The journey started in the United States of America in 1960.
Daniel was feeling low despite being admitted to New York State University to pursue a first degree in Politics and International Affairs. He had fought tooth, nail and claw to get into the United States Military Academy, popularly known as West Point, but Uncle Sam was not ready to accept the almost nineteen year old Nigerian. This appeared to be the end of the road for Daniel’s military career aspirations. Before coming to the States, following a Grade One School Certificate from the elitist King’s College, Lagos, he had applied for an officer’s commission in the Nigerian Army. The British were still in charge but the new dispensation that would define Nigeria was manifesting itself. In spite of his top marks at the selection examination Daniel’s name did not appear on the list of potential officer cadets to commence preliminary training at the Nigerian Military Training College, Kaduna. Against the wish and appeal of his erudite and wealthy father who wanted his only son to study Law at Oxford, Daniel also applied to New York State. As a final year student at King’s College Daniel had been fascinated by a handsome, solidly built young man whose sparkling Nigerian Army uniform marked him out during a reunion of old King’s boys. The old boys interacted freely with the current students. Daniel got to shake hands and chat with the friendly officer about the military. His name was Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu and he was a Captain.
Unwilling to adopt Ojukwu’s formula of joining as a recruit, Daniel travelled to the USA confident of his chances over there. He was not too fussy which country’s colours he wore as long as they were democratic, liberal and English-speaking. But now he was in a bar off New York State’s main campus, nursing a beer and cursing Fate.
His eyes fell on a rather sassy looking young woman at the bar. She was nodding to the music pulsating from the jukebox concealed in the wall behind the main door. A long-haired beefy young man in leather jacket and jeans bounced onto a stool beside hers and almost immediately began seeking her interest, if not her favours. From all indications he was making a dog’s lunch of it because the woman’s voice rang out in a crisp English accent:
‘‘Get lost. Shove your booze down your throat.’’
Everyone at the bar roared. Daniel watched, fascinated and amused. Unsettled by his humiliation Mr. Long Hair employed drastic measures.
‘‘Hey, don’t get snooty with me, you British bitch,’’ he barked, grabbing her right arm.
He should not have done that. The English woman was dazzlingly fast. She threw her Bloody Mary neat in his face and as he yelled, letting go of her arm, followed it up with a punch Bruce Lee would have applauded. Mr. Long Hair, a six-footer, flew off his stool and landed on his back at the foot of Daniel’s table. Daniel had to jump to avoid being hit by the human missile. The guy remained still. It was a wise decision.
The woman was on her feet. ‘‘Cunt sucker,’’ she enunciated clearly and walked out. The bar’s stunned silence was eloquent till she was gone.
Five days later Daniel saw her during Politics 107A class. The course was an elective for Journalism and Media Studies, Sociology, History and Political Economy majors. Politics and International Affairs majors were the effective ‘owners’ of the seminar-based course and they never stopped rubbing the fact in to their colleagues.
The topic for presentation was ‘Imperialism and Colonialism: The Multi-faceted Implications for Emerging States.’ The young lady was called up for presentation and the more she talked, the angrier Daniel became. If he was a white man he would have turned crimson. As soon as the lecturer called for comments Daniel sprang to his feet and stunned everyone with impromptu but robust and erudite counter arguments. He was no run-of-the-mill freshman; his head was full of books from his father’s awesome library and other sources he had tapped while at King’s. The lecturer was so impressed he allowed Daniel exceed the time limit for comments.
When he finished there was drop-dead silence for a minute. Then the hall exploded in applause, starting with members of Daniel’s constituency. Others followed unreservedly. Daniel saw the English woman clapping vigorously. She was the first person in the Journalism and Media Studies group to rise, her glasses perched on top of her carrot-coloured hair.
The seminar over two hours later, Daniel was chatting with a group of course mates who were fascinated by his un-American accent.
‘‘Hello. Excuse me,’’ a low female voice said.
It was Carrot Hair. Her ocean-green eyes were friendly and full of admiration. Daniel quickly rounded off with his mates and joined her.
‘‘You were simply smashing,’’ she said as they strolled to the exit portal. ‘‘At a time I thought you were going to send me flying with a haymaker.’’
Daniel laughed. ‘‘Don’t want to land on my back like Mr. Heavy at Luigi and Joe’s.’’
Surprise crossed her face. ‘‘You were there?’’
‘‘Yep,’’ said Daniel who was fast adopting American colloquialisms. ‘‘He landed at my feet.’’
She shrugged as if sucker-punching randy six-footers was her daily routine.
‘‘Sorry, we have not been properly introduced,’’ she said. Daniel thought of reminding her that each speaker at the seminar had been required to open his or her remarks with his or her name and department. But he shut his mouth because he had forgotten her name.
‘‘Nora Monroe Becker.’’
‘‘Daniel Obika Chigere at your service.’’
Nora smiled and Daniel could not help smiling back.
Nora was really keen about the course and needed Daniel’s guidance. The young Nigerian was not one to miss an opportunity. He decided to take a chance in spite of her karate skills.
‘‘Hope you are hungry? Let’s grab a sandwich at the cafeteria,’’ he said.
‘‘I have a better idea.’’
‘‘Pop over to my place for some quality English cooking. It’s not far. Or do you have another lecture?’’
Daniel was an epitome of modern and sophisticated Lagos youth. His upper middle class background had exposed him to some of the finer things in life. But some age-old codes ingrained in him by Mrs. Elizabeth Chigere or Mama Adanna as his mother was popularly called, still prevailed.
Nora saw his hesitation and smiled.
‘‘Relax, Daniel. You can say no. Besides I am not carrying a yawara.’’
Daniel was curious. ‘‘What is a yawara?’’
‘‘Come with me if you are interested.’’
Daniel was fascinated by the Oriental martial arts weapon which she kept on top of her bookshelf. But he was much more interested in the roll of her hips and the way her hair framed her face. So interested was he that an hour later, after a superb meal of steak and vegetables, he was caressing them as Nora pressed herself against him. She gently disengaged and looked into his eyes.
‘‘Do you want me?’’ she asked directly.
Daniel responded with a passionate kiss. Her lips were far sweeter than those of Lorraine from Queen’s College or Hanatu from Holy Child’s Girls School.
‘‘Does that answer your question?’’
Without speaking Nora unbuttoned her blouse. Minutes later her bed was squeaking and she was throwing her legs as wide as she could to receive Daniel’s penis. He made her kneel in the doggy style, grabbed her breasts and pounded her from behind till her cries filled his ears. If the room’s walls were not proofed against sound neighbours would have called 9/11. They took each other in a breath-stopping sixty-nine position and exploded in each other’s mouth almost simultaneously.
Their love was born that day.
Nora was the only child of Sir Eric Algiers Becker and Lady Deborah Stock Becker. Her parents were solid pillars of the British Establishment. Sir Eric was not born into aristocratic circles but he bulldozed his way to the top of British society by making and sitting on a wealth of at least forty million pounds after the taxmen had wielded their legal swords. Forty million was the official estimate and Sir Eric kept absolutely mute on the possibility that he was worth much more. He cannily ensured that the taxmen’s curling swords did not cut into those sizable chunks by plugging all the loopholes such as salting them away in tax-free havens outside the Queen’s realm and super-secret Swiss Banks.
Long ago, Sir Eric decided to consolidate his climb in commercial and political circles by penetrating the aristocracy; the earldoms and dukedoms who, though not often as well off as the rising, non-titled stars, commanded clout because of their pedigree. So he dated and married Deborah, the svelte, fair-haired and blue-eyed first daughter of Lord Thomas Dobbs of Dorchester. Although the marriage might as well have been a meticulously calculated business contract, Sir Eric came to love Deborah. With the exception of his widowed mother who died when he was starting out in the world after a chequered village grammar school education, she was the only woman Sir Eric really cared about. Cash and the prospects of cash-hunting were what really made Sir Eric come alive but over the years, especially after he was knighted for his services to British commerce, this fundamental character cornerstone which he carried from the cut-throat worlds of business and the aristocracy was cleverly cultivated and concealed. He privately despised the upper drawers of society having seen them up close. But he dared not reveal this mindset because he did not want to be blackballed out of the British Establishment.
Deborah died giving birth to Nora. Even as a tiny, blood-covered tot, her resemblance to her father was striking. Sir Eric never forgave the baby for living at the expense of the only woman he truly loved. He remarried three years after her birth. It was yet another calculated liaison with Deborah’s distant cousin but this union was not eventually enriched by the balm of love. As the years went by Sir Eric and Nora grew apart. Their father-daughter relationship, if it existed, could be summed up in two words: hostility and repudiation.
Nora became an arch rebel. In 1950s and 60s Britain a daughter of the Establishment who espoused causes the pillars of society loathed could queer the pitch for many people, including those close to her. Unlike many rebels looking for causes Nora had brains. She was a perfect chip off the block but she refused to be bound by anyone’s rules. Now blessed with two level-headed sons from his second wife, Sir Eric was strongly inclined to cut Nora off completely but even he dreaded the publicity such an action would bring. Not that Nora cared a fig. It came as a big relief to her father when Nora, puffing away on a cigarette as her red-faced father lit up an original Havana cigar, told him she was off to the States, and in her words, ‘‘you can go and fuck yourself with your stolen pounds and social climbing.’’
She had won a scholarship to New York State University to study Journalism and Media Studies. To sustain herself she got a job in a local sports club as a martial arts instructor. Though she dated a few guys in her wild circle they were mostly one-night stands. Many of them could not resolve her enigma: a chain-smoker and boozer who read Ernest Hemingway and disciplined herself sufficiently to earn a black belt in karate.
Daniel won her heart totally. It was not just his skill in bed; it was much more than his brains; it was not the fact that he was her first African boyfriend. In spite of his youthfulness Daniel had the ability to see through the deeds and hearts of people. He saw through Nora’s tough act. Also, they were both mavericks.
It was not an easy love, at least at the beginning. Daniel hated smoking and drank alcohol sparingly. It took him a lot of guts to tell Nora point-blank: go easy on both or I am out of here. Initially Nora nearly dropkicked him out of her room but Daniel simply walked out. He determined to go through with his resolution if it would bring her to her senses.
It did. A month after all contacts between them had been severed Nora showed up in Daniel’s lodgings one Saturday morning and flushed the contents of her favourite cigarette packet down the toilet. Kicking the habit was a journey to Dante’s hell for her but Daniel supported her till she could look at a cigarette without dying inside. Her lover realized he had to quit drinking totally if he could assist Nora to the point of moderate drinking. He took up karate lessons under her tutelage and soon became competent, though Nora always outclassed him on the dojo mat.
Nora wanted to move in with him. On several occasions Daniel nearly agreed. What stopped him was not the need for freedom to chase other girls. Contrary to the expectations of many people who knew him Daniel was a one-woman man. It was an ingrained conservatism from good old Mama Adanna who had drummed basic principles on the man-woman thing into him and his elder and only sister, Adanna.
Adanna, a Law student at Oxford, visited her brother in New York. She met Nora and the result was a blazing row with her brother. Adanna was engaged to an Igbo post-graduate Law student in the same university; a worthy product from a good stock mightily approved by her parents. She would not allow her only brother, in her words, ‘‘ruin your life with this white, monster-eyed trash.’’
Daniel did something he had never done before. He slapped his sister so hard that the crying Nora, who was present when Adanna uttered those words, intervened to save her from further punishment. Love’s power was really at work. In the olden days Nora would have snapped Adanna’s spine for the insult. But giving her heart to Daniel had calmed her.
The clash of the titans began. Richard Chigere and his wife were enraged at their son’s choice of a white woman but he was unyielding. Nora saw how much the family feud was hurting her man and it broke her heart. She who never knew her mother; whose wild, back-handed appeals for acceptance were rebuffed by her father, was about to break the bonds of this close-knit family. Chief Chigere‘s fury increased when he read about Nora’s pedigree in the British tabloids.
‘‘Nora, I want to marry you,’’ Daniel told her. It was in their final year. Daniel’s parents had stopped his allowance and cut off all forms of assistance. Unbothered, Daniel became a dishwasher and porter, working after school. Fortunately the strain had no adverse effect on his scholastic record. Nora had needed little persuasion to move into his new and much less comfortable lodgings.
She argued but her heart was not in it.
‘‘But your people…Both of us shouldn’t lose our families.’’
Daniel was touched but he set his face like flint.
‘‘This is my life, our lives, and we are entitled to it.’’
Nora kissed him. ‘‘Hold on, honey,’’ she said. ‘‘Let us get our degrees. Who knows, we may yet make peace with them when they see our pig-skin diplomas. These old folks sure value those pieces of paper.’’
Daniel could not help laughing but he got her message.
‘‘Or maybe Dad will soften when he sees my major’s epaulettes.’’
It was a humorous statement but Nora’s eyes became frosty green marbles. The only thing she heartily disliked about her one and only was his obsession with the military. Her efforts to talk him out of it were unsuccessful. Recently, however, she had stopped fighting him over it , especially as his outstanding academic record was clearly steering him towards the academia and he was not averse to the flow. But she was woman enough to realize that her fiercest rival for her man was not his family.
Daniel realized he had crossed the red line. But there is no point lying to ourselves, he thought.
‘‘Honey, take it easy,’’ he pacified, trying to take her into his arms. But Nora was not mollified.
‘‘When are you going to give up this John Wayne hotshot shit?’’ she snapped. ‘‘Your Faculty is ready to snap you up as soon as you graduate. Isn’t that enough?’’
Daniel replied mildly, ‘‘I have seen your eyes light up in the university news studio. Your face shines whenever you return from pounding the streets searching for the story. You always tell me you will change the world with your typewriter; your camera will record life’s vital moments; your stories will protect the underdog and cut through sleaze, ignorance and prejudice.’’
Nora cut him off hotly. ‘‘What has all that got to do with your obsession?’’ Her anger was intensified by her realization that Daniel’s words had hit at her convictions.
He did not reply. Nora paced the room. Daniel sat on the bed and watched her. After what looked like twenty years she flopped on the bed beside him and pulled him to her. Slowly they lay on their backs and stared at each other, their legs swinging from the side of the bed.
‘‘I don’t want to lose you.’’ Nora’s voice was full of tears. ‘‘You could get crazy and go off to some war. Now the damned American government is playing football with tigers in Vietnam, anything can happen.’’ She paused. ‘‘Please don’t do this to me, Dan. You don’t know what you mean to me. For you I can kiss journalism goodbye and live in suburbia, waiting for you each day as you commute to and from the university. I want to have your child, be with you always.’’ She rested her head on his chest.
Daniel was shaken. Nora giving up Journalism to be a suburban academic’s wife? He caressed her as his heart tossed and raged. Emotion filled his eyes. A lesser man would have said goodbye to his ambition.
‘‘I will not leave you,’’ he promised as he reached for her breasts. As she surrendered to him Daniel knew he had only suspended his ambition.