Kalu wasn’t pleased when his Oga called him up earlier than usual. It was 4:30am and the early morning breeze was blowing gently into Kalu’s room through the opened window which made him feel slightly cold. Although he felt like lying back on his bed and pretending he didn’t hear his Oga call, he knew better not to hesitate even for a few seconds from showing up. He was not going to forget in a hurry the smacking he got the last time he delayed after his Oga called, so he reluctantly walked slowly to the living room.
His sleepy eyes cleared when he saw his Oga’s wife sitting quietly on the couch in the living room with a gloomy expression on her face. The expression made Kalu anxious about what the whole drama was about. The living room was large enough to be a small football field. It had several paintings lavishly placed on the wall while the four wooden carvings placed close to each other stood beneath the TV hung on the wall. The height of the ceiling always reminded Kalu of the St Mary’s Cathedral in his hometown. The lights that shone from the Crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling reflected on the large glass table placed at the centre of the living room. Some part of the floor were decorated with exotic Persian rug covered in leopard spot print. Chief Udeze bought the Persian rug the last time He travelled to Italy on one of his holiday trips. Chief Udeze was Kalu’s Oga and was also one of the wealthiest men in Kalu’s village. He had agreed to bring Kalu to live with him at Onitsha as His apprentice in the spare parts business after Kalu’s father pleaded with him several times.
Chief gave Kalu the news of His father’s death in a low voice. As Chief spoke, Kalu felt a sudden numbness grip his knees that made him feel like sinking into the ground. He knew it was not a dream yet he wished somehow he was dreaming and someone would wake him up quickly. The death of Kalu’s father meant the huge responsibility of looking after his family now fell on him as the Di Opara of the family.
Everything changed quickly for Kalu after His father’s death. His uncles took away most of the useful farmland left by Kalu’s father and since farming was mainly what Kalu’s family depended upon, they barely had enough to feed because the farmland left for them didn’t produce much. Kalu resented his uncles for their actions to his family but couldn’t confront them because his mother told him to let God be the judge. Few months after the funeral,Kalu returned to Onitsha determined in his heart to become successful enough to take care of his mother and siblings even though he wasn’t sure how he was going to do it.
This particular Friday wasn’t like the usual market day at Onitsha Main Market for Kalu. Customers that came in to buy spare parts today were scanty and Chief Udeze was away on a business trip in China. Apart from being bored, he was hungry. He could smell the rain that was soon going to pour down. Being able to smell rain before it poured was a skill he had learnt as a boy all those years he helped his father on the farm. For a moment he considered shutting the store a little earlier and going home since it was nearly 6pm which was almost the time he usually shuts the store but he hesitated for a while. He thought perhaps hischi would favour him with customers before the rain came. Kalu gave up waiting for any more customers and decided to shut the store. He was getting ready to shut the store when a young man walked into the store. Kalu recognised the face immediately. It was Kelechi , his senior during secondary school. Kelechi was two years ahead of Kalu while at Ehunachi Secondary School the only secondary school in Kalu’s hometown of Ihiala.
‘goodafnoon’ Kalu said. Kelechi recognized Kalu too even though it had been 7 years since He left secondary school. ‘Enyi Kedu?’ Kelechi replied. ‘Odinma sir. Gini ka ichoro’ Kalu asked. ‘Chorom oil-filter biko’ Kelechi replied. Kalu stretched to reach one of the oil filters on the shelf by his right. ‘Nka di’nma’ Kalu said as he handed it to Kelechi. Kelechi said ‘daalu’ and wrote his number on a piece of paper for Kalu before he hurried out of Kalu’s store. Kalu folded the paper and put it in his pocket. As he rose to shut the store, the rain began.
“You must strike the iron while it is hot” was the proverb Kalu had heard his father frequently say. He knew when an opportunity came he had to take it without delay. Kalu had accompanied Chief Udeze to the Apapa Wharf in Lagos two days ago to inspect some wares that just cleared with Customs. It was at the Wharf Kalu met Ugo – an apprentice from Nsukka who had accompanied his Oga to the Wharf too. Kalu and Ugo discussed briefly since they didn’t have the opportunity to speak with each other at length. During their conversation, Ugo mentioned that he knew a friend in Lagos who could help them get fake passports and visas to England if Kalu was interested. Although the fee Ugo said his special friend charged for the passports and visas were high, Ugo told Kalu that he was in the process of raising the fee and if Kalu was interested, he needed to respond quickly. Kalu couldn’t stop thinking about this opportunity to travel abroad when he returned to Onitsha. Kalu imagined all the beautiful things he could send home to his mother and siblings if he went to England. However, the thought of raising the money Ugo talked about weighed him down.
Chief Udeze now had a second apprentice at the store which meant Kalu was now a senior apprentice. Working in the store became a little easier for Kalu since he now had a junior apprentice. Chief would usually ask him to run errands around Onitsha town while the junior apprentice stayed back to look after business at the store. It was now two weeks since Kalu met Ugo and they had both stayed in touch ever since. Ugo kept reminding him that time was running out and if he was going to make a move he had to make it fast.
On this particular day when Kalu was almost giving up on the idea, Chief Udeze like he usually did, asked Kalu to deposit some money at the First Bank close to Onitsha Main Market. It was on his way to the bank that an idea struck him. “He was going to run away to Nsukka with this money in his hands to find Ugo”. A million more things ran through Kalu’s mind as he thought of stealing his Oga’s money.He wondered why he hadn’t thought about this idea earlier. He thought of his family, what his mother was doing at that moment. He thought of his younger sister Onyinye who was about to take her Senior Secondary Examinations and his two younger brothers; Madu and Nduka. Since the death of their father all Kalu constantly wished for was to make enough money so he could take care of them.
Kalu was the last person to join the bus leaving for Nsukka from the Motor Park at Onitsha. He sat next to a fat woman who throughout the journey kept resting her head on Kalu’s left shoulder each time she fell asleep. It was like the woman had no control over how she fell slept or fell asleep. Kalu could feel both his feet grow stiff from trying to fit them into the very little leg-room he had for his feet. It was not the discomfort that annoyed Kalu but the fact that the driver had to stop at almost every Police check-point to give a bribe. Kalu could see the sun sinking into the horizon as they approached Nsukka. All he thought about was he needed to contact Ugo before it got really dark.