Black Boy Review

AS ACHEBE GOES HOME. by Chijioke Ngobili


Again, I repeat, Chinua Achebe hasn’t started; he’s yet to, and that’s why I want to take him on before he does!

Hello ‘Chi’ m bu Achebe? I come to you, my god. I now stare at you lifeless. I’m benumbed with fear, but I want to stand before you and talk to you now without fear. Please, don’t scare me; don’t scare us – who have come to seek thee in your great wisdom and knowledge. Please!
Don’t tell me you never knew the ‘hour’ when you – the ‘son of man’ – will turn to be the ‘man of the sun’. While it was still dark in that hospital, on that bed, with Christie, your wife beside you, on that very 21st night of March, 2013, you knew IT – and you can’t deny IT! You only wrote about it 55 years ago; hiding it away somewhere in the 85th page of your signatorial THINGS FALL APART.
And you said IT most solemnly:
“The land of the living was not far from the domain of the ancestors. There was coming and going between them, especially at festivals when an old man died, because an old man was very close to the ancestors”. Really?!

As at February, 2012 when I sought for your short audience via your progeny – Professor Okey Ndibe, to get a ‘permit’ for what I want to do with your book in future, you asked him to direct me to someone else, because you were ‘very busy’. I didn’t feel good I couldn’t get your own word, but I remained calm. And who am I to get you communicate me at my own convenience? I must be crazy to revolt! “But what could he be ‘very busy’ doing that he’s not done at 81?”, I muttered to myself. In September, 2012, I came to know why you were ‘very busy’. You were ‘very busy’ doing your last work here on earth: “THERE WAS A COUNTRY”. So, you were “coming and going from the domain of the ancestors” struggling to finish up your ‘last work’, weren’t you?
Again, are you going to deny that you were not wishing that you’ll be one of those ‘old men’ when you wrote the above? And are you now a young man lying here before us? Certainly, not! Indeed, an old man you are, and indeed, an old man you died! And as you pre-announced your death, you went further to console us – ‘your venerators’ in advance. Yes, many of us have read it, but it can’t be true that many of us knew it as ‘consolation-in-advance’.
And thus you consoled (still on page 85):

“A man’s life from birth to death was a series of transition rites which brought him nearer and nearer to his ancestors”.

‘Series of transition’ indeed! The exit of you and your family in Lagos when the then Nigeria’s Federal government could not secure the lives of our Igbo (Biafran) people – as you bitterly recounted in ‘THERE WAS A COUNTRY’ – was one of the first series of the transition rites, wasn’t it? Your role as a Biafran envoy, traveling to different countries to sell our cause to the conscientious; the insecurities, risks you took on those journeying, were also part of those series you talked about, weren’t they? And then, you lost your best friend in the ageless soul of the great African poet from Ojoto in Anambra State – Christopher Okigbo. You pulled up by the roadside to absorb the shock on learning of his death from the radio in your car. That was part of the ‘transition series’ you talked about, wasn’t it? And your publishing house in Enugwu (Enugu) city – the then capital of the Eastern Nigeria, was razed down by the Nigerian soldiers. It was part of the series, wasn’t it? And counting still, I remember another which I know. Around the year 1990, you were involved in a motor accident in Oka (Awka) – the capital of Anambra State, and that left you paraplegic till yesterday, the 22nd of March, 2013, as you remained wheel-chaired. Battling to adjust psychologically and physically those days, you must have remembered that that was one of those ‘transition rites’. Am I wrong? And now, the ‘final transition’!

My late Dad was only a half-decade old when you published THINGS FALL APART in 1958. Of all your works, I was only old enough to witness your publication of THERE WAS A COUNTRY. You can imagine me – trying to “take you on”. A little brat. An imp. I’m really crazy, but if that’s what it takes to get close to ‘touching the cloak’ of Chinua Achebe, then, so be it!
Many have written and discussed and dissected your THINGS FALL APART, that I can only be repeating what they’ve said. See, my god, I’m not here to say what they’ve said; I’m here to see what they’ve said and to ‘saw’ out with my own blade, what I’ve seen – about you. And that’s what I mean (meant) by “taking you on”. Like I knew you were going to be on the ‘final transition’, I began ‘taking you on’ from 23rd December, 2012. I began with your “novel for the boys”: CHIKE AND THE RIVER. After I was done with that, I wanted to take you on in THINGS FALL APART, but I ran into a gridlock. It was near-impossible for me to do something close to what I did in CHIKE AND THE RIVER. But as you transited, it was like your spirit re-opened my mind and urged me to pick up the pen, even when I knew not what to write. Yet, I began, and here I am!
Allow me to make a little shift here from the main, but still on your THINGS FALL APART. You have been an avowed critic of the Western imperialists who have lorded and have continued to lord it over Africans. You were no different from same position with Walter Rodney – “that Europe underdeveloped Africa, and that if we were left the way we are, we’d have grown in our own way, done our businesses in our own way, developed our own education/civilization, and would have reformed or corrected the inhuman traditions in our different communities”. This is what I understood from you on page 87 of your THINGS FALL APART, when you made one of your characters, Obierika, to think and consider that. By extension, I’m sure you meant that – if we had remained who we were, over time, positive thinkers will emerge and those inhuman traditions will be deconstructed/abolished/reformed.
And this you wrote on the 87th page of your THINGS FALL APART:

“Obierika was a man who thought about things. When the will of the goddess has been done, he sat down in his ‘obi’ and mourned his friend’s calamity. Why should a man suffer so grievously for an offence he had committed inadvertently? But although he thought for a long time, he found no answer. He was merely led into greater complexities. He remembered his wife’s twin children, whom he had thrown away. What crime had they committed? The Earth had decreed that they were an offence against the great goddess, her wrath was loosed on all the land and not just on the offender”.

In making Obierika think and say these, you told the world that Africans weren’t that inhuman and thoughtless as the Whites had always painted us, and that there’s a chance that inhuman treatments like the ‘killing of twins’ would be stopped – just in a question of time, even without a Mary Slessor.

And now, my dear god, you slept! Fulfilled at the ‘transition rites’ you’ve undergone and at this very final one, I implore you to allow me to keep ‘taking you on’ till I’m through with the works you took on while you breathed. Little wonder why THINGS FALL APART best suited my ‘taking you on’ at this very time. I’ve always held that you’re bigger than yourself, but there’s a chance that you don’t know the depth of your ‘bigness’. I asked in the previous ‘taking on’: “who or what does Achebe think of himself?” I still doubt if you think yourself as godly as we think of you. Still in this same THINGS FALL APART, you already wrote a befitting tribute to yourself, even when you dedicated it to Ezeudu, one of your characters. In the second paragraph of page 86, Achebe wrote:

“The air was full of dust and the smell of gunpowder. It was then that the one-handed spirit came, carrying a basket full of water. People made way for him on all sides and the noise subsided…. He danced a few steps to the funeral drums and then went to see the corpse”. And then, Achebe via the one-handed spirit read what could be seen as his ‘auto-tribute’ 55 years before he demised:

“‘Ezeudu’! He called in his guttural voice, ‘if you had been poor in your last life, I would have asked you to be rich when you come again. But you were rich. If you had been a coward, I would have asked you to bring courage. But you were a fearless warrior. If you had died young, I would have asked you to get life. But you lived long. So I shall ask you to come again the way you came before. If your death was the death of nature, go in peace’… He danced a few more steps and went away”.

Were they not befitting of your personal tribute to yourself if Ezeudu is replaced with Achebe? Of course, they were! Do not shy away. It’s not self-praise, it’s self-worth in acknowledgement. Again, knowing that you’d slip away our hands on the 22nd morning of March, 2013, you predicted and wrote in the first paragraph (page 67) of your THINGS FALL APART about the night before – the 21st night of March:

“The night was impenetrably dark. The moon had been rising later and later every night until now it was only at dawn. And whenever the moon forsook evening and rose at cock-crow, the nights were as black as charcoal”.

Indeed, these nights will be as black as charcoal till you’re laid to rest in the bowels of the mother earth.

If you feel I told you a tribute, my god; it can’t be more than showing you the little I collected from one of the ‘tributaries’ of your oceanic greatness. If you feel I dropped a eulogy, my god; it can’t be more than joining in the doxology of the trinity of Achebe (comprising of Achebe, Achebe, and Achebe). And if you feel that that was an analysis of Achebe’s life; it can’t be more than the genesis of Achebe’s legend, which will only end when the world ends.

With this, my ‘taking you on’ in THINGS FALL APART is done.
And the ‘taking on’ continues, because Chinua Achebe hasn’t started; he’s yet to, and that’s why I want to take him on before he does. I mean: “your legend is yet to start”, you remember? Smiles…

Good night this morning, my dear god!!!

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