By Chukwuemerie Udekwe

Do you know there was a time when civilization equated religion?

Do you remember when God was the centre of all our activities? When we argued about who wore the best and most glamorous of medals, whose dress was taller, and looked prettiest in it? And God is timeless. But men have forcefully chivvied him into the cage of time. And His time is the Past!

Right from time, at least to the extent he could recur about himself, Nnabuife had a dormant mind. Most times, he would sit in silence praying that something, whatever it was, prod his mind into action, like it did to others. Today was a miracle.

“But everything has changed. Everything.” Nnabuife’s mind was winging its way, like a spark over the winds of the Sahara. The farther it did, the more the Sahara seemed boundless.

It was 3. 32 a.m. The introductory hours of the day Nnabuife was supposed to have his first kiss. His first romance. His first clubbing. Sex would come on a later date, perhaps, later in a week – or two. He was determined to take things easy – not to rush them. “I will take things little by little. Poco-a-poco. Petit a petit, l’oiseau fait son nid,” he was saying to himself.

Contrary to the rush of expectation, ecstasy and excitement his friends had told him about, Nnabuife was down with an emotion nearer to tension, his mood awkwardly shivery.

At intervals, his thoughts kept racing to his mother. It was as if she had her hut mounted in an indistinct corner of the dry Sahara. Its shadow cast upon things he could not see. Ugodiya had once called her son in the dead of the night – the point when every ray of light was a raging star, the point when the village witches gathered for their meeting – and told him certain words. She had concluded with the words, “be strong my son, your generation is a difficult one.” Ugodiya had said those words to her son without any obvious reason.

Nnabuife’s mother was vague in speech. She was famous everywhere in the land for her deep connection with words. “Her tongue is golden,” some said. It was like she stitched every piece of language herself, and gave to each word the meaning she liked. The elders envied her. The words she spoke were usually in touch with their ancestors; mirroring the insights of one with competent grey hairs. They envied her because their witty words forerun by feigned coughs could not match the knowledge hidden within her innocuous lips, yet they could not admit her to the council of elders for she was a woman. Nwanyi. A child – our child. She could not urinate while standing.

Nnabuife looked at the clock hanging on the wall of his self-contained room. It was exactly twenty-eight hours to the time his girlfriend, Amaka had accused him of disappointing her. She had accused him of not being man enough. Ever since their relationship, he had never touched her. She alleged that he had not for once made her feel like a woman, but a kid, a juvenile – and at best, a vulnerable adult: her sensuality unripe to be explored. She even insisted that the reason why she had not suggested intercourse to him was because she was afraid he would slip out of shock, then faint and die. And she would be accused of man-slaughter, if not murder.

Kingsley had last time warned him against joining their company again. Unless he would start behaving like a man and begin to take beer. How could he come in the company of men and disgrace them by drinking malt? “The green bottle differentiated men from boys.”

Four days ago, he had spent hours on WhatsApp begging Chioma to forgive him. With assurance, she had sent him something that was supposed to be a joke but ended up annoying him. Nnabuife did not find it funny. What sort of joke would comprise the kissing and smooching of two teenagers, if not obscene? When he criticized that the question he was meant to answer sounded immoral, Chioma accused him of being a prude, and spoiling her fun. Out of anger, she raised the topic of how weird it was for a grown man like him to still be a virgin. If he was impotent, he should kindly say.

Over the radio, on the day their course representative failed to call the lecturer, Nnabuife heard people debate whether it was necessary to have pre-marital sex, or not. Eighty percent stood for it. They called it fun, play, mating. Two-third of the rest that spoke against it did so out of fear of STDs and heartbreak. There was nothing moral about it.

When a certain celebrity recently posed unclad for a cream advert, one of his Facebook friends defended her. She said the celebrity was not nude because she had covered her bosom and genitals with her hands.

The other day, when another celebrity mimicked the nun’s wear with the rosary and cigarette clung to her fingers, many people spoke up for her, calling it creativity.

When he once mustered the courage to ask one of his course mates why she preferred short and filmy dresses, and appearing almost naked on her pre-birthday shots, she had responded, “civilization.” “Everything is civilization,” she said, then concernedly advised him to adapt to it. He was in the twenty-first century.

His mother’s reflective words perched on him, again, “be strong my son, your generation is a difficult one.” And another voice in his head kept insisting, “Be strong, man. You can kiss Amaka. You can go clubbing with Chioma. Taste the beer. Be strong. You are a man!”

Nnabuife’s thoughts continued to go wild. The more he searched for answers within the Sahara, the more he got lost in it.

“Why should beauty and creativity be nude? Does nudity itself rest on the exposure of the nipples and clitoris or on whatever excites the mind into the cesspool of lust and immorality?
If your naked pictures on some photo studio is the best you could give on your birthday aren’t you claiming that nudity is your greatest achievement for the year?

The world has gone funny. Do you know that people take anything outside of God as civilized? They have invented their own words. They call it sex, fun, play, mating and the list and argue if it is worthwhile among the unmarried. They expunge the right word: “fornication” because it annuls the whole argument. Because it becomes self-contradicting. Because it makes the whole answer to the silly question clear. They now call it baby-mama. Then childbirth outside of wedlock seems classy – to be aspired to. Nobody wants to hear about sin anymore. Say it and you become a hypocrite – a pariah. Mummy, do you know that the world has spoilt? Now, I understand those reflective words. I would have preferred your generation? Why is mine so?”

It was 5:45 a.m. The alarm was ringing. Nnabuife looked at the pencil jean trousers he had borrowed the night before, and the pair of nylons Chike had advised him to put on before attempting the borrowed cloth. He switched off the alarm, and went back to sleep.

At exactly 8:23 a.m. Nnabuife was through with bath and breakfast. He walked past the chair where he had left the pencil jean trousers, opened his case, got a pair of plain trousers and slipped into it. Amaka, Chioma, Kingsley and the list could wait the whole day. He was instantaneously heading straight for the village. He might still be back for the kiss. The romance. The beer. Everything.

But first, he would have to ask his mother why the world has spoilt.

“This too, should be under her lips.” He prayed.

He needed answers. Within… Or outside of the dry Sahara.
Out of God’s word, man came
Out of man’s deed, God is gone
God’s was out of nothing
Man’s by everything
Now, man is God
And God is man’s gods
He himself expunged
Demeaned to a primitive sponge
Man seems lonely
While God is alone
Where will both unite? In beauty, creativity, or immorality!

What is civilization for you?

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