Mirage Mercy

He watched her wriggle into her gown, while questions flooded his mind. She smiled showing him her dainty gap tooth and even white teeth.

“I have to go,” she said. “It is getting late and I don’t want to miss my flight.”

“Of course.” Goddard said, as he rose to help her into her jacket. “When will I see you again?”

“Soon. You know how these things are. I never know when I’ll get a break from that crazy boss of mine. Let’s see maybe next month….”

Goddard knew she was lying. He wouldn’t see her for the next three months.

She would disappear.

Her phone would be switched off, his Whatsapp messages would pile up unanswered, texts would return undelivered, mini-calls would hover forever.

She would be nowhere in sight, as if she found the edge of the world and walked off it.

Just like she had last time. And the time before that.

When they met eleven months ago, he hadn’t really minded. He was travelling to Abuja from Okirika for an interview. His brother sent him money for a flight but the recent plane crashes were still too fresh in his mind. He decided to go by bus instead. Besides it was easier than travelling 100 kilometres to Port Harcourt International located at the fringes of the city. Road travel in Nigeria wasn’t hazard free but he preferred taking his chances with solid land beneath him.

He overslept on the day of the trip. His phone battery ran out and he lived alone. He barely got into the bus before it left the park.

“It looks like someone had a busy night.”

He turned to meet slate grey eyes looking into his and a full friendly smile that made him smile back instantly.

“I wasn’t that lucky. My battery died. I am Goddard.”

“Mercy”

And that was how it all began. The ride to Abuja was the shortest ever.

They exchanged phone numbers.

They talked about politics, music, the scar on his arm, her contact lens, the vice-president’s invisibility. When the journey was over and she was leaving, a part of him was leaving with her.

He didn’t get the job, there were five slots and 419 applicants. Some with recommendation letters from the Presidency.

He went back to Okirika, to the little apartment he shared with Max, his pet cat, a dozen wall geckos and his four year old TV.

He tried calling the number she gave him the next day but it was switched off. It stayed switched off for a week. He was about to delete it one evening when she called him.

“Hi Sailor,” Mercy said “Are you in Okirika?”

Yes he was. Of course he was. He gave her directions and soon she was alighting from a motorbike in front of him.

That weekend was perfect, it was like living in a dream.

She cooked, gorgeous dishes that melted in his mouth and had him wanting more.

She took, driving him to heights he never knew existed, places he had never explored.

She was a light in his drab world and he was a moth floating to her.

On her third visit she brought him a recommendation letter for a Federal job in Yenogoa. It was signed by senator Inimo Wodi.

“Where did you get this?” He asked.

“Oh Goddy, you are so serious. He is a family friend of ours. I just mentioned your case and he got interested. Make sure you go along with it though, the interview is next month.” Mercy said kneading his shoulder muscles.

He got the job. When he called to tell her the good news. Her number was “unavailable at the moment”.

He googled her. But none of the ,nine Mercy Odilis on screen were her’s.

He tried to talk her into getting on one of the Social Media Networks, Facebook at least.

“Oh Goddy! That’s so public. Eww, I could never do that. ” She replied.

So he let it go.

It wasn’t everyday one found a woman that was intelligent, sexy, caring and undemanding.

Undemanding. That was what really worried him. At the beginning he was ashamed when she would come to see him and he couldn’t pay her fare or take her out to any of the new eateries in town. Mercy never complained instead she came with foodstuff and made him gourmet meals, complete with dessert. In bed she was adventurous and fun. He was getting hooked.

But soon it was Sunday morning again and she was leaving. As he kissed her goodbye, he felt a rock settling inside him.

Soon it was a pattern. Great weekends followed by weeks sometimes months of silence. When ever he asked she laughed it off, but he wanted to know. Needed to know.

And this time he had a plan.

He had discovered a distant relative of his that worked at the Abuja airport. ‘Worked’ was an euphemism for acting as a human mule, he loitered around carried heavy luggage for small tips. His name was Dumebi.

It hadn’t taken much for him to convince Dumebi to wait for Mercy at the Airport and follow her home.

Soon he would know where she lived, from there, hopefully, who she was.

She was expected to arrive Abuja by 4pm, so he expected Dumebi’s call by 6pm latest.

Dumebi called by 8 to say he missed her. The taxi he’d hired for the chase ran out of fuel mid-way. He was sorry. Could brother please give him another chance.

Goddard threw the phone across the room. The Nokia obliged by splitting neatly into three pieces.

Fuming, he went to the kitchen and dished himself some of the Jollof rice Mercy had made that morning and a cold can of Star. He stood in front of the TV and began to flip channels when he saw her.

Mercy was on TV.

Only she wasn’t Mercy Odili. She was Mrs Mercy Wodi, the stunningly beautiful wife of Senator Inimo Wodi.

They were commissioning a new orphanage in Port Harcourt and she was smiling her open gapped, even toothed smile while her obese hubby mouthed some platitudes about giving.

The rice, remote and beer fell out of his hands.

He couldn’t breathe. The ceiling was spinning. Then all that was left was the sound of him moaning,”no,no,no o o o o.”

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Guardian Angel

I told her not to marry him but it was like talking to an electric train. Her mind was made up, my words were a waste.

I listened in disbelief as my twenty-one year old sister begged me to remember her “biological clock was ticking.”

I marvelled as she bade me to reconsider, because “all her mates were married.”

I gasped when she declared that I should get used to it, she was marrying Leo with or without my blessing. Kponkwem.

As I listened to her, lava coursed through my veins. I was angry, livid even, but I wasn’t sure who my ire was for.

Part of it was for a society that made Diana think marriage was a trophy; a 50 metre sprint where the fastest women got medals and flowers instead of a gruelling marathon-relay where your partner’s skill and commitment was as important as endurance, focus and having fun.

Another part of my anger was for myself, I should have seen this coming. I should have stopped this from coming.

Maybe if I had worked hard enough on getting that government health centre renovation contract, and had the cash at hand to pay her bit for the partial Masters scholarship she had won at Emory.

Maybe if I had moved to Abuja at the beginning of the year as I had earlier planned…

Maybe, the eternal twin of perpetual regret.

I told Nkoyo that Diana wanted to get married and she was quiet. She was so quiet that the silence formed a cloud around my ears and began to ring like a bell.

We had been dating for three years and four months. She was twenty-seven and I was thirty. I knew we would be having “The Talk” soon and I wasn’t ready.

It wasn’t the money or anything. As a site engineer for a telecom outfit, I could afford a family. What I couldn’t afford was my well ordered life spinning on its heels. I liked the single life. Change was inevitable, I knew but I wasn’t in a hurry.

Hadn’t been in a hurry, until now.

I called a colleague on vacation in the US and asked him to help bring the platinum ring I ordered.

I shouldn’t have bothered, Nkoyo left me four days later.

“I am sorry, Mon. I don’t think this is what I want anymore.”

I thought she was joking.

It took two weeks of failed reunion attempts for me to get it.

I had been dumped.

Diana and Leo’s wedding held three months later, Diana was glowing like a giant fire-fly while Leo was a frowning frog.

Mom was so happy, I thought she would burst.

I hid my frustration and smiled for the cameras. But inside I was drowning in a bog.

The conversation we had at the doors of the church before I walked her up the aisle lingers…

“Monday”

“Yes, Diana”

“Be happy for me, OK? Please?”

“Diana, you know– alright. Don’t look at me like that. Look, everyone is waiting.”

“Let them wait. I need your blessing Mon, please.”

“God be with you little sis.”

“Amen.”

With that, she raised her head and straightened her back and we walked into the church. Behind her veil, tears shone in her eyes, and I began to wonder if it was real.

Could Leo be the love of Diana’s life?

Was I just being a miserable brother-in-law eating ogre?

After the wedding, Diana went back to her job teaching at a private university in Aba while Leo was in Calabar with me. He worked at a bank as a marketer, but we seldom met and never called.

A month later, Diana got a fabulous job in an international oil company in Port Harcourt. No matter how I teased she wouldn’t tell me how much she was earning.

“Mon, it is huge. Gosh! I can’t believe it.” She kept saying again and again.

Soon she called to say she was expecting. Twins. No, she didn’t know what sexes yet. Yes, she was fine. Very fine.

She had boys after ten hours of labour. Twinkle and Delight, Leo called them, like they were puppies or bear cubs. My dislike for him morphed into congealed contempt.

One weekend, I ran into him at a supermarket.

“Hey Mon, how are you doing?” Leo said.

“Good. Aren’t you supposed to be in
Port Harcourt with your family?

“I couldn’t make it man. I was tired, needed a rest.”

There was a pause. My sister was juggling twin boys, a new job, a strange town and this idiot was talking about rest?

Thoughts shifted in my head on cue, then all I saw was red, my fists burying themselves in his light skinned jowls, my knees kneading his balls in sharp succession, a tooth or two rolling on the cream tiles, and an immense sense of relief.

I smiled instead and walked away.

That weekend, I called in a few favours and by Monday, Leo was sacked.

When Diana called I sympathised. It was horrible, Leo being let off like that. Curse those horrid new generation banks.

The next time I saw her she was lying in a hospital bed with wires running out of every part of her.

“He didn’t mean to,” she croaked out of a broken jaw.

“Of course not, love. Shh don’t say a word.” I replied, crouched by her bed. That’s when everything became clear and I knew what had to be done.

The police booked it as a hit and run. Leo survived, making kids orphaned had never been my style. I was content to see him lose a leg. There wouldn’t be anymore beatings, or absenteeism.

Who knows? Maybe Diana would wake up someday and leave him. Yeah, I know, fat chance.

Gender Equations

Are men and women equal?
If no,
Who is the lesser?

The woman?
Because she has fewer muscles?

The man?
Because he does not bear a womb?

Are all humans equal?
Is the poor man equal to the rich?
Is the lame man equal to the athlete?
Is the illiterate equal to the prof?

Is human life a mere function of what one has, or does or owns?

Or is it more?

Is it the soul?

The unseen man
Not man made or man destroyed,
Keeper of conscience
Tender, seared or scoured?

Tell me, teacher
I need to know.

Ugly

She is ugly. Her face is riddled with pimples in various states of progress, her skin, a crumbling sieve. She limps into the compound leaning heavily on her gnarled staff. A chorus of greeting rises to her ears and she acknowledged them with a nod. The children that are old enough to be frightened scatter like grains of beans behid doors and their mother’s skirts. She ignores them and makes her way to the last door.

The new grandmother is waiting, “Eka Udo welcome, how are you? How are your chickens?”

Chickens. That is all anyone asked about these days. Once they had asked about husband and sons. Husband had died almost two decades ago. He collapsed in the market and was brought home twitching like a headless duck. Death had come after three long months of hoping, praying and nursing his comatose body. she had been almost happy, it was over.
Her sons had been less considerate. One minute she had three young men she could call hers, the next she was childless. For years she would still see the mangled car and body parts wrapping themselves round her at night.

But she would survive. No matter how much she called–screamed,begged– Death to come for her, he wouldn’t.

She pours herself a generous helping of palm-wine and drains the cup in a swoop. She has to hurry, there are many stops that morning.

“Fine. We are all fine. Enewan. Where is the child?”

The child is brought wrapped in a rainbow coloured cloth. Enewan taakes the child and places her on the mat.

Soon the deed is done. It is evident by the earrings in the squealing child’s ears and a rice sized slice of skin on Enenwan’s razor.

The girl would grow to be grateful that Enewan’s eye weren’t what they used to be and that her hands shook when she wanted to touch things. It would be the difference between a slightly nicked clitoris and dire mutilation.

Many of her age mates would not be so lucky.

Making Millions

The audition hall was like a fish market. Humans of every sex and size were talking, laughing, singing and nodding to inaudible music. Udeme hid his anxiety behind a stiff smile, found a spot on the line and let himself sink down on the orange and black rug.

He closed his eyes and his thoughts drifted to Duke Town. To the dusty wood and tin garage, where he practised his songs and worked on his beats while Grandpa fiddled with the new iPad and his friends made fun of him. One day they laughed so hard that their voices turned daggers and murdered his drive. He didn’t go near the garage for days.

Grandpa found him lying in bed, staring at the window.

“Koko, come and eat.” Grandpa had said.

“I am not hungry”

“Well come watch me eat then”

He dragged himself off the bed to the dining room. They ate together. When the meal of water-yam porridge was done and Peter, Grandpa’s steward had whisked away the empty plates, Grandpa held his hand.

“Koko, you have to be strong if you want to be an artist. You have to be stronger than the things that want to stop you.

You have to know that not everyone will like you and not everyone will hate you. Even God has enemies and the devil has friends.

The important thing is for you to like yourself and to keep making beautiful songs. To keep sharing and reaching for those people that do care about what you have. Those people that are hungry for what you share.”

And so he dragged himself back to the garage. He put locks on the doors tis time to keep stray humans out.

He sang for the wall geckos, the mice and the moths.

He sang till he lost his voice.

It came back again two weeks later, just in time for the Malta Live Idol auditions.

So here he was.

He wouldn’t make it to the next level. One judge thought he “had potential”, the other two looked too exhausted to care. The verdict was ‘No’.

In his rage he would burn his song books and his drums. And vow never to sing again.

But sing he would: at Grandpa’s burial, at a friend’s wedding then at a bar in a 5-star hotel where Steve Bruce was listening and loving what he heard.

He would get signed on. He would attend concerts and festivals in Belgium, Greece, Spain, America and Britain.

He would make millions.

And he would always say to himself,
“Udeme, it is the people that love you that count.”

Conversations: Like A Heartbeat

What are you waiting for?

I don’t know.

Are you scared?

Yea, a lot.

Of what?

Everything. I am scared of success and scared of failure. Scared of being inadequate, scared of being too much. Scared of making the wrong choices and scared of trusting the wrong people. I am not just scared , I am terrified.

Aha! Then you have no problem. If fear is all that is holding you back, you must go ahead. You must do it afraid.

What if I fail?

What if you succeed?

What if I can’t finish?

What if you can?

People will laugh at me. They’ll tear my work to shreds!

Maybe. And maybe some will love you. Maybe you will reach those fpr whom your gift was meant.

It is useless. The world is strewn with the bones of dreamers, failures and wannabees.

It is also full of success stories, if you only look out for them.

But the world doesn’t need another piece of “African Art”

If it doesn’t, then why is the need to make some surging in you as strong as your heartbeat?