Smoke in My Eyes
By CHIKA VICTOR ONYENEZI (Nigeria)
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It wasn’t the first time for smoke to enter my eyes; neither will it be the last. The first was when I was little, then residing at Enugu, precisely at Uwani, before the civil war. We used to walk past the coal mine on our way to school, and back from school. Then the black smoke would fill the atmosphere, and it peppered us in our eyes. That was my first experience of smoke in my eyes.
Another was during the civil war, I was in the bathroom taking my bath when I heard the sound of planes then followed by the bang of mortar and clank of metals on our roof, and I ran out of the bathroom almost naked; just a little towel that I tied on my waist covered my nakedness. When I got out of the building, I saw smoke everywhere. I couldn’t see anything; thick black smoke filled the whole environment. I wept through my nose while searching for a way to escape. Then my father’s hands fell upon me and guided me out. Papa’s concern was to see that all of us were complete; we were complete, the four of us. Then he breathed heavily as we struggled through the thick smoke and dark cloud and horrible sound of guns.
When we got to the village we saw poverty naked. To find food became a problem for us. Another experience of smoke in my eyes was in the village during the civil war, there was no kerosene to prepare your food with, so we resorted to fire wood. When I was trying to make fire, thick clouds of smoke entered into my eyes literarily.
Recently, I don’t cook with firewood; neither do I pass through the coal mine or another civil war on. But what Mr. Ike did to me, had made my eyes and nose to shed more tears than I shed during the war. He sat down on my promotion for more than five years. What smoke is more painful than this, good five years without promotion? Well he was my boss, but he treated me with contempt.
My family became my only solace and source of joy. I am a mother of three, not just three; but three wonderful kids that make me happy. My husband traveled to an unknown country many years ago; this swept more smoke into my eyes but I don’t like to remember that. I take him as the lost part of me, I consider myself a strong woman because what I went through only few women could endure.
I have been working at SONY PAINT as an assistant manager for years now, little boys whom I knew when their mother was wiping their buttocks has passed me in rank. That rickety man; that gaited as though unseen forces were pushing him, purposely sat on my promotion. Yes he purposely did it; he stared into my face one day and said: ‘Chioma you will continue on this seat till you retire, I own the company and this is Nigeria.’ Every single word he said was true.
First the company belonged to his brother, so it also belonged to him indirectly. Secondly he said: this is Nigeria; you see Nigeria has become a place where people are purposely kicked into an ant hole for a bite. You see everything is possible here; even the justice you feel is yours shall be taken from you when the hour comes. That’s it, the blue and white air of Nigeria, very pure.
Maybe as early as seven AM, I was at the office; I would work my body out till Mr. Ike arrived. You would hear the sound of his car from the office, as he was walking into the office you would hear a loud cackle so annoying; that’s what he used to deceive all those little girls at our work place. Yes when he profit from you, you would become an object of laughter and mockery for him.
Although I don’t have a husband, Mr. Ike could never warm my bed, I couldn’t imagine this old fool on top of me, everything he did went as he gait; rickety, unbalanced, and stupid. His whiskers were like a forest. I couldn’t imagine such a man using those whiskers to kiss me. That overzealous secretary in my office, who wants everything to come fast must have given it to him, that’s why he laughs at her like that recently.
Young girls of nowadays don't care about their dignity, all they want is just money; then you can have their pride at your toes. The worst part is that they don’t even consider it as pride, if you laugh at them, they would laugh at you and say: after all what did you take, just once. That’s how everything started, Mr. Ike never allow me to rest, he keep on telling me of his ugly itch; which I didn’t yield to and will never do such a thing with him. Maybe that’s why he chooses to torment me all these years.
Mr. Ike turned me into a bitter woman. My neighbors said that I am always bitter. Yes they said it; I once overheard them while in my little garden beside my little house. Even when I am still tilling the ground, dropping grains and weeding my little garden; I was still bitter. Not that I haven’t been promoted, but that someone purposely sat on my future for years.
If I had allowed this man to go free, then I would have lost in the fight. Everybody has his own way of administering justice; the judgment of the court of law is not fair and swift, that molded goddess there with scale and sword allows people to go free. Our little gods are faster and act more quickly in dishing out their justice. That’s why I chose to take my case to them. As a woman who once lived in the village, I happen to know the house of every witch doctor in the village.
There was this powerful man called Ajakaidu, he had survived many ages, and history had it that he was the only man who didn’t run from my village during the civil war. They spirits guided him and talked to him in a very special way. That’s why I chose to visit him; he had the solution to my problems. Early that morning I set out to listen to the Wiseman who administers justice with only cowries and tortoise. I sat quietly on the mat inside his little hut, he looked into a small pot that was smoking without fire; this showed me that none of the Whiteman’s word is true, they said that there is no smoke without fire, let them come to Ajakaidu shrine and see for themselves. With red cloth and kola nut, he prepared a charm that would help me kill this man. He warned me saying: let no eyes see what I am giving you; with this he is as dead as dried wood.
I kept all his words just as I was instructed; I dropped the charm behind our door. The earth swallowed the death charm, and cleaned the place; you will not even see a trace of the charm. I heard the sound of his car as he parked it, after some few minutes followed by a cackle and a tap on the secretary’s cheek. Then a loud noise, it was like the sound of a stallion then a loud thud followed. Then I knew that my charm had worked very fine.
Like every other staff member, I ran to the secretary’s office. There I saw the beast panting heavily on the floor, I felt like kicking his chest so that blood would gush out of his heart but I wouldn’t do that, I said to myself: for my torment and pride. I joined the women in wailing like someone who has lost her mother. That was how he died, just like a chicken, a mere coward. Who thought he could run away from justice. I brought justice to his door steps, let him feel it; let him feel my pain, let him feel my anger, let him feel my helplessness; let him taste the pain of dark smoke in someone’s eyes.
When I got home that day, I worked at my garden like I have never done before. I took a basket of seeds and sat at a place where I could greet every one of my neighbors I greeted even mama Njideka; the woman that cursed me for not speaking to people. Her own greeting I shouted it,
‘Good morning Mama Njideka,’ I shouted with enthusiasm.
‘Mama Ebuka…’ mama Njideka breathed heavily, ‘I hope the children are alright…’
‘Yes oh! God is taking care.’
That’s it. It was as if my joy was returned; joy that that heartless idiot in my life has been eliminated. Even the eldest of my sons, Ebuka noticed the sudden change in me.
‘Mummy, has something happened?’ he queried me, I even felt overjoyed to hear that.
‘Praise the lord, my son, heaven has opened his windows for us.’ That was all I allowed him to know about. That’s how we deceive our children, by merely mentioning the name of Christ, and they would be thinking we have done the best of things.
Late Mr. Ike’s untimely death spread like a wild fire at the company. The lips of women spread it all over the place. From their lips I discovered that the funeral would be next week. Also from their lips I had it that his death was a mysterious one: ‘maybe one of those he oppresses has decided to hit him back,’ that’s what they said.
Yes, they said the truth; it was the bite of a bitter woman.
On his burial day, I put on my best clothes; I tied wrapper and wore a lace blouse, not just ordinary lace, but cupion lace. I wore the new watch I bought for that occasion, hung a gold necklace on my neck. I painted my face in such a way that people who saw were asking if it was a wedding that I was attending.
During the mass, the priest preached about the man and his good works. He talked about those who had sacrificed their life to be martyrs. I wondered how such a wicked man could be compared with saints: Maybe because he donated a pillar in the church that had his name largely carved on the paint with gold ink.
At his house, they committed him to mother earth. Then came a time for drinking and eating; I ate as though it was a wedding ceremony and maybe one or two eyes stared at me to inquire of my reckless behaviour, It didn’t bother me what they thought. All I knew was that I had achieved my own aim.
When I got home, I noticed that people had gathered in my house. They folded their arms as though they pitied someone. I ran into my house anxiously searching for the reason why people gathered around my house; there lay my eldest son Ebuka lifeless. Something had snuffed life out of him. He was as black as charcoal, I couldn’t even touch him. I wept, throwing myself against the wall. They said that lightning struck him dead, and then I knew that something was behind it.
I told you I was a strong woman, I buried him. But day by day I notice that my life has shattered to pieces. No husband, my first son is dead; others were at their boarding school. I couldn’t wait any longer for torment and sorrows; I set out to the witch doctor's house to ask him why my son should die in such a way.
I met him talking to unseen forces. He didn’t allow me to come inside the little tattered hurt, he shouted at me,
‘What do you seek again from the gods?’
‘I came to enquire why my son died.’
‘You are foolish woman. You sent the gods to kill for you, and then you participated in the burial, even ate food there,’ He smirked at me ‘the dance of the spirits is not a dance for kids. If you must dance with them be ready to behave like them. The gods have killed your child.’
I left like a strong woman, strong in the heart, strong in mind. But my strength forsakes me; each day it reminds me that I killed my son. Then I swore, before God and man that I would never use death to pay my follow being back, no matter what he or she did to me. Let several winds blow smoke into my eyes, I will never chase the wind – knowing that the wind could not be trapped when you kill you only imprison your own soul. Yes, my soul will be imprisoned for ever.