A Lion in America
“Nwanku, don’t you miss your family especially around this time of the year?”
“Christmas?” I asked as I bit into the juicy burger. “I do. But I try not to think about it.”
“What do Africans do for Christmas?”
I chuckled. “My uncle and I used to wake up at dawn to slaughter a goat.”
We were sitting at a round table in a fancy restaurant with my workmates and their families. “Honey,” my boss called. “Have you met Nwanku? He’s from Africa.”
I half rose and shook the lady’s hand. “Nice to meet you ma’am,” I said.
“Oh no Nwanku, the pleasure is all mine.” Her eyes bore through me in an inquisitive way. “How did you come to America?”
“I came on a soccer scholarship ma’am.”
“Africa is beautiful. I want to go there some day. Did you see a lot of lions growing up there?”
I laughed at her question. “No ma’am. I grew up in the city.”
“I definitely wonna visit Africa,” she said
with conviction. “I’m sorry about Nelson Mandela. My daughter did a paper about him in school. How many years was he in prison?”
“27 years ma’am. He was a great man.” My voice was coloured with emotions.
“Indeed he was.”
A moment of silence elapsed at the table.
“Hey Nwanku?” Someone called and I looked up. “Do you want another burger?”
“Bring it on,” I said. “I love American food.”
In the middle of a cold American winter, the sun
won a minor battle and Christmas
shoppers bombarded the mall. I strolled through the halls of the mall and watched Americans with a lot of curiosity. They looked happy, holding hands, and yet underneath it all, I detected stress and fatigue. The contradiction of Christmas day was still an enigma to me: people went out of their way with gifts… taking an extra minute and dollar to make sure that they got it right. The carols in the background crowned the unmistakable spirit of Christmas and the giggling children brought a smile to my face.
I got home that evening and took out my family album. And as I turned the pages, I saw them as vivid as yesterday, and heard their voices across the Atlantic Ocean. My sister calling me,” Nwanku, you can’t catch me!”
I was twelve years old and she was ten; a moment
trapped in time. I chased her down the field laughing. She looked back and fell. I caught her just as she was about to hit the ground and we rolled on the grass laughing. “You are the best
brother ever Nwanku,” she said. She turned to look at me and suddenly, she was all grown and beautiful. “Nwanku,” she said in a soft voice. “When are you coming home from America?”
I wanted to give her an intelligent answer. An
explanation that would make the guilt go away, but instead, I sat there and said nothing. I did not know the answer and yet somehow, the question gave me strength in the hard times when my
heart faltered. They were rooting for me… not just my family, but an entire village.
I turned the pages on the album and saw my mum, her face firm in prayer, her eyes strong in belief. The belief that her son would one day come home … that love would in the end find a way. Her prayers had always been strong. Her faith was what had made her a successful mother.
I closed the album and pushed it back in the drawer. The lock clicked and at the back of my mind, the pain of nostalgia was pushed under a rug. It was easier not to remember.
That night in bed, I clasped my right leg to a chain and fell into an unsettling sleep. I was back in Africa playing soccer in the village. “Ball!” I yelled. The ball came faster than I expected and flashed between my legs. Someone laughed as I turned in pursuit. I saw it vanish into the bushes and then bounce farther into the trees. “I got it!” I yelled.
The tall grass parted as I dashed into the forest.
Cold wind blew between the trees and suddenly I noticed something that I had not realized before: the birds were not singing. I froze; half bent to pick up the ball and listened. Something was very
wrong and I could feel goose bumps on the nape of my neck. The ball sat
untouched on the ground.
Crack! A twig behind me. I turned too fast and stumbled. My flailing hands reached out for the nearest tree and I steadied myself. I looked up with panicked eyes and saw the tall grass moving … parting way. Something was rushing towards me! The ball forgotten, I turned in fright and ran like the wind, never once looking back.
I tossed restlessly in my bed; body sweating and
fists clenched. It was happening again! The curtains stirred and moonlight bathed the room. I knelt on the blankets and held my head in my hands. Noooo! I moaned. But I couldn’t stop it. A
canine tooth appeared on each side of my mouth followed by a rush of adrenaline. I landed on the floor on all fours and my toes and nails suddenly turned into claws. “Nooo!” I cried loudly. But it
was hopeless. I couldn’t control it. A gut wrenching pain shot through my body and the back of my shirt ripped open. I felt like my heart would burst. My eyes turned yellow and I dashed for the door.
I never made it. The chain on my leg
yanked me back and I roared in pain. The clouds moved and darkness shadowed the moon. I lay on the floor panting, cold rage sipping through my blood.
Voices in my head. I could vividly hear what they were saying. Nwanku, have you ever seen a lion?
I opened my mouth to answer but words didn’t come out. I wanted to tell them the truth. I wanted to tell them about the relentless creature that haunted my nights.
Another voice. Nwanku, do you miss your family in Africa?
I turned frantically towards the voice and saw no one. My breathing was labored, my head in a vice grip. I sat up in bed and woke up sweating.
Knock! knock! There was someone at the door. I
jumped out of bed and cracked the door
open. It was my friend Mike.
“You ready Nwanku?” he asked.
“Is it 6 o’clock already?” I turned and narrowed my eyes at the clock. “Be right there Mike!” I closed the door before he could see the chain on my leg.
6.30am, Vail Mountains
We drove the four wheel truck deep into the
mountains with Mike behind the wheels.
Conversation was minimal as we were both drowsy with sleep. Mike was born in Denver, a tough young man that I liked. He had lost both his parents and the ordeal had but strengthened him.
“Did you hear the noises last night?” Mike asked as he pushed his blonde bangs away from his eye.
“What noise?” A day old beard on my chin.
“It sounded like an animal.” Mike pulled out a .22 pistol from the glove compartment and double checked to make sure that it was loaded. It was.
The glint of metal made me swallow hard. “No Mike. I did not hear anything last night. Slept like a baby.”
The jeep bounced dangerously on uneven ground. I followed the gun as it slid back into the glove compartment.
“You will see your family soon Nwanku,” Mike said
with a sigh. “I know you miss them
more at this time of the year.”
I nodded and said nothing. I knew the subject of family was sensitive to both of us.
“The truck can’t go any farther,” he said after a while.
We stepped into the howling wind and turned our faces away. Morning fog clung to the air and heavy snow buried our boots. “Stay close Nwanku!” Mike yelled. He knew the grounds like the back of his hand. I, on the other hand had to rely on my jungle instincts.
The wind took the warmth from our bodies and
threatened to push us back. Five hard
looking men joined us and together we pushed deeper into the mountains. “Hold on tight boys!” someone yelled. “We got this!” Lean hard muscles dripped with sweat despite the low temperatures; the pounding of our boots was soft in the snow.
Being from a hot continent, I was freezing. My feet hurt from the cold and I could not feel my fingers. But I clenched my fist and said nothing, the years spent in winter grafted on me. Here in the mountains, we fought and died like brothers. Here in the mountains we were family.
Deep in my conscience, I knew that every step into the mountains was a step closer to home. Goals are what drive us humans to excel. I would get home someday to a green land across the ocean. I would sit under the hot sun and miss the snow. That day would come so help me God. But not yet. Not just yet.
Off to AFRICA
My book A Whisper in the Jungle has been picked by a publishing company and approved by the board. It has been scheduled for release soon.
The music is all around you, all you have to do is listen
Without God, what are we? What do we have? What is life...