The word fed me, and I was made strong. You know what I mean. You open a book, any book, and as you read, you feel yourself growing, losing that see-throughness. You feel yourself sharpening your edges, rising like dough in an oven warm as your mother’s belly. You become a little less like cellophane, or spliced film; a little more like you. You’re something solid now, developing, a body with skin and hair and teeth. A person. You’re not invisible anymore, and now those men are asking if you’re made of glass, craning their necks to see the rugby game, ignoring the skill with which you balance their Black Labels on the tray, choosing instead to hurl at you a steady stream of abuse.
Aisha’s father was always saying to her, ‘We don’t want any problems with the law. Remember, no one will defend your rights. You’re invisible, a refugee. Give thanks for what you have. Be on your guard and make yourself as inconspicuous as possible.’
He didn’t need to worry. People looked straight through her. Even when she stood directly in their path, they made no eye contact, but only mumbled ‘excuse me.’ Once, on a cold winter’s day, she had dropped her handbag on purpose, outside Sainsbury’s in Holborn, at the peak of the rush hour. All the contents were strewn on the pavement, but instead of stopping to help, everyone sidestepped her umbrella, wallet, scarf and lipstick, and carried on. When she was out walking in London, she would look around her, in case someone familiar might appear. She lived alone in a ground floor flat, and at times she would stand at the window watching the street outside, as though expecting a visitor. Or she would go down to the pub at the corner, and sit there with a drink, staring at strangers. No one gave her a second glance, or even a first one.
They moved into the house opposite ours. They arrived with a large rusty red boerboel called Hunter. In my brisk seven years, I’d never encountered a more vicious animal. He would run up-and-down the length of the rickety fence, eyes flaring and drool guzzling through his teeth like venom. He barked and snapped at anyone and everyone that walked by, especially black people. Hunter hated black people. In the few months they lived in that house he must’ve bitten at least eight black people; two maids, three gardeners, a painter and two random men who were unlucky that he managed to break through the fence on those specific days.
December 9, 1984;
The sun was hot enough to make a man go crazy. The sweltering heat made fat-bellied Nnaemeka drink more Coke than his body needed. He was driving the patients from the Yaba Psychiatric patients in Lagos to the Calabar Lunatic Asylum in Cross River State. At Onitsha, Nnaemeka stopped to take a leak. He alighted from the bus, walked a polite distance away, found a suitable spot, and released a long and warm fountain of nitrate to the poor, unsuspecting grasses, while letting out a reverberating fart. The erotic aroma of Egusi soup and stockfish strolled from a mile away, and began flirting with his nostrils; it whispered in his ears a song of a thousand voices. ‘Come,’ they chorused. Nnaemeka went.