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Black Is Not Always Beautiful

I can see black as it rises, in the form of smoke to the heavens and I would say that black is not always beautiful. Sometimes there would be red shadows on a portion of the sky whilst other times the atmosphere stays ashen. I would wonder if the ozone layer is being depleted, or if it has been finished, or perhaps if it has not been affected at all. It has been some tough five years and I am still counting. I am here and the smoke also reigns.

In Russian playwright Anton Chekov’s story, Uncle Vanya, he said “Man has been endowed with reason, with the power to create, so that he can add to what he’s been given. But up to now he hasn’t been a creator, only a destroyer. Forests keep disappearing, rivers dry up, wildlife’s become extinct, the climate’s ruined and the land grows poorer and uglier every day.” Until I was eleven, I never realized the extent to these damages he had described. These metal and plastic producing firms are localized near us –bungalows, duplexes, storey buildings, schools, minimarts and wherever else people need to be. Their chimneys –these hollow, hoisted, silver columns– that I can see through our sitting room window, rent the air with toxin. The neighbors living in the block of houses nearest to these companies change every moment. We are chained here, mayhap because the haze does not affect us as much.

The smoke is terrific and we know very well that it is more than just fume. We know that these jinxed fumes can cause asthma. Somebody I knew had developed the respiratory disorder due to the air pollution. I have been here too long though, I cannot tell the difference anymore. I just know I breathe and with whatever the disease, the smoke is yet to have me in its claws.
The companies occupy something that would be a large expanse of land –acres or hectares, I cannot measure. They gift us foreign neighbors –these Indians live in one of the storey buildings close by– who oversee their companies and manage what should be considered the Nigerian reality of the former British workhouse.

Our neighbors work there accepting an unjust fate of a culture called temporary employment. Without any job security, they would suffer through gruesome heat, melting metals in sizzling huge pots. People get hurt over there on what seems like a daily basis. The injuries range from first degree to third degree burns and at unfortunate times, there are incidents where the victims die. For a piddling remuneration, penury makes people work there even though they know that danger lurks in the contract. More agonizing is the fact that the bereaved families might not receive compensation as much as is due, neither would the injured be given a handsome medical allowance.

The tragedy here does not travel as deep as it does in certain places. At least they do not deposit the torrents of their liquid wastes in our gutters, causing gully erosion, like some terrific companies do in a place like the Phoenix-Ogijo route. There, the topsoil was completely washed off, so that the road is a nightmarish pool. There was a time whence only certain vehicles could wade through the flood and persons would be seen swimming through the horror. I heard recently however, that the Ogun State government seemed to have repaired that road. It is not as faulty as it was in 2016, whence I passed through that route on a daily basis.


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Just recently, I have seen a version of this sort of firm-induced flood around, here in Odogunyan. Whenever the rain falls, the steel-producing company pours its liquid waste into the gutters, even though they are aware of the fact that, the gutters cannot house that unreasonable amount of water. Worse still, the gutters here are connected to the inland waterway, such that if a person loses his or her footing whilst wading through the flood, there is very little chance for survival. A high school student once died in this flood, about two years ago. I also went to school on that day and I survived, but I know it must have been painful for those who had losses to count.
I am tired of waiting. The wrath of the black smoke dooms over us. I wait not for when we would be devoured. I wait for succor, for a day when every such problem would vanish –whence someone would hear our silent cries. The government, an organization or the owners of these companies –anyone or all of them would surely be enough. We do not ask for much and me as for one, I am sick of the blame game. I do not apportion faults to any party. I want us to mourn no more. Neither this black air, nor this black sky, nor that horrific black flood is beautiful. We want these ugly shades of black off our street –dead here and everywhere else.

Oyeleye Mahmoodah is a freelance writer from Nigeria. She is a member of hilltop creative arts foundation, Nigeria and a student at Lagos State University, Ojo, Lagos State, Nigeria. She delights in anything which is arty.

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