Posted in Poetry

A long song for the boy who waits

He sits and counts the days and the hours

mama has been away to the market

for seven market weeks now

and they all say that this market she went to

is located in some very far away place

and he tells himself that he will ask her

why she did not wake him the morning she left

to go to this far market to say good bye 

He had woken up to learn she left for the market very early

at that time of day when the dew still holds back the lizard’s tail

and slows down their running,

at that time of day when night spirits

are hurrying back to their abodes

before their sworn enemy the sun catches

them out and abroad 

and so he waits and asks

“when will mama return from the market

other children’s mothers come back and go again

and I sit,  waiting for mine, mine who will not come back

mama, when  will you return from this market”

And he wished she would come back

prayed to Chineke and his personal chi

to hasten her return

so that he could tell her

how everybody had been so nice to him lately

and how papa no longer scolded him

how nda Uzoemena had come and taken

him to mama’s maternal village four days

after mama had gone to the market

and he had stayed two days

he would tell her of all the woman who hugged him

all saying Nwam-oo

and the nice meals they all competed to cook and bring for  him

and Nne, his grandmother who held and hugged him,

and the hushed whispers of the women when he was there

and how he thought Nne cried the day he arrived

and how when he asked why

she was said it was from joy of seeing him,

him, son of her only daughter Nwabuaku 

He would tell her when she came back

that once or twice in the night

he heard papa sobbing

when papa thought he was asleep

and he  smiled  as

he imagined how mama would then tease papa,

papa who always said men do not cry

yes, there was a lot he would tell her

how nda Nneka now came over to cook for papa and him

in the evenings and would stay to chat with them afterwards

how her onubu soup tasted more bitter than hers

and how he had resisted the first time she tried to bathe him

a boy of four was a man he prpoudly told her

and needed his privacy

he would tell how he overheard nda Uchechi and nda Onyemauche

discussing the other day

and one of them, he couldn’t remember which one of them,

saying that papa

would need another woman to look after the house, and how

they said Auntie Chimaoge would be perfect for the role

and he wondered why, but he would ask mama

and he knew she would smile softly and shyly and explain

as she always does

and he still sits and waits, missing her with each day that passess 

not knowing when she will come back,

very sure she would come home

but telling himself that he would not tell her any of these stories

until she had given him the ripe udala, the akara and yes, the utara ukwa

she would have bought for him from the market,

and then he would hug her and hold her

and ask her to never ever leave him lonely for this long again .


Development and policy analyst with a strong interest in the arts and inclusive social change. Dabbles occasionally into poetry and literary criticism!

21 thoughts on “A long song for the boy who waits

    1. Yes, Susan, It is sad. when such separations do occur, the standard story is to tell the very young children that mama is away to the market and will come back soon. Often I sit and wonder whether it would not be better to simply announce the death and the finality of the separation! Really don’t know!


      1. I don’t know how much is understood–I told my son that grandma had gone to heaven, and he said, “When she comes back, can we get her some ice cream?” I think children learn separations like this by living them, as the boy in the poem does–whether the truth is told, or they are told someone is at the market. Either way, the loved person does not walk through the door again. You so eloquently describe this first lesson in loss–again, beautiful!


  1. Stunning voice. Really captures confused emotion from bereft child’s point of view. Poetry is most difficult medium for me to enjoy usually but this touching message will stick in my mind for all the right reasons. Regards // Seyi


  2. I really don’t know what to say that won’t sound like I simply copied and pasted my comments on your other poems that I have seen? They are all so brilliant. This is a little bit different from your usual style but just as engaging, Uncle, you are truly gifted…I am in awe of a mind that can come up with the kind of poems you write. Truly beautiful. Though the subject of the poem is sad, I like the poem. I particularly like that it is told with the voice of a four year old boy and the innocence of that age…It is a beautiful poem and I honestly believe it could win an award.


  3. Noel the paradox of the culture whether African(as in gone to the market) or Western(as in gone to heaven)is lucidly exposed in this poem.The whole idea of telling lies(albeit benign)to children when they lose a loved one is to shield the child from agony of the truth thereby reducing the pain also of the Liar.The poem clearly reveals that this age-old stye only produces both relief(hope) and pain(hopeless) for the child and ultimately the lying adult.
    Perhaps telling the truth right away would be a better course to follow but who would have the heart to say to a 3 year old girl that Daddy will never be seen again soon after the death of a father.Who? And so I guess the lie about market and heaven will be with us for a long, long time to come.
    Well- crafted poem.


    1. Vicki nnem, you are very kind with your comments. Your reflections on how best to break the news in such situations as well as the implications of the choices we make when handling such issues are so spot on! Imela.


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