Pieces Of Myself Left Or A Man Who Runs

Not knowing that his adversary armed himself
to the teeth
to enforce a right
not to reply
no matter the nationalist's accusations;
no matter that the facts he cites are traps,
was my star:
under it I was born.
Its influence followed me,
kept me covered in each of the railway towns
that provided me a constant change
of playmates and neighbours
among whom (I believe)
I left bits and pieces of myself
whose remembrances whisper to me
and make me want to go back;
although I do sometimes wonder
if it is the bits I brought along
that make me so long to go!

I was quite a young made-up man
when trouble suddenly broke
over us
and splashed my father's blood
across many railway tracks
and wagons.
When we saw it, we were afraid
to roll along the very tracks,
sit in the very cars
of our flight from the troubles,
our troubles
breaking all over us
without warning.

Mourning a father is shoddy business
at a hometown where you are a stranger
and don't have his body
as a bond of brotherhood,
a bit of potted earth
where your roots are safe and watered.
What wouldn't I have given
just to see young men of his house
take hold of the mouth of the grave
and jump down with a thud,
take father's coffin down
with all the tenderness used with the honoured dead,
then briskly get on the coffin itself with uplifted hands
for others of the house to pull them up again!

That would have been seeing myself pulled up
and received with warm welcome
from the dead;
I would have become covenanted
a cousin
or a nephew;
gained freedom to come and go
one of the family.
Indeed I often offered to go down myself
to show I didn’t think anything of it,
a returnee’s shiny new clothes and all,
with brisk efficiency, placed the dead
in earth's bosom —
for others had gone on dying
And I was pulled up when the solemn duty was done
with all the mourners looking on,
But it was never the same;
I never saw
in all those hands stretched out to me,
in all their eyes
the glow and the affirmation
so wordlessly given to others I had known,
to the other
gladly handing up his wrists right beside me,
that our young man here has come of age,
and how immense his promise:
someone they could already count on,
count as a real man —
theirs hands, feet,
and achievements which would not be his alone;
someone who could bring them great pride
or deep shame
should he do a disapproved thing!

As for me, from me,
there well could be happiness;
there well could be pain,
but not shame;
not disappointment:
I couldn’t give them those,
no matter what I did.
If I did wrong
my shame was mine alone!

Perhaps it would all have been different —
a shared moment would have done it,
that moment around a grave that was my father's,
which other young men of the house had dug,
in which they had laid him
on behalf of me
and all the family far and near.

The killers of my father at his railway post
five or six hundred miles away from home
dealt me a deep wound,
left me impaired.
I had remained a stranger for ever
to his people;
for I lost him before he gave me the footing
postponed Christmas after Christmas
among them;
lost a chance of a covenant by his body.
So to the war I went
once the army condescended
and took recruits,
put my feet and heart in it —
the war knew it too:
gave me an identity
and protected me all the way
like its own sucker.
Just the evening before it zipped up its backpack
full of all our happiness and refinement,
the social graces, all the old folk had taught
about being a brother’s keeper
and a good helping from what had been built
over half a century,
just as it strapped on everything
and turned to go,
with that secret smile of self-satisfaction,
it threw me a parting gift.

To this day I believe
I was the last Biafran casualty
and fell into the hands of people
for whom curing me seemed a purely medical duty
and getting rid of me immediately after
a factor of cost effectiveness.
Perhaps my stricken limb would have been saved
by handlers with a sense
that here was one who had suffered for a cherished cause,
a shared hope;
who had put in something,
was owed something in return.

I joined the new Nigeria late;
I joined in unequal footing,
joined in pursuit —
not that if you stand and watch,
if you do not attend my cries
you could tell who is in pursuit,
who in flight.
But I know it is my life
or my death
to catch up:
I must get my chance to say,
do you know me?

by Amechi Akwanya

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