Just a little Vaseline and my hands; that was how he said it to me. I was ten years plus when Chidi introduced me to this mystery the last term; he was almost fourteen.
We were not always friends, Chidi and me. He had been just another one of a hundred and twenty-six classmates – one I had never spoken to in the two terms we had been minor seminarians at Mater Ecclesiae Seminary Nguru. But everyone knew Chidi. You had to be blind and deaf not to. He was the biggest boy in First Year, big enough that he filled his shirts and shorts – which were three times my size – to their very seams. For him, walking was a chore carried out with a face that seemed in desperate need of more air. He was dirty with perpetual stains in the armpits of his white shirts. He was also noisy – nonsense singing and humming at quiet hours for which he got in trouble. When he spoke, his voice had the authority of someone addressing an auditorium full of people, a voice more like my father’s than mine.
The ways in which we were different kept us apart. I was quiet, not shy, thin and small, unremarkable except for my large head if you looked closely. I kept to myself so much that at the end of the first term of First Year, most of my classmates did not know my name. That was until the day of vacation when the Rector announced my name for the first position, and I had to go up to the podium to join two other classmates and three students each from other classes who had also excelled in the terminal examinations. When we came back for the second term, my classmates, even those from other classrooms and dormitories started being friendly. They wanted me to join their study groups during prep, their sports groups during games, and their story groups during night recreations. My lesson notes, which I reluctantly gave, were bestsellers.
So it was that one afternoon during Afternoon Prep I went to 1C, Chidi’s classroom (I belonged in 1A), to collect my Latin notebook from someone who had borrowed it. I was edging my way through the narrow spaces between desks, the tap of my brown Cortina shoes on the concrete floor interrupting the stillness of the classroom, when I stepped on Chidi’s foot, irritating both of us.
“Watch where you place your mosquito legs,” he barked and then went on to murmur more aside about mosquito legs that could barely hold up my large head. He intended it to be funny and smiled contentedly as those who sat close enough to hear us jeered at me.
Stung, I said, “Maybe if you weren’t too fat that your feet are in the aisle, my mosquito legs would not have stepped on you.”
The class erupted into a battleground as boys gathered around us, goading us to further verbal destruction. An umpire stationed at the blackboard allotting the scores. Fatty = 1, Mosquito legs =3. I was winning.
But before either of us could say another word, someone signaled that Master Augustine was heading towards the classroom; he was the most feared of all the masters. Everyone hurried away to their desks. The scores disappeared from the blackboard. The blanket of silence descended faster than it had lifted. Magna Silencia. As I hurried away with my Latin notebook, Chidi steadied his eyes on me, his defeat clear in his eyes. I had had the last word, and by the rules of such encounters, I was the winner.
A few days later he came to my corner in St. Mary’s, to apologize and to ask if we could be friends. I imagined that he had come with a plan to get even and top the scores. Although I was wary, I said yes. I offered him some Cabin biscuits, which he stuffed into his tight short pockets. He asked if I wanted to go for night recreation on the Main Avenue. It was on the Main Avenue, walking back and forth under those whistling pines, me slowing down my brisk steps to accommodate his slack, other seminarians walking by in their groups of twos and fours, that we became friends. We would head out from the refectory right after dinner and spend all the twenty minutes of night recreation (twenty-five minutes if the Rosary and Evening Prayer before dinner ended in time) until the bell went for Night Prayer. In a few days, I had put away the defenses I had put around me like a porcupine waiting on an attacker.
At first, our friendship did not concern my tasting manhood. We were just getting to know each other and making silly arguments about the things we found out about the other. I soon realized that we were alike in some ways.
He was born in Aba, and I in Onitsha, which was cause for another of that agelong comparison those two commercial cities in eastern Nigeria incite. Aba, he said, was the Japan of Africa, where they made their stuff, better than Onitsha, which, despite having the largest market in West Africa, produced nothing. I countered saying that Aba was more like the China of Africa where they made things that did not last. Aba shoes were famous for having soles that were as hard as concrete. But we agreed that both cities were dirty places where our childhood used to be fun and free. Where we ran wild when it rained – into that smell of new rain on dried earth – building sand houses with the wet, loamy soil just to watch the rain beat them away slowly.
All that was before Bakassi men came and forced us inside, spreading their dread like butter on a piece of bread. Now neither of us wanted to live in either city when we grew up. We would like to live in places like Lagos, Warri, Abuja and Port Harcourt where no Bakassi vigilante butchered thieves and burned their bodies in the middle of the streets for everyone to watch and learn. We had heard the stories of children whose fingers Bakassi men cut off as a lesson, so they would not grow into the thieves they were already trying to be. How they intimidated and harassed people on the streets. Neither of us had witnessed any of the burning or finger chopping ceremonies where crowds usually gathered because our parents made sure to keep us away from such sights.
Both our fathers were businessmen who married our ex-teacher mothers and made them into businesswomen. They wanted their children to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, bankers and such. Any profession that did not involve business and teaching – business was too much headache, and teaching did not pay. The priesthood was the most revered by our parents; a priest had more respect than a president. But in our young minds, the priesthood was a distant aspiration. It was something we thought about after we had thought about the doctors(me) and lawyers(Chidi) we would become. We both did not like the seminary that much, although we had been very excited about going soon after primary school. Our excitements did not imagine a lifestyle ordered around bells. There were too many rules and regulations and disobedience to more than a handful of them ended in expulsion. The different hours of Magna Silencia were for Chidi the worst times of the day. We disliked the authorities. Every word out of their mouths seemed to breathe with fear, like fire from the mouth of a dragon, expulsion always on their lips. We disliked especially the masters with whom we had the most contact. They were major seminarians who had finished their studies in philosophy and worked in the seminary for a year before they moved on to theology. There were ten of them each year, and they seemed to be everywhere. Neither Chidi nor I knew why we had to call them master, and we disliked them even more for that.
Those evening on Main Avenue we also talked about classes. Chidi marveled at how much I loved Latin. His grades in Latin tests were miserable, and he wondered how I could wrap my head around declining nouns and conjugating verbs. I did love Latin and knew as much as the whole Rosary whereas Chidi was still struggling with the Glory be. On Mondays and Thursdays, my classmates let me lead the Angelus at noon and the end of games. I liked especially the line Ecce ancilla Domini and would always join others in responding Fiat mihi secundum verbum tuum, although I was supposed to be leading and not responding too. I loved the musical rhythm in declining nouns, puella puella puellam, the familiarity of pronouncing c as ch and h as k; I loved how these pronunciations diluted the strange language and gave it an Igbo flavor. Especially since speaking Igbo was restricted to Igbo Language classes and speaking it anywhere else was an offense punishable by manual labor, which could be fetching water to the kitchen from the underground water tank or cutting grass during siesta. Chidi had no discussable interest in any particular subject; he read to pass, fearing a red mark on his report sheet.
Toward the end of that term, our conversations advanced into adult topics, things that we should not be heard talking about in the seminary. For Chidi, who knew more on such topics, these were things I should know already. How was I almost eleven and did not know that babies were born through a woman’s weewee and not by cutting open her tummy? He was surprised that I had not seen a naked girl before. I could not picture most of the things he explained to me. They were things that excited him for I could see his glee when he talked about them. He spoke of the things he saw in a magazine his uncle kept at the bottom of his box. Then one day he said he used to steal the magazine and look at the pictures as he masturbated. I did not know what he meant, so I asked.
“What is that? Masturbate?” We were walking on the Main Avenue, towards the gate, keeping our voices low even though there were no other groups close to us. He stopped in his track.
“Do not tell me that you do not know what I mean.” He looked at me as a teacher who had asked a pupil the simplest question and was waiting for an answer, expectant. The answer did not come, and the look turned to incredulity.
“That is how you become a man,” he said with the pride of someone who possessed a rare knowledge, still not believing me. “You are still a boy then,” he said tauntingly.
I was never more conscious how much his voice was a man’s.
Over the following nights, he tried to make me understand. Masturbate. Sperm. Pleasure. A sweet sensation. He refused to show me what to do, saying that if someone caught us, we would be in bigger trouble than we were in already by even attempting such a discussion. I did not understand why, but no matter. Finally, I got the vague idea that I was to rub some vaseline on my palm, ring it around my penis and stroke. He said it would help if I had something to think about while I did it. Like a girl’s weewee, or the pictures he saw in those magazines. But I had no mental accompaniment and figured that was why my efforts at night failed. There was no excitement, no pleasure, no sweet sensation, no sperm. It felt like sitting by River Niger and waiting for a boat that did not pass.
One day he asked what hand I was using. I was not sure why it mattered, but he said if I were right-handed and used my left hand there would be no sensation. It had happened to him before, he said. That was not my problem. My penis was shriveled most times as I tried. On rare occasions, it would rise, filling my ringed palm with that rigidity it had every morning, but only lasting a few seconds before it shrank away again, like something dead. Sometimes, in the morning when I woke up, my palm would still be ringed around my penis that was always hard at that time. There would be oily patches on my white bed sheet where the Vaseline had melted. For a moment, I would wonder if the patches were from sperm, now dried. They were not. Chidi had said it would be thick, like pap, though not as thick as the pap we had at home but the slightly runny variety they served us in the refectory on Mondays and Fridays with that meal of stones that had some beans in it. Dried pap did not look anything like the patches on my bedsheet.
All that was the last term, before the long vacation. During the long vacation, I forgot all about masturbating and lost myself in the joyful plays of holidays with my two little brothers whom I dazzled with how we lived in the seminary. During holidays the daily progression of a timetabled life had not its annoying repetitiveness, was less monotonous, less stifling, even exciting. Maybe it was the absence of bells. Morning mass was a compulsory beginning for the day even during holidays. The parish priest had to sign an attendance sheet that we submitted first thing on returning to the seminary. I was glad that my brothers loved to go and showed their eagerness even at those ungodly morning hours. After that, we followed the sequence of Breakfast and Classes, Morning Recreation, Midday Prayer, Lunch, Siesta. During classes, I taught them Pater Noster and Ave Maria and the right way to use cutlery. We did Afternoon Prep and Games and skipped Manual Labour on Tuesdays and Thursday. We did Evening Prayer and Dinner, and for Night Prep, we recounted to our parents all that we did for the day. They were glad for what I was doing with my brothers and how our days were filled up with blessed activities that did not allow us any interest in seeking out the carryings on of the Bakassi men and other mischiefs.
I turned eleven during that holiday.
Now. The first term of our second year. Exams were over. I began to masturbate again soon after the last exams. But no success yet. Christmas vacation was two days away, and I wanted to get it done if only to see the look on Chidi’s face when I reveal that I had done it, seen my sperm, tasted manhood.
After three nights of trying my body was increasingly aware of the sweet sensation that Chidi mentioned. It rose in my nipples and billowed through my chest before it started on a slide toward my groin. Last night, I felt that I was almost there. If it was a house that I was looking for, I had found it, come to its very door and what remained was to walk in. That giddying sense of near satisfaction and the pride I would feel in recounting it to Chidi was the last thing I remembered the following morning when I realized I had fallen asleep. With two days before vacation, I vowed to get it done.
That day was unusually long. Because there was no rush to keep the programs that marked our typical day, exams being over, we spent more time than usual in the chapel during Morning Mass listening to long homilies about what we should avoid during the coming holiday. Every morning it was the same instructions repeated with different stories of seminarians who had gotten in trouble in previous holidays. The priests reminded us that we were different from boys in other secondary schools and should conduct ourselves accordingly. It was as though we were going into a plagued town and those sermons were the required vaccination to keep us from infection, as though they worried that out there we couldn’t be as safe as we were within the high walls of the seminary. After Morning Mass there was Breakfast, then compound cleaning, then laundry. I found Chidi near the underground water tank where there were many other seminarians with their buckets and basins and piles of clothes. The day before the holiday was the only day that no one gets in trouble for doing laundry on a day that was not Saturday.
“You said that before,” he whispered back after I told him I had come very close last night.
“This time, it was different. I could feel it. I was almost there.”
He looked at me with a kind, amused look that half-believed me, the same look he had yesterday, his eyes narrowed at me. I told him I was going to get it finally that night; I said so with the conviction I borrowed from the intensity of the sensation in my nipples last night.
“Ok,” he said. “Just be careful when it happens. The sensation gets in your head, and you start to moan. You don’t want to shout out and draw attention.”
“I know.” The truth was that I already forgot that part of the instruction.
The day continued its slow ride and when the right time came at night, the time when lifelessness was the color of the dormitory and the different tempos of snoring was its sound, I removed my small container of Vaseline from under my pillow. I unscrewed the cover quietly and got the quantity I needed. Soon my right hand was on my penis in an up-down motion. My left hand was going from one nipple to another. Chidi had not taught me this, to touch my nipples and I do not recall how I realized that it helped to keep my penis in the state of matter I needed it to be. The fiery sensation rose in my nipples quickly with the intensity acquired from the constant practice since the end of exams. The spark flew through my body, and I was at that house again, at the very door. I was riding in a cloud of sensation about to head into the house.
It was after the flashlight flooded my sight and I froze that I heard the furious cluck cluck of my hand motion and the moans that were escaping my mouth.
“What are you doing, young man?”
The shock half cleared from my body that went instantly limp to recognize Master Jude Onuoha’s voice. A torchlight came on at the other end of the dormitory pointing toward my corner where the master’s torchlight was darting from my oily palm to my sweaty face.
“Will you go back to sleep!” he ordered, shaking up the nervous air that swelled around. The torchlight went off quicker than it came on.
I shook with nervous spasms, and my opened jaw could not produce a sound. He waited few long seconds, his torchlight still inspecting.
“See me tomorrow morning.” He flashed his torch inquiringly on my corner-mates on each side, but they both were as if dead in sleep.
“First thing tomorrow morning,” he instructed again.
Turning off his torchlight, he was gone as silently as he had appeared, easily becoming one with the darkness that returned to the dormitory.
At Mass, the next morning was the Rector with his voice that was versed in recounting expellable offenses and pronouncing expulsion to add to the agony I had endured through that night that felt longer than a week. I was certain that I was going to be expelled just a day before vacation. I was even more certain after the Rector went through the list of things we should never do on holidays and finished off with sexual misconducts.
“You are not to engage in any form of sexual misconduct. Be good examples to your mates out there.” I could swear that his mighty spectacled eyes that looked everywhere and nowhere at the same time were on me when he said that. And it rang in my ears like it was being repeated and only I could hear it. Sitting there I felt as though vultures were hacking into a rotten carcass and my stomach was the carcass. With that came a powerful feeling of incontinence that threatened to burst through my shorts. How I managed to sit erect with a straight face, both palms flat on my thighs, was a wonder.
The Rector concluded with the hope that God would bring us all back safely from the Christmas holiday with none of us fallen by the wayside. He dropped the microphone on the lectern and returned to his seat, at the cue of which the mass-servers began to set out the sacred vessels for the continuation of the Mass. The choirmaster announced Hymn 52. Papers rustled as students picked their hymnals and flipped to the offertory hymn, O Lord Kumbaya. While the rest of the seminarians sang, all I could do was move my lips along in the uncertain hope that the right conducts would mean less trouble than I am in already.
When the Mass ended, Master Jude Onuoha was not in one of those back pews from where the masters watched over us, sitting in their immaculate white soutanes. I became more alarmed, more certain of my fate. He had gone to tell the Rector. How many of the other Masters and priests knew already?
I lived through the announcements that came after the Mass. Mostly they were announcements assigning what portions of the seminary compound we had to clean up before the next day. The three knocks that ordered us out of the chapel sounded, and we began filing out of the chapel in choreographed order, starting from the very first pew where first-year seminarians sat. Outside, I hurried to my dormitory as fast as my tensed, slow limbs would allow. I was the first to enter my dormitory. I rushed through changing my day-wear into a jersey polo and shorts and before too many people began entering my dormitory I went in search of Chidi.
His dormitory was just like mine. Twenty-five six-spring beds lined each side, separated by a long straight aisle. Almost all the mattresses were bare with neither blankets nor white bed sheets. Empty tins and sachets of beverages, packs of toiletries, discarded clothing, and other debris littered the aisle. Already, some boys were sweeping more dirt from their corners onto the aisle, small clouds of dust rising and circling heavily in the air. Everywhere boisterous talks – speculations about the class results, recommendations for movies to watch during the holiday and how to raise pocket money from relatives who would give anything a minor seminarian asked. No one had anything to say about me and the night before, which was a mild relief. In the seminary news of someone getting expelled traveled fast and the person spent their last hours in the school as an outcast.
Chidi was not in his corner, must have gone directly to his place of morning function: the avenue that led to the Rector’s house.
The dormitory got noisier with people entering and leaving, and the dust grew with more sweeping. I imagined the dust, the noise, the talks and all that movement put everyone else in a holiday spirit. Only yesterday I was in the same vein with them as I waited for Lights Out, as I thought of the tingly sensation of which my body was becoming aware. I was thinking all these on Chidi’s bed where I laid down, staring at the ceiling which soon began spinning around and growing a browner color.
I woke up when Chidi slapped my leg.
“If you can sleep in this noise, then you can sleep in Onitsha Main Market.”
I sat up and stretched. I smelled the dust-heavy air and the scent of expulsion it suddenly had. Chidi squeezed his nose letting out a hiss. He was trying to control a running nose. I slid over on the bed and told him to sit. He peered into my face a few seconds. His eyes widened, his face opened in a grin. He bent towards me, his head almost touching mine. He burst with excitement.
“You did it, didn’t you? I know you did it. I know it. I know it. Now you can call yourself a man! Yes! Yes!” He was pumping his thick fist but trying not to draw attention at the same time. It took some seconds for him to realize that his excitement was not catching on with me. He looked at me now like he just saw me there, a searching look that turned grave.
“What is it? Why is your face like that?” I could not imagine how.
I told him what had happened.
“You should go and beg him.” I was shocked and startled at his suggestion. Chidi believed that he could talk himself out of anything. It was a natural talent he said, from being born in Aba where they could sell anyone Made in Aba products as Made in Japan or Made in America. But I did not think there would be any luck in pleading for such a grave offense.
“It is still early, and maybe he has not told the Rector or anyone yet. Promise him you will not do it again. Say you will take every punishment he can think to give and serve it for a whole term. It was Master Jude, right? He will listen. He is not like the other Masters. He forgives.”
He was right about Master Jude Onuoha not being like other masters and in many ways. He was not like other masters whose faces were incapable of smiling at minor seminarians. He was not like Master Chambers Onwu whose cane had a precision everyone feared – all twelve strokes landing where the first one did – and who could discipline a whole class without the help of another master. It was rare that Master Jude used a cane. He did not send seminarians to the Rector’s office as Master Eusebius Orji did with such frequency that had already caused seven suspensions and three expulsions that term. Nor was he like Master Ejike Ekwueme whose punishments lasted weeks. Master Jude Onuoha’s punishments were there and then and they did not break your back or cause too much sweat. During games, the other Masters played in the priests’ courts, but Master Jude joined the seminarians for football, table tennis. He ran the races too.
Tears built in my eyes and I looked away from Chidi, into the dormitory where a sudden shadow came down and sucked the daylight away. Outside the whistling pines rustled and swayed against the wind growing high. The wooden windows flapped as the wind gathered strength and in a flash rain like pebbles descended hard and loud on the roof like the ceiling owed it a debt. It was harmattan, so it did not immediately register in people’s minds that it was rain. Then there was a scamper as boys ran out to pick whatever belongings they had outside before the rain drenched them.
“Mtchewwww.” The hiss whizzed like onion in hot oil.
“Say something!” He flung my hands back at me, his face suddenly reddening with his irritation at my silence and his snorting.
“What do you want me to say? I don’t know if begging him will do anything.”
It was then that a voice came from the door, managing to keep steady above the noisy dormitory and be heard, throwing my name across to where we were.
“Is he here?” he called again, louder.
I moved into the aisle, directly facing the door. It was a senior student, fifth or final year.
“Yes?” I stepped into the aisle and raised my hand so he could spot me in the traffic.
He began, “Is this your dormitory? I have been walking up and down the whole school in this rain looking for you. Can’t you junior boys ever stay at a place? Always moving from dormitory to dormitory looking for what to eat.”
I did not say a word and remained where I was. Now, eyes were moving from the senior student to me. Only the downpour on the roof interrupted his rant.
“Will you sillily go and see Master Jude Onuoha in his room. He has been looking for you.” There were muted giggles at ‘sillily.’ His head wriggled as he stomped out. I turned back to Chidi, fear, and pity in his eyes now. Many eyes were on me. Masters did not invite someone to their cubicle except on pressing matters. I shrugged and tried a smile to mask my fright.
“Should I come with you?” Chidi whispered, aware of the eyes of others.
“No. I’ll go alone.”
My palms were dropping rain of their own when I got to the Masters’ quarters. They lived in a bungalow that abutted the refectory. A long corridor led into a vast space that had a billiard table near a clean window and a huge dining table with every sign of finished breakfast: used plates and cutlery, glasses half-empty with orange juice and tea, ladles sticking out of half-open dishes. It smelled of fried eggs and plantains, porridge and the kind of stew that had chicken and crayfish in it. Nothing like the beans and maize we had for breakfast on Thursdays. The aroma reminded me that I had missed breakfast on Chidi’s bed.
To the left and right were doors separated four to five paces from each other. The doors had the names of the masters on them. There was no one in sight, no sound except the sounds from some radios, some music, some news that seeped through the heavily blinded louver windows. I found Jude Onuoha on the third door on the right. I knocked, two still knocks at first and then another that was less quiet. I heard papers rustle inside, and the lowered sound of radio.
“Who is there?” It was gruff – a man’s voice, the same husky power it had last night.
“Me,” I said before I said my name in a voice that had the worry of expulsion hanging on it.
Inside the room was everything I had expected a Master’s room not to be for the way they punished us for disorderliness. Inches from the head of the bed was a hanger veiled with a flowered curtain that kept dust off soutanes and other clothes. Below the clothes was a huge box and an arrangement of toiletries on a stool beside it. Everything else was in disarray. Piles of books of different heights were in every space and crowded in the corners. There were cans of various juices and other such things. Scraps of papers littered here and there.
Master Jude sat hunched over result booklets. The table was not quite his size, and he looked uncomfortable sitting there with his seat pulled back to accommodate his legs that would not fit under the table. His size was another way he was different from other Masters. A giant in height and weight though without the beards that other masters wore. He was flipping through the sheets. He cleared his throat and turned towards me, not quite looking at me, just in my general direction. For a second, his face thawed from the seriousness of his working. He returned to his work. Cold sweat continued to drip from my palms. The radio was giving off jammed sounds.
Presently, he dropped the last booklet in a heap and turned on his seat to face me. He crossed his legs resting an arm on the table, the other on the backrest of the seat. He turned off the rechargeable table lamp, throwing the room into a deeper shade of darkness.
“Ehe!” He cleared his throat again and adjusted his sweaty singlet.
“Congratulations, you maintained your position in the exams.”
He talked slowly and just audibly enough for me to hear. I was not sure how to react to what he said. Was I to be relieved I had not been kicked off the podium when expulsion loomed?
“Thank you,” I said.
In the dimness of the room, his freckles evened out on his skin which now looked the brown of coconut instead of its lighter shade of ripe pap-paw. He waved me to have a seat on his bed with a hesitation like he was not sure of the instruction himself. He saw that something in the gesture had confused me. He walked over and sat on the bed with a carefulness that sought to make no sound. Then he tapped on the empty side on his right. He was looking at me, with eyes that held nothing discernable. As I stumbled over, stepping over islands of things, my legs felt absent like they were not there and I was floating.
“Who taught you what you were doing last night?” he asked as soon as I sat down. When I did not answer, he continued.
“You know it is wrong? You know you could get expelled for doing that?”
When I left the room, my eyes were burning with the involuntary tears that had flooded them for all of those ten minutes or so. I was glad for the rain. As I made my way back to my dormitory, it covered my face so I did not have to worry about wiping away the tears. A feverish shivering overtook my body, giving my legs the same floating feeling they had had in Master Jude Onuoha’s room. My throat felt dry. The pressure in my mouth started to cave downward my throat, but I determined not to swallow even as my throat burned with the dryness.
I hurried to the corridor that held my dormitory and turned to the courtyard on my left. Bending down, I opened my mouth and let it out. With both hands resting on my knees, I continued to spit, ridding my mouth of that oniony taste and warmth that made me retch. My heart kept pounding as I tried to catch my breath, to relieve my eyes of the burning sensation in the cold air that came down with the rain. Slowly, my eyes found enough clarity to see the gob I had just expelled from my mouth where it landed just by the lines of rain drops coming down the roof. In the bubbly whiteness of my saliva was another phlegmy substance that was not my saliva. It stood out, different like oil on water, a white substance not quite as white as my saliva, not bubbly.
From a nearby window, I could hear boys talking about what they would not miss during the holiday.
“I would not miss the annoying sound of the bells at all.”
“I would not miss the manual labor.”
“I would not miss the food.”
“Me too. Especially the beans and watery pap.”
Yes, the pap we had for breakfast on Mondays and Fridays.
I stayed there watching as the rain came down and tore into the gob, carrying it away. As it faded in my eyes, I remembered those sand houses Chidi and I built, then watched as the rain tore them down and carried them away; Chidi in Aba and me in Onitsha.
I do not remember how long I stayed there watching what was no longer there, what was now all rain falling and flowing away into the little culvert. I soon began to feel cold again. I stood up and went to my dormitory. Boys were sweeping and packing. I walked past the nine corners before mine, and when I got to my corner, I laid down and threw my blanket over me. Just then the Angelus bell rang. The sweeping, the packing, walking about, everything stopped. From under my blanket, I heard the silence coming, heard people who had been sitting as they stood up for the Angelus. It was Thursday, Angelus-in-Latin day. But I remained where I was. After a few seconds had passed, someone began, “In Nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritu Sancto.” The “Amens” came, spoken in my direction, and then another uncomfortable second of silence. Instead of “Angelus Domini nuntiavit Mariae,” the voice said, “The angel of the Lord declared unto Mary.”
Emeka Chinagorom holds a degree in philosophy from the Pontifical Urbaniana University Rome. Born in Nigeria, he now lives in the United States. His short stories and nonfiction have appeared in the Hawai’i Review, Expound Magazine, Five on the Fifth, and other places. He is currently working on his first novel.
A place of inspiration for Mr. Chinagorom
5 Questions with Emeka Chinagorom:
TD: Tell us a little about this story? Where did the idea come from?
EC: Unfortunately, this story was born from reality. I was about twelve when I became a victim of what would become a full year of sexual abuse from authorities in a Catholic minor seminary in Nigeria. Writing about this experience using the tools of fiction was a better way of dealing with the emotions that stayed with me from those years.
TD: Who is your greatest writing influence?
EC: My writing influence encompasses a variety of authors whose narrative style I consider above reproach. Jamaica Kincaid, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Anne Tyler, Milan Kundera, Alice Munro, Pearl S. Buck and Ernest Hemingway are my best writing lessons.
TD: What is your favorite place to write and why?
EC: On my writing desk at home. There I can see the morning rise every day if I wake up early enough to catch it.
TD: Favorite word?
EC: My favorite word has to be ‘robust.’ You have to hear it said right to understand how filling and magnificent a word it is.
TD: Do you have a favorite reading ritual?
EC: Yes. Before I start reading a book, I usually open a random page and read a paragraph. I wonder about this paragraph and think about what point in the development of the novel the paragraph fits. When finally I read the book, it is a joy to see what point in the story the paragraph fits into, what comes before and after.