Benno

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Contents
- First coming and situation at that time reflected through personalized discussions
- Second coming idem
- Life after school
- The problem with the people at home (what they do with money)


I still remember vividly the last words he whispered into my ears before he died. "You have been
more than a friend to me. You'll find it under my mattress. You'll know what to do with it".

 "Ojinga, I cried, what do you mean? Don't do that to me! You have to stay alive! Don't forget that
you've got people back home to cater for! Remember your younger brother and sister..." But I was
talking to the thin air in the room. Ojinga had gone to join his ancestors. I spent the next three
months mourning my friend Ojinga and almost forgot to look into the dirty diary I found under his
mattress.

I woke up abruptly early one morning with a loud scream that sent my girlfriend cursing. I had
dreamt that I was fighting with my deceased friend, Ojinga, who suddenly brought out a wicked-
looking knife from his pocket and was determined to stab me to death with it. That was when I
decided to start screaming for help. As soon as I got out of bed that morning, I brought out Ojinga's
diary from where I had hidden it, made myself comfortable with a cup of tea and began to read ...


                                                   I


      SEPTEMBER, THIS YEAR OF THE LORD


It really took a very long time before I finally decided to keep this record with which I wish to let
you know, my dear Chioke and Ugochi, everything about my trip to and my stay in Alaoyi. i I,
Ojinga, wish to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth (not minding whether or not
this record will one day fall into wrong hands) so that if my stay here happens to be successful, it
will be left for you to decide whether to follow my steps. Or if the cards fall against me and I am
unsuccessful, or even if I die, you will know where I made mistakes and learn from those mistakes,
so that we all do not fall into the same abyss.

Our father once told me that as far as he was concerned, I was going to study till I went "overseas" as
it is said in our language. What he didn't know was that his time was almost up, and when he died a
few months later, all my dreams of coming to Alaoyi seemed to have turned into pipe-dreams. When
I think back to those old days, I have a feeling that our father must have eaten "Amosu" ii. Poor him...


                                                   II


- "Hi Chukwudi, where are you heading to?"

- "Not your business."

- "Why so waspish, anything wrong, my Babe?"

- "And I'm not your Babe. At least not until you learn how to spend money on a dame."

- "Hey, what the hell are you trying to insinuate, have you forgotten that I took you out just two days
ago?”
                                                                                                        2

- "You call that taking out? Don't let my friends hear that you spent some lousy twenty Naira on me
and have the courage to say you took me out."

- "You don't seem to remember that we are students and not bank managers."

- "Then wait until you're made a bank manager before you start making passes at a dame like me.
Really want to know where I'm going right now? I have a date with a guy I met at a party some
weeks back. I wish you were there to see how he was dishing out money when he took me out last
weekend. He told me he had just received some hard currency from his uncle who lives in the States.
So, he has a very good reason to take me out tonight. I admit he's everything but handsome, but if
you think I'll eat that baby face of yours, better think again!"

- "And that reminds me. I've just come to tell you that I'll be leaving this country in a few days time."

- "You mean you're going to die in a few days time. Why don't you come tomorrow evening and tell
me whatever nonsense you want to tell me? I'm already late for my date."

That was three days after I had received the letter informing me that I had been awarded a
scholarship to study in Alaoyi for one year...

My colleagues and I decided we were going to spend the night in a friend's apartment at Enugu on
the eve of our departure so as to be able to catch the first flight to Lagos early next morning.

Anybody could imagine by the way I left home in a hurry that my colleagues were in a serious
danger from which only my arrival at Enugu would save them. I was in such a hurry that I nearly
refused the lunch prepared specially for me by my auntie. You would react exactly the same way if a
girl who had been playing hard-to-get to you for a long time suddenly decided to change her mind,
just because you were going abroad, and promised to say a special goodbye to you the very afternoon
you were leaving. Don't ask me what sort of goodbye she said to me because I did not see her when I
reached our meeting place.

Our friend organised a small get-together in our honour at Enugu. Speeches were held during the
occasion, and people advised us on various issues, ranging from what to buy them while returning to
the necessity of being very serious with our studies. It struck me that nobody ended his speech
without stressing one point “...and make sure you don't return home with an Alaoyi lady”. This was
exactly what my eldest uncle had told me as I was about to leave home for Enugu "you're going
alone and I expect you to return alone. Make sure you don't come back home with anybody with a
pointed nose. That was no joke..."

Everything went on well at Enugu airport. At least we managed to reach the airport without our
friend's car falling into bits.

"Who amongst you is flying for the first time?, asked our lecturer who was to accompany us to
Alaoyi. I was surprised to hear all my colleagues claim they had flown several times. The truth is
that many of them had never been to an airport since they were born. I saw the question as a tricky
one. So I decided to say what you know is true; that I was flying for the first time. The moment I
said that, I realised what a terrible mistake I had made. I had the impression that it was a sin not to
have flown before, judging from how I was laughed at. Anyway, the truth is always bitter.

My amazement as the plane took off was great. I could not believe that my poor self, who had never
been to Lagos, was going there in a big way. I compared myself to all my agemates and to all the
people in my village who claimed to be rich. What a village that is - a village where the poor is
constantly reminded of the fact that he/she is poor. I invoked the spirits of all my ancestors, telling
them to be happy because I was doing them proud, and that if everything went well for me, many
other people from our family would fly as much as they wished in future. I was doing what nobody
of my age had done in my village. I thanked God who had given me the intelligence which,
                                                                                                       3

according to me, was my own wealth. I was so happy that I would have written a poem on my
trousers if I had a pen handy. Everything was for real...

We obtained our visas to Alaoyi on the same day we were to leave the country. It didn't take us more
than fifteen minutes to obtain what many people would not be able to obtain in fifteen months. It was
at their embassy that I had my first real experience of their own version of hospitality. I don't wish to
tell you how "common" Africans, who go there for visas, are treated because I don't want to have
you sobbing over my shoulders. Just know that if an Alaoyi person decides to obtain a visa to an
Africa country, he or she simply needs to ask for it per telephone, and the officials of our embassy
would break their necks delivering it.

We were at Murtala Muhamed Airport as early as seven thirty in the evening waiting to have our
luggage checked in. Our lecturer, who did not see any reason why we should waste our time queuing
up with other passengers, went straight to the office of the airline to inform the officials that we had
arrived, and that they should take care of all the necessary protocols as quickly as possible so that we
would go and relax our nerves in the waiting room. What she didn't know was that she was in for a
surprise.

"Hey guys", said our lecturer," it's a shame, but those careless people say our names are not on the
passengers’ list. Anyway, they said I should come back at nine o'clock to see if something could be
done about it. Otherwise, we'll have to take the next flight on Saturday". I very nearly had a heart
attack. I even started to think that we might end up not flying at all.

Our lecturer took all our travelling documents, including our departure forms along with her when
she went to check the latest development at the office of the airline. We nearly ran amok when she
came back later and told us that we were not only flying that night, but that we were flying first
class. As we were at the passport control, we discovered that my departure form was missing. I died
a little. I was shocked not only because my departure form was nowhere to be found, but also
because my lecturer, who must have lost it when she went to confirm our flight, denied ever having
received it from me. I did not panic. She did the panicking for me because she realised she had told a
lie. I went with her to one of the airport officials who said he didn't have any departure form but
called me back as we were moving away and gave me two departure forms. He didn't seem to like
the look of my lecturer. As I was filling in the forms, I caught myself reciting a verse from
Corneille's "Le Cid" “... ainsi ne goutons nous jamais une parfaite allegeresse...”

Nobody ever did me a favour and was sorry for it. So, when I remembered that I had twenty five
Naira in my wallet instead of the usual sum of twenty Naira one was allowed to leave our country
with, I went back to the airport official and gave him the extra five Naira. That was the first time I
was nearly kissed by a man like me. The airport official nearly fell off his chair thanking me. That
was in those days when our money still had much value...

It took me a long time to get over the shocks I had received at the Lagos international airport. This
was not only because I had lost my departure form, but also because some customs officials nearly
stripped me naked. I wondered whether they thought my clothes were made of cocaine or whatever
they were looking for. I was shaking like a leaf after being searched. Due to the delay at the customs
check, I could not sit close to my colleagues on the plane.

One of the things that struck me was the charm and efficiency of the air hostesses. Maybe it was an
accident but I was disappointed by what I saw and experienced aboard the Nigerian Airways plane
that took us to Lagos. I was treated as if I had stolen my ticket instead of buying it. There were more
than ten vacant seats in the aircraft. As naive as I was, I asked one of the hostesses if those vacant
seats were damaged since I could not understand why we should be flying to Lagos with ten vacant
seats while some twenty passengers were waiting at the Enugu airport to be taken to Lagos. As soon
as I asked this question, I realised I had made a serious mistake. The reply the fat hostess gave me is
unprintable.
                                                                                                        4

Most of the hostesses on the aircraft that took us to Alaoyi were of my age, and they seemed to know
the solutions to your problems even before you told them the problems. I said to myself ”if these are
the type of girls we're going to meet in Alaoyi, well I'm just sorry for our books”. I even decided I
was going to make a pass at one of the hostesses. People who fly first class (and I was one of them
that night) are always given V.I.P treatment. They started by serving us drinks. I had heard a lot
about Alaoyi beer and when asked what I would like to drink, my answer was automatic: Beer! As it
was time to eat, I decided it was time I chatted up one of the hostesses. So I gave the one who asked
me what I wanted to eat my best boyish smile, saying "you see, I'm travelling for the first time to
Alaoyi. I would like you to give me the dish you like best at home."
"Then have rice with beef", she retorted beaming with her professional smile. That's the kind of
smile I always give and like to receive. She was just my type of girl...

You think I was simply served rice with beef, don't you? That's exactly what did not happen. It was
served with many other stuffs I had never eaten or set my eyes on. It was then that I realised one
advantage of not sitting together with my colleagues. I was sitting close to one pot-bellied Alaoyi
man who slept throughout the flight, but woke up so punctually each time anything was to be served
that I started to wonder if he had a special alarm clock for that. I didn't know how to start tackling the
food - which one to mix with the other and so on - and I was determined not to exhibit the fact that I
was flying for the second time. What I eventually did was that I kept on watching the Alaoyi man
sitting beside me with the corner of my eyes. I took whatever I saw him take and mixed whatever I
saw him mix. That was how I came to be enjoying the meal without washing my dirty linens in the
public. Until I made a mistake. I had just beaten the man to the rice and beef and was waiting
impatiently for him to start eating another thing so that I would follow suit when he suddenly picked
one Alaoyi food item, freed it from the paper it was wrapped with, and started nibbling at it. I
equally unveiled my own, and since I did not see any reason why I should waste time lingering over
what was not even a mouthful, simply threw it into my mouth. That was how my own meal suddenly
came to an end. The damn thing was so sour I had to abandon other items which I learnt later (not
without regret) were mainly composed of meat. I was afraid of eating another thing that might force
me to involuntarily display all that I had already eaten to other passengers.




                                                   III

Our elders say that a person who has relatives in heaven is not likely to taste hell. One Alaoyi lady
took us to our various rooms as soon as we arrived at our university and disappeared as if our colour
were contagious. But we were lucky to meet some of our countrymen who took us around so that we
got settled in a few days' time. I was astonished by the prices of commodities at the supermarkets,
especially the prices of food stuffs from the tropics. Groundnuts, which are sold at very exorbitant
prices back home during the planting season, belong to the cheapest food items sold all year round in
Alaoyi. These groundnuts are bought at give-away prices from our farmers, who have horror of their
groundnuts getting spoilt on them, roasted and sold cheaply in cans in supermarkets.

We all arrived in Alaoyi full of pipe dreams, with the boys dreaming of what to buy and of the
Alaoyi girls, while the girls dreamt of how to outdress their friends when they get back home. The
girls in our group even thought that the Alaoyi boys on campus were going to be crazy about them.
And for this reason, they started being hostile to us boys ...

I was surprised by the curiosity our arrival aroused in the town where we lived. I never knew that
Nigerians were that important. Wherever we went, people stopped what they were doing to observe
some minutes of silence in our honour. One old woman nearly got knocked down one day by a lorry
because she was standing in the middle of the road to take a good look at us. If we took the bus,
people turned in their seats to gape at us. Nobody had the courage to sit close to us. Some people
even left their seats for us (this was the aspect of their hospitality I enjoyed most).
                                                                                                       5

We got to know one photographer who summoned the courage to invite us for a drink. He took a
liking to us, and he manifested this in many ways. He even went as far as organising a "welcome"
party for us. And that was how we spent our first month in Alaoyi. Our heads were so full of Alaoyi
that most of us nearly forgot to write home. We were even cursing our sponsors for giving us a
scholarship for "just" one year. In short, we were ready to spend the rest of our days in Alaoyi. What
we didn't know was that we were going to change our mind very soon...

It was in the second month of our stay in Alaoyi that we started suffering from the greatest sickness
most African students abroad suffer from, especially in the early months of their studies in Alaoyi,
loneliness. So, my greatest desire was to go back to my country. I could not understand why people
should come back from school only to lock themselves up in their rooms, not caring what happened
to their next door neighbours, and only visiting their neighbours to warn them not to make noise. I
came to know the real meaning of depression. We had enough to eat and enough to drink, but we
missed that happiness derived from neighbourliness and communal life typical of the "traditional"
African life. We found solace in visiting each other when we got tired of our respective rooms. It
was not easy to come in contact with Alaoyi students. But I just could not imagine life going on like
that. So, I decided that the best way to get to know my next door neighbours was to make them come
to me. I bought myself a big cassette player and started listening to my music very loudly. They came
complaining, and I introduced myself to them each time...


The moment I met Benni, I knew we had a lot in common. He could be described accurately in a few
words. He is that which we call Ezigbomadu or a good person in our language and the best dancer
I've ever meet. It was he who brought me in real contact with the Alaoyi people. He was popular not
only because he was good to everybody but also because he danced very well. He had many Alaoyi
girlfriends. As for me, I wanted a girl friend badly but always felt nervous whenever I met an Alaoyi
girl since I thought she would start laughing at me if I made a mistake in their language.


I received a letter from a girl I met back home before leaving for Alaoyi asking me to come and
spend my Christmas vacation with her and her family.


I went there from a disco and arrived with very sleepy eyes. My first two days were enjoyable,
especially as the girl and I were playing around like brother and sister. But something happened on
the third day that I will never forget as long as I live. This girl (we had become so close to each other
to be mistaken for lovers) wanted me to share all her hobbies with her. We went ice-skating the day I
arrived there. She seemed to have enjoyed the fact that people gaped at us while she taught me how
to "skate around", for she suggested on the third day that we go and play squash. We had just
finished changing into our sports outfits and were about to leave the dressing room when one too-tall
man came and blocked my way. I thought he just liked the look of me, and wanted to crack some
jokes to cheer me up before the game started. So I smiled at him. My heart skipped a beat when he
did not return my smile but seized my wrist instead. He said that the sum of eight hundred Alaoyi
money he had in his bag was missing and that he was convinced I was the person who had stolen it.
Everybody in the dressing room was surprised by his accusation . My girlfriend was mad at him. But
that did not stop him. He insisted on searching my pockets. But when he could not find any money
on me except the ten Alaoyi currency note I had brought along with me just in case we decided to
have some beer after playing squash, he had to apologise to me.

But no amount of apology could heal that injury inflicted on my ego by that man. I felt so bad I wept
that night while we were having dinner. The girl's family did a lot to console me. Her parents were
very good to me. A few days later, I noticed some changes in the girl's attitude towards me. She
started avoiding me. I felt so bad that I nearly went back to my university even before Christmas if
not because of her parents who doted upon me. I didn't enjoy the Christmas, but I pretended that I
did. That was the first time I was spending Christmas outside my family. Moreover, I did not like
being stuffed with cake during Christmas. Before I left for my university, I told my girl friend what I
thought about her, and warned her against inviting me again if she knew she was going to get cold
                                                                                                       6

on me that quickly. That was when she revealed to me that her sudden change of attitude towards me
was due to her boyfriend. She said that her boyfriend had accused her of having brought herself a
new lover from Africa. I'm still convinced till the present day that her boyfriend had his hand in my
confrontation with the tall gorilla that had accused me of stealing his money...

My next door neighbours do not attend church services. They claim that only old people are
supposed to go to the Church, since they are close to their graves, and therefore need to make peace
with God. As far as they are concerned, a young person should sleep off the overdose of beer
consumed all week-long on Sunday. But when I ask them why they pay taxes to the church, they say,
that it is their own way of compensating the church for the very many public holidays it provides
them. So, I was not surprised the first day I attended a service in a nearby church to see that apart
from me, there were only five youths in the "old peoples' congregation". I have stopped going to
church because I don't fancy the way people are almost forced to give out their hard-earned money
there. Imagine the fact that I had to offer an equivalent of fifty Naira recently against my wish just to
merit the priest's handshake after service.


Is it true that "church business" is now a flourishing business back home? Yesterday I received a
letter from an old school friend of mine who had spent more than ten years in America without even
writing home. He told me that he was now back in his village, where he has established a church -
The Afro Church of Christ. He said you only needed to spin a good yarn to have the entire village
rushing to your church. His own story was that the "Saviour" appeared to him at a railway station in
New York, and told him to return home and save souls.

I think that many Africans take religion too serious, especially when it has a touch of exoticism. That
is why many of them hurriedly turned against their traditional religion like mad dogs do against their
masters, with the advent of the Western religion. Do you still remember how Okoli, the "village
pope", nearly killed his daughter for saying that she was going to marry Chika Odo who was from a
protestant family? " ...and if your daughter causes you to go to hell, kill her. It is better for you to
enter the kingdom of heaven daughterless than for you and your daughter to go to hell." And when
Chika, as madly in love as he was with Ogochi, changed his denomination just to be worthy of her,
heads nearly rolled in his own family, and he had to flee to Ogochi's family. Which was the last
straw that broke the camel's back. The Catholic Christian Mothers' Association ostracised and
banned Ogochi's mother from the Holy Communion table for helping a man "know" her daughter
before they were wedded in the church.



                                         SUNDAY 12.45 p.m.


My friend, Benni, went to church today. He said, he was afraid to partake in the holy communion.
When he was a little boy, he was told during catechism classes that it was a sin even to look at the
holy body of Christ the priest put into his hands, let alone telling the "uninitiated" how it tasted. He
said that unlike in his village church, people shared the body of Christ here as if they were having
lunch. Some people even took the holy communion thing with their left hands.


You may not believe this, but I have met many unmarried couples here living together. Some of them
even go as far as having children. When the going gets tough, each party goes his way. But I'm yet
to find out if there is any law that determines the fate of the children in case of separation.
                                                                                                        7

                                                   IV


Tonight, I slept with an Alaoyi girl for the first time in my life. Did I say sleep? That is a mistake. In
short, I mean that I wrestled with a girl for the first time in my life tonight. I had decided to forget
about this diary for some reasons. Prime among those reasons was that life here seemed to be a
routine. Moreover, I had said to myself that I wasn't going to touch my diary again unless I made a
"catch". Or do you want me to start boring you with stories about our feeding habits here? Stories
like how we discovered that there is something here that could pass for Garri or even Semovita, and
of how some of us decided to consume it out of reciprocal slight, pretending it reminded them of
home, when in reality it was because it belongs to the cheapest food items you could find in any
local supermarket here, and ended up at the State Hospital with pile. But before I met Billy, many
things had happened that are worthy of being written down before I forget them.

"Music Kingdom" is a discotheque for "senior boys" only. It is one and half hour drive from where I
am living. It is, so to say, an American discotheque, even though the owner is not American, because
a majority of the people who frequent this discotheque are black American soldiers. But there are
other peculiarities of Music Kingdom. It is not a law, but everybody goes to this discotheque in his
"Christmas dress", and people make it a habit to go there with their girlfriends. That doesn't mean
that some boys do not go there without a girl, or that some girls do not go there unaccompanied.

 At least, you can trust me when it comes to dressing. My friends and I frequent this discotheque the
way a bishop frequents the alter, without "catching" a babe. One thing is that most of the time we are
so intoxicated with the music that we would dance and dance and dance, and thus forget all about
girls. But even if we get interested in any girls, we find it difficult getting at them. These black
Americans are really fast when it comes to making passes at girls. You see a girl, and you don't hate
her. You raise down your head and try to make up your mind whether or not to make a pass at her.
You raise your head only to feel sorry you hesitated a few seconds, because you find her in the arms
of a black American who is quicker than you are in decision-taking.
                                                                                                      8


"What you don't get today you'll get tomorrow". This has always been a favourite watchword of
mine. That was how I got to be dancing with one girl one night in Music Kingdom, and before you
knew it, we were kissing and hugging each other like we were just wedded. I was occupied with this
girl till my friend, Benni, who had tried several times without success to convince me that it was
time to go home, came and tore us apart. She told me her name was Ira, and before we finally and
reluctantly took leave of each other, she gave me her phone number and asked me to call her the next
day. The next day, I called Ira. We talked about this and that, and since we seemed to be in a hurry to
get to know each other closer, decided to meet that same day at six p.m. Before she hung up, she
wanted to know which "state" I came from. My reply was spontaneous. I told her I was from
Anambra State. And why that question? Had she been to any part of my country? She said she had
been to Ohio, and was my state anywhere close to Ohio? I told her that unless new states had been
created in my country, I used to know that Anambra state was close to Imo and Bendel states, and
that if I were to trust my little knowledge of geography, Ohio was supposed to be in America. "And
which country do you come from?", she asked sharply. " I'm from Naija in Africa", I replied,
imitating one of our popular musicians back home.

That was my last conversation with her till this day. She did not show up at the agreed place at six
p.m. And when I saw her again the following weekend in Music Kingdom sitting on the laps of one
fat American, I found it hard to believe that it was that same girl who was one jump close to eating
me in the name of kissing me a week before. I'm yet to recover from the glance she gave me when I
passed close to her to buy myself a drink. It was full of something more than mockery. It was full of
hate.


One week later, I was at the bus stop waiting for the fourteen-hour bus. Since the bus seemed not to
be forthcoming, I decided to buy myself some ice cream so that I wouldn't feel the impact of waiting
for the bus. It was on a hot summer afternoon and everybody at the bus stop was dressed to match
the weather. But some of us were so fanatical about the good weather, that they exposed almost all
parts of their body to any one who had eyes to see. They call it sun tanning. They react to sunshine
the way lizards do at home. On sunny days they lie or move about under the sun almost stark naked,
but disappear from the sun as soon as the heat becomes unbearable. The only difference between this
their habit and that of the lizards is that while they do it to change their complexion - which does not
always work since some of them turn red instead of the desired complexion-, the lizards do it in
order to be active.

I was busy leaking my ice cream when one good looking red head walked hurriedly past me as if half
the devils in hell were on her heels. She walked to the notice board at the bus stop, took a hasty look
at the time table, and came straight to me. My heart skipped a beat. She wanted to know whether the
fourteen-hour bus had already left. I told her no and that I was also waiting for it. That was for her a
good enough reason to come and sit close to me to wait for the bus. After a while, I noticed that she
was looking hungrily at me while I leaked my ice cream. I started feeling uncomfortable and thought
that maybe she needed some ice cream badly but didn't have any money on her to buy herself some.
So I asked her if she minded my buying her some ice cream. She said politely that she didn't feel like
having some ice cream, but there was something sexy about the way I leaked my ice-cream, and did I
mind if she watched me while ate? For me, that was an open gambit, and I didn't hesitate to make use
of such a chance.

We talked about this and that while in the bus. This way, I came to know that her name was Iris and
that she was working with a computer firm. I kissed her goodbye when we reached the bus stop
where I was to get down, but she told me that she was also getting down there. You ought to see how
surprised I was to learn that she was living a few meters away from me. That same evening, she
invited me to have some coffee with her in her two-room apartment. I told her I didn't like coffee but
I would come if she had some ice cream. She said she had some and that she was looking forward to
watching me eat ice cream again. I won't go into details about what happened that evening at her
house. You only need to know that I did not spend the whole evening eating ice cream. I was just
about to undress her but suddenly decided to pick up one of her pillows which had fallen on the floor
                                                                                                            9

while we were busy caressing each. What I saw lying close to the pillow on the floor, first of all,
turned me cold, and then, sent my heart racing.


It was a picture of Iris wearing a wedding gown. All she did when I showed it to her was to start
laughing as if I had cracked the funniest joke on earth. She told me she was married but her "poor"
husband was serving a three-year sentence for involving himself in a bank robbery. "I really love
him, you know. There is nothing in this world I wouldn't do for him. I visit him every visiting day.
Before I go to bed every night, I talk to his picture in the drawer of that bedside table, and
sometimes I catch myself touching my body while I look at it. But how in hell do you think I can live
for three years without having sex with a man ?", she concluded accusingly as if I was the brain
behind her husband's participation in the bank robbery.


 I told her that I could understand how she felt, and may I use her toilette. That was the last she saw
of me that night. I ran home as fast as my legs could carry me. I have done many bad things in my
life but I do not think I am in a hurry to consciously go as far as sleeping with another man's wife.
Before I went to bed that night, I rang her and told her I was sorry but I had to go home... She didn't
even allow me to finish my sentence. She called me a conservative ape, told me to go to hell and
hung up on me.

If you go to discos the way I did before I met Billy, I don’t think you'll survive it. I almost became a
"music maniac". There was a time I could not walk properly, but would always take some dancing
steps at intervals. I started having a nasty feeling that I was not going to be able to control myself.
Moreover, I was emaciating seriously and having constant headache due to want of sleep. So, I
decided to stop going to discos. I would always say no whenever Benni came with other friends to
pick me up. After many futile efforts to convince me to go with him to the discos, Benni sat me
down one evening and told me what he thought about my attitude.

"Why do you think I insist each time you tell me you don't want to come with me to the disco?”, he
asked with that his salt-will-never-melt-in-my-mouth-smile. Before I could open my mouth to
answer, he said, "It is not because I cannot amuse myself at the disco without your big head. After
all, I have done it for years before your arrival and I’ll still do it after you might have left Alaoyi. It is
only that I see how you are bent on getting an Alaoyi girl as if you were sent here primarily for that. I
don't blame you. I blame those so-called Been-tos iii who return to your village just to tell colourful
stories and make you believe that as soon as you arrive in Alaoyi, you'll meet a battalion of angelic-
looking Alaoyi girls at the airport waiting for you to make your choice. And what's the result? Most
parents get close to having a heart attack if any of their male children is offered admission into a
university in Alaoyi. And you, in order to live up to the expectations of friends back home, you come
here to waste your time instead of concentrating on your studies.”

“Let me tell you something. If you think you'll see the underwear of an Alaoyi girl by keeping
indoors, you're in for a surprise. And I wonder why you have never asked me why I am going out
with a girl who's a bit older than my mother. Do you think it's because I don't like those young
Alaoyi girls with their succulent and pointed breasts? No, I do like them as much as you do. But
which of those young Alaoyi girls would want or have the courage to have anything to do with you
after hearing those nasty stories their parents tell them about Africans? Have you seen anything
positive about Africa on television since your arrival here in Alaoyi? After watching the first T.V
report on Africa a few weeks after my arrival here, I nearly went crazy. I was at the point of packing
my bag and going home to see what had suddenly transformed all Africans into mobile skeletons
when I got a letter from my younger brother, whom I had written just a few days after my arrival
here, telling me - after outlining the things every member of my family wanted me to buy him or her
- that they were all doing fine back home. But that didn't convince me. It was only after I had
received a group photograph of my family members that I started having rest of mind, and decided to
stay.
                                                                                                     10

“I'm telling you all these things, my friend, because I am being a good friend. I wouldn't want you to
have a taste of the nasty experiences I had when I was a greenhorn like you. You have to go out and
meet those "rebels" who are courageous enough to defy their parents and who don't give a damn
about what other people think or say about their going out with an African. Or you could meet the
not-too-youngs. Many of them are at the wrong side of forty, fifty or sometimes sixty and have given
up their battle against wrinkles. They have seen both evil and good in their life. But their heydays are
over, and they are as lonely as the dead. Once they get their hook on you, you're done for. You'll
need help from above to free yourself. They would cut their right arm for you just to keep you. All
you have to do in return is to lay them and stay away from younger girls. They would normally insist
on sleeping with you without condoms because they think they need your younger hormones, and
they would always make sure you're well fed before you go to bed with them. But if you don't watch
it, my brother, they'll suck you to death. Don't get sold onto the idea that they love you. You're
nothing to them but a performing monkey, and they could go to bed with your closest friend, drop
you for him if he's a better lay, and think nothing of it.

“The next category of Alaoyi girls would want to sleep with you because their friends tell them what
an exciting lay an African can be. They would come to you any time they want to be well laid, but
they wouldn't want to be seen with you in public, especially since they wouldn't want their
boyfriends to find out that they're two-timing them. Then, if you're lucky, you'll meet some girl
whose parents must have lived in Africa or must have had some positive dealings with Africans and
are, therefore, not allergic to Africans. These ones are like the "rebels". They would move in with
you if you allow them and make themselves the turning point of your life. You'll be so occupied
listening to their problems that you forget you have any problems back home in Africa. Before you
know it, you'll be having piles of unreplied letters from friends and relatives back home in Africa.

“There was this girl who used to attend the same political science lecture with me. Boy, this is a kind
of girl that would make your head spin since I know your weakness for red-heads. I still ask myself
till today how she managed to pass that course. This girl almost never paid attention to what the
lecturer was saying, instead, she spent most of the time devouring me with her angel eyes. At first, I
thought she was just one of those Alaoyi girls who, seeing an African at a close range for the first
time, wonder if he could also breathe like a "normal human being". But I found out how wrong I
was when we were to form seminar groups and we accidentally fell into the same group. I don't need
to tell you all that happened since I'm going out and don't have the time. Just know that she started by
wanting to feel the texture of my hair, and so on, and went as far as dating me, etc. This went on for
sometime, and I was even thinking I was in love with her. Till the whole thing blew up in my eyes
one day.

She was seen in the city driving around in her car with an African and now had to choose between
seeing me - and having to finance her studies herself- and dropping me and having her studies still
financed by her parents. And as a demonstration of her parents' seriousness, she was temporarily
relieved of her plush car."

"If Alaoyi girls are that bad, why then do you insist that I go out in search of them? ", I asked
innocently.


"And who said they're bad, foolish man, or are you no longer familiar with English language? If you
think I'm wasting your time and mine telling you all these things, just let me know. Then I'll save my
breath for more decent things. Maybe you'll end up like my flatmate, talking to yourself every time
you're alone and making combs a taboo to your hair. Remember what that African writer once said.
"Whenever an old man dies in Africa, it is a library of experiences that has been torn down." But
maybe you now think that elders are useless and that there is no need listening to elderly talks simply
because you've spent two days in Alaoyi."

"But Benni, your flatmate told me soliloquy helps him solve difficult calculations in physics. And
you know very well that he is a reggae fan. That's why he doesn't comb his hair ", I replied
courageously.
                                                                                                       11



                                                    V

                                                Suleman

"No one would want to study physics if every physicist were to debate with his ancestors the way
Sule does", said Benni.

"Anyway", he continued, "that difficult-calculation yarn is an already-made reply to anyone
inquisitive enough to interrupt him in his debates. But I know better. If there is something he loathes
in his life, it is reggae music. Or have you ever caught him listening to reggae music? The story
behind Sule's mysterious behaviour started a few months after his arrival here in Alaoyi. You may
not believe it looking at him now, but that boy is worth more than that soliloquising physicist you
think you know. Apart from being a wonderful percussionist, he has one of the most golden voices
I've ever listened to. He has a black belt in Karate and could dance even Michael Jackson to the earth
if he gets started.


Sule is the first product of an ardent love affair between a village school teacher and his most
beautiful female pupil in the early forties. His grandmother was one of those Africans who
discovered the importance of western education early enough. So when her husband died, leaving
her behind with five mouths to feed and very envious relatives who were bent on wiping her and her
children out in order to take over their land, she decided to send Suleman senior to school, thereby
lending deaf ears to the mockeries of her neighbours, who held her for a foolish woman who wanted
to make a woman out of her first son. But Suleman senior was no disappointment to his mother. Till
this day you'll still hear people say things like "you can't do this even if you think that you're more
intelligent than Suleman senior..."


Suleman senior also became a Christian as soon as he started going to school, more out of fear of his
wicked uncles than for the fear of Lucifer and the furnace of fire. What would his Alaoyi teacher
think of him when he heard that the mother of his most brilliant pupil always called the village
medicine man to remove the mysterious things his uncles sent to kill them. Sometimes they would
wake up to find a small clay pot filled with things like heads and tails of a snake, a lizard and a cat in
the middle of their compound.

One afternoon Suleman senior had just come back from school and was eating the roasted plantain
his mother had prepared for him before leaving for the market, when he suddenly looked up and saw
a tortoise right on their door step. He knew the tortoise had been sent by one of his uncles because the
village medicine man had said that the next "missile" from his uncles was going to come in form of
an animal that didn't exist in their village. Suleman senior was alone at home and didn't see any
reason why he should go and call the village medicine man. After all, he was now a mass-server in
the church. It was about time he proved to his uncles and to his mother that he had not been wasting
his time going to church every Sunday and attending Bible Classes every Wednesday evening. Is it
not written in the book of Ezekiel, or is it in the book of Mathew?, that you could tell a mountain to
start running and it would obey, if you had an iota of faith ?


So he put on his mass-serving uniform, armed himself with a cane, and started inflicting injuries on
the poor tortoise. He killed and set it ablaze. But he paid expensively for it. Everybody thought he
was going to die of the boils and the resultant high fever that befell him for more than one week. The
village medicine man offered one sacrifice after the other, but to no avail. His mother had to take him
to a medicine man in a distant village before he could be saved.
                                                                                                      12

Suleman senior did not leave the church when he recovered from his sickness, but he had learnt one
lesson. In as much as he was going to adhere to the religion and education of the Alaoyi man, he was
not going to abandon the religion of his ancestors, since his faith in the Alaoyi man's religion could
not send him any help when he needed it badly. So when he gained admission into the teacher
training college, he decided that the only way he was going to scare his uncles away from his family
was to learn traditional medicine. But he was not going to harm anybody with his knowledge of
traditional medicine... "thou shalt not kill...”
“do unto others what you would want them to do unto you."

Thus, Suleman senior returned to the village armed not only with a good certificate in pedagogic, but
also with a sound knowledge of traditional medicine. He was posted to a nearby village where he
was to man the standard six class, and that was how he came to meet his future wife.

Suleman senior was known even among his fellow teachers as a no-nonsense man and was highly
esteemed in his village because of his sense of discipline. He had instilled the fear of God into his
colleagues and pupils the day his class - standard six A - quarrelled with standard six C over a bench.
That was on a Monday morning, and Suleman was not always in his best mood on Monday
mornings, especially after having spent the whole weekend attending to his many customers who had
come from nearby and distant villages to seek his help against enemies, evil spirits, and diseases,
ranging from Ogbanjeiv to Malaria.

Suleman's pupils arrived at school that Monday morning only to find out that the bench in the second
row was missing. That was nothing extraordinary. It was common practice among the pupils to
"borrow" a bench from another class if a bench got damaged in one class. But this bench was
normally borrowed from a distant class so that if those to whom it belonged were lazy, they might
not discover its whereabouts for days, thereby offering their seat to their elders as they called it. But
this time Suleman's pupils searched far and wide, but to no avail. So they gave up, and those sitting
in the second row were offered sitting opportunities in the other rows, something Suleman senior
would never be a party to, especially as it gave his pupils the opportunity to "giraffe" while solving
questions in arithmetic.

 "Have you looked in six B and C ?", barked Suleman at his class leader.

 "No sir".

"And what're you waiting for, you hunk head? Go to six C and take a look, while Oke, your deputy,
goes to six B. And make it snappy."

Oke's classmates knew why he disappeared from the class at the speed of lightening. He was not
going to give their teacher a chance to change his mind and send him instead to six C. Nobody in his
right mind would want to go and interrupt Mr. Madu's lesson in search of a bench unless he wanted
his buttocks to be re-shaped for him by Mr. Madu's cane. Mr. Madu was popularly known among the
pupils of St. Peter's school as Mr. Twelve. He was given this pseudonym because he punished any
offence against the school rules and regulations with a minimum of twelve strokes of his cane. So it
came as no surprise to the standard six A pupils when Uche, the class leader, came back to the class
crying.

 "Who did this to you ?, asked Suleman senior and took a closer look at Uche's swollen buttocks.

 "I found our bench in Mr. Twelve, sorry, in Mr. Madu's class and asked if I could take it. Mr. Twe..
Madu said that was no reason for me to disturb his class and ordered me to lie on his table where he
gave me twelve strokes of the cane", reported Uche between sobs.

"Come with me ", ordered Suleman senior .

There was total confusion in the school a few minutes later. Mr. Twelve who could not supply
"enough" convincing reasons for inflicting such injuries on Suleman senior's class leader found his
                                                                                                    13

back on the ground at a blink of an eye, with Suleman senior sitting on top of him and hrowing
blows at him. It took almost all the members of the staff to rescue Mr. Twelve from him. The entire
school children at St. Peter's were singing Suleman's praise, and they were soon joined by market
women who had left their sheds to come and see what the uproar was all about. They had been
hearing stories about how Mr. Twelve handled their children at school. The school children were
sent home shortly after that, and the members of staff sat to resolve the dispute.


But Suleman senior had two big weaknesses - dancing and football. He was not all that a dancer, but
he loved traditional music and adored people who danced well. As for football, he was a member of
the teacher training college team. So, when one of his female pupils, who was the leader of one of
the traditional dancing groups displayed some wonderful skills that sent almost the whole men in the
village raining money on her during the opening ceremony of the new village hall, Suleman senior
swore he was going to make that swift body his own.

Nine months later, Suleman junior came into being. Suleman senior was so happy that his wife had
started him off well that he threw a big party in her honour. Two years later his wife gave birth to
another bouncing baby boy. Suleman senior did not hide his disappointment. He had wished himself
a daughter.

Suleman was five years old when his father sacked his mother leaving him and his younger brother
who had barely stopped breast feeding to the care of his grandmother. Suleman still remembers how
it happened. His mother had gone to the market. He was playing with his younger brother while his
grand mother was busy constructing a platform where she intended to dry her cocoa yams which will
be eaten as Achichav later in the dry season. Young Sule told his brother to look after the sand they
were cooking while he went and collected vegetables in the garden. As soon as Sule junior left, his
brother, who wanted to go and see what his grandma was doing, went and inadvertently put his left
foot into one of the holes dug by his grandmother. Sule and his grandmother were alarmed by what
happened, especially when they noticed a few minutes later that the little child's leg was swelling in
an extraordinary manner.

Suleman's brother was later taken to one old woman in a nearby village, who was known to repair
any damaged bone. The woman did her best, and the leg seemed to have been repaired. But when the
little child was brought home, he could not walk well. He was taken back to the old woman again.
She treated the leg again. The child was again taken home, and as soon as he reached home, he could
not walk well again. This happened up to four times. It was after the fifth time that Suleman senior
started looking at the issue with the eye of a native doctor. He consulted his oracle. His oracle told
him to offer a goat to his ancestors. He did more than that. He offered a goat and a cock to his
ancestors. His oracle told him to discuss the issue with his wife and ask her what she thought about
it.

While in bed that night, Suleman senior asked his wife her opinion on the issue of their child's leg.
His wife burst into tears and said she had heard one of Suleman's uncles telling a friend over a
calabash of palmwine that Suleman's mother was a witch and was bewitching her grandchild. The
sound of Suleman's hand on his wife's face woke up people sleeping in nearby rooms. He warned his
wife never to say such a thing about his mother again in her life unless she wanted him to use a knife
on her. But he took what his wife had told him to heart. His oracle told him the next day that his wife
was right about witchcraft being the brain behind his son's illness, but the person bewitching his son
was his wife.

Suleman senior thought his oracle had taken leave of its senses. He went to the toothless, old
medicine man from whom he had learnt traditional medicine. His master consulted his own oracle
and told him his wife was a very powerful witch. His wife's mother had given it to her before she
died.

 "What was your mother formally selling at the market before she started dealing on Ogiri ?" vi, asked
Suleman's teacher.
                                                                                                    14


"She used to sell eggs", replied Suleman.

"Do you remember that a basketful of eggs fell off her head on several occasions while leaving for
the market ?", asked the old medicine man again.

"Yes, I remember. That's why she stopped trading on eggs", Suleman answered.

 "Your wife was the brain behind all those incidents. But you're lucky. That child will not be lame on
that leg. But he will not walk normally again, rather he will be limping. It's not my duty to tell you
what to do with your wife. You're a man. My duty is to tell you what the oracle has told me about
her", concluded Suleman’s teacher.


Suleman senior gave his wife one week to put her belongings together. And early one morning, he
summoned the elders of his family, gave his wife the heave-ho, mounted his new Raleigh bicycle,
and went to school.


                                                  VI

Before Suleman junior and his younger brother went to join their father in the neighbouring village
where he had been transferred to, they spent the next two years under the care of their grandmother
and their aunt, who pampered and doted upon them.
Suleman junior was not only good in academic works. He was also performing wonderfully well in
sporting activities. He and his younger brother were also being well looked after by their father's
house boy, Samuel. And they spent every holiday with their grand mother and their aunt.

Anybody would think Suleman senior was going to have nothing to do with women, or at least with
women from his village, again in his life because of the circumstances that led to his divorce. But
Suleman turned to a womaniser. He slept with both married and unmarried women. Some of his
women friends from his village even branched to his house on their way to the market to take one for
the road. But he didn't seem to be in a hurry to re-marry. He had money and some of his numerous
girlfriends were competing over him. They manifested this among other things in the way they
offered presents to his two sons whom some of them were even referring to as their sons.


This went on and on, and Sule junior and his brother kept on growing. There is a proverb in Sule's
village that goes this way: "the death that kills a dog does not allow it to perceive the odour of
excrement ".


Suleman allowed his ex-wife to visit her children from time to time, but she dared not enter his
compound or give them something to eat. That was how the children got used to living without their
mother and saw in their grandmother and in their auntie more mother than they saw in their real
mother.

 Suleman senior was also a kind man. Apart from Samuel, his senior house boy, he also had other
children living with him. These were children from very poor families who fed from hand to mouth.
He paid their school fees, fed and clothed them, and in exchange, they helped Samuel look after his
two children and do his house work. He had many rich friends. Some of them were superstitious
business tycoons who came to him because they thought people, especially their relatives, were
envious of their flashy cars. But most of his rich clients were top civil servants, who needed his help
because their wives or children were Ogbanje or were being tormented by some evil spirits, mostly
from the water. They always left Suleman's house armed with one protective charm or the other.
Many a time these rich clients were so pleased with Suleman that they were ready to do anything for
him. Did he have relatives who needed a job with the government or who wanted to learn trading?
                                                                                                    15

Suleman always had someone from his village handy for such an offer. Sometimes he even went as
far as laying the wives of some of his rich clients.



                                                 VII


"You want to re-what?" , asked Sule's mother.

"To re-marry ?" , replied Sule senior.

"Glory be to God. My son, I have always known that God does not sleep. I have always said to
myself that he was going to hear my fervent prayers and make Suleman leave his sinful flirtations
and settle down finally with one woman. Haayeee! Hayeeee!! Hayeeee!!! This is one of the best
news of the week. Wait let me come".

She went into her bedroom and rushed back after a few seconds armed with a calabash of palmwine,
two cups and a small bottle of Kaikai - a local gin whose alcohol content nobody has ever thought of
measuring but is highly inflammable even after being diluted with water - that is used to strengthen
palmwine. Palmwine, that was one of the things Suleman senior loved most when he was a child.
She still remembered that the last time she had laid her hands on Suleman senior it was because of
this drink which the Alaoyi man referred to as illicit liquor in those days. She had just returned from
the market only to remember that she had forgotten to buy the tablet of soap she had intended to take
along with the big calabash of palmwine to her sister, who had given birth to a baby boy at last (her
husband now had no reason to execute his earlier plans of marrying a second wife).

She had balanced the foaming calabash of palmwine in a broken clay pot and placed the lot on top of
the platform above her bed and returned to the market. She seemed to forget that you can hide a
calabash of palmwine but you cannot hide the aroma of good palmwine. Suleman senior, who had
been practising the new "Igbaga" dance with his age mates in a nearby bush, suddenly felt thirsty and
decided to go home with some friends to drink some water. The aroma of palmwine that greeted
them on arrival was irresistible.

Suleman senior knew that it was bad medicine to tamper with what his mother had often referred to
as his ( Sule's ) forbidden fruit. But the temptation was so big that they not only drank some water
but also helped themselves to some cups of palmwine. Sule was making up for the missing cups of
palmwine with water - an idea from one of his friends whose father was a palmwine taper - when
Mama Sule came in...
That was many years back.


 "This calabash of palmwine was brought to me this morning by Solomon, the town crier, to express
his gratitude for allowing him tap wine from some of our palm trees. That man is very honest and
kind hearted, and that is why God has blessed him with such a good wife who has enriched him with
..let me think...eh ,eh Jamisi, Ndrew... - nine sons. Do you know that since I leased out those few
palm trees to him, I have not been paying anybody to have my palm nuts cut off the palm trees. He
does it for me and brings me a calabash of palmwine from time to time. He is not like that rogue who
had been tapping my trees to death before and who used to bring me a calabash of his worst
overnight palmwine once every year. But forget him my son.

"When do you want us to start looking around for a good girl for you ? ", asked Mama Sule

- "Thanks mamma, but I already know the girl I want to marry"

"I hope you're not planning to marry that fat-arsed gorilla you use to carry about on your motorcycle.
If that's what you call wanting to re-marry, you better start by sending me my two grandchildren to
                                                                                                     16

save me from having sleepless nights thinking of their safety. But I have never known you to be that
dumb. At least you said, you already know the girl you want to marry, and I can't imagine you
thinking of her when talking about a girl. For all I know, she must be about my age, if not a few
years older."

Suleman senior nearly fell off his chair laughing. He knew that if there was any of his numerous "girl
friends" his mother never approved of, it was fat Theresa. But who was going to tell her what a good
lay Theresa, as fat as she was, could be if treated fine ?

-"Who said he was going to marry Theresa? Even if she were not barren, I was not going to think of
marrying her because I knew you wouldn't approve of it. No, I intend to marry one of the warrant
chief's daughters . Her Christian name is Patience."


" Well, my son, I don't know who you're talking of, but I'll find out. "


Sule senior was full of Patience. Any healthy man would be if he were in Sule's position. Patience
could be mistaken for a black angel if such a thing existed. Tall, slim, with pointed breasts, her smile
would send your heart throbbing. You didn't need to take a second look at Sule to know that
something was in the offing. He was all smiles. He changed his hair style, his style of dressing and
the way he swung his arms when he moved. In short, he was short of wearing lipstick. He nearly
asked Patience to move in, if not for the tradition.

At first, Patience did not show much enthusiasm. She was still in love with Linus, the village
cathechist’s son, whom she hoped to marry before his parents sent him to the teacher training
college. She had heard some months back that some people were now sending their daughters to the
same teacher training college her Linus was planning to attend. And nobody was going to snatch
Linus from her, even if it meant her following him to school everyday. Her sudden change of mind
was amazing.

 Rumours had it that her mother was Sule's lover, and that seeing that her daughter was thinking
twice about marrying Sule, she had prepared what she knew was her daughter's favourite soup -
Egusi - and added a "special" ingredient she had got from Sule to it. Two native weeks later,
Patience was crazy about Sule. No day passed without her seeing Sule. She would branch to Sule's
house on her way from the market where she was learning sewing at the famous Mama Gab's shed,
and would arrive home at midnight.



  *       *     *       *     *      *      * *

 Suleman senior was surprised when he arrived at his mother's compound to see all his Umunna vii
doing justice to a mound of Akpuviii and a pot of Oha soup balanced in the middle of the compound.
Even the oldest woman in his family, who was so old that she needed somebody to feed her like a
baby because of the way her hands were shaking like a leaf, came as far as from Nsukka. The
moment Suleman saw her, he knew that a serious thing must have happened. He tried to gather some
pre-information from those sitting close to him, but to no avail. Nobody seemed to know the reason
why his mother had invited them. It was after everybody had had a second cup of the palmwine
Mama-Sule had brought after the meal that Sule's mother declared her reason for assembling the
family.

"Nnadi m, ekele m ! "ix, she said, and got on one of her knees in front of her arch-enemy,
Uwadiegwu, even though she would have preferred slapping him.

"Nnedi m, ekele m !"x , she said, and also went through the kneeling exercise in front of the oldest
female member of her husband's family before addressing the crowd.
                                                                                                     17


 "I thank everyone of you for taking the pains to come from far and wide in response to my call. I
feel...

" Who wouldn't answer your call, knowing how generous you are and what a good cook you are ?" ,
interrupted Oyibo, one of Suleman's cousins.

"Hold your sharp mouth with your hands before I shut it for you!", her father barked at her. " Mama
Sule, continue telling us what you have been telling us".

"Well as I was saying, I feel honoured seeing you all here. At least, it shows that most of you still
appreciate the efforts I have been making since the death of my husband to bring up your children for
you. You all knew the hard times I went through after the death of my husband and how determined I
was to make human beings out of his children, even if I had to sell my last underwear. I have not
assembled you people to sing my praises. I am reminding you of all these because the lizard that
survived a fall from an Iroko treexi said that if nobody praised it, it would praise itself. We have not
assembled like this since Ogochukwu's wine was carried. I have a problem. I wouldn't have sent for
you if I could tackle this problem alone or with my children. I sent for you because of my son
Suleman".

As soon as she said this, all heads turned towards Suleman senior. Even Suleman was taken aback.

"Suleman has decided to re-marry", she continued. "But that's still not the main reason why I have
called you together. You all remember the circumstances that led to Sule's sacking of Mama Sule
junior. I did my best to prevent that but could not succeed. When I reminded Sule, whom you all
know to be a Christian even though he is a medicine man, that Jeso xii was also against divorce, he
told me that Moses, who was thousands of years older than Jeso, was in favour of divorce. He also
told me that both men were Alaoyi men, and that our common saying that "a child cannot see what
an elder could see sitting down, even if the child climbs a tall Iroko tree" did exist in Alaoyi. So, he
had it his way. When he told me some months back that he intended to re-marry, I jumped for joy.
Knowing the kind of son I have, I was ready to get along with his choice, although I didn't know who
he was talking about. I must confess that there was one person I wasn't ready to have as a daughter-
in-law. But for the sake of tradition, I had to ask questions about the girl of his choice. Well to cut
the story short, Sule wants to marry one of the warrant chief's daughters."

"Chukwu ekwela (God forbid), Tufiakwa! ", protested some of the elders of the family.

 "I understand your excitement about having anything to do with the warrant chief, knowing the way
he had maltreated our people at the time of Father Millet. But then, you people seem to forget that
there are people who know that Father Millet and the warrant chief's abuse of power are a thing of
the past. Many of his daughters are married to people from good families. These people are not mad,
and I am not mad either when I say that I don't care if my son decides to marry from the warrant
chief's family since he's not going to marry the old warrant chief himself but his daughter. The main
reason why I have invited you all this evening is to tell my son Suleman in your presence what I
found out about the girl he wants to marry so that if anything happens to him, non of you will say
"after all, he does what his mother tells him ". Suleman is already treating the said girl like his wife
even before declaring his intention to re-marry to his Umunna. Do you know a man called Jeremiah
Ofia?"

 This question brought confusion into the assembly. There was a divided opinion among the women
concerning the number of times he had re-married and over the number of those marriages that had
lasted more than four months, while the men debated over the number of people he had poisoned till
date.

"I wonder why this man still answers Jeremiah instead of Lucifer judging by the number of human
lives he has taken. A human life does not mean more to him than that of a fly. Like many other
greedy women who had tried it before, the warrant chief's seventh wife saw a gold mine in the
                                                                                                      18

person of Jeremiah simply because he was spoiling her with presents, ranging from money, clothes,
to a talking box (transistor radio). So, when he asked for the hand of her daughter, she nearly broke
her neck rejoicing. What she didn't know was that she was sending her daughter to a den of lion. And
when she paid her daughter a visit three weeks later, she could not recognise her. Her eighteen year-
old daughter was looking like a ghost. She insisted on going home with her. And that's how Patience
- the girl Sule wants to marry, but God won't allow bad things- came home to live with her mother
waiting to be re-married to someone else before her bride price would be refunded.

"No man in his right senses would even think of looking at a girl who was once married to Jeremiah.
Some people have tried it, but they died mysterious deaths. Jeremiah's hands are very strong in Ogwu
(medicine). He is said to have got his own medicine from an Alaoyi man from a distant country
called Ndiaxiii. My husbands, if Suleman decides to marry this girl, my hand is not in it. I thank you
once again for coming".

After hearing all that Suleman's mother had said about Patience, it was decided that there was no
need wasting more words on the issue. Sule was a man, and if he decided to play with fire, he should
know better than to blame his Chixiv. And everybody went home but not without making sure that
there was no drop of wine left in the big pot of palmwine Mama Sule had offered them.

Suleman senior died three years later. He did not only disobey his mother and his relatives, but went
as far as pulling the tail of a sleeping lion as it is said in his village. He did not see any reason why
he should spend his life fearing a fellow man. His childhood had been haunted by the fear of his
wicked uncles. This was the reason why he had to abandon his function as a mass server to learn
traditional medicine. This time he is being advised against marrying a girl he had made up his mind
to marry, simply because some retched labourer had been misleading innocent women. He was even
convinced that some of his relatives dissuaded him from marrying Patience just out of envy. But it
was about time he proved to all of them, including his mother, that he too was a man. So, he went
with his fellow teachers and married Patience.

Patience's arrival revolutionised Suleman's house. She did not move in alone, but with her immediate
younger brother and her youngest sister. She very nearly brought her mother along, had it not been
for the fact that they always quarrelled. She soon let it be known to all the servants that she was the
person to dictate the tune. She also didn't waste time in reminding Suleman junior and his brother
that she was not there to play the role of a mother to them. She would make sure that her little sister
was well fed before Sule's children had something to eat.

Suleman's oldest female servant got the gate that year. She had discovered God some years back and
spent most of her free time reading the Bible and praying behind closed doors. One day, she
discovered something that was soon to change her eating habits. She had just concluded her prayers
and was leafing through the bible when it suddenly occurred to her that she had not read much of the
old testament. That was how she came to discover God's anger against the Israelites when they
worshipped idols on their way to the promised land. She spent the rest of the night crying secretly
and begging God to forgive her and the Suleman family for they knew not what they had been doing.
But now that she had seen the light, she was going to save as many souls as possible. At first it was
hard to convince other servants. But she convinced them at last. They decided to stop eating the meat
of any animal that had been offered to any idol, especially to Suleman's idol. They would prepare
one pot of soup for Sule and his children and add meat to it and prepare another with smoked fish for
the converts. This went on for a long time. Even Suleman junior and his brother got converted to this
new faith. But their faith did not last long. They were caught one day helping themselves to the meat
in their father's soup. The temptation was too big for the poor kids. But they never betrayed the
converts to their father.

As soon as Patience arrived on the scene, things turned bitter for the converts. It was Patience's
brother who betrayed the converts to her. She didn't hesitate to report them to Suleman senior as
soon as he came back that evening. Sule was very angry with them. He ordered them to stop wasting
his money preparing two pots of soup each time. They were either to eat with his family or stay
without food. But the oldest servant refused to be moved. She ate fruits anytime anything was
                                                                                                   19

cooked with meat. Patience capitalised on this and made sure some meat was added to anything that
was cooked in that house. Maria - that was the name of the senior house girl - saw herself as another
Christian martyr and never bothered. That was exactly the thing that made Patience lure Suleman
senior into giving her the gate.

 Suleman junior was growing very fast and so did his brother. But they were not prepared for the
sudden revolution in their family. Most of the things happened when their father was not at home.
And he didn't believe them when they complained. Mama Sule senior also complained but got
nowhere.

At the age of eleven, Suleman junior was sent to the boarding school. That was where he discovered
the importance of hard work and discipline. He also felt himself haunted by his step mother even at
school. He felt that his father was acting on the advice of his step mother by refusing to send him
enough money. But he would always run to his uncles or to his grandmother for help. Sule Junior
learned very fast. His favourite teacher was his Bible knowledge teacher. He would jump into a lake
if his Bible Knowledge teacher asked him to do so. So, as soon as the Bible knowledge teacher told
Sule's class one day that one effective way of studying was to assign one subject to each day of the
week, Sule made it a point of duty to keep to this new method of studying. And this started to
produce results very soon.

He beat Okoye, the best boy in his class, who had always been at loggerheads with him. And nobody
in his class saw his back again from then on. He was also good in sports. He was a member of his
school's junior football team, represented his hostel in hundred and two hundred meter races during
his school's inter hostel sports competitions and danced with his school's cultural dance group -
something that made him very popular and gained him a lot of admiration among girls in the
neighbouring boarding schools. But he never forgot what his grandmother had always drummed into
his ears; "Mess around with those girls starring greedily at you and you'll catch one of those their
venereal diseases that can make you wriggle in pains each time you feel like urinating and that can
render your brain so useless that you end up not being able to solve two-plus-two not to talk of Fuzys
(physics)", she would always say to him each time she caught him engaged in a long conversation
with a girl when he came home on holidays.

So, that was how Sule Junior went on growing full of ambitions and hopes. He dreamed of the day
when he would become a pilot. Didn't his mathematics teacher say he would go places if he
continued doing so well in Physics and mathematics? He would fly to Alaoyi as soon as he became a
pilot. But what was he going to buy his mother? Maybe a big car with which she would drive to the
market everyday? No, only a lorry would contain all those baskets she carries to the market. His
father would not dare tell him not to pay a visit to his mother again. He would just bring her back
home and build her a mansion, where she would live comfortably. He would even take her along
with him on some of his numerous flights....

 When his father died when he was sixteen years old, Suleman Junior saw all his dreams blow up in
his face. As far as he was concerned, his father had died a natural death. But it was rumoured even in
the nearby villages that Jeremiah Ofia had struck again. Many people were convinced that Sule
senior had even lived longer than was expected and wouldn't have lived so long had his hands not
been very strong in Ogwu Igbo. Fourteen days after his burial, his death became the topic of
discussions in his village and beyond. People digested their diner talking about Sule's adventure with
Patience. As soon as some calabashes of palmwine were emptied in any gathering, especially at Eke
Agu, the village daily market, there would be a heated debate over whether or not Suleman senior
had held the tiger too long by the tail.

"I have always held Sule to high esteem until he lost his head and married that Ogbanje", said Odo
Eze emptying the dregs of palmwine in his Opio (Cup) into his mouth.

 "What really beats me is that even after reading all those books he read, he never learned to reason
like a man before doing something. Instead, he allowed his mother to think for him. I knew that
woman was going to ruin him. She started by giving him a Hausa name, Sule. Who knows how she
                                                                                                      20

came by that name. Must be the name of her lover in those days when she was cooking food in the
Alaoyi man's house. I'm sure he must have married that girl because it was his mother's wish ", said
Cletus whom the villagers prefer to call "Kele" for reasons best known to them.

 "Close your ugly mouth Kele", said Odo Eze, cutting him short, "I hope God will forgive you for
saying such things about an innocent woman simply because she was sensible enough to take away
her palm trees, which you were almost tapping to death, from you. Have you forgotten that Mama
Sule even threatened him with suicide if he married that girl? Anybody who has brains would
understand that nobody but Suleman senior himself was responsible for his own death. But you have
palmwine dregs in your skull instead of brain, and that's why you're shitting with your mouth in the
name of talking. As a matter of fact, it's either Sule did not consult his oracle before going to marry
that girl or his oracle decided to take leave of it's senses as soon as its master had lost his. Have you
forgotten that our people say that Ogwu does not kill anybody whose hands are white (clean).
Otherwise, we wouldn't be drinking this palmwine together today. We would all have died long ago.
If a human life were that easy to take, anybody could then go to a medicine man and terminate his
neighbour's life simply because he had refused to give him fire. Sule went too far. Even if he had got
his own medicine from Ekwerebibixv, he shouldn't have challenged that Ekwensuxvi who calls himself
Jeremiah the way he did. Not only did he marry Jeremiah's ex-wife, something nobody in his right
senses would do, but he kept on provoking Jeremiah each time he had the opportunity. He would
come to church with Patience and sit with her directly in front of Jeremiah. Stories even have it that
they used to neck each other in front of Jeremiah just to make the him jealous. Do you know that
Jeremiah had tried Suleman several times before finally killing him?"

"Who told you, who told you?" mouthed the others in protest.

"Stop serving him palmwine, otherwise he'll kill us with lies",
braved the town crier.

 "The problem with you people, continued Odo Eze unperturbed, is that you have eyes but you can't
see, you have senses but you cannot reason. That Satan, sorry, that Jeremiah was behind that
accident Sule had with his iron horse a few months after his second marriage. Or can you tell me
how a goat could have materialised from nowhere and run into Sule's iron horse in such a deserted
area like Otobo Agu?

"There is also one other thing Sule didn't seem to realise, or decidedly neglected. His first wife is
somehow related to Jeremiah. And Jeremiah hated him for the way he had shamefully sacked his
relative. So, his marriage with that Patience was just the last straw that broke the camel's back".

Everybody tried to give his own version of the cause of Sule's death. Some even said Sule was
destined by his "Chi" to die a premature death. Some said Patience was one of those girls who came
from the water and that anybody who married such a girl was destined to die prematurely. But what
nearly shocked Sule Junior to death was the fact that all his father's so-called friends abandoned his
family to its Chi immediately after his father's death. It was even rumoured that his father had given
money to one of the numerous people from their village, whom he had sent to Lagos to learn motor
mechanics, to buy him a car. But this young man never bothered to pay back the money to Sule's
family after Sule's death.


But Mama Sule was a woman with foresight. As soon as Suleman senior went with his friends and
married Jeremiah's ex-wife, she joined the new church from America with the rest of her children.
She knew Sule was going to die an untimely death. One thing she was not going to allow was that
anything happen to any of her children simply because Sule had decided to run amok. She knew that
if Sule died, she would have not only her husband's brothers to fear, but also Jeremiah, who might
decide to complete a job well started by wiping out her entire family.

 She had heard about the new church, which they say is different from "Father's church" or even
"CMS" because the preacher could speak the language of spirits and could tell you what would
                                                                                                      21

happen to you in future, ranging from what you will eat to which relative of yours is after your life. It
was there that she was told that her second grandchild's leg was incurable because his mother had
offered his leg to her fellow Amosu or witches. This revelation was exactly what captivated her. She
did everything to make Sule allow her take her Sule junior and his brother to her newly discovered
brethrens, but Sule senior would not allow her.


                                                  VIII

                                            Suleman junior

Suleman junior had just got his Bachelor of Science in Physics and was about to leave for Alaoyi,
where he had been awarded a scholarship to pursue a masters degree programme when his
grandmother died. He could have given his own life to save his grand mother's life. He had donated
two pints of his blood to his grandmother to prevent the doctor from buying blood from those good-
for- nothing roaming about the hospital premises in search of a patient to sell their not-too-clean
blood to. And when after one week the doctor called him and his uncle to announce to them that
Mama Sule senior was suffering from cancer and had just a few more weeks to live because she had
been brought too late to hospital, Sule nearly had a heart attack. He is convinced till date that his
grandmother wouldn't have died had it not been for that useless preacher who had kept on chastising
her with hot candle fat, promised her heaven and earth and prevented her from going to hospital until
it was too late.


Before Suleman junior left for Alaoyi, he had made up his mind never to have anything to do with
any woman from his village. As soon as he arrived in Alaoyi, he decided he was going to marry an
Alaoyi girl. After all, he had heard that these girls could really love somebody regardless of whether
he is rich or poor, very unlike those rogues back home who only cared about what a man had to
offer. Moreover, he did not see any reasons why he should end up like his father. The only problem,
he said to himself, was that the Alaoyi girls looked pale and sometimes reminded him of fish, but one
could get used to them with time. Sule arrived Alaoyi when there were very few Africans in Alaoyi.
But Sule junior never forgot what his grandmother had told him when he was a little boy. He was not
going to allow anybody to prevent him from achieving his life ambition.

Claire is the type of girl any man would want to take a second look at. A full-lipped, long-legged and
succulent-breasted daughter of eve with eyes that seem to be suggesting nothing but bed. Sule's heart
jumped to his mouth as Claire rose to her feet, accepting his invitation to dance with him. He could
not believe what was happening to him. He bit himself on the upper lip to make sure it was not just a
comfortable dream. Before he realised what was going on, the music stopped and the Disc Jockey
put on a "Blues" tune. If Sule had already recovered from the shock Claire had given him by
accepting to dance with him, he would not have gone on dancing even when the music had been
stopped. But he caught himself holding Claire by the waist while she rested her chin on his shoulder.

Early next morning, Sule's room was transformed into a market place. All his friends assembled in
his room. Did he really sleep with that girl? Some even insisted on a detailed description of the love
scene. Sule saw those fools, who used to make mockery of him because they were going out with
women old enough to be their grandmothers living in his awe. And he made sure he missed no point
while describing what had happened the night before.

"And before you knew it, she had already seized my thing with both hands and was moving it
towards her mouth..."

 "I'm sure it must have choked her knowing fully well what type of thing you carry about between
your legs", says Adamu light heartedly.

A mistake. As soon as Adamu said this, abuses started raining on him from all sides. Even Musa,
who had already spent one and half years in Alaoyi without getting a girl risked, an abuse.
                                                                                                     22


 "Go away! You think everybody carries a rocket in his pants like you", says Musa. And everybody
burst out laughing.

Says Adamu "I'm sure my own is just baby-sized compared to your own. These girls must have
sensed the type of thing you have. That's why they run away from you. In short, I have been
wondering lately how you've been managing since you arrived in this country without a girl. Are you
sure you've not been visiting those prostitutes down town?" But even the prostitutes must be afraid
of your thing.

"I think I'd rather become a monk than have anything to do with that old tire of a woman you're not
ashamed to go out with. I'm sure her thing is full of grey hair. But never mind, one day her late
husband will come out of his grave and strangle you while you’re asleep on his bed", retorted Musa
bravely.

At last, it was unanimously decided that the only person who had the right to claim that he had a
girlfriend was Sule. As for the size of their "things", everybody had to bring out his thing for
measurement. And Adamu was found guilty by the general assembly of possessing the longest
"thing" in the room.

 Sule Junior made many friends as well as many enemies because he was going out with Claire.
Many of the Alaoyi boys, who had fruitlessly made passes at Claire as soon as she had arrived at the
university hated Sule at first for succeeding where they had failed. But they could not help liking him
after sometime. At first they were even convinced that Sule was just one of those boys who liked
accompanying pretty girls around, but they soon found out how wrong they were. It was when Sule
Junior packed out of his hostel and rented an apartment in town with Patience that it became clear to
everybody how serious his relationship with Claire was.


Although Sule was admired and respected by his friends for having such a beautiful girl like Claire
as his girlfriend, none of them could hide his disgust towards him when they came home from
lectures one afternoon only to learn that Sule had moved into a new apartment with her girlfriend.
There was nothing they did not say about him. Some of them called him an outsider who wailed
louder than the bereaved. Is it because he has been seeing many of these Alaoyi people living
together unmarried that he also decided to move in with this girl a day after they had met? Others
saw it differently.

Is it not said back home that a toad cannot be seen hopping about in broad daylight for nothing? The
dog which was asked why it followed a person with an upset stomach said that it did so because if
the person did not throw up, he was sure to defecate. That girl must be stinking rich, otherwise Sule
would not have taken such a silly decision. At last, they decided to go together to Sule's newly rented
apartment to find out his reasons for taking such a hasty decision and to call him to order if possible.
But Sule gave them a hostile welcome, telling them to mind their own business, and banged the door
in their faces.


Sule Junior paid bitterly for his new way of life. His African friends decided to make him sorry for
treating them the way he did when they went to find out why he had moved in with Claire. It was
unanimously agreed that Sule was to be boycotted until he "came to his senses". Anybody caught
talking to him, let alone visiting him, was to be punished accordingly. This decision suited the
female African students very well, especially since most of them had stopped talking to him as soon
as he started going out with that "blew-eyed witch".

But that did not bother Sule. After all, he was now old enough to know what he wanted. Claire was
not only beautiful but also had brains. And what was more? She apparently loved him and was kind
to him.
                                                                                                      23

There was just one reason why Sule had moved in with Claire. They had much in common, at least,
he thought so. Claire has a very faint memory of her father. Her father had been forced to leave home
by her querulous mother when she was five. That was how Claire found herself living under the care
of her mother who saw herself as a victim of machismo and treated her a shade better than newly
recruited cadets. She would never forgive that wicked man for abandoning her and her kid. After all,
it was he who had wanted to have a kid. At first she thought that Claire's father was going to change
his mind and come back, knowing fully well how he adored their kid. Days passed and became
weeks, weeks passed and became months without Claire's father writing home. That was when it
began to dawn on Claire's mother that he really meant business. The last blow was delivered when
she finally received a letter from Claire's father informing her that he was now comfortably married
to a younger and better-looking girl.

That letter nearly broke her heart. Her immediate reaction was to burn everything that reminded her
of Klaus (that was Claire's father's name). She would have killed Claire for resembling her father so
much. But Claire was the only person she now had to talk to. She had since cut every contact with
her parents. As for her only sister, God knew what she would do to her if she ever called her on the
phone again not to talk of set her foot in her house again.

Claire's mother saw Claire not only as her child but also as her only possession. She was going to be
a good mother to her and bring her up in her own way, she said to herself. Thanks to God (if such a
thing exists), she had just landed herself a job as a teacher in a nearby school. She made sure Claire
lacked nothing a child would wish to have. But she was not ready to share Claire with anybody. She
kept on telling her such horrifying stories about her (Claire's) father that Claire ended up seeing
nothing in her father but an epitome of cruelty.

Claire ran away from home when she was eighteen, leaving her mother with half a dozen cats. Her
problems with her mother started after her first visit to her maternal grandparents. She reproached
her mother of being heartless vis-à-vis her grandparents and insisted on spending most of her
holidays with them. After trying but to no avail to dissuade her from executing her decision, her
mother let her have it her way.

At the age of puberty, Claire started bringing friends home. Her mother was very happy to see that
she only had female friends, and she would always insist on their playing where she could have an
eye on them. But one day, Claire's mother came back from school only to find Claire missing. That
was something extraordinary since Claire had always followed the timetable she had drawn up
for her religiously ( siesta, homework...). She called Claire's best friend's house and was told that she
was sleeping and that Claire was not there. She called the police. The police told her to take it easy,
that they would do their best to find her child for her.

At twenty three hours Claire's mother was doing everything but taking it easy. There was still no sign
of Claire, and she was at the verge of becoming a mental case. She had already called the police
more than one hundred times, and the man on duty now instinctively knew when she was on the line
and no longer bothered to pick up the phone. It was at midnight that Claire manifested herself on the
phone. She told her mother never to worry and that she was just with some of her friends having a
nice time. Her mother insisted on knowing exactly what she meant by having a nice time. And she
replied "making love".

 The impact of Claire's reply on her mother was like that of a sledge hammer. "How many times
have I drummed it into your ears that you should avoid those boys because they are all just like your
father? Have I not told you countless times that a man can only harm you and nothing else?", she
asked in a voice you could sharpen an axe on.

 "I know what you told me, mother, but I have just found out what a liar you are", replied Claire
sharply. " I'll be back sometime tomorrow...."

Claire was locked up in her room by her mother for a week as punishment for eating the forbidden
fruit. But that did not stop her. Her mother resorted to beating her each time she came back late from
                                                                                                 24

school, but that did not help either. The day Claire got her "A levels", she ran away from home. Her
mother was rushed to hospital a few hours later. " How could Claire do such a horrible thing to
me?", she kept on asking anybody who was willing to listen to her. She knew Claire had something
of her father but never imagined she could be that heartless. And what would people in the
neighbourhood, and her fellow teachers say? Imagine Claire running away with an Arab?

But Claire did not just run away with an Arab. She married him six months later and never bothered
about her mother again. Claire did not just marry the Arab because she was crazy about him. She
married him firstly because she knew it was going to be a shock to her mother. Moreover, her
boyfriend had come into the country without the right papers and was about to be deported. So,
Claire married him, thereby securing him a resident permit and a work permit. And in return he was
to sponsor Claire at the university.

But Claire made a mistake. As soon as she married her boyfriend, she started getting on his nerve.
Nothing he did was enough for her. She never missed an opportunity to remind him that if it had not
been for her, he would have been bundled home to Algeria, his home country. She saw him as a
private property.
She made it clear to him that she was no more ready to tolerate his battalion of friends who came to
eat Couscous and turn their house into a zoo. Mohamed (that was her husband's name) had sworn to
himself that he would never do anything that would displease Claire. Not after what she had done for
him.

Mohamed was ready to do anything for Claire, and to stomach her constant nagging, but if there was
one thing he was not ready to sacrifice, it was eating Couscous on a regular basis with his friends.
Couscous - that was one thing he had been brought up with and which reminded him of home. He
still remembered his habit back home; how he used to warm what remained of the previous night's
Couscous each morning to be eaten as breakfast before going in search of jobs. So, as soon as Claire
started kicking against his friends coming to eat Couscous in their matrimonial home, he and his
friends shifted their base to Ayari's house.
There, they would eat and drink and talk about home country while Ayari's television and stereo sets
blared at the same time. But Claire was feeling neglected, and Mohamed would come home late at
night after a Couscous-eating session only to face something similar to the Gulf war.

This went on and on till Mohamed met Fatima, a young good looking girl from back home whom
Mohamed found tantalising because of the gigantic size of her behind. Fatima used to work in a
restaurant on the way to Mohamed's working place, but since she was not earning much in the
restaurant, she did other jobs, ranging from giving blow jobs to spending a night with any man for a
token fee. Mohamed soon became one of those men for whom she did those odd jobs. He would
branch at Fatima's while coming back from his friend's house and have a good time with her before
going home to face his nagging wife.


It was Fatima who broke up Claire's matrimonial home. Mohamed would always flee into Fatima's
arms each night he quarrelled with his wife. He found himself falling in love with Fatima and would
make a scene each time he saw her with another man. But Fatima would always remind him that he
was a married man and had no right to tell her how to make the money she sent to her mother and her
brothers and sisters back home.

One cold winter evening, Mohamed rushed into Fatima's one-bedroom apartment beaming from ear
to ear. His wife had just gone to visit an old classmate in a nearby town and was to come back home
the next day. Mohamed's first reaction as soon as she left was to call Fatima's place of work. His
wife had gone away for the night, could she take some hours free and come home earlier than usual?

As Mohamed entered Fatima's apartment, the shopping bag he had brought along nearly fell off his
hands because of the cold reception Fatima gave him. He was thrown off balance. He could not
imagine the sudden change in Fatima. He made a move to hold Fatima's hands but she gave him a
shove that sent him tumbling
                                                                                                     25

over the only chair in the room. Before he could say anything, she was raining abuses on him. He
was an egoist and only thought of himself. Did he think that he was the only person who had people
back home to send money to ? Since she came to know him, she had been forced to get rid of many
of her customers just for an egocentric fool who imagined she was not a human being.

Mohamed was taken aback, and the only thing he could say was "why?"

"You want to know why?", asked Fatima and charged towards him like a raging bull.

 "I'll tell you why if you touch me again with those ugly mechanics hands of yours. You have always
told me that if you were not married to that bone you call your wife, you would've married me. Last
night I spent the night with one man I have known for a long time now without knowing what he did
for a living. It was yesterday that I learnt that he was a lawyer. We got talking and I learnt one thing
which I'm sure you must have been hiding from me. You could divorce your wife and still retain
your resident permit and your work permit. So, I put two and two together and asked him what would
happen to your new wife if you remarried. You Know what he told me? He said your wife would
have the same status in this country as you. But you've been hiding this from me because you never
did have any feelings for me. But if you want to have anything to do with me again, better get rid of
your wife".


And Mohamed did. A few months later Claire left her matrimonial home. She would never forget all
she went through to get a divorce. And who did that gorilla of a judge think he was, asking her all
those silly questions. She was in her second year at the University that time. She also abandoned her
studies and found herself a job. She must have been off her head to have got married to that cheat of
a man in the first place, she told herself. She never knew that man could do all he had done to her.
Imagine him sleeping with that pig on their matrimonial bed. Maybe her mother was not that wrong
about men after all. She worked for two years, and when she was convinced that she had
economised enough money, she decided to go back to school, but this time to another university, and
that was how she landed into Sule's hands.


The night she told Sule this story was the day any right thinking Sule would have taken to his heels .
But our Sule did not. Instead, he reciprocated by reciting his
own equally perturbing life history. And they fell on each other's shoulder sobbing. It was that night
that they both decided they belonged together and that they were going to live together. It was from
then on that Sule started seeing himself as the husband of one of the most beautiful girls on campus.
And it went to his head. And he started spending his money on her. And he forgot all his dreams
about becoming a pilot and started neglecting his studies. His Claire always needed him. Sometimes
she would burst into tears because he was about to leave for lectures and abandon her on the bed.
She had the impression that Sule loved his career more than her.

And Sule would miss his first lectures and the first part of the second because he was either
performing or trying to console his weeping beauty. It did not take long before Claire's economy ran
out. And she was living on Sule's stipend on a full-time basis ( but she hoped Sule was taking note of
all he spent on her, she would refund him later, in her country women never allowed men to spend
money on them). And Sule was her everything and dared not look at nor touch another woman. And
Sule persuaded Claire to call her mother for the first time
after five years. And the mother accepted her lost sheep but would not want to hear that her sheep
had anything to with a black shepherd.

And Sule started seeing any letter from home, including that of his dear mother, as a disturbance. His
Claire only needed to ask him for some money and it would be all hers while Sule's mother was
feeding from hand to mouth back home. But Claire wanted other things too. When would they go on
holidays? How she dreamt of sun-bathing on a beach. Sule would spend a hell of his time explaining
that they needed money to be able to afford all these. But if she worked or if mummy sent her money
                                                                                                    26

would Sule come with her? And Sule would go along with her to bask in the sun while other African
students went hunting for vacation jobs.


And Sule started being absent minded and forgetful. He knew he was not doing the right thing, but
he had no one to turn to for moral support. The ostracism hung on him by other African students still
applied. And he took his terminal exams and failed most of his papers, and it dawned on him that he
was about to loose his scholarship.

And he sat Claire down, and told her it was about time they got married. But he was in for a surprise.
What he did not know was that he had chosen the wrong moment to ask for Claire's hand. And Claire
ran to her psychologist for advice and got her mind poisoned against poor Sule.

And she started seeing Mohamed's face on Sule's face. She had been beaten once and was not going
to walk into this one with her eyes open. Why in hell should she marry Sule who cannot even pass
his terminal exams? She would only bring him to depend on her and make her life uncomfortable.
She would not give him any definite answer until she finished her final exams. After that she would
beat it.

And Claire did"...


That night Benni didn't go out again. We spent the rest of the night talking about home...


                                                  IX

                                                 Billy

Benni was happy to see that his sermon had produced the expected results. Not only was I ready to
go out with him to the disco the following Saturday, I even went asking him to come with me. Benni
is a guy who never misses any chance of enjoying himself. He made me beg him before we could go
out that night. As we arrived at the disco, I was told that there was some girl who had been looking
frantically for me. Well, I was there." Life is nothing but a joke", I said to
myself. Since my arrival here in Alaoyi, I have been running after girls like a he-goat without success
not knowing that there was some girl dying for me. I started asking myself if there were not many
other girls feeling the same way about me.

"Ojinga, I would really like to dance with you tonight."

When I turned and saw the girl behind me, I could not hide my surprise. This was a girl who never
said hi to me when she saw me on campus but would always look in another direction.

Before I could say anything, she brushed my lips with hers and said "I have been looking for you
everywhere for sometime now, but you seem to have gone into hiding."

" I don't think I have any reason to go into hiding since I'm as harmless as a newly born baby", I said
giving her my best boyish smile.

She introduced her younger sister to me and said they were taking someone home and would be
coming back to the disco in a few minutes’, time but I had to swear I was going to dance with her
when she came back.

Okay, I confess I didn't hate Angela (that's the girl's sister's name), especially as she was far more
beautiful than Jane. And I very nearly told her to stay back with me while Jane took whoever it was
home .
                                                                                                      27

Jane came back alone only to see me almost gummed to another girl, and it was all she could do to
contain her impatience. When we finally started dancing together, she was very excited. She said
she had seen me dance on many occasions and had always wanted to dance with me, but I never
seemed to notice her. She did the talking while I did the listening. She said she liked men who were
sincere and was I sincere ? I said I was . She then said something that made me listen to the rest of
her stories with only one ear : the person she took home was her boyfriend, but she was going home
later to give him the heave-ho.
We did not seem to share a common idea of sincerity...

This happened the very night I came to know Billy. I had been seeing her at the university and at
most, if not all the parties organised by African students. On those occasions I did not think well of
her, especially as she seemed to be on first name terms with most of the male African students. I
even went as far as thinking that she had already slept with most of them. But I knew better later.
What I did not know was that she was interested in my humble self and this interest grew each time
she saw me. That was why she very nearly shouted "hurrah" when I asked her for a dance. She had
been watching me dance with other girls not without praying ceaselessly that I excuse her. And my
approach to her was welcome...

 At this stage of my narration, I must not fail to point out that I made a big mistake that night which I
later paid for with many sleepless nights. I deliberately decided to sleep with Billy without wearing
any condom in order to find out if there was any difference between our girls and Alaoyi girls. But
early next morning something happened that jolted me out of my peaceful sleep. I woke up only to
hear Billy sobbing at my back. I was overcome both by surprise and embarrassment. She explained
that her doctor had forbidden her to take pills but she had carelessly allowed me to make love to her
without condom. " And I could have given you aids", I added.

 "Yes", she replied, sobbing more vigorously. I could only calm her down when I promised to
undergo an Aids test with her.

The question of anti-Africanism discrimination is likely to constitute a perpetual danger to the
progress of the black race, politically economically, and socially. The Alaoyi people nurse a pig-
headed notion that being African is evil and that every bad phenomenon owes its origin to the black
continent. The result is that an African is looked upon by other people as a harbinger of evil. The
Alaoyi man who lends money to Kenya to construct her holiday resorts and tourist centres has no
right to claim before God and man that he has the welfare of Kenyans at heart if he goes back to his
country only to start a rumour that the internationally most dreaded disease - Aids - originated from
Kenya. He is only doing it for selfish reasons : to help make Kenya run a loss and be more and more
indebted to him so that he would have the poor country over a heavy barrel.

It is only a foolish African that will let himself be intimidated by an Alaoyi man with the issue of
Aids. If the Alaoyi man decides to claim that Aids is of African origin because of our monkeys, it is
his funeral. But he has to remember that the Aids virus was not first discovered in the body of an
African monkey, neither was it discovered in the body of African. Even if African monkeys were to
carry
Aids, no African would be infested with Aids; because while the African would only cook and eat a
monkey, the Alaoyi man would go further than that. It is he who would make a pet out of a monkey
and even be tempted to sleep with it.
Moreover, if a male African takes a liking to a fellow male, he will manifest it by sharing his
palmwine with him rather than his bed.

So, I was not surprised when Billy expressed her fear of contacting Aids from me. I, on my own
side, was thinking of writing my will because I was also nursing the same fear - that I could get
infested with the same virus by making love to Billy. And if she thought I was going to allow any
quack to toy with my blood again in the name of Aids test (I had been obliged to undergo the same
test a few days after my arrival in Alaoyi before getting my residence permit), she needed to have her
head examined for her, and I told her so. You never know with some of these Alaoyi doctors. Some
                                                                                                  28

of them would take a pint of blood from you if you complain of a headache just because you are
African. And if he hates your guts he will see to your deportation by claiming that you are HIV
positive...




                                         BOOK         TWO




                                                  I


                                            August 19...


We are approaching the end of our one-year programme in Alaoyi. This means that in not very long a
time I will be obliged to come home and join you in the struggle for three square meals. It is funny,
but I no longer miss home now that I have to come back, rather I am already missing Alaoyi life and
my friends here. I do not feel like coming home again. I will have to discuss this with Benni...
                                                                                                          29

           I have just received an astonishing letter from “Madam”xvii who has just arrived in Alaoyi. I have
           been selected to represent the University of Nigeria in a one-month international language
           programme in the southern part of Alaoyi. I should go ahead and do my university proud. For if I
           continue performing so well academically, I will be sent back to Alaoyi after my bachelor’s degree
           programme for a master’s degree programme. I am to call madam back for further instructions.

           I am troubled by this letter. How can any right-thinking person expect me to be attending any
           language course in summer instead of looking for money. Did madam not know that we foreign
           students were only allowed to work during vacations, or does she want me to come back to Nigeria
           empty-handed?




xvii
       My Alaoyi Professor and mentor at the University of Nigeria.
                                                                                                        30

                                                 PART II

                                           The Second coming


                                              MAY 1999...

I do not have any address yet, but I am writing to let you know that I have finally made it to Alaoyi.
How a place can change within so short a time! I remember how hard it was during my one year-stay
at Alaoyi to meet an African in the streets of Alaoyi let alone a Nigerian. In those days, you would
almost celebrate meeting a new African. You cannot imagine how many Nigerians I have already
met since my arrival. And how young they are.




                                            JANUARY 19...

                                    The Graduate Asylum-seeker


 'Oh boy, wetin be your name?'

 "Which one you wan' make I tell am"

 "If I be you, I go tell am the one wey I carry register here".

 "Tell am say my name na Roosvelt".

 "Ihm wan' sabi which time and why you enter this country"

 "Tell am say me be enter this country three months ago. Say me been dey run way from our country
because I get hand for one radical political group wey dey put sand for the military government garri
for home".

"E wan' sabi for how many places you register your name".


 "Oh boy, me, I be register my name for five places ooh, but I no know how many of them them go
discover for Piano (computer). A beg wetin you wan' make I tell am?

"How many places them don discover up till now? If you tell am two now, and them find out later
say you register elsewhere na im be say your own don finish. So na you sabi whether you wan' tell
am two now and hope say them no go find out about the other places wey you been register or
whether you wan' tell am the truth and face the result. But if I be you, I go just tell them say I register
only for the two places wey them don find out".

"Ok, make you ell am two"

"Why you been register and been dey collect money for two places?"

 "Oh boy, my own don pafuka ooh. A beg wetin I go tell am?"
                                                                                                     31

"I go tell am say na people wey you meet the time wey you arrive for this country wey tell you make
you do am, and you no sabi say i be an offence to register and take money for two places."

"E wan' sabi whether you still dey collect money from both places".

 "Tell am no"

"I go tell am say as you find out say the thing wey you been dey do be an offence, na im you come
stop to collect money from the second place"....

This was how I saved an unknown Nigerian from tasting the prison life in Alaoyi.

To thank me for my efforts, this Nigerian invited me for a beer and gave me his story without gloves.

 "I would have had a brain tumour had I not been able to make it to this place. You are not from my
village, but you'll surely understand why I had to leave that country. Imagine how I felt each time I
heard that a boy, who could not even pass his standard six exams had just sent down six cars from
Alaoyi for his relatives back home to sell for him. I once wept for days when our mother told me one
day of how she had been invited to "see" the "Hollandaise" Philip had just sent down to her mother
from Alaoyi and how Mama Philip had made a remark about people who spent a life time studying
only to spend the rest of their lives jobless. She did not have any reasons to regret sending her Philip
to learn trading after his primary education, she had chuckled to the assembly of women invited to
envy her new outfit.


Or should I have stayed back and let what happened to Edward happen to me. Who does not know of
Edward and Barbara? Edward was engaged to Barbara the day she was born. He was three years old
at that time. They grew up together, were playmates, and went to school together. In short, they
practically did everything together. Stories even had it that Barbara would automatically have a
bellyache each time Edward had one and vice versa. And there was a song in the village of how God
had Edward in mind while creating Barbara. Envious playmates called them blood relations who
were not ashamed to be in love with each other.

Edward was one of the few lucky ones who had got a job three years after his university education.
He was working with a bank and was said to be doing well. Barbara had just graduated with a second
class lower division in History, and Edward was concluding plans to have her employed by the same
bank he was working with before going to carry her wine. Edward came back from Lagos one
weekend full of good news. He had been told to invite Barbara for an interview with his boss after
which she would resume duty. Had he gone to his mother's house to keep his bag, as he used to do
before rushing to Barbara's, he would have saved himself the nervous earthquake he rushed into. His
mother would have intimated him with the latest happenings in the village. She would have let him
know that her Barbara was no longer the Barbara he used to know. There had been a wind of change
blowing throughout the village.

People were coming home from Alaoyi to marry. At first nobody had wanted to believe the stories
that were being told of how some young men from nearby towns used to come home from Alaoyi to
marry. They were said to come home during the so-called Abroad festival, a festival that brings back
home most sons of the soil living abroad. It is during this period that most young men, who are
"prepared", come home to marry. In the past it was a common practice among businessmen living in
big cities, who, weary of spending their hard-earned money on those ruinous city girls, decided to go
back to their villages to marry a "cool-headed" girl - preferably a virgin - to look after their house.


 You would hear mothers scolding their daughters because of a forgotten lipstick or an eye-shadow
wrongly applied. They would make sure their daughters were at their best throughout that period,
to attract the attention of the "Abroadians" who would come to say hello.
                                                                                                    32

The "Alaoyi group" had their own way of doing things. And it was naturally against our tradition.
But it soon gained wide acceptance, even among the most conservative parents. They would write
their mothers and ask them to find them a good looking girl to marry. Such a mother would make
sure she found his son a girl from a good family. But she would do that so hurriedly one would start
wondering if her son's success in Alaoyi depended on it. The truth is that she is not ready to give her
son a chance to change his mind and get married to an Alaoyi girl.

Armed with the picture his mother had sent to him, the said "Alaoyi man" comes home and insists on
finishing all the marriage ceremonies in one or two days after which he flies back leaving his new
wife back home to process her papers for Alaoyi.

At first our elders frowned at this idea of rushing marriage ceremonies. "Women are not goats that
you would go and buy within a few hours", some of them argued. Some of them were against it for
selfish reasons. The longer the marriage ceremonies lasted, the more the wine they were sure to
descend down their throats.

An Alaoyi man only needed to mention the word marriage in front of any girl back home for the girl
to make a dash at him. And it soon became fashionable among parents to marry their daughters to a
man living in Alaoyi. And the bride prices skyrocketed, since the Alaoyi man only needed to change
a few dollars to foot the bill. And it became almost impossible for most men back home, even
businessmen, to afford a wife from the village. And that was how Edward lost his childhood fiancée
to an abroadian whose mother shared the same shed with Barbara's mother at Afo Ndiagu market.

Barbara cut an all-smiles Edward short in his I've-got-good-news-for-you stance with a snappy I'm-
not- interested and warned him to leave her father's compound before the abroadian who had come
home to marry her heard he (Edward) was seen with her and changed his mind about her.
Edward was in such a state of mind that he found nothing better to do than to go home and collapse
in his mother's laps.


Do you remember how I very nearly went mad after being duped by that wicked Alahaji who had
promised to get me a visa to Alaoyi at the cost of thirty thousand Naira? He had been doing it for
other people for forty grand but since my uncle had saved his life during the civil war, he was
prepared not only to do it for me at a cheaper rate, but was also prepared to accept half of the entire
sum before and half after rendering the service. He owned a company, he had said, and only needed
to include my name in the list of his personnel being sent to Alaoyi for further training, and the visa
would be mine.

For me, it was one chance in the world I should not miss, especially after all I had gone through in
the past two years in search of jobs. I still remember how my mother and I argued about going to see
a native doctor before attending an interview with the German airline -Lufthansa. I cannot imagine
how she got that idea into her head. An ardent Christian who would almost be at the verge of using
her hands on me any time she heard I abstained from church service on Sunday. It was as if that was
the only way for me to secure a job. But she did enough to encourage me and to comfort me each
time I came home with a bad news.

After arguing with my mother for a long time about going to have my body mutilated by a native
doctor before attending the interview for what I told her was my dream job, I decided to yield to her
pressure. I said to her it was just to please her, but deep inside me I was beginning to see with her,
even with my level of education. One of her uncles must have whispered the idea into her ears. And
since it is said back home that a child cannot see what an adult can see seated even if it climbs an
Iroko tree, I decided to give it a trial. "You never know", I said to myself.
I did not only attend the interview with a mutilated body. I also wore a chaplet around my neck - a
tribute to my late father who also adhered impartially to the two religions.

That did not get me the job either. I learnt later on through hearsay that the airline was looking for
people of German - Nigerian descent. Had they specified what they actually needed in the
                                                                                                     33

advertisement, I would not be carrying the marks of the medicine man's razor about today like an
Osu.

Thinking back now, it becomes clear to me how democracy is understood back home. If there is a
job vacancy in a company, the employees of that company kill themselves over whose relative will
be offered the job. Once the personnel decides on whose relative will get the job, the company public
relations officer advertises the job for public consumption. Normally, it would sound like this
"Applications are invited from suitably qualified candidates for the post of...". With a population of
over one hundred million, Nigeria has thousands of suitably qualified candidates for any job one can
think of. Some would even go as far as borrowing money to send in their application by courier just
to beat the deadline. You would receive a letter inviting you for an interview with the company and
you start jumping for joy if you are a novice. What you do not know is that almost every applicant
had received an invitation for interview. It is only when you arrive at the venue for the interview that
you realise that you are not all that the bright candidate you thought you were. Because you will see
thousands of others also invited for the interview. The only advantage is that it offers you the
opportunity of seeing old school friends again, even those who had been many years ahead of you. If
you are lucky, the company will bear the cost of your transportation after you have solved the wicked
arithmetic they have set for you.

This does not only apply to companies. It also applies to ministries. If you want to waste your time,
apply to the ministry of education for scholarship to enable you study abroad. Some Western
countries or international organisations who offer scholarships in form of development aid to
students from third world nations should organise the selection of candidates through their embassies
or representatives in these countries if they want intelligent but poor students to benefit from them.
Otherwise only people with influential parents will benefit from them.
                                                                                                     34

I am still surprised that I could make it back here to Alaoyi. I cannot remember how many sleepless
nights I had towards the end of my first stay in Alaoyi, hatching plans on how not to go back to
Nigeria. For you never know. “What if you are unable to make it back to Alaoyi again, despite all
the promises from your so-called madam?”, Benni used to ask me in those days. That was before I
left for the international language programme.

Benni was almost finalising plans for me to marry one not-all-that young Alaoyi woman to enable
me stay back in Alaoyi when I received the letter from madam asking me to go and represent our
university in the language programme.

So when I called madam the next day, I courageously informed her that I was not ready to attend that
summer course, my reason being that I needed to do a vacation job to earn some money that summer.
The harassment madam gave me on the phone was phenomenal. There is no need telling you all she
said to me. Just know that she expressed her disappointment in a person she thought had brains. She
never knew I would be ready to kick my career for a mere vacation job. She threatened to ask the
second person in my class to go in my stead. But that meant that I might as well forget the
scholarship I was to receive if I had the best result after our bachelor’s degree exams. She gave me
two days to think it over and call her back. But then who needed two days to think it over? At least
not me. I simply apologised to her for having hesitated at all, told her I was leaving for the course in
a few days’ time and that was it. A few days later, I mournfully left for the course.

The course lasted for one month. It was attended by people from all corners of the world, and I was
the only Nigerian there. But I was only physically present there. Now that I had made up my mind to
go back to my country, I was always thinking of the money I would have been making in an Alaoyi
factory had I not been obliged to attend this course. Moreover, I had only one and half months to stay
in Alaoyi.

But I needed not to have worried. For one thing, jobs were so scarce that summer that all my friends
and colleagues remained jobless throughout that very month I was attending the course. And they
had to go to a nearby town in search of a job the following month, where I later joined them and
found a job immediately.

I left some of the money I had saved with my bank in Alaoyi and took the rest with me back to
Nigeria.
                                                                                                    35


The moment I arrived in Nigeria, I was made to understand that it was a foolish
decision coming back home. The customs officer verifying my personal effects asked me how a
young person like me could have the courage to come back home after having crossed over. I told
him I had come back to finish my course.
He told me that he was married and had eight children. “Look, people are selling their lands to be
able to leave this country and you are running back to finish your course. You think you will
become the president of our country after your course? If I were to be given a visa, I would simply
abandon my job and my family here and check out”. I entered my country with cold feet.

It is almost a tradition at the Department of foreign languages, my department, that the graduating
student with the highest grades receives a scholarship to go back to Alaoyi for a masters degree
programme. This scholarship is awarded by the Alaoyi country and co-ordinated by its embassy
through madam. Madam is the head of department, and sees to it that it is really the best graduating
student that is awarded this scholarship.

I was not the best student in my first year at the university. But I swore I was going to beat the best
student during my second year. My decision had nothing to do with the scholarship thing. After all,
none of us even knew about it at that time. It was simply because the best student during our first
year was being given a red-carpet treatment by everybody in my department, students and lecturers
alike. It was all they could do not to play the national anthem each time the best student wanted to
talk in class. So I decided I could use such a treatment too. So during my second year I doubled my
efforts, and left everybody behind me with a very wide margin. And my colleagues started flying
flags each time I was passing by. That was before we went to Alaoyi for the first time.

What I dared not tell the customs officer who thought I was mad to have come back home was that I
was coming home to be the best graduating student...
                                                                                                    36


To raise the first instalment of the money charged by the Alhaji, I had to sell all the electronic
equipment I had brought home from my first trip to Alaoyi. Meanwhile, my uncles had met and plans
were already on concerning how to sell a plot of land to raise the second instalment. But they needed
not have bothered. The Alhaji never manifested himself again after receiving the first instalment. I
learnt later on that I was just one of the many suckers he had on his hook at that time. He had
collected money from a lot of people at the same time and flown to London. What shook me most
was the bitter reality that he could cash in on our relationship with him like that.


But the Alhaji episode served as an eye opener for me. It gingered me into action. That was how I
decided to leave for Lagos one morning without telling anybody but my younger brother. Before
then, my younger sister had become prey to early marriage with one of the so-called business men
and was already expecting her first victim of abject poverty. There was nothing I did not do to
prevent that marriage. My sister's school certificate exams result had just been released and she had
one of the best results in her school. I have always known that girl to be the most brilliant person in
our family and I was ready to give everything for her to attend the University of Nigeria, my alma
mata*.


But when the business man came and declared his intention to marry my seventeen-year-old sister,
even the most reasonable member of my family decided to take leave of his senses. It was as if
manna had decided to fall from an African heaven. I argued and argued, that my sister must attain
university education before getting married to anybody, but that got me nowhere. I even invited some
of my friends and we tried to indoctrinate her on the advantages of university education. I told her
not to worry, that I was going to get a job some day and would train her and send her to Alaoyi after
her first degree.


What I did not know was that the elders in my family had also held a meeting with my sister behind
my back and had poisoned her mind against me. They asked her why she should believe that a man
who at my age was still dependent on his mother for pocket money was going to train her at the
university. Did she not know that I was stubborn? That was why I refused to go and learn trading
when our father died and start taking care of our mother ....




My friend and I had just finished our plates of Eba and were sharing a bottle of Gulder while we
watched Hulk Hogan administer blows on another wrestler, who was foolhardy enough to challenge
him, when a group of well dressed, and wealthy-looking youngsters entered the restaurant. Normally,
you would not go to Mama Asaba's restaurant if you are fanatical about quietness. For it is a place
the ordinary man would always go after a day's hard work to relax his nerves with his friends or
acquaintances over a plate of rice or Eba, in front of a dust-ridden television set. And the restaurant
is always lively. When people are not arguing about the current rise in the cost of living, they are
arguing about football or any other thing.

But the group of youngsters were so loud-mouthed that even Mama Asaba herself had to abandon
her cooking for a while to come and see if everything was alright in the restaurant. They were
arguing about the cost and the reasons for the lateness in clearing a vehicle one of them had just
imported. And other customers were soon irritated by this argument. Not that it prevented them from
watching the wrestling contest. It was just that they did not come to the restaurant that evening to
listen to some people boast about dollars and be reminded of their hardship. And they did not
hesitate to make their feelings felt.

"Make una no dey shout like dat! Shey you be no see say we dey watch wrestling?", some of Mama
Asaba's regular customers mouthed vehemently. You do not need to look at them twice to guess what
                                                                                                    37

they do for a living. From the way their shirts were struggling to keep up with the pressure from their
muscles, it was easy to guess that they were either "ocho Passengers" - passenger chasers- or drivers.

"Close your dirty mouths, "Agboros", the clearing agent shouted back. He was either not observant
enough to sense the imminent danger, or he wanted to impress the female members of his
"company". But the important thing is that he found himself on his back a short while later...

 *      *    *     *             *               *               *

The smell of iodine that greeted my nostrils as I woke up the next morning after the fight was
disquieting. Another disquieting thing was that I also realised that I was lying on a strange bed, in a
strange but luxuriously furnished room. I was about to jump out of the bed and take to my heels, not
knowing if I had been kidnapped or not, when my friend entered the room, all smiles. He was happy
I had finally come to, after spending almost twelve hours in coma.

I was told later on that I had received a blow the day before - a blow that was meant for one of the
loud-mouthed youngsters in Mama Asaba's restaurant - on my left eye while trying to separate the
belligerents. And as destiny would have it, it happened to be one of the most fortunate misfortunes
that has ever happened to me. For it was this blow that catapulted me three months later to Alaoyi.

As soon as it became clear that I had fainted due to the energetic blow I had received, most of Mama
Asaba's customers, including the pack of muscle that threw the blow, ran for their necks. This is not
very unusual any time somebody is lying in coma or loses his life during a fight. Most people prefer
escaping from random arrests by the police.

It was the rich youngster, in whose stead I had received the blow, that took me to his apartment,
called a chemist that did whatever he did to save my life. It was equally this young man that
organised my trip to Alaoyi. My friend will never stop envying me that blow...

You cannot imagine my joy as I stepped out of my uniform into my "civilian" attire. The past few
days had been like hell. The crew of "Holy Maria" that brought us to Alaoyi were natural bullies. We
were three boys. And we travelled on board the ship disguised as stewards. Make no mistakes about
the word "steward". For as far as the crew was concerned, this word is synonymous with dish washer
when used with reference to a black man. And they made sure we spent the whole journey doing the
dishes.

The deal, which was organised by Iyke, was that we be brought to Alaoyi as members of the crew.
On arrival in Alaoyi, everybody would be on his own. Iyke had also gone to Alaoyi that way. At
first, I did not want to believe Iyke. But when he showed me the pictures he had taken aboard the
ship and in Alaoyi as well as all that he had brought back from there after a two-year stay, I started
seeing a Messiah in him.

Iyke had left Alaoyi after five years because according to him, he had saved enough to look after
himself and his family. Moreover, he was involved in all sorts of deals, including procuring visas for
people who wanted out and who could meet the financial obligations. He also had a telephone
service and a travel agency, which were run from his wife's kitchen. He had also married and
divorced an Alaoyi woman who was almost younger than his grandmother, and had a permanent stay
permit in Alaoyi. He could go and come from Alaoyi at wish. But according to him, no country is
better than Nigeria.

Because of the blow I had stopped in his stead, I had a choice between working for him in Nigeria
and being helped up to Alaoyi. I opted for Alaoyi. Iyke did not charge me anything. He only wanted
me to "find" him a good looking Mercedes 500 later on, if everything went on well with me....


March 19..
                                                                                                    38

I have now been accepted as a political asylum-seeker. I know that this is Latin for you. I do not
blame you. After all, even with my level of education, I recently got familiar with this phrase. It
means that for me to be allowed to stay in Alaoyi, I had to declare myself wanted by the Sierra
Leonean government. My story had been that I had participated in a coup d'état to overthrow the
government and was then on the run.

You are wondering how I got this idea into my head, aren't you?.
I left "Holy Maria" at midnight after bidding farewell to my travel mates from Nigeria. The plan was
that we had to leave one after the other in order not to be noticed. I was to leave first, since I had
already been to Alaoyi and not only spoke the language but also knew the way.

I was coming to Alaoyi with the hope of surprising my old friends, especially Benni. But it turned
out that I was surprised by my friends. None of my friends was living in our "Weiler any longer!
While at home, I had exchanged a few letters with them, but we had let go after sometime. But I had
hoped they would still be there when I arrived. Under normal circumstances, this would have posed
no problem. As I told you, there are now many Africans here in Alaoyi and I thought that I would not
have any problem finding a place to pass the night at least.

I got my first shock when I tried to talk to some of the Africans. They did not even look at me, not to
talk of responding to my "good evening". I thought they must be some of those French-speaking
Africans, whom I used to know in those days to be high hat. But then, I was proved wrong when I
approached two other Africans. I had heard them speak Igbo, and I quickly went straight to them and
introduced myself as a Nigerian who had just arrived from home, and could they fix me up at least
for the night? You may not believe it, but they denied our fatherland. They told me they were
Ghanaians staying with Alaoyi girls, and that their girlfriends would surely frown at it.




20.09.94


In a few days time I will be going to the capital with my friends (Sam,Linus,and Miriam- that I call
Babangida after the wife of our former president). Professor Wole Soyinka, the nobel prize lauret,
Nigerian leading political critic and freedom fighter is coming to The capital to address the Nigerian
Community Alaoyi and the Nigeria-loving Alaoyi people on the pro- democracy movement in
Nigeria.



                 24.09.94

I cannot define the feelings I have since I came back from The capital. Our August visitor did not
show up in The capital. That was not all that a surprise to us. We had heard a few days back over the
BBC that the Nigerian military government had seized Professor Soyinka's Passport. But we prayed
and nursed every hope that the seizure may not last long and that he might still make it up to Alaoyi
on time to hold his talk as planned.


Many Nigerians turned up in The capital. Some of those who came were dreamers like me who
thought maybe the gun men back home might change their minds and let an honest man exercise his
God-given human right - the freedom to travel out of his country at will. Some of us came because
they did not hear that the guest of honour had had his passport confiscated back in Nigeria since they
                                                                                                     39

usually never listened to the Radio, nor read the papers. Whereas others came as good members of
the Union.

I never knew the NCA had so many members. I was seeing many faces for the first time even though
I was not all that a truant when it came to attending general meetings of the Community. I was seated
beside a man who had just spent four days of his six month industrial training in Alaoyi. He was so
surprised by the number of the old Alaoyi women in the hall that he asked me whether those male
Nigerians sitting beside them all worked in old-peoples' homes.

Surprisingly the occasion was started without an opening prayer.
It was unanimously agreed to hold a forum discussion under the auspices of the executive members.
The topic of discussion was Nigeria: Democracy now. A recorded speech which Professor Soyinka
sent to the NCG in view of his absence was played back to the hearing of everybody. Prof. Soyinka
gave us an up-to date description of the political situation back home - how the common man in
Nigeria had had more than enough living in perpetual hardship - hardship he was suffering not
because he was destined to but because "a bunch of uniformed parasites" had been usurping power
and toying with the resources of the country since its independence. For this reason a movement for
democracy had been created aimed at taking away power from the soldiers and giving it to the
masses. But the army was doing everything to thwart the efforts of this movement, ranging from
massive detention without trial of leading members of the movement for Democracy, shooting at
demonstrators, placing the press and all media houses under its control, to indiscriminate abuses of
the fundamental human rights. He therefore implored all Nigerians living in Alaoyi to help create
awareness in their host country and mobilise the masses to put pressure on those "shameless tyrants",
crushing down Nigerian citizens, to hand over power to a democratically elected government. He
also asked the Nigerian Community Alaoyi to send financial aid to families of the detained members
of the Movement for Democracy in Nigeria. This message which should be clear even to a two-year-
old child was debated upon and given different interpretations for more than ten hours with just a
thirty minute- break for us to have a lousy bottle of the cheapest imitation of coke.

In compliance with the spirit of the meeting, it was also decided that everybody had the right to
express himself. For this reason, microphones were placed at strategic corners of the hall so that
anyone who had a bright contribution to make only needed to move to the mike to air his views. As
soon as the first speaker finished airing his views, it became clear what a grievous mistake it was to
allow everybody access to the microphone. Nigeria is the demographic giant of Africa and can boast
millions of bright heads full of bright ideas. And there was soon a scramble for the mike. Each
participant, including me, thought he had a brighter idea than the others. This struggle for the mike
was settled temporarily by placing the power to choose from among the hundreds of hands raised
each time a new speaker was to take the floor in the hands of the young PRO. The PRO thought it
wiser to choose elderly people first rather than to watch out for the first person to raise up his hand.

I was so surprised at the number of Nigerian chiefs living in Alaoyi. There was practically no elderly
person who spoke without first introducing himself as chief this or chief that. Apart from this,
another thing that characterised their speeches was that instead of finding solutions to the actual
problems, each of them told the assembly his own version of the Nigerian civil war story. Many of
them concluded by swearing that they would never send even an "afu" or a red cent just to help the
Yorubas install their tribal man in power.

It was when the PRO noticed that the whole thing was turning into a history class that he decided to
hand over the mike to the youth. Is it not an Igbo proverb that says that when the mother of goat
chews grasses the kids watch her mouth? The younger speakers decided to toe the steps of the
elderly ones and introduced themselves but at least not as chiefs. Those who were not managing
directors of this or that company were every other thing, from successful business men to Michael
Jacksons. Every labourer who worked in a hospital introduced himself as the owner of that hospital.
It went to an extent that I decided not to raise my hand any longer. I was afraid of what might be the
reaction of the full house if by mistake I got chosen to address it and I told them I was a student. I
might even be asked out of the hall for being so audacious as to come and address such an assembly
of successful Nigerian dignitaries. It was only after one young man of about my age, an asylum-
                                                                                                     40

seeker, had spoken and was not stoned that I started nursing hopes of airing my views without any
danger to myself. Another difference between the rhetoric of the young and those of the elderly
persons was that while the older ones devoted their speeches to the history of the Nigerian civil war,
the younger ones concentrated theirs on the definition of democracy or spent the whole agreed time
enumerating the problems with Nigeria as if those at home asked us to please tell them what we
thought was wrong with them.

Apart from my friend Li, who made a speech that brought the meeting to a near-violent end, the only
sensible speech was made by an asylum seeker who picked on the older generation of Nigerians and
blamed them for problems in the country. For him, it was about time the older generation gave the
younger ones a chance to rule since the older generation were still full of remorse due to the civil
war and still based their decisions on their civil war experiences. "Most Nigerians of my father's age
cannot see beyond their noses because they fought a goddamn civil war, they cannot make no
sensible suggestions about the future of their children's country, y' no wharam saying", he concluded
in his false American accent. This was received with a long ovation.

It must have been this ovation that inspired Li to say what he said that led to the closure of the
meeting, with Li's friends holding him back and the members of the executive shielding the president
of the association from Li's abusive words. Li decided to see the solution to Nigerian problems first
of all in seeing a potential enemy in every Alaoyi man. This received a longer ovation than the
statement made by the former speaker. He went on by telling his racial discrimination experiences
and how he was being reminded everyday by Alaoyi people that Alaoyi was not his country. I was
surprised by the reaction of the Alaoyi people present. They applauded louder and longer than the
Nigerians as if they had been paid one of the biggest compliments in the world. It was all they could
do not to ask Li for an autograph. It was shortly after that that the president decided to make an
intervention. He firstly implored his fellow country men not to speak longer than the agreed time
and, as if he had just had a shot of whisky or maybe to impress his not exactly too young Alaoyi
wife, he warned everybody to think his ideas over before taking to the floor and added that he was
not among those who hated the Alaoyi man and that anybody who hated the Alaoyi man only had
one reasonable choice - go back and stay in Nigeria. That was how the meeting ended without a
closing prayer.


Native speaker?

If you want you and Livinus to kill yourselves, just call him Okechukwu in front of his classmates.
As far as his classmates are concerned, he is an American, born in Leeds, UK. He does not have
anything against his home country Nigeria. He is even what you might term fanatical about that
country. But he is simply not ready to advertise the fact that he is African. For he is not in any way
ready to go through the nervous warfare faced by other African students who had arrived before him
at the School of Translation.

I have often been tempted out of annoyance to reveal Livinus' true identity, but never summoned the
courage to do so. "Afterall", I would ask myself on such occasions, "was it not because of me that
Livinus made up his mind on his first day at school to disown our dear native land?" In our good
moods, especially atn weekends, we would sit over bottles of beer discussing Nigeria and making
mockery of ourselves and our lecturers. One thing that will always astonish us is the way Livinus is
being treated with respect at the School of Translation by both staff and students. In English classes,
his opinion is always final - after that of the lecturer of course. And his mistakes are always regarded
as a slip of tongue. Whenever there is a controversy over the meaning of a word, you would hear the
Oxford-trained English lecturers say "... and what does our native speaker think about it?" You may
not believe it, but the native speaker in question here is Livinus, known back home as Livi, born and
brought up in one interior village in the tropical forests of Nigeria, and who has never set his foot on
British soil. Yes, serves everybody right.
                                                                                                        41

I still regret secretly the fact that I did not deny my country right from the onset. Even now that I am
in my final year, I still remember in detail the ugly reception I was accorded in my first year at the
School of Translation.

The lecturer who was to address the new students seems to derive a lot of joy in keeping people
waiting. There were more than one hundred students in the big orientation hall. Ninety percent of
them were girls, most of them straight from secondary school, with inexperience written all over
their faces. You need not look at them twice to see that it was their first adventure out of their
parental bosoms. Some of them who were lucky enough to have attended the same secondary school
had an edge over the others since they already had people to talk to. They were chattering on top of
their voices, thus virtually instilling a feeling of inferiority into their colleagues from various part of
the country and who were looking intimidated like a flock of sheep without a shepherd.

I don't know if you have ever found yourself in such a situation. A situation where you do not know
what to look at. You are afraid to look at the person sitting close to you because you think that he has
not got anything better to do than to stare at you. But if you summon enough courage to look
sideways, you will find out that everybody is equally looking embarrassed, and is either starring at
their shoes or, as is the case with girls, at their finger-nails.

All of a sudden, there was a commotion at the entrance, the type of commotion that can only be
provoked either by a false time- bomb or an earthquake alarm. Nnabuike was making his entry into
the hall. It was a triumphant entry , come to think of it. Not only did those standing at the by the door
make way for him to pass. As soon as he entered the hall, and found himself a standing space at the
back row, two of the new students sitting in front of him left their seats for him and went and stood
at a safe distance by the window. As for those of them who had been feeling intimidated, they soon
found an object of revenge. All heads turned in his direction and a sudden hush fell in the hall. Most
of them had either never set their eyes on a black man or, at least, had not had the honour of sharing
the air they breath with one.

Nnabuike did not feel intimidated. He simply felt annoyed. He had already seen people react this
way, but at least not in an academic environment. Had he not got a Bachelor of Arts degree back
home in European languages before coming to this goddamn School of Translation? Were most of
his lecturers back home not from Alaoyi and kind? Anyway, he thought, these are just freshers, most
of them from illiterate families... But he was soon to change his mind.

The long awaited lecturer finally arrived, and held a brilliant welcome speech. "But before you
leave," he concluded, "may I remind those of you, or let me put it this way, in case any you of does
not know, this assembly is only for native speakers and not a forum to improve one's proficiency of
this language. Any questions?" All heads turned to Nnabuike....

This very closing remark haunted and made Nnabuike popular at the School of Translation. Which
ever lecture he attended, he was always asked at the beginning of the lecture if he was sure he was
not in the wrong lecture room. He wondered sometimes if his lecturers took the pains of going
through his assignments before giving him an F: He made the mistake one day of going to one of his
German lecturers with a grammar problem and came out almost in tears because he was told that
there was no need trying to do something impossible. "What makes you think you can compete
German native speakers in their language?", he was asked. As if he came to the School of
Translation to compete instead of to be trained as a translator...

What annoyed him most was that even his English lecturers did not spare him. They made sure they
picked on every suggestion he made in class. After all, it is said that Nigerians do not speak good
English but Pidgin English. Some of his fellow students even took this as a hint to taunt him. One
day he suffered a humiliation that was to make him call his sponsors and ask for permission to
change his course of study. One of his lecturers not only gave him a beautifully designed F in a
German essay but also ordered him in front of the class and asked him to the hearing of everybody if
he thought he was still in an elementary school. That was the day Nnabuike made up his mind to
leave the school of translation. It finally occurred to him that there was a deliberate attempt to drive
                                                                                                   42

him out of the school. He called his sponsors and asked for permission to change his course of study
but his request was met with a refusal. He was either to continue studying translation or go back to
his country.

Nnabuike took this as a challenge. He was going to stay and prove to these educated illiterates that
just because you are an African does not make you a daft. Meanwhile, there was one of his
classmates who had been following Nnabuike's humiliations with interests. One afternoon, just as he
was about to leave the class after a lecture, she walked up to him and asked him if he would not mind
having lunch with her at the refectory.. Nnabuike was taken aback, but conceded. Taken aback
because he had never noticed this very girl. It was while they were eating that Nnabuike's classmate
let him know how she felt about all the ugly treatments he had been receiving from their lecturers,
and told him that if he had any problems in German, he only had to let her know. She was even ready
to go through his assignments in German before he submitted them.

Nnabuike jumped at this offer. His performance in the end-of-the semester exams earned him a lot
of respect. He passed all his exams to the astonishment of his classmates and those of his lecturers
that wanted him out of the school. And he did not relent in his efforts. He was bent on combating the
prevailing cliché that you can only translate into your mother tongue. For him this was just an
argument invented to prevent of them from the former colonies from exercising a well-paying
profession. You would hear him boasting about writers like Wole Soyenka, the English literature
Nobel prize laureate from Nigeria, and Chinua Achebe, also a Nigerian, whose English is better than
even that of the Queen of England or the American president. You might even start wondering if
these two writers are not his close relatives, from the way he brags about them.

He once walked out on a professor who could not or pretended not to be able to differentiate
between language and dialect. It was a heated argument between him and his classmates that led to
this reaction. Why in hell should they continue asking him which dialects are spoken in Nigeria?
Why should they continue trying to convince him that what is spoken in a country of more than one
hundred million people cannot be referred to as language but dialects? Why is it that people who
claim to be linguists think that you can only speak or write good English if you are from America or
England. And that the economic strength of a country determines whether what is spoken there is a
language or a dialect? Nnabuike swore that none of his children will ever study translation even if it
were to be the most lucrative course of study ever.
                                                                                                                       43


i
    Alaoyi : Igbo word meaning cold country
ii
    Amosu : Igbo word for « witchcraft »
iii
    Been-tos : Nigerian name for people who are proud to have been abroad
iv
    Ogbanje : Among the Ibos, an Ogbanje is a child that torments its mother by dying and coming back again until it
               has been appeased
v
    Achicha : Dried cocoa yam
vi
    Ogiri : A very smelly condiment with a nice taste that would make Nestlé envious of mothers back in Africa
vii
     Umunna : Literally “Father’s children”; Igbo word for relatives that descend from the same father
viii
     Akpu : Fufu derived from cassava roots
ix
    Nnadi m, ekele m : My husband’s father I salute you
x
    Nnedi m, ekele m : My husband’s mother I salute you
xi
    Iroko tree : The tallest tree in Igbo land
xii
     Jeso : Pronunciation of the word “Jesu” in my village
xiii
     Ndia : India
xiv
     Chi: Personal god
xv
     Ekwerebibi: A half animal and half spirit believed in Sule’s village to have the best knowledge of traditional
                 medicine
xvi
     Ekwensu : Igbo word for Satan

				
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