map A Dog Called Nigeria

by Chiemerie Okenwa Nnamani

Published in Issue No. 176 ~ January, 2012

*** Saturday ***

Things had not always been like this. Things used to be warm and safe like the cologne of Master’s bedspread; back in the days when rainy seasons brought frisky drizzles that blended with the harmattan dust and smelled of relief and of Master’s manly breath. Back then, when on Saturday mornings, Nigeria- Master’s dog would run up Ugwuaji hill, on Master’s trail, slicing the moist air behind it with its hairy waving tail; and on such nights, I would curl up in the warmth of my blanket and listen to Master in the sitting-room debating with his friends with big words. Those nights that I did not need Master to remind me to share Anara and oseoji to everybody.

I marveled in nostalgia at how much things have changed. Things around, now were different. Things around now wore the metallic smell of blood; stifling, unforgiving, apologetic. Master and his friends still had their gatherings. But even the crickets outside knew it was no more like before. They chirped loudly in the silence; perhaps savoring the respite- normally nobody noticed them. Tonight was cold and I could hear the whirling sound of the night wind banging and opening doors and shutters. Typically, on such nights, I would hear Master’s hoarse voice ringing on the ceiling and their shrill laughter rubbing manliness into the white walls of the sitting-room but what I heard now were hushed tones and the momentary rise of Tolu’s voice. From his tone, I knew he was warning Master. Elnathan you don’t have to do this Elnathan, you must not do that. That was something they never did. Master and his friends usually ranted, shouted and debated, but they never talked about themselves. They never warned themselves. I wondered if the change had something to do with the men that had come from government house to visit Master today. They had worn black suits, and piercing Italian shoes. I had opened the door for them, peeping behind their shoulders to catch a glimpse of the Land Rover they had come in.

I knew they were government officials because they had told me. But, I could well have guessed that, if I had looked at the Coat of Arms on the number plate of their car outside. Master had met with them; and they had gone upstairs to speak in low tones. “Wame!” Master called from the sitting-room. I knew why he was calling me. Hoping up from the solace of my bed, I scuttled to the kitchen; to the refrigerator standing by the door. The garden eggs- Anara- were cold; just like the groundnut paste on the tray. Master always made me buy them a day before. He would not have any excuses from me, he had said. Master was one of those men that had to worry about having low-sugar. An abnormality. Every adult in Umuchinwoko Street either had anemia or diabetes. But not Master. He had an aversion for sugar. He almost had me share coffee on Saturday nights; if not that the nights usually ended with cups and cups of coffee, untouched, whenever he did. I walked into the parlor, bearing the tray of Anara on my open arms. I looked up; across the room; at the gloomy faces of Master’s friends.

Usually, no one noticed me while serving the garden eggs, but now their faces were cracking like an egg; obviously relieved I had come. Gimba was beside Master. He was the one renowned for always confusing everybody with big words- although everybody’s words felt like big words to me- He was the one with thick glasses that always spoke with the air of a famous professor, meanly clenching mastery of his field within his fists. Now, he just sat moping into the thin air; looking empty. I turned to look at Gboye; at the dimples on his face; at his sullen face that had once borne smiling lips wide enough to touch both ears. I had once teased him that he could never stay without smiling. I had bet on that. He had tried to prove me wrong, but when he did that, the curvy lines on his cheek bones gave him away. I looked at the rest- Joseph and Olumide and Tolu. They all looked the same. They were moping into the thin air; at me.

I felt their gaze blazing on my skin; bearing down on me; urging me to spend more time; asking me not to leave because leaving meant leaving them again to their silence; to the hushed voices that were haunting their minds and telling them what they already knew- This is not us. “How is our little dog doing?” Olumide asked when Nigeria whined. I had forgotten my resident best friend- Master’s dog, Nigeria. It was my companion- our companion. It was mostly ‘my’ companion because we had a lot in common. For one, we never knew our parents, and sometimes even, we talked. Yes, we used to talk; with our eyes pinned and our minds craving for peace underneath the roaring laughter in the sitting-room on Saturday nights. It was a mutual thing; a spiritual thing. Master would not explain. He would not even understand. We had a past, together; a past bustling with love and care. A past full of memories; the only memories I earned the right to bear. A past that began, when Master dragged home a haggard-looking dog. I had looked into the dog’s eyes and I had seen fear. Master had told me to take care of it, but I did more than that. I loved it. I had bathed the dog and called it Nigeria, because I cherished it. I had promised to give it life, in any way I could.

I looked down at Nigeria now; into its eyes and I saw something else; something similar to the moist apologies forming in my eyes. “It has been like this all evening,” Master said looking away. He knew it was not just this evening. It had started in the morning; way before the government officials came along; before he raced Ugwuaji hill with it. “It coughed blood and yellow liquid, this morning.” I added. “You mean sputum?” Gimba inquired. “Yellow liquid” I affirmed; without averting my gaze. “I think the dog is ailing,” Joseph announced. I nodded. I did not want to tell him that I wanted to smack his head right away; that he was proclaiming sickness on a dog he knew nothing about; that he had not acknowledged that Nigeria was not just any dog; that my own Nigeria could not just be sick. I lifted the tray and headed to my room. In my room, I flung the tray and dropped on the bed with tears in my eyes. I longed for sleep; the only other friend I had grown up to know; wishing it would blot out every memory – everything. I wanted peace; a kind of peace; different from that of Saturday nights; different from Nigeria. I slept with my eyes firmly shut, longing for eternal peace.

*** Friday ***

There was something I wanted to tell Master about the government officials that had visited him last week Saturday. I had a feeling it had something to do with Master’s column in the Satellite Newspaper. Master’s column was very reputable, and so were his friends. And collectively, they were a bunch of political ‘nose spikes’. I could remember the first time that phrase – political nose spikes – was used. It was our former president that initially said it during a national broadcast. I had watched the broadcast- the whole nation had. He had been trying to vindicate himself of many allegations and questions posed by the press. He had been asked to say one or two words to the relentless journalists like Master and his friends who were trying to paint him black. Then, he had stood up and said that he would not allow a few lousy political nose spikes jeopardize the peace of his beloved nation.

I wanted to warn Master to tread carefully with those government officials that had visited. I was convinced they were up to something. I sat on the couch; wondering how to confront Master. I knew that he would not believe me; that he would smirk and ask me what I knew about politics. I glimpsed at today’s delivery of the Satellite Newspaper lying on the couch. Its pale-white front page was gleaming in the glitzy rays of the Sun. I turned over to Master’s column and glanced through. What I saw in there confirmed my fears. It was only Friday, six days from last Saturday’s visit, but things were already changing about his articles. I used to think Master was PNP, an opposition party to the incumbent government. I used to think Master hated the ruling party. I had heard him many times talk about it on Saturday nights with his friends. I had heard him shout about the inhumane policies of the party, and sometimes they ended such nights singing One day, the pillars of RPP will fall blah blah blah. Master walked into the sitting-room hurriedly. His face was sullen and puffed-up. He had a far-away look in eyes, as he answered my greeting. He gazed across the room; evidently searching for something. Then, at once, his eyes rested on the Satellite newspaper lying on the couch. “When was this delivered?” He asked, reaching for the newspaper. “It’s the latest,” I replied.

He began flipping through the pages; eye brows raised; lips pursed. “My glasses… please” I paced to the cabinet under the television. It smelled of wood dust; spread at every corner by some meticulous termite. I wiped the thick lenses of Master’s glasses with the hem of my gown and handed them to him. I was thinking of how to confront him; how to tell him that his article today was telling a different story; a story of the decease of truth and reason; a story of the death of an infant Nigeria; the new Nigeria that he and his friends had given birth to with their editorials.

“Nigeria is dead,” he said; his gaze pinned to the newspaper he was reading. “The dog, I mean…It died last night,” he added.

I stayed put; not knowing what to do. I wanted to rush out of the sitting-room, to my room before I got stifled by the steaming air around Master. I wanted to touch Master’s grim face; look into his eyes and tell him it was a lie; that I had bathed Nigeria, last night before going to sleep.

“It deserves a burial,” I said.

“Unfortunately…I could not bear seeing it dead…I threw it away.”

“Where? I need to see it.”

“Don’t worry…it’s been disposed of,”

“I’m sorry…it died of rabies…” he added as I strolled out of the room. I nodded slowly.

I knew he did not owe me any apologies- he was master after all. But, deep within me, I wondered how things would be; if things would ever be the same; after today; after Nigeria; if the death was a warning that something grave was going to happen; something about the dawn of more deaths; of more silence on Saturday nights and of the roaring darkness of human hearts.

*** Saturday ***

Master usually told me about his friends, his articles, his plans…and everything. After work, especially, while preparing dinner, he would talk and talk till my ears began twitching. That was Master. Sometimes his stories would be really interesting, like when he told me about a plump policeman he threatened to sue for smoking near a fuel station. Then, when he told me about it, I had imagined a chubby-looking man in black, with buttocks fat enough to accommodate Master’s head on each lobe, and fleshy cheeks drooping below his jaw. I had imagined the man, standing by the fuel station, miserable; possibly thinking of how to carry on the day’s troubles and resorting to his only cheapest relief- smoking-, and then I had pictured Master confronting him and shouting at him with big words; his eyes pinning down, on the man with the glee of a predator pouncing on a timid prey. That was something Master had a flair for- daunting. He always shouted about everything, unflinching as if he was always certain; as if he could never err. I did not want to think about yesterday.

Yesterday was Friday, the day Master told me about Nigeria’s death, and now, evening was nearing in dark fogs. Master and his friends were in the sitting-room. I had just served them, and was now praying for sleep. I was haunted by the thought that Nigeria had not been buried; that Nigeria was somewhere in the darkness outside, decaying and buzzing with houseflies. I could not imagine that things were moving on without Nigeria; as if I had never known a big brown dog called Nigeria. From my room, I could hear Tolu’s voice in the parlor; then it was Gboye’s, then, Gimba, then everybody. They were clearly angry about something Master had done. I heard Joseph shout Elnathan this is not you. That night, they all went home raging, pointing accusing fingers at one another. I knew that whatever it was Master had done; things were never going to be the same again. For one, I was not going to see Nigeria ever again. That night, I slept, thinking of Tolu and Gboye; about the song that they had sung for Master during his birthday, last month.

For he is a Jolly good fellow ♫

For he is a Jolly good fellow ♫

For he is a Jolly good fellow ♫

And so say all of us ♫

This, no one can deny ♫

*** Sunday ***

Sunday was the day that Gboye died. It was precisely eight days from last Saturday when the government officials visited, and three days from Nigeria’s death. I had opened the door for Gimba when the doorbell rang, and had watched him rub his shoes on our foot mat to wipe off the red mud that were all over his shoes. He put the folds of his green flowing agbada between his legs, as he sat down. His eyes seemed bulgy and drained; scrunching up to stop the sweat dripping from his forehead from seeping into them. He did not seem quite settled as his eyes were darting from one end of the room to the other. I had gone upstairs to call Master who was having his Sunday night shower.

“I know it was you…” Gimba said, jumping from the couch when he saw Master walk into the room. Master was tightening his bathing towel, tied around his waist.

“Elnathan…you have a hand in this. I know you killed Gboye,” Gimba added. Master stared at him, mute. He seemed startled by the confrontation.

“Gboye is dead?” I asked in disbelief.

“You killed Gboye, Elnathan. You have joined RPP. We used to hate them, remember?” Gimba began, “we used to be together Elnathan. Gboye made your birthday cake. Gboye loved you. You were his role model. You were everybody’s shining star. What did you sell all those things for? What did you betray your best friends for? A political appointment? Did Gboye know too much? Was he going to write about it in the papers? Was he going to stand in your way and tell you just what you did not want to hear? The truth? Did you report his intentions to your party? Well… now, he is gone. He is dead. They have shot him… The party you joined. They have shot him because of you.”

I swallowed hard, trying to suppress something that had tightened my nostrils. A feeling that always left me with goose bumps all over. Tears were forming in eyes. They were dripping down my cheeks; onto my lips, warm salty tears. “You know what? Go ahead… become a commissioner or whatever it is you want…I just want you to know this: This is not us. RPP has destroyed the real us. That was just what they wanted,” Gimba said as he backed away, headed for the door. I scampered to my room, cursing under my breath, stifling tears. I sat on my bed crying, trying not to think about anything; trying to keep my mind blank. Then, the door of my room opened and Master walked in. The towel was still strapped to his waist. “Is it true?” I asked, “Do you know anything about Gboye’s assassination? Have you joined RPP? Are you going to become their commissioner?” “No No No” he replied, breathing into me. He was close, very close. I could feel his breath; hot frenzy air. He rubbed his lips against mine, then his tongue, feverish, intense. Quickly, he ripped off the towel around him. Then, pulling my skirt up, he went into me. He was sweating and breathing, kissing and biting my ears. I was scared, because I knew Master was no more Master. I watched Master gradually turn into a beast; the kind of beast he had once described to me – big, pot-bellied, drawing up their sagging agbada from both sleeves- those ruthless big men that were eating our nation’s wealth. That night, when Master left my room, I was ashamed; a kind of shame I had never felt in the whole nineteen years of my life. I felt shame mixed with despair.

I felt despair as I remembered things, pastime; when I first came to live with Master and he had promised to be like a brother to me.

I wandered out of my room into the darkness; towards the garage outside, carrying a big lantern with me. The night was cold, and there was mud everywhere. I walked to Guava tree, the only shade in the compound. Bending over to urinate, I glimpsed at a mound, haphazardly formed behind the tree. On flashing my torch, I could see strands of yellow fur, around it. I used a stick to prod it, and gradually exposed a mass of coagulated blood, and dog furs. Then at once, I knew what had happened to Nigeria. I hated myself for believing that Nigeria had died of rabies. I hated myself for abandoning Nigeria; for not intervening. Yet, I did not want to believe that it had all been a lie: Nigeria, Gboye, RPP…everything. “Our house would crumble, the ground would quake…hell would break loose,” I mouthed to myself as I held tightly to my pillow, feeling scared and vulnerable. That night, I had a dream; a dream different from the nightmares I had been having lately. In my dream, I was in a car – a Land Rover- with Master, Gboye and Olumide. We- Gboye and I- were at the back, giggling. Olumide was driving, and Master was sitting beside him.

At a checkpoint, a plump policeman stopped us, and Master went to meet with him. As Master was speaking with the policeman, a dog broke loose from a shop nearby. I recognized the dog. It was Nigeria. It was chasing Master and gnawing his legs. Nobody tried to save Master; not the policeman who was now laughing and kicking with delight; not Olumide who was peering into a big newspaper, and certainly not us- Gboye and me. We were tickling and whispering into each other’s ears; our hands clasped; our eyes communing and our minds thinking the same things and becoming one being in endless bliss.