Let's Tell the Real Story by Theophilus Enemali

Let's Tell the Real Story

                               by Theophilus Enemali

You no longer want us to think that all we hear about America is true or believe that all what we see and hear from the media has any iota of truth. This was coming from you who had told us the sharp difference between Africa and America. You who had always wished to be there, to behold what you had read in books, books laced with sound intellectual dishonesty. You had admired those whom your father said had travelled on the iron bird to fly over several seas for several hours. The few who had gone ahead of you had reported the obvious truth, others made the little truth too colourful till it felt too good to be the truth. But now you want to tell us the real story.

You had never been outside the borders of Nigeria so you couldn't question the stories you had heard. Then one day, you told us the bishop was sending you as a missionary to America, on the request of the Archbishop of New York. We were surprised at first. How does one go to the white man's land on a missionary journey? Did your father not tell us that they brought us Christianity? But you explained that many of them no longer went to the church, you said only the old people among them visited the church often and they always seemed as if they were in a hurry to return home when they did. You also added that many seminaries had been converted to universities because people now preferred being scientists and technologists instead of priests, it was clear this fact made you sad because your face concorted with annoyance while you explained all these to us. But you were to go there and do the best you could, we doubted whether you would make a change or perhaps the change there will change you, time would tell.

A day to your journey, we gathered around you, happy to talk with you before your departure. We were smiling genuinely and happily till Mr Okolo, one of the knights, came and initiated a discourse. We walked away but were within earshot where we could still eavesdrop on your conversation with him. He smiled elaborately as though he was the one going to America. Whenever Knight smiled like that, then something must be in the offing. He had not just come to bid you goodbye but to make some simple and humble requests, he said:

"When you get to America hmm? Please don't forget to be sending dollars once in a while oo, they said there is a lot of money there hehehe!"

You smiled and in your smile there was a concealed thought of how you would make life easier for your people, friends and the less privileged. You thought of initiating a charity organization to help the poor in your parish once you got there. We watched the two of you. We three, Solomon, Chika and I, we had been the altar boys for some few years now. While we watched as you conversed with the knight, we all had a common wish, a wish to exchange our lives with yours, and board the plane en-route America as you would be doing soon. Our Fr. Ejiga was travelling and we would miss you. But it was a childish weird wish that was weightless. If not that you would soon be travelling to America, nobody would have wished to be you. You were never handsome, your flat nose seemed to cover all parts of your face and you were particularly strict, with small smiles that seemed too quick to be real. More so, you already had wrinkles and some scattered grey hair even though you had just celebrated your 35th birthday.

While we waited for you to end your discussion with Knight, an airplane flew past and we remembered our usual childhood plays, waving to imaginary friends on board, looking into the sky to enjoy the wonders of the flying plane. We watched with intent interest and like a sudden swing, Solomon reminded me of the day you punished me. It was a slight mistake I made shortly before the morning mass. I had carelessly poured the remaining altar wine on the floor. I didn't tell you but covered the tiny droplets left in it for the mass. You had always loved your wine to be large, but that morning it was totally different. You gave me a disgusting punishment of emptying the incinerator that was meant to be burnt. While I served the punishment, I insulted you in my mind. I never did that before, perhaps my mind drifted to the ugly side of me. You couldn't even forgive me, I thought, look at your head as tiny as that of a lizard. I wish I could punch your flat nose now. Nonsense!

You were standing so close, supervising my punishment and I suddenly felt that my thought was loud. I wished I could have told you that you were wicked, but you knew I would never dare such, but I felt happy with the unspoken insults, but that is not the real story.

We stood waiting for you to end your discussion with Knight. We admired you even though you paid us no serious attention then. When he left, you called us together, blessed us and gave us only rosaries that we already had and told us that was the only thing you had to give. We wore disappointed looks on our faces and gaped while you zoomed off to your room. The following morning after the mass, you requested for a kind of prayer that seemed strange to us. You said it was summer, that many young American ladies sunbath at the beach nearly natural and in the near exactness of how they were created. You asked us to pray for you for the power to overcome such a temptation. Out of all the prayers you needed, this was the only one you remembered to request and it shocked our innocence unpleasantly. We never knew whether we would say that kind of prayer in faith, we were too small to understand it, but that is yet another story.

We were thankful to you. You were our auxiliary teacher, a term they called those who are not trained teachers. You loved to come to the class with the world map and the globe, you made us learn the names of countries in South America, North America, Australia, Europe. We learnt a lot about the world from you. You loved to talk about America and we never knew that you would travel there someday.

Then the day came, you bade us goodbye with misty eyes and left for America. A day later, you called Knight to inform everyone you had arrived. We were happy and expectant of great things ahead of you and of course ahead of us through you. But it never happened as fast as we thought, then gradually we forgot you. After several months, you decided to write to us, but later failed to do so. The requests from home were seemingly heavy and what you had was too little, so you wrote no one. Then one day, you summoned the courage to  write, You wanted to begin by apologizing for the long silence, that it had not been easy since you came on the mission. But even as you thought, the silence continued, breathless and deep and dead but full of nostalgia and slight shame of which you don't know why. You decided to tell the real story of America. Your mind became crowded with memories but overshadowed by inexpressible frustration which combined to make your rage, your anger against nobody in particular elemental and awe-inspiring.

You just had to write, but first you had to think about what to write. You would begin with the weightless magnificence then swing to the heavy awful shocks. You would tell the real story. You were happy that Americans were hospitable, smiled at you kindly when exchanging pleasantries even when they didn't like you. Loved to help when you lost your way in your new neighbourhood. You felt loved and happy but there was more than meets the eye.

You sat on your bedside table in your room that was luxuriously furnished. The priest residence at Our Lady of Good Counsel Church in Manhattan was built more than fifty years ago and the church over a century ago. The house had brick exterior with a lot of landscaping done. Big windows, garages, big porches, nice driveway and surprisingly to you a swimming pool. It was never your choice to be there but your happiness to serve there soon after your arrival. Archbishop Dolan had written a near sympathetic letter seeking the assistance of a priest from your bishop in what he termed "crisis of vocation" in his diocese. A sort of crisis that seemed way mild and harmless to the world but dangerous to the faith.

Your thoughts rang loud and you wanted to uncover the camouflage that not all Americans own a car, a good house, a university degree, could afford Medicare or even rent an apartment, and truthfully; but shockingly; some of them can't even speak good English in your ear--the kind you wanted us to learn. You remembered when you went to an inner sub division in Manhattan for a mass upon invitation, and the young American of about seventeen had said "The chil'rens are happy to see ya."

You were taken aback, you thought every American spoke good English. You would write that many of them are on loan and they managed to pay their children's fee after every month's deductions. This may not be unpleasant you thought.

Last week you saw a rat and two cockroaches in the kitchen, you never imagined that such will be found in New York. The rat had fierce eyes that were glittering and it was very fat for a rat. You had always believed that such things were only to be found in Africa but here were American rats looking uglier!

When you went to the payphone to load some phone cards, the payphone operator engaged you in an unsolicited conversation and  he asked where you came from and you replied Nigeria, and he asked if Nigeria was in London. You forgave his ignorance mixed with slight arrogance by wearing a fake smile on your face. Then you told him Africa, but he was lost and was trying to impress you after the first awkward guess. He asked if you could speak Africa, and who was the president of Africa but that revealed his little world view to you the more. He had told you his father was bedridden and he couldn't afford to pay his college fee and had dropped out of college after one semester, you pitied and came to terms with his little knowledge. But before now, it never occurred to you that there exists Americans who could not afford to go through college in the late twentieth century. Because it was not reported in the media as with Focus on Africa.

After morning mass everyday which was attended by about eight people only, you would stay at home bored most often, watching little of television then eating and sleeping. You were not used to solitude and you felt suffocated by silence. You wanted to make good friend like those you left behind in Nigeria but it seemed everyone was too busy to recognize your presence, you suddenly felt invisible as though you were losing your voice to the wind.

You went to the nearest high school one Monday morning to see if you could be hired as a Christian Religion Studies teacher, which you were not sure was still being taught in American schools. It was not necessarily because you were bored or you had great flair for teaching but you needed to start making money and sending some of it home, to your poor father who was a retired secondary school teacher and then to your siblings, Ojone and Nugwa who were now at the university. Your younger brother who worked at the state ministry of education had not been paid for six months. The new government had said they were weeding out all the ghost workers and had subjected innocent workers to a long and unending screening exercise which went on for months without salaries being paid. It was quite apparent that you needed additional income.

You walked into the beautifully built high school called "Greenhills Academy" to meet the smallish blond hair and blue eyed man who was the Human Resources Manager. He looked at you with an unspoken hate and gave you a slight silence of a wintry welcome. He had barely finished listening to your request before he said "right now we are not hiring". The look on his face was bereft of courtesy and you felt angry, but you couldn't have been angrier if he had not given a seemingly sympathetic but mockery suggestion of you taking care of his lawn,  doing the family laundry and getting paid. You looked at him disappointedly and told him straight with a face dry of even little smile, " I think I also need someone like you to help take care of the landscaping and do the laundry at the parish house." You were not sure they were your words but you startled the man and walked out of the office without a goodbye.

The stipend you were given by the church was only an upkeep to keep you up. Everyday, you go out in search of little jobs, but what you saw was demeaning to you and you would return home sad. You really wished to tell the real story, that this America is not what people think of it to be in Nigeria.

You have heard of arranged marriage between some Nigerians and American ladies just so the Nigerian could get a permanent residence and work permit. But you are a priest and you would never do that.

You wished to start a graduate programme at the nearby university, but no one would give you a loan, you are not a citizen and it was hard for you to get a scholarship.

Then your overcrowded thoughts became transparently truthful to you. You needed to tell the real story that milk and honey does not flow here as freely as you and many others were made to believe, and that is the real story.

Theophilus Enemali

Meet the Writer

Theophilus Enemali holds a degree in English Language and Literature. He is the author of the novel entitled HOMESICK IN PARADISE. He is currently a post graduate student of Applied Linguistics and English Language Studies. He hails from Ibaji, Kogi State, Nigeria.