One day when you are pissing on the roadside,
your cracked bare feet on grass streaked with feces
and porewater plastic bags, you will hear his name
and turn to watch his convoy, numerous as the aunts,
the uncles and ancestors you have never known, inch
down the crowded Mushin street singing his praises
as if a capitalist black Jesus, dishing cold hand cash
to those pressed either side of his jeep, hands out —
stretched, pleading with a hunger you know too well.
One month later, when another born-troway smoking
stolen Indian hemp talks softly of the crude oil rags
and patchwork dishcloths you both wore as nappies,
shivers from the same foul breeze blowing the truth
of your fractured life, you will call his name, Oluomo,
speak its solid weight and wonder if it is worth a try.
One year after your quick slim fingers have caught
the attention of his boys who dance drunk on paraga,
the oil drum fire flickering in their eyes, you will hear
they too were born and thrown away, they had snakes
for mothers too, but were lifted from gutters and now
are this citywide tribe of hard men spidering through
the night Oluomo alone controls: homes raided, rivals
knifed, politicians bribed, the rich ransomed and each
area-boy willing to die for each. You marvel at such
family, ask if they need help, anything you will do.
One decade from now, when police who are vicious
as they are duplicitous have beaten you senseless,
have dumped your swollen self in a concrete cell,
when you deny them the satisfaction of betrayal
/ no be by force o, no be by force / you will cry
your throat dry as cracked feet, sob uncontrollably
as blood bubbling your torn nostril bursts, you will
call for your brothers, but for now you are free.
The Wire-Headed Heathen
Akashic Books 2015
Inua Ellams was born in Nigeria in 1984.
He now lives in London and works as a poet,
playwright, performer and graphic artist.