11 July 2010

The Abyssinian Boy by Onyeka Nwelue

And he began to run. Later on, he found that he was also running now and David and Raghu joined him. They tripped and leaped over a barbed wire into the mosque on Panchkuia Road. From the tower, the bell tolled forlornly and a man in a long robe wearing a straw cap came out of the top, with his fingers in the holes of his ears and screamed: ‘Allah-ho-Akkbar! Allah-ho-Akkbar! Ashadu-Allah-illah-illahu...’ Unlatched, everyone thronged into the mosque and the three of them - the American and Indian ambassadors - ran in through the back of the mosque.

The American Ambassador, who deep in his heart, wanted to be addressed as Ambassador-fucking-John-bitchy-Kennedy-dicky-Vulture-pussy-Handlebroadman, said he was an expert on South Asian politics and geography no matter his age. He thought that Jashim, the Bangladeshi was as Pakistani as any Pakistani. ‘He’s a Muslim, you know’, he would explain to the beery-eyed Indian Ambassadors who saw themselves as one Nehru, one Gandhi. No. One Gandhi, one Nehru, because Gandhi was there first before Nehru.

But that’s just politics!

So, Picard, the American-bitchy-Ambassador, because he thought he was one, said that Mr. Naif and Jashim were bitches. Oh, David liked the sound. Bitches bitching bitches. Raghu liked the sound. In the inside of him, he was afraid his mother could be a bitch. He was afraid. Plainly afraid. Bitches bitching... Shut up, David! And he shut up! Because there was nothing to shut down for. Seriously. Only he felt bitches bitched bitches!

Right there at the back of the mosque, Picard, like an American president, addressing his Indian and Pakistani counterparts, with loads of trepidation and intimidation, wanted David and Raghu to understand something about India. ‘You bitches might be Indians, Pakistanis and Bangladeshis,’ he began, perplexed, ‘but you know nothing about India, Pakistan and Bangladesh...’

‘Oh bitches, let’s start with India,’ Picard told them.

‘You could be Indian, but you don’t know the history of India.’

‘You could be Indian, but my mother speaks better...’

Better what?’

‘Better Hindi!’

‘Oh yes, you could be Indian, but Indians don’t know anything about Pakistanis bitching around with them.’

‘I am more Indian than you both’ said Picard. ‘Yes, bitches, I eat with my bare hands, I can write the history of India. I can write about Indians the way Indians can’t. Yes, bitches, I can.’

For Picard, as an American Ambassador, he was observing India with diplomacy. He had his camera. He had his eye. He had his ears. One ear to get the news of India, one to get that of the US. He said he observed India with fuck-keen-interest.

And that made David think of when Swathi had begun to get pissed off by Picard parading her house with swear words. Bitches. Fucking. Pussy. Dicky. Arsey. Lickey. Mickey. (‘Was that a swear word, Swathi?’ David thought to himself. ‘Oh, Swathi, you don’t know anything. Only jam, jam, Swathi’). But no, everyone thought Licky-Mickey were swear words. Only Rajaswamy didn’t. Eunice half-thought, because half-thinking meant you were better than those who thought and those who didn’t. So, Swathi tried all her possible best to alert Warren Frazier and his wife over the ‘diminishing return’ of their son. What ‘diminishing return’? Frazier had asked. Swathi tried so well to explain so well but she couldn’t do it so well because she didn’t know so well how to tell Frazier that his son used swear words so well. So it stuck. Still Swathi could explain to herself what that (‘diminishing return’) meant but couldn’t understand it herself. She tried to give up warning David, Don’t bring that.

American boy into a Hindu home with swear words, bhai. Oh, if Mrs Frazier had heard that, she would call Swathi bhainchute – sisterfucker. But our God, Swathi had no sister and was really no fucker. How then, oh dearest heaven, how did these Americans come to the conclusion that they had better brains than Indians?

No brain Americans, no brain, Farida would howl back anytime she felt Picard was taking David’s attention from her. For that Farida, she hoped that David would become her son. Ah, if she had known, she would have escaped to Kashmir with him that time he was still growing up. This she couldn’t do, so she decided, very very well to love David. With all her might. To her, David was India and India was David. Indians were most patriotic, so Farida loved David as any good Indian would love India and hated Picard as any bad Indian would hate India to want to ask for the independence of Kashmir.

Fuck it, Picard swore.

David’s thoughts zoomed back to the mosque.

Picard was observing the mosque with David and Raghu. Picard said he was writing a book, titled A Passage to India. Yes, he was saying this as he stood in the mosque. And when he said that, David and Raghu sneered. A Passage to India? No. A Passage to India, I mean. What? Oh, A Passage from India.

‘You lie!’ Raghu said. ‘One Forster wrote A Passage to India’.

Picard smiled. ‘You see,’ he mumbled and then added, ‘that he didn’t write A Passage to India. He observed it. He observed A Passage to India’.

Raghu was surprised. ‘Really?’

‘Really, yes. Can’t you see? One Forster wrote A Passage to India. Then two fraudsters wrote A Passage from India.’

But David couldn’t buy that bitchy-trash about E.M. Forster. E.M. Forster, David tried explaining to the mosque-minded Picard and the ‘diminishing returned’ Raghu, was a British writer who loved

India. And India had a fucking American Ambassador who...

‘Terrorists!’ Picard mouthed. ‘You Indians are fucking terrorists. You Indians…’

‘Did you see my face the day your granny was blown up?’ David sarcastically asked.

‘No’. What I saw was your dicky head, pussy-sucker.

‘Diplomatically speaking,’ Picard-the-great-American-Ambassadorial-observer-again, ‘India is a beautiful country with beautiful minds. But those beautiful minds, diplomatically speaking, are beautiful terrorists... now I want to get down to my job as an observer, to understand terrorist India, to analyse, to marginalize, to criticize, to photographise...’

‘Photographise?’ David almost laughed.

‘Yes, photographise,’ Picard beamed. ‘Photographise as in, when you photograph, you ice it. It makes sense, doesn’t it?’

Two heads nodded. Yes, it fucking made sense. But it didn’t really make sense to them. Raghu really didn’t understand. What was that thing about photographing and icing? Icing what?’

‘You know,’ Picard said, ‘that Jashim is Pakistani Muslim?’

‘No,’ Raghu said.

‘He’s Bangladeshi’, David added.

‘No, Dave,’ Picard mumbled. ‘You fucking don’t understand why he’s in India. Now let’s get down to it. He is a Pakistani trying to appear as a Bangladeshi in India... when he gets to fucking know every nook and cranny of India, he goes back to Pakistan, alerts his terrorist group and they come back and bomb Inn-mere.’

Bomb Inn-There? Or India, arsehole? David thought, wanting so much to think out loud. But those kinds of thoughts were meant to be left inside.

Well, if Jashim were Pakistani and claiming he was Bangladeshi, he should fucking Pakistan himself out of India, Raghu kept saying to himself. And oh yes, he had never liked Jashim. Jashim was dark-skinned as Eunice, but that wasn’t why Raghu didn’t like Jashim. He half-liked Mr. Naif and it seemed Mr. Naif full-liked him.

Mr. Knife, Mr. Knife, always humming the Beatles. In the bathroom (while masturbating, thinking of Raghu or his grandfather, Anantha), in the kitchen (frying pakora), in his car (driving to anywhere), in his dream (thinking of the Yemeni girl his father wanted him to marry).

Very simple.

Mr Knife (Oh, Mr. Naif, Raghu!) came to India to sit out ‘a coup’. The ‘coup’ was his father’s decision that he must marry a Yemeni. Naif wanted to marry an Indian girl or a good American woman. He told his father. His father was roundly angry with him. What did he think? How dare he think he could marry an Indian? Even an American? And Naif had the money to run out of Riyadh and he did.

Now, he was in India, on Rani Jhansi Road, where there were all races, trying to hum the Beatles, masturbate when he could (he had no name for masturbation. No he did. He called itsalaaming sperm), fry his pakora, drive and dream.

Drive and dream he took very serious.

But then masturbation he took less serious. He said it was a normal thing any man could do in 90 days. If he were to think about the implications, he would smudge at how many dollars he was losing.

A bottle of sperm = Rs 50

A pinch of sperm = $3

A gallon of sperm = N150

Raghu made the first calculation.

The second appeared to Picard,

And David had the third.


...as they stood in the mosque, Picard, diplomatically undiplomatically abandoned politics and like Rajaswamy, always in a lecturer-in-a-seminar-mood began to teach them, lecture them on sperm.

‘You know,’ he began, ‘sperm has the colour of milk and that’s why most children are beautiful when they are out. Two, when you mature, you’ll get to understand this, that as soon as you discharge, you’ll become weak. Sex is sweet when you’ve not discharged... most immature minds will start fucking to hate their partners in sex... sperm is like condensed milk. It spills out gradually.’

A bearded man, who had been listening to Picard’s sperm-lecture, said: ‘Shoo’.

‘Picard, let’s go.’ Raghu suggested.

‘Why?’ Picard wanted to know.

‘Shoo!’ the bearded man said. ‘Prayer in the mosque going!’

Oh, Picard fucking understood. Terrorist understood. Terrorist prayer, he said to himself. You blew out my granny, eh?

‘Shoo!’ the bearded man said again. ‘Prayer in the mosque going!’

The Ambassador ran away with his camera and the spirits flashed out with him.

The Abyssinian Boy was written by Onyeka Nwelue and is an excerpt from The Abyssinian Boy (Dada Books 2009).

Copyright © Onyeka Nwelue 2009.

Onyeka Nwelue was born in Nigeria in 1988. He was brought up in Ezeoke, a very historic village and spent six years in the seminary.

He was trained as a scriptwriter in a film-school in Delhi and read at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.

His first book, The Abyssinian Boy, which is being made into a motion picture by Danish film-maker, Lasse Lau, won first prize in the TM ALUKO Prize for First Book and second prize in the IBRAHIM TAHIR Prize for Fiction and was nominated for the Creative Artist of the Year of the Future Awards 2010.

He is the editor of Home & Abroad: New Writings from India and Nigeria, to be published by DADA Books 2011. His writings have appeared in Maple Tree Literary Supplement, The Guardian, Kafla InterContinental, Ecletica and Next. He has participated at international festivals, including International Writers' Festival-India, The Man Hong Kong International Literary Festival, Jaipur Literature Festival and the Lagos Book and Art Festival. He splits his time between India and Nigeria.


Zino said...

A lot going on here. Wondering if this was the best choice to use for an excerpt. I just got the book so I'll soon find out what all the craziness in this scene is about

Nonso Uzozie said...

Wonderfu. Creative. Great. Good. Stylish!

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