22 November 2009

The Diary of an African Child by Chika Onyenezi

Africa reigns forever, children shall still form our future. Our tales shall live at all odd times. It shall live from generation to generation; in the moonlight, beside the fire, beside the bed, in the media, amidst whispers, with scoundrels, with moralists, and with all.

It was a season of harshness; the sun shone as though to remove melanin from people’s skins. The rain fell to flood the country. The government of Nigeria left only their deaf ears with the compatriots. It was the reign of the brutal general; Sani Abacha: the only candidate nominated to contest for presidency by all parties. In this harsh economy and weather: patriotism was left for the media to waggle mouths with. Hunger and pestilence invaded the nation.

Upon this harshness, some people still found themselves squatting in squalor ghettos. One of these squalor ghettos was in Owerri; a place called Mint. There when the rain falls you can’t come out of your house: but if you wish, you can go get a canoe or be ready to swim. The drainage system of the city has been blocked by debris of used materials. The governor does nothing about this but to drink champagne with his fellow aristocrats instead of cleaning the city. Almost every house in this squalor poised like a dog ready to bite. The aerial view will show you nothing but rusty roofs.

A house at the beginning of this marshy street resided a boy called Chidi. He was a child full of wit. He did little things in outstanding manners; he could read well unlike most ghetto-dwellers. He was about to enter secondary school; his endeavour’s had merited study at Lampton College Owerri. He opened the wooden window of their house; cracks on the wall testified it was purely a red mud house before they plastered it with cement. When the rain fell you would see him putting buckets at every corner of the house. Even with all these precautions some water would still come in and with a broom he would sweep the water away.

Today was his birthday, but he doesn’t celebrate it. In his heart he knew that he was born on that day some years ago. Birthday celebrations are only for the rich he told himself. He and his father lived in a two room apartment his father rented one room to a tailor. Yesterday when his father came back he gave him a book with blue cover. A gift father received from a carpenter friend. He thought it useless so he gave it his only son, Chidi happily took the book from him. But as he opened it today, he noticed no words inside. He decided to write his own words, maybe in those pages he could live beyond this squalor. He opened the first page and wrote:

August 1st 1997
Some years ago, at this date, a child was born. That child is me. I appeared on this world with a smile after all struggles. The sun was shinning and spiritual wise men visited me with their own gifts. The creator opened a book and wrote a script called destiny which I shall act. Since no harm befell me that day, none can take me outside the creator’s purpose. I have lived for thirteen years on this earth. I thank God. Since my childhood God has been taking care of me he is the best father ever. But mystery still remains mystery in my life. He will raise me up for my nation to see. On mountain Zion will stand; the mountain that nearly touches the sky, all men shall see me. He will make me strong, I shall never be afraid of falling.

He closed the cover of the book, and tucked the book away in his dirty bag. Chidi was a child of difference; most of his mates that grew in this squalor are always wild in character and in manners. But he was well behaved in character and in manners; owing to the fact that he reads books instead of whiling away his time learning tricks of ghetto boys. He watched how the people in TV movies who behaved in an orderly manner, lived in orderly houses and did orderly things. He prayed that one day he would live an orderly life. Their black and white television was his only companion even with its mechanical faults, corrected by beating the television with his palms.

The next day his father took him by hand and they walked far, but he would not complain nor show any sign of weakness in front of his father. Any form of weakness exhibited would be attributed to his dead mother. His father would say "your mother died a weak woman, she couldn’t even cut cassava stems. Oh! Happy I am she died". Each time he heard this something grew inside of him, something he couldn’t speak to any ear, hatred. It fermented and brewed in his mind, this hatred for his father and his callous manners. His father would always walk faster than him, expecting him to equal the pace.

Soon they arrived at Lampton college. The school is a large one with two big fields and many classrooms. After registration, his father dragged him to his assigned classroom. Before he left he said, ‘Now I have done the best I can ever do for you, if you don’t read, you fail! I don’t care! My only concern is me and me only. If you follow the children of rich men, you are an idiot! You better walk with your poor type. You hear me.’ This day Chidi received his limitation; a sign written boldly in his heart, poor. Anything he tried to do that would uplift him he would fail because of the emblem poor written in his heart. That was the best advice his father ever gave him and it created the worst disaster in his life. A disaster called an inferiority complex. In class if he was asked to answer question, his father words held him from answering. So he failed then by and by, and didn’t mingle with his fellow students.

Upon a Sunday; after the service he opened his dairy and wrote:

August 16 1997
The log has to be broken, my problem doesn’t have to weight me down, and I will put them down first. My load must be dumped by the riverside. I seem to have crept into my shell, but I have also gained access to wider knowledge, truly no knowledge is a waste. This would one day be called the diary of a great man but if I don’t make it in life, let it be called the dairy of an African child. Slowly I will tender my approach towards life, the slow and steady wins the race.

He closed the cover and placed in his dirty bag. From that day he decided to make something out of his existence, to come out to the word and say "Here is Chidi a great man among you". His countenance in class changed; form that of a dull person to that of a sharp happy boy. He joined those who had the same spirit as him; to make it big in life, like Daniel. Daniel was his classmate and the same height as him. He was the son of a wealthy man and had many expectations. He was highly gifted in thinking and always telling stories of great men. They could spend the whole break time talking about the legends of Africa. Like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe; the first ceremonial president, a nationalist and a patriot. After their first discussions he wrote this down in his dairy:

August 20 1997
Today I learnt about Zik of Africa, a great man and a patriot. He fought for the independence of his people. I learnt that he studied abroad to gain such vast knowledge that enhanced him to lead many political parties. I wish to study abroad also, so that I can gain the knowledge that will help me lead Nigeria.

From that day he started to nurture a dream, and like a new born baby he let it grow slowly inside of him. The liberation of his shackled Africa. Together with his other friend, Ifeanyi, he started to plan how to leave the shores of this land. Ifeanyi told him of his plan to study in London.

‘When I told my father he welcomed the idea and said that he too has been thinking towards that angle. That he would do everything to see that I study there, have you told your father?’ Ifeanyi asked.

‘No’ Chidi replied quickly as though the question has no long reply.

But it did have a long reply, when he told his father he said, "You are a fool, a very big fool, how much do you think I am paid? To waste money on a weak boy like you. Don’t talk to me about your stupid dreams, you better think for your self". He dare not tell Ifeanyi how negative his father was about the matter.

That night, it rained heavily. He removed his diary from its dirty bag and wrote:

August 21 1997
A stage is page in life, I realised that indeed time waits for no one, it only moves forward. Sometimes I wonder if I could turn the hands of time, I once tried it, but it only made my own clock wrong. With each second, a change occurs in my body, a new idea comes into my head. Time is passing! Time is passing! There are many things I fear to lose. But time keeps telling me ‘let go of it.’ With time a child is born, with time a man will die - many things happen every second. I learnt in church that ‘a little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the arm and poverty will attack... a plant may not take a second to produce fruit. But it takes a second for the fruit to be plucked.

So he learnt about the essence of time in his life. He needed to leave this sick life he is living and do something for his nation. But gradually he must trot down the road of life.

After his secondary education his father called him and said, ‘Chidi you have now acquired the education that would lead you for life. If you like take care of your self, if you like, don’t. I have done my best to give birth to you. I hope you know that impregnating your mother wasn’t an easy job-’. Chidi didn’t wait for him to finish his statement, he grasped his father by the throat and pushed him to the wall. Held him firmly and said to his father ‘don’t ever, don’t ever speak bad of my mother till you die. You thought me a weak man, but I am strong!’ and then threw his father to the floor. Shame and fear gripped his father and showed on his face. Chidi quickly packed his few possessions and darted away before the panting man could lift a knife to slash his throat. Like a mad dove he flew into the world of wondering.

He wondered round Owerri and when it became dark, he found a dark corner and he laid his head on the debris of materials that littered there. Someone shouted at him, ‘Stand up you!’ It was a man with a big stick in his hand protecting the debri that was his shelter first. Chidi realised the man was mad so he ran away. He finally sought refuge in some thick bushes. He felt like Atlas of the Greek mythology, but the world on top of him was too heavy to carry and breaking his back. His dreams seemed broken before him like an earthen ware scattered on the floor. If suicide was easy he would have committed it. But that would not make him the hero he wished to be, rather he would only serve as an object of laughter for his father, and he was determined to make it in life. Early the next morning he opened his diary and wrote:

June 2 2003
Maybe I was born to find my own way. Maybe I was created to be an African boy of suffering. So be it. My father has rebuked me, it's time to fend for myself. I have no friend on earth. My only friend has travelled abroad to further his education, he wrote to me once but I haven’t replied him. He told me how easy it was for the rich to pass through embassies, and how the embassy officials treat the poor with disdain and reject their application even if they have their correct documents. First of all let me find a way to help myself then I would then think about going back to school.

In the Ibo tradition when your father rejects you nobody will accept, so he didn’t bother to seek refuge with his relatives. He went to the park and there he eventually managed to pick up a job as a bus conductor, till he made money to travel out of Owerri. He left for Port Harcourt, maybe he would get his lucky six in his dice throwing. He knew Port Harcourt was a Nigerian oil city where expatriates reside in large numbers. He doesn’t know anybody there, but he still believed he could make it big.

He got the Port Harcourt in the afternoon, and with his dirty bag in hand he walked into a restaurant. There he met the strangest character; a man with dreadlocks, heavily bearded, well built and tall. He wore expensive clothing, drinking his liquor in a reckless manner. As he raised his hair away from his face Chidi saw he had tribal marks drawn across his cheeks like whiskers, he looked more like a reptile than a human being. The thought that flooded Chidi’s mind was, this must be a criminal, I rather die than to join this type of a man. The stranger looked at him and said to the bar woman ‘Order! Give this poor boy a bottle.’ and bent his head into darkness again. A cold beer was placed in front of him. He couldn’t reject this gesture from this strange fellow so he thanked him and drank the bottle. The fellow came closer and sat in front of him, ‘who are you young man?’ He asked in a polite manner.

‘I am nobody, just wondering this earth’ Chidi said politely.

‘A wonderer, you pose like a destitute without hope’ said the man smiling at him, ‘would you like to follow me?’

‘No, no’ said Chidi in a harsh manner to tell him that he doesn’t want anything to do with this criminal and would live an upright life till he dies. But the fellow could read his countenance and knew what he was thinking about him.

‘Young man I am no criminal. I am just a victim like you. I decided never to cut my hair again nor comb it. The rich squander their money and give the leftovers to dogs. Our oil money resides in the house of the aristocrats leaving the destitute to suffer. Our government has ignored the youths feeding only their stomachs. Left our universities in ruin and sent their children abroad to study. Tomorrow their children will still want to climb the presidential seat. The poor become poorer the rich, richer. Of what use is democracy to the empty stomach? That’s our fate boy!’ he said bitterly, though a smile hung on his face.

‘Who are you?’ Chidi asked.

‘A sailor, I live on the sea, deep sea fishing’ the strange fellow said. Chidi had learnt about men that fish in the deep sea; the urge to join the sailor quickly built up in him.

‘I wish to join you’ Chidi said.

‘Ah! Out there is fun, you can visit the whole world and see the beauty of the sea. Hear the endless music that plays in the sea. Anchor at London, South America, and Asia. It will take a year before we sail back to Africa again’ he put an arm around Chidi and drew him closer, ‘I don’t like coming here, it gives me incessant pain. It builds memories like the death of my parents’, tears like clouds filled his eyes. ‘They died for nothing. Murdered by the military men, my father was an activist. I can’t fight the soldiers. I am the voiceless. I will be happy to be buried in the sea, that’s why I choose to be sailor. That’s why whenever we anchor in any Nigerian port I drink heavily. When I saw you, you reminded me when I had to run away from my father’s house and lived like a destitute. So what your own story?’ he asked Chidi. Chidi told him every bit of his life and how he came to be like this. He told him about his dreams to change Africa.

‘Be strong boy. Dreams die here. Dreams are trampled upon here. Lookie boy, let me talk to you. Those dead bodies you see in Somalia had dreams too, their dreams died with them! The hungry boys in Rwanda have dreams too, their dreams died like a burned out candle. They die! They die! And serve as nothing but an eyesore for foreign media. Come with me’ the fellow offered. Chidi said ‘but I don’t know your name?’

‘Ah boy, I am nobody. Just call me Sea’, he relied.

The strange fellow took him to his room at a hotel. At that night he opened his diary and wrote:

September 16 2003
This day I met a strong activist. The silent one. Though he is a fellow of strange character I understood him well. He asked me to join him in the sea. I am eager to behold this world devoid of land. I am eager to behold marine life. All didn’t work with education. But if I make it as a sailor, I will use my money and train myself in university. Africa still needs me, Nigeria still needs me. I am a patriot, even when my government is unpatriotic. Maybe one day I will turn into an activist and fight for the voiceless like Wole Soyinka who fought for a better Africa. Soon I will reply to Ifeanyi, though I still feel ashamed to talk to him.

In the morning they left for the sea. At the seaport, the strange fellow took him to a large ship and introduced him to a white man whom he called ‘captain’. A passport was prepared at the immigration office by the fishing company. Though there was no vacancy in the company for the sake of the strange fellow, they offered him a job as a cleaner on a ship.

‘Bring him next tomorrow. We will sail off,’ said the captain with an air of tiredness. The strange fellow showed him a cabin he would be sharing with him.

Afterwards they returned to the bar were they met and drank much liquor. The strange fellow said to him, ‘once the ship sets sail, boy you are a sailor!’ Chidi was happy to hear that. He read about these sailors in Moby Dick by Herman Melville maybe they would also hunt white Wales like Captain Ahab. He became full of thoughts about the sea.

‘Yes a sailor. Sailing round the world’ Chidi muttered to himself.

A day gone, they returned to the sea port. Chidi wore the new cloths the strange fellow bought for him. How the fellow wasted money showed him sailors are rich men. On the day of departure the captain stood on the deck; smartly dressed with a binocular to his eyes earnestly searching for something. He walked round the deck searching deep into the sea. All the crew stood their waiting, expecting to hear something from him. The strange fellow whispered into Chidi’s ear ‘he is searching for a dolphin, if seen, it then means we will sail. It’s an order from the goddess to sail. But if a squid, he will not move this ship cause is a bad omen. It is believed that squid is a sign of ill luck to the sailors.’ The captain turned to his assistant and said ‘confirm.’ The assistant said ‘confirmed.’ The captain said ‘hurray! Today we sail again like fraternal brothers. Let’s welcome on board a young sailor. Chidi I want to tell you that today we no longer set sail, we run engines and sail deep into the sea.’ Chidi wanted to say, aye sir, like old sailors does, but he said ‘thanks sir.’ All the sailors then welcomed him on-board.

Soon they lost sight of land, the ship sailed deep into the sea. Chidi carried out his cleaning job to the admiration of the white men and other sailors. They came to love him so much; for his hard work. One evening the captain invited him to his cabin. There they drank and discussed about Africa, slave trade, the Berlin conference that led to African partition, the first and Second World War. The captain admired his sense of wit and asked him his story. Chidi told him everything from day one to the voyage. The captain came to love him very much that he swore 'upon my blood, I will send you back to school, you don’t belong here. You are better than a dozen professors.' He lamented saying ‘instead your rich men will open scholarships for their people; they derive joy in squandering on nothing.’ That was the young man's luck: a promise from the mouth of his master. That night he wrote in his dairy.

September 20 2003
I am overwhelmed at the laudable gesture of my master. He told me today that I can still make it in life. Maybe if we anchor at London he will send me to school. Even with my salary I can fend for myself there. I am full of hopes now that light is coming into my life. Success lies at that port. Oh! How happy I would be to be learned and addressed as such. This day I forgive my father for all he did to me. I hope he will forgive me for my anger upon him. I leave God to judge.

The ship sailed deeper into a landless world. Something happened, Chidi’s health started to fail. First they took it as normal sea sickness for a first timer. Everyone on board showed him love; the strange fellow cared for him. But soon he was bedridden. The captain directed that everything should be done to see him back to health. One day he called his friend the strange fellow to help him see the sun again. He gently helped him to the deck. There he stood; looked into the wonder of the sky. He asked his friend to get him his most cherished possession; his dairy. With the last of his strength he wrote:

October 1 2003
I can see glory this day. I can see it in the sun. Several wings are there. Africa can be free. Yes they can be free. But we need more men to release the continent. We need men who are ready to sacrifice their life for a cause. The nation needs real patriots, we are not the wasted generation it’s our fathers, they let corruption burrow into us, they killed our school system, they spoiled our electricity, they taught us bad things. Today they call us the wasted ones, they feel uncertain if we can rule this country, but we can. There are still some good Africans left in this world. You are one of them! You are Africa!

He gave the dairy to the strange fellow and said ‘inside is the address of my friend studying at London. Help me pass it to him, and also read it for the sailors to hear.’ Then he died. The whole crew mourned his exit. Owing the fact that he didn’t have next to kin they buried him in the sea. The captain stopped the ship in the middle of the sea for a day; to mourn his exit. He spent a day reading Chidi's diary. On the day they resumed the journey, the captain called the whole crew and quoted from the dairy ‘today they call us the wasted ones, they feel uncertain if we can rule this country, but we can.’ He then said, ‘Chidi was a good man. He was a boy full of wisdom, blessed with wit. I shall make sure the diary of an African child reaches the benefactor.’

Ifeanyi has finished his university education. He secured a job as a banker in London. He still remembers his friend and wonders why he has not replied to his letters. He still remembers the good old days at Lampton College in Owerri. But he had long dropped some certain urge he called ‘unrealisable’ liking changing Africa, changing his country. One evening he was in his house when some post brought a package for him to sign. He saw that it was from his long time friend. When he opened it, he beheld a dairy and a note that read.

"From Captain Barry jack,

Your friend is dead and buried in the
Sea. He requested that his diary be
Brought to you. That was his dying wish.
I honoured it to the last.
His best friend from the sea."

His good friend is dead, he died without seeing the four walls of a university. After reading the diary he didn’t eat for days; he grieved for this hero, a patriot, and above all a good man. He saw the reason why some men stand in front of the White House in America to protest for their rights.

The diary of an African child, made him to research more on the African child. He found out that the African child has been abused; physically, morally, ethically. They have posed as picture of modern poverty for the foreign media to savour. Two weeks after he quite his job to fight for the right of the African child. He respected his friends wish; he fulfilled his dream of becoming an activist. Ifeanyi dedicated his time to this cause, you will see him in NATO meetings within a picture of the African child, you will see him UN gate with the same picture. Any place the world leaders are gathering, you would see his campaign, of every paper in Nigeria carried Ifeanyi’s article on the African child. He meditated with the diary throughout the rest of his life.

The Diary of an African Child was written by Chika Onyenezi.

Copyright Chika Onyenezi 2009.

Chika OnyeneziChika Onyenezi was born on the second December 1986, he is an editor at AuthorMe a popular international literary magazine and currently studying Computer Science at Caritas University, Enugu.

He is a peace activist, and a member of Green Lake Peace Network founded by Dr. Claude Shema-Rutagwengwa.

He is currently in Nigeria and writes from the city of Owerri and Enugu and blogs at Grey Scale


Myne Whitman said...

I can't place my finger on it but something was lacking in this story, maybe some depth and connection to the main character. Well written though, keep writing.

Ayodele Morocco-Clarke said...

Well done Chika and welcome on board.

Having read your story, there are a few issues, I believe you need to deal with. The story needs major editing. The first paragraph reads like an African propaganda manifesto and you seem overly fond of using colons and semi-colons which are not always appropriate and often times detracts from the story. Also, there are lots of typos and there were many times that the storytelling appeared confused. There were also times when it seemed like you could not make up your mind whether to use present or past tense in your narration and you ended up using both inappropriately even in the same sentence (e.g. "Today was his birthday, but he doesn’t celebrate it."). Parts of the story read like a mini-essay, others like some detached form of narration - and the overall effect is that the reader is unable to connect with your narrator or main character. I found it difficult to empathise with him or his plight. His demise was equally emotionless.

Having said the foregoing, I hope that you do not take it negatively. I am just trying to give you some objective feedback (and believe me I am notoriously known for detesting doing any editing word. I try to avoid it and it shows up like a bad penny in my work. but unfortunately, editing is about 80% - or even more - of a writer's work).

I am of the opinion that with proper care and attention, you will have a better story.

onyenezichika said...

Thanks for your wonderful comments!

Nana Awere Damoah said...

Chika, I identify with Ayodele's comments. Allow me to add that I learnt when I started writing that there is nothing like good writing, only good re-writing. Keep writing and may your ink never dry!

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