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
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.