THE GENEALOGY OF FEAR
I didn't intend to bring you into this, but midway through the first draft, your presence was the breath in my nostrils. And to expel life into this creaky rant, I needed to keep calling your name— no, nothing will change at the end of this, but I have something to tell you. A secret I've stashed deep beneath my eyeballs, the silence a mother's stare has never punctured. "Son," was what you called me when you desired to look into me. "It is fine" was the conclusion you made whenever you searched but found nothing. But it will all change now. So, Mama, listen.
You know how disgraceful this sounds: a foolish poor man withdrawing his phallus just before he can pour libations over Venus's altar. His woman asks him why he cut things short, and he moans, “What if this retrieves more than one little thing from heaven? How do I take care of them…?"
Our elders often say, “O n sun le dé ikú"—you're sprawling on the ground and waiting for death. They say this whenever they chide cowards who hate to seize their future by the horns. Mama, you liked to quote them, but you never thought to poke this quote in my face.
I've died many times since you brought me forth. Yes, I've died like every other coward. I've been pummelled on the head. Over. Again. Over. Again. But, see, if it were possible for a man to seize a mace and crush his own head, I'd swear I killed myself in the same manner.
You don't know, but I've always feared the future. You don't know because I'm perfect at hiding, perfect at pretending, misleading. How could I let you know that the idea of reaching the stars made me shiver? Say, in our tradition, isn't he mocking his ancestors—the man who walks the path to celibacy?
Mama, at 8, when I was the apple of your eye, I panicked so loudly, but you couldn't even hear an echo—yes, because I didn't want you to hear. And I wondered: what if the time comes when I'm about to become a man and I bawl and scream and yowl in terror. Would you hear me then? No, you wouldn't, because the walls around me have always been soundproof. Remember the myth of the cat-turned-tiger? Why did you raise a snake and think it would become a dog? No, no, you didn't know. You thought I was a puppy.
Mama, do you remember all of my examinations? No, do you know what happened before them? How I melted, thinking about how scary the questions would be? How this happened even during my college exams? How I prayed that the world would end before the time to cross bridges would come? Maybe the heavens laughed at me back then. You know, the host of heaven stopping still, God easing up their dragon throne, arms akimbo, the sacred twenty-four elders halting their eternity-long worship—all to process my foolish prayers. I never expected that I'd be sitting at the top of the leaderboard after my exams. I'd floored everyone and sported the wreaths. And you saw only these results because I'd shoved the darkness down my throat. It remained as a lump in there—impossible to spit out or swallow.
Mama, step out into the barren night. Gaze into the vast inky blackness called sky. There is only one moon– a terribly thin, waning orb that shines its little light after the sun has dominated the earth. Nothing is clear under this sky. Even the waning moon is a silhouette of itself. Did you not bring me forth on a night as sick as this? Did God intend to hide me from the light? Why are there daring ones and hiding ones? What game is God playing?
No, Mama. Can the serpent be afraid of a worm? Why did you not rip me open or squeeze out my fears before my eyes opened, before I learned how to hide? Have you ever watched the moon straddle the sun and snuff out its light? The pastor said they both came from the mouth of God. Let there be light—and there were two lights. Two lights to spell out a fate. What about water in the belly of a fire? Did fire drink your water, mistaking it for fuel? With such a design… how can I burn?
You didn't know. I held up a burning stick when you gazed at me. You saw flames on the torch and thought it was mine—how could I tell you I had water in my bosom? It was hard to show you a mask.
Mama, I've been replicating the strength with which you brought me forth. Babies aren't born when their mothers dream. They pop out after their mothers holler, veins popping out like cords. That night, didn't you think you would die? Didn't you scowl at the waning moon, fearing that you would wilt away before I could rear my head? Yet you kept pushing. Maybe you pushed all the fear into me. Was that why I cried after seeing the world? No, it's fine, since you did it to save both of us.
But you know, Mama, that I am strong. If you could cry at childbirth and earn the title 'strong woman', then what about me who must not cry despite all this weight? What about me who has swallowed our fears? They have stayed inside me just like I stayed inside you. You screamed and hollered and growled it all out!
I don't want to cry. But by the time you read this, Mama, I will be a mother. And when I come as a man, I won't be a man who worries and withdraws. I will spurt it all out. Let the babies come.
Elisha Oluyemi won the 2022 Lagos-HCAF Writing Contest (Prose) and came 1st runner-up in both the Shuzia 2021 Short Story Contest (2nd Ed.) and the 2022 Flash Fiction Contest. He co-edited the PROFWIC Crime Fiction Anthology, Vol 1. Elisha has writing in journals, including Bitchin' Kitsch, Mystery Tribune, Brittle Paper, SprinNG, Hotpot Mag, Hooghly Review, Iris Youth, Entropy, African Writer, Salamander Ink, Erato, Neurological, Kalahari, Nymphs, Shallow Tales Review, Sledgehammer, and elsewhere. He writes in the psychological and literary genres.