The first time Nicole came to Nigeria, he wasn’t happy. His dad had told him to go spend summer holidays with his uncle Cain in Nigeria. He had never seen his uncle Cain before neither had he seen his kids before. The only image he saw of his uncle was a portrait in a frame hung on the wall in the living room. It was the photo of his uncle Cain’s wedding. It was a church wedding in Abuja. The priest was about joining his uncle and his wife. Nicole’s dad stood by his uncle as the best man. Uncle Cain and Aunty Esther were holding hands, chin up as they starred at each other.
Nicole sometimes wondered if his dad and uncle Cain were not brothers cause that was the only photo that he ever saw of them. Maybe they were other pictures which his dad hide.
Uncle Cain spoke often and briefly with him whenever he called his dad. Often times, Nicole would be in his room and he would hear;
” Come greet uncle Cain. ”
Uncle Cain would sound brief, asking same questions; how he was holding on, how the weather was in Boston, would joke about storm or earthquake happening then he would give Nicole a piece of advice and then tell him to give the phone to his dad. He never asked Nicole of his mum because she was a white woman and he had this sick idea of white women overpowering their husbands and becoming undutiful. Nicole’s mum hated him too. She called him a psychotic mediocre.
Nicole wished his mum were here, she wouldn’t had let him go to Nigeria but she was in prison for possession of drugs after which she had to go through series of rehabilitation, so Nicole had to stay with his dad. His mum and dad were divorced. She got up one morning and left, no reason, no explanation, at least that’s what Nicole thought. Few months later she went to court asking for a divorce. It dragged on for a long time but finally it happened. Nicole was put in the custody of his Dad. His mum came visiting often. She loved the idea of him being in the custody of his father. Even when he had private conversation with his mum, she never asked him how his dad treated him. She didn’t care or perhaps it didn’t cross her mind to ask. Nicole did think that she was looking for something, anything to pin his dad’s ass down but later on, when she told him in their last conversation that she was getting married to Hart, he then understood that she wanted a new life, a life that neither he nor his dad were part off. 3 weeks after their conversation, she was imprisoned. Nicole watched it on the news with his dad. His dad phone rang as they watched the news and loud sobs was heard. His dad was acting so calm like nothing ever happened.
Nicole’s trip to Nigeria didn’t exhilarate him. Nothing of what his father said to him on their way to the airport could he recall, the only thing he could remember was a phrase that his father said repeatedly ;
“ When you get to Lagos, take another flight to Port- Harcourt. Uncle Cain is waiting for you at the Lagos airport, so once you land, look out for him.”
Everything about the journey irked Nicole. He had to deal with flight delays and all of the other hassles of summer travel. His dad didn’t seem to mind. He sat still talking with different white folks. He wouldn’t talk to a black flock. Nicole’s dad and this white folks talked about everything there is to talk about. They talked about politics, hair, marriage, feminism, job openings, Racism, Love stories, the weather and even about animated series..
One of the white flocks, Hank, a divorcee was sitting close by with his ex- wife. Nicole wondered why white Americans were so cold hearted. Nicole didn’t expect them to sit close by as he expected them to be emotionally frustrated, but they weren’t. Hank even said that they’ve agreed to keep up as best friends.
‘What a scratch coincidence lie?’
A white lady by the name Nora in a long blonde was smoking a pipe. Her eyes were burning red. She was a single mum before her children were taken to foster homes after a neighbor called the cops for her after her rattled her out. He came over to her house after she had gone out. He always heard loud sobs but didn’t know what was wrong. Finally when he came over, the children, after series of persuasion, opened up. He would numerous bruises and cuts on their bodies. Her oldest daughter, 11 yrs old, told the neighbor how their mum was a drug addict and how she beat them up for no reason and how she threw them ( her kids) downwards from the stair railings and how she put her younger brother in an oven, and how their mum beat them with a clog and how their mum poured boiling hot water on their feet.
The neighbor called the cops and after few examinations and questioning, they waited till Nora came home and then they took her children away and they arrested her, giving her 10 yes, after which she went for rehabilitation for 2 yrs before she was released. She was never the same after that and she never saw her kids again.
When Mr. Hank began to talk about high rates of suicide in America, she got up an left, as though she could sense malevolence and nobody there could sense her need and comfort her.
Finally it was time to journey back to Nigeria, goodbyes were hurriedly said as everyone began to head for the airplane.
Nicole’s dad waved to him as he entered the plane.
Nicole sat near a Nigerian who was being deported. The man smelt like weed. His eyes were red. He was one of those whose life was frustrated in America. He had just been released from prison and was deported immediately.
The Nigerian was talking with another Nigerian and Nicole listened keenly. He wondered if they were speaking Yoruba or Hausa but they weren’t. They spoke English but their English was unpalatable.
” Oga wetin you dey tell me. American no be place wey you go mumu your life. Abi I dey tell you but you no dey listen. See how your oyibo wife put you for trouble, Emeka!!.”
” Guy shut up. Me self better pass you! I no dey do drugs. You come go prison for drug issue nonsense. God don punish you. Ode!!.” Emeka said.
” Guy America be racist country oh. I no know.. You no say na police man over there wey I dey trade with before they catch me.” Tobi, Emeka’s friend said.
” Mumu na trap they set for you.. They know you’re a drug dealer but they just needed evidence against you when they charge you to court.” Emeka said
” But sha me and you no dey different. You wan do shabby marriage so you go be citizen of America. For your mind you sharp! See how your so called America wife put you for trouble.. I know say you pay her well for it but she just dey use you as mugu. She don arrange your arrest with the cops.” Tobi said.
” Seriously that girl plan me scatter.. I think say she be naive person. I know no say na me be the fool. That her useless brother, Mike, God go punish him. ” Emeka said
” Wetin her brother do you! ” Tobi asked.
” Na he make me not to escape. I for escape them. As I dey run, I saw the fool who told me to follow him. I did because he was fellow Nigerian. He led me back to the cops. As I turn to run after noticing the trap, he shot me on my leg. ”
” E be like that Mike was a cop too.” Tobi said.
Nicole sat down listening to the 2 Nigerians who sat by him, amused by their fanti language and their angry expressions.
” Na true.” Emeka spoke out.
” Yes! It was exactly what they did to my cousin. The police set him up. They set trap for him. One of the cops pretend like he be drug dealer too and that’s how my cousin was caught. He was given 15 yrs sentence under probation but he never made it out. He was killed by his inmate who’s a racist. The psychotic fellow was later transferred to solitary.. ” Tobi said sobbing a little.
” Guy na God’s hand we dey.” Another Nigerian who was deported said.
” Me self I just happy say I dey come back home. America no be place to live in.” Emeka repiled.
Nicole listened with keen interest as many deported Nigerians recounted their stay in America. He wished he too was a deported fellow too. He wanted to be part of them. He loved the way they could create happiness out of a hideous situation. Nicole laughed as they called Americans olodo, ode, white fools.
When an American hostess, a white lady in a blue jacket and a strapped trouser came over to say that they were at Lagos Nigeria, about landing the plane, sniffed her nose irritably like she couldn’t breathe and said that they all smelt like garbage, smiling as though she didn’t expect them to understand what garbage was, Emeka farted loudly. Everyone laughed as they covered their nose, as though it was the hostess who farted,
” This na American mess!!” Someone yelled from the back in between his laugh.
Others threw their food given to them on the plane at her. Nicole watched excitedly as the hostess kept raising her hands as if to block it. Her clothes were soiled so was her hair which was ruined. She ran away mortified and someone shouted ” America white fool, ode!!”
The landing of the plane frightened everyone. Nicole laughed when he saw some Nigerians confessing their sins to God, making the sign of the cross, some others raised native songs which everyone on the plane joined in. Nicole wanted to join them. He wanted to believe in God, in rapture but he wasn’t convinced that it was real. He grew up in a home where both his dad and mum were atheist. That was the only thing they ever agreed on, in the nonexistence of a supernatural being. His dad openly called it crap but his mum didn’t ever say a word when an argument about the existence of God was raised but he knew she agreed with dad.
Uncle Cain was standing close by the airplane as it landed. He wasn’t the only person there so many people were gathered there. Nicole didn’t see him but then he heard his name loudly called out as he came out from the plane. He turned back and saw a stranger in an oversized dress. Uncle Cain had to raise some of his dress which trailed on the ground and passed some of it under his right armpit.
Nicole could hardly recognise his uncle. He tried to picture this man standing with the man in the wedding picture that hung in the living room of his house.
Nicole watched his uncle run and hug him like he was missing or he had been kidnapped before. Nicole, in his uncle’s embrace watched as others who gathered around when the plane landed, running to hug their families who came out from the plane. Nicole looked out for Emeka and Tobi and other Nigerians whose face he’d capture but he wouldn’t see them.
Uncle Cain put his hands right across Nicole’s shoulder as they headed for another flight to Port- Harcourt.
Nicole didn’t see much of Lagos and for that he felt a dissatisfaction that came with a longing. He had been told by his dad, his friends and even by goggle that Lagos and Abuja were the best places in Nigeria. He’d long to see lekki and banana island and Victoria island in Lagos but he wouldn’t get to see them. He so wished he could disappear and join the likes of Emeka and Tobi.
” This flight is only for 45 minutes. Don’t worry we will soon land in Port Harcourt shortly. ” Uncle Cain said.
Nicole was angry at his statement. Didn’t he know that he didn’t want the flight to ever end? Nicole didn’t reply instead he asked ;
” How did you know that am gonna be on that plane cause I ain’t supposed to be on that plane. It’s for People who were deported and hell no was I deported. I just pray that it won’t in anyway hinder me when am gonna go back to America. ” Nicole asked.
” No it won’t. By the way it was God that made me see you when you came out from the plane. It was just God, just God.”
Nicole saw his uncle looking upward and waving his hands. Nicole wondered why he attributed everything to an invisible deity that he couldn’t see. Nicole believed it was luck and fate that made his uncle to see him. But somehow he knew that there was an invisible force and deity in whose power and will the earth and heaven are in place.
” Your cousins Can’t wait to see you oh. They want to see oyibo pepper. You’ve become a celebrity in my house. ” Uncle Cain as the plane finally landed.
The drive to Uncle Cain’s house was a bumpy ride. Uncle Cain’s Car was parked at the Port Harcourt airport So it was easy to go back home. Nicole sat still as he looked at the window trying to take in as much as he could. The road was tarred with bill boards erected at different Corners. Heaps of thrash were situated at different Corners. He would see hawkers on the road selling stuffs he didn’t know off. It got worse when a go slow had occurred in Rumibo, Nicole would see small children standing by the front seats of Car begging for money, mostly no one gave them. When one of them came by Uncle Cain’s Car, resting his hands on the Car Close by where Nicole sat, immediately he saw Nicole, he began chanting loudly;
” Oyibo pepper!! Oyibo has come to Nigeria!! ” flinging his hands upward as he tried to touch Nicole’s hair but Nicole pushed back and turned up the glass and soon the go slow ceased and Cars were moving again. Nicole felt relieved.
Nicole looked out the window and saw some cars following one way, he’d see some men unzipping their trouser and urinating at corners. In America, such persons would be arrested and fined.
Nicole looked up at so many buildings. The color of the buildings were wearing away. The buildings were old as though they were eaten by a moth.
As uncle Cain drove forward, he stopped at a police checkpoint. Immediately he saw the police man, he began speaking Igbo to the man, saying “abeg” to the man, and squeezing out a hundred naira note to the man who smiled mischievously at Nicole who didn’t look in his direction. After a short chatting he drove off.
” Didn’t you have your papers? ” Nicole asked
Uncle Cain was taken aback.
” Yes I did. ” uncle Cain managed to say, peering into Nicole’s eyes, afraid and feeling guilty.
” So why did you have to bribe that officer?”
Uncle Cain looked up at him, starring at him with that impulsiveness that made him look like he had an idea but in reality got nothing. Nicole knew he didn’t know what to say. He knew kids in his class with his uncle’s look, kids who raised their hands up high with shrilled excitement on their faces. Their excitement also showed in their waving, only to be picked up by the teacher to answer a question or solve an equation and then their reply was always;
“I’m not sure.”
Nicole often wondered whenever this happened in class;
Did they really know the answer or had the answer drowned off in the heat of their excitement?
Uncle Cain looked up at Nicole wondering if he felt like he was in a hot seat right now. Off course Nicole wouldn’t share the same nervousness he had. Uncle Cain looked up wondering how he could explain to Nicole that it was the way things were done in Nigeria; bribing. Bribing was more like the actual currency in Nigeria and things like money, promotions, high offers were means and modes by which this currency was displayed.
How could Uncle Cain explain to Nicole that one had to bribe his way out of problems even when he didn’t deserve it and also one had to bribe his way into fortune even when he didn’t earn it? How could he explain that was how it worked in all sectors in Nigeria, from the political sector to the Academic sector, even in offices and companies. Nobody wants to know what you have in your head or they care about is how much of the bribe you’re ready to give. Money is the major measure source of bribing in Nigeria and perhaps all over the world.
Uncle Cain was sprung up to consciousness after someone came by his door window and was shouting loudly, urging him to drive faster. Uncle Cain was driving so slowly in his subconscious stare at Nicole. The highway was free. Uncle Cain soon speed up and drove. Nicole sat still wondering why the other man at his uncle’s back was shouting. The road was big enough for him to outrun his uncle.
” Nigeria too love trouble. ” was all uncle Cain said.
Uncle Cain’s house was at Rumudara in Artillery. His house was located in an estate. His house was a duplex. His gate was very big and gigantic with high walls. Nicole hadn’t ever seen a building with gates and high walls in America. Dog barks could be heard from inside the compound. The building was colored with shredded white and the louvres were darkened with dust. The building looked damp as though it rained on it. Nicole saw all these when they drive inside the compound. For now, Uncle Cain was horning loudly. Nicole wanted to tell him to stop but he didn’t. He wondered if the cops would come out and tell him to stop or give him a ticket for disturbing the peace of the environment but none of such happened. Nicole was breathing heavily. Uncle Cain and he stood outside for 10 minutes before his son came over to open the gate. His eyes were wet with tears. Uncle Cain drove impatiently into the compound.
A shrilled voice greeted Uncle Cain as he came out from the car. It was his wife;
” Oga welcome oh.” She said bowing a little while he patted her back. She stood up and then looked at her son and began raining abuses on him, calling him a fool, a goat, a dog, a brainless fool. The boy stood watching in regret, bowing his head down. His mum even spat on him.
Nicole watched still, looking at Ginka, uncle Cain’s son with a little bit of resentment. Why did he let his mum talk to him that way and even spit on him all because he didn’t open the gate on time? The abuse was bad enough but the spitting was way out of the line. He should have done something, perhaps talk back at her in defiance or better still, walk away. That’s what he or any of his mates would have done. Nicole too wondered too why Nigerian children called their parents mummy and daddy. Couldn’t they call them mum and Dad? It sounded more cool. He had heard someone from inside shouting;
” Mummy, tell Tayo to stop looking for my trouble.” A boy of about 11years old called out but his mum didn’t respond. She was too angry to respond.
” Get out fool! Let me see your hands on that your game if I don’t smash it this afternoon. Your father was outside blowing horn and you’re inside waiting for your ancestors to come and open gate for him.” She sighed as she snapped her fingers at him before holding it and entering inside.
” Daddy has come, daddy has come” The eleven year old girls chanted, pushing Nicole aside to welcome her father
” Omalachiwama ( beautiful) ” was what the father always used to describe her.
She fell in his embrace.
” NEPA has come. ” a boy called out loudly.
” Tayo come greet your old man and help Nicole carry his box.”
” Binka come and greet your cousin, uncle Nicole. His the white oyibo have been telling you about.” Uncle Cain said to the eleven year old girl.
Binka starred at Nicole, looking at how light skinned he was, with his light brown color, he didn’t squint his nose more often, neither did he breathe slowly, choosing what he should breathe and what not to breathe in. He seemed used to Nigeria air. He wasn’t inquisitive and seemed to be able to relate with everyone even though he would seem withdrawn at first, starring and observing to know how to relate with everyone. He didn’t carry the air of superiority around him. He didn’t look the type who said his mind often. Yes he was a black American, not the real white American.
Nicole loved how Binka observed so much but didn’t say anything. After much starring, they took his luggage’s to the visitor’s bedroom downstairs. Uncle Cain’s wife came out from the kitchen, wearing an apron, drenched in sweat, and smelt of spices blended with the smell of sweat. Nicole wanted to close his nose because of how bad the air was around her. He wanted to ask her why She stayed at home to Cook and didn’t have a real job but he didn’t. Nicole’s mum and most women he knew in America weren’t full time house wives. They left home at 6am in the morning and came home by 10pm like their male counterparts, leaving their kids to fend for themselves. Most women in America earn more than their husbands.
In fact in America, most women didn’t give birth to many kids because of their jobs. Most times they might just have just one kid, at most two, if by persuasion, the husband is able to convince her to have three kids, then it was fine. Some women tied up their tubes so they won’t be able to have kids again. Women in America owned their bodies and they decided when and when not to have sex.
As if Binka’s mum knew what Nicole was thinking, she immediately frowned at him. Nicole looked up in despair, trying not to look at her, but then he knew that the anger wasn’t meant for him. She complained of being left alone to do the whole work in the house while everyone else lingered lazily.
” Darling, you and everyone else knows that even we tried to help you, you would nudge us away because we can’t cook and clean like you. You do things wells” uncle Cain said, pecking her on her cheek and then she smiled. He turned over to his eleven year old daughter, Binka and said;
” Oya go and help your mother. Go! Go!!” He said.
Nicole’s room was near the laundry room where washing machine and ironing boards were kept.
A stale smell greeted Nicole as he entered the room. The bed was neatly made. The room was well arranged and neatly swept. The tiles were brightly yellow in color. His things were hurriedly kept by the cupboard and the door was shut leaving him alone in the room and he lay on the bed.
Nicole was awakened by a loud knocking on the door. He was drenched in his own sweat. saliva was on the pillow. He got up quickly and scrambled to the door, opening it with the agility of a superhero, perhaps Superman. Ginka was standing with angry impatience.
” Come and eat, food is ready.” He said running away quickly before Nicole could ask him what’s up for dinner. It was evening already.
Nicole wondered what was up for dinner. In his home in America, dinner was very light. More of snacks and light food was eaten. Things like roasted chicken, cheese jerky, Taco salad, meatloaf, and macaroni and cheese. He sat down remembering the wonderful smell of roasted chicken, the wonderful taste of cheese jerky. He sniffed his nose in the air, his mouth was watery as though he were an hungry dog.
An offensive smell from nowhere filled his nose. He thought he was imagining it, but when he opened his eyes, he noticed that it came from the living room of his uncle’s house. The smell churned his stomach, making him wanna puke. He had an immediate belly ache. He dashed to the living room where the smell persisted the most. The smell was like that of feces smell.
” Wow! Gross, what’s that smell?” He asked covering his nose.
” Americanah oyibo is not used to our foo- foo.” Tayo yelled out
Everyone starred at him and then went back to eating but his uncle’s wife starred angrily at him, watching him with contempt as he sat down on an empty seat. 2 covered round plates were before him. At first he thought it was an error but as he looked each, person had 2 uncovered plates before them.
Nicole took forever to uncover his plates. He observed, watching as people used hands to cut from their moulded foo- foo, dipping it in a soup, chunked with fishes and meats of different sizes. He starred at the moulded foo- foo. It was as thick as anything he could imagine. The smell of the foo- foo was nauseating, and he couldn’t pretend this time. He pushed the plate aside, pushed his seat backward and got up
” Thanks everyone for the meal but I’ve got to pass on this one. ” he hurriedly said, before turning to leave. Everyone turned, starring at him, looking at each other with their mouths opened in a big “O”.
Nicole entered his room, closing the door , trying to breathe away the smell but it followed him inside his room.
Nicole held his rumbling stomach. It was gonna be a hell of a night. How could he go to sleep on an empty stomach especially when he hadn’t eaten so well since morning. It’s been few hours since he landed in Nigeria and he had eaten nothing save the pina butter sandwiches, cut in triangular sizes. He had fixed breakfast himself this morning, before his dad took him to the airport. And worse still, his dad didn’t call to check up on him. He got no call from his dad on the plane, neither did his dad call when he landed. Perhaps his dad called uncle Cain secretly. But Nicole didn’t think so. He had been alone with his uncle all day, and his uncle’s phone beeped once. It was his wife who had sent him a text message. He knew because the sender’s name was saved as ” Baby.” And one didn’t just call any person “baby.” save the actual toddler.
The word ” Baby” was a pet name used by couples or people engaged. Nicole often wondered why people loved to be called baby. Did it make them remember their childhood? Did it bring out the kid in them? Why couldn’t they just stick with pet names like; Darling, honey, Sugar and the likes. What is so great about being called a baby?
Nicole rumbling stomach got him out of his thought. He had the urge to go back and eat the “Foo- foo.” but then the thought about his uncle’s wife thinking that he had come back to eat because of her, to please her, restrained him. He could now hear loud chatting from the dining.
Nicole opened the window for ventilation. There hadn’t been light. There was light when he arrived at his uncle’s house. He knew because he heard a loud happy chant of children from another compound shouting;
” NEPA has brought light. ”
He raised his eyebrow in query. ” Nepa.” He repeated outrightly, but not loudly. Why were people so excited about light? He asked himself. He had grown up in America where there was always light. Light there never went off expect when there was an earthquake, a flood or a tornado, or where the light was damaged and needed to be repaired.
Nicole sighed as he lay on the bed shirtless. He hadn’t been used to heat before. He tasted his own sweat as he lay on the bed, turning back and front.
Nicole lay helplessly on the bed when a mosquito flew pass his ear. He hit his ear, hoping that he killed it but more flying insects flew in from the window. Nicole had to wrap himself completely with the long blanket that lay on the bed. He covered himself, even to his head. Nicole lay in the blanket like a bag of rice. His sweat stank so badly because there was little or no air passing in and out from underneath the blanket.
Nicole thought about his life. He understood then that there was so much good things in his life that he took for granted. He always dreamed of a perfect life, with his mum in it. True he didn’t have that but he had his dad who was like a mum to him, his dad and himself were alive. He didn’t get to beg on the streets like some of the people in America, who he always sees begging. He would watch them from the side mirror of his dad’s car. He always grumbled whenever his dad dropped him and picked him up from school as this led him to being picked on by his principal. His dad always gave him a dollar whenever he came by to pick Nicole and he was in detention for little misbehaviors that was pardonable when others did it, but not when he did it. Nicole was forced to attend classes, something he disliked. His friends didn’t attend classes often. Some others were planning not to go to college. Kids in America managed to stick around high school, not college. Most of them instead of going to college, go into other things such as wrapping, Hollywood, singing, and most of the times, they end up doing drugs and finally they either end up in the prison or in the grave.
Nicole’s reputation at school faded rapidly and he was always called a tone deaf twin. Whenever he came to school, he was always pranked hideously, and if he should report, he would be put in detention.
Nicole sighed as he remembered those days but he knew the good outweighed the bad. His dad could pay the bills, and his dad had finally changed his school after much confrontations. Beside he had a dad. He could wake up everyday knowing he had a real dad, not some foster parents who could dump him or maltreat him. Nicole smiled as he slept off.
Nicole was woken by an abrupt knock on the door. He jumped up, shoving off the blanket he had used to cover himself. He scratched his thigh. He stretched himself, arms wide apart. He yawned profusely. His stomach growled in hunger. He stank in his sweat which had dried up on him. He wondered how he made it through the night. The knock on the door continued and Nicole had to grab his shirt and trouser, wearing them before opening the door. It was Tayo.
” Father said I should wake you up so you can come join us for prayers. ” Tayo said, before leaving.
Nicole didn’t believe in God but he just had to join, just to please his uncle.
The living room was filled with loud clapping and songs sung in native dialects. He starred, watching as they sang and dance. He was furious. Why did they have to act as though they have no problems? Why did they choose to live in delusion? He wanted to storm away in anger, but on seeing his uncle’s wife scolding face, he sat on the long couch close to Binka and Tayo.
The song finished and then prayers were made. Everyone, excluding Nicole took turns to pray. Nicole held a great sigh as he wasn’t called out to pray. And it wasn’t just because he didn’t know how to pray, it was mainly because he was a shy person. He was intimidated by their boldness. Little Binka’s boldness terrified him the most. The way she was binding the devil, wriggling her fingers as she called forth the thunder of God to strike the devil. Nicole watched his uncle’s wife, the way she shook her head, shouting Amen as though she was chanting an incantation freaked him out. Soon everyone began screaming ;
” Die by fire” accompanied with speaking in tongues. Nicole wondered if a spirit or a demon was lurking around nearby. He wanted to take cover.
Prayers ended soon and everyone became normal again. It was on a Saturday morning, so the house was hurriedly clean. Binka swept the floor with a broom. Nicole noticed how she bent down, kneeling down in the process. Nicole was terrified for the happy girl who swept, humming to a song. When Binka got to the center table, she swept off the dust from the dining then proceeded to sweep the rug, on which the center table was placed. Nicole was stunned at the numerous dust which was raised in the air. Binka rubbed her nose irritably as she swept. She was sweating big time. Her mum came to the living room, nodding her head in approval, saying;
” God bless you my daughter. You try you hear.. Oya hurry up.” Then her mother went from the living room, calling Tayo who was playing game on his phone. She seized the game, calling him olodo, comparing him with all his classmates, especially their neighbor son who took first position in his class. Tayo attended same school and was in the same class but was coming last in his class.
” But mummy, I’ve been telling you and Daddy from my Jss 1 that I don’t want to go to school. Me, I want to be a footballer like Messi..”
His mother gave him a thud on his face. It was so sudden.
Nicole watched them from a distance.
” This boy has killed me o! My good God! You want to end up like all those riff raff’s out there?. Chimo! The devil is a liar.” She said, tugging at his ear.
” Wait! What is it?” Uncle Cain called out. He was clean shaved. He wore shorts and was bare chested.
” Tell your son. Your son wants to kill me! ”
” Calm down!” Uncle Cain yelled out in authority.
Nicole watched his uncle’s wife stop shouting. She instead gave out silent sobs, watching her son with great perturbation.
” Tayo what did you say to your mother?. Uncle Cain asked with a silent dread.
” I told mother that I don’t want to go to school anymore. I want to become a footballer.”
” Ha ha ha” Uncle Cain laughed, watching Tayo, looking out, as though to check if the person standing nearby was his son, or his look like.
” Look son, you have to go to school. It’s no more like the days of bill gates. Even he had to go back to college after dropping out. Look at me, I love you my son and I want the best for you. I know what’s best for you. If education wasn’t the best thing for you, I won’t give it to you to you. See here, let’s make a deal if you finish your secondary school and finish your university, I will let you become a footballer. In fact, what am I saying? By then you must have grown into a big man, I can’t tell you what to do at then.” Uncle Cain tugged at the cheek of Tayo who frowned.
” What’s wrong, tell me?. ” uncle Cain asked
Tayo looked downwards at his palms. Urging words heaped in his throats, but the bubbles in his throats was able to hold them.
” What is it ?” Uncle Cain asked again. This time it more like a command.
Tayo looked up at his father. He was so irritated by his smile, the smile that always reminded Tayo that his dad was the adult here and he was just a kid and he just had to be naive. He couldn’t be defiant. He just had to accept the norm that his dad was always right and he was just a silly kid in his care. He flared up when he saw his dad sniff his nose. It meant something. It had to mean something.
” You lie daddy, you lie. You just using me to accomplish the goals and dreams you couldn’t accomplish. I’m just a fool in your eyes that you can easily lie to. You just want me to give up on my dreams so you can achieve yours.”
Nicole how paused everyone was. It has never happened before, this defiance. Nicole closed his eyes to avoid his uncle wife’s gaze. And as he opened his eyes, a hand swopped up in the air, and before he could say, ” jack”, the hand, accompanied with a earsplitting sound descended. By the time Nicole looked up, Tayo’s eyes were gleaming with tears, but he still stood up in defiance, whereupon his uncle’s wife dragged him into a room. Tayo was crying loudly.
Nicole heard the shredding of things. Tayo was shouting loudly. Nicole was stunned. He had never been beaten like that before, not in America although he’d hear that some blacks do beat up their kids in a basement.
Ginka came over where Nicole stood. He wore his shorts and singlet. His white was stained. His arms were lean like a shrub. He was really thin. His cheekbone and neck bone started out.
” I know in America, people don’t beat their kids so that they don’t call the police for them.” He said smiling broadly. Nicole couldn’t see his dimples and there was no flesh in his cheek. He looked sick, like one suffering from malnutrition. Nicole didn’t respond, instead he smiled.
Later, Uncle Cain’s wife came out from the room. Her hair was all messed up. She went straight to the kitchen.
” Binka ! Binka!!.” Uncle Cain called out. Binka came out from her room. She was exhausted from the sweeping.
” Go and help mother prepare breakfast. ” Uncle Cain.
Binka nudged her head grudgingly as she walked slowly to the kitchen.
” Go and help your mother and sister. ” uncle Cain said.
” Daddy, am a guy and guys don’t cook.”
“Not in today’s world.” Uncle Cain said
” Men don’t cook, cooking is for ladies. Guys like me wash cars, split fire woods, weed the compound, take out the trash, and drive their dad’s car, not cook.”
Uncle Cain wanted to say something but kept quiet. Nicole looked up at Ginka. His eyes brightened at the thought that he was being a man, that he was performing manly duties. Nicole wondered why duties where shared in Nigeria. Men in America did cook. His dad was a great cook, so were the dads of other of his friends. Even women in America worked in an office or at a construction site. Nicole for the first time noticed how blackened, Ginka’s lip were. He wondered if he smoked, or if rubbed charcoal on his lips. He wanted to ask but he didn’t. He swallowed the thought.
As Nicole shifted himself in an odd position, he heard someone grunt. It was Ginka. Ginka looked at him in curiosity and despair.
” Did you rub lipstick?. ” he asked. Nicole wanted to ask him if he was alright but he didn’t. The next question made him understand why Ginka asked the previous question.
” why are your lips glowing red.” Nicole didn’t respond. Instead he laughed, watching the suspicion that grew in Ginka’s eyes. How could he explain to Ginka that his reddish lips were natural, and he and other Americans, especially the whites did grow up having red lips, and that neither he nor some of them were gays as Ginka earlier suspected?
Breakfast was finally ready. The great smell oozing out of the kitchen reminded Nicole that he was hungry. His stomach rumbled. Breakfast was the usual tea and bread with fried eggs.
Uncle Cain’s wife came out from the kitchen with a saucer on which a cup was placed on with 2 slice of bread sandwiched with slices of cucumber, onions, tomatoes, greens and carrots.
As soon as the children spotted her, they all ran madly Into the kitchen, sliding on the marble floor which made a gnashing noise, causing Nicole to gnash his teeth. Nicole got up on seeing his uncle’s wife angry glance, , , he went to the kitchen and carried his bland tea. It was lipton with no milk or sugar. There were slices of bread on his plate. He starred at how fumbled the bread was. It was too soft, as though air entered it. It looked nothing like the garnished bread he ate back he at home with pina butter. He quickly carried his food back to the dinning on hearing his uncle wife’s voice;
” Go and call that useless tayo to come out and carry his food before i give him a dirty slap.”
Nicole came out, just in time for Binka to gently brush pass him.
Nicole sat on the dining chair , placing the saucer gently on the table. Laughter rang out and died down almost immediately. Arguments rose up and died down in quick succession. Arguments on Nigerian Politics lasted the longest. Uncle Cain chipped in the arguments and nobody ever supported him on many occasions. It was as though he willingly supported views that everyone else opposed sub consciously. Like when he said that Abacha was the best president Nigeria in a mocking tune that reverberated irony
” Yeba” was what Ginka Shouted immediately his dad said that.
Uncle Cain kept raising arguments, supporting military rule, saying that military dictatorship is what Nigeria needed since the citizens in the country behaved like qualified goats. Ginka laughed at that. But uncle Cain kept a serious face which hushed Ginka’s laughter.
Uncle Cain vehemently spoke about how Nigerians needed policeman to carry sticks in their hands to control traffic as Nigerians refused to obey traffic lights. He spoke of how Nigerians do urinate on private properties even if they were to see the sign on the wall which says;
” Don’t urinate here.”
” The only thing Nigerians ever and will ever adhere to is cohesion. We lack common sense in this country.” Uncle Cain sipping his tea.
Tayo appearance was followed by a hushed silence. It was humored. He held on to his saucer like it was some trophy. His eyes were bulging and red. He starred before taking a seat at the dining. Binka followed suit. She too carried her saucer.
” Mummy this food is very sweet.” Ginka said
” Glutton! I know if you want more, you will say yes.” Uncle Cain’s wife said, savouring the compliment.
” Mummy , me, am a bread eater o. Today you gave me only 8 slices. The last time you gave me the whole loaf of bread and i ate 14 slices with the bottled coke you bought for me. ”
Nicole starred at Ginka , controlling himself not to open his mouth. He never ate so much like that. No matter how hungry he was, if he munched 4 slices of pina butter sandwiched bread, he would be filled. He understood then that in Nigeria, being fat was a good thing, especially among the women. In America, fat was a bad word. It is a bad thing. Everyone over there want to look lean or thin.
Nicole sighed loudly as he took a bite from his bread. He didn’t know why and when he sighed. Everyone turned to look at him. Uncle Cain’s wife turned to look at him . She starred furiously remembering the previous night.
” Nkem that’s enough.” He said to his wife. It was the first time in a long while since he called her by her real name.
Turning over to Nicole, he asked him if the food was nice. Nicole looked over at Mrs. Nkem face. He knew he had to say something nice about the food just to please her and avoid himself getting into trouble.
Nicole knew that it was the way things worked in Nigeria Everyone needed to be sycophants . No one wants to hear the truth. Speaking the truth made one a threat to those who are superior to him and thus he had to be eliminated or removed from such positions. Nicole had overhead uncle Cain over the phone telling his dad about how unbearable things are in Nigeria. He overhead his uncle on the phone recounting how he had to call his boss daddy so he don’t get fired. He also recounts how his boss slept with all his male employees wives in order to promote them. Uncle Cain also recounts how delegiwa, a man who had on serval occasions rightly criticised the Nigeria government.
” He was the only Nigerian who publicly voiced out the truth without fear durning the Abacha regime even after serval threats made by the then Nigerian government. He was often put away in prison but was always released afterward, yet that didn’t stop him from voicing out the truth and so the government decided that he was a threat and decided to eliminate him. They killed him by a letter bomb. His daughter who was there miraculously survived and didn’t die. I know i feel that Delegiwa guy was stupid but if we all stoop low in cowardice who will speak up for justice.” Uncle Cain said on the phone.
” Lol a letter bomb. Didn’t know Nigeria was that sophisticated.” Nicole’s dad said with a chuckle.
The scrapping of plates brought Nicole back to himself. His bread was finished. He drank the lipton tea and belched loudly, covering his mouth and saying excuse me.
Breakfast was finally over. Tayo cleared the place while Binka washed the dishes and cleaned the kitchen.
Nicole went into the visitor’s bathroom to brush his teeth before bathing when the room door opened wide ajar. It was Ginka.
” So Americans don’t brush before eating.”
Nicole smiled mischievously. How could he tell Ginka that in America they brush their teeth before and after eating or that they bathe twice a day?
After bathing, Nicole followed Uncle Cain out to go and fetch water and buy bread. They stopped at a filing station to buy fuel for the generator and to refuel the car.
” You just have to shine your eyes well unless these people are going to cheat you.” Uncle Cain said as they drove into a line. They were at the back of a jeep waiting for their turn.
Soon the man paid the lady who filled up his car. He entered the driver seat and turned on the ignition, only to turn off his car to start yelling. It was so sudden. He grabbed the lady by the collar, calling her names, screaming in her face. The lady closed her eyes as though the man’s saliva was dropping on her face. The man pushed her away trying to snatch the money which she hid in her bra. He grabbed her dress, whereupon she screamed, and another guy came over and punched the man severally, pushing him on the floor. Soon another came from nowhere and punched this other guy who had punched the old man , pushing him on the ground . The lady who had been shoved by the old man earlier , had ran to a corner, gossiping with serval ladies in excitement.
Uncle Cain came out from his car to settle the argument involving the old man and the two men. The argument was heated with abuses. Uncle Cain kept standing in the middle of the old man and the other guy, perhaps his brother, who defended him earlier with the other man who had punched the old man earlier standing the other side. Uncle Cain kept using his hands to withhold the three men from fighting. After a long while, another man comes in and begs the old man who threatens to report all that happened, claiming to be the brother of the owner of the filling station. Soon the man who punched the old man on hearing this, growled in cowardice. The way he changed his disposition was so pathetic. Nicole watched as he begged the old man on his kneels, tugging the ends of his dress. He told the old man about his sick mother whom he had to cater for through this job, his blind father who was a very poor farmer who resided in the village and lived in a thatch house, his siblings who hawked pure water on the street to make ends meet. Everyone around including the man who defended the old man earlier, begged the old man to forgive.
Nicole sat in his car watching. He didn’t feel sympathy for the guy who punched the old man. He knew the guy was apologizing because of the stake of his job.
After all said and done, the old man’s car was refueled and he drove off with the guy who had punished him earlier waving, shouting at the top of his voice;
” Oga thank you, Oga God bless you.”
Later, uncle Cain came to the car. He turned on the car and went forward to buy fuel. Ginka stood outside with Nicole while the car was refilled.
Nicole had earlier tried refueling the car himself. He had grabbed the fuel nozzle to put it into the car tank. When a voice yelled out;
” Ole ( thief. ”
Nicole was frightened by the man’s appearance. It was the same man who was pleading with the old man minutes ago. Soon uncle Cain came out. Nicole was shoved into the car by his uncle. The man was shouting. Uncle Cain kept telling him to calm down, using his hands to gesture to him to calm down but the man was a hot head. He pushed uncle Cain away and opened the front door of the car to drag Nicole out whereupon uncle Cain dragged him away and he fell down. The man got angry and punched uncle Cain on his face twice whereupon Ginka punched the man serval times, angry severe punches, pushing him on the floor, kicking and punching.
Later another man comes and break up the fight. Ginka looked on his unconscious victim. He got up and entered the car. Uncle Cain too entered the car and drove away without buying the fuel.
Heavy silence enveloped the Car as they drove. Nicole looked up at his Uncle and Cousin’s face, it was crisped with anger. Nicole could hear Ginka’s loud panting.
Soon, uncle Cain’s laughter rang out like an alarm. Both Nicole and Ginka starred at their uncle.
Uncle Cain to stifled his laughter and mumbled something in igbo language. Ginka spoke back in igbo mumbling his laughter in a strenuous voice. Soon both of them started laughing. It was so much that Uncle Cain had to park by the roadside. The laughter continued with Uncle Cain hitting the steering wheel as he laughed and Ginka hitting the back seat of the Car.
Uncle Cain observing Nicole’s Confused face, spoke in English why they were laughing.
Nicole joined the laughter, slowly, then fully.
They laughed recalling the fight at the filing station, at the way the man was begging when the old man revealed that he was the brother of the owner of the filing station.
” Mumu man he for fight na. He too de ginger for fight.” Ginka said pausing, before continuing in a more serious tone;
” Nigeria won’t treat you well expect you have connection and backing. The corruption in Nigeria is too glaring and that’s why people think that countries like the USA are not corrupt, because theirs is coded.”
Nicole knew that connection was needed in the US, as for the corruption aspect, he was unsure.
The thought that the old man was Lying when he said he was the brother to the owner of the filing station, floated in his head and he couldn’t get the thought out of his mind. He laughed the most, imagining the guy who was begging finding out that he was lying to him. He couldn’t but fathom his face expression.
Nicole laughed so loudly at this thought. He laughed so much that both his uncle and Ginka stared. They’ve never heard him laugh this much.
” He’s becoming a Nigerian by the minute.” Ginka said with glaring concern.
Later, as Uncle Cain hit the road again, he received an SMS from his dad writing;
” How’s life in Nigeria like?. ”
Nicole starred at the message. He couldn’t believe that his dad texted him. He could imagine his dad sitting in his study or in his office, placing both legs on the table, sitting in an comfy arm chair that could swing in all directions, pushing his eye glasses to the ridges of his nose as he texted him. Nicole wondered what made his dad remember him. Perhaps he had seen a dad and son together in a bus or cab, having the time of their lives and he felt guilty. Nicole envied the relationship that his uncle had with his children. His dad and he never had it. He never thought dads should have time to lay around and play with the kids. He was too damn busy working his ass day and night. His mum who would have built that relationship with him was in prison and she didn’t have much chances of coming out any time soon. Nicole always felt his dad was not trying hard to get his mum out of prison , perhaps he was right about that or maybe he was wrong. Nicole never held it against his dad for not building that relationship. He excused his dad with the thought that his dad did too much.
Nicole stared at his phone. He didn’t know how to reply his dads text. He heard Ginka talking about people who were lynched by an angry mob because they were believed to have stolen something. It was too brutal in his ears. He heard that such people where burnt with tyre after they’ve been stripped naked. He heard uncle Cain say something but he couldn’t make out what he said.
Nicole was so terrified by the news that he saw himself replying his dad thus;
” life in Nigeria is hideous, brutal, dreadful, sickening, obnoxious, nasty, and ugly.”
He saw his fingers press send. He shook and looked up at his phone screen there was nothing there save the SMS sent by his dad. He shook in fear at the thought of doing the obvious. He had no right to infer that about Nigeria. He had been in Nigeria for just 2 days and didn’t get a chance to explore , save today.
Nicole shut his phone off, leaving his dad’s text unattended to and looked ahead as his uncle drove down the lane.