The room I occupied was Grandpa’s. He had passed away a few years back after complaining of chest pain. There was a cupboard of books, a table by the window. From the window I could see the flowers that adorned the entrance to the front door, and the wide path that met the colonial heritage – the market road whose asphalt surface had thinned away into patches here and there. On one end, it led to the University of Nigeria, and the major town of Nsukka, while on the other, it led to Nkwo market. On market days, Nkwo especially, the road was busy with users who avoided police checkpoints on other roads.
Across the road was the primary school where Grandpa had taught. As a teacher, he was a strict disciplinarian, and was nicknamed “Masquerade”. His moral strength, they said, scared away its offhand neighbour. If Grandpa had been loose morally, his mud house would have been a mansion of wealth his family would be living off the cake of his millions by now. If they had not been flogged or disciplined, they wouldn’t have become the credible men they were, they claimed.
Mama said she was his pupil at some point. She made a face to indicate that the privilege didn’t spare her anything. My last encounter with him was a hard thrashing I received for not feeding the goats. The night whined of their hunger.
The cupboard of books in Grandpa’s room was of red wood. It was taller, bigger, and housed more books than my own father’s. If my appreciation for books and reading had so far been a hidden trait, the books in Grandpa’s cupboard baited the trait out. It was like I had been waiting for my soul mate and I found her. The meeting was irresistible. I occupied myself leisurely with the books. And they were good company. I took solace in them. They saved me the discomfort of facing people, speaking to them, speaking Igbo to them, or being accused of avoiding them.
Some books I read willingly. Others, I felt, were very deep. I left them to read later, like Gilbert Ryle’s Concept of Mind. When I read it, I didn’t understand anything. But I read it anyway. When I was a Philosophy major at the University of Nigeria, years later, I was intrigued by his famous “ghost in the machine” metaphor – a critique against Cartesian Dualism. But I liked Descartes’ Dualism, not so much because of his subtle approval of modern science, as because of his style of writing. And the famous Cogito Ergo Sum was a standard I personalized in some other ways. I read, therefore I am. I write, therefore I am. I sleep, therefore I am.
The cupboard was dusty for lack of use since its owner had gone. I would take out the books and beat off the dust or blow them away. I liked the smell – their musty perfume. When I flipped through their pages, the buzzing rustle tickled my ears. Sometimes I would hold a book in my hand just to enjoy the feeling of its weight.
The ones that tickled me were The River Between and Weep Not, Child by Ngugi Wa Thiong’o, Mission To Kala by Mongo Beti, The White Man of God by Kenjo Jumbam, Chike and the River by Chinua Achebe, African Child by Camara Laye, Zambia Shall Be Free by Kennet Kaunda, The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwe Aemagh, Toads for Supper by Chukwuemeka Ike, Fresh Start by Helen Ovbiagele, Sammy Going South by W. H. Canaway, Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë, The Dignity of Man by Russell Davenport, Murder in the Cathedral by T. S. Eliot, and Remove the Heart of Stone by Donal Dorr.