They were lying on Eno’s king-size Vita foam mattress, their legs still tangled together as they glowed with the aftermath of passionate copulation.
‘‘Jipocho.’’ Eno’s voice was low.
‘‘Yes?’’ He held her gently.
‘‘What are you doing in the University of Lagos?’’
‘‘Impregnating girls.’’ Jipocho’s tone was dry.
Eno laughed. ‘‘That is your specialty. I am a living proof.’’
Jipocho took a deep breath and wondered how what had turned their worlds upside down back then, seared many hearts with a burning spear could now cause them so much mirth.
Eno sat up, her jugs jiggling invitingly under the glow of the room’s soft light. Jipocho also sat up. They looked at each other, momentarily bereft of words as the memories appeared on the screens of their minds.
It had been one hell of a scandal. Shendam then was not a big town and although located on its outskirts, Government Secondary School was one of the town’s main centres of action. Spicing up the salacious stew was the fact that Chief Etuk, Eno’s father, was a well known lawyer and a strict old-school Catholic. Eno was his only daughter and he took her knocking up by this nobody’s son very badly. Jipocho and his trader-parents felt his rage which swept like a flood across the River Niger to their hometown. Jipocho spent a week in a cell at Shendam Central Police Station before wiser heads prevailed on Chief Etuk.
Eno’s parents took her away from the school and Plateau state. Jipocho did the bravest thing of his teenage life by secretly getting in touch with his distraught girl before she was bundled off to Abeokuta to live with her mother’s widowed sister.
‘‘Don’t forget me, Jipocho,’’ Eno had wept in his arms. ‘‘It is your child; our child. I carry a part of you in me.’’
Poor lad; how could the confused, hormone-charged, fifteen-year old think straight at such a time, with his back a ridge of koboko lashes from prison warders ? But that thing which had always drawn him to Eno tore his heart as he kissed her and said, tears streaming down his face:
‘‘I won’t forget.’’
Jipocho enrolled him in Akwanga Grammar School. But the boy’s head had been badly rattled by the ugly drama of premature love and daddy hood. His heart was burdened by his parents’ silent suffering for his sin. His mother never beat him but her tears and looks whenever their paths crossed overwhelmed him. Although his father had taken his belt to his son severally since the scandal broke, his words and grief scarred Jipocho far more than any lash. Jipocho was their only son.
Returning to Akwanga was thrown out of the window when his mother went down with a seizure that left her half-paralysed. Her health had never been strong to start with and Jipocho’s misadventure only worsened it.
The two lovers regularly exchanged letters. Then a month after she gave birth Eno sent him a heart-breaking letter and photograph of their baby boy. ‘‘He died. Your part in me didn’t make it.’’ Jipocho died a little the day he got the letter.
Eno’s parents carted her off to Britain. The flow of letters ceased as the teenagers grew into adults and were sucked into the demands of life.
‘‘Why did you come back to Nigeria?’’ Jipocho wondered aloud. If it was to get a Master’s, British universities were there.
Eno sighed. ‘‘My dear, many reasons. Dad is no longer the man he used to be. But I guess I am just restless. Believe it; I had a good job in a London stock broking firm. But…’’ She sighed again. Unspoken words hung in the air.
‘‘What of you? Still writing the novel?’’ She asked archly, her face creased in that half-smile Jipocho loved and which the years had not removed from her round, ebony face.
‘‘Actually, I had finished one hundred pages of the manuscript in the library when I saw you.’’ Jipocho’s voice was full of memories. Memories of their secondary school days when he always told her that no matter what else he did in life, he would end up a best-selling novelist. Life had not allowed him to walk the walk till he got admitted to the University of Lagos for an M.A. in Strategic Studies.
‘‘What is it all about?’’
Jipocho kept quiet. Eno saw the answer in his eyes. It was about her, most likely in fictionalized form.
‘‘I hope I have not bonked another man’s woman,’’ he said with a deliberate casualness which revealed the struggle in his mind. Eno put an arm round his shoulder and kissed him lightly before answering.
‘‘Stop being so scared. I am unattached.’’
Relief was cool water in Jipocho’s throat. But he could not help asking:
Uninvited tears filled Eno’s eyes. But her voice was calm as she replied.
‘‘You left a gaping sore in my heart. We were kids but I knew what I felt in my heart for you was not childish. Dad and almost all my family members put their status and religious position before anything else when it happened. Yeah, I hurt them but didn’t they know what it meant to be a teenager? She paused. ‘‘Dad knocked up a girl when he was a student at the University of Ibadan. She was a Form Four kid in his alma mater’s sister school. His folks did not kill him or banish him to the wilderness.’’
It took Jipocho an almost superhuman effort to keep himself from shouting. ‘‘How did you know?’’ he asked.
‘‘Mum told me during a visit to England. The families handled the matter wisely. Marriage was out; the girl gave birth to a girl and Dad’s family cared for her as their son went back to school. All through the drama neither Dad nor the girl was ostracized or treated like a pariah.
‘‘In my case, only Mum realized I was her daughter and treated me accordingly. Dad never showed up when the baby died. My brothers took Dad’s side and the wall only got higher as the years passed. I think if not for Mum, Dad wouldn’t have bothered with my education.
‘‘In England I dated, even got engaged to a black American colleague. But somehow it was not the same. Don’t know, but I just woke up one day and knew I had to come home.’’
‘‘The promise of love.’’ Jipocho did not smile when he uttered the words. Eno nodded.
‘‘You can say that. But Dad is down with cancer and his sons are too busy with life. I may have made my peace with them but it is all half-baked.’’
And mine with my family is full-baked? Jipocho wondered as he thought about his parents and post Eno’s pregnancy life. His mother forgave him totally the day he knelt beside her sick bed and wept, telling her about the baby’s death. His mother had cried with him. From that day the page was totally shredded. His father was too locked up in his wife’s sickness to care anymore. When she died he nearly went mad. Jipocho had to keep an eye on him for weeks after the funeral.
He grew up overnight. He toiled through manual and clerical jobs to care for his increasingly poor family as his father’s business rapidly went downhill after the scandal and his mother’s stroke. He also struggled to continue his education after seeing his sisters through their SSCE and TC2 examinations. After passing the General Certificate of Education exam as a private candidate, Jipocho enrolled into a part-time degree programme and narrowly missed a 2’1 in his final grade. He came to Lagos and got a teaching job which helped him assist his now married sisters in their father’s upkeep. With enough savings in his kitty he enrolled for the Master’s and started writing again.
He hugged her tightly.
‘‘Lord, all these years. Maybe it was for good. But I don’t know ….’’
Eno looked at him searchingly. ‘‘What?’’ Her tone barely hid her anxiety. Is he married? She wondered.
‘‘You are the uptown British girl. My apartment is smaller than this room.’’
‘‘Don’t be stupid.’’ Eno’s affectionate tone was underlined by a polished BBC broadcaster’s accent. She laughed.
‘‘And I thought you were a father of two.’’
Jipocho looked into her eyes soulfully.
‘‘I want my baby.’’
‘‘You know what to do,’’ Eno said quietly, her body suddenly alight with desire. Jipocho pulled her back to the mattress.
Four months later they got married. It was a quiet court wedding. They had fixed it immediately after their thesis defence. Their fathers were stunned when they showed up to announce their fait accompli. Eno’s mother could not hide her joy. Her sons did not know exactly what to make of the new situation.
Pa Etuk finally looked at his son-in-law penetratingly.
‘‘Boy, maybe Abasi decreed this all along. Go and tell your people to bring palm wine.’’
‘‘You must have a church wedding. That is all you must do to be my son forever. Please, do it soon; my days are few.’’ His strong voice contrasted sharply with his ailing frame.
Jipocho glanced at Eno. She shrugged. She did not care one way or the other; she already had all she wanted. He smiled.
‘‘My word, Dad. You will not die.’’
The old man gestured them to come closer. When they did, he took their right hands in his skinny paws.
‘‘Forgive me, please.’’ Tears stood in his eyes. ‘‘I only did what a father should.’’
Eno could not hold back her tears. These were the words she had always wanted to hear from her father. She hugged him tightly. Her mother looked away, too overcome to speak.
Jipocho’s father received them with surprising bonhomie. Eno was strangely delighted. She spiced up the occasion by presenting her father-in-law with a walking stick and a traditional Calabar jumper. Jipocho was pleasantly surprised. She had not told him about the gifts.
The old man sighed softly. ‘‘Wish your mother was here,’’ he said quietly.
Eno hugged him reassuringly. ‘‘Don’t worry, Papa. She is smiling from wherever she is now,’’ she said gently.