We sat in silence for what seemed like forever…silence that was initially punctuated by Awele’s sobs. Neither Anuli nor I said anything…not to her nor to each other. We just sat there, each of us lost in our own thoughts.
All I could think was how recent unfolded events had just taken me back 48 hours, back to when we just arrived Ogwashi, and my parents were still something of a mirage…a mystery. But after having attached a name and a person to the enigma that was supposed to be my mother, I found myself not only mourning the loss of the sliver of hope I’d had, but devastated at the realization that, truly, I was back to square one.
Eventually, Awele’s sobs subsided, and she too sat in silence for a long while, also lost in her own thoughts.
“You don’t know how I wish it was true.” she said, after what felt an eternity. “For me to suddenly be gifted a girl like you would have been the best that thing that has ever happened to me.”
Our eyes made contact, and I found my own angst give way to a deep sorrow for her. As devastated as I was, Awele was even more broken.
“My daughter would have been around your age…” she continued, smiling wistfully. “She would have been turning 26 about this time. How old are you?”
“25…” I managed to answer, the first word I had uttered to her.
She smiled and a lone tear ran down her face. “Maybe she would have even been married by now…” she continued, a faraway look in her eyes. “Maybe she would have had her own kids…making me a grandmother by now…”
“How do you know the baby was a girl?!” Anuli retorted.
Awele didn’t even look at her. “I know. I feel it in my spirit.” there was another lengthy pause, before she looked at me again. “Having an abortion was the worst mistake I ever made. I was so young back then…so young and stupid. I was only 15. Ambrose was the older brother to someone I considered a friend back then, Felicia. I was so much in awe of him, that when he started making moves on me, I gave in with little or no resistance. I was so much in love with him then…” she smiled sadly. “When I got pregnant, I was so confused. In fact, I didn’t even realize until I had missed several periods…maybe even 3 or 4. Ambrose took me to a lab in Asaba, and we confirmed it. It was Christmas Eve, I’ll never forget. Then he gave me these tablets to swallow…gosh I was so stupid!”
“Ambrose gave you medicine to swallow? You didn’t go for a real abortion?!” Anuli exclaimed.
Awele shook her head. “What did I know back then? I was so young and naïve. I don’t even know what I was expecting would happen. Definitely not all that blood…” her face blanched at the memory. “I woke up in the morning, and there was blood everywhere, by the time I got to the bathroom…”
“It was like a scene from a massacre movie!” Anuli completed.
“And thanks to you, it became evening entertainment for just about everyone in the town!” Awele responded tartly, clearly still bitter about the episode.
“Awele, I didn’t know. I thought you were dying. I would never have humiliated you like that on purpose…”
“But you did. And things changed dramatically after that.” she answered, her tone slightly elevated. “I used to be my father’s pride and joy…but after that night, the man could no longer look me in the eye. Mom and I were never the closest…but things got even worse after what happened. The whole town turned their back on me. I became branded a slut…a loose girl! But meanwhile, I had never been with any other man but Ambrose…”
“So what happened after that? Why did you run away?” I asked.
“Ambrose moved to Benin a few months later…I believe it was May or June 1989.” she answered. “But he still kept in touch. He would send me letters and stuff…and even money sometimes. He had decided not to go to University and was an apprentice in his Uncle’s printing press in Benin. Then in February 1990, he invited me to come visit. I don’t know what I was thinking. I don’t know how I could have thought nobody would miss me if I went away for a few days…but when my mother caught me in the motor park and issued me the ultimatum, I decided that I would be better off starting life with Ambrose in Benin, than returning to Ogwashi.”
“Was he happy to see you?” I asked.
“He was. He really was. He had a small flat, and for the first few years, everything was fine. It didn’t matter that I was 17, 18, 19 at the time. He was doing well with his Uncle, and I also started working as an apprentice at a hair salon. Everything was fine…” she answered, her eyes drifting off into the memories of years before. “But after 5 years, things just started changing. He refused to marry me because I hadn’t conceived again, but he refused to even let me go. I became something of a prisoner to him…his sex slave whom he would beat without any provocation. By this time, he had started bringing other women to the flat, and I had to watch as woman after woman occupied my bed…with my man. And his family…” she shook her head and laughed. “In the early days, they thought I had bewitched him. In fact, once, his mother and sisters, including my so-called-friend Felicia, came all the way from Ogwashi to beat me up black and blue, demanding me to ‘release him from my evil spell’.”
“But you left him eventually?” I asked.
Awele nodded. “In 1997, I’d had enough. I just walked into a Church near the salon where I worked, and broke down. The Pastor’s wife felt sorry for me, and took me into their home. I never went back to Ambrose’s house…not even to pack the rest of my things.” she smiled, but this time, it wasn’t tinged with sadness. “That was where I met Ize. A wonderful, God fearing man who saw me, broken though I was, and decided I was worthy to be his wife. He asked me to marry him about 6 months into my being with Pastor Joel and his wife, but when I refused to take him to meet my family, that became his new prayer point. He refused to proceed with the wedding, and that’s how we spent the next 2 years in a tug of war. But in 2000, I eventually agreed. That was when I returned home to make peace with my family.”
“So if no be for man, you for just fashi us forever ehn?!” Anuli teased.
“I would have still found my way back here. God would not have let me remain a Prodigal daughter forever.” she answered. “Even though I know he is punishing me for the sin I committed all those years ago…”
“O biagokwa!” Anuli muttered under her breath.
“You can mumble all you like, but it’s true!” Awele exclaimed, indicating this was an argument they’d had quite a few times. “Ize and I have been married for 15 good years! 15 years! I’ve not gotten pregnant once. Don’t forget the 7 years I spent with Ambrose. Doctors have checked me, and they say I am fine. Contrary to what I feared, my womb is still intact. My tubes are clear. Everything is fine.” she shook her head sadly. “It’s all spiritual.”
“Nothing is spiritual, Awele!” Anuli retorted. “Has Pastor Ize gone to the hospital yet? Last we discussed, wasn’t he still refusing to be examined by a doctor?”
“Ize doesn’t need to be checked. He had 2 kids before he gave his life to Christ. Both of us are just being punished for our years of fornication!”
“Awele, please let’s not have this discussion again.” Anuli snapped. “Leave prayer and take action! You are just 42, women older than you have gotten pregnant through medical intervention. So what if he had 2 kids before! Do you know if his baby mama or mamas were playing away match?! You and Pastor are talking God’s punishment. “
“Do you have a boyfriend?” Awele asked me, turning away from her sister. “You better be careful. Men can be dangerous!”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to be roped into their argument. “I’m still a virgin…” I added, for reasons I will never know.
The smile on Awele’s face could have lit up the entire town, and I could feel the love she had started feeling for me emanating from every pore of my body. Just at the same time that Anuli’s eyes popped in disbelief.
“That is so wonderful!” Awele exclaimed, hugging me. “I knew there was something beautiful and precious and pure about you! Chai! I wish you were really my daughter!”
“How can you be a virgin, when you look like a ruffian?” Anuli retorted. “With tattoos all over your body, you expect me to believe that?”
I shrugged, not caring to prove anything to her. As rebellious as I’d been as a teenager, I’d just never been able to give myself to any guy…not even Dozie.
“Don’t listen to her.” Awele said. “You need to hold on to this beautiful virtue. You don’t know precious it is…to be so beautiful and unsoiled! You must be so pleasing to our God! Such a treasure!”
“Have you tried IVF?” I couldn’t help but ask. Having spent time researching assisted reproduction in my short time in Reading, I couldn’t help but wonder why she’d never attempted it.
Awele smiled sadly. “We can’t afford it. One million naira? Where will Ize and I find that kind of money? My husband is just a teacher, and I’m a hairdresser. We’re lucky if we can pull in N50,000 a month…combined!”
I stole a look at Anuli. I knew Chuka had given her nothing less than £3,000 to babysit me. At the going exchange rate, it was almost what her sister needed for a procedure that could change her life. As if she could read my mind, she refused to meet my gaze.
“But back to the issue at hand, I’m sure there must be clues about who your parents are, somewhere!” Awele said, sitting up. “Did you search your dad’s documents?”
I nodded. I’d spent the last few months since his passing, turning out the man’s personal belongings inside out, and had found absolutely nothing. Not even pictures from their time in Nigeria, before immigrating to the UK. It meant they had probably left all their documents and memorabilia back in Nigeria.
“Have you checked Aunty Agbomma’s family house in Onicha-Ugbo? She and Proff moved there for a while, when…” she continued, before trailing off abruptly, casting a nervous glance Anuli’s way.
“Why are you looking at me? Madam Story Teller! Are you not the one telling the story? Tell her na!” Anuli retorted.
“There were a lot of fights between Proff and the rest of his family…about the son he had outside…” Awele continued, nervously.
“Chuka.” I completed for her.
She nodded. “At a point, they moved into his wife’s family house in a nearby town. In fact, I believe they were still there when I left Ogwashi.”
I found my hopes beginning to rise. “You think I might find something there?”
“I believe it’s worth a try.” Awele answered. “You’ve come all this way. You might as well exhaust all options!”
Those were the words of encouragement I needed, as we retired for bed that night. There had to be clues somewhere. There just had to!
The next morning, Awele, Anuli and I didn’t wake up until way past 10am. It had been a long time since I’d slept so soundly, and I realized it was the little nugget of hope I’d received that was spurring me on. I had to find a way to get to Onicha-Ugbo. I just had to.
As we walked into the kitchen to organize breakfast, I could see Aunty Ekwi staring at us intently, trying to decipher what had gone down the night before, and what we’d discussed. Too bad we disappointed her, as the three of us made harmless conversation as we dished our meals. It was evident this was not the showdown she’d been expecting. I was just happy that, even though I hadn’t found my parents, I’d found a sister in the beautiful soul that was Awele.
Later that afternoon, Anuli suggested we all go to a nearby beer parlor, to let off steam.
“Don’t worry, they also serve Coke and Fanta!” she added snidely. “If I stay in this house for a minute longer, I’ll run mad!”
When neither Awele nor I appeared convinced, she quickly added. “Besides, I want to see if we can find someone to take us to Onicha-Ugbo tomorrow!”
That was all the convincing I needed.
“Some things never change!” Awele muttered, as we walked into the Sunshine Spot, a place which looked anything but shiny or luxurious. It was an old bungalow, which also doubled as a buka. The tables and chairs were old and rusty, and the old green check covering on our table had particles of food I was almost certain were not from that week. It was smoky, it was dingy, and it was hot. The small fan perched precariously in one corner, did more to add to the noise and raucous than to do any actual cooling. As for the noise, it was on another level, with the loud chatter from patrons competing with the even louder blast of music.
As Anuli exchanged pleasantries with the waiters, it was clear that not only was she a regular there, she was a regular in Ogwashi period.
“You come to the village a lot?” I asked.
“Ogwashi-Ukwu is not a village, my dear. Don’t let anyone here hear you call it that.” she admonished, waving for the waiter.
“To answer your question, yes she does!” Awele answered. “Every Christmas, she descends here, made up like a masquerade, looking for a man to catch!”
“Isn’t that the best time to catch one? When the most eligible ones are around?” Anuli answered, smiling.
“As for me, I only come when it’s necessary. Too many bad memories here.” Awele said, just as the waiter served our drinks; a malt drink for Awele, soda for me, and a big stout for Anuli.
Just then, I caught sight of the bearded man from my morning run of the previous day, sitting on the other side of the room. He was alone on his table, and just like he’d been the first time I saw him, was smoking what I could now see was a cigarette. I watched him, fascinated. Thankfully, he was clothed this time, but his shirt looked old and faded. His afro seemed even higher and his beard still remained the prominent thing on his face.
“Isn’t that Nduka? That your classmate?” Awele said, her voice a stage whisper, as she also caught sight of the bearded man.
“How can that old man be my classmate?!” Anuli retorted angrily, casting dagger-filled eyes at her sister.
Awele didn’t even notice. She just kept staring at the guy. “Wow. What happened to him?! I thought he was abroad…”
Anuli scoffed. “Which kin’ abroad?! Is it just now you’re seeing him? Somebody they deported almost 3 years ago!”
“Deported?” Awele part exclaimed, part whispered. “What happened?!”
Anuli put her two fingers on her lips, in an exaggerated smoking stance. “One na-ese ogu! The man is on drugs!”
As Awele exclaimed again, I cast another look at the guy. I’d seen a lot of drug addicts in my time, and I could recognize their look from anywhere. This bearded man didn’t have it.
As if on cue, he looked up and our eyes met…and held. Reluctantly, I looked away.
“Anuli, what about the guy you said will take us to Onicha-Ugbo?”
Catch up on Golibe’s story here:
- Golibe 1: The Journey
- Golibe 2: Brave
- Golibe 3: Blood Relative
- Golibe 4: Strangers
- Golibe 5: Fill the Gaps