The city greeted and welcomed Ocholi with the cold synthetic complexity and appearance which every city seems to look like to a remote rural dweller. It was topsy-turvy, monstrously attractive and yet at the same time there was an air of despondency around it which felt as if it were suffocating the life out of him. When he got down from the bus he stared with disbelief, a mixture of awe and enthrallment at the people around him. Men were wearing neat attires and the women were tidily dressed as well. The children were also dressed differently from those in his village. They were all well dressed in neat clothes and shoes very unlike the tatty clothes the children in his village wore. Also, in Adumu the wearing of shoes was uncommon as the people there preferred walking about barefooted. The very sight of people passing above him on an overhead fly over bridge amazed him and he went completely gaga for a moment. He was staring at a bus conductor, vividly following the conductor’s gait with his eyes as he was shouting for passenger to board his bus. The way the conductor was calling out the names of the places the bus was going to attracted him so much that he just stood there in place staring and listening to him with his mouth wide open. This infuriated the conductor and he accosted him to inquire if had ever seen him before. Ocholi was embarrassed and promised not to behave like that name they had earlier called him on the bus back then.
His uncle alighted from his Toyota car and he immediately saw where Ocholi was standing. Ocholi had his eyeballs and neck working hand in hand as they keep peering and rotating to different angles to see the corner where his uncle would emerge from. Mr. Ado began smiling and waving at Ocholi immediately when he saw him. Ocholi recognized the person waving at him and he smiled broadly back at his uncle but he did not wave back.
Ocholi started walking to where his uncle had parked his car. Mr. Ado had kept a perfect timing as to when the bus would arrive the north from middle belt.
He still remembered his face from his last visit to the village because Ocholi looked very much like his late sister.
He disagrees with the people of Adumu when they say that Ocholi carries the face of his grandfather. This was also the reason he had welcomed the idea of allowing Ocholi to come to his house in the north to study. Adah had also given to Ocholi a picture of Mr. Ado which he had gotten from him on his last visit for the purpose of recognition. Ocholi knew that he did not need any picture to help jog his memory on what his uncle’s face looked like. He never forgot the face that always gave him sultry smiles accompanied with monetary gifts and clothes, but his father had insisted that he must travel with the picture. Mr. Ado had visited the village when Ocholi was eight years old. He was very kind to Ocholi when he visited.
When they came face to face with each other, Ocholi greeted him in their mother tongue, “Omenyi, ọlane!” His uncle replied back to him saying “Agba ọma mi.”
Mr. Ado opened the trunk of his car so that Ocholi will drop the bag that he was carrying into it. He dropped the first bag and started running to get the second bag. As he was running, he nearly collided with a woman hawking cashew nuts there in the garage.
“If you push me down and spill my goods you will pay! You, this foolish small boy!” the woman cursed him.
“I am very sorry madam,” Ocholi apologised without looking back to see the expression on the woman’s face.
As his uncle was watching at him, he could see how excited the boy was. The way Ocholi was running to get his last bag to the car caused him to think about his late sister, Ocholi’s mother. When they were still young, she would always run around the house to make sure things were quickly done.
He wished she was alive to see her son behaving very much like her. Mr. Ado was very fond of his sister and he was very close to her.
He remembered how he had cried out his eyes when his father had told him that his sister’s name was among the list of virgins the king had agreed to give out to Adumu kingdom to fulfil the treaty they had signed with Adumu some centuries ago. He never imagined life without his sister in the village. When his sister was finally taken away from home to honour the truce his village had signed, he was so angry that he left the middle belt to reside in the northern part of the country where he had been living up till this very moment.
As Ocholi was dropping the second sack into the trunk of his uncle’s car, he was just thinking of his uncle’s home. He is happy because his uncle has three children. “I will be playing with them and…..,” Ocholi said, thinking to himself.
“What is in that sack?” Mr. Ado asked. His uncle’s voice cut through his own thoughts. He needed to stop what he was thinking about his uncle’s children and home to give a reply to his question.
“It contains dried bush meat, cashew seeds, coconut, dried vegetables, palm oil and so many fruits which papa said I should give to you, your wife and the children.”
“Is it true that these items are expensive here in the city? That is what papa told me when he was trying to tie the mouth of the sack. He also said people in the city do not have enough land for farming and that is why things like these are expensive in the city,” Ocholi said.
“You father is quite right about that. You people in the village are very lucky indeed. Here in the city we do not have the privilege or the opportunity to farm or hunt bush meat ourselves. When you see someone selling it on the road side and you want to buy, it is always very expensive. As you can see for yourself most of the lands here in the city have been used for building,” Mr. Ado told him.
“No wonder. There are so many big and tall building in this place. Most of the lands have been used to construct buildings so there won’t be spaces for farming and hunting.”
Ocholi was still struggling to open the door of the car when his uncle was already seated inside. When he could not open the door, his uncle laughed and came out of the vehicle. He grabbed the door handle gently and released it gently again. Ocholi heard a very short sound as the door opened. He was surprised.
“That is how to open the door of a car,” Mr. Ado said as he closed the door again.
“Come and open the door now let me see if you can do it yourself,” Mr. Ado said.
Ocholi repeated exactly what his uncle had done and it was very simple. He was elated that he had learnt something new. He closed his eyes as he sat down in the car. He imagined himself in Adumu among his group of friends telling them that he now knows how to open and close the door of a car. He knew they would be proud and jealous of him at the same time because none of his friends in the village had gotten the opportunity of touching a car let alone opening its door. The only vehicle they had seen in the village is the big long old bus that used to come to the village every two market weeks to convey people and farm produce to the city. They were not even allowed to go near the bus because it was rumoured that the city people used it to kidnap children. Ocholi could not help but laugh at their credulous minds as he thinks of all this now.
The reverberation of his uncle’s car as he started the engine brought an abrupt end to his reverie. His mind had been filled with intermittent thoughts about his uncle’s house, what he was going to be doing in the house. Would there be a nearby stream for him and his cousins to go swimming in? Can his cousins swim?
“Well, I will teach them how to swim and play in the rain,” he said to himself. He was more relaxed in his uncle’s car unlike when he had first boarded the bus from the village.
“Uncle, why are these buildings moving?” Ocholi asked pointing at some skyscrapers. The question was amused to Mr. Ado but he didn’t laugh at his nephew. He knew that any person that asks questions is always ready to learn.
“The buildings are not moving but the car is,” Mr. Ado said.
“So you mean even the trees and rocks I saw too while I was in the bus were not moving too?” Ocholi asked innocently again and Mr. Ado said, “Yes,” amidst laughter.
“Uncle, please don’t laugh at me like those people in the bus I boarded from the village. They were even calling me names,” Ocholi said slowly.
“What did they call you?”
“Ehm! Ehm! Ehm! Ocholi said as he was trying to jog his memory with one of his finger placed on his lips.
“A J.J.C?” his uncle said trying to help him out with the guess. “Yes uncle,” Ocholi said before asking what a J.J.C means.
“J.J.C is an acronym for Jonny Just Come. It is used to refer to someone that is visiting a place for the first time,” Mr. Ado said amidst laughter again. He didn’t bother to ask Ocholi what he did before they called him a J.J.C. He knew Ocholi must have done something funny to make them call him such name.
“I was thinking about my village and I didn’t even know when I screamed, ‘I love Adumu,’ my voice was very loud when I screamed,” Ocholi said as if he was in his Uncle’s thoughts. Mr. Ado laughed out loud again. He was enjoying Ocholi’s company.
He also likes the way they are chatting like they have known and spent quality time with each other before. He knows Ocholi will not have any problem with mingling with his children and wife.
Ocholi’s voice brought an abrupt stop to Mr. Ado’s thoughts. “You just taught me how to open the door of a car back then in the garage and you have just taught me the meaning of the slangs; J.J.C . I have learnt those and I will never forget them. I will keep learning new things and get myself acclimated with my new home. I promise never to let you down in anyway. I will do my best to be a good son to you and your wife and I will also be a good brother to my cousins,” Ocholi said placing his right palm on his chest like he was making a solemn oath to a god.
Mr. Ado was taken aback by his nephews’ statements. He didn’t know that Ocholi had these kinds of thoughts in his head. He was still staring at Ocholi not knowing what to tell the young man.
“Oh my dear sister, this is a real replica of you sitting here with me,” his mind told him.
“Thank you very much for this opportunity,” Ocholi’s voice brought him back to his car.
“You are most welcome,” he said to Ocholi with a broad smile and Ocholi smiled back at him.
Ocholi didn’t remember falling asleep, but he slept soundly until they finally arrived at his uncle’s house.
His uncle’s house was very different from what he had anticipated. He would be living with his uncle, his uncle’s wife and three of their children; Agbene, Enemali and Ojima. Being now the eldest of all the children in the household, Ocholi was expected to do most of the household chores and other odd jobs by Mrs. Abeni.
His uncle spends most of his time in a distant village, one hundred and thirty kilometres away from his house working with the railway cooperation. He always has little time to spend with his family. He thought his wife would take good care of the family not knowing that most women are very much like a chameleon. They can change their colour at any time to suit any given situation. Mrs. Abeni rubs Vaseline on her face so that it shines so brightly such that whenever her husband is around he would never suspect she has been hard on his nephew. Nonetheless, Mr. Ado never allows his work to impinge on his family life and duty. He always attends to his family’s problems immediately.
Abeni changed immediately when Ocholi came to live in the house. Her thoughts were that the village boy had come to the city to deprive her children of what rightfully belonged to them. With this picture of the boy in her heart, she despises him very much. She made him the slave of the house. Ocholi would be the one doing all the odd jobs at home. She had thought that her haughtiness to him would frustrate and compel the poor boy to return back to the village. Ocholi’s urge to serve his uncle and acquire the western education he had come for kept him going. Above all, he is a son of Adumu land who can never be timorous in any way.
Ocholi was washing their clothes one Saturday morning and he asked Agbene to help him wash the plates since he was washing their clothes. Agbene refused with a sardonic smile on his face because his mum had told all of her children that they were princes. “Princes are not meant to do hard jobs, they are meant to enjoy the good things of this life,” Abeni told her children. She made them to understand that Ocholi was a village boy and was supposed to do all the hard work at home. “That village boy is very strong, do not assist him in doing any house work,” she advised her children.
“Mali can you help me wash the plates?” Ocholi asked the other brother.
“No, I can’t!” Enemali replied rudely in a supercilious tone.
Ocholi became very angry but kept quiet. Ojima offered to help him wash the plates but his brothers shouted at him and told him not to. Ocholi then spoke and they started quarrelling. With the heavy noise emanating from the house, you would think something perilous had happened in the house.
The scuffle went on for a long while between the three children. Ojima was acting as a liaison officer between them trying to make peace and stop the argument when Agbene called Ocholi a “village boy”. Ocholi became very enraged with great anger and he slapped him. Agbene prodded him heavily and he staggered a bit but he regained his balance after about ten seconds. They fought until they became tired. Apart from being the most senior among them, Ocholi is the grandson of Olachene the Chief Priest of the grand-gods of Adumu land. He is also the son of Adah, one of the most feared warriors in the whole of middle belt. He had inherited most of his grandfather’s traits except for the strength which he had gotten from his father. He defeated the joint force of the two miscreants and the argument ended. When Ocholi finished washing the clothes, he went ahead and washed the plates.
When their mother came back from the market Ojima narrated everything that had transpired while she was away. She convened all of them together for questioning. She was very happy when Mali told her that they had not helped Ocholi wash the plates because he was the houseboy. She had told them that Ocholi was the slave of the house and she is glad that her children are taking their position in the family. She never wanted Ocholi to deny her children of their rightful inheritance in the family.
“What happened today?” she asked Ocholi with her eyes fixed directly on Ocholi’s. “I heard that you were beating up my children and displaying you village power on them.”
Before she could add another word, Mali had already started talking. He did not conceal the fact that Agbene had called Ocholi a village boy. Agbene also told his own part of the story but branded it with many incredible lies. His voice was full of deceit and his mum noticed it because she knew Agbene could be very cunning like a dog’s hind leg but she did not question it since it was what she wanted to hear. She did not care about the lies of her son.
She was just looking for every opportunity to scold and punish Ocholi because she despises his presence in the house.
Despite the plight inside Ocholi’s mind, he tried to control his temper not wanting to utter any word because he would cry and they would use that to laugh at him. He could no longer hold on when Agbene added the lie that Ocholi had called her names and that was why he refused to wash the plates. Ocholi was thinking of what to say before Ojima spoke.
“It’s a lie!” Ojima screamed.
“Shut your dirty mouth before I shut it for you with a slap!” Mrs. Abeni threatened Ojima. “Did I ask you any question?” She queried further.
She had never liked Ojima as much as her other children because of his soft and kind nature. She strongly believed that Ojima inherited this trait from his father and she sees such trait as an impediment for a man aspiring to become a success in life. Ocholi started to speak but Abeni shut him up saying that the answers she had gathered from her children were enough reason for her to see that he was the villain in the whole saga.
“You should have washed the plates before washing the clothes instead of bothering these fine boys with your lazy attitude,” she said as she was pointing at her children. Ocholi was astounded by her statement and her sense of reasoning and judgement.
Instead of allowing the argument to subside, Abeni decided to exacerbate the situation going on in Ocholi’s mind by pouring more oil on already troubled water by her statement.
“You should have been grateful that my husband brought you from that dirty slum you call a village,” she added. Ocholi then realised that Mrs. Abeni’s attitude is a deliberate act to get him annoyed and feel less important.
“I refuse to be intimidated,” he said slowly to himself in his heart. He opened his mouth to say something but stopped. He had wanted to tell the woman that Adumu is not just an ordinary village but also one of the strongest in the whole of middle belt. “It is not her fault,” he thought to himself again. “How was she supposed to know about Adumu when she had spent all her time in the city doing nothing?”
He tried very much to control his temper because his grandfather had once told him that anger blows out the lamp of the mind. He had been thinking of what to do to Mrs. Abeni and her children. He also remembered that his grandfather had once told him that anger dwells in the bosom of fools when he inquired from him why he was always smiling when being offended by someone. It is as if his grandfather had a permanent smile plastered on his face so one would not be able to tell when he is angry or happy.
He could hear Olachene’s voice ringing in his head saying, “My son, the reason I am always smiling even when people offend me is because anger is a killing thing and it dwells only in the heart of a fool. It kills the man who angers for each rage leaves him less than he has been before, it takes something from him.” He was smiling as he was thinking of all this.
“I refused to be a fool,” Ocholi said in his heart.
“Why are you smiling, you this village boy?” Abeni cut through his thoughts with her words. She further explained that when somebody calls you a village boy it only means you are from the village and not an affront. “Are you not from Adumu village?” she asked in a mocking tone. Then she and her two children guffawed with laughter. The laughter incensed Ocholi. He clenched his fist, his heartbeat had already increased and his whole body was trembling. He was boiling with rage. It was as if he was seeing a long time enemy waiting to pounce on.
His adrenaline secretion had also increased and he was all ready to attack. It suddenly dawned on him that he is in the city and not the village.
Above all, the woman in question is his uncle’s wife. He suddenly quelled all forms of attack he had been mustering in his head because he remembered the promise he made to his uncle three months ago in his car when he first came to the city. He knew his uncle believed him when he made that declaration and he would not want to betray that trust Mr. Ado had bestowed on him by allowing Mrs. Abeni to lead him into doing what is totally wrong.
“I am the son of Adah, a great warrior of Adumu land,” a voice told him in his thoughts. He wanted to say that to Abeni but he stopped because it would only insinuate that he was insulting her. He only told her that Adumu is not just an ordinary village.
Abeni meted out her punishment to him because he spoke in defence of his motherland. “You have insulted me so there will be no food for you this evening,” Abeni said. “Go to your Adumu and find food to eat there and if you think you cannot go to Adumu today, then in supplant you can drink water,” she concluded.
She had been envious of the boy ever since he had come to the house because of his strength, diligence, good nature, and for the fact that his character was irreproachable.