Amrit was the pudgy Indian man who told me that Africans were fond of fighting themselves in the diaspora. I was perplexed by the certainty that sprawled over his broad face dotted with thick black spots common with most Indian men. He owned the flat I lived in. The flat, a two-bedroom apartment was built in sector 38 in a serene residential area in Chandigarh in the North Indian state of Punjab. I had moved to India as a student to study Zoology at the Punjabi University. Upon my arrival, I was received by two Yoruba students who had been in Asia for five years. There is this general knowledge in Nigeria that the Ibos and Yorubas are not always on good terms. So I was nervous when I had no option but to spend my first two months with these Yoruba students who had been my contacts all the while I applied at the university. But they proved everyone who upheld that knowledge wrong. During my stay in their flat, we lived as though we had lived all our lives together. They showed me around town and even offered to take me on a tour of the neighbouring country of Pakistan. They showed me around campus and helped me complete my remaining registration procedures until I was fully settled. When I was ready to rent an apartment of my own, they were willing to help me. They skipped classes to take me around, scouting for cheap and good apartments until we met Amrit. Amrit, a retired soldier who had just returned from Bangladesh at the time I met him, was more interested in marrying off his twenty year old daughter. So when we arrived at his house, he immediately shook his head and said, “No Africans for my daughter”. My Yoruba friends, Tayo and Adebowale replied by laughing heartily and then told him that we were not in his house to ask for his daughter’s hands in marriage.
“We want to rent,” Tayo explained.
Amrit pulled a sheet from the side pocket of his trousers and handed it to Tayo. I studied the sparkling white turban on his head and wondered why these Hindu men kept their hair under such bondage. Once I had asked my Yoruba friends, “Do they ever remove it?”
“Of course, they do,” Tayo said amidst laughs. “When they bathe, they remove it”
On the sheet that Amrit handed to Tayo was a list of apartments and their prices. Tayo handed the paper to me. I stared at the sheet, wondering how a human being could have such horrible handwriting.
“I’ll take the one for fifteen hundred Indian Rupees,” I said and Amrit nodded. He was a man of few words, and when he spoke, he counted his words with enormous heaviness akin to one with so much wisdom. The next day, Amrit took us to show us the apartment I had chosen. It was a nice flat with mildewed rooms and white peeling walls coated with dust. Amrit said he could get someone to clean the flat for me but my Yoruba friends rejected and said they would help me with that. I moved in three days later with just a few effects; my luggage, a small bed I had bought from the furniture shop very close to the flat, a reading table and chair, a table lamp, and a shelf where I stacked my voluminous books. My friends visited mostly on weekends when they’d take me out and show me more places. They took me to the surroundings of the grandiose Buddha Temple inside which, according to Adebowale, were many snakes. He narrated the story of a Nigerian student who after he had graduated, visited the temple to accumulate powers which he claimed will help him get a job as quickly as possible back in Nigeria. “The last time I talked with him, he was working in Access Bank,” Adebowale had said with an expression that affirmed the potency of the charms in India. I was introduced to the president of the Foreign Students’ Association, a jocund Brazilian fellow with silver coloured hair. Few days after meeting him, I was officially inducted into the Association. There were so many nationalities from Africa; the Kenyans, the Libyans, the Ugandans, the Tanzanians, the Ghanaians, the Gambians, the South Africans, and there was a slim girl from Zimbabwe. There were the Iranians, the Pakistanis, Iraqis, Lebanese, and there were two Dominicans. It was obvious that Africans were more in number. Joining the Foreign Students’ Association afforded me the opportunity to interact with people from other parts of Africa. During meetings, while most Africans sat together in a corner, the others would mingle freely with people from other continents. I was particularly drawn to the slim girl from Zimbabwe, and soon, we developed a connection. It took me quite some time to learn how to pronounce her name, Anenyasha. She began to teach me Shona, a language spoken by the Bantu peoples in Zimbabwe. Later, when I would start work on my Pan-Africanist nonfiction book, she would play an important role in highlighting the interconnectedness linking all black peoples scattered all over the world.
Amrit began to like me for reasons I could not comprehend. One morning, I had barely woken up when I heard a knock on my door. At first, I had thought it was my Yoruba friends or Anenyasha, with whom I had begun to share intimacy. But it was Amrit, standing in my doorway. He stared at me calmly as though he was trying to figure out something on my face.
“How is the apartment?” he asked. His Indian accent was so strong that it seemed he was reciting a rhyme.
“Fine,” I said.
“Come down later for a drink, will you?” he asked.
“Sure, I will,” I said. “Where?”
“Down, under the awning,” he said. His accent distorted the awning that it took some seconds before I figured it out.
“I will be there by say 5,” I said and he nodded and barreled away.
By 5pm, I sat with Amrit under the colourful awning. He had ordered hot coffee served in two brown mugs.
“You like India?” he asked and I nodded.
“India is nice. Good people. Good weather. Everything is good here,” he said in a way that made me think he was showing off, especially since he had smiled smugly. I wanted to tell him at that moment that there were good people, beautiful terrains and topography, iconic mountains and rivers and seas, beautiful islands and even beautiful animals in Africa too. But Amrit kept talking. He was really in the mood to talk, and the usual heaviness that lingered around his speeches had disappeared.
“I would love to visit Africa,” he said.
“You won’t regret it,” I said with so much certainty.
“But Africa, lots of political unrest?”
“Yes, that’s because we Africans don’t tolerate bad governance. We fight any that comes up”
“But Africa is still underdeveloped?”
“No, we are developed,” I said. I wanted to add just that we don’t realize it. But I kept my cool. Amrit paused to sip from his mug. “My daughter says I should stop drinking coffee,” he announced. I didn’t know what to say about that. Amrit must have noticed that I lacked words to describe his daughter’s opinion about drinking coffee for he continued with his discussion about Africa. “Do you think Africans can change how the rest of the world sees them?” he asked.
“How do you see Africa?” I asked.
“They are dormant creatives and until they wake up, the world will see less of them,” Amrit said. I was gradually getting entranced by the conversation.
“You seem to be so interested in Africa,” I said.
Amrit laughed and said. “Well, I completed a course in African Studies in America”
‘Why did you, an Indian decide to take a peek into Africa to such an extent?”
“My father was a researcher in Ethnography and he widely travelled around Africa. The books he wrote about them and other documents I found on his shelf roused my interest in the continent,” Amrit took another sip and coughed lightly in a way that made me think it was the reason why his daughter was opposed to his drinking coffee. “I think it’s my family’s lot to study Africa,” he said and laughed heartily. By the time we were done with our conversation, it was late and Amrit walked me to my door. I thought about the story he had narrated to me about two Nigerian students who had fought themselves in one of his flats. One had been so acutely injured that it took multiple surgeries to fix him. Amrit had concluded by telling me that he had witnessed a lot of wrangles amongst African students in Punjab so much that he concluded that was a fact his father did not note in all his research about Africa. It was demeaning to me and when I discussed it with Anenyasha, she suggested that maybe there was a need to bring all the African students under an umbrella union. Two weeks later, there was a fracas between the Nigerians and the Kenyans. There was an election in the Foreign Students’ Association and I had indicated an interest in running for the office of the welfare officer. There were initially three candidates vying for the office of president; a Nigerian named Ahmed who claimed his father and Nigeria’s erstwhile and late dictator, Sani Abacha were classmates, a Kenyan named Nelson Oyugi and an Iranian named Farhad, who later stepped down and pledged support for the Kenyan candidate. It was a stiff contest and when the Nigerian emerged winner of the election, the Kenyans opposed the results. They claimed there was a manipulation of the figures to favour the Nigerian and that this was backed up by the influence of the incumbent president who was a staunch supporter of the Nigerian candidate. The election was conducted a second time under very strict external observation and the Nigerian emerged winner again. Yet, the Kenyans opposed and when another Nigerian told their spokesman to keep quiet, he was slapped and the Nigerian slapped back and another Kenyan slapped another Nigerian who slapped back and that was it, a fight ensued. A Nigerian was injured. Another Kenyan bled badly and was rushed immediately to the hospital. The other students of other nationalities tried their best to resolve the issue and when the fracas escalated, some retreated while others took sides. The local police stepped in to restore order and many of us were asked to go home while the injured persons were taken to the hospital. Some of the key players of the conflict were arrested that same day.
Alone in my room, I thought of Amrit and wondered if he had heard of the brawl. He was sure to check up on me if he had heard. While I paced about my room brooding on the events of that morning and how veracious Amrit’s claim had become to me, my phone rang. It was my Botany lecturer, Dr. Meera, asking that I come over to her office to collect the Botany text I had paid for. She added that she had limited time to spend at the office and so I needed to come as quickly as possible. I quickly changed into another cloth and left my flat, dropping a note for Adebowale and Tayo to wait for me when they came over. At the bus park, I met two Indian men talking about the melee and I could tell from their disposition that they were disgusted. One of them turned to me and pointed, and shrugged his shoulders. I gave him a steely gaze and he was forced to look away. Few minutes after they had stepped away, I saw three young men walking towards me from the distance. They were Africans and when they were close enough to me, I saw they were Kenyans. I had met them before because they were in the same department as me and if not for the weapons in their hands, I would have thought they were also headed for the Botany lecturer’s office. I knew their names and knew that they lived in the same sector as me. But they held weapons and advanced menacingly to me. I should have run, but I just stood watching them.
“You Nigerians think you can get away with everything right?” one of them whose name I knew to be Gathii said with that undiluted Kenyan accent I have always admired.
“What do you want from me?” I asked diffidently even though deep down within me, I was scared stiff. The weapons in their hands were not friendly at all. One held a long sharp aruval while the others clutched metal objects of different kinds.
“Your brothers have beaten up our brothers on sector 37, so it’s only fair we do the same” another whose name was Darweshi said.
“Please leave me out of this,” I said trying hard not to sound weakened. “As you can see, I’m on my way to school. I need to meet with the Botany lecturer and I guess you three need to do the same. Our texts have arrived”
“The texts can wait for another day but for now, we are going to deal with you!” the last, Makalani screamed.
“Our brothers are bleeding elsewhere, you need to bleed too” Darweshi added.
“You will make this a full-blown war,” I warned.
“If it will take a war to wipe out every Nigerian living in India, we won’t mind”
And that was it. They pounced on me, pelting me on every side with their weapons. I screamed out in pain and tried to defend myself but when I saw it was not possible, I remained on the ground and wrapped myself with my hands while the Kenyans continued to wallop every side of my body. By the time they were exhausted, my eyes were bloated and I could barely see anything. The blood from the small cut on my head dripped down my face, and into my mouth filling it with its saltiness. I managed to stagger up, and lumbered back to my flat. Anenyasha was at my door. She screamed when she saw me soaked in blood. Quickly, she got my keys from my pockets and opened the door while I narrated calmly what happened. “I should call the police,” she yelled but I objected.
“The police are aware already,” I replied.
“They are aware of the trouble caused by the Kenyans or aware that you were beaten?” she retorted.
“Don’t worry, just help me clean up,” I requested.
After I had been cleaned up and eaten, I lay in bed, nursing the pain that pirouetted in my head. Many parts of my body were covered up in plasters. I was grateful that Anenyasha was a brilliant nursing student. After she left, I remained in bed and tried to suppress the rage flooding through me. I was bitter at what had happened. Those Kenyans would have killed me if they wanted to. Imagine the headlines if that had happened. A Nigerian Student killed by three Kenyan Students. Imagine the pain they would have caused my parents and siblings and uncles and aunts. Imagine terminating my life and all the plans I had mapped out for my future! No I would surely revenge this. Revenge. This. I would fight back. Fight. Back. I would surely teach those useless boys a bitter lesson. I. Will. Teach. Them. A. Bitter. Lesson.
The next morning after a quick breakfast, I boarded a bus to the outskirts of Punjab. Some of my Indian friends had once told me about the Goondas who could be found mostly in that area. These Goondas made money as hoodlums and outlaws. I got to a small town just outside of Punjab and there they were, careening the streets in their netted sleeveless shirts and jeans and their wavy hair carried in different swaggering styles. I walked up to one and when I told him why I had come, he smiled and took me into an old building. An elderly man was sitting on a chair in the centre of the room we entered. He wore a long brown robe and harboured rings on every finger. He nudged a pipe with his fingers which he puffed airily. The Goonda whispered to the old man, probably telling him why I was standing before him. The old man removed his pipe and asked me to sit on the stool facing him.
“Why do you want to kill the three Kenyans?” he asked.
“They attacked me yesterday,” I answered calmly.
“But they didn’t kill you?” the man said. He stared quizzically at me as though he suspected that there was more to my story.
“They almost did,” I replied. “The police stopped them,” I lied.
“You all are amazing,” the old man said and waved us away. I negotiated with the first man I met and paid him exactly five hundred Indian Rupees to kill the three Kenyans; one per day. When I got home, I felt relaxed, as though I had gotten rid of a burden. I brought out my phone and sent a text to my lecturer, telling her that I couldn’t make it because I had to take my friend to the hospital. She replied minutes later by sympathizing with me and wishing my friend a speedy recovery and telling me that she was going to be at the office the next day and that I could meet her in the afternoon if I wished. Time flew and soon the darkness had found its way into every nook and cranny of the city. Dinner dispensed with, I sat up in bed thinking about my deal with the Goonda, and about the three Kenyans whose lives were now on the line. I tried to evade the questions flooding my mind but they kept pestering. Was it worth it? Yes! Those Kenyans almost killed me! Maybe you should consider that they didn’t kill you. They could have, I strongly affirm that. Consider the blood of Africans that’d be in your hands. Consider. They are Africans. They are your brothers. What will the Indians say? What will Amrit say? How would you walk shoulders high knowing that you paid for the assassination of three Kenyan students? Consider Anenyasha. She wouldn’t want a man with blood on his hands. No sensible girl would. Remember the nonfiction book you want to write. How would you feel writing that book, knowing that you have the blood of three Africans on your hands? Shit! My mind was exploding with thoughts upon thoughts upon thoughts and when I could not take it any longer, I pulled out my phone from the drawer and called the Goonda. He didn’t pick. I tried again and when he picked, I knew he was in a club. He could barely hear me and so I sent him a text;
I changed my mind. I no longer want to kill the Kenyans. Please do not proceed with the mission. You can keep the money. He replied minutes later saying; Alright. But you play with me next time again, I kill you.
The next morning at about 11am, my Yoruba friends arrived at my flat. They were all dressed for classes but I wasn’t ready to join them. “What happened to you?” Tayo asked, noticing the plasters on my body. I narrated to them what happened, excluding that I had arranged for their execution and they felt disgusted. “Those Kenyans must be mad!” Adebowale bellowed.
“I don’t know why we keep fighting ourselves,” Tayo remarked angrily.
“This is why black lives don’t mean anything to the whites,” Adebowale said and continued. “My father used to say that until Africans identify themselves via a solid togetherness, the rest of the world will continue to taunt us”
I remembered what Amrit had said also about Africans not understanding their identity and how much unity it is supposed to foster. Maybe there needed to arise a prophet or cheerleader of some sort to rearrange this mindset. This movement could start anywhere. It could start right in my flat. I hopped out of bed as an idea struck me.
“I know what to do to end this fracas,” I said and my friends moped at me. “I am going to cook and invite the three Kenyans that beat me up over”
“That’s a crazy thing to do. The Kenyans are still bitter. I don’t think they will honour your invitation,” Adebowale said but I ignored him. I quickly got dressed and ran out; leaving them to wonder what had come over me. When I returned later in the afternoon with two bags of food items, my friends had removed their ties and shirts and sat on the ground with books open in front of them.
“You really want to cook for those Kenyans?” Tayo asked. He was mortified.
“Yes,” I answered. “I stopped by their flats but they were not around. So I left a message for them. Now, are you guys going to help me?” I asked.
They stood up from the floor and we moved into the kitchen. We prepared boiled rice sprinkled with onions and chicken stew. The aroma filled the entire flat and I wondered if the other occupants in the building perceived it. When we were done cooking, we sat and talked about the scuffle. It was the only thing we could talk about at that time. I expected the Kenyans by exactly 5pm. By 5:30pm, they were yet to come. “I told you they will not come,” Adebowale said.
“Don’t say that, they will surely come,” I affirmed and my friends laughed.
“Geoffrey, just go and bring the rice so we can eat,” Tayo said amidst guffaws. I didn’t reply. I had extended my invitation to them through their flat-mate. Maybe that Pakistani didn’t remember to tell them. Or maybe he had told them and like my friends claimed, they didn’t want to honour my invitation. After my friends had eaten and left and wished me luck, I lay in bed wondering how the Kenyans would react on getting my invitation. No sane person would want to honour such an invitation. I concluded it had all been a waste of time. I began to chide myself for thinking that those Kenyans would boldly walk into my apartment just to eat after what had transpired. I hissed, and put my phone away and picked a book to read. Just after I had read the first sentence, there was a knock on my door. The time was 7:02pm. Slowly, I walked towards the door and peeped through the keyhole. There they were, the three Kenyans, standing as though they couldn’t hurt a fly. They weren’t holding any weapon or some sort of that. Gently I opened the door and they were standing, dressed in heavy winter coats. The snow had fallen briefly that afternoon and the evening was frosty.
“Come in,” I said and they hesitated before coming into my flat. I shut the door and crossed to sit opposite them. They sat staring wide-eyed at me.
“Please feel free. I called you three to tell you that I have forgiven you for the severe beating you gave to me,” I said and they remained mute. “I want us to end this quarrel and act like brothers because we are,” I continued and yet, they remained mute. I went into the kitchen and dished the food which I served in trays before them. “Now listen to me,” I started. “By tomorrow, one of you would have been dead. I paid five hundred Indian Rupees to a Goonda to kill you three starting from tomorrow,” I paused to observe their reactions. Their eyes widened the more and they shifted uneasily in their seats.
“But I had a change of mind. We shouldn’t go about killing ourselves and painting a bad image of us before the world. We need to stand together, appreciate our identity which is this black skin colour that we possess and also appreciate the bond it has created between all of us. We must do everything in our power to strengthen that bond. I want us to eat merrily as though nothing happened. Maybe, this will make our brothers out there appreciate what we share in common. It is up to you and me to make this happen. Only then will black lives matter in the world” I concluded and watched them, hoping that they’d respond.
“Thank you,” one of them said finally.
“Thank you,” the others followed suit. I stood up and stirred all the food in their trays and tasted a spoon from each just to assure them that I didn’t poison the meal. When they were satisfied, they picked up the spoons and ate and we chatted about many things late into the night, and because they could no longer go back home, they slept in my flat.
Together with Anenyasha and the three Kenyans, I established the African Students’ Union, emerging as its first president. While delivering my first speech, I described the union as one that was aimed at fostering togetherness amongst all African students in diaspora and the motto of the African Students’ Union was declared as ‘black blooders’