Art by Not Vital
God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this… Psalm 62:11
Years ago in a small township known for its rubber plantations, a man, recently divorced and now earning as a lonely cobbler—a bad trade in that town, if I may say—walked into the office of a plantation manager one morning and warned him to halt production if he [the manager] loved his life. The man had no idea what he was doing but the manager, like all foolish men, laughed it off. This stout, he said in his rich voice, heartbroken pauper of a cobbler has gone out of his mind to come threatening me. Days later the cobbler returned and shot dead all the plantation workers alongside the manager, and he hurried to hand himself over to the law who gave him a life sentence. This cobbler used the resources of the plantation for his trade, but this trade increased the immensity of his torment and to displace this discomfort in order to save his body he opted to experience another horror. Years later, one day in the jail, after lunch, moments after the afternoon prayers, he stood in the mess hall and stretched out with a loud yawn, licked his lip, rubbed his belly with one hand like the asshole he truly was and raised the middle finger of the other hand up yelling: At least, here, I get free meals and room. Free. To hell with you all!
Soon after the Second World War, a young Nigerian soldier named Musa, who before the war had received Islamic education in the ancient city of Timbuktu along the Sahara Desert, returned home from the Burma forest with balls of darkness gleaming in his eyes. Rather than resuming the teaching position he held before the war at the Islamic Training Center in his village he took to the streets, against all familial protestations, and began composing poems and performing them at ceremonies. He preferred performing at weddings and naming ceremonies but these opportunities were rare since he wasn’t polished enough, no one was ready to risk scandalizing their family in public. However, within a short time he had become a sensation at gigs, performing mostly at ceremonies for herders, fishers, farmers, and age groups every night in the city of Jos. In the space of three years, without any significant professional assistance, he made a career for himself in the Tin City. Those days, the city of Jos was renowned for its mining across the plateaus, valleys and rocky plains. In the decades before the British colonizers had discovered more sources of funding the motherland and had, through the operations of the Royal Niger Company and its subsidiaries, registered mining companies, which attracted local labor to the city. The men were the first to move to the city from villages, their relatives followed and soon this city boomed with industries and large fields of cash crops such as ginger, groundnut, and potato. Musa saw this potential and jumped at it, but his new trade was not about the money. It was instead a strategy for being invisible or bodiless. Though he wasn’t a known celebrity, he was relatively known in his small corner of that new world.
On the other hand, trouble was brewing between him and his father, for it wasn’t long before things spiraled up when he wouldn’t return home to the family—two wives and five children—he had had before he joined the Royal West Africa. Musa turned down all pleas from friends and family to return home, resume his religious calls, and to be responsible to his young family. But Musa went about his life as though before the war he had never existed. Each time he was captured and taken home, he found ways and absconded back to the streets. He remained alone behind closed doors when he was not performing or rehearsing, doing things he wouldn’t even imagine before the war. For before the war, before and after his education in Timbuktu, northern Mali, Musa was a devout man who walked the village with his wives, carried his children on his back and on bicycle wherever he was, taught community classes for free. Those days, apart from doing his farming and making dresses, the only other thing he knew how to do was leading prayers in the village mosque and teaching the Hadiths. This, actually, was the quality the village found in him and decided to contribute to a fund to sponsor his Islamic education at a foreign school. The options were Cairo, Timbuktu and Khartoum, but his father who had a certain disdain for Cairo settled on Timbuktu, believing the poetry and spirits in the desert sands and wind would enrich the boy’s spiritual education. But his father’s choice actually was more influenced by fear than anything else. He had been told about the fate of a village that had sent one of their own to an Islamic house in Cairo in the 1910s, a boy rich with gifts in religious contemplation, but years after the boy returned from Egypt to the village with a Sudanese mistress and set up a café; every night he hired singers to entertain his customers. Terribly displeased, the elders of the village in the company of the chief imam summoned him. Son, they said, we sent you to learn the thoughts and ways of the Prophet amongst his own people and you returned with a mistress? And to add salt to injury, now you have a café and celebrate debauchery every night. You are a waste, a waste; they quarreled him. But the young man wouldn’t have any of it, without mincing words he spoke harshly to the men and dismissed them with insults. Soon, it became known in the nearby villages that news of sending their children to Egypt was a mistake never to be repeated. This, indeed, was the reason why Musa’s father demanded he shun Cairo. So now, after the war, he clandestinely toured cities and performed his poems, and would always decline to respond to questions about his days in Burma. A few times, he spoke about his days in Timbuktu, the music, nightlife, scholars, and women but never a word on Burma. On one such occasion, as one of his friends who now live in Benghazi told me, after performing at the house of a mineworker who was marrying his second wife, an audience member walked to him and asked, What’s the feeling like at the war front? Musa stared, then smirked and chuckled: It felt like giving unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, a time of giving off your body. He walked away from the man, his shoulders slanting to the right through the darkness. Though Musa never wrote down his poems and stories, his performances were strong enough to preserve two of his works, which one of his acquaintances once sang to my hearing.
One day his father, the old imam, dragged himself from Ankpa, their hometown, all the way to the city of Jos, determined to reconcile with his son. You can refuse witnessing to God, the old imam said to him, but family as you know is older and higher than God. What man abandons a family, what man of honor? Return to your wives and children, the old man advised his son. The war veteran sat in silence for a while and then turned to face his father. Can I be left alone? Musa frowned. That very day of his father’s visit, Musa was rehearsing with his band under a shade in the front of the house. And that was it. His father left that night, on a pickup back to their hometown and never spoke to his son until his own death.
This war veteran, Musa, was my own grandfather, Baba’s father.
“I doubt if anything else defines existence like the struggle to control the body.”
I doubt if anything else defines existence like the struggle to control the body.
In the years before then, when I had not discovered the words “shame,” “soul,” “body”—themselves impenetrable, as well as their meanings—I would cry out amidst the voices I heard in the air to the point that my mama, now worn down to zero for my sake and deep in her own troubles as well, began consulting a prophet who ran a small congregation some blocks away from our house, a farm compound which sat on a rock overlooking a millet field, by the outpost of a dormant military base that still stood decades after the civil war. This prophet subjected me to a series of exorcisms, like standing me naked for long hours under the sun; sprinkling a concoction, filled with stench, upon my face in poorly lit rooms until a peppery bite stingingly spread across the rim of my nostrils, lips and all the way to the earlobes, and if it reached my mouth the minty sour taste created a mammoth spasm. Other times I was laid on a mat, encircled by the congregation whose chanting filled the air around me, and the old prophet rammed a razor into several parts of my back, spine and thighs. These moments, I believe, marked the beginning of the struggle to control my own body, a battle now fiercer than I ever imagined. And the word “control”, as deployed here, refers far more to the condition of a dancer or an athlete than that of a prig.
As a teenager I could literally hear a roaring inside me as though engines revved under my skin until the most intense heat would run through the channel of my bones, until I clenched my fists and ran to sit on the train tracks that passed behind the house. It was a reprehensible experience, a biting sensation, which no matter the effort I always failed to confide in anyone. This inability to describe the struggle in my body was perhaps, though not surprisingly, the natural concomitant of my shame and the fact that I was surrounded by people who persistently remained impenetrable. It may have also been the case that there was no language with which to tell it simply; no language vulnerably laced with anxieties and still credibly strong enough on its own, nothing with a transparency ensuring that all these seemingly contradictory sensations wouldn’t be misunderstood or refuted.
My grandfather, Musa, was the man, though dead seventeen years before my birth, who taught me the need to gain a life that is completely free of shame, even if the chosen life means I could be regarded irredeemably lost. No form of education could have done it. Teachers, professors and adults in my life propped up all of my shame until recently when I learnt my old man’s lesson. My grandfather drew my attention to the rights to be ashamed and still shameless, the right to renounce anything that needs to be renounced. Prior to this time, I was desperately shame-ridden. I am still shame-ridden but learning my grandfather’s past suddenly transferred the emotional contour of these shames to accessible frames, something I could see and say, hey here are my shames, here they are, what’s good? It was he who made me realized that it was possible for me to build a strong case for the ongoing warfare between the world and me, between histories and my body. It was through Musa I gained the truths that one could renounce a country while still living in it and not even planning to desert it, and all the things that it represents; that one could stop recognizing himself as a citizen of a particular place and still possess the undeniable right to live in the birthplace, and that perhaps it is the good thing to do. Countries are like lovers, and when things get sored or juiceless beyond fixing in a relationship you break up. If put to close examination, countries, like all institutions, reveal features, constituents, that are only fit for trampling upon or throwing into the sewer without having any discomfort that sacrilege against a grand text is being committed. Musa, my grandfather, was a seer.
Three years into his new career in 1958, and two years before Nigeria’s independence from long-running British terrorism, Musa stopped having anything to do with the British Nigerian state; he refused his benefits he received from the officials upon his return from the war, declined invitations for further performances and, even though he had enough means to depart Nigeria for one of the countries where most of his comrades had emigrated, he simply retreated from the city center into a little mud house in Lokoja, that old city about three hours drive south of his own hometown. It was in this mud house, one morning in June 1975, he committed suicide. It was in this mud house Musa’s body eventually got destroyed; the moment the tradition which prospered on the destruction of bodies in my family got loudest and readily set its ambition that has been so ever since. Suicide seems to run in the family. I traveled early 2013 from campus in Zaria to visit my mama who had made an attempt in the village of A. She has made attempts, and like her I am deeply suicidal, obsessed with stories of those who saw reasons to destroy own bodies. (So what? Everyone is suicidal. Well, I am only reemphasizing that we are all helplessly lost.) I don’t remember where I read this but it stuck in my head: suicide is the loudest way of renouncing institutions, any form of them. Be warned: life, too, is an institution. But whoever wrote it must have been some lunatic all his life. Maybe my grandfather knew this author or had read his epic crap, and thought his initial renouncement of his country was not loud enough, so to make it louder, make a huger statement, he decided to put up a large fire behind the mud house and self-immolated on that morning in June. It should be noted however that while my mama’s suicidal tendency has ancestral roots, my grandfather is the opposite—his own came from social history, a profound shame, for no one in his bloodline had it.
“I suffer a particular illness of the mind that stiffly resists treatments. By some means I discerned nighttime wandering as palliative measure of living with it. So I left my apartment and walked the city every night, through streets and alleyways, down the campus, past factories, across fields, remote railroads, and then at dawn strolled back.”
In August 2014, not long after my awakening to the destruction of bodies in my family, I found myself wandering the city of Kaduna struggling to comprehend my own space in this dismal narrative. I was immediately filled with dread at the thought of adulthood. I suffer a particular illness of the mind that stiffly resists treatments. By some means I discerned nighttime wandering as palliative measure of living with it. So I left my apartment and walked the city every night, through streets and alleyways, down the campus, past factories, across fields, remote railroads, and then at dawn strolled back. Every time I was plagued with the thought of losing my own body, of it being destroyed. It felt like invisible forces were lurking at the corners to lynch me, to humiliate my body. Even now as I compose these pages, almost four years after wandering that old city, I am deeply possessed by this suspicion. I am neither sick nor paranoid. I am a refugee fleeing from myself, and the faster my feet the closer I run back to myself. Right there, in the moments of those night walks in the streets and alleys of Kaduna and Zaria and elsewhere, I had a photograph of Baba in my mind all the time, he and my mama in black-and-white. I walked every place with it. Even now I have this photograph clearly hanging in my head. I don’t know the place the photograph was taken and, weirdly, I haven’t summoned the energy to inquire about it to anyone in the family. Maybe it was shot at the Teachers’ Institute in Zaria, since my mama during my early days in the family talked so much of her frequent visits to the institute to see her younger sister there and on this particular day she was visiting aunty Naomi one more time when baba decided on a stopover on the campus. The photograph might not have even been taken on the institute’s campus; who knows if it was in a government compound or at the corner of some rich man’s palatial home. In any case, every time I stop to have a look at the image in my head, I see them standing in front of a tiny brown wooden kiosk on an opulent lawn with a delicately placed row of hibiscus running onto a column of tulips and chrysanthemums that stretched out to a curved portion of the ceramic tiled wall. An odd photograph, which showed that neither of them had initially planned to take the photograph with the other; my mama was in a blue gown that had flowers around the waist and buttoned from the waist up the neck, and on her feet a pair of black moccasins. Baba, who appeared more relaxed than my mama, wore a loose turban on his head and a white kaftan that reached down to his feet to conceal his shoes. The photographer, possibly acting on his volition, snapped the photo with greater emphasis on the landscape than his immediate subjects. But in all these details what means so much to me, and perhaps what stuck this photograph in my head and keeps me returning to it ever since, are the cracks and fades that came through the years to mess the face of the photograph, not the people and objects in it. The cracks, as though from repeated folds, particularly run across the body of Baba, but the severest one starts at the top of the photograph through his right collar bone, passes that part of his chest, then corners and severs his left arm from the body, and my mama’s scarf and forehead down to her facial marks suffer the effect of the fade, so that at a glimpse she looks like she has a skin defect. Each moment I stared at this photograph I could perceive that those cracks and fades were shadows of bigger things, things eating off the bodies in my family, and that through them I became convinced that it’s my responsibility to trace the origin of this plunder that has also extended its project upon my own body.
The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: But while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat, and went his way. Matthew 13:24-5
When the news of the death reached Musa’s family, they wasted no time. They were Muslims, and as you know, Muslims have a way of treating a body once it is lifeless; suddenly you no longer exist, in nanoseconds your titles dissolved as though you never had them, your body whisked to the grave as though it was never your own in the first instance. They arrived the same day to bury whatever remained of his body according to Islamic rite and to move his belongings away but on their arrival they discovered he had taken out all his official papers along with the military regalia and set fire to them before he further threw himself into the flame. His death came just the fifteenth year after the death of his father.
In 2014, about one hundred and thirty years after Europeans, under auspices of their kings and princes and pride and fraud, sat in a Berlin Conference concerning Africa and my ancestors, and forty years after my grandfather’s suicide, I experienced a series of nervous breakdowns that almost ruined me forever. They arrived in chunks and crushed my body daily, like an endless epidemic meant for me alone, because, every time they arrived it seemed they had been designed to plunder my body. I was in university in Zaria. My GPA was in freefall, relationships were strained on all sides, and at the same time I was contemplating both suicide and renunciation of my citizenship, feeling the strongest urge to escape my body, both the one given me by the conversation my mama and Baba initiated many years ago and the one brought upon me by Britain and my own countrymen. I was not intending to move to any country even, and in fact I don’t love any particular country to forfeit this one for. Unlike my grandfather, I was a younger man, just had my twenty-second birthday, lacked the means of leaving the country, was an undergrad and working in brothels to earn peanuts, and even more so, I had a disease-unhappiness-infested mother who would be dead if I left.
Let me chip in a truth here: I had no idea that my grandfather once renounced his citizenship and had further gone to commit suicide until these breakdowns pounced on me 2014. The only piece of information regarding his death I had prior to this moment was that he had been assaulted and burnt to death, and this came from Baba. They were never on great terms; their relationship got strained after my grandfather chose to move to the mud house in Lokoja rather than return to the family in his hometown. It is now a curse in my family that delights in messing up the father-son relationship, something severe that puts the son on his feet to flee from the father. It began with my grandfather and his father, then my father and his father, and then it was the turn of my father and my brothers and me. All his male children ganged up against him. This is why fatherhood scares me. Baba never really mentioned a thing about the citizenship crap, which if you asked me I don’t know why he evaded telling the truth. It was my brother Musa, named after my grandfather even though he is a born-again Christian who told me the entire truth. It was while one of these breakdowns sent me running from my family that Musa, whom I don’t deserve to have as a brother, whom I love but have never told or acted like it to him, painstakingly tracked me down to a remote house I was squatting in Zaria. It was he who, after hearing about my crisis, held me up to his chest and narrated the story of my grandfather’s death. I must tell you, it was an earthquake to be told these stories, for they opened the earth for me to see, and, instantly, instead of finding a buried mass of rubbish or disaster I saw a deposit of great wealth. All I wanted to know were the details of his suicide. But everyone I interviewed to arrive at the specific reasons behind my grandfather’s renunciation of his country and subsequent destruction of his body had no clues. Even this uncle who would boast knowing the color of the president’s underwear stammered when I put the question across on the phone. They all knew he was a veteran, had begun struggling to control his body after the war and killed himself years after retreating from the public gaze, but no one could pin down the reasons. Those days (and maybe today) nobody cared about the mental health of a war veteran. But what pushed me on to want to know and grab the details that surrounded this man’s death? I was investigating a death, a life, a pain, a story that would make credible my own intentions. I was hustling to interrogate a familial history that could breathe life into the new imaginations that were springing up everywhere within me. I was hoping my grandfather’s reasons would heighten and build my own confidence, my own arguments, my own futures and politics. I thought knowing the details of his plundered body would rescue me from an imagination that prospers mainly on our bodies. I thought that to stop or defer the vandalizing of my own body, it was important to realize that ‘this plot is bigger than me’ and thus build perspectives around it. Why did I want to renounce my country at twenty-two, about the time many people realize the need to love their own countries? What was causing my breakdowns? Why was I helplessly weeping in lecture halls and hiding from everyone on campus in 2014?
“My interaction with my body was, and still is, an act of faith.”
My interaction with my body was, and still is, an act of faith. There was nothing tangible I could confidently touch about me. Each moment I looked to see myself I could only feel the invisible, landless contours of the frame but nothing else, nothing substantial. For twenty and so years of my life on earth, this is how I feel and this is my first time of describing this self-invisibility. Recently I realized that everything has to do with my eyes, and the eyes of the countless people with whom I interact. My eyes, the vision, by historical arrangement of realities, have become so distorted that each moment I try to see myself I unconsciously look away from it, and what I see while looking away are defined fears and shame, an uneasy wanting, rather than actual flesh, bone, blood, and warmth. It was a default setting to deprive me of seeing my own body. “The way we see things is affected by what we know or what we believe.”— John Berger. And I grew up being made to accept that my only possibility was to be an appendage. Not to be whole or multiple. Not to be stretchable or pronounced. If you want to make a person useless, powerless, deny him of his body, because within it is the neurons, which without sensation and imagination are nonexistent. You create this denial by playing with his optics; fill his seeing with anxieties that render his being bodiless. To completely destroy him, deploy the same strategy on the people who surround him. This is when he would become anything that doesn’t look like a human, and the closest thing he can be, as in my case, is a beast or some inanimate reality, a tree, a decaying tree; a phenomenon with little or no conscience. I was new to the world, naïve and lost and took to the Internet and explored and watched countless African-/black-themed videos published on YouTube and all sorts of texts. But these did not last long. I was lost and hungry, and the more I fought to get out of the castle of discomfort that trapped my body, the sadder I grew, the vaster my disillusionment. I was nearing the end of myself, about to explode and vanish away. I had no mentor, didn’t know I was supposed to have one, and all the adults by whom I had come into this discontent were either impossibly locked in their own vanities or didn’t have the capacity to understand my case. Friends waved my worries away, nigga you are just being too sensitive. What the fuck are you doing to yourself? and even a psychiatrist whom I was seeing tired out and told me to go see a pastor for deliverance from the things in my body. In my system, things were being fucked up, an uneasy weight sat in there and when it rolled about it enhanced the voices that were foreshadowing things about my grandfather and me.
I was mostly fearful of the fact that I couldn’t feel my own body literally no matter what I did. I couldn’t understand my body. How could I overcome shame and fear when the container that carries them was inaccessible? I’ve done everything to help trace my body but these acts crashed down like pebbles falling on a chunk of metal, hot metal. I would cut it with razor blades or bruise it with stones, but all the attempts to create sensation failed. Blood would ooze out, the cuts and bruises would bite at nights or under the shower, but that was it. There was nothing else. Nothing to feel, like fiber or timber, nothing I could perceive to say I had a body or humanity, something tangible I could exhibit on the campus to say, Hey, here is my body. See, niggas, this is how my body looks. Hey niggas, this is what I can do with my body. Soon my skin stood like the belly of a reptile, callused. Other times, I would seek sex, masturbate, just about anything to bring that sensation to my body, and the deeper I dug or was being dug, the more I felt like plastic; the dryer the sensation grew. I was working as DJ in places that saw people own their bodies and enjoy it, and still lacked the capacity to trace my body.
Then something happened to me shortly after my brother’s visit. It was during one such night wandering in Kaduna. It was eleven o’clock and I was walking home. I suddenly realized I had been walking almost in the middle of the highway, the center of the bridge and the streets all along with no concern what the cars on both sides could do to me. It was then I knew that all the curses flying from inside the passing cars were being directed at me. The headlights coming my way flooded my eyes but I discovered I could still see, the blasts of music from inside the cars and their revving couldn’t stop my ears from their role. I heard still. Right there I heard myself saying aloud the words from a documentary I had recently seen, “The cars need to move to the curb, not me. I will stand my ground. Enough walking cautiously on the side.” Enough!
That week, I snuck from town to go to the house my grandfather had died in. I couldn’t bear the torment in my being any longer, so I decided to find things for myself. I had previously visited the house. Thrice. Two times with my father as a preteen when he had gone there to water his memory, an act the men in my family religiously protect to appease the spirit of the deceased souls by sprinkling water around the house they died in on the death anniversary. The other one time I was researching clay buildings for partial-fulfillment for a course in Level Two in university. But this time I was going there to find myself in the remains of a destroyed body. I collected a notebook, pencil and a borrowed camera in a small backpack, and that Monday afternoon I took my things, got on the bus and left for Lokoja. It was a six-hour drive. Seated between older men in the back row of the bus I could only stare the back of the heads of the passengers before us. At the bus station I struggled to have the window seat so as gaze at the rolling fields but a man outsmarted me. And crammed amongst these men, I removed a copy of Thomas Carlyle’s Occasional Discourse of the Negro Question into my backpack and read it over and again. I do not remember the number of times I read the essay, there was barely a thing striking about the piece but something in me held to it.
Six hours later I arrived in Lokoja. The next morning I grabbed myself and dragged myself to my grandfather’s ruined house on the outskirts of town, in a rolling village deep near a cashew plantation. I hitched a motorcycle and rode for about an hour, then continued dragging my body on the stony path, and if anyone had asked why I was walking there that morning he would have been disappointed.
Walking the road downward I remembered sitting in the bus and having doubt about the house, that perhaps it was no longer standing. Apart from the recent floods that had devastated the town, it was nearly forty years since the death of its last occupant and there was the talk of bringing down the house soon after I visited it for my assignment. I was forced, reluctantly, to believe that though my grandfather had been dead for years now he would not let the house fall until this moment in my life, that somehow he had had me in mind when he moved in, and that if the house still stood it meant that the ancestors were not entirely careless, that by an exchange of energies the past and the present were ready to cleanse themselves of their follies. This might not have been so easy to settle in my mind then, but that it was forced down my throat suggested, crudely, that to assess my bruised body required more than a transgenerational dialogue, and that perhaps this dialogue wasn’t truly a dialogue but a warfare with the men and women who bore us in their loins while the crooked white man exploited their goodness, folly, and unpreparedness. It was as these thoughts ran in my mind that I checked to realize that it was already eleven o’clock by my watch.
The overcast sky was deep but I found myself standing before the mud house, on the footpath that led to it. It had not fallen. A small abandoned building in the middle of a bush. Red, aged, useless. The closest settlement to it was ten minutes away; a small village of sparse houses surrounded in the distance by cashew plantations and palm trees. There was nothing like my grandfather about this house. It is true, Dambudzo was right, ”If I am looking at something, and I am conscious of myself looking, does it affect what I see?“ He was a clean, sure, and ordered man, the total opposite of me. I didn’t see the house either through him or me the last time I was here. The more I stared at it, the clearer I saw myself in the unkempt, tattered condition of this mud house. It stood with a blank mood in this abandoned space, around it there was nothing but trees and shrubs and grass and birds. I walked to the door, removed the stick and rope that held it closed and found myself standing in the hut, a small cold room. The silence was enormous but not eerie. Apart from the heap of rubbish gathered at a corner of the room, its only inhabitants were geckos, spiders either sitting or pacing in their webs, a stream of soldier ants ran across the floor, climbed the wall all the way to the window, and from the roof strands of cobwebs ran down, the window side was blank. The room smelled moist, murky, like decaying hay. The room seemed heartbroken, and if seen through its flaking wall and the failing roof it felt like a traumatized body lying at the feet of its assailant. It felt like I was standing in the last centuries gazing at the plunders. I walked further to reach the heap, grabbed a stick that stood against the wall at a distance and began scattering it, hoping I find something that would supply me a clue. I was foolish. Minutes passed, hours, the history remained inscrutable, I didn’t find anything save the beautiful pebbles that had been collected from the river and gathered here by someone, on top of them the rubbish, beside them shiny white snail shells. There was nothing about my grandfather here. I was standing in the room as a twenty-two-year-old man; the same age he was when they took him into the army. He left for the war, leaving behind five toddlers, my father included, and two wives. There was brokenness everywhere I turned in this room. Suddenly I could perceive the smell of a body, the smell of decaying bodies, the hays, the moist wall and floor, the dead ants stuck up in the murky, enormous cobwebs, and overwhelmed by this I broke down in the room, weeping. Everything seemed like tares that had been sowed in our fields by an enemy.
It was six o’clock in the evening when I checked my watch again. I pulled myself up to my feet. I reached the window, pushed a little and it wouldn’t open. I let it. When I turned thence to leave the room, I found a Tasbih hanging on a nail on the wooden door and took it. I was convinced it wasn’t my grandfather’s. But who cares? He too was a Muslim, a devout at some point, I heard. I moved outside and walked to the back of the house. I wanted to see a piece of him, a piece of bone, a tooth, a fingernail, something from that morning in 1975, but it was all bushy. I got into the bush, began parting it to make visible the earth, searching if I could see relics of burnt flesh and charcoal. They were only ants, spiders, and earthworms creeping over dried leaves and wet grass, and at a distance from me a black shoe laid on its head. I stood upright and took in the surrounding. I tried to imagine him as a young man but felt sore in the mind that the only image of him was from a grainy photograph shown me by my brother. In this photo my grandfather was seated amidst a group of soldiers on a rock side, an artillery before them, and giving the camera a smile that didn’t reach the eyes. I walked back to front of the house, struggled to lock the door and left. It was approaching night and the cloud was gathering again. I hurried. That night, broke and unable to afford a motel room, I slept in a roadside mosque. It rained all night and I lay there counting the beads and praying. My grandfather. As I lay there I imagined him as a child: it was morning prayer in the village mosque and he stood before the congregation leading. A little child tottered toward him, passing through the men dressed mainly in white kaftan bowing, prostrating, standing, and muttering prayers in matchless unison.