Your Brief Bio:
My name is Olinya Favour. I am a student of law at the University of Nigeria, Enugu Campus.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
Daughters are in constant neglect whereas they have a lot to offer. Control, constant chains on a child don't bring parents any closer to them. This story thus briefly captures the thoughts of a young female #fatherinhuntofthewealthofason.
CHAINS ON A BROOMSTICK
I was on this long ATM queue on one fateful Tuesday afternoon, when a race broke out. The queue was so long that the line of people waiting their turns trespassed into the main road so that some of us had to cross over to the other side of the road to continue the queue, in order to avoid casualties. The ATM machines of the other banks around us were out of service, hence, every eligible withdrawer in need of one hundred thousand and below within the vicinity, crowded the area.
I had nothing above my head to serve as shelter from the sun, so, helplessly watching the blazing sunlight clean out my skin’s fairness, we waited for our line to move another inch. But now for nearly two minutes, it didn’t.
Everyone was getting impatient, and as time rammed into the third minute, I began to hear whispers all around.
“What is this man even withdrawing?” people asked, “Does he not see the myriad of people here?”
“I wonder oh! Some people can be wicked!” a particular young woman with a child fastened to her back, upheld. “He wants to clear all the money in the machine so that every other person here can go to hell!”
I had had several of these encounters with citizens who decided to withdraw their salaries or ‘close down their accounts’ through the ATM, so I kept silent for a while in order to keep my nerves from getting angry.
I however, stole that moment to glance around at some of us squatting by gutters, a balding young man whom I feared was feeling the heat much more than everyone else, and the women who were sitting, who constantly tucked some more cloth between their laps to ensure their bodies weren’t being exposed. I listened to a police siren come from a distance, and watched hawkers stroll by several times. I even daydreamed about my boyfriend, Hillary whom I was supposed to meet anytime soon, for a nice evening at a fancy restaurant.
Yet, after about the seventh minute, the mysterious fellow remained at the ATM machine, reading each instruction on the screen with care, and pushing the buttons as though they were made out of dew. That was the moment my nerves got angry.
I followed a woman across the road, to see the face of that fellow, and if need be, shout. By then, our line shook with fury as a couple of youth corpers led the protest.
“Baba, how far you na!” one of them shouted, “Are you withdrawing or are you typing something there?!”
The man in question, however, took his time, taking no second to turn around and look at us. From behind his head, I could see his cheeks bulging out like a tired bracket or like a severe case of mumps. He had no neck, just fat, and his shoulders were padded by small patches of sweat. On his belt was a little bag where he kept his phone, and occasionally, he jingled his bunch of keys and adjusted his belt.
On an impulse, I paused to look at him thoroughly. How could someone be this annoying?
The woman I had walked up with, left my side and went ahead to scold him. “…ekum nwa, I’m carrying a child!” she was saying.
“Madam, please!” the man retorted in response after ignoring her for a while, propping up his index finger, “The money in this account is my money, therefore, it is my right to withdraw when I need to…”
I inspected how often the veins on his neck rose and fell. How long his bushy eyebrows remained suspended.
“Keep quiet, oga!” a man from the other line blurted out. “Keep quiet! Do you not see the line of people waiting for you? Do you not have a conscience…”?
The ‘oga’ fellow turned around calmly, as if consciously in control of his own emotions. “My friend, keep to your business because I was not talking to you. You are not even on this line…”
“It is because of selfish people like you that our country refuses to move on! How can you colonize a public facility? Or have you not noticed the chain of individuals trailing after you?” cut he in.
“I will lock you up, this man!” the ‘oga’ fellow threatened. “Keep quiet and mind your business!”
“You cannot lock me up arbitrarily. It is unheard of. I know my right!”
The oga fellow pressed further, “I will call my boys to lock you up if you make another statement about this. If you do not shut up!”
The man from the other line was let loose. “Telling me to shut up? In this era of democracy? I will not shut up…no! I will speak up even if it means losing my life! If I shut up, what kind of example would I be setting for our children; the future of this nation, to follow? If our fathers had shut up, would we be a nation, a state…”
He stirred this way and that, like a titled chief saluting a reputable umunna, refusing to pay attention to the women who tried to calm him down, or rather shut him up, when the ‘oga’ fellow took out his phone from its little bag and dialled for a short while. I felt the click of the bag’s magnet.
“Ola, I need you at that UBA bank beside…”
Everyone fell silent now, including the patriotic citizen, and withdrew to watch him.
After a minute of silence or two, and after he had dropped the call and stood aside, I was almost sure the citizen who had challenged him was at unrest within, and prayed for his turn at the ATM quicker, so that he could withdraw and leave before the boys arrived. I was almost sure he wished he had not spoken on the subject after he was instructed not to. I was also almost sure he wished he could swallow his pride and sprint away.
I crossed the road, back to where I once was, waiting for the worst to happen, and for my turn at the ATM. And indeed it happened…
The citizen who had protested was just going up for his turn when a pick-up van, tires screeching, landed at the scene. I had very little time to take another quick glance at the ‘oga’ who had delayed at the ATM because everyone took to their heels, and there was a rampage. Young able-bodied men flew down from the vehicle like hawks, swooping down on anyone and everyone they could lay hands on, and soon, they drove off with two male victims.
I had quickly begged to enter a small boutique when the race broke out, from where I had watched all that had happened.
Although lucky to have escaped being caught, everyone that remained still feared nearing the ATM machine for an additional thirty minutes, so, people gathered around to discuss the recent happening. A woman who sold oranges nearby seemed to have had a fair share of the story.
“One of the boys they caught was not even on the line,” she lamented. “He had just asked me for directions, and was walking along the road when the race broke out…”
“Ndi anwa bu ekwensu; agents of the underworld!” a woman blurted reflectively. “They were all in black.”
“I pity the parents of those young boys they caught,” the owner of the boutique said. “That is why it is good to pray when one rises in the morning…”
The orange seller spat out beside her, and used her foot to brush the spot.
“Eleghianya, those people are kidnappers…”
“Are you asking?” someone asked. “Of course they are kidnappers!”
At this, I stopped, something quickly flashing through my mind. Something cloudy. Something choking.
I suddenly cared less what anyone else had to say, and for a minute heard in mumbles. Ripping out my cell phone from my pocket, I could feel wet heat settle on my thighs. Hillary. He was supposed to meet me any time soon. I had told him to ask for directions or better still, call me if he needed help finding me. He had then complained that his battery was almost flat.
I quickly dialled his number and waited anxiously, tears of anxiety filling my corneas. It rang for a while and stopped. I dialled again. I did that a couple more times but received no reply.
Upon the tenth trial, someone picked the call. It was not Hillary’s voice I presumed because a replica of his rang in my head even at that moment. Hillary and I spoke so often in a day that sometimes we feared something. Something we could not quite place. Something we did not seem to want to know.
We met in the University, and became really close in our third year. We were so close, however, that one of my attractive friends, June, became my worst enemy. As tacky and unlikeable as I assumed June was, I hated any moment her breath trailed off in Hillary’s direction. The softness of her eyes reminded me of the mild soap I used. They were transparent, and the engravings in them were like those of a map drawn in brown paint. Yet, those eyes spilled courage, or something I could interpret as fearlessness.
Once, she had tried to take off her blouse in his presence, she had called him constantly during holidays, and had even suggested things. Their chat broke my heart although Hillary allowed me to see. And when they talked, my heart stopped.
The moment we left school, I triumphed over the fact that they were never to meet constantly ever again. And the love spree between Hillary and I sailed across the seas. However, roughly four months after, there was a tempest. This tempest…
It was in the early hours of a drizzly Monday morning, so like Garfield the cat, I hated the new working week ride. One of my sisters was by the ironing board chatting on her phone with the iron on, while another was hushing her for that. Our family had just concluded a short devotion in the parlour, and Oluchi and Chidimma were preparing for school, while Emilia my immediate younger sister was to leave the house to check and to print her screening result.
“I discouraged them from buying you that phone while still in secondary school,” Emilia was saying, wringing her blouse to stretch. “I did. Because if you burn down this house!”
“You talk like you are in the University,” countered Chidimma, “Kukuma mind your business…”
“Wait. Kukuma…as per…”? Emilia mocked.
Chidimma dropped the phone, turning a lot redder in the light. “I would be wasting my time answering you…”
It was usual to have them bicker. It was unusual however, to expect every morning to be peaceful with four girls in one bedroom, in one home. At five years of age, even I could feel the tension in the house when my mother was pregnant. It was obvious when three days after Chidimma was born, I came fourteenth position in class. My father was so furious that he had made me repeat that grade.
In his words, “If I cannot have sons, then, my daughters shall be reasonable!”
That incident somewhat set me apart from my baby sister because each time I remembered her, I recalled the name my classmates, who even came lower positions than I, used to call me. “Mama ndi Grade One”. The mother of Grade One.
Shuffling into the bathroom, I had a lot more stuff to worry about though. Hillary had for the first time since we began to date, expressed anger. The provocation of last night was nothing as always but he had it pinned to the wall and called ‘quits’. And ever since 2am till I slept off, I had been calling without receiving a reply.
The provocation was simple. June’s wedding pictures were all over Facebook, and Hillary wanted to go back to school!
…I had encouraged him at first till I perceived his mean plan. My mother had said a lot on this subject. Even the society knew better. He wanted me to wait for him to graduate as a medical doctor, and then we could get married. And I had asked aloud,
“Would I be that stupid?”
Then, he had switched off, calling it quits. He said I wasn’t worthy to be called his wife. He called me a disappointment. I was mad as well, at first, but the moment he dropped the call, I broke into hot tears. Tears so hot they scalded my face.
I had picked up my phone next, and rained calls on him but he wouldn’t pick up. I cried some more till I was too weak to continue. Then, finally, I drifted to an uneasy sleep.
In the dream, I was the mayor of a strange land, whose floors were made out of fire. It was hell I presumed, the moment Oluchi, my youngest sister’s shrill voice knocked me out of bed, but I still appreciated the fact that I hadn’t thought of him for three straight hours of sleep.
However, although I hoped to move on with my life, I still hoped even more that when I looked my phone in the face, I would see a red light beeping by its right ear. But when I looked, I saw nothing.
The local women had rounded up in their numbers by my side, and were consoling me. And whenever I stopped weeping and turned to my phone, they fell anxiously silent. What was I to do? Where was I to go? To whom was I to run?
That was the moment I discovered the tragic relief new widows derived from sitting on the bare floor to mourn, because no seat could carry me.
Hillary lived in Lagos. He had just arrived Enugu the previous day, and we were going to hang out till the evening of that day. But first, I needed to withdraw some money for my mother, who for two years had not summoned the courage to use the ATM machine all by herself. She was terrified of people looking over her shoulders, so, the few times she tagged along with me, the four-pin number was guarded like it was the key to the holy of holies. She would efficiently cover the keypads with one arm, look sideways with suspicion, and then punch in the wrong keys for lack of concentration.
Summarily, I was to be held accountable for Hillary, whom my parents had no idea came to town. I did not however, forget to tell them. They did not just have to know.
From the very first day I mistakenly mentioned his name, my mother’s first found fault was with his name. Giving your child the wrong name was to her, equivalent to signing them up for hell. And what was her reason? She could not tell the meaning of Hillary. I was treated differently from that day henceforth, and a single absence from Bible studies in church meant ‘the art of backsliding’.
However, what I feared the most, which prevented me from informing my parents that Hillary was in town, was my father’s reaction. He could make me repeat life! His words during our morning devotion a couple of years ago still rang in my ears,
“Anyone who disgraces me will be immediately disowned!”
It was obvious that he had been raising us for our husbands, hence, doing anything to hamper a befitting marriage was metaphorically a felony.
I dialled Hillary’s number again, and the women held their breath. Surprisingly, someone picked the call. The moment the sturdy voice fell upon my ears, I jumped. The women jumped with me. The voice was familiar, calm and serious,
“The person who has this number,” it said, “…had an accident, is dead, and is in fact in the mortuary.” Then like it had done the previous time, dropped the call…
…The first time that strange voice had replied my calls, the background was rowdy, and I could hardly understand what it said, so, it’d dropped the call.
I finally became that widow; rolling this way and that on the bare ground, getting dust on my clothes.
I wailed with some of the women who cared to wail with me, and soon, the news began to spread.
“Imana those two boys that were kidnapped right here, now now now, are dead…”?!
“I saw how those people were speeding. Agents of the…”!
…I remained in that spot for a while, staring at nothing in particular. In that short moment, I viewed my life in a full stretch. I even heard voices in my head. Wrappers crossed my face, and soon, the boutique owner was closing down her shop. Then, I heard another voice. This one was a little different from the previous ones, and seemed even more external, more outside my head. It sounded like Hillary’s for a second, then like my favourite lecturer’s while in school.
I sat still and remained unyielding in case it was death calling. I was going to sit still till it went away. But again, it rolled at my ears –this time louder- and was accompanied by the blare of a car’s horn.
At this, I flinched and turned aside. Lo and behold, it was my father!
He came out of the car the moment I turned to look at him, and helped me up, however ignoring the questions being thrown at him by the market women.
At home, I feigned great illness in a bid to reduce whatsoever punishment he had in store for me, but for one straight hour, he said absolutely nothing on the subject. He only served me some food, ran me a bath, and helped me with clean clothes.
At the third hour, as I stared at my curtains clueless of whom to mourn, myself or Hillary, my phone buzzed. I crawled to one side of the bed where it lay. I had been expecting my mother’s call from Imo state, where she was attending the funeral of one of the teachers at the school where she worked because my father had called her the moment we got home, to inform her of the incident. But as I looked at the screen, it read ‘Hillary’ as the caller. I shuddered, and gazed at my phone. It rang the first time, the second time, and the third time. Then, as it rang the fourth time, I summoned courage from the fact that perhaps Hillary was not found to be dead. And if it was his ghost, then, my father was in the house. My spirit-filled father. I picked the call.
“Hello,” my voice broke into brits as I awaited the voice of the caller, maybe angels singing in the background.
The caller began to laugh. I knew that laughter. He laughed so hard that for a moment, I felt as though I was outside my body. I didn’t know whether to join in the laughter, keep silent, or wonder at the origin of the laughter.
“Who’s this?” I managed to say after sometime.
“Babe, it’s me na!” the caller went, a little sober.
I dropped the call. Now, it became clear whom I was to mourn. Myself!
My father’s intentions by prolonged silence, dawned on me in a jiffy. Silence on his part was a ploy. Prolonged silence on his part, on the other hand, was a scheme. What was I going to tell him was my reason for sitting on the floor with dust in my hair while unschooled women attended to me? If I banked on the tragedy at the scene, he would wonder why I was the one it hurt the most. I thought about telling him that a distant school mate was involved. But, I recalled that particular orange seller telling him that two boys were involved in the accident. His next question would then be,
“What was your attachment with a boy?”
I shivered under my blanket. Then, an idea came to me. ‘Pretend your phone was snatched. If he asks why one of the women told him about two males who were kidnapped, then, tell him you knew the women would not understand the grief of losing a Samsung galaxy x5, and that’s the reason you did not bother telling them’
However, that plan had a dead end. It was either my father had heard me on the phone as Hillary called, or not. Besides, if he hadn’t heard me on the phone, I would have to be without a phone always, in his presence. I would have to configure my sisters’ minds never to mention my phone. I grew weary already.
Emilia was the first of my sisters to come home. As she dropped her hand bag, I saw a perfect opportunity to introduce her to the plan, the configuration. But, it would be futile and would attract another problem if my father had actually heard me on the phone. Another plan crawled by.
“Did you go out with your phone?” I asked Emilia.
She made a face, and continued with whatever she was doing by the dresser.
“As if you do not know that what I went out to do would involve my phone,” she responded firmly, carrying her gown over her head, and placing it on a chair. That was odd. Her clothes on a chair! Emilia was the most irritable of my sisters. She stammered a little when under pressure, never cared for make-up, and never kept her clothes on a chair. Her clothes were kept arranged like the file containing my CV. I stared at her, ruminating over her response. I had no single clue on what to say to her; how to frame my words.
“When did you start browsing? Or have you joined Facebook?” I teased, as I knew nothing else to say. She slumped onto the bed, and buried her head in a pillow. It was a tease alright, as she was neither on Facebook nor was she ever found browsing. She was our ‘father’s daughter’.
“Mimi, ogini?” I pressed for pressing sake.
She turned aside. “Is life unfair?”
“Why is that?” I turned to look at her properly. Her eyes were the shape of two cones lying on their sides, and her brows rammed into each other, creating small letter, ‘m’.
She lifted her head, “Life seems unfair to me. Do you know Mmeso?”
I nodded. Mmeso was Emilia’s definition of an unbeliever. She put on trousers, painted her face, and attended parties. Mmeso also owned the twentieth position in Emilia’s class while in Secondary school.
“I ran into her today.” She buried her head again, something catching in her throat, “She knows I’m not a student…”
Emilia’s sobbing broke my heart. Now, Chidimma was to take the screening test with her this year. She had lost respect in the house, and many times our mother gave her a hard time. Unlike her, I had entered school on my first attempt. I was a heroine in those days, and my words were decrees. I chose the chores I wanted to do, chose everyone’s meals, and got extra money from my mother. To my father, however, I was just whiling away time, as he insisted that my course of study was barren.
“And so what? What if she knows? Will you stay home forever? It’s just a matter of time!” I consoled her. But who was to console me?
The curtain at the door of our bedroom shook. Someone stood at the door. I stiffened. Not only was it going to be difficult to convince Emilia to lie on my behalf, it was going to be even more difficult to convince her now that she was in pain. My initial plan was to make her say out loud to the hearing of my father, that she had forgotten her phone at home thinking she had lost it, so that if I later told him about my phone incident, and he claimed to have heard me on the phone, I would easily attest to having made use of Emilia’s phone. The other entirely different option if this one did not work out was the idea of taking up the symptoms of a Cerebral malaria patient in order to pretend I had been saying things if he had heard me on the phone. But now, a Cerebral malaria patient had no reasonable advice to give, hence, Emilia was bound to stand against me in judgement. And what was even wrong with me!
I lay still, struggling to figure out who was at the door, who did not want to come in, when I heard my name from the living room. My father was beckoning on me.
“Who is at the door?” I whispered to Emilia, who at that moment let off a snore. She had fallen asleep with her nose slammed into one of our hard pillows. The first night I used that particular pillow, I could hardly sleep, and in the morning, woke with a minor pain in the neck.
Throwing my feet down from the bed, I headed for the door, wondering who was at the entrance of our bedroom even as my father’s voice came from the living room. The intruder was scratching the jamb of the door with a supposedly sharp object. I swallowed saliva as my feet froze. Had my father bought a dog? Or had he hired a Rottweiler maybe, to devour me as my punishment? He could have at least heard me out!
I flapped the curtain aside and there, beside our door post sprawled a little boy. He smiled when he saw me, then, ran into the living room. I swallowed my curiosity from the myriad of thoughts running across my mind, and stepped into the living room.
“Daddy, you called me.”
The look on my father’s face frightened me. He had his forced smile on, and his eyes seemed a lot smaller, as though the bags under them had been recently inflated. The last time I saw that embarrassing look on his face was when he ran into one of his creditors, before he got a government job.
The living room was partly coated in darkness as all the windows were shut. It looked like a photo studio, only I had begun to suffocate from the tied smells of watery perfume, sweat, and shoe stink. My father had the company of a middle-aged woman in heavy make-up. She was looking away as though refusing to mind that I was there. Beside her were two big travelling bags, one half-filled jute bag, and one leather bag. I greeted her and she grunted something.
Normally, I would worry about her coldness but my problems weighed a ton, took up all the space I had left to worry. I looked at my father.
“Nnedimma, this is my cousin. My father’s brother’s last daughter,” he said.
“Oh,” I went, “Welcome, ma.”
Again, she snubbed me.
“And this is her son.” He reached out and pulled the boy close. “Tell her your name, boy.”
The boy stopped to look at me. Then, something odd happened. He turned back to my father and called him ‘daddy’.
“Take me to the zoo, again!” he pleaded, jerking.
My father for a moment seemed to be avoiding my gaze. I swallowed saliva just to make sure I was still there. The man fondling the little boy was not my father. He was an alien trapped in my father’s body! My father had never played nor fondled us in that manner, even while we were toddlers.
In my faint memory of childhood, he was like a statue who kept watching me, and would not let me eat off the ground or bite anybody. At night, he bathed us, and lifted us off the ground by our armpits, letting our legs hang free till he wanted to drop us. With him, my limbs hurt back then.
I waited for him to say, ‘I Am Not Your Father!” but he kept calm, even promising that he would take the little boy to the zoo when next he had time.
I hurried back to our bedroom, crashing down on the bed when I was discharged. The lower half of me felt heavy, so I hurried into the bathroom to urinate. The tiles on the walls were daunting as the face of that little boy appeared on them. I felt different, as though my life had suddenly changed. I felt like our little family circle had just been thrust through by a sinful, shameful spear.
When I went back to the bedroom, on an impulse, I wanted to wake Emilia. I wanted her to see the little boy, and tell how much he looked like Oluchi and my father. His skin was the shade of black a polished shoe has before it is brushed thoroughly to shine, his eyes were evading, and his hair line was curvy. But as my arm reached out to touch her, someone pulled my hair from behind. I shook visibly.
“My daddy is calling you,” the little boy said, then ran off.