Saturday, 18 February 2023

Footprints of a Migrant:

Excerpt from my upcoming book entitled 'An Egg Crowded with Humans and other stories.' Meb was sweating and breathless as he crisscrossed the footpaths to tent number 707, his assigned lodging. His lungs raged, and as in the past hours since he fled his home, he felt only fear. For a brief moment, he thought he saw the man in the patrol hat lurking in the shadows. Stop dreaming. Think about going to Hum, across the border to Nub, then Gad and Europe. But now that I’ve seen the toilet, I need to ease myself, he thought, hesitating among a queue of refugees waiting to use the toilet---one of the few on the camp. The displaced persons here were so concern about their turn to use the toilet that no one gave Meb a second look. Once an ugly makeshift camp known for open defecation, flies and mosquitoes, lack of toilets and poor sanitation, Tisit Refugee Camp was now not that prone to diseases like dysentery and diarrhoea. The air smelled of carbolic acid and cannabis smoke. As Meb waited for his turn, he counted half a dozen others already waiting. He felt as if his bowels were about to spurt. Meb always found it paradoxical that people, despite being sophisticated, were still answerable to the call of nature through and through, their action motivated considerably by the pursuit to survive in a world of greed and selfishness. Meb saw a lot of this while in the military and in the rich and powerful. The only pursuit Meb needed now was a toilet. Unable to wait, he carefully moved away to find a vacant one. As he walked, he peeped out cautiously into the shadows of the labyrinth footpaths. He had a nervous feeling that he was entering the mouth of a dragon. Then Meb saw it. He stopped abruptly, his blood running cold. There, in a dimly-lit area, the man in the patrol hat was glaring directly at him. For a brief moment, the two men looked at each other. Then, with the speed of a gazelle, the man started running after Meb who ran like a cheetah, taking it on the lam for his life. Just within a couple of minutes into the chase, Meb dropped out of sight. The man in the patrol hat darted left then right, then left, in vain searching for his kill.

Tuesday, 6 December 2022

Love is Blind

Another excerpt from my upcoming book of short stories entitled 'An Egg Crowded with Humans and other stories'.

 Love is Blind


I just can't understand teacher Crowther, but I'll let sleeping dogs lie because she teaches us literature. 

The other day, I attended her class again after being absent for a while because papa Joseph said education is the key to success. In reality, I attended class because papa Joseph flogged me for playing truant. I can't even remember how many lashes he gave me. They made my buttocks so sore they seemed to belong to someone else. He made it clear to me that if I stayed away from school again without permission, he will flog the devil out of me again and again. Papa Joseph never minced his words. So, I attended class the other day. 


As I mentioned earlier, I just can't understand teacher Crowther. She kept saying love is blind. She said it was because a person who is in love can see no faults in the person who is loved. 

I really can't see her point. How can't I see the misdeeds of someone I claim to love? 


The other day, teacher Crowther referred to Ekwefi, a character in Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart. Ekwefi was so blinded with love for Okonkwo that she ran away from her previous marriage to live with him just because he brought honour to his village by flinging a great wrestler, Amalinze the Cat. As his second wife, Ekwefi marriage with Okonkwo turned out to be a disappointment as she began to see his misdeeds. 

So, why did teacher Crowther kept saying love is blind? Maybe she was right and I was wrong. But can't she see that even though Ekwefi was in love with Okonkwo she still saw his faults?

During discussion time when she asked the class to give examples based on the topic 'Love is Blind', I told them love isn't always blind. My example was how I gave up the ghost on Touma, my teenage girlfriend, who always demanded money from me, which meant stealing papa Joseph's. So, I wasn't blinded by Touma's misdeeds. 


Although teacher Crowther must have seen some logic in my point yet she quickly dismissed me, insisting that whatever the case, love is blind. She referred to comic characters like Lois Lane and her everlasting love for Superman. She spoke excitedly about how Lois was ready to sacrifice her life by standing between a bomb and Superman’s gravestone trying to protect it. 


However, teacher Crowther didn't make mention of the fact that even though Superman was much loved by Lois, yet he decided to leave her for another planet just because he became a monster. Lois was left on the beach, crying. “Oh, Superman… darling… I’d gladly give my eyes to have you back! Will I ever see you again?”


Nevertheless, I spent a lot of time after school thinking about this issue of love being blind.


I decided to get papa Joseph's opinion on the subject. He was repairing someone's Peugeot 504: "Papa Joseph, teacher Crowther kept saying love is blind. Is that true?"


"Listen, my son," papa Joseph said. He wiped his greasy hands on his overalls which smelt of engine oil.  


"People try to find a match and fall in love, without ever seeing each other face-to-face," he said as convincingly as teacher Crowther.


 "In such cases, passion tries to overcome natural appeal. It's like marriage at first sight."


"Ah...," I wanted to say something but papa Joseph stopped me.


"What do you know about love? The last time you stole my money and gave it to your girlfriend, Touma," he said slapping my head.


"I wasn't the one who did it," I lied, pretending as if I just can't understand him like the way I can't understand teacher Crowther.


"Keep quiet, you monkey. I know what you're capable of doing. At least, you don't play dice and smoke jamba. Since I flogged you for playing truant, you've got your senses back. That's what I meant by love is blind," he laughed at me jokingly.  


I joined him in laughter as he asked me to hold on to the alternator that he was trying to attach to the car's engine. Probably, love is blind, I thought; because I had no grudge against papa Joseph for flogging me. 


Unexpectedly, mama Sata showed up and held on to the car hood after absconding from home for several weeks. She stood over us smiling. I didn't smile back but papa Joseph did.


I just can't understand both of them as well as teacher Crowther. Is this what they meant by love is blind? 


This must be ignorance, I thought. Even though papa Joseph used to say education is the key to success, I wondered how a half-educated hardworking man like him smiled back to his wife who eloped with another man. 


If teacher Crowther knew this, she wouldn't have said love is blind.


During a quarrel with one of our neighbours, she called mama Sata a harlot. "You have been handed a blank check by your dumb husband to do whatever you want," she said.


For papa Joseph, the scorching midday sun must have reflected an attractive-looking woman. His intelligence was as fast as a snail. For me, I saw an anxious mother hungry for profit and pleasure.


Mama Sata smelled of cheap perfume and sweat. The nauseating stench of skin-bleaching cream coming from her skin sent my nose on a twitching jive. She ignored me and smiled once more at papa Joseph. He smiled back.


I showed my annoyance but they didn't give a damn. So, I walked away from them to go watch a football match where I met my schoolmate James. 


"Is it true that love is blind?" I asked him.


He came closer to me, smiled and placed his left arm around my shoulder. "I believe so." 


"I don't believe so, James."


"Franklin, do you remember Shakespeare’s story of Romeo and Juliet? That shows us that love is blind, even though the families of the couple didn't want them to get married."


"Come on James, would you drink poison to commit suicide because your lover died?"


"I may not but I could likely marry a woman I've never met."


"Is that your understanding of love being blind?"


"Indeed," he said squeezing my shoulder. "Emotions matter to me more than physical attraction."


"So, in that case the idea of marriage before sexual intercourse is fine with you then."


"I'm not sure about that," he said, grinning sheepishly. 


"Come on, tell me," I insisted. "Is that fine with you?"


"Well, I won't disagree with those that say the proof of the pudding is in the tasting," said James winking one eye at me. We abandoned the topic and continued to watch the football match.


When I arrived home at dusk, mama Sata was already gone, and I joined papa Joseph for a supper of garri and okra soup. Later, I brought out the novel, Things Fall Apart, from my school bag and flipped through the pages to the passage which mentioned about Ekwefi's blind love for Okonkwo. As I started reading, in order to see if I misunderstood the idea of love being blind, the lights went out, leaving us in total darkness. Angered by the blackout, I hissed and threw the book back into my school bag. Papa Joseph started throwing insults at the electricity supply company.


At dawn, as I was going to school, I was still struggling to understand the idea of love being blind. I passed by Long Step, a harlot's enclave, and saw a couple of prostitutes seducing some sailors. How can love be blind when one has to pay for it, I wondered. Teacher Crowther, papa Joseph, and James must definitely be blind. When Teacher Crowther didn't want word getting around the school that she was divorced, and papa Joseph chasing waterfalls, I just can't understand them for claiming that love is blind. 

Maybe I should let sleeping dogs lie and join them in a world of make-believe. I can go back to Touma, my teenage girlfriend, but this time around, no stealing from papa Joseph to satisfy her. She might even insist no money, no love. I always had the impression that someone must have given her the idea that the man should be the provider. On the other hand, probably like father like son, I thought giving money to a woman meant showing one's love for her. 

Emotionally and mentally exhausted, I hardly concentrated in class, as I kept thinking about this problem of love being blind. 

I don't like the way this problem was bothering me. I truly would have liked to see love being blind, but I'm still not convinced. If teacher Crowther and papa Joseph stood their ground that love is blind then who am I to say otherwise? Maybe, if I go with the crowd, all this anxiety in me will just vamoose like lightning.

So, in school I approached James, "I'm beginning to believe that love is blind." 

"No doubt about it, Franklin. Teacher Crowther can't be wrong," he said with a broad smile. "Even Ekwefi's blind love for Okonkwo was in place. In fact, any woman worth her salt would do exactly as she did."

"And papa Joseph must be having a very good reason to be in love with mama Sata," I added. 

"Oh yes, Franklin, love has no boundaries. Let's say love without borders."

I nodded to him with admiration for being so knowledgeable and pointed out, "a hard truth I would say, especially in the case of comic characters like Lois Lane and her everlasting love for Superman."

"There you go my friend," he said, patting me on the back.

I began to feel good and less anxious now that I was going with the crowd.  

Papa Joseph should get to see how convinced I was about the idea of love being blind. Touma, my teenage girlfriend, deserved a visit from me, I thought. I'll be the Romeo and she will be the Juliet.

However, as I was going home from school thinking that education is the key to success and love is blind, I was surprised to see a prostitute in the Long Step neighbourhood, grabbing a sailor by the collar of his shirt. She was slapping and abusing him, demanding that the man pay up for service rendered. Then, immediately, like a shot, I began to doubt my newly-founded conviction that love is blind. How can a woman ask a man to pay for loving her? I wondered. 

No, no, no, love isn't blind, I tried to reassure myself. I recollected once more how Superman decided to leave Lois for another planet even though she loved him so much. Me too, I gave up the ghost on Touma. 

I arrived home to find papa Joseph and mama Sata fighting tooth and nail for what I didn't know. He was beating the hell out of her with his fist. She was crying yet managed to strip him butt naked.

"Stop it, you two! Stop the fighting!" I shouted at them.

"Get out of here both of you," he shouted back at us. "Out, mother and son! Out I say!"

I ran out of the house, hot with shame. 

James's was where I headed for the night.

So, I just can't understand teacher Crowther and the rest of them. How can love be blind?  

Saturday, 12 February 2022

No Regrets

 No Regrets

One wintry afternoon in January 2001, I arrived at the Toronto Lester Pearson Airport in Canada. A Sikh Canadian Immigration Officer with a turban attended to me! What a cultural shock!

The next day at a Service Canada office teeming with culturally diverse clients, I completed official immigration forms. The way Service Canada officers readily assisted me and their efficiency, thrilled me.

My first job in Canada consisted of unloading 53-feet container trucks in winter. In Sierra Leone, I had held a supervisory administrative position in the country's Airlines.
Feeling like a failure, in less than one month in Canada, and without second thought, I packed my personal belongings to go back home with my return ticket.
“I’m coming back,” I told my wife in a call. “Expect me in Sierra Leone very soon.” I spilled my frustrations to her. “I can’t find a job in my field. The rent is draining my budget. And I hate waiting for a bus in the cold.”

In Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city, I had been a landlord and a car owner. Life is tough here, I told her.
She pleaded with me.

“There is nothing for you here in Freetown. Tough it out, for the sake of the children.” She reminded me of the suffering we went through during the civil war in Sierra Leone. I stayed put in Canada. I got a part-time job as a filing clerk at a bank. And a second job as a night shift sorter at a courier company. My long-held Canadian dream was finally coming true, I thought.
But the two jobs proved more of a challenge than I had imagined. My night courier job would end at 1 a.m. Waiting thirty minutes in the cold for the bus, I would get home at 2 a.m. I had to wake up early to get to my other job at the bank, far from where I lived. Sometimes I would fall asleep on the bus, to wake up past my stop. I realized quickly that I couldn’t last with the two jobs. I decided to keep the bank job.

My hope was to use the wages from this job and sponsor my family to Canada. I had, alas, counted my chickens before they were hatched. The job lasted two months. After a good cry getting home on the last day at the job, I called my sponsor with the sad news. He urged me not to despair.

“Getting laid off in Canada is a common thing,” he told me. Then, he joked, “A job in Canada is like the weather and the women. You can’t rely on them.”
Time for me to try my luck again. I searched for another job.

And the beat went on.

My family and I came to this country as permanent residents, in search of peace and security. Ask me what motivated me to come here. Multiculturalism, I would answer, which advocates equal respect to the many cultures in Canada, and which provides for diversity. The Canadian winter hadn't dampened my enthusiasm for the country.

With its multiculturalism, Canada reminds me, in a way, of the religious tolerance around me as a schoolboy. Both my primary and secondary schools were Christian-runed. As a Muslim, I recited verses from the Holy Quran at home. At school, I prayed by reciting verses from the Holy Bible, although my Muslim faith was not suppressed. The Christian-runed schools allowed me to wear my Muslim faith on my sleeve. I relished this mix, as I valued the diversity in Canada.

Like most Anglophone African children in the mid-sixties, one of my dreams had been to acquire professional education in England or America, and return home to build our newly independent nation.

My other dreams were to grow up and become important, and to improve the lives of my parents, relatives, and society. I wasn’t much into sports, but I learned an important lesson from observing track and field athletes: winners were not the fastest persons at the start of the race but those who endured to the end. Apart from that important self-learned lesson, my parents and mentors taught me another: in victory, I should display humility; in defeat, I should prepare myself for future success.

But my dream of returning from abroad armed with an education for nation-building hadn't worked out. In Sierra Leone where I grew my immigrant wings, the civil war exacerbated the poverty and corruption that had always been there. Jungle justice became part of daily life.

During my first visit to Sierra Leone in 2014, after thirteen years away, I was taken aback at the sight of the still war-torn Freetown. I felt like a stranger. The population explosion boggled my mind. I saw a chaotic town of hustlers hungry for profit and pleasure. The high rate of unemployment was staggering. Massive traffic jams of people and vehicles on the streets. The apocalyptic scenes, reflecting the town’s urban problems, hit me like a ton of bricks. While a petty thief was lynched or languished in jail indefinitely with no court hearing, the poverty-stricken populace bowed to masters of ill-gotten wealth, big thieves stealing the government blind.

By and large, Canada feels like home to me. I’ve gained a respect for multiculturalism, peace, and security. I live nonetheless with mixed emotions. I feel myself and children have lost some basic, yet important, traditional values that helped to mold my African and spiritual personality.

Has the trade-off been worth it?

Well. That is something I’m unable to assess. Not now. Perhaps far into the future.

For now, this is what I can confidently say: I don’t regret the pursuit of my Canadian dream. No, it’s not something I regret. It is, rather, a source of joy in my life.

Friday, 23 April 2021

An Egg Crowded with Humans

 An Excerpt

Tuesday 21 January 2020


Medical student Martha Lahai was seated on a dining chair inside her living room in Wuhan, the Chinese city that was slowly going quiet, and having a devil of a time. She was exhausted, having just been home from her anatomy classes and an internship that had taken her twelve hours to complete. She took a sip of her third lemonade and stared at a colourful African painting on mirror, done by Ch√©ri Samba, the Congolese, who once said, “I paint reality even if it’s shocking, …” 

The world, shaped like an egg crowded with humans, was going quiet, Martha mused, and the silence was frightening and shocking

She, like her fellow humans, threatening their own species’ survival, was shocked to learn of an imminent lockdown at the heart of an outbreak of a strange virus, an invisible enemy, referred to as Covid-19. As she contemplated her semblance in the mirrored painting, she allowed herself an infrequent spell of complacency with the reflection gazing back at her. 

Although as bright as a button, Martha was one of those unlucky African women for whom youthfulness appeared to be more of a burden than an advantage. At adolescence, her Afro hairstyle had almost gone gray, her small brown eyes had subdued to laid-back timidity, and her flabby dark skin was now dry and wrinkled, giving her the appearance of an old woman.

At thirty years old, her body was skinny, a weak frame made more depressed by her perennial conservative dress code. Presently, bare-footed, she was dressed in her timeworn blue Adidas pyjamas, gathering momentum to start her daily Yoga exercises which always made her feel refreshed, and forget about her past malady.  

The malady that all but ruined Martha’s life six years ago would forever creep in the alcoves of her mind---a particular blinding moment in which the world of viruses had declared a curfew and isolated her from everyone else. 

Freetown Connaught Hospital. 

Christmas evening 2014.

The tropical sun was shining through blue tinted window pane, spreading coolness and tranquility across the hospital admitting ward number 5. The oxygen concentrator flow splitters hissed from strained gas pressure as a doctor and two nurses fought to save Martha’s life from the throes of the Ebola virus. 

She laid down on the hospital bed with mixed feelings of sadness and thankfulness. After just five years as a nurse, she had been privileged to have her nursing colleagues around her at a time that she was in dire need of medical attention. 

But no sooner had she released a sigh of relief when a deadly sensation of pain crept through her entire body, sending her to an unconsciousness state of mind, about as useful as a chocolate teapot. Then she felt a tremor of skepticism. When she recovered, she was breathless, and for a while she had no idea where she was or what had happened. Later, she learnt that she had been at death’s door. Since then she decided to pursue further studies in infectious disease control so that she could help the sick. 

The dreadful recollection was gracefully snapped by a beep from her cellphone, reminding her to check her temperature. Martha snatched her lemonade and took a quick sip, freeing herself from the grief as she had been compelled to do so many moments before. She decided against performing her daily Yoga exercises. She cannot help but doubt if she had not contracted the Covid-19 virus but just had not started showing symptoms. Her temperature was within normal average.

She had never trusted the Chinese government officials who told the public in early January there was no evidence the Covid-19 virus could be transmitted from human to human. It was like dancing on a dead person’s grave who had no recourse to scream bloody murder, she thought. 


Thursday 23 January 2020


But it was not a dead and buried case, but rather one of dollars to donuts. The real worry set in when Martha woke up and learnt about the lockdown at her medical college, and the city as a whole, as a result of a looming threat caused by the Covid-19 virus. And for many, the fight against the disease was like being dead in water. She knew what it meant and what type of preparedness was required but not how long it will last. She was among a significant number of African residents eking out a living in Wuhan, a millionaire city bursting at the seams. Many of them, African students in particular, were looking forward to their governments in view of an evacuation plan out of the now deadly city. The Lunar New Year could not have come at a worse time, either; turning up like a bad penny.


Sunday 26 January 2020


According to social media, the newspaper, the radio and television news, the number of infected cases and deaths were on the rise. At the drop of a hat, people were warned to stay at home, to maintain social distancing, to wash their hands frequently, and to avoid crowded places. A once mega-city became a ghost city, with deserted streets inhabited only by rodents, cockroaches, strayed cats, dogs, and essential services personnel. They had a blank cheque, even though the city’s scarlet women, who were a dime a dozen, plying the forbidden fruit, were nowhere to be seen coining it. Emergency units, admitting wards, and morgues at all the hospitals became overwhelmed with increasing number of infected and death cases. While some old wives’ tales about cure were welcomed, others were thrown out of the window. People continued to stay and die at home as the hospitals were unable to treat them. In certain instances, the cadavers of homeless people were bagged and buried in mass graves. 


Monday, 22 February 2021

Chaste Berry Tea

 Another excerpt from one of my short stories entitled 'Chaste Berry Tea' in my upcoming book 'An Egg Crowded with Humans and other stories'.

Chaste Berry Tea


The queue at Ping Fat Lee’s tiny herbal store in Ottawa’s Chinatown is massive, eh? Most of the folks look like they’re from away. But even nowadays, so many Canucks seem to be going for herbal remedies. It’s like queuing for a whale’s tail. Whenever you want the best-priced chaste berry tea this is the place. It’s my own Shoppers Drug Mart; always well-stocked. Ping Fat Lee is such a keener to his customers. He knows I always buy chaste berry tea. He’s always ready to sell me as much of it as possible. At times, he’ll try selling me Yohimbe or something similar, but I’ll decline his offer. Today, he’s taking his chance again to sell me a different fertility herb rather than chaste berry tea.

“Hey, my Newfie friend, I just received supplies of a powerful new fertility herb. Horny Goat Weed. You may like to try it.”

“Horny Goat Weed? That’s jokes!”

“It’s from China’s Yunnan Province. It’s good for both men and women, and a toonie cheaper than chaste berry tea.” 

“Sorry, I’ll rather stick to what I know aboat.” For me, why change if it works.


I wasn’t so much into chaste berry tea. Viagra and Cialis, yes. But since my non-biological sister and estranged girlfriend Audrey gave birth to identical female triplets, I’ve become addicted to it. My adopted Haligonian Caucasian parents found my addiction extremely weird. I know it’s already giving me Molson muscle. Not to talk aboat my habit of going to get a 2-4 of Canadian at Beer Store, a poutine at Sean’s, to sit down on my chesterfield, and getting glued to the T.V. to watch hockey. At least, I’m no longer frequenting Timmies to grab a box of timbits and a large double-double.  


As a carpenter at construction sites, I work hard to make ends meet; always trying to giv’n’r at work. Most of the time, I work the 7 to 3-day shift and work another four hours on private contracts. Such a schedule works fine with me so when I’m home, I can avoid Mom and Dad by staying in my igloo of a basement apartment. Both of them are fond of drinking the mickey. And once they’ve had one drink too many, they become hosers. They always repeat the same statements; it’s like a syndicate ganging against me. Ethan, you better stop washing chaste berry tea in the kitchen sink. Ethan, the pungent smell of chaste berry tea makes us uncomfortable. Ethan, chaste berry tea is not good for a man with triplets from an estranged bitch; a chaste berry tea addict just like yourself. She got you hooked and then left you high and dry. You should have avoided her long ago just as you’re avoiding us now. Once a good ‘ol Canuck lad, now you’ve become a bedlamer. Takitish my boy. Whaddyaat say for drinking chaste berry tea? They’ll keep blabbing until I’m forced to either say gosh darn it or simply hold my tongue.


They may be right to some extent. But things only got worst after Audrey absconded from Aunty Sally’s home and gave birth to the triplets. Some people say her brashness was due to the pregnancy. Maybe. But I know better, way through to the final months of her pregnancy; to the final days in her labour pains. What transpired on those days would shape the rest of our lives. Unbeknown to me, I was aboat to keep an open secret; a calamitous, strangling secret, one that would push us to keep drinking chaste berry tea. It was my guilt of having contributed to Audrey’s ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.