Everything Good Will Come

BOOK: Everything Good Will Come
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Everything Good Will Come

Everything Good Will Come

Sefi Atta

An imprint of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.
Northampton, Massachusetts

For my dearest, Gboyega, and our sweetest, Temi

First published in 2005 by

An imprint of Interlink Publishing Group, Inc.
46 Crosby Street, Northampton, Massachusetts 01060

Copyright © Sefi Atta, 2005

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of
the publisher.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Atta, Sefi.
Everything good will come / by Sefi Atta.
p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-56656-570-7 (hard-cover)
1. Female friendship-Fiction. 2. Women-Nigeria-Fiction.
3. Social classes-Fiction. 4. Nigeria-Fiction. I. Title.
PS3601.T78I5 2004


Printed and bound in Canada by Webcom

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rom the beginning I believed whatever I was told,
downright lies even, about how best to behave,
although I had my own inclinations. At an age when
other Nigerian girls were masters at ten-ten, the
game in which we stamped our feet in rhythm and tried to
outwit partners with sudden knee jerks, my favorite moments
were spent sitting on a jetty pretending to fish. My worst was
to hear my mother's shout from her kitchen window: “Enitan,
come and help in here.”

I'd run back to the house. We lived by Lagos Lagoon. Our
yard stretched over an acre and was surrounded by a high
wooden fence that could drive splinters into careless fingers.
I played, carelessly, on the West side because the East side
bordered the mangroves of Ikoyi Park and I'd once seen a
water snake slither past. Hot, hot were the days as I remember
them, with runny-egg sunshine and brief breezes. The early
afternoons were for eat and sleep breaks: eat a heavy lunch,
sleep like a drunk. The late afternoons, after homework, I
spent on our jetty, a short wooden promenade I could walk in
three steps, if I took long enough strides to strain the muscles
between my thighs.

I would sit on its cockle-plastered edge and wait for the
water to lap at my feet, fling my fishing rod, which was made
from tree branch, string, and a cork from one of my father's
discarded wine bottles. Sometimes fishermen came close,
rowing in a rhythm that pleased me more than chewing on
fried tripe; their skins charred, almost gray from sun-dried sea
salt. They spoke in the warble of island people, yodeling
across their canoes. I was never tempted to jump into the
lagoon as they did. It gave off the smell of raw fish and was
the kind of dirty brown I knew would taste like vinegar. Plus,
everyone knew about the currents that could drag a person
away. Bodies usually showed up days later, bloated, stiff and
rotten. True.

It wasn't that I had big dreams of catching fish. They
wriggled too much and I couldn't imagine watching another
living being suffocate. But my parents had occupied
everywhere else with their fallings out; their trespasses
unforgivable. Walls could not save me from the shouting. A
pillow, if I stuffed my head under it, could not save me. My
hands could not, if I clamped them over my ears and stuffed my
head under a pillow. So there it was, the jetty, my protectorate,
until the day my mother decided it was to be demolished.

The priest in her church had a vision of fishermen
breaking into our house: They would come at night,
They would come unarmed,
They would steal

The very next day, three workmen replaced our jetty with
a barbed wire fence and my mother kept watch over them;
the same way she watched our neighbors; the same way she
checked our windows for evil spirits outside at night; the
same way she glared at our front door long after my father had
walked out. I knew he would be furious. He was away on a law
conference and when he returned and saw her new fence, he
ran outside shouting like a crazed man. Nothing, nothing,
would stop my mother, he said, until she'd destroyed
everything in our house, because of that church of hers. What
kind of woman was she? What kind of selfish, uncaring,
woman was she?

He enjoyed that view. Warm, breezy evenings on the
veranda overlooking it is how I remember him, easy as the
cane chair in which he sat. He was usually there in the dry
season, which lasted most of the year; scarcely in the chilly
harmattan, which straddled Christmas and New Year, and
never in the swampy rainy season that made our veranda floor
slippery over the summer vacation. I would sit on the steps
and watch him and his two friends: Uncle Alex, a sculptor,
who smoked a pipe that smelled like melted coconut, and
Uncle Fatai, who made me laugh because his name fitted his
roly-poly face. He too was a lawyer like my father and they
had all been at Cambridge together. Three musketeers in the
heart of darkness, they called themselves there; they stuck
together and hardly anyone spoke to them. Sometimes they
frightened me with their stories of western Nigeria (which my
father called the Wild West), where people threw car tires
over other people and set them on fire because they belonged
to different political factions. Uncle Alex blamed the British
for the fighting: “Them and their bloody empire. Come here
and divide our country like one of their bloody tea cakes.
Driving on the left side of the bloody road... ”

The day the Civil War broke out, he delivered the news.
Uncle Fatai arrived soon afterward and they bent heads as if
in prayer to listen to the radio. Through the years, from their
arguments about federalists, secessionists, and bloody British,
I'd amassed as much knowledge about the events in my
country as any seven-year-old could. I knew that our first
Prime Minister was killed by a Major General, that the Major
General was soon killed, and that we had another Major
General heading our country. For a while the palaver had
stopped, and now it seemed the Biafrans were trying to split
our country in two.

Uncle Fatai broke the silence. “Hope our boys finish
them off.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Uncle Alex asked.

“They want a fight,” Uncle Fatai said. “We'll give them a

Uncle Alex prodded his chest, almost toppling him over. “Can you fight? Can you?” My father tried to intervene but he
warned, “Keep out of this, Sunny.”

My father eventually asked Uncle Alex to leave. He patted
my head as he left and we never saw him in our house again.

Over the next months, I would listen to radio bulletins
on how our troops were faring against the Biafrans. I would
hear the slogan: “To keep Nigeria one is a task that must be
done.” My father would ask me to hide under my bed
whenever we had bomb raid alerts. Sometimes I heard him
talking about Uncle Alex; how he'd known beforehand there
was going to be a civil war; how he'd joined the Biafrans and
died fighting for them even though he hated guns.

I loved my uncle Alex; thought that if I had to marry a
man, it would be a man like him, an artist, who cared too
much or not at all.

He gave my father the nickname Sunny, though my
father's real name was Bandele Sunday Taiwo. Now, everyone
called my father Sunny, like they called my mother Mama
Enitan, after me, though her real name was Arin. I was their
first child, their only child now, since my brother died. He lived
his life between sickle cell crises. My mother joined a church
to cure him, renounced Anglicanism and herself, it seemed,
because one day, my brother had another crisis and she took
him there for healing. He died, three years old. I was five.

In my mother's church they wore white gowns. They
walked around on bare feet, and danced to drums. They were
baptized in a stream of holy water and drank from it to
cleanse their spirits. They believed in spirits; evil ones sent by
other people to wreak havoc, and reborn spirits, which would
not stay long on earth. Their incantations, tireless worship
and praise. I could bear even the sight of my mother throwing
her hands up and acting as I'd never seen her act in an
Anglican church. But I was sure that if the priest came before
me and rolled his eyeballs back as he did when he was about
to have a vision, that would be the end of me.

He had a bump on his forehead, an expression as if he
were sniffing something bad. He pronounced his visions
between chants that sounded like the Yoruba words for
butterfly, dung beetle, and turkey:
labalaba, yimiyimi, tolotolo
He smelled of incense. The day he stood before me, I kept my
eyes on the hem of his cassock. I was a reborn spirit, he said,
like my brother, and my mother would have to bring me for
cleansing. I was too young, she said. My time would soon
come, he said. Turkey, turkey, turkey.

The rest of the day I walked around with the dignity of
the aged and troubled, held my stomach in until I developed
cramps. Death would hurt, I knew, and I did not want to see
my brother like that, as a ghost. My father only had to ask
how I was feeling, when I collapsed before him. “I'm going to
die,” I said.

He asked for an explanation.

“You're not going back there again,” he said.

Sundays after that, I spent at home. My mother would go
off to church, and my father would leave the house, too.
Then Bisi, our house girl, would sneak next door to see
Akanni, the driver who blared his juju music, or he'd come to
see her and they would both go off to the servants' quarters,
leaving me with Baba, our gardener, who worked on Sundays.

At least, during the Civil War, Bisi would sometimes
invite me over to hear Akanni's stories about the war front far
away. How Biafran soldiers stepped on land mines that blew
up their legs like crushed tomatoes; how Biafran children ate
lizard flesh to stay alive. The Black Scorpion was one of
Nigeria's hero soldiers. He wore a string of charms around his
neck and bullets ricocheted off his chest. I was old enough to
listen to such tales without being frightened, but was still too
young to be anything but thrilled by them. When the war
ended three years later, I missed them.

Television in those days didn't come on until six o'clock
in the evening. The first hour was news and I never watched
the news, except that special day when the Apollo landed on
the moon. After that, children in school said you could get
Apollo, a form of conjunctivitis, by staring at an eclipse too
long. Tarzan, Zorro, Little John, and the entire Cartwright
family on
were there, with their sweet and righteous
retaliations, to tell me any other fact I needed to know about
the world. And oblivious to any biased messages I was
receiving, I sympathized with Tarzan (those awful natives!),
thought Indians were terrible people and memorized the
happy jingles of foreign multinational companies: “Mobil
keeps your engine—Beep, beep, king of the road.” If Alfred
Hitchcock came on, I knew it was time to go to bed. Or if it
was Doris Day. I couldn't bear her song, “Que Sera.”

I approached adolescence with an extraordinary number
of body aches, finished my final year of primary school, and
began the long wait for secondary school. Secondary school
didn't start until early October, so the summer vacation
stretched longer than normal. The rains poured, dried up, and
each day passed like the one before unless something special
happened, like the afternoon Baba found iguana eggs, or the
morning a rabid dog bit our night watchman, or the evening
Bisi and Akanni fought. I heard them shouting and rushed to
the servants' quarters to watch.

BOOK: Everything Good Will Come
7.92Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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