KANAC Digital Anthology Series 2021 Edition: Marks Beneath the Foundation and other Stories

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MarksBeneaththe

FoundationandotherStories KANACDigitalAnthologySeries2021 VolumeTwo i

PublishedbyKANACDigitalPublishingSeries info@kanac.org

Copyright © 2022byKANACDigitalPublishingSeries.

Allrightsreserved.Nopartofthispublicationmaybereproduced,distributedortransmittedinanyformorbyanymeans, includingphotocopying,recording,orotherelectronicormechanicalmethods,withoutthepriorwrittenpermissionofthe publisher.

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Foreword

TheKANACDigitalAnthologyseriesaimsatshowcasingthecreativeworksofbuddingcreativewriters,who,notonlyparticipatedintheannualKANACCreativeWritingcompetitionbut whoseworkswereshortlistedforthevariousphasesofthescreeningexercises,whichwereusuallyundertakentowardsdeterminingtheoverallwinnerineachroundofthecompetition.

Thethemeforthe2021roundoftheKANACCreativeWriting competitionwas“Regeneration.”Asusual,severalentriesinthe shortstorycategorywerereceived.Attheendofthenumerous screeningexercises,thefewworksinthisanthologymadethe finalshortlist.Theentrythatwontheoverallprizefor2021is entitled“MarksbeneaththeFoundation.”ThisentrywaswrittenbyChiomaD.Akorah.Thewinner,ChiomaD.Akorahfrom Nigeria,receivedthecashprizeofTwohundredthousandNigerianNaira.Attheendoftheawardceremony,alltheworksthat madetheshortlistreceivedthorougheditorialreviewswiththe assistanceoftheKANACmentorsandeditors.Theseservices, whicharefree,areinlinewithKANAC’svisionofusingtheannualcreativewritingcompetitionasaplatformforidentifying andnurturingbuddingcreativetalentsfromvariouspartsofthe globe.

Itisattheendofseveralrigorousreviewsandeditingservices thatthisvolumeoftheanthology,entitled“Marksbeneaththe FoundationandotherShortStories”hasemerged.Alltheshort storiesinthisanthologyofferdeepreflectionsontheideaofhow manregeneratesdespiteadverseconditions,threats,andailments. Inall,theshortstoriescelebratetheruggedspiritthathasenabledhumanitytoovercomeseveraladversities,bybeingable torebuildandre-inventitself.Asacollection,theshortstories areatributetoourcommonhumanity.

KANACEditors

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Contents 1 MARKSBENEATHTHEFOUNDATION 1 2 ASEED 16 3 THERESIGNATIONTOOUR MADSELF 21 iv

ChiomaDianaAkorahisaNigerian,fromAnambrastate.She livesatLagosstate.SheisagraduateoftheUniversityofLagos.HerloveforwritingbeganinherJuniorSecondaryschool whenshedevelopedaninterestinreading.Excerptsofherworks arepublishedinPrideMagazineNigeriaandTushMediaMagazine.Accordingtoher“forme,writingisn’tjustahobby,but amediumofexpression.Itallowsmetoexpressmyselfwhere spokenwordsmightfailme.”

1.MARKSBENEATHTHEFOUNDATION
1 ChiomaD.Akorah

MARKSBENEATHTHEFOUNDATION

1.TwoMonthsBefore

AuntyDorawasonaroll.Everypartofherbodyvibratedand shookasshespoke.Herangersatiatedmineasitseepedoutfrom everyporeofherskin.

“Heisobviouslyasickman.Hedoesn’twanttoadmitit,butlet metellyounowDavidifothersarelyingtoyou,me,DoraOkafor willnot!

“David,youareasickmanandyouneedhelp!”

“Whatmarriageareyousaving?Whatkindofmarriageareyou startingafresh!?”

Deadsilencegreetedthisoutburst.IcouldnotseePapaIbekwe’s expressionfromwhereIsatatthebottomofthestairs,butI couldseethebackofhishead.Heremovedhisredchiefcap fromhishead.Ihadneverseenhimwithoutthatcapbefore. SlowlyandcarefullyPapaIbekwe’svoicestartedasifitistesting thedepthofadarkmurkyriver:

“There’snothingwrongwithmyson.Itrainedhim.Afterhis father’sdeath,Itookhiminandtreatedhimasmyown.Areyou sayingIdidn’ttrainhimwell?”

“Idon’tcarehowyoutrainedhim!”AuntyDora’svoicebellowed inthesittingroom,itsloudechoreverberatinginthehallway whereIsat.Shecontinuedimmediately,asifafraidthatthe head-of-the-conversationwouldbesnatchedawayfromher.

“WhatIcareaboutishismanhandlingofmysisterforalmost eightyearsnow.Ihavekeptquietlongenough.Enoughisenough!”

Eventhoughtheairconditionerinthesittingroomwason,Papa Ibekwe’sbaldheadhadbeguntosweat.

“Thereisnomanthatdoesn’tbeathiswife!”hesaidasifina franticattempttore-establishhislostauthority.

“Myfatherdidnosuchthing!”AuntyDora’svoicewassoharsh,

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itburnedmyearsandIsawMummyseatedbesideherwince. DaddyappealedimmediatelytoMummybeforeAuntyDoracould continuewithhertirade:

“Nnennapleasesaysomething.Anythingyouwantmetodo,I’ll doplease.”

Hearinghimbeg,Ifelttheangerinmyheartmeltalittle.ButI visiblyshookmyhead,asiftomakesurethatitstopsmyheart’s betrayal.FromwhereIsat,Icouldn’tseeDaddy’sexpression.He satbesidePapaIbekweonthesofafacingMummy.ButMummy remainedsilent,herfacelikesomeonewhowasn’teventhere. Itwasasifhersoulhadleftandherdamagedbodywasallthat remained.Daddycontinuedwithhisdesperateplea,hisvoice soundinglikehewasbeggingforhislife:

“Wecanstartalloveragain.Wecanrebuildourlivestogether, please.ThinkofAdaobi.”

AuntyDoraeyedhimlikeonewouldeyepoop,whichwasleft unflushedinthetoilet.Shequicklyroundedonhimdecisively,as ifshehasjustfiguredoutthesolutiontoaverycomplexequation:

“David,youneedtherapy!”

Themenstaredatherinutterdisbelief.Butshecontinued:

“Ifyoucandothat,thenyoucanstartthinkingoffixingyour marriage.”

Thesilencebouncedoffthewallsoftheroom.Finally,Papa Ibekwe’svoice,whenhespoke,mademejump:

“Onlymadmenneedtherapy,Dorothy!Areyousayinghe’snow mad?”Whenitfinallycameout,AuntyDora’svoicewaslaced heavilywiththeburdenofsomanydistastefulthingsshewould havelovedtosaybutpreferredtoburyatthemoment.Her brightshinyeyescommunicatedthedeepdistastethatherseeminglymildwordsveiled.

“Ididn’tsayanythingaboutmadnesssir.AllIsaidisheneeds therapy.”

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Theylapsedintomorbidsilenceforamoment.AuntyDoraeyed Daddyasifshehadjustseenaverystrangerat.Mummylooked stonilyatthefloorasifalltheanswersthatshehadbeenseeking areallcontainedthere.IcountedslowlytofifteenthenIstoodup tosneakbackupstairswhenMummysuddenlylookedup.Our eyeslockedandIsawthatshewascomingtoadecision.Iheard mybloodpumpingveryloudly.Therushingsound,pounding inmyears.ShelookedawayfrommeandfacedDaddy,speaking slowly,almostinawhisper.Yet,herslowwordsweredistinctand loudasshesaidwithgravefinality:

“David,Iwon’tcomebackifyoudon’tgethelp.Ican’tcontinue livingthatway.”

2.ThePast

Iwasn’texactlysurewhenDaddychanged,buthehadnotalways beenlikethis.Therearesomegoodmemoriessomewhere,Iam sure.Butmymindcan’tseemtorecallthemanylonger.Ican’t rememberatimewhenDaddywasn’tangry.Hewasalwaysfuriousaboutonethingortheother.It’seitherMummy’sgownwas tooshortorthefoodwastoosalty.Somethingalwaysseemsto bringonhistemper.Thewindcouldblowinthewrongdirectionandhewouldbeangry.Andwhenhe’sangry,hestammers badly.Hestammerstillhecouldn’tspeak.Thenhebeginsto splutter.Withspittleflyingeverywhere,hisstaringeyeswillbeginflickingoffandonlikealightbulbthatisabouttodie.Then asifthatisn’tenoughforhim,whenitseemslikehejustcouldn’t containhisrageanymore,hewouldstarthittingMummy.

I’mnotexactlysurewhenitallbegan.Myearliestmemoriesstart fromwhenIwasaboutseven.Evenatthatage,Icouldalways sensetheprelude:thehotairinthehousewouldsuddenlybecometoocold,Iitwaswarmweatherandifitwascoldharmattan weather,everythingwillsuddenlybecomestiflinghot.During thosemoments,hiswordsandmannerofspeechwouldbegin toundergoseriouschangesandMummywouldturntomewith mistyeyesandwhisper:

“Goupstairs,Ada.”

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Iwouldrushupstairstomyroomonthefirstfloorofourduplex. ButIalwaysgotfrozenatthebedroomdoorandfromthere,I couldhearherunmistakablecriesofpain.Iweptdisconsolately, holdingthedoorhandle.IweptbecauseIfeltthatImusthave donesomethingbadandthatiswhyMummyisbeingpunished. AndIcouldn’tdoanythingaboutit.

Once,Itriedtohelp.Ihadjustturnedelevenatthetime.Mummy hadfoundaboxofcigaretteshiddeninsidethetoilettankand sheaskedwhyDaddyhiditthere.Hehadnotevenbotheredexplaining.Hethrewthedressingironheheldatherbuthemissed. Andthatmadeitworse.Istoodthereunabletomoveforsolong whilehehitheragainandagain.HedraggedherintothebathroomandIfollowed.Itriedeverything.Icried.Ibegged.I cajoled.Butnothingworked.Itwaslikehewasn’teventhere. Itwasasifsomeonehadtakenpossessionofhisbody.Icouldn’t recognizethispersoninmyfather’sbody.So,Ibentdown,wrappingmyarmstightlyaroundhisrightleg,Ihelditwithallmy strength.IwantedtostophimfromkickingMummy.ButImust havebeentoomuchofanuisance,because,hesoonkickedme away,thewaysomeonesmartlykicksawayanemptycanofcoke fromhispathway.Myheadmetthebathroomwall.Asmyeyes closedoutthelight,IrememberthinkingthatIwasfallingasleep. Mummy’scriesstoppedandmyvisiondimmed,itfeltsoquiet, sopeaceful.Butmypeacedidn’tlastlong.AuntyDora’svoice wokemeup.ShesoundedsoangryandIwonderedwhatIhad done.ItriedtositupbutIcouldn’tmove.Everythinghurt.Her voicemademyheadfeelsoheavylikeelephantswerejumping aroundinmyhead.

“ThishasgottenoutofhandNnenna,justlookatwhathedidto hisdaughter.”Shesaid,pointingatmeliketheyneededhelpto seeme.

“Ididn’tknowshewasthere.”Daddysaid.

Heworehisblueshirtinsideout,thecuffsofhisshirtwereundoneandhisusuallycombedafrohairlookedlikeaballofunkemptwool.Helookedlikehimselfagain.

“Isthatsupposedtobeavalidexcuse?EhnDavid?Youdidn’t

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knowyourdaughterwasbeggingyoutostopbeatinghermother?

Canyouhearyourself?Aren’tyoutheleastbitashamed?”

IhadneverseenAuntyDoralooksoangrybefore.Herbreasts wobbledasshestruggledtobreathe.

Mummyshiftedfromthehospitalwallshehadbeenleaningon, sheclearedherthroat,buthervoicestillcameoutwithacroak, itmademyheadfeelworse.

“Hedidn’t...Itwasamistake.”

AuntyDoralookedatMummyliketherewassomethingvileon herbody.Withhernosescrewedup,shepeeredatherasifshe hadrolledherselfinpigdung.Thenshehissed:

“Andwhathedidtoyou...wasitalsoamistake?”

Mummydidn’tanswer.Shestaredatthehospitalwindow.The whirloftheceilingfanandmypoundingheadweretheonly soundsintheroom.ThenDaddysaid:

“I’msorry.”

Iwasn’tsurewhohewasapologizingto,butAuntyDoratook ituponherselftoanswer.Theheatofhertonesoundedlike whiplashasshesaid:

“Spareme,please!Everytimeyou’resorry.IfAdaobihaddied, ifyourdaughterhaddied,willsorrybringherbacktolife?By thetimeyoukillmysister,willsorrybringherbacktolife?”

Shetookadeepbreathasiftocalmherselfandthensaid:

“LookNnenna,let’sbehonesthere,yourhusbandissick.”

“Stopsayingnonsense,Dora.Youdon’tunderstand.”Mummy said,shakingherhead.

“Whatdon’tIunderstand?Whatistheretounderstand?You can’tkeepdeceivingyourself!Thisisnowaytolive.Noone deservestolivethisway.Papamustberollinginhisgraveright now.JustlookatyourfaceforGod’ssake!”

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Ididn’thavetolooktoknowwhatitlookedlike.I’dseenitbefore; themismatchedcolorsonherface.Usually,shehidthembehind heavymakeupandsunshades.Butshehadnotbotheredtoday. Theharshglareofthefluorescentbulbreflectedeachuneven skincolorandrisingswell,thushighlightingthenumerousblows hertenderskinhadendured.Daddyslidtothefloorfromthe chairhehadbeensittingonandheldMummy’sdress.

“Iswearitwon’thappenagain.”

AuntyDorasighed,ignoringDaddyonthefloor.

“Nnenna,pleasethinkaboutthiscarefully.Thisisn’tjustabout youanymore.ThinkofAdaobitoo.”ButDaddykepton, “Iswearitwon’thappenagain.Pleasedon’tleaveme.”

NoonespokeagainexceptDaddy,hekneltthereforhours.Beggingandpromising.Thenursemethimthatwaywhenshecame tocheckonme.HestayedthatwayevenwhenIhadopenedmy eyesandAuntyDorawenttogetmewatertodrink.ButIdidn’t believehim.IprayedMummywouldseethetruthtoo.Ihoped shewouldn’tforgivehim,themanIhadseeninthatbathroom, themanthatdidthis,didn’tdeservetobeforgiven.

3.

Weekshadpassedsincethatdayinthehospital.Andwewere backtoourhouse.Lifeseemedtobebetter.Mummylooked happiertoo.Shesmiledmoreandtalkedevenmore.Daddy talkedmost,whichwasquiteunlikehim.Hetalkedaboutthe deathofYar’Aduaandworriedaboutthenewincomingpresident.Heworriedabouthisclient,ChiefNnamdi,whohadjust marriedagirltwentyyearsyoungerthanhewasandrefusedto drawupaprenup.

“Canyouimaginethat?”hesaid,adjustinghishardrumponthe sittingroomsofa.

“Verysoonhe’llsignoffallhispropertiestoher,”hecontinued.

Mummyshookherhead,bitingoffsomecornfromthecobshe held.“So,hejustabandonedhisfirstwifelikethat?”shemanaged

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toblurtout,amidstmouthfulsofcornthatshewaschewing. Butwhiletheythoughtandworriedaboutotherthings,Icould notstopworryingaboutwhathadhappened.Iworriedabout Mummyandcouldn’tstopwatchingDaddy.Ikeptwatchingand waiting.Itwaslikewaitingforabombtoblow.Iwonderifeach secondwillbecomethelastmomentthattimewouldtick.

Exhausted,I’dcomebackfromschoolandstudyMummy’sface closely.I’dcarefullycheckfortelltalemarksbeneathherMckay foundationcream.Butnothingshowed.Ididn’tbelieveit.Ijust couldnotandIwassurprisedathowrelaxedshewas.Soon,I discoveredthatIcouldn’tstopworrying,evenifIhadwantedto. Ihadtoknowifshewasscaredorwasn’tscared.Wasn’tshethe leastbitafraidthat,theothersideofhimwouldshowupagain? Didn’tsheliveinfearofhimchangingagain?Thequestions plaguedmetothepointthatIhadtoask.

ItwasafterschoolandwewereintheSedancardrivinghome. WehadjustpassedtheChurchofAssumptionFalomoandDr. Sid’s“Popsomething”wasplayingontheradiowhenIblurted outthequestion:

“Mummy,aren’tyouafraid?”

Shecarefullyturneddownthevolumeofthecarradiobeforeshe respondedquietly:

“Afraidofwhat,mydear?”

HeranswermademefeelsillylikeIwasworryingovernothing.

“Ofhim.”Ipersisted.

ItwasthefirsttimeIwasreferringtotheaccident,butIdidn’t thinkthatIneededtoexplainwhoIwasreferringto.Fromthe wayherbroadsmiledimmedandherwrinkledforehead,Iknew sheunderstoodme.

“Hewasn’talwaysthiswayAda.He’sjuststressed.Ibelievehe’ll getbetter.”Shesaid,lookingatthesidemirrorbeforeturningthe steeringwheeltotheleft.

“Isn’titbettertojustleave?”Iblurtedoutwithoutintendingto.

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Notknowingwhereandhowthequestionpoppedout,Ihungmy headsadly.Thistime,sheclearedthecarbytheroadsideand turnedherfullattentiontome.Asshecalmlyscrutinizedme, herexpressionbecamemirthful,asifIhadsuddenlysprouteda secondheadoutofnowhere.

“Leavetowhere?”sheasked,asthesmileslowlyleftherface. “Sothatyoucanbefree,”Isaid.

Myheartfilledwithsomuchdetermination.Iimaginedthiswas howNelsonMandelamusthavefeltinhispursuitofhispeople’s freedom.

“Todowhat?”sheasked,asherfrowndeepened,butthistime hereyesshowedfear.

“Ofwhatissheafraid?”Iaskedmyself,asIstudiedherlookof resignedsubmission.

“Towhat?”I’mnotcertain.Butthatwaswhereourconversation endedassheengagedthecargearandcarefullydroveintothe laneleadingtoourhouse.Wedidn’tsayanythingelseafterthat andsheturneduptheradioonceagain.IwatchedthespeedingpalmtreesthatdecoratedOzumbaMbadiweAvenue,wonderingwhatshewasafraidof.Ialsohopedthatshewascorrect inbelievingthatsomeonecouldsuddenlychangeandbecomea betterperson.IdesperatelywanttobelieveMummywhenshe swearsthatitwasstressthatmadehimchange.Perhaps,timewill alsomakehimchangeintoabetterDaddy.LookingatMummy’s calmcountenance,ItoldmyselfthatIneedtostopworrying.But doubtremained.

Itwasdoubtthatkeptmeupatnight,listeningforsoundsfrom acrossthehallwheretheyslept.Itwasthesamedoubtthatgave menightmares.HorribledreamsofDaddystranglingMummy whileshestruggledandIpleadedbuttonoavail.Iprayedagainst it.Boththedreamsandmydoubts.Iprayedtheywerewrong andMummywasrightbutImustnothaveprayedhardenough.

OnaSaturdayafternoon,hewasangryagain.ButIwasn’tthere towitnessit.IhadgonetoCynthia’shouse.Itwasherbirthday.

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ShelivedjustattheendofourstreetatIkoyi.Thoughwewere classmates,weweren’tclose.ButMummyandCynthia’smum spokealot.ItwasoneofthosefemalefriendshipsIcouldn’twrap myheadaround.WhateverMummydid,Cynthia’smumrushed todo.IfIgotnewschoolshoes,I’dseethosesameshoesonCynthia’sfeetbythenextweek.Icouldn’tunderstandit.

AsIenteredourhouse,holdingthepieceofredvelvetcakeCynthiahadsostingilycutandwrappedintinfoilforme,Isaw Mummyonthefloorofthesittingroom.Shelaidtheresostill andquiet.Ithoughtperhapsshewasasleep.Shedidthatsometimes.Somedays,whenthedaywastoohotforhertotakea napupstairs,shewouldsleeponthesittingroomfloor.Butthen, Daddyenteredfromthediningroom,justasIwasabouttogo upstairs.Hisfacewassochokedwithguilt,likesomeonewhohad beencaughtstealingmeatfromthesouppot,thatIstoppedin mytracks.AsIlookedathimclosely,Inoticedthathishandsand trouserswerestainedwithblood.IlookedbackatMummyon thefloorandIfeltmyheartbegintosqueeze.Icouldn’tbreathe.

“Hehasdoneitagain.”Wasallthatkeptreverberatingaround myheavyskull.Imusthaverushedtoherside,withoutknowing thatIdid,because,thenextmoment,Iwasholdingherhead andstaringatthetornlips,herbrokennose,andthenthepool ofbloodbehindherhead.Idon’tknowhowlongIkneltthere callingher.Icalledandcalled,expectinghertoopenhereyes butsheneverdid.Shedidn’tevenopenhereyeswhenAunty Doraarrived.Hereyesremainedclosedevenonthewaytothe hospital.

Iwatchedherchestthroughmytears,willingittoriseorfall. Anythingtoshowthattherewasstilllivinginthere.ButIsaw nothing.Nothingatall.

Isatinthehospitalwaitingarea,strugglingtobreatheandimaginingtheworst.Iwatchedwomenpassing:pregnantwomen,old women,womenwithbabiesontheirbacks,somewiththeirhusbandsandsomealoneandIwonderediftheywereallthesame. Iftheyenduredtheirhusbands’beatingathometoo.Iftheyput onlayersofmakeupandfoundation,justtohidethescarsun-

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derneath.Iwonderedifthebabieswouldgrowupandbeinthe samepositionIwasinnow;seatedinahospitalreceptionand waitingtoknowiftheywillremainaliveordead.

IwatchedDaddyashepacedthelengthofthereception.From thenurse’sdesktothefrontdoorandback,hisheavyfootsteps kepttrudgingthecoldanddustyreceptionfloor.Hisred-rimmed andswolleneyes,dartingto-and-frolikearabbitthatiscaught inasnare.Ifeltsomuchangerandconfusionlookingathim,so Idecidednotto.

AuntyDorahadnotsaidaword,sinceweenteredthehospital. Iwasn’tsureifshehadsaidanythingbeforeeither.Shehadher headdownwithhandsclaspedtogetherbetweenherknees.Her kneesswungsidetosidelikealternatingpendulums.Daddysuddenlyfacedwherewesatandlookedatus:

“Ididn’tmeantopushherthathard,I....”

AuntyDora’sheadcameupsharply,hereyesjustasredasDaddy’s, pointingathim,sheshouted:

“David,Idon’twanttohearanythingfromyou,doyouhearme? Nothing!”

Hervoicesilencedeveryothersoundinthereception.Ababy whohadbeensleepingbegantocry.

“Madam,”theelderlynurseatthereceptioncalledouttoher, hervoicedrippingwithirritation,“youcan’tshoutlikethathere please.”

ThereceptiondooropenedandPapaIbekweentered,sweating fromthehotafternoonsun.Hispresencecausedachilltorun downmyspine.Iheldmygroan,bitingmytongueinstead.At thatmoment,hisheavypresencewaslikethatofblackowlsthat carriedthemessageofdeathtoanycompoundthattheyvisited.Throughoutmylife,IhaveobservedthatPapaIbekweonly showedupontwooccasions;whensomeonewasgettingmarriedorsomeonewasgettingburied.Iwastheonlyonethatsaw himfirst,soIstoodupandmumbledagreeting.

“EhenAda,howareyou?”healwaysasked.

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Itwasalwayshisfirstquestion.Onecouldbedyingbeforehis veryeyesandhewouldstillaskthat.AuntyDora’sonlyacknowledgmentofhimwastoraiseherheadanddropitback.

“David,”hesaid,“anynews?”

“She’sunconscious.”Daddysaid,stillpacingwhilehishandswere foldedacrosshischest.

“Wearewaitingforhertowakeup,”heconcludedhopefully.

AuntyDoramadeatickingsoundwithherthroatandmuttered:

“Thatisifyouhaven’tkilledher.”

Atthis,PapaIbekwe’swidenoseflaredevenwider.

“Woman,don’tsaysuchthings,”hesnapped.

“Davidalreadytoldmewhathappened.Mistakeslikethesehappenallthetime.Let’sjustpraytoGodthatshewakesup.”

IfeltratherthansawAuntyDoraholdingbackheranger.Her kneesswungfaster.Open.Close.Open.Close.PapaIbekwe clearedhisthroatnoisilyandsaid:

“Wecandiscusswhathappenedwhenshewakesup.”

Atthis,AuntyDoraturnedherheadtowherehestoodandhissed:

“Wearen’tdiscussinganything.Mysisterisgoinghomewithme.”

Daddyabruptlystoppedpacing.PapaIbekwefrowneddeeply, hisvoicebecomingharshashesaid:

“Whyshouldamarriedwomanleaveherhusband’shouse?”Aunty Dorashiftedtotheedgeofherseatandsaid:

“Becauseherlifeisbeingthreatenedbytheverysameman,she callsherhusband!”

Daddyraisedhisvoice,“She’scominghomewithmeandAda. That’swhereshebelongs.”

Atthis,AuntyDorasmackedherlipsandgaveabittersmile,a smallliftofherdrylipswhichmadeherlookveryscary:

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“I’mtakingmysisterwithmeorI’llhaveyouarrestedforthis. David,chooseone.”

PapaIbekweimmediatelybecamequiet.Helookedabouthim inconfusionandsuddenlyleft,promisingtocomebackthenext day.Daddyalsodidn’tsayanything.Hesatdownandplacedhis headinhishands.Westayedthereallnight,butshedidn’twake uptillthenextmorning.Daddydidn’tsayanythingwhenshe wasdischarged.Hestilldidn’tsayanythingwhilehewatched AuntyDoraloadMummy’sthingsintoherredToyotaCorolla. Hejuststoodatthefrontdoorofthehouseandwatchedwhile Ienteredthefrontseatandthecardroveaway.Iwatchedhim fromthesidemirrorofthepassengerseat,thankfulthathehad notinsistedIstayedback.Ikeepwonderingifthiswastheend forallofusandifthingscouldeverbebetter.

4.ThePresent

Daddywashereagain.Hehadnotmissedoneweekend.Healwaysvisits,comerain,comesunshine.Hehasnevermissedhis Saturdayvisits.AuntyDorawhoisstillunabletospeaktohim politelywasasusual,safelyupstairs.Shewouldn’tcomedown tillheleft.

IwatchedhimandMummyfromthediningroomwhereIsat havinglunch.Theysatsidebysideonthesittingroomsofatryingtheirbesttoconverse.Watchingthemwasslightlytouching anduncomfortableatthesametime.Itwastouchingintheway helookedather,thesmallsmileshegaveher,andhowattentive hewastotheslightestgrimaceonherface.Thefactthathehad broughtherflowersyetagainwastouching.

AuntyDoradidn’tthinksothough.Shethoughttheywereutterly uselessandawasteofmoney.Mummysaysnothingaboutthem. Butshehasturnedalmosteveryavailablecontainerinthehouse intoaflowervase.Butdespitehisefforts,Ijustcouldnotturn ablindeyetotheobviousdiscomfortthatweallexperienced wheneverhewasaround.

Itshowedinthetoo-longbreaksintheirconversations.Itwas apparentinthesilencethatbeatatmeastheycarefullychosethe

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thingstosay,probablyoutoffearofbreakingthefragileground theystoodon.ItwasobviousinthewayMummyflincheswhen hemovesclosertoher.Itwasthereintheirplasticsmiles;hissad andhersembarrassed.Itwasalmosttoopainfultowatch.

ButIcouldn’tstopwatching.Ijusthadto.Ihadtobecause sometimeswhenIclosemyeyes,IstillseeMummyinapool ofherblood.Idiscoveredthatwatchingherconstantlywasthe onlywayIcouldreassuremyselfthatshewasfine.Thatshewas aliveandnothingwasgoingtohappentoher.Thishappenson thosedayswhenIseeherlaughing.Duringthesedays,itfeltlike everythingthathadhappenedinthepastwasabaddream.A nightmarethatIhadsimplysufferedonsomefeverishnights. ItwasonthedayswhenMummywouldsuddenlylaugh,sometimesatwhatAuntyDoramighthavesaidorevenwhentalking withDaddy.Herlaughterwouldrumbleassomedeepcontagioussoundthatslowlyspreadthroughoutherwholebody.We all,particularlyDaddy,feltit.Andinresponse,weallburstout laughing.Ihadneverheardherlaughbefore.Ithadstartledme thefirstdayIheardit,justasIhadexperiencedsomeshock,the firsttimethatIsawhersmile.Iwassousedtohertearsthatseeinghersmilesohappily,momentarilydazedme.

Herlaughterfeltlikeabandage,ahealingdrugformysoul.And fromDaddy’ssurprisedexpression,hemusthavefeltthesame wayIdid.Hemusthavelovedthesoundofherlaughterjustas muchorevenmorebecauseeveryotherdaysincethefirstday shelaughed,hewrotehercornyloveletters.Theyalwayscame withflowers.Thelettersmadeherlaughandinturn,itmade DaddyandIsmileaswell.Hewouldsmileathersolovingly,so tenderlythatitwouldmakemewonderwherethislovingman hadbeenallalong.CloselywatchingmyDaddyalsoopenedmy eyes.Itmademeseehowhestruggledwithdifferentemotions thatIonlywishedIcouldunderstand.Sometimes,Iwishthat someonewouldexplaintheseemotionstome.

Aboveall,althoughImissedourhouse,Iwasgladthatweare atAuntDora’shouse.IwasgladtoseeMummylaughandsmile happily.IwasgladthatDaddybehavedhimselfwheneverhevisitedher.Inall,Icouldseethatthiswasaperiodofhealingforall

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ofus.Itwasanewbeginningforourfamily.Imarveledthatfor thefirsttime,wecouldfindsomeformoffamilytogetherness. Manyofthesedays,sherarelyworehermake-uporappliedher MckayFoundation.Perhaps,itwasbecausetherewasnothingto coverorshesimplycouldn’tbebothered.Theblackbotchyscars onherfacehadallbutdisappeared.Herfacewasslowlyturning radiant,youthful,andbeautiful.Itwasapeacefulfaceandgazing atiteverytimeassuredmethatIwassafe.Itwasthisreassurance ofanewbeginningthatIstronglyclungto,asIprayedforabetter futureformyfamily.

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2.ASEED IaninaVolkovaisaRussianPostGraduateStudentWriter. 16 IaninaVolkova

ASEED

Iamaseed.I’mjustaseed.I’veseensomuchwithmyancestors’ eyes.Somanydifferentworldswithinone.Iwastoldthatthe handoftimechangestheworldsoitlooksdifferenteverysingle timethesuncomesup.Iwastold,Iwasbroughtherebythesame hand.Iwastoldnothinginthisworldcanhappenbyitselfand timeconcordsall.Thathasmademesad.Ihavebeenwaiting impatientlythroughsomanygenerations.Throughoutsomany lives,Iwaswaitingformyownlifetostart.Andnow?WhatamI supposedtodonow?

Doesanyoneknowwhattodo?ShouldIbetoldwhattodo?And ifso,whatdoIdowhilewaitingforthecommand?

Meanwhile,Timehasbecomeimpatient.

“Whydon’tyougrow?”saidTime.

“Idon’tknowhowto...”Ianswered.

“Youdon’tneedtoknow.Youjustneedtogrow.That’sallthat youneedtodo”.

Itsoundedsofrightening.Itwasasifnoonewaswillingtohelp me.NotevenTime.

Itookalookaround.Thisworlddidn’tseemaswonderfuland joyfulasitusedto.EverywhereIlooked,Isawnothingbutspace, orevenworse,therewasnoplacetogrow.

Ifeltdesperate.WheredoIgo?HowdoIfindaplacetobe? Iwillnotsurvivehere.Ineedtorun.Ineedtofindabetter place.Wherethesoildoesn’ttastedeath,thebreathofairisfree ofpoison,andwater,oh,water,doesn’tbringcutsthatappear everysingletimeItrytodrinkit,somewhereyoudon’tfeellike everythingaroundistryingtodestroyyou.

“Areyoustillnotgrowing?–Time’svoicesoundedirritated,youmakemefeellikeyoudon’twantto”.

“Ido!Iwanttogrow!ButhowcanIgrowhere?Thesoilispoi-

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soned,theairbringstears,andthewater,thewaterissocold everytimeItouchit.Ifeellikenoonewantsmehere”.

“Ifnoonewantsyouhere,thenhowdidyouappear?”–asked Time.

“Idon’tknow...-foramomentIgotstuck,-I’veneverthought aboutit.I’vejustwantedtoseetheworldIwaswatchingallthis timethroughtheeyesofothers”.

“That’sright,”saidTime,“they’veonlyshownyouthebestofthe world.Becausetheylovedyou.”

“I’veneverthoughtaboutit...”

“Youdon’tneedtothink,youjustneedtogrow”.

Therewassilenceagain.Timewasn’ttalkingtomeanymore. Iwasallalone.SurroundedbyDarkness.ThensuddenlyIfelt thatsomethingaroundmehadchanged.Ithassuddenlybecome warmerasifsomethinginvisiblewasembracingme.Irelaxed andclosedmyeyes.Itfeltsogood.JustlikethesedayswhenIwas lookingattheworldwhichwasfullofwondersandadventures.

“Anditstillis,”thesuddenvoicecameoutofnowhere.Ishould havefeltfrightenedbutIdidn’t.

“Who’sthat?Whoareyou?”

“Iamyou”-theVoiceanswered.

“Whatdoyoumeanyouareme?Iamme”.

“Yes,youare.AndsoamI”.

“How’sthatpossible?”

“Thesamewayitwaspossibletolookattheworldbeforeyou wereborn”.

“BeforeIwasborn?”Iquipped.

“Ofcourse,-repliedthemysteriousvoice,-youwerebornand youarewelcomeintotheworld.Nowit’smyturntoobserveit withyoureyes”.

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Therewasamomentorafewofsilence.

“I’msorry-saidI.AndItrulymeantit,-I’msorrybutIdon’t thinkyouwillseeit”.

“Why?”–TheVoicesoundedsurprised.

“Ican’tmakeit.Thesoil,theair,thewater–theyallwantme dead!AndTime?Itdoesn’thelpatall!”

“Doesit”?theVoicesoundeddoubtful.

“DidTimetalktoyou?”theVoiceasked.

“Yes,actually,twotimes,”Ireplied.

“Whatdiditsay?”theVoiceasked.

“Ittoldmetogrow,”Isaid.ThenIasked;

“Whydoeseverybodytellmetogrow?”AsIaskedthis,Ifelt somethingwasgoingonunderneathmywordsforthefirsttime. “Butdon’tyouwantto?”

“Idobut...”

“Look,”saidtheVoice,“whatiftheseso-calledenemiesofyours arejustwillingtomakeyoustrongenough,soyoumaythrive andenjoylife,notjustsurvive?”

“Ineverthoughtaboutitthisway,”saidI.Andthatagainwastrue.

“Youdon’tneedtothink,youjustneedtogrow.”

“Notthisagain!”Iscreamedinsilentcomplaint.

“Don’ttheyunderstand?That’ssimplyimpossible!”Outwardly, Iasked;

“WhatdoIgrowfor?Iamallalonehere!”Again,Ifeltlikesomethingwasmovingunderneathmywords.

“Areyou?Whomareyoutalkingto?”

TheDarknesswasstillaround.Butitfeltwarmandfeltdifferent. Ididn’tknowwhatitwasthatwasstillmovingunderneathmy silence.ButsuddenlyIfeltlikeIcanmovetoo.AndItried.One

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littlestepandthenanotherone.TheDarknessaroundmehas startedtochange.Therewasnomoresilencebutthousandsof voicesweremovingaroundme,cradlingmeinawarmembrace.

That’strue!I’veneverbeenalonehere.Througheveryvoiceand everysinglepairofeyes,Ihavebeenhereallthistime,watching memakingmyfirststeps.Becausethat’stheonlythingIneedto do.

I’mjustaseed.ButIcangrow.

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VictorOkechukwuisawriterbasedinEnugu,Nigeria.Heisfrom Nnewi-North,Anambrastate.He’sreadingmasscommunicationattheUniversityofNigeria,Nsukka.Heloveswritingabout hiscountry’sproblemsandlifestyleandwhennotwritingheis readingablockbusternovel.HisworksarepublishedorforthcominginMycelia,GordonSquareReview,Rigorous,Magazine, andelsewhere.

VictorOkechukwu
3.THERESIGNATIONTOOURMADSELF
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THERESIGNATIONTO OURMADSELF

PatrickUgwuanyireturnedfromhisbusinessatLadipomarket withoutsellinganygoodsandhetriednottocryaboutit.But,he washoldinguppainsomewhereinhisbody.Herantothetoilet andcriedthereforoverhalfanhour.Becausetheswollenand inflamedveinsinhisrectumandanuscausedaseriesofdiscomfortandthistimehebegantobleed.Itwasasthoughhisanuswas burningandtheslimymucusdropping,worsenedthepain.He wasstillcryingwhenhecleanedproperlyandmanagedtowalk intohisdarkroomandlayonthebedhungry.Thiswasaneverydayexperienceandeversincehisboyranawayithasbeenhard forhimtoresistthepainofhishorribleconditions.Hisboyran awaywithpartofhisprofitandaftersquanderingit,wenttothe villageandtoldhispeoplethatheneverfedhimproperly.While ontherectangular-longbed,holdinghisbelly,hetriedadjusting tolookathisdesktocheckifhehadanymoneytobuyfood,and therewasnothing.

Heheardabangonhisdoorandalmostjumpedfromhisbed. Hebecameirritatedthatrecently,peopleknockedrudelyonhis door.Hehadsecondthoughtsaboutwhethertoopenitorto remainquietasthoughhewasn’tinhisroom.

"Whoisthat?"Heaskedfinally,walkingtothedoor.

Therewasnoreply,hesighed,feelingthepaininhisbuttocks increase.Heopenedthedoor,onlytoseetheglaringfaceofthe landlord,adark-brownbroad-facedman,withashortbody.The

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passagewasdark,buthestillrecognizedhim.

"Areyoutryingtointimidateme?"Thelandlordshoutedassoon ashesawPatrick.

"No...No,"Patrickstammered.

"Ok,Ihopeso."Hesaid,"Howaboutthemoneyforyourrent?" "I’mworkingtowardsit,sir."

"Butyoutoldmeyouwouldpaymethisweekorwasn’titsupposedtobelastweek?"

"No,itwasthisweek"Patricklied.

"EverybodyhaspaidPatrickandyouaretheonlyoneremaining." Hesaidpointingtohim,"Idon’tlikethewayyoukeepturning mearound."

"Landlord,givemesometime,Iamabouttomakeabiginvestmentthatwouldfetchmeahugeprofit."

"IhopeitdoesandwhenithappensIknowyouwouldcometo appreciateagoodmanlikeme."

"Ofcourse."

"ButIcan’tgiveyoumoretime."Saidthelandlordfrowning.

"IfIdon’tseemymoneybythefirstweekofnextmonth,Iwill-"

"Please,ogalandlorddoyoubelieveIhaven’tsoldanythingfor onemonthnow?"Patricksaid,"theheavyrainoftwodaysago spoiltmygoods."

"That’snotmybusiness.IhavetoldyoualreadyandifIdon’tget mymoneyI’mgoingtochaseyouout."Thelandlordsaidand walkedawayinanger.

Patrickshutthedoorandrestedonitforawhilestillsubduing thepainandhefeltthebitingacheofhunger.Hewentandlaid backonhisbed,tryingtoforgetabouthisboy–Samuel,andthe landlord.Hesleptoff.

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Thenextmorning,hedressedforbusinessandboardedabusto Ladipomarket.Themarketwasrowdyandpeopleyelledateach other.Theblackearthwasslippery.Theonlygoodssoldthere weresecond-handcarparts,especiallycarengines.Ashewalked tohisshop,hedidn’tdaremakeeyecontactwithanyone.Hekept spittingonthefloor.Hekeptanangryexpression,whilehalfnoticingsomecrazypeoplehuddledatthecornerofthefence. Whenhegottowherehisshopwas,heunlockedtheirongate, glancedupatthedistantbrightsuninthebluecloudysky,and rememberedthedayhefirstarrivedatLagos,dejected,withonly anylonbagandtwentynairainhishalf-tornpocket.

Heturnedwhenheheardhisname.ItwasAkajiakuwipinghis brownoilyfacewithhishandkerchief,hisbroadshoulderand handshowedamanusedtohardlabour.

"Whatishappeningtoyou?"Akajiakuasked.

"What?Nothing."Patrickreplied.

"Butyoukeptonlookingupshakingyourhead."

"Ihavesufferedsomuchinthislife."

"Butyouaren’ttheonlyonesufferingorthatsuffered."Akajiaku said.

"Don’talwaysaskforpitybecauseyouwillnotgetit,"headded.

"EverybodylooksatmeasthoughIamafool."Patricksaidshakinghishead,"whatdoyouexpectfromme"

"Tothinklikearichman."

"So,youthinkIwouldliketobeoneofthesemen,whoalwaysintimidatemebecausetheyhavethreeorfiveshopsandIhaveone. Andtheyarealwayscountingtheirmoneyinpublicasthough theyhavewhatittakestobeagreatbusinessman."

"Patrick,canyouhearyourself?"

"Forgetaboutthat,arichmancan’tdobusinessinthiskindof placeandIdon’tliketoworry."

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Hesaid,"Icouldhavebeenworkinginoneofthosebigcompanies,butthiscountryisdamntoouseless.’

"Haveyouthoughtaboutthe’sleepandmakemoneyinvestment?"

"Yes,thatiswhatIwasabouttotellyou.HowmuchdoIhaveto invest?"Patricksaid.

"Anyamount,ifyouhavetoleavethisplace,youneedtoinvest tobuildyourcompany,controlyoureconomy,andonedayhas anempire,likeForbesrichestmen.Peoplewhostayinthisplace playwithpovertyandyoucan’tbeoneofthem."

"Iknow,myfatheralwaystoldmethatmoneydoesn’tcountbut it’sthebrainbehindthemoney."

"Thatmeansyourfatherwasawiseman."

"Yes.Onlythathedidn’tuseittomakeenoughmoney."

"Butyoucan.Youcanbuyacarandreturntothoseyourvillagepeople,whonowcondemnyoubecauseofthatboycalled Samuel."

"Iknowthathesaidthosethingsmerelytoprovesomething, butwhenIdrivearoundthevillagewithmyLexus,thoseladies thattoldmetheymarryonlyrichmenwouldcome,andIwould laughatthem."

"Ithoughtyoudidn’tliketheideaofmarriage,exceptcohabitation."

"Theyarealmostalike,justthatIwouldlovetohavealadyinmy life."

"Howmuchareyouinvesting?"

"ThreehundredandfiftythousandNariaandhowmuchdoIget inthenextonemonth?"Patrickasked.

"FivehundredthousandNaria.Andifyouinvestthreehundred andfiftythousandNairainthenextthreemonthsyouwouldbegintoreceiveanalertofsixhundredthousandNaria."

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"ThetwaswhatIexpected,thatkindofmoneythatmakesone rich."

HecameclosertoAkajiaku,"IwanttosellallmygoodsandI haven’tpaidmyhouserent,promisemethatthisisgoingto work."

"Patrick."Akajiakuheldhisshoulderandsmiled,"youwouldregretthisdecision,trustme."

"YouarethebestfriendI’veevermet."A

kajiakuslappedhisrightshouldertwiceandwalkedawaywithout lookingback,whilePatrickstoodfeelingasthoughhewasachild whosemotherhadlefthimunderthecareofthemaid.

InOdengwe,theUgwuanyifamilywasknownasthe’virusof calamity’.Theirancestrallineagehadapeculiarityassociated withcowardiceandmediocrity.Patrick’sforefatherwassaidto haveboughtthewhiteman’sreligionandhadgonetoMission schoolinEnugumetropolis,beforebeingtransferredtoAbaasa clerkandthenpromotedasataxcollector.Whenhewenttocollecttaxfromthewomen,heandothercolleagueswereshocked atwhatthewomencoulddoandfledwhentheriotof1931began. HeranbacktoEnugubutthemissionaryandgovernmenthad abandonedhim,theyfeltthelossandsenthimaway.Hewentto Uliandlivedtherewithhisfamily.Buteverymorninghealways wokeupandwenttoviewthestreamfromahighhill.Oneday heseemeddifferentwhenhewokeup,hefeltcompelledtowalk tothestreamunderthebrightmoon.Hestoodtheregazingand feltahandpushhim.Aftermanydayswhenthevillagepriest’s daughtercametofetchwater,shesawhisbodyfloatingonthe bodyofwater.So,thepriesthadtopurgethecommunity.

Patrick’sGrandfather-Obiorah-wasquitepopularwhenhereturnedtoEnuguandownedaplantationinObollo-AforatNsukka. Thiswasalargedistrictofscatteredrocks.Everymorninghe walkedarounditunhappily.Hejustcouldn’tseethereasonhe hadtolaboursomuchinlifeinordertobebetterthanhisfather.Hefedfiftyfarmersandtheirfamilies,andonedaythe sonofoneofthefarmersburntalargepartoftheplantationout

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ofcarelessness.Henearlybeathimtodeath.Afterthat,some workersranawaywhileotherscomplainedofhismeannessand anger.Theysaidthathetendedtoboileasily.Onedayinanger, hebeatoneofhiswivestillshecouldn’twalkagain.

Onethingwasverycommonintheextendedfamily-death.His cousin’sbrotherdiedfrompoisontheverydaythathecelebrated hisson’soneyearbirthday.AndObiorah’sfirstsondiedfroma hunter’sbulletwhenhewenttoplaywithotherboysinthebush. Hissisterdiedwithherbabyinherwomb.Thenthecivilwar cameandwhentheNigerianvandalswerebeginningtopenetratetheEasternterritoryofdefunctBiafra,heandhisfamily fledtoAnambra,andso,theBiafranmilitarytookhimforforced conscription.Hewantedtofleebutfeltsurrounded.Without muchtraining,hewasgivenagunandtwobullets.Thenextday hewalkedtothebackyardandblastedhisjaw.

Patrick’sfather-Nnoromsurvivedtheterrorsomehowandbegantoreadlargelyathisownwill.Hehadthreesiblingsand thoughheinheritedtheplantationheabandoneditwhenhegot ascholarshiptoreadarchitectureAtUmuahiaTechnicalCollege whenhegraduated,leftforLagos,andgotajobatJJonescompany.AftertwoyearshefeltlonelyandtiredofLagos’scommotionandnoisylife,hereturnedtohisfather’splantationthathad rotted.Hewantedtofindhispurpose,bythenPatrickwasfive, andonedayhetookhimtohisgrandfather’sbrownwithered plantationandtoldhim’son,aseedwillalwaysdiebutknowledgewouldliveon.’

Heappliedforthepositionofprincipalatcomprehensivehigh schoolObolloandtheyrefusedtohirehimonthegroundhewas toogoodforthejob.Hewrotealettertotheminsistingthathe waswillingtoacceptanysalary,whiletheplantationstillstood brownwithreddustallover.Hetookthejobin1987,nearlyfifty years.Helovedthejobeventhoughtheywerealwaysattheedge ofpovertybeforeeachsalarycame,hepreferreditthatwaybecauseitwouldmakehischildrenwise.Hetoldhiswifethatbeingahousewifeinhishomewaslikelearningtobagadegree. Patrickfeltdisappointedwithhisfather’sphilosophywhenhe beganbeatinghimhysterically,especiallyhistwinsisters.The

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worstcameafterheforcedhissisterstomarryattheageofsixteen.Hebegantoarguewithhisfather,andmanytimeshedidn’t sleepathome.

Twelveyearsafterhereturnedandtenyearsaftertakingthe job,Nnoromwasspeakingtotheschoolchildrenandfellunconscious.HewasrushedtoStMary,ahundredmetersaway journeyfromtheschool,andwasdeclaredtobesufferingfrom abrainhemorrhage.Aftertwoweeksofmedication,hewrote totheeducationministryofEnugustate,explainingthathewas fullyfitandallthatthedoctorssaidwere’festeringlieswantingto griphissoultohell’.Hewasreinstatedbacktohisposition,and thoughhiswifepleadedwithhimnottobefoolish,heclaimed thathewaspossessedwiththe’spiritofdivinity.’

Somedayslateratwork,hissecretaryfoundhimlyingunconsciousinhisoffice;foraweekhewasinacomatillhediedwith awearysmile.BythenPatrickwasthroughwithhissecondary schooleducation.Hewokeuponemorningandtoldhismother thatthevillagewasnotmeantforhimandthathewasgoingto Lagostomakemoneyandnevertoreturn.Aweeklaterhegota letterfromhissistertellinghimtoreturnquicklyforhismother’s burial,buthenevercaredaboutanybodyonlyhimself.HeexpectedthathewasgoingtomakesomuchmoneyinLagos,but afterayearhestilllivedinanuncompletedbuilding.Andafter ayearoftradingattheladipomarket,heachievedsomething,at leasthehadashopandaself-containedapartment.

Heneverhadanywomaninhislife,havingdistancedhimself fromhissisters,hegrewuphatingthenotioncalledmarriage becausehefeltthatitwaswhatmadehisfathersfallpreytoan unsuccessfulambition.

AfteramonthandaweeklaterofinvestinginwhatAkajiaku called’becomerichwhileyousleep’,Patrickwalkedintothemarketandnoticedpeoplewhisperingincorners.Hesawmanylookingdejectedattheskyintears.Severalofthemrepeatedlyscreamed andputtheirhandsontheirheads.Hefeltintheairastench ofdejectionanddisillusionment.Heopenedhisshopdesperate tosellallhisgoodsafterhislandlordslappedhimtheprevious

28

night.HehadbeencallingAkajiakubutheneveranswered.By middayeverywherewascalmandbusinesshadtakenitsusual break.Whileotherswentout,hetookhisNokia210,toplaya snakegame.

Bojoapproachedhim,hiseyesredandashshirtblack,likeone whohasfallenintotheblackengineoilinagutter,astone’sthrow fromhisshop.Hehadtribalmarksatthetwocornersofhis faceclosetotheeyeandhischeekboneshoweddeepsuffering. Patrickstooduptomeethimandheldhisshoulder.

"Whathappened?"Heasked,

"Don’tcrybeaman,youareinpublic.Alliswell."

"The’investandsleep’haverunawaywithallmymoney."

"Whataretryingtosay?"

"Hehasgone-hetookallourmoney."

"Who?DoyoumeanAkajiaku?""Didyoualsopayintohisinvest andwhatdidhesayitisagain?"

"No,mycaseisdifferent,"Patricksaid.

"Different,inwhichway?

Hehasdupedusall."

"No,itcan’tbepossible,youguysinvestedinsomeoneelse."Patrick saidtrembling,"IknowAkajiaku."

"Howmuchdidyouinvesttobecomerich,"Bojoasked.

"ThreehundredandeightythousandNaria."Patricklied.

"Jesus!Youareafool.Youwerebornstupid."

Patrickgazedaroundhimspeechlessly.Hewastryingtounderstandwhyhehadliedandwhatmannerofinformationthiswas.

"Othersgavehimeitherhundredthousandoronehundredand fiftythousandNairas,butyoufoolishlywenttogivehimthree hundredandeightythousandNaria.Whodoyouwanttoimpress?"

29

Patrick’sheadseemedtobeswelling.Hiswasbodyhotandcold sweatsproutedfromhisforehead.HedidknowwhyBojowas angrywithhim.

"Please,I’mcomingletmegoandgetwater,"Patricksaid.

"Whereareyougoing,myfriend?WhenGodwasgivingother peoplebrainswherewereyou?Howcanyoubesofoolish?"Bojo shoutedafterhim.

Patrickkeptwalkingandwhenhegothimselfhewasinsidehis one-roomapartment,andthenherememberedhedidn’tlock hisshop.Hisheartwaspoundingashepacedabouthittingeach brownwallwhenhereacheditsend.Hishandsweretrembling hecouldn’tholdhimself,hescreamedandfellonthecoldcarpet floorandbegantocry.

HethoughtabouthowSamuelhadbetrayedhim,howhehad betrayedhismotherandsisters,andnowAkajiakubetrayedhim, howhislandlordhadinsultedhimthismorningbecauseofhis houserent,andthemorehethoughtaboutthemthemoretears rolleduntilhefellasleep.Hewokeandfeltcold,butdidn’tknow whyhewasn’ttired.Hetriedrecallingwhathadhappenedthe previousdayandhedidn’tfeeltheslightestworryoverhisproblems.Hewenttothetoiletandthepainaroundhisrectumand anuswasawful,butheresisteditasthoughitwasjustahotbreeze. Hedidn’tknowwhathewasdoingbutbegantopackhisclothing intoabagandwhenhewasthrough,heworeablackcap,stared atthemirror,andknewitwasn’thimbuthisfather’sdemonthat wasstaringbackathimfromthemirror.

Hethoughtabouthowhewasgoingtoliveifheevacuatedthe apartmentandherememberedtheempty,plantationinthevillage,buthehadn’tspokentohissistersforsixyearsnow.He openedthedoorlookedbackandsawhissufferingandconfusionandsmiledatthemwithawavinghand,thenhewalkedout, leavingthedooroftheroomopen.

Hewenttothebackofthehouseandstoleagallonoffuel.He lookedupandinstinctivelyknewitwasmidnight,becauseagrave quietbreezeblewaroundhim.Hewalkedunderthemoonlight

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andblacksky.Hedidn’tknowwhathewanted,butadmittedly hefeltlikebeingfreeandwasbentonbecomingfullyfree.He walkedahundredmeterstoLadipomarket.Whenhegotthere hesawsecuritymenatthegate.Hecorneredlefttoasmallstreet byitsside,noticedafewpeoplestrollingaround,anddecidedto jumpafencetogetintothemarketwhentheywerenotwatching. Hewalkedtohisshopandhefounditclosedbutnotlocked.He openeditandlookedaroundthegoodsandrememberedwhat Bojosaidtohimyesterday.

Hefelthewasafullygrownstupidman.Butthesethoughts didn’tdepresshim.Insteadhefeltbuoyant.Hewasregenerated. HefeltverydifferentfromthePatrickthatlastcametotheshop. Carefully,hebegantopourthefuelaroundhisshop.Thenhe setitonfire.Astheshopbegantoburn,thefirespreadfastto othershops.Then,analarmbegantobeep.Althoughhedidn’t wanttorun,buthefoundhimselfrunningawaywithacertain glee.Heracedtothefencewallclimbeditandsattherelooking atthewholefierysight.Thenhesaidhappily:"I’mborn-again, nolongeraslave."

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