to laugh when she told me how her landlady had told her dog, Jali, to bark whenever it sees her coming. It was as if the Dog understood what the landlady had said, so the dog had frankly, been barking at her whenever she was coming home. She said there was a day she threw her shoe at the dog when it came close to her car. It ran inside. Later, the landlady came out to fight her for throwing her shoe at her dog. Angrily, she told her that her Dog was a witch and she would kill it someday if it come near her car again. Your tailor told me that one of her friends visited her a few days ago and told her that she kept seeing dead rats in her car and it wasn’t like she fumigated her car or put rat poison inside the car but how the rats get into her car every morning baffles her. When she visited a prophetess, she was told that it was her landlord’ doing. It didn’t take her a few days to pack out of the compound. And now after she had moved out of the compound, she had stopped seeing rats in her car.
You Tailor said that the day a black cat jumped into their compound, it was in the night around 11:00 PM and coincidentally, it was the same time her landlady came out to know why her dog was barking. When they both saw the Cat, they shouted almost at the same time. The landlady ran back and stood by the staircase while she stood, unable to move. When she finally found her feet, the cat had gone. Her Landlady stood there, where she was, watched as she walked past her.
“If they send you to kill me, tell them you didn’t see me or I am not at home. I am bigger than you both spiritual and physical” she boosted “I am the owner of this house and I can make you pack anytime I feel you have overstayed your welcome.”
She said she was making plans to pack out of the house before her mother died. While she was in Church a few weeks ago, her prophetess had told her to pack out from the house before the Landlady terminates her life. The prophetess even told her that her Landlady has a hand in her mother’s death but she said she never believed her. To her, her landlady won’t go that far to harm her mother. She might be a bad woman but she wasn’t out there to kill anyone, not her mother. I spent almost two hours listening to her talk in her shop before I left for your mother’s place.
At the gate of the house, when I peeped through, I saw your mother picking beans. She was good, doing better than I am except that she spent most of the day talking to herself alone. Nduka, your brother, has always maintained that she would be alright after all. But I don’t like the fact that each time I see her in the street, she is either talking to herself or killing one invisible man or the other. That doesn’t sit well with me especially when I’m in a place with a friend and someone touches me and points at her and asks: “Is that not your mother- in law talking to herself while in the street?” All her church aprons have been burnt by Nduka. You need to witness what happened that day. It was dramatic.
Staying above the water is difficult but the most difficult of them all is leaving. When someone leaves, he’s forever gone nowhere in particular. He’s forever invisible. Some people said the dead could be found in poems but I have searched all the poems I know to find you but none I know have you. Some said dead people are found in a song but none of the songs I know know anything about you. Some said dead people live in books, I bought all the books I could lay my hands on but you were not there. Someone said you must be in Europe or America. I don’t know Europe nor do I know America. But I know that Europe or America doesn’t deserve you. They said air goes everywhere and you must be in the air traveling along with the others, I have followed the air everywhere but haven’t seen you.
Nwakaibeya, that herb that donated leaves to shrink your navel, asked about you. That tree where your umbilical lie, still blossoms yet you are no more. My life has grown smaller and every time I remember that there were nights that lost sleep to join me in my prayers, I know that many are already counting seasons and these seasons are pages that life has given to me. I still feel your heartbeat in my chest as it was when we kissed for the first time beside the mango tree in Aba.
I do not know where I am going from here but where I am coming from is disappearing, I am no longer welcomed here and my body is not good for this kind of pain. The distance I am from is one of the reasons my body is carrying this burden no more. Time indeed heals every pain but I don’t know a thing about healing. Please, help my Unbelieve and doubt. I heard them say: “go back home to yourself” but how could I leave without breaking a bone? I was once like everybody in the street; free, and joyous, but grief turned me into someone I’m struggling to recognize.
When I bring flowers to your grave, it is not you I mourn, it is the things we lost to childhood.