This has been a terrible week. If it was night it would be the darkest in this spring of harvests; harvests of some of the finest minds to come out of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Nsukka, located in a valley formed by seven grassy hills in Eastern Nigeria is where I became an artist, and with Nsukka, I have a long story of love and pain. It is there that I met Ossie Enekwe, the poet, scholar and literary critic who chaired the Drama program, and Esiaba Irobi whose blood burned with thespian fire. Both died this week. And Omabe, the resplendent cousin of the sun and the brother of the leopard who descended annually from the hills of Nsukka, must be mourning tonight. And so am I, unworthy mortal, aged overnight by grief.
My youthful forays into acting--in the company of Greg Mbajiorgu, Richie Achukwu, Kalu Ikeagwu, Nnorom Azuonye and many great friends--were given the needed ballast by participation in the original casts of Esiaba most memorable works presented at Nsukka's Arts Theatre in the late 1980s. And I became a poet watching Esiaba perform his poems I mostly remember for their erotic lyricism at the epochal, short-lived phenomenon called "The Anthill" (managed by Gbugbemi Amas and Chinenye Mba-Uzoukwu) outside the walls of the university, up on a scraggy hill. He was simply known as the Minstrel.
The Harmattan came in the 1990s and blew that Nsukka asunder, and we scattered to the four winds, clutching memory pictures of a time when Ana, the goddess of creativity, gathered around her countless children. Now, far away from Nsukka's tropical evening, I hear Enekwe's calm voice as he strums his guitar--Ossie Melody he was called. I hear Esiaba exclaim:
"When you set out for Mabera
Ask that your way be long
Your path a field of stones
Hedged by nettles, thorns, twigs
When you set out for Mabera
Make loneliness your companion
Tighten the tendons of your spirit
Until they blink
like the eyelids of history"*
* (from the poem "Mabera" by Esiaba Irobi)
And my grip tightens on a clump of dust.