Home THE LONE WAYFARER- by Olubunmi Familoni

THE LONE WAYFARER- by Olubunmi Familoni


‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ I said, quietly, in that contrived moist tone that career mourners use. He glanced up at me as if I was intruding upon his grief; as if I didn’t have any right to be sorry for his loss, any right to be there at all.
‘How are you doing?’
It was the perfunctory funerary question; nobody cared, really cared, how anybody was doing; the dead were dead and the living just wanted to go home and carry on with their living.
His mouth was heavy and swollen with grief, his eyes with stale sorrow, unwept tears hidden in their depths, stinging. Our people say that a man does not show the world his tears. But he was not a man. He was still a boy; the same way he had always been, how I’d always known him. . . But it was not a boy’s voice that flung my question back at me, ‘How am I doing?’
I didn’t know what to say.
The strange man in his throat continued, ‘If you must know, I am not doing anyhow.’
What kind of silly answer was that! I wasn’t expecting him to give me the standard Fine, but that was just stark rude! Insolent! It made me mad, made me want to slap the sour taste of sadness out of his mouth. People feel that their misery gives them the right to be disrespectful; that nobody has a right to barge in on their sorrowing and try to sully it with sympathy. People just want a monopoly of their griefs. . . Bullshit.
I moved on to his mother—she should be more accommodating, more mature.
She sprang up and spat in my face, in my eyes. Not a direct shot of a glob of saliva, just an impulsive spray of spittle, laced with malice, which scattered all over my clean face. I didn’t wipe it, as a sign of respect for her grief and wrath. I let it stay on my cheeks and trickle down into my beard. A widow’s bitter saliva.
‘You have come now!’ she spat. ‘You have come abi! For what?! To mock our mourning?! You have come in your big jeep and big agbada, to do what? To show us that you have arrived? That you have made it. . . We do not care! Yes! You are dead to us! You are the dead one! You killed him, yes! You killed the old man! With your absence, your silence. . . with your. . . your death. . . Don’t come back now and think you’re still alive; you are not! You are—’
I was watching her mouth open and close in violent cursing, her hair and spit flying everywhere, tears pouring down her face, clogging her throat, wetting her voice. . . I wanted to cry, too. I couldn’t. I tried to. I was more ashamed of my dry eyes than I was of my flowing lace robes and shiny jeep outside—amidst all this misery and penury they stuck out in grotesque disrespectfulness; incongruous healthy fingers on a leprous hand.
I blinked. The women were staring at me, almost as balefully as the widow. It was their grief too; their mourning; they owned a part of it, stakeholders in sorrow. Collective sorrows. Here, people share sorrows; nobody mourns alone, nobody is allowed to. There are no private mournings here.
It is the same way they share their joys. How they had shared in the joy of my scholarship trip to America many years ago—with dancing and drinking and drumming. My parents had been proud—my father beaming all over the yard, my mother weeping. . . Not as she was doing now. Different kind of tears. The tears had tasted different when she hugged me to her breasts, pressing her wet face into mine. Our people believe that if a parent, especially a mother, presses her tears upon her child’s face they will bring him good luck wherever he goes.
My mother’s tears had brought me more than good luck over the years. They had brought me fame, renown—I had become the best student in my class, graduating summa cum laude, from one of the best universities in the Whiteman’s country. I had become the first black person to do that.
I had become an American. I don’t know how it happened, but over the years the culture, the system, the general way of life just burned itself into my heart. I had become them, inside my heart, inside that labyrinth where you cannot explain how things happen, or why they do. Things like love, hate. . .
Thus, all black people, and consequently the people of my village, seemed inferior. I had not just become an American, I had become a warped sort of racist. I had become a stranger, to my people, my family, to myself even; hence my self-imposed ostracism. I kept myself cocooned, with luxury, in America, in a posh all-white neighbourhood, away from the filth of my people’s blackness and the stench of their poverty, insulated from their shame and history. I never went back.
Even in America, I never went for those loud, gaudy Nigerian parties where they sprayed dollars like madmen and gyrated shamelessly to tasteless fuji music; I never attended those “Town Association Meetings” where they gathered regularly to drink to death, exchange lies and abuse their government. I totally avoided my people. Cut myself off from my roots.
I had become a complete American.
I became disconnected.
Then I began to feel lonely, alone, a leaf drifting along on the wind, torn from its branch, its roots. I began to learn: a black man cannot become an American, a complete American, in America. They rejected me.
It must be why I decided to go back home when news reached me that the old man had gone to join his ancestors. I had not seen him in almost two decades. I did not know him.
I did not cry. I just packed, and left. Left America behind, their America, hoping that my father’s spirit will somehow be the link that would reconnect me to my people. A frail hope that fluttered and died as soon as I entered our yard and saw my brother’s eyes; the boy that had been my brother. The man whose grief I had intruded upon, whose grief I couldn’t dare to share now. . .
One of the elders took me aside, ‘A firstborn son should leave his father’s house, yes; but he does not leave his father’s house without looking back, without a word, for as long as you have done. It is an abomination. It is usually assumed that the son is dead; only the dead leave a place and do not return to it. . .’
‘But I have returned!’
‘It is too late—you have returned to nothing, to an empty house, a shell. . . Our people say when the head is off of what use is the body.’
‘But there is a body!’
‘You can see for yourself that they do not want you; they do not recognize you as a member of their family anymore.’
‘But I am! I am the first son!’
His rickety voice dropped to a whisper, ‘Before your father left, he declared you dead; this, automatically, is a curse if you’re not. . . According to our tradition, a first son is supposed to be at his father’s bedside at his death, to receive the man’s blessings, and authority to assume headship of the family. . . You were not there; your brother, Alaka, was.’
I looked at Alaka. He had been only a baby when I left. Now he was a man, the man of the house. Yet still just a boy. He would be the head of the family, my family. The family I didn’t belong to anymore.
Alaka was looking at me. He looked like a man now, an old man, as if he had aged a hundred times over in the short time that our father had passed away; the burden of his present grief and that of future responsibilities were heavy in his eyes as he stared. There was the discernible weight of hate, too. I dared not ask how he was doing now; I did not have any right to know, indeed. I was only a stranger. I was no longer a brother, or son.
Neither was Alaka. He was now a father, and husband. Protector. Head. Man.
He was not weeping like the women; he was doing a brave job of keeping his tears down inside his stomach, like the elders chewing kola nuts outside and talking in hushed whispers. He was a man, like them. The man. The man I should have been.
It was tradition.
I still couldn’t cry. Perhaps there was nothing left to mourn. I had lost everything, my father, my birthright, my family, my people, my identity. . . I was dead here, indeed. Memories buried in hearts; cremated, ashes scattered in yesterday’s winds. . .
I will go back to where my life is—America, cold America.
Winter will welcome me.
It was cold in the big jeep, too.

copyright: Olubunmi Familoni

4 Responses

  1. zeekki says:

    Reblogged this on zeekki.

  2. Obafemi says:

    Tradition and the demands of quotidian life, tradition and the quest for breaking known limits. Consequences. Masterfully told.

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