Everyone avoided the bathroom since he died. It had become a disturbing crime scene by all standard; bloody white walls, wet crimson tiled floor, broken glass mirror, the oozing smell of cold blood, the appalling look of death…the horror living through that scene. Everyone avoided it, though in their heads and minds it haunted them like the dark clouds chasing sunshine at noon.
I come out of the café where I meet Charlie, Agatha, Haroun, Vladi and Mia every day. We meet there to talk about society and literature, politics and economics. I always find our talks interesting and the plenty books I get to read too. Each week, I am assigned to discuss two books that I have read. I am not too much of a talker, so it is very nice and satisfying that I already know what is expected of me to say; what is expected of me to do. It has always been so ever since I was a child; Suzie is to wash her underwear and do the dishes. She must clean up her room and the bathroom. I do not like to remember the bathroom; whenever I do, all I see is the wicked face of death. Its face is crimson, but first invisible just before it starts to transform…from invisible to crimson to a pungent smell of dirt, rotten eggs and decomposing rats. It turns from all this to Ebenezer’s face… I do not want to remember that death is Ebenezer. “Best regards to your familia,” Mia says while waving a hand. She takes the right turn while I take the left whenever we reach the junction. I try to not think that the right and left turns mean anything, Mama would ordinarily think so. “What dreams did you have, my dear?” She asks me every morning. “Suzie, come here.” She would scream if I tried to sneak out without her seeing me. “Suzie I am talking, tell me your dreams now.” I would mutter words that even I didn’t hear. “I’m late Mama.” I would finally say. I play the role of a seven-year-old; that is who she thinks I am…a seven-year-old. I was seven when I saw death and since then, I cannot forget its face; neither can Mama. Whenever she sees its face, she thinks I am seven again, and when she talks, I know at that moment she is no longer seeing through the eyes of reality. She is lost in her own world; the one we all try to run away from…the one where we fight continuously with our demons. “Alright then, go.” She would tell me and I would leave. I can’t tell her each night death awaits me under my pillow. That it crawls out and enters my left ear and goes straight to my brain. I can’t tell her each night at exactly two thirty a.m. it meets me in the crimson bathroom. I can’t tell her because she also knows death is Ebenezer. “Suz, Mein Kampf and the Alchemist can’t wait.” Agatha shouts at me from behind just before she enters the bus. “Yes, so excited.” I smile while speaking. They always tell me, my smile is beautiful. They ask, how can I smile and talk at the same time. It isn’t just any kind of smile; it’s that wide grin that makes you wonder whether one has ever had problems. I tell them, I don’t know how I do it probably Mama trained me to smile and talk. I tell them, in Africa, where Mama comes from, people are very happy in spite of all their troubles…I am happy despite all my troubles, it is evident in my smile, my face radiates happiness. I do not tell them, Mama taught me to never show my sadness and dissatisfaction. That she taught me to only speak to myself about my problems so I do not get ridiculed; people here in the white man’s country do not understand compassion or empathy. They can hardly see your sadness but when you seem too happy, they ask you questions about your problems. None of my friends will understand me anyway, they won’t understand when I tell them I have seen death; that I know what it looks like and there’s no need to be afraid.
This week I didn’t choose the books I will discuss next week. I was too drained to suggest anything; I had wanted to say all of Achebe’s books, Ekwensi’s as well and even Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s. I have been too afraid to call authors that are Africans, I fear they might not allow me discuss them. See, I’m the only African which is very intimidating but Mama has taught me to adapt; to think and act like the whites. The only times I had discussed books on Africa where when I had chosen Amin Maalouf’s Leo Africanus and Chika Unigwe’s On Black Sisters’ Street. It had been Agatha who had suggested Half of a Yellow Sun by Adichie. I guessed it was because of the character, Richard, he was a white man. Since I am the only one deeply involved in literature because I am taking a Master’s degree in Creative Writing, it gives me great pleasure to just discuss these books. But I cannot tell them about my own writings, they think I do not write at all. I do not tell them I have four completed novels, two collections of short stories; nine stories in the first and fifteen in the second and a collection of poems. I do not tell them the novel I am now writing is about racial conflict and the clash of identities. When I think of it, all I have written is about racial conflict and identity crises. My first novel is about a little boy who had migrated to Europe with his mother so they can finally stay with his father as a family. He had never seen his father before; his father had left Africa when he was barely a month old. He was now nine and his father had a white woman as a wife. He had to marry her to get a blue card. The boy and his mother had to stay in a cramped apartment waiting each day for his father to provide for them. Well, whatever the father provided was too meagre to be enough. I see Ebenezer in that boy and I see my father in that man who becomes a bigamist to fit in a society that wouldn’t care if his name was Onyebuchi or Hasan, Uhuru or Ade. He understood that they didn’t care so he changed his name to Alexander after the great Greek conqueror. And Louise, to me that name only refers to Lucifer. But no, not every Louise is a Lucifer just Alexander Louise, my father.
This new novel I am writing is my story; I have been silent for too long. My thoughts want to kill me so I must write them down. These are my thoughts and not Ebenezer’s or Pauline’s or Tonio’s or Bette’s, those were just characters I made up; imaginary friends that would help me live through life with understanding and my sanity. Now I must write as Suzanne, it is time to set her free… I must set myself free. The world is what it is and you are who you are, Mario Puzo’s Don Clericuzio says, I understand it better now. It means I will no longer blame myself for the way the world is because it has nothing to do with who I am. I can mould the world to be however I like and that is what I will do… I am setting myself free. I hope by setting myself free I will also set Ebenezer free from death and he will no longer be the face of something so gruesome.
I wonder often how Ebenezer made that contract with death; to become its face like Beyoncé being the face of Pepsi or Alfred Nobel being the face of the Nobel Prize. Yes, it is like that; being emblazoned on a coin or flaunted on a currency note like the Queen of England or Mandela. Even though I try my hardest to not remember how it all happened, the memory is like blood running in my veins. Like melted honey in a hot cup of tea, the memory (the kind that haunts and enslaves our reality) is indoctrinated so deeply that you’re sure Big Brother isn’t just any kind of government but everything you feel greatly dissatisfied about. Maybe it is still so vivid because it hadn’t happened in an instant; it took many moments of agony, fear and pain. The times the feeling of dissatisfaction and worthlessness consumes us, those were the moments Ebenezer made that pact with death. “I will kill him…soon I swear it,” He would scream to himself…oh no not to himself for I was always there to hear him. I didn’t have to wonder who he was going to kill. I knew very well it was Papa. That day when Papa had come home, I tried to tell him to leave. I tried to tell him to go back to his white wife and their twin girls but he didn’t listen to my eyes. See, I have always been afraid of my words so I learned from Mama to speak with my eyes. But Papa wasn’t looking into my eyes that day just like he didn’t look into them the day my hatred for him was finally baptised. That day he had hit Mama real hard, she was lying still on the floor. Ebenezer was screaming at him but Papa said nothing. He had slapped Ebenezer and then left. Now I had wanted to say, “Papa, please leave I do not love you but I love my brother. I do not want him to become Lucifer like you.” But I couldn’t say it. And I couldn’t watch when Ebenezer hit him on the head with a pestle, the one Mama used in pounding yam and cassava. I had watched Ebenezer draw Papa to the bathroom. I didn’t know what he wanted to do but I guessed he was going to place him under the shower so he could drink bath water till his death or maybe the shower would baptise him and cleanse him of all evil. I do not like to remember what happened next, it was too bloody. Papa had awoken and his swollen head was bleeding but he was still struggling with Ebenezer to take the pestle from his hands. I had watched Papa’s great strength defeat Ebenezer’s juvenile courage. Papa now held the pestle and it was easy for him to strike, countlessly too; he had never cared for anything, not his blood or sanity. That strange clock that rang incessantly for a minute every thirty minutes began its maddening cry, I used to wonder whether Papa had bought it so it could make us mad. That night, it succeeded…at two thirty a.m. Mama and I went mad; we had seen death. But it is Ebenezer who made the pact with death and not Papa because I do not see Papa’s face when I think of death. I see nothing then crimson; the pungent smell of dirt, rotten eggs and decomposing rats then finally Ebenezer’s face appears. He is death’s model.
–Hajara Hussaini Ashara