May 19, 2018
Three hours had elapsed since we’d arrived at the venue, and yet here we still were, stewing beneath the lights while waiting patiently for the culmination of a year-long odyssey to finally commence. I thought a lot about how my father — who had been an impatient man for all of his life before dying four years earlier — might have reacted if he were sitting here at this moment in time, and chuckled. The fuses on the inside of his eye balls would have been lit and wilting quickly as the fire made its down the lengths of their bodies. He would have quite literally been on the verge of exploding after having been made to wait so long for an event that he was not to keen on attending in the first place.
When he was no longer able to suffer the indignity at being made to sit on his hands for so long, he’d have insisted that we leave. Mom and I, fearing isolation and embarrassment, would have tried our best to assuage him into sticking it out for just a little bit longer. He would have responded to us by tilting his chin toward the ceiling and widening those eyes, cowing the both of us to his will, before storming out of the building with the two of us nipping at his heels.
Dad could not abide people being cavalier about time, and often felt as if he was being disrespected if he showed up early to an agreed upon meeting before everyone else showed up late. And he would not tolerate people stealing his precious time, for reverence for the value of time was an important part of who he was as a man.
I was always a little bit milder mannered about having my time wasted, but I was beginning to think that maybe I should be more like my father in this regard. His genes were my genes after all, which means that I have the potential to exhibit some righteous anger. But I was curious to find out if all of this waiting would be worth it by the end of the night, so I choose to hold my emotions behind a tight smile. Still, I wondered this: Why can’t these things ever start when they are supposed to?
When the clock struck 8:00 I was sitting at a round table draped in purple cloth, with mom and my companion sitting to my right and left flanks, and there were four other strangers at our table who made seven. We were seven of about one-hundred others who had also made an appearance. Almost everyone was dressed up in their “uniforms”, as one person called it. The atmosphere was certainly festive. If not for events like this, it would indeed be rare to see so many Nigerian countryman and women gathered together in one place in their adopted home country. I was starting to become a bit more restless with each passing minute. The sun was beginning to sink beneath the horizon, heralding the oncoming of the night, and there were people still sauntering nonchalantly into the hall as if they were early. When was I going to be able to get home? When the small talk had been temporarily exhausted, I was left to indulge in my thoughts. After a few minutes of silence and observation I’m hit with a sudden realization, and then I whispered it: “It’s over.” I said. “They’ve got you.”
While everyone mingles my mind drifts, this time to a hospital laboratory’s billing office in November of 2014. Ebony Marie, a former schoolmate of mine at Regis and co-worker is about to warn me of an eventual outcome. I was standing at the side of her cubicle when she offered the warning/prediction: “Don’t try to fight what is happening because there is nothing that you can do to stop it. They are going to claim you and you will be one of them for life. In fact, you always have been. Trust me when I say this, Eze. They are going to expect a lot from you going forward. You need to get ready.”
Though spoken in dulcet tones, Ebony Marie’s words were like chalk screeching against the blackboard. For I harbored an intense antipathy towards those people at the time, and was adamant in my resolution to excise them all out of my life once my dad’s body was buried beneath the ground. But now Ebony Marie was confidently predicting that those people were going to remain a constant in my life for as long as I was going to live. It was the worst thing that she’d could have said to me.
Her words left me deathly afraid because Ebony Marie had intricate knowledge and insight into the topic of which she spoke. I’ve coined a term for it: First Generation African Americanism. And there are only so many First-Generation African Americans in this country called America, so knowledge of this type can be classified as esoteric, or even prescient if you were like Ebony Marie. Ebony Marie is the daughter of an African man with roots ingrained in Senegal, a country that is located along Africa’s west coast. My father and mother were born and raised in Nigeria before arriving in the United States thirty-eight years prior. Like Senegal, Nigeria is situated along the western region of the “dark” continent. The overwhelming majority of the people who live in both countries are black, a fact that would lead the ignorant and uninitiated to the preposterous conclusion that people with lineage in both countries are all the same. We are not of course. Though I didn’t know about much my roots then as I do now, I had a rudimentary grasp of the history of our countries. For example, I knew that Nigeria had been a British colony and Senegal had been occupied by the French. And so, Nigerians counted English as one of their spoken languages while the Senegalese incorporated the language of the French into their multilingual repertoire. I won’t go into much more detail on the innumerable differences that exist between the two peoples.
Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians and Senegalese people have migrated to the United States in search of the dream that only America is capable of providing. These immigrants have obtained education and employment, bought houses and cars, raised children and contributed to the ongoing prosperity that their adopted country enjoys. Many have taken the sacred oath that certified them as naturalized citizens of the United States. These African immigrants are also Americans, but they remain inextricably tied to the countrymen and women who were left behind. These naturalized American citizens occupy the role of the rising tide, committed to making sure that that the fortunes of their country men and women rise with the tide. It is the naturalized American citizen’s responsibility to inform their American born children of the duty that will soon be passed down onto them. Ebony Marie was putting me on notice. My time would soon come.
Ebony Marie had offered her warning as my father was withering away in hospice care, and at the end stages of succumbing to a renal failure that had been made more potent by an aggressive multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable blood cancer. I was balancing having to learn the ropes at a new job — which had taken me six months to find — and making preparations for my father’s imminent demise. The incalculable stress of having to manage those two momentous events concurrently was amplified by the intense negotiations that my mother and I were having with my extended family over where my father would be ultimately laid to rest. After finally arriving at a “compromise” that was basically one-sided — he would be buried in his ancestral home, seven thousand miles away from his children — we held the first of two sendoffs at the local funeral home.
There was a reception held in separate building a few minutes after we’d payed our last respects, where sumptuous food was served and somber conversations were taking place between mourners, most of whom were dressed in their black finery. I sat at the most prominent table with my mother and my two sisters. We were all dressed from head to toe in black, still steaming mad over the priest’s late arrival to the service. My sisters and I thought that a priest arriving late to my father’s funeral was ironic at best, and offensive at worst. But we were able to hold onto our composure while we were being consoled by American and Nigerian mourners alike. Near the end of the reception I was directly approached by a mourner who was about my age, a stranger dressed in black and gold. He sat to the right of me and introduced himself as Thomas.
Thomas was an animated conversationalist, a man who had not allowed a funeral dampen his spirit. He spoke fast and loud and direct, with wide expressive eyes, and the thick accent that was characteristic of most of the Nigerians in the room. I didn’t speak much, just listened and nodded as he spoke on issues that were not related to my father’s death. He spoke of the future that he would be involved in, and it was a future that he was sure would require my participation. He placed a large hand on my arm. “You are from Amaigbo and I am from Amaigbo. We are brothers, and you have other brothers and sisters that will claim you now. You belong to us and we belong to you. We belong to each other, okay? We will be seeing each other a lot in the next few years.”
I was already bitter from having had to reluctantly travel along the path that had brought me to this point: mourning a dead father, floundering at a new job, feeling powerless. Thomas suggested that I join a path that he’d built his life upon, one that would offer a cure for my aversion to the culture — my father’s original culture. “Our culture” is how they referred to their archaic and constrictive norms and traditions. Everything related to my father’s passing and its aftermath would have to be observed in accordance with these centuries’ old norms and codes. Father’s body had to be buried seven thousand miles away in his ancestral home where he would receive a “proper” burial, mom was going to have to shave her head clean in the next few weeks and wear black attire every day for the next year, and one of the children(usually the first son) was going to have to accompany my father’s body — already six weeks dead — to Amaigbo and attend the second funeral. And now here comes this guy, who up until a few minutes ago was just an anonymous stranger to me, telling me that I was going to have to accept being swallowed up and devoured by this culture? Yeah, right my brother. There is no fucking way that I’m ever going to be belong to you. Maybe Ebony Marie and the others like her had been able to make their peace with having their lives annexed by strangers. But I wasn’t going to allow that it to happen to me. It was already exhausting enough having to grapple with the ramifications and responsibilities of being a natural born American black man with Nigerian lineage. I wasn’t willing, nor ready to shoulder the additional responsibilities that came with being a descendant of a town long considered as “the cradle of Igbo civilization”.
I wished that simply acknowledging the Nigerian aspect of my identity would have been enough for satiate their demands. But it wasn’t enough just to assert my ancestral heritage, or say that I was proud to be a descendant of Igbo ancestry — I wasn’t ashamed of my ancestry, just repelled by it at that point in time. This was especially true of my mother, who in the months following my dad’s demise, consistently stressed how important it was for me to make myself accessible to members of the Igbo community in Denver, and to belong to something bigger than myself.
“Your father was a loner after a while, withdrew himself from everyone else,” she said. “The others complained all the time of not knowing him anymore. We were isolated, cut off from the other Amaigbo people. And I think that the others were distrusting of us because of it. I don’t want that for us anymore. I don’t want it for you.”
“What’s wrong with being a loner?” I said, shrugging. “I like being alone. I am better by myself than I am hobnobbing with people that I don’t really know.”
“Well I don’t like it,” she said. “We are going to register you with the ATU (Amaigbo Town Union).”
“What?! Why? I am already a member of the UDU (Umuduroah Union)! Now you want me to become a member with ATU? There is no freaking difference between the both of them. It’s just a bunch of people coming together to talk shit and eat.”
“No, it’s not,” she said tersely. She was upset now. “Do not say that. There is a lot more to it than that.”
Now I was upset. “I don’t want to do it. I don’t!”
She signed. “Look Eze,” she said. “Think about the tree. Remember you told me the story about that presentation you saw. Think of yourself as the tree. You don’t want to be the only tree somewhere. Do you? It’s time for you to join another group of trees. Perhaps you will find another tree to connect with and then sow some seeds.”
“Here we go with the marriage thing again,” I said rolling my eyes.
“Well you should be thinking about, right? How old are you now? Thirty-nine?”
“Mom. I’m a very big tree who has been able to survive mostly alone for thirty-nine years,” I said. “Daddy was able live his life without any interference from anyone. Why can’t I do it the same?”
Mom is a diminutive woman, standing about half an inch over five teeth and weighing one-hundred thirty pounds. I was over six feet tall and weighed over two-hundred fifty pounds. I cast a shadow over her while she looked up at me. “You are a big and strong tree. You have big arms. Big legs. A big heart,” she replied. “You are resourceful and apparently as stubborn as he was. You are like him in so many ways, and I am grateful for that. But I don’t want you to be alone anymore like he was. I want you to thrive as part of a forest full of trees.”
My mom dragged me to my first ATU (Amaigbo Town Union) meeting in October 2016, which would commence about two hours after the prescribed starting time. Late again. There were about a dozen other Igbo Nigerians — all very well dressed — that were wedged in between the four walls that encompassed the living room of my uncle Victor’s house. The others visitors greatly approved of our being there, saying “that we’d done the right thing” by coming, and that the people back home (Amaigbo) would also approve of our making an appearance at this meeting. The atmosphere was lively, the conversations flowed easily like water in a stream. I could tell that everyone was happy to be there, except for me, and for a variety of reasons. I was the only one there who was unable to skillfully veer in between the two languages that were being spoken — Igbo and English — and I was extremely insecure and uncomfortable since I was the lone monolinguist in the room. I made sure to stay tethered to my mother, who’d suddenly morphed from reticent to gregarious social butterfly.
The ATU meeting would begin exactly as all of the others did: with a prayer and a traditional welcoming ceremony involving the Kola Nut, a type of bitter fruit that descends from a kola tree. The Kola nuts were sliced open, cut into two halves, and then placed on the saucer. The saucer was passed to the most senior Amaigbo in attendance — a large and bespectacled man name Cletus, who was also my “uncle” — who performed a blessing of the kola nut before all of the witnesses. My other uncle’s — I have great number of uncles not of my blood — teenaged son would step forward, take the saucer from the eldest Amaigbo, and then offer the kola nut to the chairman (Thomas). After Thomas bit into his slice of the nut the young man would offer the nut to the rest of the attendees. I waved the boy away when he offered me a slice. Kola nut was too bitter for me. There were snacks and drinks — soda, water, and wine — that had been placed on the circular table for consumption. Dinner would be served near the end of the meeting.
The meeting would be governed by the three stapled pieces of paper that we’d all be given. I scarfed down some peanuts and cashews as the other Igbos in the room ran through the agenda items. Not too much was expected of me on that day other than the payment of the sixty-dollar membership fee, which after proffering, immediately cemented my inclusion into this small group of people who’d counted the Amaigbo township in Nigeria as their ancestral home. Momma was insistent that we shouldn’t stay for dinner, even after numerous entreaties by my uncle’s wife. Nigerians are a persistent bunch though; they will eventually wear you down through a combination of assiduity and charm, a superpower that most of us are born with. Mom and I were nearly at the stairs when the hostess called out, stopping our forward momentum. The hostess spoke in a mellifluously accented voice: “At least let me prepare something for Eze to eat before you both leave.” She was looking directly at me now. “I promise that you will enjoy it when you taste it.”
The kitchen was situated a few feet north of the stairwell. The aroma that was floating from the kitchen and tickling the inside of my nostrils was putting me in a trance. I inhaled long and deep, and felt the aroma slowly massage my air passages as it made its way through. What was it that I was smelling? There was definitely some spicy chicken mixed in with the aroma, perhaps some jollof rice, and some thick and juicy slices of golden-brown plantains. My stomach was rumbling. It was about 7:OO pm and I wasn’t really in the mood to wait until after I’d returned home to satiate my hunger. And I didn’t want to seem rude by refusing the food that the hostess was offering. “Sure, I’ll take some food with me,” I said. Akuwgo — Akuwgo was the name of the cook — and I both turned to my mom, who was standing next to me.
She sighed and smiled sheepishly. “Okay. Okay. I’ll just wait for you over here by the stairs.”
Hot air from the pots and skillets pervaded every inch of the compact kitchen, causing all of us to perspire. I stood next to Akuwgo as she stuffed copious amounts of rice, chicken, and a spinach and shrimp mixture into a large plastic container before capping the mixture with a bright red lid. She passed the plastic container to me. I winced a bit since it was hot to the touch. She titled her chin upwards and patted me on the shoulder. “Keep the dish for yourself, Eze. Okay? We will see you at the next meeting.”
She seemed so sure, but I was confident of another outcome, one that had me skipping more meetings in the future. Next time? Really? I doubt it. But, okay.
The next meeting was held three months later, which I attended. Then there was another one held three months after that, and then another meeting three months after that, and so on. I was attending all of the meetings, even the ones that took place over the phone. Meetings were usually held at the houses of different ATU members, and my responsibilities grew with the passage of each meeting. When it was finally time for my mother and I to host a meeting, the responsibility for opening the meeting fell onto my inexperienced shoulders.
April 15, 2018
When it looked like everyone was about settled, I grabbed the sixty-four-ounce bottle of Verdi Wine from the kitchen table with both of my hands and walked over to the living room where everyone was gathered. I stationed myself just in front of the cylindrical wooden table, and waited patiently for the conversations to stop. I rehearsed what I was to supposed to say in my head as I waited. “Brothers and sisters. This is kola(welcome). We welcome you to our home.” Wait? Is this how I was supposed to say it? I ran through it a couple of more times, eyeballs wheeling themselves along the inside of my eye sockets, before everyone became silent. I inhaled a breath and attempted eye contact with the guests with whom I had the best rapport — my two uncles — but I could also feel that every pair of eyes, including my mother’s, were focused on me.
I proffered the bottle of Verdi with both of hands. “Brothers and sisters,” I said. “This is kola. My mother and I would like to welcome you all to our home.”
Everyone was smiling, but something deep down inside was telling me that I’d ended too quickly. So, I decided to continue. “We wish great blessings upon the ATU and all of it’s members too.” Then I hastily handed the bottle of Verdi over to the oldest Amaigbo in attendance — my uncle Cletus again — bowed slightly and then scurried off to sit in the last remaining chair in the kitchen area amongst the children, relieved that my time in the sun was over.
“Thank you Eze for that gracious welcome,” said my uncle, nodding. He then switched from English to Igbo as he performed his blessing with the wine before all of the assembled guests.
After the actual kola nut was sliced, distributed to the assemblage of people, and eaten, the meeting was brought to order. There were many topics that were apparently worthy of discussion, all of which were offshoots of the central reason for why everyone had converged at my house on that Sunday evening: The first ever and upcoming Amaigbo Inauguration Gala in Denver Colorado.
I wanted to very much soak in the conversation that was being had by the adults, but the young children — angel faced and cherubic beings ages three to eight — were full of a robust energy that could not be contained. All throughout the meeting the four of them were causing a ruckus, talking and laughing at each other with high pitched voices, banging fists and toys on the dining room table, and finally chasing each other around the kitchen when they felt so inclined. Their parents made attempts to discipline the youngsters, but their focus on planning for the inauguration limited the efficacy of their chiding and exhortations for respectful behavior. So, the children kept on rampaging incessantly through the kitchen without fear of repercussions from their caregivers. The intensity of commotion increased with the passing second. I turned to my mother, who was horrified at the sight of rambunctious children running amok. The two of us sighed and shook our heads from side to side, resigned to the prospect of a long clean-up period after everyone left for the evening. We both desperately wanted to discipline the children, but were mindful of consequences that might arise from our actions. We didn’t want to offend the sensibilities of parents that were in attendance, so we mostly held our tongues in between our teeth while our eyes darted back and forth from the children to each other.
After dinner I was handed a packet of brochures by the group’s treasurer. I must admit that I was surprised at how professional the cards looked. It was through the brochures that I gained some valuable insight into what this inauguration was about. In addition to being a commemoration of the ATU (Amaigbo Town Union) in Denver, it was also act as a fundraiser for a school in Amaigbo, Nigeria. These people were serious. I caught the treasurer staring at me with bugged eyes as I flipped through each one of the cards.
“Can you pass those cards out Eze?” said the treasure. “Please pass them out to everyone that you know. We want as many people to come as possible.”
I responded. “I think that I’ll be able to do that. I know a whole lot of people that I can invite to this. I’ll make sure to pass out as many cards as I can. In fact, you can toss me some more just in case I need them.”
May 19, 2018
It turns out that I was comfortable inviting one special person to the Inauguration. I’d met Dana about three years ago in a turbo kick boxing class, and we quickly cemented a friendship. My reasons for inviting Dana to the Colorado Amaibgo Inauguration event were manifold. I knew that I could count on her to show up after initially committing; I knew that she would able to network effectively with strangers if called upon to do so; and I knew that she would be able to immerse herself into a culture with which she was no too familiar while also remaining true to what defined her.
Dana and I were having dinner at La Sandia’s Mexican restaurant a few months prior to the event when I reached across the table and touched her caramel colored right arm and gasped. Her skin was as soft and supple as anything I’d ever touched in my entire life. After marveling at her skin for a full minute I took my hand away, leaving finger indentations on that spot where my fingers had been. My God, her skin was flawless. It looked like it’d been polished, which gave her skin a sort of lacquered finish.
She sat at my left flank while we waited for the inauguration to begin. She had previously assured me that she was fine with having to wait for so long, but I was still anxious because she really was doing me a favor by showing up. She wore this patterned summer dress that left her arms and calves exposed. Her beautiful skin shined underneath the lights, as did her eyes, fingernails, and teeth. Her perfect head was framed by thick, wavy, and luscious brown and black hair. The black parts of her hair were as dark as crow feathers. There were a few visible gray strands of hair that streaked through her flowing mane. She reminded of the magi, female sorcerers who were capable of committing great magical acts.
Anyone that happened to wander into our orbit, male or female, had to stop what they were doing when they saw Dana. They were intensely curious about the mystery woman who wore the summer dress with no sleeves. When a bespectacled middle-aged man approached our table, I had to brace myself for what was coming. I caught him staring at Dana before he turned his attention to me. He smiled and then reached out a hand to shake mine and asked, “Is this your wife, Eze? Hah. This is she?”
I felt myself blush, the heat rising to the tip of my ears. “No. No, No,” I said with a wave of my hand. “She is not my wife. She is a friend of me. Her name is Dana.”
He then turned to Dana. “It is very nice to meet you.” You are a very beautiful woman. Very beautiful indeed.”
Dana, who as I said, was well versed in the art of networking and socializing, knew how to receive this compliment. She smiled, revealing two rows of pearly white teeth. “Thank you very much. And it is like he said. We are just very good friends.” She extended her hand. “What is your name?”
When he’d finally left the table, I leaned in her direction. “I’m so very sorry for that. Thank you again for coming with me and for putting up with everything.”
“It’s really okay Eze,” she said. “I don’t mind it at all. Considering what you’ve told me, I was kind of expecting this to happen. I mean, here you are sitting next to a woman that they’ve never seen before. It’s natural for them to have questions.”
“That may be true, but I still owe you big time for this.” I said. And I know a great way for me to repay you for what you are doing. I’m taking you out for biscuits at the Denver Biscuit Factory next week. It’ll be on me.”
She smiled. “You know that I’m always down for biscuits from the factory.”
“It’s settled then.”
Yes. Dana definitely stood out. And yet, she wasn’t the only individual in the room who was capable of commanding the attention of strangers with her appearance. Dana was the rose that grew amongst the daises, but the daises were beautiful and unique in their own ways. In fact, nearly everyone who’d decided to show up for the inaugural event was praiseworthy. The sons and daughters of Amaigbo, me included, were dressed in what is called “modern traditional Igbo attire”. Modern Igbo attire is influenced by western civilization. And when I say western civilization, I mean the Europeans who colonized Nigeria for the better part of the twentieth century. The men wore embroidered Isiagu shirts with trousers, and ceremonial title holders’ hats. The women wore puffed sleeved blouses and head wraps — The Yoruba call these head wraps geles. When worn the right away, modern traditional Igbo attire can greatly enhance the profile of the person who wears it. The clothes were colorful, shimmery, and intricate in their construction. We all looked like we were descended from a royal line of ancestors, and were encouraged to strut as if it was so.
After the opening prayer was completed, the inauguration’s emcee, a smooth-talking tall man donning what looked to be a white Stetson cowboy hat, requested that we all stand for the rendition of the Nigerian national anthem. It would be my first time hearing the anthem played, but as the anthem of my father’s ancestral home blared from the over sized black speakers, I imperceptibly swayed from side to side, anticipating its end. There was no extra thumping of the heart or tingling of the spine. It was just another national anthem, a tool, albeit a necessary one, that is used to engender what is often a sense of unity amongst a people. I furtively scanned the faces of the other people in the room. They were stoic and proud. When the music stopped, the emcee stepped forward and brought the microphone to his mouth. “Now it is time for us to play the American national anthem. Everyone, please remain standing. It is important that we honor the country that has heaped so many blessings upon us.”
When the American national anthem played something actually did stir within me, a mixture of anger, disillusionment, and genuine surprise. It was completely involuntary, a reflexive reaction to what the playing of this anthem had come to represent. The recently elected president, Donald Trump, had twisted the anthem’s meaning, and now it was a tool used by white nationalists to divide and conquer. Trump’s immigration policies were designed to keep most of the people in the room from entering the country. Again, I sneakily scanned the faces of the other people in the room. They remained stoic and proud. After the music faded, signaling for us to sit down in our chairs, the teenaged sons and daughters of Amaigbo offered kola nuts to everyone in attendance.
The main job of the emcee was to coordinate and manage the agenda, of which I was to be an active part. There were ten items listed on this agenda. The emcee would spend a couple of hours shepherding us through the first seven items — ATU-CO President’s Welcome Address, Chairman’s Opening Remarks, Introduction of ATU-CO Members, Dinner, Interlude, Opening Remarks by Chief Fundraiser — before we arrived at agenda item number eight, which was referred to as the “Dance, Dance”. I was given a ceremonial red scarf to wear during the lead up to this event, which I let drape down my right arm as I made my way over to the procession line of ATU-CO members. While we waited for the music to propel our procession line toward the dance area, I had another thought: I’d wanted nothing to do with any of this stuff four years ago. And now here I was, dressed in a flashy uniform, an integral part of ATU Inauguration items eight and nine. You really never know where life might ultimately take you.
Other sons and daughters of Amaigbo joined in on the dancing once we stepped onto the makeshift dance floor. It wasn’t long before nearly every square inch of the floor was occupied. I have to admit that I was unsure of how my dancing would be received by the others, but there was no judgement, only encouragement and approval. I was having a very good time dancing. And as we shuffled our feet, shook our butts from side to side, and shimmied our shoulders to the music, all who were standing in observance and/or dancing started flipping one-dollar bills at dancers as recompense for their efforts. It wasn’t long before one-dollar bills were raining down on us like hundreds of leaves from trees. Little girls carrying plastic bags scurried onto the floor and used their little hands to vacuum every available dollar bill from the floor, and then scampered off. The children handed bags stuffed with money over to a waiting adult, who would store the bags in a safe area away from prying eyes. It was a substantial amount of money that had been collected, perhaps one-thousand dollars or so. These copious amount of one-dollar bills would soon be funneled to awaiting countrymen in Amaigbo, who would then be responsible for purchasing the necessary supplies and manpower that was needed to construct the roof of the primary school.
The second opportunity to raise some funds for the school involved my somewhat reluctant mother. Shy and insular by nature, mom would have preferred not having to dance in front of hundreds of strangers. But everyone would have noticed and been disappointed if she’d not participated in the dance. For she was one of the female members of the Colorado faction of the Amaigbo Town Union, dressed in the same blouse and gele combinations that were worn by her sisters, and thus an integral part of agenda item number nine: “The Amaigbo Women Dance”
As mom inserted herself into the procession of Amaigbo women, I happen upon another revelatory moment: the next few moments should to be captured and preserved for posterity. I raised myself up to my full height, pulled my cell phone from my pants pocket and got ready to film the highlight of the night for me, a moment in history for the entire Ihenetu family. I’d lived forty-one years and my sisters, who lived out of town, were in their mid to upper thirties, the adult children of an amazing mother who we had never seen dance before this night. We were a few seconds away from amending this unfortunate fact of our lives, and I was vibrating with anticipation of what was soon to come.
While she danced mom was careful not to allow herself to let go. Unlike the other women, who vigorously gyrated and gesticulated while waving white doilies, shook their backsides from side to side, and generally let the music take over their bodies, mom steadfastly maintained her independence from the music. I attributed a major portion of mom’s reticence to her inherent shyness, and the other portion to prevention. Mom, who was on the threshold of age sixty-five at the time, is aging, and her bones are getting thinner and more brittle with age. She didn’t want to risk breaking a bone from falling, so she kept herself self-contained. But she was still dancing, smiling, and waving her white handkerchief from left to right as the dollar bills fluttered down around her and onto the floor for three minutes. So, I continued to film the miracle until she stepped off of the wooden tiled floor. I immediately shared the video with with my sisters, who instantaneously replied their approval through texts and emojis. We wouldn’t have thought that this was possible four years ago. If only my father had been alive to see one of the reasons why we waited three hours for this event to start.
It was nearly midnight when the coming of the agenda item that I’d been dreading was confirmed by the emcee: the fundraiser. There wasn’t going be much organization to it, nor would any of us be afforded the luxury of being able to contribute privately to the cause. As my stomach was flip-flopping from nervousness, I performed another hasty reconnaissance of the room. Not one person had opted to leave the premises before then, which accelerated the pace of my stomach’s twist and turns. So many people were dressed in “uniforms” that were meticulously stitched together, embroidered with patterns that were also intricate, iridescent, and colorful. Some fitted jewelry around their fingers, wrists, and necks that sparkled and shined.
My uncle Cletus, dressed in an all brown combination trimmed in gold, had been granted an honorable distinction earlier in the night. He was the Amaigbo Number One in Colorado now, the first one ever to be named in my home state. It was a great honor for him to be named as the preeminent Amaigbo, for it was a title that garnered a huge amount of respect and admiration for its keeper. After the emcee opened up the floor for bids, it was my uncle Cletus who used his ridiculously ornate cane to stand up first. He said something in Igbo and then switched to English when he was ready to announce. “I want to pledge fifteen-hundred dollars to the cause.”
There were applause for the Amaigbo Number One after he’d made his pledge. The emcee, eager to build on the momentum generated by my uncle, continued calling for more bids when the applause began to wane. “Go ahead brothers and sisters,” he exclaimed excitedly. “Just call out your bids. Call them out! Who is next?”
Mom and I stared each other, eyes wide with panic. I read her mind and quickly surmised that her thoughts were one with mine. We had come to this event with the expectation that we were going to have to part ways with one hundred, or possibly two hundred dollars if we were feeling generous, which would have been very painful. But I was not prepared for someone to light up the atmosphere with a fifteen hundred-dollar pledge.
The next bid came from my uncle Victor, who promised that one thousand-dollars would come from his family. Someone immediately followed his pledge with a twelve hundred-dollar promise. And now the air on the inside of the hall was on fire crazy pledge donations, as was the blood that was furiously pumping through me.
“Mom, there is no way that we are going to give away one-thousand dollars tonight,” I said through a hiss. “I just want you to know that.”
“And I don’t expect us to either,” she replied, her brow furrowed. “We are not going to pledge more than we need to.”
The bidding continued and I became increasingly anxious.
“Then how much should we give then? I don’t want to come off as being cheap in front of everyone.” I turned my attention to my uncle Cletus, who was sitting with leadership behind a draped tabled atop the wooden platform. I then turned back to mom. “I thought that you told me that he drove a cab for a living before he retired. How the hell is a seventy-one-year-old former cab driver able to afford to give away fifteen-hundred dollars like it is nothing?!”
Mom laughed and said, “Remember that I told you he was a supervisor and that his wife owns a daycare center.” She reached out her hand and touched my shoulder. “Calm down now. We’re still going to contribute what we can, but let’s just hold off for a while until things start to cool down. It will be okay.”
She was right that things would eventually start to settle down, but it wasn’t by that much at first. Every time the emcee would turn to someone and offer the individual the microphone, that person would announce a contribution which consisted of many hundreds of dollars. I could feel my throat tighten with each new announcement.
I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown when someone called out an amount I did not expect: forty dollars. I collapsed into my chair. Relieved, I turned to my mother, who gave me a knowing look. I exhaled and offered the universe my thanks.
We ended up contributing a few hundred dollars, a small fraction of the tens of thousands of dollars that were raised, but more than what we had originally planned to offer. Our contribution would end up being more than enough though — many offered less than fifty dollars, a few opted against proffering any amount. Once these pledges were manifest as checks, they would be combined with the one-dollar bills that were collected beforehand, and sent to Nigeria.
I danced once more with Dana before escorting her to her car and kissing her — on the cheek — goodbye for the evening. I walked into the kitchen area afterward, where a dozen or so of the remaining Amaigbos were conducting a robust clean-up of the area. Left over food and drinks were being discarded into bins, equipment was being loaded into the back of expensive suburban vehicles, and final salutations were being exchanged. It was two o’clock in the morning and I was more than ready to start for my own home. That was until Thomas discovered where I was amongst all the bustle. He reached out his hand for me to take, a big grin encompassing the whole lower half of his face. For he had been the main engine for an ATU inauguration that had succeeded beyond the groups’ wildest imaginings.
“Can we count on you to help with cleaning,” he said, while shaking my hand.
I wanted to say no, but instinctively knew that it would not be wise to do so. I sighed heavily. “Sure, I can. What do you need me to do?”
“I will tell you soon.”
I nodded. Is that all?
“Eze,” he said. “Son of Peter. May God rest his soul. You did very well tonight.”
I brightened up at that. “Thank you for that.”
“You’re welcome, Son of Amaigbo.”