Alphabet series

N is for Nigerian Utopia

Picture a child, all her parents’ hopes and dreams distilled into flesh. When she is born, in a state of the art hospital in the town of Gboko, her birth almost untethers her mother. Her mother’s life is held stubbornly in the hands of an obstetrician fully trained at the university up the road. His voice is the first that the child hears, his musical Northern accent cushioning the sharp commands he throws around the room as he fights to stem the life flowing out of her mother. At no point is there fear that her mother may not make it.

Her parents are first time parents. And like all the first time parents before them, they doubt everything. After getting to an adult age where they feel that their feet have finally known all  the bumps and troughs of life, the ground is thrown up in the air again and nothing is certain. It takes the mother months to feel like herself and for the first four weeks a midwife comes to her home. Nurse Caro wipes her tears with the heel of her palm as she talks about how her baby isn’t taking to her breast.  Even though her mother has come for Omugwuo, Nurse Caro shows them how to bathe the child. The parents sat on the couch that takes up  almost all the space in the small living room,  leaning forward and watching her hands intently as she dips the sponge in the plastic tub and works it over the whimpering baby. “You have to know how to bathe Lisu once grandmum leaves” she says with a smile.  

At two, Lisu starts to attend the free nursery five minutes from her home. Lisu learns her first words of Yoruba, Urhobo, Boki, Gwari and many others.

Lisu’s parents live in a typical Nigerian neighbourhood, filled with lush verdant trees that shiver when the wind flows through their leaves. When she turns eight, her parents let her walk to school on her own. Lisu’s neighbourhood comes alive every time she steps out of the gate. She waves at the Mr Agunu driving to work, at the lycra clad cyclists huffing up the hill and at Mama Timothy dragging little Timothy behind her. And she always stops to stare at the wall mural five feet from her house. The strokes of paint show a woman, her hair piled in bunches at the top of her head, her hand holding a pen as she writes into a book, a smile playing on her lips but not quite there. She snaps her head back expecting to hear her mom yelling at her to stop standing there like a statue and go to school.

Lisu is doing her homework in the parlour when the blades of the ceiling fan slow down to a stop.

“Mummy the light has tripped again” she yells. She hears her mum shout ‘Up Nepa!’ as the fan begins their frenzied turn, whipping the pages of her books. She’s always puzzled when her parents yell Up Nepa when they trip back the lights. She has never known a day when the lights have gone and stayed off. Every time she twists open the kitchen tap, water flows free and she drinks from it.

When Lisu is 12 their house is robbed right before Christmas. She hides under the bed and hears the thief heave her television with effort, staggering as the wire trails behind him on the carpet. She listens until she hears nothing and runs to huddle with her parents until the blue flashes of the police paint their walls and the sirens pierce their fear. The kindly officer asks her questions. She likes how the small, deep cuts in his cheeks appear when he’s talking and disappear when he smiles.  

Every Christmas, they make the five hour round trip up to visit grandmum in the village. It is not like the villages her mother tells her about. Houses with thatch roofs that let off a plume of dust when anything lands on them. A village only in name. Grandmum stares at her unbelieving.

“You’re already going to secondary school?” she looks like time has played a cruel trick.

Lisu’s dad drives her to boarding school, two hours away from home. Free education gives her everything she needs. She learns of Nigerian history, before the British came, and develops a love for literature. She sees herself on a mural someday and decides to be a writer. She meets boys and has her first kiss at 14. Depending on how frightened she is, she screams Jesus! Or Ya Allah. She feels the first pain of heartbreak.

Her parents encourage her love for words. They buy Lisu any book she wants, her own laptop, notebooks of various hues and sizes. She learns to ignore their looks of censure when she writes down what they say into her notebook.

“How else am I supposed to write convincing dialogue?” she asks.

Lisu lugs her pile of notebooks with her when she goes off to university to study creative writing and journalism. She meets a boy like her father: strong, kind, smart. On campus, sitting on a bench in the love garden, she holds his hand while he cries for his father who died too soon. He rests his head on her thighs and they both look up into the sky dotted with stars and pinned together by the moon.

After classes, she works in a fast food restaurant to feed her book habits. Her colleague Ruth always gives extra fries to the woman with curves and a flirty smile.

‘You have a crush on her’ Lisu teases.

“I do not! Fries should be shared with people that God blessed in the right place, that’s all” They both laugh.

Lisu votes for the first time at 18. And learns that a politician’s promises means nothing.

She graduates and gets a job as a journalist in a leading media house. She is 26 when her and the sweet boy move in together. They do not plan on having children. They live until old age and die side by side in an old people’s home, surrounded by people whose life’s work is to care for and be with them until the very end.