A Dying Land
by Ezimadu Ugorji (Nigeria)
Audio: "A Dying Land," read by Gideon Ugorji
It seems pretty far away now, but if I sit and think I can actually remember everything: Sharon’s shining eyes and golden nose—the peace of her company; the soft breeze in that street the sun shines longest; the cries of my brothers and sisters as we grew up in those little places— the joy of knowing that one belonged amongst the company of such lovely hearts.
Ours was a golden home. The raindrops on the grasses caught the sunlight and sparkled every morning like a million golden stars. Little angelic birds beautifully welcomed us to every new day. Nothing compared to the smell of ripe kernels in the wet morning air. Tall palm trees stood, a towering host of steadfast sentries over a fruitful land. It was a good place which belonged to us.
Our mothers would rock us on their laps, as they sang lullabies to us in the quiet of the night. Our mothers would fold us in their arms and nothing else would matter. Our sisters had their honour, and our wives their husbands. You would see, every now and then, a young man covered head-to-toe in powder; that is what our people do when a man’s wife gives birth to her first child. And though disconcerted, he would be all smiles. In those little buildings where we lived, we had happiness luxury can scarcely afford.
Those mothers of ours which we now have broken; those were the huts and houses wherein they weaned us. In the mud streets and wide village playgrounds where the drums made you tap your feet and nod simultaneously to its rhythm: those were homely places for us to dance like monkeys, forever.
Home was coming back at night to a kiss on the neck; home was dancing in the rain while our mothers shouted dreadful threats; home was sharing roasted corn with friends after a downpour.
There was peace then, and peace was happiness.
“Do not do the bad things,” our mothers warned. “If not ours will be a dry land where the rain is a stranger, and the maize will stand no longer; if not ours will be a cursed land where the strength of all will fail, and the maize will stand no longer.”
They would say a thousand more dark phrases, ending all with the oblivion of standing maizes— saying that last part with a grave tone of tragic finality. Then the children would nod sober nods, and obey.
But it happened. I do not know how but somehow the genesis of these tragedies happened; the nods grew less sober as the children grew disobedient and the walls started tumbling down in the town that we loved.
And all the bad things our mothers feared happened, too.
Now the rain is black with soot so the maizes cannot stand. The land is red with blood so the maizes cannot stand. In fact, nothing stands. And the harsh voices of alien soldiers who do not know our customs ring in place of our fathers’ voices. Now, in place of the songs of avian angels, our mornings are denuded by the unpleasant cries of a black bird. It is a bad sign, our people say—the feathered forerunner of dark tidings. The children call it “Reverend Father” because the flock of white feathers at its neck seems like the collar on a priest’s black cloak. But it is no priest.
Now, you rarely see a man covered in powder—they are killed before their children are born. And Sharon no longer lives here; it has become an unsafe place, you see—where our beautiful sisters lay in dust and ashes, mourning what strangers have forcefully taken. And I no longer pleasure in the soft breeze of that street, for they have oft become harsh winds of life.
However, the tall palm trees continue to wave in the evenings. Unattended, remembered only to be cut and killed—just like everything around them.
They still stand, pious guardians of a dying land.
Ezimadu Ugorji is a seventeen year old who grew up in a rural community in Nigeria. In mid-October 2020, the military occupied his neighborhood, and dark things happened from which his community, a year later, has not fully recovered.
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9/24/22, 2:13 PM
Was this inspired by flights over Iceland?
9/24/22, 10:04 AM
Amazing. I love it.
9/23/22, 7:34 AM
This is just so good!!!! "The air has been poisoned' I love how you describe things! Congrats :))
9/23/22, 7:32 AM
Love the message! The way you prompt the readers to rethink over 'is anything free' is so effective and the ending is...gorgeous.
9/23/22, 7:30 AM
Gosh, Antara...this is really beautiful! I love your use of language, and the anecdotes were so effective!! Congrats so much :))
9/22/22, 9:30 PM
I love it! Especially the part where you say if humans can control the world, they can control themselves too!
Keep up the brilliant writing!
9/22/22, 5:22 PM
Poignant and so beautifully written!
9/22/22, 5:19 PM
I love the flow, this is gorgeously written! Great piece!
9/22/22, 5:17 PM
Life really is all about the little things and you wrote about them in a beautiful way!
9/22/22, 5:16 PM
This is a lovely piece, Keren-Happuch! It provokes such a magical and dreamy feeling.
9/19/22, 5:47 PM
Oh my god, the part about changing the mindset given the pre-existing beliefs drilled in by those around us... Even we often hesitate to have these conversations at times amongst friends as this topic is seldom more than a subject of twss jokes. You put it into words brilliantly!
9/17/22, 6:46 PM
this was thought-provoking! I particularly enjoyed how you connected existentialism to the topic. it provides a different perspective.