Saved By My Mother Tongue

Your Tongue Shall Set You Free

Saved By My Mother Tongue

I HADN’T SLEPT IN a week, but it wasn’t just that. Being an immigrant isn’t exactly a bed of roses, let alone an illegal one. Twelve weeks had expired since I’d set out from our small fishing village in Nigeria, in the company of total strangers, to seek for greener pastures.

Traversing through the rough and inhospitable terrain of the Sahara desert to the war-torn state of Libya en route for the shores of Spain, I’d left behind an aged mother, a drunkard of a father, a nagging partner, our way of life, and a mundane job as a curator.

It was in that hellhole-of-a-job that I’d first encountered the white man, who possessed such a deep fascination for historical arts.

For one, he was nothing like me —I hated arts. Moreover, the colour of his skin, the texture of his hair, and his accent —which, in fact, sounded like water flowing in a brook— was nothing like mine, either.  

As time went by, I fell in love with his courage, and with his curiosity, and above all, with his elaborative description of his motherland. He talked on and on about it, and how things were done in a polite and civilized manner, and how water flowed right inside their homes, and how the electricity never went off.

Most of his stories turned out to be correct when I had arrived in the white man’s land, but the white man here, in Madrid, is nothing like the one I had come to love.

He acknowledged my greetings and my questions, sometimes with apathy, sometimes in disgust, and if I’m lucky, with a phrase “hija de una puta”. Usually, I’d respond by saying ‘thank you’, until I finally found out it actually meant ‘daughter of a whore’.

It stung, it hurt, and I wept.

Nowadays I just countered with “Oghene ku gu whe”, God will judge you. It worked wonders judging from the bewildered faces I’d encountered the week before, as I searched for a job —any job, at all.

An illegal “black” immigrant has no choice. And that lack of choice thereof, drove me to the local museum where I was turned down —again. And again, I reacted angrily, in my mother tongue.

Headed for the exit, I heard a voice behind me.

I marched on. What nonsense!

 “Are you Nigerian?”

I froze in horror, whirled around and saw a bald, middle-aged, white man, scuttling towards me.

“Yes … why?”

“My wife will be as happy as a pig in shit.”

“Oh ... ok.”

“She speaks your language.”

“You don’t say!”

We exchanged pleasantries until Ejiro, Manuel Castillo’s wife, joined us. One thing led to another and we were all chatting and laughing, as we made our way to their residence.

For a moment, I forgot about all my troubles, if not for anything, but for the fact that I’d finally get to sleep on a bed tonight —in my kinswoman’s house.

Truly, there’s no place like home.

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