Before Nkemjika started calling pretty women bitches and men, dawgs, he was a great son of a respected Igbo businessman who traded in household electronics in Port Harcourt. He was Born Again of a spirit-filled and demon chasing church. He was a practical Christ lover. He read the bible as many times as possible. He recited spiritual songs when his friends where dancing the Etighi and Azonto dances. He went to church often and avoided movies with naked women. He prayed when a girl sent him a love text message. He reported his sins to God when he mistakenly saw the exposed breast of a breast-feeding mother.
Nkemjika avoided gatherings where nothing but smokes existed. He used only polite words. He exclaimed “Jesus” when he forgot a line of poetry and not “Fuck”. He watched the Discovery channel on the cable TV and not Trace TV, MTV, Sound City or Channel O, those satanic channels which are said to lead to hell. Nkemjika read the bible or Christian literatures to friends in school and church. Many Christian parents envied his parents. His father walked tall and advised other parents about training up a child in a way he should go. Nkem avoided the pan-African extremist literatures. He was warned to stare clear of Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the African Child by Camara Laye, as well loads of other African classics. When it was time to go to bed he prayed for the day gone and the day which was promised.
His favourite songs were usually hymns or any Igbo praise songs, those tracks which had so many ‘Jesus’ in it. Nkem tucked in his shirts properly, combed his hair with no devilish partition. But when the devil came for Nkem he came with both hands and a battalion of nut-headed demons. He came with all the weapons in his armoury. He came heavily loaded to snatch the life of Nkem. The devil came in the form of Barbara Ogbodo and Nkem fell flat in love.
Barbara had stopped cutting her hair or going to the saloon to make them. When other girls went for parties Barbara did not. When other girls had pictures of Lady Gaga on their walls she had pictures of Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikiwe and Wole Soyinka. Barbara had fallen in love with African literatures from the day she could read and write. She was in the last class of her nursery school. A teacher had told them stories of African heroes. When she had heard all the woman had talked about, she beamed smiles and promised she would be a hero someday. Her life after then became such that no one could understand. Although she grew up doing the things other girls did she was different as she listened to the news more than she listened to certain music. She did not bother to speak to anyone about it. She just lived it until she was old enough to declare them.
Barbara had sworn before her father’s shrine; a large book-house which housed African classics, that whoever came across her as a man or woman would love books or be a personification of books. Barbara read books, talked books and had sex with books. When she closed her door she groaned, in excitement. Sometimes she screamed and asked for more. She stopped wearing foreign clothes at age seventeen for African attires. Her choice of music drastically changed from Spice Girls to Miriam Makeba. She dumped the Beatles for Fela.
It was a cold Tuesday morning at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka campus. The dew was so much one could not see anyone coming ahead. Barbara was coming from the campus where she had spent the night to her house, a flat at Ukwuta Close, where she lived with her professor father, when she saw a young man who lay on the ground, cold and coiled. Ordinarily she would walk away but something caught her attention, the young man was outside, shaking. She walked up to him and questioned his reason for being out that early. The response was poor. Barbara could not hear him. She could have walked away also if a copy of Dambudzo Marechera’s The House of Hunger had not dropped from the young man. She picked up the book. It was a book she had heard so much of but had not seen. She had searched for pictures and excerpt of the book but no one seemed to have seen it.
“What is your name?” she asked
“What are you doing here?”
“Sleeping”, Nkem replied
“You sleep like this, in the cold?”
“I have been doing so since last week.”
“Before last week, where have you been sleeping?”
“…around the country, first, it was in my father’s house, then a woman’s house, then anywhere, and now, here. It’s a long story, lady.”
“Is it such long story that cannot be told?”
“I am on the run from home, lady.”
“For being me…”
“Where is your home?”
“Hmmm, the Garden City…”
“And what are you doing in Nsukka? Are you a student?”
“Are we not all students, some of life, others of mortal institutions?”
“So which are you?”
“…a student of life.”
“Hahaha. I think I like you already.”
That was how the two connected. Barbara raised him up and gave him a jacket. As they walked she asked if he wrote poetry. Nkemjika recited a poem, Song of Sorrow, by Koffi Awonor. Barbara fell flat in love.
The day before Nkem left his father’s house he was a normal humble young man anyone would love. All that made a day great had happened. It was his birthday eve. All expectations were high for a celebration of a son in a family of two girls.
When Nkem took the first two steps out of the house he knew it would be his last. He knew nothing would bring him back to his vomit. He had said a lot in a little time. He had said his mind. He had cursed the luck that had brought him into his family.
With his world packed in a handbag he left the house banging the door so hard. No one called him back. The tension was high. No one could have called him back. Maybe his mother, just maybe, but she did not. He walked down the street. Calm as the street was he walked, straight ahead. He didn’t care for his mother, a woman he could die for. He had left his father, the man whose nose he had inherited. He had left his two teenage sisters; they were his jewels, but all jewels took care of themselves, he hissed.
It was 3:41am. The dew was high at its fall. In no time he was wet and cold. His shirt was soaked. Nkem didn’t mind. His heart was heavy. He had decided to go to Nsukka but his parents had a contrary view. They had gone against his wish to secure an admission in one of the new generation institutions in Ghana. They had bought his flight ticket, and that morning, his birthday, they had waked him up. Like the parents they were, they had asked him to wash his face and come for a surprise. Shortly after the birthday wish they had watched him smile and appreciated their wishes. He had staggered into the bathroom. As the sound of rushing tap flowed to the sitting room, the parents were at each other in looks, thinking of the possible way to break the news to their 24 year-old son who had been beaten severally by JAMB. Nkem had sat for the JAMB examinations eight times. They were worried for him. He was getting older.
His teenage sisters had gotten admission into the state university of technology. He was supposed to be a leader of the family when his father is retired. But Nkem bothered little about such responsibility. He was thinking about his status of getting admitted into the University of Nigeria, Nuskka; a school he had vowed to study for the purpose of a choice of course in the humanities.
Nkem returned from the bathroom on that day and staggered back to the cushion, between his both parents. When he sat they smiled at him. His father held his shoulder like the son he was and congratulated him again.
“You have been a great son, Nkem.”
“Thank you, dad”
“We are happy you are increasing in age. We are glad you are healthy. You are a jewel to our household. Though you look like my father, I still believe you look like me and everyday your mother thank God for having you.”
Nkemjika smiled and appreciated his parents.
“My son,” his mother took over, “you are not a dull man.” Nkem looked up when his mother called him a man. He had been called ‘sir’ once on the street by a stranger who couldn’t locate a street. He had helped the man but could not understand why he would be called a man, was it his beards, his height, or some fine courtesy used by strangers to draw attention. He had helped the stranger anyways and killed further thought about the title. But when his mother called him a man, he guessed whether his mother was giving him a treat for his birthday or maybe she was up to something he was yet to find out.
“We have watched you grow, son. We have watched you handle adversity.”
“Yes, son,” said his father.
“We have watched you take the hard times to heart, locked yourself in the room, and cried. We have watched you for eight years.” Then his brow rose. Nkemjika adjusted himself properly between his parents and requested to drink some water. He excused himself and went into the kitchen.
In the kitchen, Nkem walked up and down, thinking. He walked past the refrigerator. He forgot where it was located. He knew his parents were up to something but he was oblivious to it. Nkem opened the fridge and as the light in the fridge shone into his eyes he blanked out. He was at Nsukka. He had come out of an examination hall, with a pencil in his hand; he was worried over the results. He had seen seven bad results consecutively. Nkem closed the refrigerator and counted his steps back to the sitting room.
Seated, awaiting him were two people he knew very well yet he was sceptical of their meeting. He sipped the water and relaxed.
“Your mum and I have decided to take a big risk to surprise you today.”
Nkem’s mood lightened. But a part within him kept a finger crossed.
“We pooled our savings and borrowed some more money to make your birthday a memorable one.”
His mother brought out a sealed envelope.