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Eventually Twenty-One: Letter to My Mother

Mummy, I am afraid of twenty-two

The age is creeping up from under my bed

And the months have turned into shadows and climbed the walls

And draw nearer in swarms to my creaking bed

Like a ghastly velvet curtain while

All that I haven’t accomplished sit

On my neck

Chirping loud as a conscience: two-two and two-two.


Mummy, what did you do at twenty-two?

The age stands before me like a giant steel hurdle

And I am the little ant

Trapped in-between a racehorse and his shoe

Shaken stiff into a void

As hooves dig-dig, dig-dig ahead of me

Twenty-two is a barricade.

What does one do at twenty-two?

I suppose life begins at twenty-two

And I’m supposed to wear a suit,

A tie and a smart shirt

And wander the Earth

In carbon-monoxide shoes,

Or brute black boots

Killing the Earth

And you’d still love me.

Mummy, I could shake up the world

And you would still stand firmly at my side

Asking: “what will you do come twenty-two?”


Mummy, I don’t want to talk about numbers or the year

I want to talk about you;

How you like colours, mauve, carmine and blue;

How I’ve always wanted to steal a rainbow

And hand it over to you

On a string and watch you run

And caper with your new giant kite.

Your laughter takes me to my favourite place in this world;

My favourite place is the age of five:


“Masquerade from Calabar!” cry the children.

I’m out in the open,

My skin glistens, concrete with calamine,

The sun swells on my snowy white forehead

Stiff eyelashes curtain my eyes

I am a china doll in Ilasamaja.

The wild, white toubab in a place called Thiès,

Polished with sweat, sweat, sweat

Hot with chicken pox,

Boiling to burst through the cocoon of childhood

To re-emerge, to bloom,

To dance in my new butterfly, honey-brown, leather skin.


I am slowly saying goodbye to twenty-one

I have tied my shoelaces and gotten on a train

A fat slug of a train

My cheek is pressed to the window

It whispers to the glass in frost white hieroglyphs.

My age is on the platform

And I’ve begun to peel away…


Mother, I’m coming to join you on the other side of twenty-two

The journey takes months but you raised a brave boy

In fact, you raised three

And from Lagos’s stone, grew two roses of daughters

For whom I shall always be a stubborn thorn of a brother

Or the third head of a three-headed bulldog

That watches over them without drooling

Or sleeping.


And so, about twenty-two,

About the encumbrance on my head

That thumbs me down like I am no more than a tack

Into a swirling pool of quicksand

Where I am to dance with earthworms

After abandoning socialism

And learning a new language

After building myself a house

And falling in love my neighbour’s wife

After pillaging the Earth

And setting course for Saturn…


Mother, what did you do about twenty-two?

I imagine you laughed and chased after colours

In that sugar sweet way only you can do.

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