I’d seen many beautiful girls before but I’d never seen any as beautiful and as ukwulicious as this girl. She was a yellow pawpaw. The type of yellow that no bleaching cream could give. She was so graceful in her movement. Her ukwu moving up and down, left and right like the hips of a pussycat. Her hair was made with owu isi. Her eyes, shining from the tiro on her lashes. She had a beauty spot at the top left corner between her nose and lips. The only minus-one I noticed was the mary-amaka, akwa 1960 she was wearing. But when someone scores 100%. Minus one still means 99%. A1. Excellent.
Maka Chukwu! If I hadn’t seen this girl with my two naked eyes, I’d have sworn I was dreaming. When I saw her walking towards me, I started sweating like a Christmas goat. I was staring at her like a zombie.
“Good morning sir!” she greeted me shyly.
On hearing her angelic voice, every hair on my body stood up. I wanted to respond to her greeting but I couldn’t find my voice. I was just staring at her beauty spot , admiring her open teeth and inhaling her body scent. She smelled like, like…
“Biko, okwa ginwa bu onye ikpeazu?” she asked. That angelic voice serenading my ears again.
Yes! She smelled like ncha-nkota and ude-aki. Chai! This kind of smell was like raw female pheromone to my male senses. If she were to be an nne-ewu, I’d be following her sniffing her like an mkpi.
“Oga! Oga!” she tapped my arm as she tried to awaken me from the spell she’d unknowingly cast on me.
“Eh! Eh!” I jolted to consciousness as if her hand was a naked wire.
She looked worried and confused at my reaction.
“O mu bu onye ikpeazu,” I finally managed to answer the question she’d asked me before.
“Ok!” she muttered, then stood quietly behind me on the queue.
I really felt like an imbecilic okpo. What a first impression! I had to do something.
“Nne! Bia kwuru n’iru m,” I shifted to one side, gesturing for her to move forward and take my place.
“Thank you,” she smiled and stepped forward while I took her place.
“Onukwu!” I heard a rough agboro voice curse at me from one corner.
“Woman-lapa!” I heard an Igbotic voice coming from the same corner as the rough agboro voice.
“Unu rapu ya! O bu gentleman.” I heard a short, dark woman behind me say in my defence.
If she was praising me so that I could tell her ‘Nne! Bia kwuru n’iru m’ and allow her move to my front like the beautiful, ukwulicious, yellow pawpaw girl. No way! Fa fa fa fowl! I stood my ground.
“Kam nukwa na o bu gentuluman!” the Igbotic voice shouted, dismissing her.
“Oga, gbachiha nkiti. O jealousy n’enye ha nsogbu. Thank you.” the beautiful, ukwulicious, yellow pawpaw girl turned smiling at me, and brushed her hand on my forearm.
Hahahaha… People burst out laughing. Including me.
I was relieved that the laughter ended the debate about me being a fool and a woman-wrapper for allowing the beautiful, ukwulicious, yellow pawpaw latecomer to overtake me after I’d been on this queue for almost an hour. I brought out my phone and checked the time.
“Nawa o! Okwa fifteen to eleven,” an old man at the front of our queue complained loudly on checking his wristwatch.
“Shuo! You even dey front still dey make noise,” the young man standing on the other queue muttered to himself. From his pidgin and accent I could guess he was from Delta.
“I wonder!” the short, dark woman behind me said, angrily eyeing the old man.
They both knew that the old man didn’t and couldn’t hear them from where he was standing.
I smiled. Partly in response to their comments and partly mirroring the everlasting smile on the face of one of the White men seated facing us. Since I came here, I’d wondered how someone could smile like that for so so long.
“Next person please.” I heard the ever-smiling White man call out.
“Next person please,” he repeated, louder than before.
“Paaapa!” we all shouted in unison at the old man in front. If not that he was an old man, I was sure some people would’ve slapped him.
“Oh oh oh! Sorry, a nam abia!” the old man stepped towards the White man.
“This papa sef. Na sleep him dey sleep?” the Delta guy said, shaking his head.
Some of us laughed. This was the same old man who’d complained only few minutes ago. How could he doze off so fast while standing?
The old man wasn’t finding it funny at all. His thumbprint wasn’t reflecting on the verification machine.
“Yuneki, o ginikwa?” the old man asked the ever-smiling White man as if it was his fault.
The White man held the old man’s hand and pressed his thumb again on the machine.
The machine rejected it the second time.
“Chelu! Chelu!” the old man motioned with his left hand for the White man to wait. Then he lifted his right hand to his tongue, licked his thumb, raised it to his head and rubbed it on his grey hairs.
“Paaapa!” some people hailed him, laughing at his attempt.
The machine recognised his thumb this time. I even pitied the poor machine somehow.
“Wow!” the White man exclaimed, showing his surprise with a bigger toothy smile.
“Yuneki!!!” the old man smiled, offering the White man a handshake.
The White man looked on, confused. His smile fading for the first time that day. This was the same hand the old man had just licked and rubbed.
The hand was still hanging.
The hand waited.
The hand was becoming tired.
The hand began to return back to the sender.
Four and half.
The White man looked down at his own hand.
The White man’s hand quickly grabbed the old man’s hand in a warm handshake.
Hahahahaha…. We all burst out in laughter with the old man. We were so relieved that the White man hadn’t fallen his hand and broken the poor man’s heart. As for me, I was laughing at the way the old man kept saying “Yuneki! Yuneki! Yuneki!” as he shook the White man’s so happily and victoriously.
Yuneki was the old man’s way of saying UNEC which was what MASSOB, BZM, IPOB and other pro-Biafrans preferred to call these United Nations referendum officials. It meant United Nations Electoral Commission. Clearly an allusion to Nigeria’s INEC.
When the old man finally let go of the White man’s hand, I noticed the white gloves on the White man’s hands. Ah! No wonder! That was why he’d accepted the handshake. He’d remembered that he was putting on gloves.
“Machine Yunek achoro iwu m aka n’ala?” the old man asked no one in particular as he walked away from the table. “Mbanu!” he answered his own question smiling. “A ga m atunyeriri Biafra taata!” he declared with stubborn determination.
“Paaapa the paaapa!” I heard the rough agboro voice hail him loudly from the corner.
Kpa kpa kpa kpa… The old men and women seated under the canopy clapped for him as he came to join them. The canopy had been provided for them by one rich Onitsha man who everybody suspected to be interested in becoming the governor of Onitsha State if Biafra wins this referendum. They’d done their verification and were patiently waiting for 12 o’clock when…
Vraaaaaaaaam… Vraaaaaaaam…. We heard some okadas revving outside.
Piii piii piii…. They horned repeatedly as they parked outside, near the gate of the post office.
Somebody quickly bolted away from the second queue. He was wearing a white shirt with green trousers. At the back of his shirt, I could see ‘ONE NIGERIA ONE DESTINY’. It looked like all those Christ Embassy Reach Out Nigeria shirts. He was hiding because he knew his destiny would’ve changed for the worst had these men seen his anti-Biafra shirt.
We all did about-turn to see what was happening at the gate. They were about nine or ten okadas facing us. Each okada had two men on top; its rider and another person either waving the Biafran flag or holding up a cardboard. Cardboards with words handwritten with markers. I read some of them.
WE WANT BIAFRA
“VOTE FOR BIAFRA” –OJUKWU
NIGERIA FOR SALE
Nigeria for sale? I laughed in my mind. Then as if he was reading my mind, the rough agboro voice asked aloud, “Nwanne, ego ole ka i na-ele Nigeria?” Everybody turned their heads towards the voice and back to face the man carrying the Nigeria-for-sale cardboard.
The Nigeria-for-sale guy smiled and replied, “20 naira!!!”
Another of his companions standing beside him, bent his head, cupped his ear with his hand as if he was trying to hear better and asked, “Isi na o 20 taaazan?”
“Mba! Mba! Mba! Asim sooso 20 NAIRA!!!” he shouted in response, emphasizing the naira.
An akpu-obi guy with sunshades covering his eyes, ran to the Nigeria-for-sale guy, brought out 20 naira from his pocket and stretched out his arm to hand it him. Then suddenly, changed his mind and withdrew the money.
“Chelu! A na-ekwekwa ya onu?” he asked with a mischievous grin on his face.
It was when I heard the now familiar voice that I knew that this was the owner of the rough agboro voice.
“Way, ngwa wotezia 20 kobo,” the Nigeria-for sale guy said. His colleagues were all smiling, obviously enjoying the bargaining.
“Nwa nnaaa! Nwa nnaaa!” an old woman called out from the canopy. She reached into her handbag, brought out a tied handkerchief, untied it and held up a 1 naira coin. “Bia! Bia nye ya ego!” she called out again.
Hahahaha… I couldn’t hold my laughter this time. This whole drama was so funny. Even the old woman had joined the comedy.
The akpu-obi sunshade guy ran to her, took the coin respectfully with his two hands and ran back to the Nigeria-for-sale guy outside.
“Unu nyekwa m change o!” the old woman called out smiling.
Everybody burst out laughing.
“Maaama the maaama!” the akpu-obi sunshade guy hailed her in his rough agboro voice.
“Maaama, sorry. Change adirokwa o!” the Nigeria-for-sale guy announced to the old woman as he passed the coin to his colleagues who looked at it as if they’d never seen a 1 naira coin before.
That was how the old woman bought Nigeria for sooso 1 NAIRA that day. I promised myself that I’d mark that day in my calendar. She had definitely made it into the Guinness Book of Records. The first person to buy a country for as low as 1 naira.
“Umu Biafra kwenu!!!” one pot-bellied man amongst the men outside shouted. He had an air of authority. He looked like their leader.
“Heeeeiii!” they all shouted in response.
He began to sing aloud, “Oga eme ha vam n’anya. Oga eme ha vam n’anya. Mgbe Biafra ga-enwelu onwe ha, oga eme ha vam n’anyaaa…”
They all responded by singing the same song over and over again. Until all their phones began ringing simultaneously. It must’ve been an alarm. The pot-bellied man looked at his phone and motioned to them. They all mounted their okadas and rode off still singing.
“Oga eme ha vam n’anya. Oga eme ha vam n’anya. Mgbe Biafra ga-enwelu onwe ha, oga eme ha vam n’anyaaa…”
I looked at my own phone. 12 o’clock sharp! The time had finally come for us to vote.
The ever-smiling White man stood up to address all of us with a megaphone. From the way he spoke English, he sounded like a French man. As he spoke, his colleague, the other not-so-White man, held up the voting ipad. They called it the v-pad. They held it horizontally. As I looked up at it, I could see two flags on the screen; the Nigerian flag on the left and the Biafran flag on the right.
We all listened just to fulfil all righteousness. We didn’t need this demonstration of how to vote. We were already tired of the endless adverts on NTA where some Igbo musicians, business men and actresses raised their v-pads and pressed their right thumbs on the Nigerian flag. Many pro-Biafran bloggers lambasted the adverts, calling it a ‘stupid Nigerian propaganda’. On the other hand, Biafra TV made a video in which Buhari, Obasanjo and Babangida were video-shopped voting for Biafra. The video went viral and was shared on the social media many times. All my friends had it on their phones. Even those who were very passionate about One Nigeria. Imagine!
As for me, myself and I eh, I came to vote for my stomach. I didn’t care about the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the future Republic of Biafra. My number one priority was my stomach. I came to vote for the Republic of Money. I heard that instead of the five-five thousand naira Buhari had promised all unemployed youths in 2015, the federal government would pay each Igbo youth, employed or unemployed, eight-eight thousand naira if we vote for One Nigeria today.
I was still on the queue behind the beautiful, ukwulicious yellow pawpaw girl wondering where I could get my own share of the promised 8,000 naira, when the Delta guy came back to the other queue sweating and said, “One mumu politician dey share 8k outside o!”
“Useless people!” I hissed as if I wasn’t happy that I finally had hopes of collecting my own 8k.
Another guy behind him brought out his phone and pressed something, then showed the Delta guy. The Delta passed the phone to me. When I looked at the screen, I saw:
8,000 / 400
I passed the phone to the short, dark woman behind me shaking my head in disgust as if I understood what the calculations meant.
“20 pounds ka ha na-eke! Ndi ara!” she scoffed.
That was when I understood it. 1 pound is 400 naira. Therefore, 8,000 naira divided by 400 naira is 20 pounds. But why did they make it sound as if 20 pounds was nothing? At least 20 pounds could buy me about thirty DeRicas of rice na. I waited for like five minutes then told the short, dark woman behind me that I wanted to go and piss. She nodded.
I went outside the post office shinning my eyes left and right as if I was looking for a corner to unload the piss. Almost immediately I spotted like five or six people standing beside a wicked black Ferrari with tinted glasses. When I got closer, I saw the side window slide down, one woman handed the driver a small piece of paper, the window slid back up, the woman’s phone beeped, she smiled at the screen and walked away from the Ferrari. She’d received her alert.
Confam! I took one step in the direction of my own alert.
I felt a hand grab my wrist as I was about to take the second step. I turned my head wondering who this enemy-of-progress was. I was surprised to see the beautiful, ukwulicious, yellow pawpaw girl. My anger was slowly changing into a smile. But I noticed the look in her eyes as she shook her head at me. I was so sure this was the same way Jesus looked at Judas when he decided to collect 30 pieces of silver and vote for One Nigeria.
“Oga, why? Why?” she asked me with tears glistening in her eyes.
I wanted to ask her why she wanted to cry. I just stood there speechless.
“I choro ire Biafra maka 20 pounds! 20 pounds!! Why?” she rebuked me, the tears flowing down her face.
How could I explain to her that I wasn’t trying to betray Biafra? How could I explain to her that I was only trying to betray the hunger in my stomach?
She suddenly left my wrist as if it was a hot kettle, wiped the tears off her face and walked back into the post office. I followed her as if she’d used touch-and-follow on me. When she tapped the short, dark woman’s shoulder, I was scared. Was she going to expose me to these people? The short, dark woman shifted back. The beautiful, ukwulicious, yellow pawpaw girl stood in front of her, rejoining the queue. I quickly stood behind her. Then I touched her arm guiltily. She looked down at my hand, refusing to look at my Judas-face. My touch was a wordless apology and she knew it. She simply squeezed my hand tenderly. I was happy she’d forgiven me. She had to. After all, did I not forsake my 8,000 because of her and her tears?
Soon she casted her vote. I stepped into the booth immediately after her to cast my own vote.
I saw the transparent smear of thumbs on the Biafran side of the v-pad. The Nigerian side was still clean. I wondered about those five or six people I’d seen collecting eight-eight thousand from the tinted Ferrari. Didn’t they vote for Nigeria as agreed? Or maybe they’d voted in the other booth. Well shaa, it was none of my business. I placed my thumb on the Biafran flag and rushed out of the booth.
I saw my beautiful, ukwulicious, yellow pawpaw girl walking graciously towards the gate on her way out of the post office. Lai! Lai! A gaghi m agba loss. How can I lose the 8,000 and lose the beauty that made me lose the 8,000? Mbanu!
I brought my phone from my pocket and pressed “0” to make it easier for her to type in her phone number when I ask her for it. I held the phone in my left hand and ran to her. I stretched my right arm and opened my hand to grab her wrist.
As my hand closed, it grabbed nothing.
I mean. I didn’t see her again.
As in, o missiri emissi.
Into thin air.
Akpata oyi wuru m. All the hairs on my body stood up. I ran home without turning back. Without waiting to join in the oriri and onwunwu with the winners as I’d originally planned.
On the 30th of December, the final result were announced. Biafra won in Anambra. Abia. Enugu. Imo. Ebonyi. And Asaba. Biafra won by a landslide. There was continuous jollification in Biafra from that day till the next week. I ate and drank and ate and drank into 2020 till I was even tired of oriri and onwunwu.
Later later, I began hearing rumours that the millions of Biafrans killed during Nigeria-Biafra war of 1967-70 had come on that day Saturday 28th December 2019 to vote for Biafra. Some believed the rumours and thanked the dead, praying for their souls to finally find peace. Others laughed, calling the rumours ‘akuko post office’.
I wished I could tell them my own experience. How I’d fallen in love with a beautiful, ukwulicious, yellow pawpaw Biafran ghost that day. How I’d seen her, smelled her, touched her. How I’d seen her smiling, seen her crying and seen her voting for Biafra.
I wished I could tell them how she’d vanished right in front of my eyes. And how I’d almost grabbed her a second before she vanished.