Obed sounded his car’s horn as he approached the big black oil-painted metal designer gate and barbwire high fence. He checked his heavy, high-quality gold Police wristwatch; it was a few minutes past 1 p.m.
“Who de there? Take am easy de blow that thing this hot afternoon! Here na big man place,” a thick male voice shouted from inside.
The smaller gate opened and a stocky middle-aged man wearing a green beret and having a toothpick in his mouth came out. He meticulously observed the car that had hitherto been honking fervently at the gate. It wasn’t a big car but a small red Toyota Camry sedan car. He furrowed his brow, like he wasn’t accustomed to the sight, and came closer to the driver’s side.
“Who?” The security-cum-gate man questioned.
“Good morning sir,” Obed greeted, faking a smile. He had to; first impression mattered a lot, especially when you’re in need of something from the other party, he thought. “I’m here to see Chief Egbeigwe, S.A to Governor Sekibo… I’m his nephew,” Obed said proudly, quickly adding the nephew part. He had to introduce himself properly so as to avoid any unnecessary questioning.
It was a thing of pride to associate with a very wealthy and popular relative, even if you loathed them secretly. Praising them would often predispose them to nepotism, which Obed also hated but openly didn’t condemn, having employed Chinyere, his ex-girlfriend’s sister, over a couple of more qualified girls. Another school of thought wouldn’t consider that as nepotism, but as community or family welfare, isn’t it? He thought.
“Olisaemeka Osakwe. Is he in?”
“No. He tell you make you come here?” The stocky man asked, removing the toothpick in his mouth.
“But he no de now. So you go go come come back.”
Obed rubbed his nose. Just then, he saw from his side mirror a large car coming from behind to his direction. It was a black Toyota Tundra. The driver of the car honked.
“Ah! He don show! You lucky die, if not, If I no know you, I no go allow you enter if Chief no de, even if you be him god. Unless he tell me make I open, I open.”
The stocky man went back inside and opened the big gate, allowing Obed to drive into the compound, the Toyota Tundra following.
It was a rather easy task for Obed to locate his uncle’s residence after leaving his Milky Way Hotel room at Rumuomasi almost an hour ago. Being quite new to the city, he’d relied on Google Maps on his iPad for directions. There was heavy traffic on the Port Harcourt-Aba expressway till he’d got to Trans-Amadi. Then he’d slowed down his car and pulled close to a woman who sold roasted plantain, popularly known as bólè, and fish along the road. His network service had gone bad, preventing him from locating Chief Egbeigwe Close.
“Good afternoon, ma. Abeg where I go find Chief Egbeigwe Close from here?” He’d lowly pulled down the car window glass and asked in pidgin English.
“Chief Egbeigwe Close?” The fair, lovely woman had repeated. Then she’d conferred with one thin old man eating her bólè under her large green umbrella shed.
“OK! That Ibo man wey be Sekibo S.A,” he’d cleared his throat and said. “If you reach that junction now, eh, you enter it, then you go left, then right. Then you go left again, and then you go right again. In short, na left-right, left-right, forward march!” The old man had directed, gesticulating with his oily hands and smiling to expose his tobacco stained teeth.
“Na retired soldier,” the woman had said to Obed, smiling. “Customer, you no go buy bólè? Sweet, sweet bólè.”
“No, ma. Another time. Thank you,” Obed had said, waving with a smile as he continued driving on the tarred road. He hoped the woman wouldn’t curse him for not patronizing her in return, despite her having helped him; she should please understand why.
As he pulled to a stop inside his uncle’s compound, Obed mumbled a quick prayer and opened the door. Then he took his handy leather file jacket which contained his business proposal and immediately started going over to where the Toyota Tundra had parked. There were two other cars in the compound, looking flashy and classy. He briskly walked on the beautifully interlocked ground, just as his uncle’s driver opened the back door for the man to step out. A young pretty lady stepped out too. Obed didn’t recognise her; she was certainly not his cousin.
“Good afternoon, uncle,” Obed greeted, with a low bow and a forced smile.
“Hey! Olisa!” Egbeigwe returned, smiling apparently genuinely and offering Obed a handshake which Obed took with both hands and with a lower bow. Egbeigwe patted his back briefly.
“How are you? How long has it been now? Ages?”
“I can’t remember. Maybe six or seven, I just entered the university then.”
“Yes, that was when your mother was consulting us because she wanted to remarry… Sorry about your father’s death, Olisa.”
“Thank you, uncle. I’m over it, since long ago. My mum is living happily with her husband at Onitsha. She sends her greetings.”
“Ehen… Shadiat, this is Olisa, my elder sister’s son,” Egbeigwe said to the pretty lady he’d come with, holding her hand and pointing at Obed. Egbeigwe was in his early fifties.
Obed waved at the lady, who stared at him with eyes that conveyed no particular emotion. Egbeigwe however didn’t introduce her to him. The driver had already carried his briefcase into the house.
“Let’s all go inside,” Egbeigwe rather said. The stocky man at the gate greeted him loudly once again, “Egbeigwe One of Africa!” Egbeigwe responded, “Okpekiri, my man! How body?”
“Fine oh, chief. We go continue to de stretch am. God punish arthritis!”
Egbeigwe laughed. The three of them walked into the house. Obed glanced around at the high-brow architectural masterpiece adorned with well-trimmed flowers in which his uncle lived. Egbeigwe was rumoured at the village to be a shady and selfish politician who never helped his people. He had plans to be involved in the upcoming elections in which he would contest for a post in his state’s House of Assembly, and was likely to scratch the backs of those who would in turn scratch his ass. Obed, despite his humility, was however not the type to lick a rich man’s boot for a favour. He’d only come here following his mother’s suggestion.
“Your uncle, Egbeigwe, has six plots of land in the village. Try and meet him and ask to use the land as collateral for your loan,” his mother had told him last week over the phone.
Soon, they got into the duplex. Egbeigwe offered Obed and Shadiat seats in the living room and started to meet the stairs inside the house. He was greeted by a woman who was also his cook.
“Chief, welcome oh! Good afternoon.”
“Afternoon, Jemimah… Please you’ll prepare a table for three now, no more two. I carry another fine chikala come back today,” Egbeigwe whispered, but it didn’t escape Obed’s sharp ears.
“OK, sir,” the woman replied, smiling, and submissively went into one of the inner rooms.
“I’m coming oh! Feel at home, Olisa, and you too, Shadiat,” Egbeigwe said, marking Obed with his rather large eyes.
Obed smiled. He scanned the well-ventillated room, counting the expensive furniture and accessories in the living room and mentally estimating their cost. Hundreds of thousands? Millions? He glanced briefly at the young lady, Shadiat, who was wearing a yellow and black patterned blouse over blue jeans trousers and flat white shoes. She had a shiny long dark-brown hair. She looked like his girlfriend’s agemate, or a little older. She was busy with her mobile phone and he looked away. Obed heard a camera click from Shadiat’s phone; she just took a selfie? He smiled and got busy with his iPad.
Soon, Egbeigwe got downstairs. By then, Jemimah had already prepared the dining table for lunch. Egbeigwe went over to the dining table and invited Obed and Shadiat to join him. They obliged.
“Forget all those big man this, big man that in public, like oyibo. I be original African man, like Fela,” Egbeigwe said, washing his hands on the sink in the dining room. He returned to the table to face the semovita and richly garnished bitter-leaf soup that had been served for lunch. There was a bottle of red wine and wine glasses alongside bottled water on the table too. “You may go ahead and use fork and knife to eat swallow, but, hey, this is my house and I’m in Africa. So, I can eat anyhow I like, isn’t it?”
Obed didn’t feel obliged to answer, but he did anyway. “Of course, yes.” Shadiat merely smiled and nodded.
“In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Egbeigwe uttered, making the sign of the cross with his right hand.
“Amen.” Obed and Shadiat responded. They started eating.
“So, Olisa, you finally decided to come and see me after all these years,” Egbeigwe spoke, a few minutes after they’d started eating. “Your mother and I have been in touch all those years when you’re in school. I’m happy I helped with your education… Look at you now, you’ve grown big and handsome. Any girl like Shadiat here can easily fall for you. And you now have a car? Unlike your late father; he should be proud of you.”
Obed didn’t know whether he was to feel excited or insulted at his uncle’s remarks. What has his car got to do with his late father now? He wondered. Why should Egbeigwe claim to have sponsored his education, when it was just once, as his mother had told him. She’d struggled to pay his school fees from her meager salary as a teacher and income from her tailoring work, before she’d remarried about five years ago. So, Egbeigwe didn’t have any right to be talking like this.
“Yes, he is proud of me. The car is mine too.”
“Wow! Look at you! How many graduates can own a car after finishing school, eh? Times have changed now; in our days, you could easily get a car mortgage because it was easy to be employed.”
“Really?” Shadiat chipped in.
“Yes.” Egbeigwe coughed and Shadiat poured him a glass of water to drink.
“Thank you, my dear.”
“You see, the government of nowadays is very corrupt. I just pity your generation; I only hope it’ll get better for you young people in the future. That’s why I want to represent my young people at the State House of Assembly. After that, I’ll set my eyes on the House of Reps.”
Egbeigwe got quiet and continued eating. He picked a large chunk of stockfish and threw it inside his mouth, munching quite noisily.
“So, Olisa, you’re now a tailor like your mother? She told me you sew clothes. Is that all you do?” Egbeigwe asked, carefully hiding a mischievous grin that almost appeared on his face.
“I’m a fashion designer and decorator, based in Enugu. We don’t just sew clothes; we sew concepts after creating them. And we sell those concepts, those patterns, styles and designs. It’s unisex, that is, for male and female alike. That’s my business, uncle.”
“Oh! I see… Good for you, boy. You’re self-employed already; that’s very good. So, I don’t need to worry myself about getting you a government job.”
Obed smiled. His fork clicked against the flat ceramic plate as he cut out another piece of the semovita. It was time to let the goddamn cat out of the goddamn bag. “No, uncle. You don’t need to. But… Er… Is it possible? How possible to get a government grant or loan? Can you help out with that?”
Egbeigwe paused eating, he licked his lips. “That would be very possible if it were in your state of origin. Your father was from Edo, you live in Enugu, and I don’t know anybody there. So it’d be very hard here in Rivers, and I won’t promise to help.”
“I actually came with my business proposal. It’s in the living room.”
“Don’t bother, I’m not interested in seeing it. How much are you looking for?”
“Jesus Christ! Olisa! What do you need Five Million Naira for? You want to buy a new car?”
“No, sir. I want to expand my business. I’ve done market surveys in Jos, Calabar, Ibadan, Lagos and Enugu. There are three particular styles of fashion we created and have sent samples to these cities. They’re well-liked by young people and women too, I’m sure Shadiat here will like them,” Obed said, unlocking his iPad and showing the samples to his uncle and Shadiat, whose faces gleamed on seeing them. By now, everyone had almost finished eating.
“So I’m thinking of producing them large scale and distributing to these places and beyond. It promises a huge return in one year, up to sixty percent or more, my team has perfectly worked out the math. We need the money mainly to purchase the materials, more equipment and set up offices and showrooms in these cities, and also increase our interior decoration business.”
“Hmm… Splendid boy! But, Olisa, five mil is too much, now. I don’t have that kind of money.”
“I’ve actually been to two banks, uncle. They’re asking for guarantors or collateral.”
“Of course, now. Bank will not listen to you if you don’t have anything to offer them,” Shadiat, who’d been silent most of the time, found an opportunity to contribute to the conversation.
Egbeigwe rose from the table and went to wash his hands in the sink, then he wiped his hands dry with a towel on the wall and returned to take a toothpick from the table.
“I don’t know if I can guarantee you anything, Olisa. Things are hard now. In fact, this upcoming election is my priority now.”
“OK, uncle. But can you grant me something to use as collateral? You know my father died without owning a landed property; my step-father has just a plot in his village but it’s not for me or my mother, and it’s not even enough.”
“Come oh, hold it there! What are you suggesting? That I should give you my six plots at home to use as collateral? Did your mother give you that idea? Haha! You know that’s not possible. Mba!”
“Please, uncle. I promise, nothing will go wrong. I’ll pay off the loan in less than one year.”
Egbeigwe laughed cynically. “With my six plots of land? Haha! You can’t be serious, my friend. You are looking for money to escape this country, abi?” Then he left the dining room and walked into the living room. He turned on the TV set and sat on the settee
“You have a flashy car, wearing an expensive watch, clothes and shoes, and you’re looking for five million, eh? Sell them and see what you’ll get. You can’t be looking for money for business and still be living extravagantly, you should know that.”
“No, sir, I’m not running away from Nigeria. The car is for mobility, it’s even second-hand. My watch and shoes are not that expensive, Aba-made, I even sewed what I’m putting on. It’s just packaging, uncle.”
“Hmm… Packaging. Inukwa! Well, Olisa, I’ve heard you, but I can’t see what I can do to help you out. I’m not a money lender. Think of something else.”
Obed was dejected. He entered the living room slowly and sat quietly, watching the television. The DSTV movie channel didn’t interest him. What interested him now was only the thought of going back to his hotel room.
Egbeigwe called Shadiat to come and join him on the settee. “I would have loved you to stay with me for a day or two, Olisa. But you’re a grown up man now, so I can’t pester you to do so. Meanwhile, I and Shadiat will be going upstairs. If there’s anything you need, you can call Jemimah or Okpekiri at the gate.”
“OK, uncle. But I think I should be going now, thanks for the lunch. What of my cousins?” Obed said, getting to his feet. He knew Egbeigwe’s wife had died of cervical cancer a few years back; according to Obed’s mum, the village people had suspected him to have used her for money rituals. Obed wouldn’t judge why Egbeigwe chose to be frolicking with girls who were as old as his daughter, Ada. It’s a free world, isn’t it? He thought.
“They’re all fine. Chike just travelled to Germany last month to do Master’s, Ada is in her final year at Bowen, Ike is about to write JAMB. In fact, you should be coming around here whenever you’re in PH, OK?”
“No problem, uncle. My regards to them.”
Obed picked his leather file jacket from the sofa he’d sat on, and left Egbeigwe’s house. He angrily walked over to his car, stomping his feet on the interlocked ground. Then he entered his car and started driving out of the compound.
“Chief nephew! No vex for me oh! I don mark your face, so I go de open for you anytime you come again,” Okpekiri said, amidst listening to the radio playing inside the gatehouse.
“No problem,” Obed replied blandly, waving shortly at the stocky man, no longer feigning a smile this time. Okpekiri opened the gate wide and Obed accelerated out of his uncle’s house. He looked at the car’s digital clock, it was 3:03 p.m. Just then, his phone started ringing. It was a new number calling. He parked his car along the street and made to answer the call, momentarily letting go of his anger and sadness. He’d learnt to control those emotions, especially whenever a likely business opportunity was involved.
Sandie stared at the business card on her desk, she took it in her hand.
Obed O. Osakwe.
CEO, ObyFash Ventures Nig. Ltd.
She’d been glancing at the card intermittently since morning when she started work. Since noon, she’d been in a dilemma of whether or not to call either of the mobile phone numbers on the card. It was too soon, wasn’t it? He’d given her the card just yesterday and she didn’t want to come across as desperate. Now it was 3 p.m. The banking hall was not brimming with people, quite unusual for Fridays. Few persons wanted to withdraw for the weekend? She thought. The last customer on her queue had just left the counter. She then decided to at least say hi to the young man, Obed. Sandie picked up her smartphone and dialled the first mobile phone number on the card.
“Hello, Mr. Obed?”
“Hello, it’s me on the line. Please, who am I speaking with? I don’t have your number on my contact list.”
Wow! Is he that gentle? Sandie wondered.
“Yes, you don’t have my number. It’s the banker you gave your business card yesterday.”
“Oh! Banker Sandie! You finally called, I’ve been expecting your call. Thanks for reaching out. Hope this is your personal number? I’ll save it right away.”
“Yes, it is… I just wanted to say hi.”
“OK. So, where’re you now, still at work?”
“OK. I’ll like to see you once again. Why not I come and pick you up after work today? Do you have a car?”
“So, when will work be over so I can start coming?”
“You don’t have to come pick me up, thanks for asking.”
“No, I really do. Would like to discuss something with you. Please?”
Sandie hesitated for a moment. What the hell? He was even making things easier for her, she’d likely be done with her revenge in a short time. She’d finally got the chance, she thought and smiled smugly.
“Alright. Five p.m. I should be done before six.”
“OK. Expect me there.”
Sandie ended the call. She’d not expected the outcome of the call at all. She wondered what Obed wanted to discuss with her. Whatever it was, it was certainly an opportunity for her to strategize her revenge. She hadn’t forgiven him yet, of course he’d no idea what he’d done to her ten years ago.
Sandie got up and walked over to the water dispenser close to the branch manager’s office on the ground floor of the bank building. Mr. Ernest, the recently transferred branch manager, saw her from inside his office through the glass door. He smiled and beckoned on her. She fetched herself a drink and got into his office.
“Hey, Sandra. How’s it going?” The forty-something year old tall man asked her.
“Fine, sir. It seems Nigerians don’t want to withdraw money for the weekend. The bank is virtually empty today that’s not a public holiday.”
“That’s their business, you don’t have to bother,” Mr. Ernest spoke in a soft voice. Sandie had noticed he always used this voice when talking to her, but not always with other workers. “Remember you can always go home if you’re tired. I’ll have Nnenna to cover for you.”
Sandie smiled. This wasn’t his first time of saying that. From his preferential treatment of her, she knew she was his favourite. She felt he was hitting on her, but she hadn’t come to terms with dating a married man, let alone a married colleague for that matter.
“Sure. But I’m not going yet, Nnenna is not even on her seat. Some persons are at the counter already, let me go and attend to them,” Sandie said, turning to leave the manager’s office. She caught his eyes straying to her thick backside as she cat-walked out of his office. She fetched herself another drink and disposed of the light plastic cup in a bin nearby, returning to her seat.
Obed quickly saved the number that had called him to his SIM card: Sandie (banker). He restarted his car, thinking of where next to go from Chief Egbeigwe Close. It was ten minutes past three. The weather was still hot outside, thin breezes only blowing inside the car. There would of course be a heavy traffic on the roads if he decided to reach Milky Way Hotel, and the traffic would persist if he left the hotel for the Express Bank branch at Eliozu where he’d met Sandie yesterday.
So he decided to drive towards Eliozu and find a good-looking hotel where he’d go for a good swim, pending 5:00 p.m. He still swam, like when he did as a kid in the Asaba banks of the River Niger, although now once in a blue moon. He bought a swimming trunk on the way and drove into Crystal Palace Hotel.
Obed swam in the hotel pool for about thirty minutes. There were a few persons in the pool, it was a few minutes past four. A strongly built male was in the pool teaching a couple of girls how to swim. One of the girls had eyed him seductively, hoping he’d offer to teach her how to swim; she’d even come over to compliment his swimming skills and request for the favour, but he was just about done when they’d entered. A heterosexual couple was chatting at one corner of the pool. There was loud music at the bar nearby.
Then he got out of the pool and walked to the changing room, after which he relaxed at the bar. He’d ordered for a yoghurt drink and water, so he drank, bidding the time. It was now 4:40 p.m. Obed paid for the drinks and left the poolside bar for his car. He drove straight to Express Bank and parked outside the bank premises. Then he got out his mobile phone and dialled Sandie.
“I’m already at the bank, parked outside. Are you done?”
“Wow! You keep to time? It’s barely five p.m.”
“I don’t joke with appointments.”
“Alright, give me a few more minutes. I’ll definitely be out before five thirty. Let me wrap up things here.”
“OK, I’m waiting.”
Obed ended the call. He turned on the CD player in his car, selecting a Lucky Dube track and playing it lowly. Then he got busy with his iPad. Some minutes later, he spotted Sandie coming out of the bank building. He honked, signaling her to where he was parked, and she cat-walked to the passenger’s side and entered his car.
“Good evening, Mr. Obed,” she greeted, looking at him and smiling.
“Good evening, Mrs. Sandie?”
Sandie chuckled. “No, please,” she waved her left fingers at him. “There’s no ring. Just Sandie.”
“Alright, Sandie. So how was work today?”
“Very well, thank you.”
“You said you wanted to discuss something with me?” Sandie asked, glancing at the back of the car. “Meanwhile, nice ride you’ve got.”
“Thanks… Well, yes, I wanted to discuss something with you. We can talk about it over a drink or two, if you don’t mind.”
“I do, I want to get home ASAP.”
“OK, sorry. Let me drive you home then, you’ll show me the way, we’d talk on the way.”
“OK. I live at Elekahia.”
Obed drove onto the road and met a traffic jam.
“Actually, I’m a self-employed guy, a small entrepreneur, searching badly for a loan. I want to consider applying to your bank for it, if you can be of any help?”
“I’m not in that department, but I can help you find out the requirements. I’m quite sure you can meet them.”
“Alright. But I’m not a salary earner and I don’t have a good collateral. I need five million.”
“Hmm… That’s quite huge, without adequate collateral… To much of my knowledge, for that amount, at Express Bank, you’d need to have a collateral worth up to six million or more presently. Or, you’d provide at least three guarantors of two million each. Then we can start listening to you and ask you to bring your documents. I think the interest rate is still less than twenty percent.”
Obed negotiated a bend, the traffic had now disappeared as they approached Elekahia. He became silent for a while, thinking of the conditions he’d been told. It was almost the same as the other banks he’d earlier enquired of.
“How credit-worthy are you? I will assist you,” Sandie spoke with a smile, breaking the silence.
PS: Thanks for reading. This is actually an excerpt. What do you think?