The war had come to an end. Not the war they fought against racism wherein they had buried religion amongst the dust of colonialism and pushed themselves to the breaking point. It wasn't the war of ethnic tribalism as was prevalent in Nigeria that passed through nineteen sixty-seven and ended in nineteen seventy in which a group of people from the south decided secession was better for all their brothers who had been killed in the post-coup violence.
No, that war was fought in a wild display of selfishness and power grab. It hadn't been patriotic enough to end with less death and more unified people. Instead, it had ended with flags of Biafra burnt down and Nigeria back again, untouched. Maybe that was enough reason to know secession in Nigeria meant war and death and Welcome to Nigeria, the giant of Africa signs in roads and public schools.
It seemed like a really nice thing to do -calling out to the world with simple signs and insincere truths about the cultural heritage and friendliness of the people- and it mattered to the outside world. The friendliness could be arranged and so were the cultural heritage or whatever the hell the government deemed fit to add to a public address. No one was to know, not the whites or the blacks.
Those wars were a necessity, they said. So when I talk about a war that ended, I do not mean those.
The war had just ended, a war that was only ever seen behind windshields and broken windows. It was a war fought because the world needed to see that we were strong enough to hold them and cherish their visits. We didn't care but we had to make sure tourism didn't drown out.
It must have sounded like a change, like a big beautiful shift from colonialism and that we could take care of ourselves. The war was from our inner minds, fought like barricaded ignorance.
It started small. Like teardrops in an ocean. Like a lighted matchstick in a sea of fire. And it grew until it ended, abruptly. After it ended - the war of insincerity- people started to troop into the country. I suppose every country is like canyons, beaten down by injustice and mindless secrets but wars are different and so are the people who fight and lose and find it easier to end it. So the war ended.
The rest of us who had skin that shone like copper in the dying sunlight and who were fortunate or maybe unfortunate to be called a Nigerian ended the war with relief. It was beautiful to wake up in the morning and hate people who were not copper-colored simply because they looked different. And it was powerful how we had to smile to gain the title of Friends.
If it wasn't worth it, we'd have known.
After the war ended, my father came home late one night, and as he sat on his bed, his food on the rug in front of him, he said, "Imagine if we were whites."
My mother did not smile but it was probably funny with the way her lips pursed as though she wanted to say something and laugh at the same time.
He said, "What do you think, Abigail?"
"I don't know." I should have said. But because I had to make him proud, had to believe whatever he had to say, I said, "I'd love that."
Of course, then I was fifteen and Ill with the need to make him happy. He was one of the people who found it pitifully unfortunate we were blacks like we were rolling around in a ball of ignorance. International news was making patriotic love negotiable and my father was flowing in. It wasn't sad. It was what he would hold on to on the day his own war started.
I really cannot remember what happened after it or what I said or how I reacted. But the next time I saw someone of another race, I hated myself for having darker skin.
Maybe it was a Monday. I prefer to think it had been a Wednesday. The government had already imposed a curfew so, at eight, we were supposed to be home. But then it rained and father had a flat tire and mother kept phoning and Faith kept crying and picking her nose. The police stopped us at eight. Father was more upset than I'd ever seen him and I hated that we were Nigerians.
We were at fault, I am sure now. But then I was seventeen and aching underneath from having been deflowered and hopelessly wanting my father to be right in the pouring rain.
"You've defaulted." A police officer announced proudly. He was holding an umbrella. On his wrist, he had a hand band and hiding around his neck, shrouded by his faded uniform, he wore a crucifix.
"I know, Sir. It was a flat tire." My father clutched his hands in front of him as though he was offering a prayer.
A second police officer stepped forward. He had huge hands and a voice so deep it more than paid for the self-absorbed smirk on his face. He did not look too happy. His eyes were that of a man who had fought with his wife over the kind of friends she kept.
He said, "See everyone here? They have all piled up excuses. The law is the law. So get in line."
I remember my father in the car, getting in line as he was told. He cussed and cussed and hit his hands on his forehead and told Faith to be quiet and did not pick mother's call.
When the police came again he said, "America will not be like this. No, that's why whites are different, perfect. They understand things and people."
The policemen said nothing, did not try to argue the point.
And father kept insisting and cussing. And when they let us go in the afternoon of the next day, I believed him too.
That was when I had a dream. It wasn't odd, just pragmatic enough to make my father happy and maybe a bit proud. I wanted to get married to a white man; wanted something called interracial marriage so that I could pretend I was not black.
I don't think I had an identity then. I wasn't black and I wasn't white. I was in the middle, confused, and in the need to make someone prouder. I wasn't married to a white nor dating one and maybe I wanted it or maybe I didn't I couldn't tell.
When they told us that change was constant, they forgot to mention the time when it wasn't, when there was no change or any form of it. When they spoke about hashtags, they failed to mention that later the people would forget why there was a desire -I should call it so - for such display. It was human, what kept us alive, what kept our beating heart busy.
I don't think the change came to me sooner. But when it did, it wasn't for the meaningless placards or the Welcome to Nigeria smiles. It was in the way our skin molded into one vast line when wars ended. It was for the sun that shone and made our skin twinkle like stars.
Perhaps change didn't come for all of us. When I was twenty and father looked at the news and said, "We should have been whites." I did not tell him, "I think so too."
I must have said something, I've forgotten. Maybe that is just one lie I made up because I don't want to say that I was racist at one point. Perhaps I feel this way because I want to say it later to my children and their children and say it with enough regret to elicit pity.
They must have known that bleaching would not make them whites. Or that feeling superior would not make them better than blacks. They must have known, I tell you. So when the hashtags have finally slowed down and there are not enough papers and time to write public phrases, they should not only know but they should remember.
For the change.