The Girl Called Fortunate

I’ve been told the stars have names, every single one of them. That some people who did not have problems decided to pass their time by naming them. White people! How is that even possible? There are too many of them and they all look alike, how could the namers tell them apart?

I try to concentrate more as I look at them, to see if I will notice some differences that had earlier eluded me but I see none, the only difference is that some are bigger and brighter. I choose the brightest one I can find and focus all my attention on it. Soon, my world narrows down to just that star. A great pain in my mid-section soon shatters that focus. I stiffen. The star separates into multiple blurry stars as tears pool in my eyes and then converges when the tears snake down my temple. I do not bother to wipe them. Continue reading

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One Sense Less Existence

The morning the news broke that a new mother gouged out her new-born’s eyes the country was agog with it. The story could not be missed; it was on TV, in the papers, radio, online, on lips… Everyone everywhere was talking about it, each reacting in his own way; women in the market lifted shoulders and snapped fingers in open condemnation of the act, men at their businesses folded their arms and shook their heads, you see women, they can be very dangerous! Continue reading

Change Begins With Not Just Me

Long before President Muhammadu Buhari started the ‘Change Begins With Me’ campaign Oluwadara was already living this mantra.

She saw her children as her responsibility to society; the people who through their actions will create a ripple effect that will transform the larger society into what she always hoped it would be.

She was not going to undermine the magnitude of this responsibility so she chose to start early, teaching her children lessons most people complained were too advanced for ones so tender.

When she noticed the first signs of sibling rivalry she used it to mold her son into what she wished every man in the world would be – a gentleman. Continue reading

Dead Men Who Make Demands

Hello Guys,

Here is a new story I wrote for The Musty Corner. It was edited and published by them first, but I decided to publish it here also because i do not want to deny you wonderful people the chance to read this story which i enjoyed writing so much.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much.


A few months ago Priye thought she was the luckiest woman alive. The state of utmost contentment she was in made her not to want anything else or aspire to a greater situation. She felt fulfilled, happy, satisfied – quite complacent if you like, but she was comfortable with that. Everything was good.

In the present moment only the presence of Santan gives her anything close to joy, one that is pathetic when compared to her previous state.

Clingy, selfish, demanding Santan. Priye was not unaware of the look of irritation bestowed on Santan when people thought she wasn’t looking. If she was another’s offspring, not hers, Priye would have felt and acted the same way, but there’s something about the love a mother has for her child. It does not diminish, not even if the child were born with horns and a tail. Only a mother will understand this feeling. Continue reading

The Smell of Fear

Fear has a smell. The realization that you’ve lived with it for the bulk of your existence dawns gradually. The familiarity of it. It’s like an old friend you do not like but have to stick with because no one else will be with you.

It was there, hovering just around your nostrils, one of those nights when you had been locked out of the house, again, and you witnessed a murder in your notorious neighborhood. You plastered your body against the wall of your fence, as if to merge with it and prayed not to be seen. Continue reading

When Hearts Melt

You seemed safe or maybe I needed to believe that. So I peeled back a little the beautiful dressing hiding many ugly foibles and telling scars.

You didn’t cringe like the rest. No. You just angled that pretty head and looked on like it was nothing; even perfectly normal. Hope spilled; soothing lotion on a burn, pouring over my wounds and making me believe they weren’t as ugly as they appeared. Emboldened, I revealed some more and even more until I was standing bare before you. Trusting.

I would have done anything; become anything; stripped the layers of pride I wore like a defence and lay it at your feet, gladly inviting you to stomp all over, your footprints on them a sign that everything that used to matter no longer does and only one thing does – you. Continue reading

Don’t Sing My Praise

I am hungry. It happens a lot these days. I have nibbled on enough snacks to conclude that no amount of food will fill the longing in me.

Giving up on food I seek company, not just anyone’s, only from minds that can sate a fraction of the hunger. I keep my phone close, staring at it with longing and wonder why no one has reached out yet. I consider reaching out then check myself. I won’t grovel. That which is not given freely I do not want. Continue reading

The Outcast

Uncertainty is one of the attributes of life, such that one starts a day not knowing how or where it will end or that it could be the turning point that changes everything forever.

At the back of our compound is a square concrete water tank. By the top right corner is  a small square opening, with a steel door through which we fetch water.

Along the edges of the roof covering our house runs a shallow trough we call ‘Gutter’ which terminates in a funnel attached to a pipe built into the tank. When it rains, water runs down the roof into the gutter and straight into the tank through the funnel.

Most families have a round shallow well, Umi, dug in their compound which produces water, orange in colour. This they cover with palm fronds. Only few have tanks like us.

It is to the top of this tank that I go whenever I want to be alone.  On a hot morning, as the sun took its place, I lay on the top of the tank and stared straight at the sky and the trees beyond our fence. Squirrels raced between palm trees and the owls hooted loudly. Every thing came alive with the new morning, except me. I felt logy. I had begun having a very restless feeling. I was not sure what it was, but I felt a strong need for change and deeply resented the fact that from sunrise to sundown it was the same things I saw; same trees, animals, people…

It was especially because of the people that I wanted to leave. The sound of cutlass hitting a tree in the distance alerted me to the presence of Odumegwu. I made an effort not to look at him strapped to the top of the tree but soon lost and peeped with my side eye.

Two moons back he had returned from the city and to everyone’s surprise settled into tapping palm wine and harvesting palm fruits like he did before he travelled. No one could comprehend why he felt the need to condescend to doing such tasks rather than live the life of luxury  his rank allowed. As he hit at the root of the palm fruit the muscles of his arms and legs bunched and flexed. Sweat glistened on his skin causing his grey sleeveless vest to cling to his chest. No doubt, there were other maidens, like me, watching him from their homes.

One heavy head of palm fruit fell with a loud thud and others followed until everywhere was silent again. I looked up wondering why he was not making any move to come down and there he was, leaning against the thick rope tied round his waist to the tree, his feet against the trunk.

He smiled and beckoned. I looked away convinced he was communicating with someone else, probably someone walking past below. He whistled loudly and when I looked at him he beckoned again. I put my hand against my chest, with a questioning look.  He nodded. He was indeed referring to me.

“You can’t be seen with me.” I warned when we met on the road, a great distance between us, and then asked the question on every villager’s mind. “You have servants, why must you climb the palm tree?”

“How else will I get to watch the girl I plan to marry lying on her tank?”

“You can never marry me.”

“I can’t? Why?”

On hearing footsteps i sprang further away from him and quickly turned to find Olugbajieboys rounding the bend with her elder sister, ugomma, supporting her weight.

Olanma was the most beautiful girl in Ejiochi. Some believed her to be the reincarnate of Sister Rosemary, a caucasian Reverend Sister, who had come to our village on mission duties and died of meningitis. Other Sisters returned to England after a while but Sister Rosemary remained with us, even after she became sick.

She had said “Wherever the work of the lord still needs to be done, that is my home” and stayed  till she breathed her last, lying on a mat in Olanma’s great grandmother’s hut. It is said that she had also requested to be buried in our land but the white men wouldn’t have that and took her body home.

When Olanma was born, she had hair the colour of the sun and skin like an over ripe pawpaw fruit. Those who came to visit at her birth upon seeing the child exclaimed “Ewoo! Sister Rosemary has come back to us.”

Her beauty was such that everyone who saw her stared unabashedly and kept turning to take several looks. She had gotten the nickname ‘Olugbajieboys’ when a freeborn had been staring at her so much that he failed to notice the ditch in front of him. He fell and broke his neck.

Now, Olugbajieboys didn’t seem like her beauty could possibly turn the head of any boy to the point of breaking. She had lost all form of comeliness and her veins and bones strained against what little flesh she had left.

She and her sister regarded both of us with a mix of suspicion and surprise as they paid courtesy to Odumegwu.

“Daa Ugomma, anya gi. It’s been a while” I greeted

“Anya n’ibe ya. Yes, it has.” She agreed “It is Olanma’s health that has been carrying us about.”

“Kedu nu? How are you doing?” Both sisters seemed startled by  Odumegwu’s question and saying nothing, nodded in the affirmative to show they were well then turned back to me.

“I am fine.” Olanma spoke slowly “At least I believe I will be better now that these have been removed from my body” She opened her hand to reveal a number of short black pins, some were rusted and she went on to explain.

“We are just coming from Nneosa village where their dibia, Onwanetiriobodo, is one like us and also very powerful. Just one tap at the affected areas and the pins fell off like rain.”

“Hmmm. Evil people! So they poured pin in you and that is what has been making you this sick? I suspected. Thank God you didn’t go to a medical hospital.”

“Ha, thank God o.” Ugomma raised both hands and eyes heavenward. “Those hospitals that for just ordinary cold they will inject you. By now she should be dead. You know needle and needle cannot go together. When their modern needle meets our native needle in the body, that is immediate death.”

“Of course.” I agreed, shivering at the thought of how close Olanma had come to dying.

By my side Odumegwu scoffed. He didn’t need to say anything. I knew he didn’t believe in pins and other diabolical events.

“What do you have to say?” I challenged.

“Nothing. Just that I am convinced that it is these native doctors who manufacture the pins and make you believe it is coming from your body. This business of sending pin into people’s bodies through the air is a lie cooked up by them to stay in business.

“Then how will you explain the restoration of good health afterwards?”

“Simple, the native doctors cause you to be sick so you can come to them for a cure then they collect your money and make you well again.”

“You see? So if you believe that a native doctor can send sickness to people why can’t you believe that there are other evil people who can also do same?”

He opened his mouth to argue again but I deliberately looked away bringing an end to the conversation.

Trying to convince people like him who have everything going well for them that evil exists in the world is impossible, but it still doesn’t change the fact that there is. Some we understood; like how someone could help uncork your drink and flick poison embedded in their finger nail into your drink. Others were beyond our comprehension. It is such as these that cause us, at gatherings, when not sipping our drink, to cover the bottle with our thumb pad to safeguard our drink from being poisoned through the air. It is also in this same way that pins are being sent into people’s bodies. This, however, is incomprehensible to foreigners like Father Maxwell and well-travelled natives.

Ugomma and Olanma said their goodbyes and left.  After that, we stood quiet for moments; I, looking everywhere but at him and he, staring at me without looking away.

“What?” I asked sharply.

“You still haven’t answered my question.”

“Except you want to claim that your memory was washed away in that city that you went to, you know the reason.”

“Yes, my memory was refined by the city. So go ahead and tell me why.” I noticed that during the course of our argument he had moved nearer and we were closer than was acceptable. I took several steps back.

“What has your mother done for you to choose to kill her?” He looked at me confused while I continued “Go and find someone else, one like you, or if you can’t, tell your mother to find one for you. We have no business together. You are a freeborn and I, an outcast.

Surprise transformed his face “You mean you are an ‘Osu’?”  I nodded in the affirmative waiting for the withdrawal. The freeborn have no business with outcasts. We are the scum of the earth and the merest communication with an Osu could turn a freeborn into one of us.

Like lepers, we are avoided, with separate markets, hospitals, schools, even Church, from the freeborn. At first the missionaries tried to integrate us but they would not have it and stayed away from church altogether and from the God who encouraged them to mix with those of us who owe our lives to the mercy of the Oracle.

When one who faces the danger of being killed or being sold into slavery runs into a shrine for protection, his life is spared but he becomes a property of the Oracle. He, his family, descendants and livestock become Osu. No one can kill him or his family else they will also become contaminated.

Father Maxwell, while trying to encourage us said we are like Cain in the bible on who God placed a mark so that no one would kill him while he wandered on exile. He asked us not to lose hope, that someday, like Cain, our exile will end. I seriously doubted it.

Marriage to an Osu also contaminated a freeborn so I expected Odumegwu to realise his error and walk away any minute and was surprised when he didn’t.

His surprise turned to anguish.

“I will have another talk with my father to end this segregation.” He promised and it was my turn to scoff.

“Just go. The Igwe’s power does not extend this far. Even if he could end it in our village we will still be despised by other villages.”

“Then go with me to the city. No one cares if you are an Osu there.” My heart beat faster. I wanted to go but feared the wrath of my parents and his parents, the Igwe and Lolo.

Without giving me time to retreat, he closed the space between us thus putting a chink in the walls of my resolution. “You are going with me to a place where there are no pins and black magic. I will show you the white man’s magic which is amazing and harmless. Don’t you want to know how it feels to be treated as a freeborn?”

I needed no further encouragement.

 


 

It has been five years since we eloped to the city and for the first time since then we are home bound. Ugegbeze, Odumegwu’s sister, and her husband, Peter, are also riding with us.  Emboldened by her brother’s action, she had equally defied tradition to become an Osu by marrying one and had been faced with the same fate as he, disownment.

But a father’s anger can only last for a while. And where pride wouldn’t let a man go back on his words, sometimes love prevails. Odumegwu’s parents have asked us to return for reconciliation and an integration of the Osu people into community.

I believe it is the birth of their grandchildren; twin girls from me and a very new baby boy from Ugegbeze that has softened their heart towards us enough to want to change the status quo.

Looking around the car at my family, all of us Osu- the first royal Osu family, but not for long- I know that there is no battle that cannot be won with bravery. Odumegwu and Ugegbeze braved the part no royal dared take and paved the way. The wind of change is sweeping through Ejiochi, even Olugbajieboys has been touched by it. She, an Osu, is married to Anyannaya, the freeborn lad who fell into a ditch watching her. I hear he said that though he came out of the physical ditch he fell into that day, he never wants to get out of the emotional one he’s fallen into since knowing Olanma.

I am happy for us all, but of all the joys of victory, the greatest is the knowledge that none of my children will have to grow up like I did; an outcast.

An Unusual Affair

For the first time I’m in love. For as long as I can remember I have anticipated this occurrence. While little girls and boys went through a phase where they detested the opposite sex and the idea of marriage, I never did.

It was a lively street I grew up in. I still live there but it is no longer the same, with families now less communal. At the time, individuals did not have the luxury of generators. Once night falls and ‘NEPA’ seizes power we would all come outside. The parents would lounge in wooden reclining chairs which almost every home owned while they enjoyed the fresh air. Sometimes they relaxed as a group, inside of our corridor, which is the largest and closest to the street, hence more breeze. Other times they just sat in their respective corridors and watched the kids. We, the kids would play every game conceivable.

‘London Bridge is falling down’ bored me easily. ‘Orioma, Danger’ held my attention a bit longer due to the heady feeling of letting myself go completely and being caught before i hit the ground. However the night was never complete until I had played at being a bride. I would tie my scarf the way we were taught to do in block rosary; holding the scarf vertically in front of my face, I would pass it round my face to the back of my head and knot the two edges then lift the hanging part of the scarf covering my face over my head. This was the best way to achieve length and I would have my veil no other way.

Any one of my neighbours usually held my veil while a  visibly bored boy would act as my groom, walking me down the aisle to the voice of kids singing ‘Here comes the bride’. I remember now that the boys never liked the wedding games. They preferred ‘catcher’ or ‘police and thief’ but Nnenne, who always played the officiating minister, was a bully and always got them to co-operate.

Way into my teen years, my fantasy continued. “State wedding” was what I told everyone I will have. It had to be, because my groom will be prominent just like the princes in my story books.

After most of the families moved away and more private families moved in, I had become too old to play wedding games. After meals I would make a hole in the middle of my meat, pass my wedding ring finger through it and wear it for the rest of the day. Once I slept with it and while bathing the next morning felt great pain on my finger. Rat had had a feast.

Soon the kids I grew up with started getting married. It began with Fatima. While other kids were shocked at the news of her wedding, because we had yet to leave secondary school, I was upset. I was meant to be the first bride on the street. Everyone knew. Not long after she announced her wedding and stopped coming to school we were taught about VVF in GEM club meeting and they played a movie clip for us to watch in the school auditorium.

“We need to save Fatima.” I suggested to our GEM club matron once the movie ended “We can’t let her get married and have VVF.”

I don’t believe my concern was as noble as I presented it to be, but for some reason my fourteen year old self felt it my duty to reclaim my place as the first bride.

Then Zainab got married and Awele followed. I received all their wedding cards and treated it dismissively. Ugly card! What kind of name does her husband bear? Their wedding venue is not even nice. It’s not even as stately as mine would be… I would think as I tossed the wedding card aside.

Soon I began actively searching for my prince charming; every outing my parents took us on was an avenue and rather than bond with my family, I would walk away making friends with the boys. Sadly these friendships never blossomed into proper relationships because of Dauda.

Dauda is my father’s faithful driver. He has been with us now for over twelve years. My father would always joke that Dauda keeps to time because he is from Togo and Nigerian time doesn’t apply to him. Tell Dauda that you have an event for 5:00 am and he will be there ahead of time. Lagos traffic never held him back. He was also very loyal to my father and followed his instructions without question or conscience.

“Once lectures are over, bring her back home immediately.” My father had instructed when I got into the university. He answered by blinking his eyes. He rarely spoke. My mother says it is because of the way he was mocked when he newly came into Nigeria and tried speaking English. He spoke it so badly that the entire ‘umu boy’ on the street teased him. Since then he mostly blinks or gestures.

Perhaps it is because he doesn’t speak that is why I can’t get through to him. I would try to bribe or cajole him into letting me stay longer after school to chat and he will simply stand holding the door ajar and looking at me with a straight face like he was dumb. Once I defied him and stayed on and without a word he drove off and returned much later with my father, looking thunderous.

Sometime in January, a week after Christmas, I had a test in school. Dauda had travelled to his home country to spend the holiday and was to return before school resumed however I got a call asking us to return to school earlier for a test.  I had to call for a cab to take me to school.

It was a cold harmattan morning and the red cab arrived late, to my annoyance. I was used to Dauda and his timing that the three minutes delay seemed unforgivable. I scolded the driver as I got in and nagged him for almost the entire journey from Victoria Island to Yaba.  He was silent, occasionally glancing at me through the rear view mirror. After he dropped me at school he inquired if he could come pick me after wards. I agreed grudgingly. He began arriving before time after that first incident. When Dauda returned I begged my father to ease Dauda’s stress and leave him to drive my siblings while Anthony, the cab driver, drove me.

It was my final year and I needed to be in school at odd hours and for longer periods, so he agreed. Anthony was a ‘guy man.’ He would let me stay after school and even drive me to visit friends, soon I made many friends, most of them male and because I could not share my adventures with my siblings for fear that my escapades be reported to my father, I shared with Anthony.

I would give him the full history of a boy and he would tell me if the boy really liked me or not and logically give reasons as to his conclusion. Soon we formulated a game. We would both lean against his cab when he comes to pick me and each guy I point at he would give me a history. He was almost always correct.

“Play boy!” he exclaimed when I pointed at Chukwuemeka. He was right. Every girl knew Emeka’s reputation, yet yearned for him. Too shy, he said of Godspower and he swore to me that Akpabio was a cultist and warned me not to go near him.

A day before my final exams were to start, I called for Anthony not to bother coming for me since I was ill. 9:35 am, after my parents left for work and siblings for school, he was at the house.

“I thought I told you not to come” I said to him as I let him in.

“I couldn’t stay away.” He answered sympathetically handing me a black nylon bag. “What are you doing falling sick? Don’t you know your final exams starts tomorrow?”  He knew my calendar that well and knew about my exam but rather than answer I was looking uncomfortably at the content of the bag.

“Why did you buy me stuff? You know you don’t have money!” I scolded him and he laughed so hard that I was laughing too, not minding that it worsened my headache.

“I know you are an undergraduate of banking and finance but surely you haven’t started spying on my bank account.” He spoke English so well for a cab driver and I had mentioned it to him earlier. He explained that he had the hopes of completing his education and reads a lot of books in his spare time.

“I know you are an undergraduate of Philanthropy but you shouldn’t start your charity work with me.”  I teased, then added “How sweet of you.” I kissed him then, briefly. Then again, deepening it.

Our relationship began that beautiful day, two years ago. In two months’ time, Anthony and I will be married. The invitation cards in my hand are proof of that, but I am having great issue addressing the cards and deciding on whom to invite or not to.

I know my friends and even my parents’ friends. They will want to know who I am getting married to; what he does, who his father is… and many more questions of the sort. I know because I had asked similar questions from friends when they gave me their invitation card. For the information too inappropriate to ask an intending bride, I gathered from the gossip mill and the final ones, like whether he is handsome and his personality, I decided for myself by attending the wedding.

I never liked attending people’s wedding. It reminded me that I was yet to fulfil my own fairy tale dreams, but I did all the same, just to satiate my curiosity. Now it is my turn.

I am proud of Anthony and though he has vehemently refused to quit his job just yet, I know the best of him is yet to come and it doesn’t bother me that he is a taxi driver. I hope everyone else will mind their business and not care too.

If you marry taxi driver, I don’t care. As I have chosen to marry a taxi driver, just let us be.