A Certain Breed Of Men

Ewa Gerald Onyebuchi

© Copyright 2023 by Ewa Gerald Onyebuchi


Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash
Photo by Hu Chen on Unsplash

If there is a miracle in the idea of life it is this: that we are able to exist for a time – in defiance of chaos

-Binyavanga Wainaina

The problem is not with the bulb but the sun, woman X complained, holding the phone little above her head as she sashayed towards the window at the rear of the class. Woman Y agreed. Again, she was hunched over her desk beside the white board in front, rifling through her big bag sitting on the desk. Retrieving a small container, she dabbed her face with a white substance, and laughed when our gaze crossed. Why are you looking at me that way? Abi, you have not seen a woman applying powder on her face before? What is it with women and powder? I wondered. I did not like it. I never did.

Occupying the second row, I sat on a bench fit for two pupils, my bulk swallowing up half the spaces, wondering how I'd mark the notebooks stacked on the table before me. Although I had already marked a few of them, scribbling a footnote here and there, indicating my displeasure at their incompleteness, I felt I had a long way to go. Still, I wasn't so perturbed. My mind was particularly drawn to the conversation floating in the room. The discussion between these women. From the angle of a stranger, I observed them. Not nodding. Not anything. Just listening, taking note of the minutiae of this moment.

Woman X turned to me. See this man o, abi the sun no dey reach you. Come help me joor. Ifugo nuya. And you are a man.

What followed this was a laugh-a harmless, flat sound spilling out of her mouth. But typical of me, I thought I had caught a sneer in her voice, because I hated being ordered around. And the worst was when people used the phrase "and you are a man," or any of its derivatives. As though there was a specific conduct expected of a man. Honestly, I hated the way society conditioned men. Or maybe, men like me. If you cried as a man or boy, they would say you're weak, too weak to be a real man. My father was the kind of man who wore his walls with utmost disregard for weaknesses, as though he were infallible. And whenever I was around him, I treaded on egg shells, trying to fit into his big shoes. To live up to his expectations meant, as a boy being molded into a man, I must hurl my feebleness away in the shadows. I must pretend it did not hurt me each time he said I was acting out of character. That I was too soft to be a man. And his mantra was: Nobody would take a soft man seriously.

Using a dark cloth, we were able to put out the sun, knotting the edges of cloth to both sides of the window bars. The room was plunged into a semi-darkness but this was fair enough for the video capturing.

I had picked up my red pen to resume work, when woman Y, as though possessed by a strange energy, began to give voice to all that was in her chest.

From the movement of her hands, the veins criss-crossing her forehead, you could tell the words sprang from a dark room in her heart.

"Nigerian men, fear them. They are wicked. Wicked! Especially Igbo men. They can be at home or at a friend's place drinking beer and talking nonsense, while their wives are out in the sun, farming. And when the women returned home tired, they would expect her to go to the kitchen in that state, while they crossed their legs on the table, waiting for food."

Woman X came under that energy too, her gaze fierce and flickering from woman Y to me, rhythmically. "Yes! Do you mind these men? So wicked!"

Sometimes she poked a hand in my direction, as if she were rebuking a pupil in class for flouting her rule.

Yet, sitting under this energy, watching both of them, these women knitted by a common language, a single thread of maternal grievance, I understood their pain. This pang of motherhood. If we desire to not only see this glimmer of hope rising over our world but be partakers of it, we must collectively join the fight against the patriarchy, pulling it down from its height. We must be prepared to wring it of its rights and privileges, that make it swell with pride. We should be fearless in our resolve: in the eyes of the law, everyone is equal. Man or woman. Rich or poor.

I could have said something. I could have tilted the wheels of conversation towards a different lane, adding that not all men were bad. But I didn't. I didn't tell them that I belonged to a certain breed of men who saw things from a broader lens. Men who did not see women as fragile beings to be exploited, but as reservoirs of great power and wisdom to be loved and respected. I believe a woman, wherever she finds herself, is a source of strength, a beacon of hope to our ailing world. In my passivity, I felt a wave of sadness wash over me. I was a man after all. And, perhaps, these women had seen the good, the ugly, the worst sides of men.

"You are talking about Igbo men, what about Ebonyi men?" Woman X snapped, slapping the wig on her head as her voice gained ascendance. "You see men from Ebonyi State," she said, drawing closer to me, her finger a shouting distance from my face. "They can do and undo. That tribe, fear the men there." I fell backwards, sliding away. Of course, I was the only male in the room. The only male from Ebonyi State.

She turned to woman Y, and I felt a pea-sized relief. "You see that thing you said a while ago, these people, Ebonyi men, are fond of that."

Now, she faced me, and I wished she never did. The words exploded from her lips like a storm held in for too long.

Her contributions were profound but true. An Ebonyi man could be at home all day or somewhere, say a drinking joint in the midst of friends, chatting away, while his wife laboured on the farm, in the scorching sun. And in the cool of the evening or whenever she returned home, exhausted and hungry, she wobbled to the kitchen to make dinner. While the man sat in the living room, legs crossed, waiting for his food.

These were not mere accusations. As one from Ebonyi, I have come close to a first-hand experience. It was not a hearsay. For eighteen years I had lived under this ruthless atmosphere, until I gained admission at 19 or thereabout.

At the time we were living in Itakpe, Kogi State. My parents, me, and my four siblings. Ours was a two-bedroom bungalow directly attached to another bungalow on its side. The cream-coloured walls automatically took on a brown hue each time dirty fingers were smudged on them or a leather ball was tossed across them. I did not know if it was a thing common with all Ebonyi men or just my father. My father who wore his pride like an insignia.

At an early stage, the use of belts or long sticks plucked from the Gmelina tree behind our neighbour's house became a pivotal dish in serving Papa's corporal punishments.

Each time we violated one of his buckets of rules or fomented trouble around the neighbourhood, he wielded any of these vehicles of torture on us. Sometimes, he went overboard with his punishments, and only stopped flogging us at the sight of blood streaming down our broken head or face or hand. The blood irritated him, and he yelled at us to go wash it off at the bathroom.

But Mama was different. The sight of blood frightened her to the toes. Yet it did not stop her from measuring out punishments when we erred. But not to the point of drawing blood from our body.

Subsequently, he began to hit my mother, and gradually, the seed of resentment that had been sown in the field of my heart sprouted, gathering thorns, crawling towards Papa in the shape of water.

Every night he returned home, sometimes drunk, emptying his anger and frustration on her body. Overnight she became a canister bloated with pain and wounds from his fists. Until she was drained of joy and peace. Many a times, she wore heavy make-up and an enchanting smile in public, to conceal the wounds and her world plagued by grief.

Woman Y paused, holding a marker to the board. She looked as if she had a lot boiling within her, but would rather draw the line at this juncture.

But woman X kept talking. "I have a friend, now late. That woman suffered in the hands of her husband until her death. Maka chukwu!" She kissed the tip of an index finger and raised it above her head.

Woman Y was swinging the marker in her hand as she said, "Why didn’t you advise her to leave the marriage?"

"I did. Honestly, I did. But you know some women now, when they love a man, they make him the centre of their universe, as though nothing and no-one else matters. Like I was saying. This woman was stinking rich. She had money to the core. But the husband reduced her to nothing. Every blessed day, this man would beat this woman. There was nothing this woman did not give this man. Yet, it was not enough for him. The last straw that broke the horse's back was when she caught him with another woman making out on their matrimonial bed. Imagine."

Woman Y snapped her fingers. "Tufiakwa! Alu! Abomination!"

Woman X's story made my eyes pepper with tears. But I was quick to dab them with a hand, forestalling an overflow.

As much as I could remember, Mr N became a household name. Mr N, a stout, rotund man, who flounced about with that smug air of the entitled. Mr N, a geologist working at the national iron ore mining company, Itakpe, together with my father, who was a mining engineer. But he was two levels ahead of my father. Mr N, a fellow catholic.

Mr N who, sometimes, spent several hours in our place, chatting with Papa over bottles of star and a plate of nkwobi Mama made for them.

One night, Papa came home, not drunk. At the buzz of his car as it rolled into the compound, we all scattered from the living room, each of us running to our shared room. Until mother yelled our names out, beckoning us to go welcome our father.

His reply to our "daddy, good evening, daddy, welcome," was husky, his eyes barely settling on us. "Where's your mother?" He said in Igbo after telling my sister to pick the bags from the boot of the car. She replied him with the English accent, and he snarled at her. "Onye nzuzu. Common Igbo, you can't speak. Fool."

My heart hammered against my chest as he bounded up the cemented walkway into the house. He was a bomb about to go off: a pair of puckered eyebrows and a puffy face.

Inside, he was raising his voice at Mama, who looked befuddled, hands splayed out.

His Igbo was thick and almost indecipherable, but I was able to grasp a few words. Something had happened at work, perhaps a fight between Mr N and him. Mr N had failed to append his signature to a couple of documents necessary for a contract Papa had been neck-deep for a while. And now he blamed her for his misfortune, after all they were both from Imo State.

Before we realized what was happening, he drew closer and slapped her face. She broke down in tears. “What did I do? Gini ka mere gi? Whatever happens at work or between you and him, you take it out on me. Why? Was I there when you both had the fight? Was I there when he had refused to sign the documents? We are from the same state but he's not my brother."

He raised his hand to hit her but stopped midair, noting her transformation, the fearlessness in her eyes. Now, she charged at him, raising her voice. "Kill me! Eni, kill me! It's on my body you can wield your strength. You cannot stand up to your fellow man. Coward!"

With time Mr N became the reason for Papa's failure, his delayed promotions while his colleagues got promoted. If he wasn't solely the reason for the quarrel between my parents, he contributed largely to it.

Mama no longer greeted Mr N's wife, whenever they passed by each other or she smiled too widely at her as though it came from a place of warmth, because Papa had warned her sternly to have nothing to do with their family.

May, 2005. The year that broke my family, especially Mama. The year Itakpe was privatized, sold out by the Nigerian governmenta failed thing that needed savingto the Indians. That same year a flood of workers lost their jobs because they were either laid off or forcefully retrenched from active service by the Indians.

That year, Mama put to bed, and the neighbours and church members gathered around to felicitate with us, to share in our joy. It was a boy, a fine chubby creature neatly tucked in his crib. See this Oyinbo pepper, a woman cheered as she tweaked at his cheeks. The congratulations kept flying in the air like confetti, while Mama smiled and nodded to each one. Then, her phone jingled. She answered the call, and at once my mother froze for a moment. I noticed something was amiss. The moment she snapped out of that stillness, she became unduly excited, smiling too widely at everyone, and laughing, almost hysterically, at the jokes Papa made.

Later that evening, after Papa had made the announcement about Mama being laid off (choosing not to use the term sacked) I leaned by the door of their room, watching as she rocked my little brother in her arms. She was singing a lullaby to put him back to sleep, and the moment I heard her snort and wipe her nose, I knew she had been crying. Perhaps, she was wondering how she would survive this turmoil with the baby, without a job. I knew Mama wasn't a lazy woman. She did not compromise her job like her colleagues did. As a bursar working in a secondary school, she juggled the duties of being a mother and the demanding nature of her job. And strangely, she had been able to balance both, to survive both. There was always food in the house, and meats crammed into our freezers, and all these were made possible by Mama. From time to time, she changed our wardrobe when are clothes no longer fit, outgrowing their usefulness.

The only thing Papa ensured their availability were our school fees and textbooks; the rest he lavished on his exorbitant lifestyle: buying the latest clothes and shoes, consumption of alcohol.

It took a while before Mama could bounce back on her feet, before she became a shop owner at Abobo. Before then, she had nothing doing. All day, she was at home, in front of the TV, watching African Magic. And sometimes following our return from school, we prayed she was not at home. That at least, she had gone out. In those days, I was all about her getting a job, enraged by her nonchalance to push herself from that pit of self-pity and loath, that I had yelled at her without thinking. "Are you happy the way you are? African Magic from morning to night. Are you not tired of Papa's insults?" She froze in her seat, awestruck at my outburst because I had never raised my voice at her. Yet, I did not pause for a second to reconsider my action, to put myself in her shoes. Did I think she was happy the way she was, doing nothing? she said, tears pooling in her eyes. "Do you think I enjoy the way your father insults me in this house? Do you think I am happy knowing that I can't afford common soap for myself or textbook for my children without asking him? And if he actually gives them to you, you'd wish you hadn't accepted those things from him in the first place."

Maybe, if only I had pictured myself in Mama's place, the trauma she had been going through, then I would have been more tender with my words. If only I knew the dilemma of sleeping and waking up every day knowing that you had nowhere else to be rather than at home, waiting for your children to come home so you could tend to their needs, and slaving for a man who paid little or no attention to your efforts, there wouldn't have been any need for my outburst.

When Mama finally paid for the shop out of her small savings and with the help of a few friends, she invited the parish priest over to anoint the place. He walked around the small room, the priest in bone-white cassock, the ceiling slightly caving in on us, sprinkling water from a container.

Leaning at a corner of the wall, I made the sign of the cross over my forehead, heralding the end of the prayer. I followed the priest's eyes as they flipped around small bags of semovita, tins of milk, loaves of bread placed neatly on wooden shelves. The priest turned to Mama. "I know my friend must have spent a lot to stock up this place."

My blood seethed. I had begun to suck my teeth when Mama smiled at mea sign for me to calm down, to swallow up the words welling up my throat. If only the priest knew that Papa did not lift a hand to help her, or lend her the money he had promised to give her, he, probably, would have hated my father like I did.

The wick of conversation between the women had burnt out, and now they turned to the board. Woman Y was teaching Algebra, while woman X held the phone in front of her, recording the moment.

The ghosts of their words still hovered in front of me. Men, fear them. They are wicked! Especially Igbo men, very pompous and self-conceited.

But this was not the kind of man I had become. I belonged to a certain breed of men who made a fool of the system steeped in patriarchy by raising a different flag, hoisted on the platform of love for all women regardless of tribe and race. I was the sort of man who was not afraid to flaunt his love for his mother in public, despite the darts of hate and envy shot at me by other men. Men who, probably, had no atom of regard for women.

My father's face popped up in the lines of my vision, his bulging forehead, and yellow eyeballs that widened in their sockets each time he was furious. I remembered challenging him to a fist fight. It was on a Saturday and we had all rolled out of bed quickly to our parents' raised voices cracking the quiet of the morning. Their words rammed into each other, and without pausing to decipher the reason for the tussle, I lurched at him the moment he started to hurl his fists at her. Although he threw a few punches that met my nose and I felt a crack in the bone, I balled my fist at his back.

Moments later, he began to call his village people. The first on the list was his brother in Lagos. He told him that I had signed my death certificate. And that he was going to disown me. Next, was his sisters, especially the ones who supported him, who fed his hungry ears with the things they wanted to hear. Everything else but the truth.

"I did not treat my father like this o," he yapped. "I never raised a finger on my father."

After the calls ended, he turned to me, where I sat on the floor at a corner of the living room, face buried in my palms. His Igbo rang out of him dry and spiky. "Go and ask them, those who raised a finger on their fathers where they are today."

When my mother pleaded with me to beg my father for mercy, I could not believe it was her speaking. "He is still your father, Onyebuchi," she said, facing me in the kitchen. It had been his fault not hers. Papa did not know how to talk to a woman kindly, to make her do what he wanted. Maybe, just maybe, if he had asked Mama politely for some money, not coerce her into handing in her savings account booklet, as though he had equal rights to her money, she would have obliged him.

Although I had apologized to him, and he pretended as though it did not matter to him, I was glad I had stood up to him. Because he never laid a finger on her. And this meant that he began to see me differently, treated me differently as against the rest of my siblings. Especially my immediate younger brother, whom he preferred to me. Because he thought this brother of mine was like him: the kind of son that remained mute, did not stir when his father turned against his mother. But little did my father know that in the family, everyone suffered differently. Their incessant quarrels and fights had left us, children, broken, hollowed with grief. He did not know that whenever we were alone in our room, we shared our pain, dissecting it like a lab rat, beginning with my immediate younger brother, who complained bitterly about Papa's ruthless way of bringing order in his home. He does not know the emotional pain he's causing us, he said with tears in his eyes.

Hence, I resisted the urge to flare up each time Papa had his nightly meetings in the living room with my immediate younger brother, instead of me, engaging him in weighty matters meant for adults. I did not frown at him each time he refused to let me in on the places Papa had taken him to, the people he had been introduced to.

But if I was ever jealous of my brother, if my skin ever burnt with rage, I rarely showed it. I was good at bottling up the flames, pretending that I wasn't hurt each time Papa said he was better than me.

December 202o. Somewhere in Enugu State. We are seated in the living room, eyes fixed on the TV screen. All seven of us. My little brother is no longer little, and no longer chubby. But his height is one I'm jealous of. Often, he taunts everyone with it, especially our mother, standing beside her, measuring the length of him with her length. And then, we would all burst out laughing the moment he says, "Mummy, you short o. You no even pass my waist."

My writing isn't going so well because my job snatches up a chunk of my time. Still, whatever little time I have, I seize it and write. I'm specifically glad because I now write what feels true to me, fiercely. Before now, whenever I sit to write about feminism or homosexuality and the deluge of homophobic slurs and onslaughts in Nigeria, I pause, retracing my steps. In that brief moment, my mind becomes a rollercoaster of thoughts. What would society think of me, my parents, siblings, those who see me as a role model? How would they look at me now? What would be their judgements? Would I have disappointed them by telling these stories? Still, no matter the fear or weight of rejection or prejudice, I believe as writers, it behooves on us to tell these stories with all honesty because they equally matter as other narratives.

It's been twenty-five years, and the rift between my father and me has tapered off. Although we do not talk as much as we should, like father and son, like friends, for the first time in a long while, I do not cringe at the presence of my father. I do not stand up to walk into the room at the hum of his car strolling into the shared compound. When my father prances into the living room in briefs, I greet him in the dialect of our people. Jowka, sir. I do not stand up to leave the room. I sit on the sofa like others, staring at the characters on the screen, dipping into the silence hanging in the air.


Ewa Gerald Onyebuchi is an Igbo writer from Nigeria. He writes both short stories and poems.

An alumnus of Osiri University 2021 Creative Writing Masterclass taught by professor Chigozie Obioma, he was, in 2020, shortlisted for the Ibua publishing continental call, a finalist for the Spring 2021 Starlight Award for poetry, longlisted for the 2022 AUB international poetry prize, recently shortlisted for the 2022 spectrum poetry competition, received an honourable mention in the L. Ron Hubbard's Writers of the Future Contest for the 4th quarter, 2022, longlisted for the 2022 Kendeka prize for African literature, and shortlisted for the Ibua publishing themed contest in the same year. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in the Uncanny magazine, quarter after eight, lumiere review, rigorous, Temz review, Afritondo, brittle paper african writer, nantygreens, Ibua journal, the pine cone review and elsewhere.

Contact Ewa

(Unless you type the author's name
in the subject line of the message
we won't know where to send it.)

Book Case

Home Page

The Preservation Foundation, Inc., A Nonprofit Book Publisher