Oh Nigeria!

by E. Ethelbert Miller

it’s wednesday and it’s lunchtime
and i’m waiting for omar to
come around the corner with a bag
of sweet things and other goodies
my mother holds the record for
consecutive bad lunches packed
for kids

here it’s wednesday and i’m going
overboard from hard salami and cheese
and wet tunafish and bread
why can’t she get sweet rolls like omar’s mom
and fill a thermos with good warm soup
i’m not even a soup boy but then omar
is always getting inside my head
and telling me stuff i never heard of. . .

just yesterday he tells ms. greenfield
that there were muslims in africa
and ms. greenfield she has the tape
in her hand trying to fix the black
history bulletin board because it’s february
again and i know she wants to use it on
ms. greenfield she’s just learning
about the sahara herself and maybe
where egypt is and now omar
wants to talk about muslims in africa

i say

omar taught me to say that because
he doesn’t like to use bad words
whenever something bad or strange
is about to happen
omar says


so i say it too
and it keeps my mouth clean

so how come allah let us be slaves?
i ask omar on the way home from school
omar he keeps walking but then he slows down
and says

my daddy said
only the africans who lost
their wings became slaves
all the others escaped

my daddy said
allah gave us wings
and the holy book but some of us
didn’t believe and started to do
bad things
so we had to be punished

suddenly i think if ms. greenfield
a black woman
trying to teach 30 of us something
and getting no help

i think of her being punished
for no reason at all
just like those africans

someone threw ms. greenfield
into the bottom of a boat with
no books
no pencils
no erasers
no computers
no art supplies
and not enough desks

everyday there be a chain of us
around her making noise and laughing
and only omar paying attention
and he wants to talk about muslims

so we come to the corner
where we both live
and omar looks at me and says

happy black history month
and i’ll have bean soup tomorrow
see you later

i watch omar run up the stairs
to his house
his long muslim shirt hanging out
from beneath his coat
his shirt flapping in the wind
like a wing

omar’s front door opens
and i say

oh nigeria

(under my breath)


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