My father first walked the earth in Warri
His feet sinking into the hot mud of Nigeria’s Delta State
Then one day, as other men launched fishing boats
He sailed far away.
Why, I don’t know,
He never told me,
I never asked.
Africa and Manchester did not offer life parallels
So we never had that conversation
My father never talked of the past
I never asked
What did you do in the war dad?
What was your home like?
Do I look like your people?
Can you see your mother in my eyes?
The way I walk, argue
I’m built a female version of you
Am I the same height as your father?
Words never spoken
Only got silent responses.
My father never said
When the white man came:
But I know he knew.
Summers we would visit his old master
Exchanging our terrace house
For a large white detached in Richmond Surrey
Where my father cleaned;
A servitude repayment for our visit.
While I was forbidden to
Touch, speak, play,
Do anything without first asking permission.
Strange white people I thought.
‘Snobby bastards,’ said my mother when I returned home
‘Where do they think this is?
It’s not bloody Africa.’
Her temper causing her cheeks to flame red
Matching the copper of her hair
‘Andi,’ she’d say
‘Slavery is over;
Get over it.’
What did she mean?
But I never asked
And she never explained.
Schools for my father
Were glorious European opportunities
So he spared nothing to buy
My uniform, my shoes
A too large briefcase.
Copies of the same books that teachers
Distributed daily in class.
Strange, that I had to leave the classroom
To begin my education;
Tutored via overheard conversations
Documentaries, radical articles
And orators from Marcus Garvey to Malcolm X.
Even though neither had a penchant for white people.
But no matter how I broadened my knowledge,
I still loved my mother
Nothing was going to change that.
Now my mouth was full
Of words my brain had memorised
Colonialism, lynchings, detention
Civil Rights, Black Power
What did my father know?
That the Yoruba’s were favoured for their strength
But whipped long to curb their independence
That the Ibos though stolen in their thousands
Also found an inner power to walk-on water
And the ijaw from Warri
Who speaks of them?
Not, certainly my father.
When the silence was so loud my ears would ache
I would turn to him
And he looking far into the distance
Seemed oblivious to the tears
Washing his cheeks
Flowing under his chin
Then water falling towards his heart.
In that moment my father
Was no longer the man I knew
The man I didn’t know.
He was in that moment,
A body filed with the spirits of all his ancestors.
My family from my grandfather
To generations who never imagined life beyond the Forçados River
Conquered, shackled, bartered
Sold, abused, demonised, throttled, burnt, flogged
Executed by the law under the law.
The trauma of the new
The wicked the evil
Filled my father
So that he could not speak
And I never asked why.
Before he died
Was he called Thomas
Under my right eye
I have an indentation
It is in the exact same place
As my father’s peoples’ ritual scarring
Some days when I look at it
It seems more prominent
Like it really is a scar
But I can barely make it out
Through my tears
Acclaimed International Artist – Writer, Performance Poet, Lecturer
Cultural Director of National Black Arts Alliance
Honorary Degree Lancaster University, UK