A week after the Biafra War was called off, Alfred finally died in his sleep in the small house behind his mother’s hut. And all the pains and hunger he’d felt ceased.
When the villagers discovered that he’d died, they buried him inside the same hut he had died in.
His wife Ugomma and his daughter Tachi had mourned Alfred for a long time. Tachi was just six years old when he died. She was inconsolable. She wept behind her school books in her classes, she wept in her grandmother’s hut in the afternoons. And whenever her mother Ugomma came back from teaching lessons, she could not also keep the tears from sliding down her cheeks in dreadful, silent dinner hours.
Her two sons had died during the war too. They were cut into pieces with sharp machetes. And Ugomma packed their cut pieces bodies into a nylon bag. She buried them in her late father’s farm and wrote their names ‘Tochukwu and Obinna’ with her fingers on the sands of the grave.
She wept bitterly when she recalled Obinna’s face before he died.
“Mamaaaaa…” Was what he called. He was Ugomma’s most beloved son, while Tochukwu was his father’s favorite.
As years passed, Ugomma only became stronger. The wounds were healed, but the scars were still there.
Edu had just alighted from the plane when
she heard footsteps walking behind her.
She had just returned from a course in Abuja, it was a two weeks course on photography and filming, and she’d spent all her money lodging in different hotels In Wuse.
“Hello beautiful.” A young man said kindly to her. He had been behind her since from the airport, and now, they were at the car park.
“Madam, you dey go? where?” The taxi drivers outside the airport asked boisterously.
But Edu shook her head worriedly and finally turned to see who was by her side.
He gave her a sheepish smile and then gave out his hand for a handshake, but she ignored it.
“I am waiting for my boyfriend.” Edu said meanly.
“Okay…” The young man said, still smiling sheepishly. He put his hand into his pocket and brought out a cell phone, he handed the cellphone to Edu.
“You left this on your seat.”
“Oh my God!” she said abruptly.” Thanks so much. I would have lost my phone.” She collected it from him nicely.
“What’s your name?” She asked, trying to be nice.
“I am doctor Uko.” He said delightedly. “and I must say, you’re beautiful.” He commended.
“Thank you.” Edu replied.
He walked away nodding his head.
Her brow was knit in a frown. She looked at the watch on her wrist and gave a loud sigh. She had called Uwemedimoh her boyfriend since before she boarded, and she’d waited at the airport for close to two hours, dialling his number, but he didn’t pick his calls.
“Taxi!” She yelled out angrily.
Three men ran toward her, one man held her box immediately.
“Madam, na me cari your box. Follow me. I get AC for my car.” He said as he walked away with the box on his head. The other two men watched as Edu followed him. He opened the car door, dusted it with a rag. Edu entered the car and fixed her sunshade on her face, using the seatbelt.
She held her Brazilian hair and weaved it into a ponytail.
Her skin had plastic sheen, like the women who stay in cold cities of Nigeria. She was beautiful and classy.
“Itam.” She said softly.
“Your money na fifteen thousand. If I go on AC na twenty thousand.”
“What? please drop me.” She said angrily, removing the seatbelt.
“madam wait. How much you get to pay me?”
“Na three thousand I get.” She said boldly.
“Abasi! three thousand plus AC?”
“No be Keke napep be this o. But I go carry you for 5k last, since I go on AC for this your fine skin.”
Edu gave a loud sigh and fixed back the seat belt.
“I will give you Four thousand. From Ibom Airport to Itam shouldn’t be that expensive.” She said calmly.
The taxi driver gave a wide grin as he drove into the main road.
When she stared at him mutely, he went on. “madam you like me? you dey look me since o. If you like me tell me now, no die of silent!”
She heaved a sigh and took away her face, staring at the side mirror. The taxi driver was too handsome to be a taxi driver.
Edu wondered why he was a taxi driver, he would have been a pilot, she thought.
She’d paid him off and alighted from the bus when he kept staring at her buttocks.
“Such a beautiful dark girl.” He muttered.
Edu pushed her box gently behind her as she walked to the beautifully built bungalow her father had given her on her twenty-eighth birthday.
Her head was heavy. She always felt worse when she managed her way out of the all the stresses she’d had for the day.
She had started hearing a woman’s moan right from when she stepped into the compound.
“This Kunle with her bitches.” She whispered. She’d thought that her tenant Kunle had brought up another bitch.
Her eyes caught with her car, it was bouncing up and down, almost causing a flat tire. She wondered what was happening in her car. Oh, maybe her dog Lena was trying to eat up a big snake again, but how did she get into her brand new car?
But what did Lena know? She wasn’t smart enough to hold the car keys and open it up, talk of being able to drag it out of her boyfriend Uwemedimoh.
When she got close to her car and saw that there were two people in there, she knew who there were; Uwemedimoh and a woman, probably another woman or the same fair girl who sells food at Kilimanjaro fast food and restaurant. She was bleached skin. Uwemedimoh was always caught with fair women. He had once pleaded with Edu to change her ebony dark skin to white, that fair girls attracted him more. But Edu wondered why he asked her for a relationship at first. He would have just gone after a fair girl already.
He had been caught sucking a girl’s breast once in the kitchen, she was Edu’s first and last house girl Happiness. She was almost albino, had a big breast and Edu had caught him several times stealing a glance at Happiness’ breast while she was cleaning the house or bending to brush the carpet. He always managed to get away, even if it was impossible. He always had an excuse.
“Baby, I swear to God, I didn’t notice when my hands got into her panties.” Or “She tempted me, I am human honey, body no be firewood.” He’d said these words on different scenarios.
He claimed to have masculine powers over her, but she loved him and always forgave him and took him back.
Edu needed to comport herself when she saw that the Kilimanjaro girl she had warned over the phone to stay off her man was right in her car; In loose brassiere, and her smelly sweats everywhere.
She was almost naked. Her panties was on the car. Edu had seen it from afar and wondered what it was, but when she walked closer and saw that it was a panty, not her panty, she took a deep breath and exhaled.
He was hitting her hard breathlessly, while she moaned aloud.
When Lena perceived Edu from afar, she ran after her and began saying things Edu might have understood. She was shaking her tail and leading her to the front of the car.
The Kilimanjaro girl caught a glimpse of her first.
“Stop! the bitch is here.” She said soothingly.
Uwemedimoh’s heart fell. He had coats of sweats all over his dark shiny body.
“Get out of my car now!” Edu screamed. Lena began to bark.
The girl reluctantly stepped out of the car scarily. She was scared of Lena. She had phobia for dogs. But as her feet touched the concrete floor, Lena jumped on her. Lena did this to all the women Uwemedimoh brought home. Uwem’s Girls were scared of her. She was Edu’s only true friend. The one who would take bullets for her and bite for her. Lena used to be Becca’s daughter. They were five of them. All of them were beautiful hairy German shepherds. But her father had given out four of Lena’s siblings as gifts to his friends. Edu took care of Lena right from when she was a puppy. She’d separated her from her mother Becca when she was just seven months old. She’d taken Lena to her veterinarian in Oron. But despite the three months stay Lena had at Lion’s heart Veterinary hospital, she could still perceive Edu when she climbed up the hospital staircase, from afar.
Lena was smart, intelligent and security conscious.
Kilimanjaro girl endured the first two bites from Lena, before she began to scream “help me baby please. Kill this beast!”
“Lena stop it!” Edu ordered.
Uwemedimoh was ashamed. He couldn’t look at her face. He was mute for a long time.
“Get out of my house now! leave my yard, now!” She said aloud. Looking at the two of them with a mean look.
The girl took her panties and ran out of the gate helter skelter.
“I called your lines. You refused my calls because you were banging a girl in my new car!”
“Let me explain!”
“Shut up! liar. You want me to listen to your Cooked lies again? hell no! you’re leaving my house this minute!”
She walked away with her box, followed by Lena. She dragged his box from inside the wardrobe and piled in his clothes in there. Lena helped her carry his shoes with her mouth into a thrash bag.
Edu wept bitterly as she threw his things outside.
She couldn’t look at his face.
Twenty four hours went by before Edu discovered that Uwemedimoh was still standing on the verandah. She was in her bedroom, weeping uncontrollably, and when she saw that her eyes were swelling and becoming so reddish, she wiped them with her nightwear and walked gently to the kitchen.
Lena alerted her that Uwemedimoh was still on the verandah.
She followed Lena to the door, and when she opened the curtain, she saw him seated there on the stairs case.
“You better leave now, or I will call the estate securities to throw you out.” She said.
“Please help me. I don’t have where to go baby. I can’t go back to my father’s house like this.” He said with a calm tone.
“Leave my house before I do something stupid. She said with anger in her tone.
She waited a while longer as he began to pack his bags, making sure he doesn’t leave anything behind. Then, as silently as possible, he stood and stared at the window.
“Thank you for everything you have done for me Edu.” He said quietly.
Then he began to walk toward the gate with his luggage. She stared at him until he slammed the gate and she could not see him anymore. It was the last time she’d seen him. She was relieved. At least, her mind will be at rest. Even if it was going to take a while to get over him, she was relieved.
She walked around her bedroom, thinking about how he’d used her all the years. He was staying in her house, feeding and living on her hard earned money, yet he wasn’t a loyal boyfriend.
He’d once stolen one of her expensive cannon cameras that she’d bought once in France to buy a girl he was wooing an iPhone.
He came back begging, after the girl ran away with another man. And since Edu loved him so much, she took him.
She shut her eyes and shook her head, too many years she’d wasted on just man who never loved her one bit.
She fell on the bed, Lena jumped on her while she stroked her hair and slept.
The New week began hectic for Edu.
She had a celebrity photo shoot for Famous people’s magazine. She set her camera lenses and fixed it in a bag, walking hastily toward her car, she clicked it open and dumped her bag on the front seat.
She wanted to go with Lena, but she didn’t want any disturbances from the tiny looking pet.
“Bye, I love you!” She said aloud to Lena while she drove out speedily to her studio.
“You’re late Edu.” Bessie, the editor of famous people magazine said shrilly.
“I am so sorry, I had to feed my dog.” She said hastily, opening her bag and bringing out her camera.
“Wait a minute, did you say dog?” Bessie asked, looking amazed and folding her hands on her chest.
“Ah Edu, na wa o. All these oyigbo lifestyle never leave you o.”
“You know I grew up with dogs. My father had lots of them. I am fond of them.”
Bessie smiled, shaking her head.
“Who is up for our next shoot?” Edu asked.
“The CEO of men’s apparel. He is a celebrity fashion Icon. He is contesting for the governor of Itai state next year.
“Oh yeah. Your magazine is featuring more entrepreneurs now.” Edu said testing her cameras and flashing lights from it.
“By next year, we will have him again on our front page as the new Governor of this state.”
“Your company will gain more favours from his administration if he wins.”
“He will win.” Bessie retorted.
“To the studio…” Edu said abruptly as she walked as fast as she could toward the studio, followed by Bessie.
“Good Morning.” Edu greeted. Her eyes were still on the shutter speed control when a bold voice replied ‘Good morning lady.’
He straightened, his greetings instinctively polite, but his voice was familiar so she took off her eyes from the camera and caught his glance.
“You’re early.” He said.
Edu wondered if she was imagining the irony in his tone or the man that carried him in his cab few days ago from the airport to her house.
She stared at him with her mouth wide open; from his shiny hair, to his spotless handsome face, to the expensive suit he wore and to his priceless wristwatch. She didn’t know what to say. Few days ago, she was in his cab, he was dressed in a simple Tee and a pair of rough looking jean. And now, she is about taking pictures of him to appear in the front page of a famous magazine, not just as a successful entrepreneur, but as an aspirant for the state governorship.
And while the sound of the camera shutters was the only thing heard for moments, Edu wondered why this guy would not even tell her that he knew her too.
Whatever the truth might be, she could still recall sitting by the side of this same person in his taxi. Watching him say funny things about her looks. He had suddenly become aware that someone was watching him, and although he thought he was engrossed in her camera. He turned his head and met the intent gaze of Edu standing at the other side of the studio while the cleaner and the decorator tried designing a background for the shoot.
He was taller than everyone in the room, huge and dark, with the kind of uneven features that are so much attractive than bland good looks.
“Your face is so familiar,” Edu said as she paused the shots.
“Is that why you walked in here with such a stare?”
“Well, you look so much like the cab guy who carried me from the airport some days ago.” She said.
“More postures, please. I think you should stand.” She said putting the camera on her face.
“Well, if you saw a cab guy that looked just like me, then it should be me.”
“You? What were you doing at the airport as a cab guy, and now as…”
“None of your business miss photographer.”
“What’s your name?”
“Abaside Oruk” He said boldly. He had suddenly become someone else. His foreign accent, Deep-set eyes, a prominent nose, exactly like the cab driver.
He was the same guy she’d met. But reasons why he was there as a cab driver? she didn’t understand. She thought.
His dark blue velvet suit and a matching silk shirt looked quite expensive. He didn’t look like the usual young men who interact with people easily. And the way he was looking at her made her feel curiously weak inside, he was handsome in all ramifications, and he knew it.
“I just wanted to be a driver on that day. I hope to be the governor of this state by next year. And I had to try to be anything. A keke driver or a cab guy. I want to be in the shoes of these guys.” He said.
She guessed he was lying to her. It was obvious. The accent was different from the cab guy’s own, but the voice was the same. But she just had to believe him.
“You should have a photoshoot with your wife next time for a billboard.” Edu said as she click the shutter shot.
“I don’t have a wife. I am not yet married.” He said.
“You have to be married to be a governor in Nigeria. And besides, you’re too young.”
“Says the constitution. You should have political godfathers to talk.”
“I don’t need them. I will rule this state.” He retorted.
And despite the rudeness in his tone, he was still charming, fascinating, and so easy to talk to. He asked about her job and her phone number.
“I will come next week for my campaign photoshoot.” He said as he saved the number in his phone as ‘pretty face photographer’
“I will give you a call when I’m ready.” He said. Edu nodded mildly.
Bessie called a week later, reminding Edu of the campaign photoshoot she had with Abaside.
“There is something else Edu.” Bessie said.
“He wants a contract marriage with you.”
“What’s contract marriage?”
“You marry him for a particular period of time, based on agreement. You will sign papers, a lawyer will be there. your lawyer, his too. Then after the period of time, you separate. But you will be well paid.”
“My father might die if he hears this.”
“Common Edu, You won’t tell your father that it’s a contract. He will be proud to hear that his only child is going to be the first lady of this state.” Bessie said.
“Well, I’m not interested in such contract. I want a real marriage with my dream man.”
“Abaside is every woman’s dream man. He is learned and high class. He is from the prestigious family of captain Oruk. His father is one of the first Nigerian soldiers who is highly respected. His father was the first military head of state in Itai.”
“It’s not about the affluence and the prominency. It’s about spending years in a contract marriage that will not…”
“It will give you lots of money and popularity. Think about it Edu, just think about the dream countries you will visit for your photography shoots when you finally hit a hundred million naira.”
As each minute passed, Edu grew more and more agitated, pacing around the room, trying to compose herself and her thoughts. Hope, despair, a sick yearning for everything to turn out right.
Edu arrived at Abaside’s office quite early the next day. She bundled up warmly in a corduroy jeans and a chunky knitted sweater beneath her coat, to stave off the relentless slicing harmattan wind that was already making her face burn with cold, and she hated being cold. Sitting at the reception, she cuddled Lena in her arms, while her camera bag was on a chair.
Bessie had told her of Abaside’s change of plans on shooting in her studio. He now wanted to have the campaign photoshoot in his office.
It was a breathtaking building. And one she’d always wished to own when she becomes a very rich woman.
“He is ready to see you now ma’am.” The receptionist said politely.
Edu stood and held her hand bag and then Lena on the other side of her hand.
“You can’t go in there with the dog. My boss hates dogs.” The receptionist said.
“My dog is calm and descent. She is not wild or aggressive.”
“It doesn’t matter ma. My boss hates dogs. He will yell at you if he sees that dog.”
“I can’t leave my dog here. No I can’t.” Edu said and walked away with Lena still in her hands.
She stood in front of Abaside’s office for moments before she knocked.
“Come in…” His voice said from inside.
When she opened it, a fresh scent of his designers perfume hit her hard on the nose. The office was beautifully decorated with expensive foreign furniture and art works. And just when Lena saw him, she began to bark.
“Get the dog out!”
“Shhh…hey baby, don’t bark.” But Lena kept barking for a while and then kept mute. “She is seeing you for the first time, that’s why. She won’t do this the second time.” She said nicely.
She saw an interesting gleam in his gaze, but he didn’t smile as usual.
“Good morning Mr Abaside.” She said.
“Good morning.” He replied calmly, still staring at Lena carefully.
“She won’t hurt you.” She said mildly.
“I am ready for the photoshoot.” He said.
Edu applied a white powder on his face, and brushed his eye brows. He stared at her when she brushed his hair and applied a lip balm on his lips.
Lifting his hand, he positioned his finger on her chin instead. His warm breath skimmed over her, and although his skin smelled mainly of an expensive perfume and aftershave cream, she detected the arresting scent of snowy covered hills and valleys and sweet fresh air too. It reminded her of America, of photography and film school where she had graduated from.
Everything in her hand tightened in exhilarating anticipation as he raised his head to hers.
“You need a portrait right?”
He didn’t reply to her question, simply breathed out on an impatient sigh and then boldly took what he was so anxious to savor, touching his lips avidly to hers.
Edu lost her mind. She loved his lips.
Lena’s barking interrupted again. He came out of his emotional state and sat up.
“Lena stop it.” She said.
“You said she won’t bark at me again.”
“She… she is…” she faltered.
She took the camera immediately and began to take pictures of him. He winked at her when the flash light sparkled on his face.
“You did that on purpose.” She said. “Be serious, no joking.” She warned, taking more shots of him.
When she was done, she was already sweating.
“Let’s talk. Let me offer you wine.” He said standing up to hold her hands.
At the first pulse racing contact her spine seemed to turn to mush, and protecting against the touch from his hand or body. She might melt and just faint if his smooth skin touched her again.
“If you want to talk about the Contract marriage, I’m not interested.” She said as she fixed her camera into a bag. His hands reached out to hers, his objective was to kiss her intimately, and his tongue thrust hotly into her mouth his fingers pressed hard into her back, to try and obliterate any sense of separation between their two bodies at all, to make them as one.
“I can’t do this.” She said and pushed him off.
“You love me, I know you do. I saw it in your eyes when you walked into that studio you own.”
“I can’t love a man who wants to marry me by contract. Don’t I deserve to be a true wife to anyone?”
“But I don’t need a true wife. I need a contract wife. I am not the kind of man who values marriage and all that bullshit. I don’t need a child, I don’t need a real wife. I don’t like the institution called marriage.”
“So you want to use me to get the Governorship seat for yourself?”
“You will be well paid.”
“My father will be so disappointed. He is wealthy. He gave me all what I have today. I will be greedy to do this for you.”
“Your father won’t give you a hundred million naira for a year’s job. With a palace to live in as a queen, with guards and mopols, soldiers and maids at your feet. Your father won’t make you a first lady of Itai state. But I will.”
Edu stared at him thoughtfully.
“These things mean nothing to me.”
His frustration was immediately evident in the harsh sounding breath he expelled, and the slightly dazed look in his eyes. His lips twisted wryly. He didn’t like what she said.
To be Continued……………….
Written by Vicky Bon Uzuazor