Dreams For A Far Away Land

Elo, my elder brother had lived for a very long time in Europe, longer than I could remember. All those years, we had only seen him in pictures he sent through any of his friends coming home from Europe. He sent pictures of his foreign wife, his big house, his plush cars. We also saw pictures of him dressed in thick layers of clothing, posed with a shovel in a snow-covered world. Even as a kid, I could sense the depression in his eyes that his broad smile tried to mask. Maybe he was smiling for us, maybe he was sending a smile to us, enveloped in the photograph, and maybe he wanted us to be happy that he was happy in the snow-covered world. There was this particular photo he sent home once, he was hugging his foreign wife, they were both almost naked, he had only a pair of blue briefs and she wearing some skimpy threads of clothing that hid only the very private locus of her private parts- I later got to understand that it was called a bikini- they had their bare bodies painted in all sorts of funny colours. They were screaming into the camera, they looked happy and free as kids. All about them were sea of white bodies painted and adorned in similar and more outrageous costumes that depicted animals like tigers, squirrels or cats. They seemed not to care. Behind the photo, Elo had scribbled, At a carnival in Zurich. My parents wouldn’t have let me seen the photo, but I had stumbled upon it when Father had sent me into his room to fetch his snuff box.
Elo is a good son. My parents were proud of him. He sent money to father and we built a nice bungalow, with two extra rooms for visitors and a modern toilet. He periodically sent beautiful things home, last Christmas, he sent Father an electric shaver, father admired it, but he still stuck to his razor and kept the shaver amongst his books in the shelf like a relic. On that Christmas, Mother was given a box of perfumes that bore GIVENCHY engraved boldly across the box in gold colours. Mother saw no occasion worthy of the expensive fragrance, so the box with its prized liquids was forever sentenced to the bottom of her cloth chest. I received a digital camera which won me many friends in school and made me very famous. My three sisters each got gifts that made them excited all through the Christmas period. Elo sent some money too, I guessed it was a lot, for we had lots of chicken and rice to eat throughout the festive season, even though we had a lot of visitors that we treated to generous helpings of rice, chicken and drinks. Elo, of course sent back a lot of photos of him posing in his house, on the streets, on the trunk of different brilliant looking exotic automobiles, which we concluded were his, with fellow natives resident in Europe, in a bar and besides a very beautiful fountain, nut he sent also a handwritten letter that bore the most exciting news from the land of snows; he said that once I was done with my final secondary school exams, I will join him in Europe. I was glad that I will travel and see new people, but I was scared of the snow-covered world. When the time came, I will ask him to send me to Zurich, I will prefer a sea of naked white flesh to a sea of white snow that covered every surface and dampened the soul.
All these happened in the non distant past. Three months ago, Azubuike, ma Mazi Nduka’s son and Elo’s friend in Europe visited home. He came to visit Father one early morning. We were expectant of good news of Elo’s success, some photos and gifts of money, but he bore bad news instead; Elo, he said, had gotten into trouble in Europe. He said it was a drug related offence and was in jail. For how long the jail sentence was to last, Azubuike couldn’t tell for the case was still awaiting trial.
“what about his wife?” Father asked, after he had bowed his head in silence for some time to assimilate the news
“we don’t know much about her whereabouts, other than the fact that she had disappeared after selling off most of Elo’s disposable properties”
“you mean you cant find her? One woman?” father queried, emphasizing with a projected index finger
“ Mazi, Europe is a big place just like Africa is. One can cross over from Nigeria to Malawi as from Austria to Switzerland”
Father nodded slowly, obviously getting a grasp of the situation.
“I think I will take the kings of the seven clans and we will go talk the matter over with the ruler of Europe. I hope it is not a woman that rules such a land of many good things?”
Azubuike smiled broadly, restraining himself from bursting into boisterous laughter at Father’s naivety.
“It doesn’t work like that Mazi. In the outer world including Nigeria, we have systems by which the governments function. Even the rulers are subject to those systems and are punished by the system if they go against it. We call it the rule of law” Azubuike patiently explained.
“You mean to tell me that the ruler in Europe is not supreme, that his powers could be questioned?”
“Yes Mazi, in Europe and in other parts of the civilized world, it is the law that is respected and not the rulers”
“So who makes the law then?”
“There is a body of politicians, a group of men and women well versed in the affairs of the land whose duty it is to make laws to protect the citizens of the land against themselves and against external influence. These same politicians also ensure that these laws are implemented just as the Ndi Nze will ensure that our traditions and customs aren’t violated without consequences. However since the law is meant for the benefit of all, individuals could address their objection to a particular law” father looked lost and Azubuike chipped in, “what I mean to say is that everybody, man and woman is involved in the law making process”.
“I don’t seem to understand this Europe where you young men live, though it strikes me that we have some sort of semblance especially in our systems of law making. I just can’t take in the women taking part in the process anyway. I am asking all this questions to understand how best to tackle this issue with Elochukwu” Father said
“Mazi, I will advise we do nothing but pray. We can do nothing about it, and we only pray that God intervenes”
Father bowed his head again resignedly, but who ever knew him well will tell that the clever old man was thinking up something. He suddenly raised up his head, his eyelids narrowed down as though concentrating at a thought,
“I have a question for you nna m,” he paused, sifting his buttocks on the cushioned arm chair so as to settle into a more comfortable position, “when Oloko, the imbecile that wandered the lonely bush paths raped Akwaugo the beauty of Umuabiam by the stream, it would have resulted to an all-out-war between our youths and the people of Umuabiam because the hot-headed prince of Umuabiam was betrothed to the virgin Akwaugo and couldn’t stand the shame of his prize being snatched away from him by a lowly imbecile, a nobody. In a quest for revenge, he kidnapped Oloko with the intent of severing his manhood and feeding it to the vultures. Oloko’s kinsmen for the sake of family pride, stood up for the disowned imbecile for the first time and in a swift act of retaliation, kidnapped five Umuabiam young males on the Eke market as a collateral to negotiate the release of their kinsman” Father paused and chuckled, “who would have thought that a disowned imbecile will be worth the price of five young males?. We, the elders had to intervene in the matter and a war was forestalled. Oloko pleaded that Akwaugo was taunting him, we all understood, after all, an imbecile is still a man prone to the many discomforts of the thing between our thighs. So we still live in peace with our neighbour till this day.”
He paused again to catch his breath, “my question, my son is this, don’t your civilized rulers have emissaries that can intervene in this matter as we did to prevent the war in this story I just narrated?”
Azubuike leaned forward in his seat and intertwined his fingers as he began another explanation, “yes we have foreign missions, we have diplomats, led by an ambassador in friendly countries. Such ambassadors are meant to represent the interest of our country and countrymen living in these countries”
“Aha!” Father exclaimed, triumphant that he had scored a point
“We have an ambassador in Switzerland as well as almost the whole of Europe, but the Nigerian ambassador is very uncooperative in Elo’s case. He is one of many hundreds of young Nigerians locked up in prisons around Europe for drug related offences.”
“What sort of man is that ambassador who won’t run to a brother’s side in time of distress, did he suckle from soured nipples that has done this much damage to his head? Oloko’s kinsmen stood up for him and yet a man wouldn’t for a sane brother in a foreign land. What part of the country is he from?”
“I don’t know for certain, but I am sure his is Ibo”
I have my doubts as to his parentage, he is not a true son of the soil, he should go ask his mother some serious questions as to his real parentage” Father fumed
They both talked and talked on many other issues, Father gleaning as much information about the way of life of Europeans from Azubuike, often voicing his distastes and admiration. I and my siblings with Mother had snuggled close to the door adjoining the parlour getting all that they talked about. The news drenched our spirits with depression and Mother unable to take the news any longer, retired to her room were we later saw her sitting on the bed, sobbing quietly into one end of her wrapper with which she covered her face.
Azubuike returned to Europe one week later after dropping some money with Father. The mood at home changed drastically. Mother went about her chores morosely and prayed longer and more frequently. Father didn’t change any noticeable bit, only his appetite did. My sisters went back to boarding school, and I couldn’t tell how they took the news. I often dreamt of my elder brother Elo, in a dark cell crammed full with other prisoners.
Five weeks later, Azubuike was home again with news very different from the former; they had worked things out and my brother had filed for voluntary deportation. He was back to the country to see that he didn’t get the ill-treatment deportees got on arrival the international airport at Lagos. He said Elo would be home in three days time.
And then things changed as though a fairy had waved a wand in the air.
Mother changed instantly. She cleaned the house as never before, never asking from assistance from any body singing to herself and wriggling her voluptuous buttocks to inaudible beat. She cleaned the best room for Elo, bought expensive bed covers and went about gathering condiments for cooking some meal that I could only imagine. I could bet that not even on her wedding day was she half as happy. Her prince was coming home.
The day came. A black Chrysler saloon glided majestically into our thoroughly swept compound one morning with Azubuike behind the wheels and Elo at the passenger seat in front. A neighbor shrieked in happiness and Mother picked up the cry from the backyard rushing to the front yard with open arms. She hugged Elo and held on to him, never letting go as if for fear that he might disappear. In no time, our compound was filled with neighbours come to show their genuine goodwill.
From my stance, I observed my brother. He never looked one bit what I envisioned in my dreams. If anything he looked like a man that coming back from a long retreat in the king’s palace. He looked well- fed, his face was well rounded, devoid of the worry marks that were evident in the pictures he sent. His eyes glowed with healthy contentment and he had a carefree air about him. Could it be that being a prisoner was better than being a free man in Europe, I wondered.
Later that night, I had snuggled beside my big brother on his large bed (Mother had protested that I will bore an already weary Elo, but he had insisted and she had reluctantly let me be) and he we had found the time to talk.
“You are grown up, I hope you are making good grades because I will like to have you go to university in Europe”, he enquired in a weary-laden voice
“Yes, I will go to Europe” I answer “I will make sure I get locked up in a prison for a very long time before I come back to the village looking fine in a big, black car”

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