Season of Pain – A Poem from My Collection Before Twilight

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A Poem by J. Chuma Okoye from the Volume Before Twilight


i. Forgotten

it started so well

like it would not end

but the clock ticked on

the body danced the ticks

and wearied before the spirit

now every movement creaks

all the way to the pay point

to hear the same song

of neglect and lies and deceit

all so soon they forget

able bodies strut and feign duty

they forget the clock ticks still

and will retire them like it did us

we pray hard for them all

no death shall take them

nay, God forbid

they will one and all arrive here

I wish them our pain in time

Each pang will be multiplied to them

2. Exchanged

I think I dreamt it

He called me another’s names

Dressed me in another’s particulars

Because no one came for me

I want to wake to reality

Or wake from reality

Whichever restores my me to me

I saw he that became me

Leave the barred end on bail

He that I am has no bail

Am now the doer of his deed

Now I await my new deed

Till they read the charges

And I go from loiterer to robber

This is not me, I told the judge

Me went out on a stolen leave

He nodded his understanding

Oh God! No one is listening.

3. Attendants

bright was the morning

a song played on my lips

at first I did not see it

then it sank in

the queues are back

Oh God! Where did they come from?

Only yesterday, I could have filled my tank

One look at the dashboard

Oh God!

My hand finds my flat pockets

Now will I fight to spend my money

And beg people that measure to nothing

Attendants are gods once again

Twice over they swindle us

With pumps that fall short

And surcharges per buyer

The hoodlums smile at you

The smile reminds you

You only rule the sane society

Your kingdom is on hold

Till further notice.

4. Cellmate

the darkness said

soon as I stumbled blindly in

and the clank of metal doors faded

did you steal

no … no sir

a deeper darkness spoke behind

did you rape

no sir

did you efcc

no sir

did you do someone in

no sir

did you offend a big man

what did you do then

I spoke truth … I did nothing

Well, next time do something

You cannot take all this for nothing

Bang … boom … slash

Oh God!

5. Cellmate II

he listened intently

he turned to speak

you have done no evil

your heart is true

never seen a better patriot

your mouth disdains deceit

your feet walk true

sin kills a man easy

your sins are too few to kill you

but your innocence has.

Holy fool!

6. Fathers’ Day

It was not fair

I raved for a half hour

I proved my innocence a hundred times

I knew nothing of their deeds

We were just casual friends

The weapons were in their rooms

The weeds were in their bags

They robbed the safe not me

I raped no girls, I was not there

See my alibi – cast iron

Yet they walk free

And you keep me in these chains.

Despairing of me, lazily uniform looked up

From a mass of paperwork

Finally speaking he says,

They brought their fathers

Senators, judges, generals…

Bring your father

7. Cut Off

He stared through barely writing

I saw him in moments I looked up

As I wrote and wrote

When the results came

He sat just above my name

A red line separated our names

They called it cut-off point

Beyond the line there was no admission

Kept out …

… one red line

…condemns me another twelve months

I asked about my score

They say it does not count

My score of origin is Anambra

Here it would never be high enough

Never will be higher than the cut off.

We are one Nigeria

Watch the red line please.

8. Ghost

The treatment was shabby

so close to delivery the patient

yet uniform trolleyed her harsh

callously bumping walls and steps

like avenging age-long feud

finally amid pain she protested

‘You enjoyed it nine months ago’

her tartly reply

amid pain yet again she spoke

‘if I die, I will drive you mad

and everyone that is dear to you’

all motions after that was smooth.

9. Male

Labour and birth pains she bore

gallant veteran, it was her sixth

when it was done

she sat up in bed speaking to no one

pulled back the sheets holding the

bundle tender in the matron’s hand

down between the legs she sought

it was smooth – nothing hanging

she collapsed back

tears stung the pillows

If you are God, she pleads

Stick something between those legs

I do not care how

Hang the watercans there

Just do it or kill me.

10. Outsider

Into the yard I walked

Goods all spread out

Europe’s junk has arrived

To a frenzied welcome

That tv just like mine

Wonder what it costs now

All my type, oven and the iron

And the utensil and chairs … wait!

God … these are my wares!

My landlord …Oh God!

A few minutes after

The wind changed

Lightening flashed a warning

Thunder barked advice

God is this happening to me?

11. Go-Slow

It began with two idiot rams

Neither would back up one for the other

and other vehicles arrived

each trying out their blare

more vehicles arrived

some charted new course

till pedestrians climbed hoods

we were trapped all round

sweat pouring down

then the two backdoors opened

casually they joined us

showing us knives and guns

we entertained them well

cash, phones, watches, pendants

rings, bracelets, earrings

the pile of them made us proud

‘una be correct’, they told us

they left as they came

we only wanted to get out

before other guests arrived.

12. dvd

four thousand naira

outcome of months of denial

expertly he counted

issued an illegible receipt

even the dvd was wrongly spelt

eagerly I dashed for home

sweating and connecting the toy

one button and it all lit up

at last I joined the big boys

and movies would be the hallmark.

Drink in hand, I savoured the colours

Just then the room lit up

Power surge … and a blackout

Power returned almost immediately

Everything lit up again

But not the dvd

Touch, push, shake, tap… no sign

Quickly I dashed to the repairs man

‘Your transformer don burn but

if you get five thousand we go buy am’

my four thousand … NEPA!

13. Freed

Even in the cell, Christmas hung

From churches songs floated in

Nostalgia drew tears

Our sorrow only interrupted by flurry outside

The judge was in the yard

Come to mock his victims.

Minutes later, our door opens

My name is called

Soon I faced the judge

Have they found fresh charges?

‘Thank the judge, he has set you free’

my sense stopped

on impulse I lay flat

then up without thinking and away to the gate

‘wait and sign some papers’

I signed halfway, each scratch different

Then my sense returned.

No home no family, just nothing

What would I eat for dinner?

I went back bold to the judge

Sir, can I stay till tomorrow?

You like this place so much

No sir, but what will I eat for dinner today?

14. Suture

It was a round-about

We had right of way on two legs

She was wrong on four legs

Four wealthy perfumed legs.

We went tumbling on impact

A deep gash down my foot bleeding

She trembled down from the car

People’s court was in session

Soon it was settled while I bled

Wads of notes were received on my behalf

The court adjourned

They load me into roadside clinic

The money I split half with the Samaritan

Reward for negotiating

He waited till I entered the theatre

But what about the pain?

Iodine, suture, dressing, aches

A poor man’s suture hurts extra

You know why.

15. Kids at Play

They were kids

Kids at play

They teased each other

His son started it all.

He said we wasted too much time at church

My boy would not be undone

He said his father spent his day at checkpoints

His father was a policeman

I, a bloody civilian

He opened the window and yelled at my boy

The bloody civilian I am

I opened my window and yelled at his son

We opened our doors and had a brawl.

He went inside and put on his uniform

He called his constituency

They said I harassed him in uniform

I stayed eight hour behind the counter

I paid damages to go home

He gave me back my money at home

We are good neighbours again.

Just a lesson taught and learned

Two degrees one diploma adorn my cv

But I know my place

Below a police constable

His baton is his cv.

They Came

They came just before dawn

Too many to count

Their eyes were closed anyway

So no one would think they would recognise.

They knocked things over

Father prayed for his life and family

Daughter prayed for her virginity

Slaps and kicks were given free

Their rucksack filled quickly

For everything they asked

They got more than a reply

Thirty minutes after they left

They still lay face down

Till the police came

Then they sobbed

Then they mourned their loss.

With the money they had left

They bought stationery

So police could take statements.

Who Came?

He was a lecturer

He was honest

That was a bad thing to do

He took no bribes

He hid no crimes

He altered no marks

He made no requests for help

He permitted no cheating

These were bad things to do.

How long would an evil man last

In the midst of good doers

Who did all the good things?

One night the knock came.

They needn’t have

The door left the hinges quickly

They poured in young faces bare.

Only the dark brothers did that

Their victims never lived to id them.

Poor man!

Looking a farewell at his wife and kid

Wondering if they would spare them

Bowing for a final word

He heard them speak.

‘We are armed robbers,

Give us your money and jewelry’

In his prayer he whispered

Thank God,

They are only armed robbers.


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