Essays · News

AMMUNITION

by Akumbu Uche

You must be familiar with the details by now: at a Colorado screening of the latest Batman movie, a young man opened fire in the darkened theatre room, killing 12 people and wounding 58 more.

This is the menu Al Jazeera and CNN have been dishing out lately, sandwiched between the tugs of war that are Red America versus Blue America, pro-Assadists versus anti-Assadists and the gist is trending, not only on the Internet but in the newsroom where I work.

When we are not pitching, covering or filing our own news reports, you can find us, rookies and veterans alike, discussing, debating and opinionating.

Stricter gun control, get rid of guns, the individual’s right to bear arms.

Echoing the panelists on talk show after talk show, our discourse is mostly about guns.

I remember similar debates stemming from similar headlines – Columbine, Virginia Tech, now Aurora.

I also remember a similar incident that occurred closer to home; in South Africa, a young man caught his girlfriend and his housemate in a compromising situation. The day after, the disgraced lover picked up a loaded rifle that just happened to be laying on the table and shot dead the adulterer; he too had also once been his lover.

Naturally, it caused quite a stir and fuelled the newspaper industry in that country but the news was not broadcast via satellite TV and Facebook links. Instead, I read about it in Nadine Gordimer’s book, The House Gun*.

In the novel, the young man’s actions posed a challenge to his lawyer’s track record and to his parents, a shocking quiz.

Was it mental insanity, inability to deal with trauma or uncontrollable anger on their son’s part or was it neglectful parenting on their own part?

Beneath his professional detachment, Gordimer’s fictional judge may have also felt compelled to cast blame somewhere, seeing as he proclaimed in addition to his sentence,

It is unfortunate that a deadly weapon, a gun, was casually accepted as part of the household…. (pg 258)**

and

But that is the tragedy of our present time…. Part of the furnishings in homes, carried in pockets along with car keys, even in the school-bags of children, constantly ready to hand in situations which lead to tragedy, the guns happen to be there. (pg 267)

 

On my TV screen, I watched someone say, a knife couldn’t have done that much damage. I disagree; hatred and fear not bullets are the ammunition in situations like this.

In my continent as in yours and yours too, many a massacre, many a war, many an accident have been made possible by some kind of blade. Let’s not forget too, that every day; explosives are made from ordinary domestic cleaning agents.

The question of the gun problem (as with nuclear proliferation) has its place but it seems to me that we place much more emphasis on the weapon of choice and not the individual’s choice.

The way I see it (and I may be wrong), an object is only as useful or useless as its handler’s intent.

Club, guillotine, machete, arrow, chemicals, anthrax, H-bomb, drone. All become destructive when our killing instincts are aroused. Aroused by what? Annoyance, insults, threats? What makes man desire, decide to kill his fellow human being?

Do we then blame Godlessness, moral decline, power without discipline or our evolutionary origins? What is the root cause of the rise in mindless, devastatingly bloody violence the world over?

That is a more challenging question but it can start a thread and that’s a conversation I would like to participate in.

 

*You may also want to read We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

**Citations are made from the1998 Penguin Edition.

Animals · Essays · Relationships

SUZY AND I

by Akumbu Uche

During my childhood, I had a serious case of cynophobia. This was despite the fact that I grew up with a dog in the household.

There is a photograph of my siblings and me posing with our family German Shepherd Dog, Dike. We four kids are standing at rigid attention, pale-faced from holding our breaths too long; eight dilated eyes screaming at the camera, We’d rather be anywhere but here. The source of our discomfort is chained beside us, a medium sized dog with beautiful sandy and black mixed coat, intelligent eyes, aloof nose and fly-bitten ears.

It did not always use to be like that. There is an older picture of my 3-year-old self, seated on the grass, my right hand draped casually around the neck of a giant mongrel. I remember the dress I was wearing in the picture but I do not remember the dog, my grandfather’s old dog Bull. Legend has it that he was killed in a hunting accident. My grandfather must have loved him very much because he did not replace him until five years later. At around the same time, my parents decided we too needed a dog to deter armed robbers and burglars from our new home.

By this time, I was convinced that all dogs were ferocious, snarling creatures that could not be trusted except if restrained by a chain. A belief passed down to me from my mother. From her I learned to gasp and jump in the air if I heard a dog bark and to stand still with shock if I mistakenly encountered one face to face. All those family friends, who assured us their puppies could not, did not and would not bite? Please. I knew better. All animals are irrevocably feral.

Oddly enough, I enjoyed watching those Dog-themed movies and TV series that were so popular during the 90s – Look Who’s Talking 3, Beethoven, 101 Dalmatians, Homeward Bound, All Dogs Go to Heaven, The Lady and the Tramp, The Littlest Hobo, Scooby-Doo and many more.

Years passed and one day, I came back from University to learn that our faithful sentinel, Dike was dead and buried beneath the palm tree in the garden. In his stead was a small reddish brown sausage dog with big floppy ears and eager eyes. Not an ounce of doggy smell about her; just short agile legs and a stretchy slender torso. Her name was Suzy and she was a “dash hound” as I erroneously pronounced her kind.

The first day we met, she growled at me. By the next day, we had become firm friends. From then on, she was always either in my lap or in my arms. I loved to caress her short-haired fur and carry her around like a baby. To pick her up, I would place my right hand behind her forelegs and fold her hind legs with my left hand.

My mother would eye me as suspiciously as she did Paris Hilton and the other Hollywood starlets who, as we saw in magazines, dressed up their lapdogs in sweaters and skirts and either tucked them away in their jackets or toted them around in designer handbags. It always seemed strange to her why anybody would want a dog so close to his or her body.

Suzy loved to lie down and sleep in the laundry basket. The fuller the basket, the cozier she felt. Her other favourite place was the kitchen especially when there was some form of cooking going on and she would prance about and sniff rather excitedly. Suzy was such a joy to be with.

Dachshunds make excellent guard dogs but Suzy was the exception to the rule. She greeted strangers with undiluted friendly enthusiasm. Her protective instincts only kicked in when she thought herself threatened. If you held a broom or mop near Suzy, she would start whimpering and would cower and retreat. If the room was closed or she had backed herself into a tight corner, then she would get aggressive.

As soon as she encountered a toddler, she would let out a bark so profound; you could hardly believe it had come out from her pint-sized stomach. After that, she would turn away and hide. I had never heard of a dog that was distrustful of children.

We found out from the proprietors of Ole Dog House, the Omenukos that life in her previous home had involved some kind of abuse. Luckily, her breeder had found out and promptly reclaimed her. Through Ole Dog House, she had been put up for adoption and that was how we came to own her.

Time came for us to move from Port Harcourt to Abuja and Suzy could not go with us. My mother had a million and one excuses why she had never warmed to Suzy. She cited everything from her busy schedule to Suzy’s addiction to affection. The veritable explanation was that she is just not a dog person. Not everyone is.

Regretfully we took her back to Ole Dog House.

The last time I saw Suzy, she was bouncing excitedly on a bag of pure water sachets. That was three years ago. She had been adopted into the Omenuko family and had settled well into her new home, where the presence of three children and many German Shepherds ensured she always had friends to play with and adequate attention.

Thanks to the short time we spent together, I have realized that we have so much in common with the canine species. Like us, they have personality; they have fears and loves and they are as capable of depth of feeling as they are of reasoning.

Many people dream of the car, house or gadgets they will purchase once they make it or “hammer”, as we like to say. For me, financial security will provide me the means to take care of my very own canine companion.  I have a bias for dachshunds and I already have a gender-neutral name picked out.

I am cautious of strange dogs still, but that irrational, paralyzing fear is gone. I owe this to Suzy.