Nwoye comes home.
Of the day, it is the afternoon that I remember the clearest. There arose such a riot of light that, rather than blink or cup hands about my brow, I blocked my ears for the din that the light made.
The man that showed me the way to your grave spoke to me and in opening my mouth, solved the problem. I have heard many things said against me in my long life that I am a little gone in the ears, and with the long truck drive, the pressure had built and injured my eardrums. The man lent me strange words. I mumbled some, shyly for I was hiding my face.
It was not that the light was loud. Sure, it stood tall all around that long day, a relentless blaze as if the earth were under instructions to give up its darkness. It was my ears ringing. The pressure eased. Misplaced senses a-righted, unscrambled and returned to their rightful places. So I came alive to the silence.
I had come a long way, conveyed upon a cloud of unreality. Your fearsome face I feared would rear out of the bush. The tones of that voice that I had once trembled to, I expected any moment. I fear you still, in all these years of your death, yet wish to see you again. But to naught. Silence pressed all around.
Since that day, many long years ago, the District Commissioner ordered the Ashy Buttocks to cut loose your body, I have never returned home. I raised many children. Many are the grandchildren and greatgrandchildren--all whom I forbade to know you. The world moved so fast, I came to forget which way home was. Of your grave, no one remembered. That afternoon, after searching many years, I finally came upon it.
The few remaining steps to the grave were the longest journey I have yet taken, in my century and more of living. The briars and switches of time thickly in-grown I fought, cuts to my forearms, slashes to my shin, each cut hastening me forth. I was like a man crazed. Then there it was.
Of all the fear I had of you, of all the legends built of your deeds, a solitary hump upon the earth was all that remained. I felt time bend, right in the air, begin to creak, come loose and crumble to a thousand pieces. Never in my life have I ever felt such immense, sad, emptiness. I felt as if each single fibre of my being were that moment emptied of substance. No open mouth turned to the sky, no flailing arms nor fingers clawed at the air assuaged that afternoon. Only the light beat down, a relentless punisher.
Of what drove me off home, which I now see were forces driving multitudes of humanity away, all I can say is you and strong men like you lost.
Our children, the children of we the efulefu, worthless men, and the outcast osu among our number, they spread and inherited the lands. They became a new breed of black people. Yes, we found out we were black people, rather than just people, which is something I will tell you another time.
As you were rightly told, I become one of them. I intended to tell you this. But I was testing their faith out, to find if there was anything to it. Obierika beat me to it when he told you. But he said a great many lies. It was said that I denied you, that I said I had no father. I meant it as a way of speaking, to say that my past no longer existed, that I had become unfathered of my past. There was no interpreter who said "Your buttocks understand our language."
There was no need for an interpreter for the white man was crafty. Before he arrived, he took pains to understand our language. The books he wrote of our tongue are today the only record of the times you lived in. You see how much you lost by taking your own life? To see their past, my grandchildren had to read the writings of the District Commissioner, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger, which records a great many things.
Why did I join them--nay, "become one of them"--as it was reported? First, I never became one of them. In my silence, which you read as weakness, I had thought it out and seen that if we were to continue surviving as a people, that it would be important lor us to learn their ways. Had you but been a little reasonable, you would have come round to my point. You did not. After you so mercilessly killed Ikemefuna, I knew then you would come to a bad end. Was I wrong? In pain, I went ahead with my plan. And learn a great deal I did. Of the iron horses? That was as nothing to the iron snakes, the iron boats, iron birds that he brought; to say nothing of his ugbo ala, his vehicle.
A great many, exciting things. The past one hundred years have been a life of fullness for me. Mr. Brown and Mr. John Smith led me to great adventures. My name was known over many hills, mountains and across oceans.
I am not to be pitied. I was never weak; I held on strongly to the new faith. How can a man strong in his faith be a weakling? I learnt the ways of the Lord and He blessed me. My children, my grandchildren excelled in the ways of the white man. My children became the first doctors in these lands. They were the first lawyers in these lands. They were the first engineers. They travelled to the lands of the white man and knew civilisation. My grandchildren were even born in the white man's land. Think about it; your greatgrandchildren became citizens of the white man's land. And now my own greatgrandchildren are of such provenance; they don't even speak your language. Such has been the elevation of my house. But for the fact I as your son, I too would have gone far. My grandchildren eat with the implements of the white man as if they were born in it. They speak, not of yams and palm wine and chi and pumpkin roots; theirs is talk of conferences, symposia, literature, symphonies, airports, lounges. In all your strength did such come to you?
What was planted in the Evil Forest grew till it engulfed the land from end to end.
And yet I am writing to you. Yes, there were a great many disturbances. Mr. Brown and Mr. John Smith, they took me up as a son, one of their own. And yet in their treatment of me, it was as of a child. I was called Boy. Forbidden to walk in through the front door, I entered through the kitchen. I was not as a man born of a man with titles; when other white men came in, I was made to serve, to stand while they sat and ate. Such behaviour was beyond my understanding. And yet, as the good book said, these were trials. My resolve, my faith, all were being put to trial. The time came when Mr. Brown and Mr. John Smith had to leave for the black people were now to rule themselves. I was no longer Boy. I was a nationalist, a new African. Did I tell we became Africans? We became many things, not just villagers.
The trials never stopped. Within no time, the new Africa fell under the influence of the Ashy Buttocks, the mindless collaborators. They still rule us, and their great wealth would make you proud but for the fact it's of rapine and defalcation. Destitution, war, destruction, these visited the lands.
But an even greater disturbance has come to pass. In all my years serving at the tables of Mr. Brown and Mr. John Smith, little things happened that baffled me. They said of their god that he created all men equal. If this was so, why was I made to walk through the kitchen? If their gods loved all as one, why was I not paid as much as Mr. John Smith? Why did I not live in a house as big as his, being a man of the cloth myself?
I believed that Mr. John Smith came from a land of the wise, but was it wisdom that led them to fight two wars that set the earth on fire? I prayed and in prayer was peace given me. I understood that the works of the devil were indeed powerful and that only through steadfastness to the faith would we heal the earth.
But now greater abominations have come to pass that have led me to not just question but lose my faith. They are the reasons I came that afternoon in search of you. My thoughts more and more returned to my childhood, my childhood of a hundred years and more past. I never died when the story of your life closed and for this, I am cursed to exist forever.
I long for the iron gong that summoned the eqwugwu, the spirit masquerador. I think long of the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves and of Chika whom we despoiled, her wisdom we called witchcraft. Yours may have been false gods, but did they not forbid war at times, when they saw that the war might set the world on fire? The god of the white men may have created all, but he is a silent and distant god. I long now for my own chi, my god, that I so denounced. I long for a god that I can speak to and who will speak back to me. Must there not be a place for Ani, goddess of the earth that will speak to each man, child and woman? If it will take a false goddess to save the earth, might we not believe in such a goddess?
Many I turned my back against I miss; many I loved I miss; I miss Ikemefuna as I miss a leg cut off; I miss Enzima, Obiageli like my heart will jump out of my body. And even you, breaker of the Week of Peace, I miss you.
You see, the great Church that I follow has now committed nso-ani, an abomination. When he arrived, Mr. Brown said the great god had cursed the land of the black people for we were marked by the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah. It was a great shame. For this, in our irredeemable shame, we allowed them cut asunder the umbilical cord that bound us to our culture, our history, our gods. We followed, believing we were cleansed. Now, from that very church, Mr. Brown says the lands of the black peoples is cursed because we do not allow men to sleep with men.
Where then is up? Where then is down? I am not just the son of a once great man. I am a great man, a great man in the Church, in the world Church. I became one of them, contrary to what I just wrote. I cut the roots from underneath my feet, many years I gave to climb to the top, to Mr. Brown's god. Now he dares shame me thus? A time comes when even a coward questions the value of fleeing! Oh, he should know I am the son of Okonkwo; he shall know the wrath of humiliating a son of Umuofia.
For you see, I am a very important man in the Church. I shall say this, and they that becomes truth. I say that, it becomes truth. Since his pronouncement, many are the white people now following me. But they do not suspect yet whence I shall lead them!
I have come to tell you that I and other great men of the church in the black lands, are no longer followers of Mr. Brown. They have caused a great error. For this, there is much fear in his country. Man turns against man. Woman turns against woman. There is daily slaughter in their streets as you would not believe. Humanity shakes its head at what the country of Mr. John Smith has become. We that believed in him, in his country, we are as lost sheep. Did we give away everything so we can end up in such a place?
The things that baffled me in my youth have since become clear. When as toe-less strangers we called Abami they came, we wrongly believed they were winning souls. But the truth is this: theirs was a stern god the tyranny of whose demands they had tired. Their god forbade pilferage; larceny was their middle name; their god forbade blood-letting; rapine had become them; their god forbade they covetousness; lust for our lands was in their eyes.
Their god buried deep in foreign lands, they lost thrift and gave themselves to sin. It is clear now that what Mr. Brown and Mr. John Smith said they believed in, the values of equality before god, of men of all colours, race and creed, that these were separate from the things they practice. It is masquerade of another kind.
Loss is at its bitterest when it mourns after lost illusions. These
words come from a place of bitterness. I return to you so you may teach me once more the past of my people. I have the time. You see, when the telling of your legend was complete a hundred and more years past, I was left alive. I have been cursed with eternity.
I know you are listening. That afternoon the man who took me to your grave spoke in a tongue I scarce can recall; it was the language of the egwugwu. I had told him I was the great greatgrandchild of one Okonkwo. I could not say who I was, for given my position, it is abomination that I visit the land of the old gods. It was when I turned to take a good look at him that I realised he was a spirit. He was, as present as this pen is present. Then he was not. I am disturbed still. You see, in that moment, I felt your being. Were you always an ogbanje, that returned child from the spirit world, and we knew not this? If so, I would like you to return, to bring back our world.
Your ever faithful son, The Rt. Rev. Isaac Nwoye