My Father's Head
He was the only person in the whole village who didn't need to move his whole body around to get a clear view of any space.
Mama told me, "Chike here is what you should expect: when you get there be well composed. Do not put on a cloth that will make them look at you like you fell from Mars. Be simple, no shiny shoes. Your father's head shouldn't be hard to find, his temples are always sunken in; back then he didn't eat too much Shaki meat--I bet that's why. His eyes are globes, they bulge too prominently--you won't miss them. He has a tiny neck: they say when God gives you a big head, he also gives you a thick neck to bear the weight. But God gave your father such a tiny neck that a slight wind could easily tip his head to an angle. Also, look out for any neck that can turn 180 degrees, that should be your father! He was the only person in the whole village who didn't need to move his whole body around to get a clear view of any space. Your father did not own a television, so you should expect him to have big ears. He loved to listen to his transistor radio and you know what they say about Lamarck's theory of use and disuse of body parts. It applies here. His nose is spade shaped, the ala spreads towards his cheeks until you would think they want to fall out of his face. But, they can smell anything, from the foul breath of Chief Omego--who was the first man in the whole village to own a toothpaste and brush--to the distinct odor of mama Ijebu's armpit five miles away. Be careful, it could smell you too, so douse your body with talcum powder until it buries your aura. Your father hates talcum powder. Finally, your father's head is bald. Do not forget that."
But when I get there, there is a sea of heads and it is not as Mama has described. The keeper looks at me from his sunken eyelids, the dark circle around them spread like a penumbra. He is a mixture of many races, a petit and bald headed ominous looking man in his late seventies who is rumored to have lived more than that. "When you get there, Look at his nose," my friend Xi Ling says to me. "People say it changes each time they visit the mausoleum to pick up their fathers' heads; it's as though he switches destinies." Xi Ling comes from an old Chinese family of face readers. In the old world, their reputation was as old as the great wall itself. Xi Ling could look at the ridge of your nose and tell you what you'd be at forty. Before now, he couldn't do all these until he was of age, and went to the mausoleum to pick up his father's head. In this new world, it is tradition that when a man dies, his body is buried without a head. A man's head keeps on living even after death, and contains a wealth of information to be passed on to the next generation. Xi Ling became a face reader the moment he tasted the stew made with his father's ears.
Looking at the keeper's nose now, its crooked, not as aquiline as that of the Italians; the way the last visitor had described. He keeps a little distance from me, and takes me from table to table, head to head, all submerged inside transparent pots filled to the brim with diluted formalin that its thick stench diffuses to every corner of the long hall. Some of the eyes follow my movement, some tongues stick out in mockery, a nose flares but the ears are almost not noticeable. My father's head is not anywhere. We stop at a stand with a large head and a small nose and the keeper turns to look at me. "When did your father die?" he asks. I do not really know, and while I try to fashion a reply, I'm distracted by a glimpse of his thin Caucasoid neck that wobbles as though it will slant any minute and his head will roll off his shoulders. My mother once said my father died sixteen days after the death of the Sun; she was not sure, because my father didn't actually die, he just disappeared and never returned. So instead I reply, "about twenty days after the Sun died." He frowns, and the furrows that appear on his forehead ripple down to his chin. It's as though every expression rearranges his facial conformation like a Rubik's cube. He turns and veers off at a tangent, unlocking a wooden door, and exposing a corridor I did not know existed. "The heads here died just after the sun was lost. Find him," he says and turns his back on me. Bulging eyes, bald head, small ears, scooped nose, no. Big ears, broad nose, afro hair, no eyes, no. I keep on until I get to the last stand. Then, I make a swift turn to the back of the exhibitions, none of the heads follow me, no 180 degrees twisting, none except the keeper's head. He is standing there transfixed with eyes wide like an owl's and neck twisted like a wrung piece of wet towel. "I found it," I say, and his cheeks redden. He unwinds his neck and turns his whole body around. Then he begins to shuffle towards me as though if he moves too fast, his neck will snap.
Mama told me, "Chike should you find it, do well to pluck the eyes out. They are all you need and are best served when roasted. Chike, your destiny is to become your father's reincarnate. You know what they say, the father sees through the son and the son through the father...."
My father keeps shuffling towards me.