THE DAY OF THE NAKED DANCE: AN EXCERPT FROM THE LYRICS OF MADNESS
It was an unusually foggy morning. Mama had traveled to her late father’s place at Ezeudo, to tend her father’s farm, pull the weeds that were reported by relatives, as harbingers of poisonous snakes. The compound was reported to have been enshrouded by thick shrubs due to seasons of neglect. Mama was the only fearless child of her father. She had fought hard to retain her late parent’s property from ‘greedy’ in-laws, but her in-laws were all educated, had their own landed and acquired property and would not victimize their daughter for what rightly belonged to her, though they often asked her to sell to them. But mama would still act like a tigress: defensive and assertive just to discourage them, should they ever nurse the slightest nickel of the idea of dispossessing her of her inheritance. They only troubled her enough each time she failed to maintain the property.
I was very happy that Mama would be traveling for four market days; Eke, Orie, Afor, Nkwo. I hung her hand-woven bag around my neck, her clothes neatly swaddled in an akwa oche— suede material, knotted at the middle and balanced effortlessly on her matted hair. Mama sat on the passenger seat, legs entwined on one side of the bicycle, and gently, we rode to Nkwo Otulu market junction. Mama never allowed me to ride further than that. I hurriedly waved her good bye, as she continued the rest of her journey on foot. I rode off. I rode into the now fading thick fogs of the cold morning. I drove past our compound, into the tiny snaky foot path that headed straight into the abode of my kindred spirit; the Professor. I crash landed in front of his ancient edifice; I ignored the bleeding scratches on my knees and elbows. Mama would say that wounds are part of childhood. She would often console me by saying that a strong child is known by the number of wounds on his skin. She would however warn me not to add more: else people would think I had a terribly rough childhood. She would apply honey and Shea butter on the wounds, so they won’t leave scars on my skin. So I had learnt to add up my wounds as they came. I ran up the stairways that led to the professor’s living room.
“My Prof” I called out.
“Have I seen this face before?”Prof asked, staring as though in a trance.
“Ten dead men on a seaman’s chest yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!”
I talked on, telling Prof about, Gulliver, Oliver Twist, Treasure Island, Silas Manner and Robinson Crusoe. And gradually, a smile of recognition formed around his shriveled and pale lips. And for the first time he called me my real name; the same way my Mama will shout when calling me home from Prof’s backyard.
“Opuriche!” Prof shouted, mimicking Mama.
“Yes my Prof.”
Prof walked up to me, cupped my cheeks and kissed my lips. It was such a nauseating deep mouthing. His cold lips sucked mine, leaving copious spittle on my now quivering lips. He squeezed me so hard; I thought my bones would snap. He buried my face into his smelly, sweaty and hairy chest, calling Erika, Syl, Selena, his smoky and husky voice trembled from the rough effort of the mouthing. He kissed my cheeks, fore-head, shoulders and more. I felt the drops of his hot tears on my bare spine. I smelt the heat of his hairy chest; it smelled of old dusty books that had outlived their shelf lives. The villagers and Mama never knew that Prof cried in my arms.
“The Prof is sad again” I observed aloud.
“No. He is waiting to hear voices, familial and ancestral voices. They are long in coming”
“Mama says that when a widow hears the voice of spirits, she speaks less to humans. Is that true?”
“Your mother is a widow. I am a widower. I speak less to humans and I hear no spirit voices yet” said Prof, more as a lament, than a statement.
Professor had faraway look in his misty eyes. I made ji agworo-agwo; boiled yam, mixed in fresh pepper, oil and onion sauce, for him. We ate enough. Professor told me lots of stories. He advised me like a father who wants to embark on a long journey would. For the first time, I slept on the same bed with Prof and for the first time in my life, on a foam mattress: better, softer and more body-friendly than our bed-bug infested raffia bamboo bed or the cold mud floor. I slept in Professor’s arms. I felt the warmth of his laboured breaths on the skin beneath my left ear. I felt the rhythmic thuds of his heart beat on my bare back and the sensation from the hairs on his bushy chest is altogether ticklish and stingy. I remained silently sound awake. Prof no longer smelled of his Irish perfume now, he smelled of age: old age. I wondered why Prof was not my father, why he didn’t marry Mama. He would have been a good husband to Mama and a good father to me. We would have been happier, drinking from the wealth of his book wisdom, sleeping on his dunlop bed, watching his TV and keeping his house warm and alive. His house echoed of emptiness, and bore the constant signature of a cemetery silence. Prof would have made Mama a woman and be the father I never had.
The room was dark except for the shadowy light from the grey skies. It was still ututu nwa mmuo— wee hours of the morning, a time when market spirits parked their wares and headed home for humans to take over. In spite of the cloudy darkness and the drizzling dawn, I stepped onto the wet earth, feet feeling the slushy mire of Prof’s clayey compound and searching everywhere for him. The darkness gradually faded, as daylight crept in slowly and illuminated the atmosphere. I heard the sharp wail of an owl and hit my big toe against a tiny rock— bad omen.
“My Prof, My Prof!” I called. I thought of the bats flying around, over the mmimi tree, the earlier wail of the owl, my bleeding big toe, and my fears came alive. I had never thought of evil, but I started shaking all over. Prof was nowhere to be found, at least, nowhere on the ground. I decided to look up and closely at the mmimi tree; the tree of bitter-sweet seeds, seeds of contrast, the same tree that Prof had no English name for. The mmimi leaves and branches rustled, and a choking, coughing and asphyxiating sound followed, and Prof’s body came dangling down like that of a condemned robber from the hangman’s noose. He struggled and danced violently for breath. I ran over, screaming—
“My Prof, Chei! My Prof eee… Help me ooo… My father is dying…”
I ran to him and jumped up, with all my little man’s effort but could not even touch the sole of his leather shoes. Soon the neighbours arrived and tried a belated rescue. I knew he was gone. Even when they climbed up hurriedly, trying hard to untie the electric wire around his neck, I knew he had slipped into yonder and will sleep forever. Even when his body fell like a sack of red meat, I knew Prof was gone. I traced the red lines around his neck and felt for the slightest pulse, telling myself, that professor was acting out another drama. The villagers stood by the corners, shouting, ‘aru— abomination! Sacrilege! This is a taboo… tufiakwa!” Prof had prepared for this journey. He wore his three piece suit, his red tie, neatly ironed. He smelled of his Irish perfume. He never thought of me; how I would feel. I cried a river.
The news got to Mama. Mama left all she was doing and ran all the way from Ezeudo to Otulu, crying and shouting my name like she did whenever she wanted me to leave the Prof’s house. She told people, that I copied the professor too much and might join him. She met me lying on professor’s now lifeless mass; head buried into his suit, wishing to be sucked into him, so that my life and his would become one and live. The night before, Prof had narrated the story of Richard Cory to me, an English man, who went down town and never returned— he blew his brains off and died by his own hands and in his own pool of blood. He said Richard Cory had the courage to journey down the narrow path we all dread but must thread. Prof admired his courage, he said Richard defeated death, he didn’t want the old hooded man of shadow: death, to snuff out his life through some sheer whims; so he beat him to his own games, by doing himself some honour and taking his life by himself. “Such rare bliss— to die in one’s own hands’, thought the professor aloud.
Mama pushed through the crowd and ran to me. She held me and cried endlessly. She cried much more for what this would do to me than for the corpse lying on the floor. Prof was given a quickie: a fast burial, no music, no tributes, no epitaph, no marble vault, no masquerades, no lengthy rituals and no requiem, just a raised mass of red earth, beside the triple marble vaults, bearing six-feet deep, the bones of Erika, Selena and Syl. He committed an abomination, and must not spend one more night on the surface of the earth. Days later, I would see Prof walking around his compound, hand in hand with three other fellows. I thought of Prof’s body and life, and see everything I must never become in life; a professor.
Mama watched me closely. She never wanted me to leave her eyes. When I stopped going to school, she never complained. When I burnt my pocket Dicktionary and shattered my abacus, she gave a whimpering sigh of relief. When I crawled under the bed to sulk and caress the smooth sleek body of my first love— my flute, she nodded her approval. I went about the entire Mbaise, from one event to the other, playing my flute and telling the story of a certain mad man of manners. I sang of domestic and public mad men. Soon, I realised that there is a thin line between sanity and insanity, and that; there is a certain lyricism to madness, one that edifies like music to the soul. I felt the cold hands of the children on my bare buttocks. I watched the naked children follow me round the village, singing, chanting and dancing, to the incoherent music of my two naked flutes. And the entire world dissolved into one harmonious rhythm of madness and nakedness.