About 30 minutes into our time at the Sunshine Spot, I noticed a young man, about my age, walk into the bar. He wore a zebra skinned jacket, and heavy gold chains adorned his neck and wrists. His sunglasses, which he didn’t bother to remove, I noticed were Prada. But the most fascinating item of clothing was the white hat he wore, despite the heat. As ridiculously as he was dressed, it was also obviously expensive attire. In the humble gathering, he stood out like a sore thumb.
“Ah, he’s here!” Anuli exclaimed, smiling from ear to ear as she waved at him, to get his attention.
The flashy guy beamed in return, as he approached our table. “Hey shorty! I didn’t know you were in town!” he said, in the worst attempt at an American accent ever. Then looking casually at Awele and I, nodded a greeting.
“This is my big sis, Awele!” Anuli introduced, still smiling like a Cheschire cat, “And my cousin, Golibe…the one I told you about. Ladies…Olisa.”
Olisa didn’t even spare Awele a glance, instead he looked at me and smiled in appreciation, obviously liking what he saw. “Yeah, she’s real pretty…just like you said!”
“And who are you exactly?!” Awele interjected, her disapproval written all over his face.
“Awi, you know his parents. His father was Dad’s friend…Chief Osamor.” Anuli explained, giving Awele a dirty look.
Awele’s frown deepened. “The youngest son of Chief Osamor that was rusticated for cult activities?”
“Awele!” Anuli exclaimed, her face drained of color.
I had to suppress a smile, as I watched the exchange. Anuli looked like she could commit murder, and Awele…well, she sure knew a lot about the town for someone who didn’t visit often.
“Nah, that’s okay shorty! That’s cool!” Olisa said, leaning back in the chair nobody offered him, a lazy smile on his face. “Yeah, I had some issues with school. No biggie. Pops is making plans for me to leave the country soon, so yeah, no big deal!” he turned to look at me again, and smiled as he practically undressed me with his eyes. “So, what’s the deal with your lovely cousin, shorty?”
From the corner of my eye, I noticed Nduka, the bearded guy, watching the exchange intently.
“Golibe is here to…” Anuli began.
“Golibe! I like that name.” Olisa interrupted. “There’s a song by that Nigerian musician, what’s his name, Flavour right?”
“Yes, but…” Anuli interjected, trying to regain control of the conversation.
“How does it go again? ‘Golibe, Golibe. Your mama born you well. Golibe yoyoyo eeeee. Nwata golibe!'” he sang, pretty fluently for someone who had apparently struggled with the name of the musician in question, and in far better Igbo than I’d expected from an ‘Americana’ like him. “You’re really beautiful! Just like the song!”
“Thank you.” I said, desperate to get back to the point. “It’s funny you should talk about my ‘mama’, because I’m actually here trying to find her. I believe that’s why Anuli called you here.”
Anuli kicked me under the table, but Olisa’s lazy smile only grew wider.
“I just love the way you talk! Pure, unadulterated English accent! Beautiful!” he responded, leaning closer and taking my hand in his. My first instinct was to pull it away, but because I knew what it was we wanted, I left it there.
“What she’s trying to say is that she needs a ride to Onicha-Ugbo!” Awele said, also clearly fed up of the guy. “Can you take her?”
He laughed, not taking his eyes off me. “Is that all? Is that all you want, Princess? For you, I’d do anything…”
I smiled stiffly. “Thank you. But yes, that is all I want.”
“For now. That is all she wants for now!” Anuli beamed.
“I have to take the old man somewhere tomorrow…but I could take you on Saturday.” he said, looking at his watch. “I gotta go, Shorty. There are people waiting for me back at home. I’ll see you later.” then winking at me. “And you too, beautiful Golibe!”
“What are you doing hanging around a small boy like that?!” Awele exclaimed aghast, after Olisa had left. “You’re too old to be frolicking with a boy like that, Anuli!”
“Oh please keep quiet!” Anuli retorted. “Which kin frolicking?! His father is the wealthiest man in this town. You don’t think it’s wise to remain friendly with people with that kind of money? Dad was, in case you’ve forgotten!”
“If what I heard is correct, the young man was rusticated from, not one, but two Universities…both for cult activities!” Awele continued ranting. “And that’s the kind of person you want carrying Golibe around?!”
“I don’t even think I can wait till Saturday.” I interjected. “Can’t we go with public transport tomorrow?”
“Exactly! It’s only 30 minutes away, for crying out loud!” Awele exclaimed.
“And what happens when we get there? How do we move around, in case we have to go to more than one place? By flying okada? If that’s your plan, count me out! You can go by yourself then!” Anuli retorted, before softening and turning to me. “Goli, Olisa has a beautiful, comfortable jeep! A Land Rover, for that matter! Is it such a bad thing to have someone take us everywhere we want to go, and also bring us back home, in comfort?”
I found my own resolve weakening. I wasn’t too keen on the idea of hopping on a bike, and if there was the option of a free ride there…
“Just make sure you don’t leave her alone with him!” Awele said, not convinced. “If that boy is anything like his older brothers, he is clearly not to be trusted.”
“We have heard!” Anuli said sarcastically, as she picked up her drink.
From the other of the room, Nduka rose to his feet, dropped money on the table and walked away.
We were soon done with our own drinks, and with the mission for the trip accomplished, proceeded to head back home.
The next morning, my eyes flew open at a little over 6am in the morning. Grabbing my rosary, I proceeded to say a few decades, before finally rising at about 6.45am. I was surprised to see Awele sitting up on the bed, smiling at me.
“You say your rosary everyday?” she asked.
I smiled shyly and nodded.
“That’s one of the things I miss about the Catholic Church…the rosary.” she said wistfully.
“Nothing stops you from still praying it.” I said, and she shook her head and smiled. I could immediately decode that smile. Her husband would clearly not approve.
“I want to go for a run. Do you want to come?” I asked.
“For a run…no. But for a walk, most definitely.” she said, rising to her feet.
I could live with a walk, if it meant spending time with Awele before she left for Abuja later that day. The wedding she’d come for was to take place that Friday morning, and her plan was to leave very shortly afterwards. As we left the room, we both cast tentative glances at Anuli, who was still deeply asleep.
“I’m surprised Aunty Ekwi and Anuli allowed you go running by yourself the other morning.” Awele said, as we hit the road, in a brisk walk, with Awele sipping on fruit juice from a sip cup.
“Aunty Ekwi didn’t seem to notice, but Anuli wasn’t pleased about it. She kept complaining about me exposing myself to kidnappers!” I laughed.
“But she’s right though. You need to be careful. These parts aren’t as safe as they used to be.” Awele admonished. “Please, try not to venture too far away from the house next time.”
Our walk took us round a wider radius than I’d covered the last time, and almost everyone seemed to know who she was. She also appeared to be much friendlier and better liked than her sister, and stopped to chat with almost everyone who waved at her.
“People really like you here.” I remarked. “When did all that change? Considering you said you were considered a pariah as a teen…because of what happened to you.”
“By the time I returned home in my late 20s, I guess time had taken care of that old stigma.” she answered, with a shrug. “I became more open with people, and they became more open with me.”
“When you returned to your family, why didn’t you go to the University?” I asked. “I’ve heard that your brothers are very well educated. How come your family didn’t insist that you go to school?”
“Ize would never have allowed that.” she answered. “We were only home to get their blessing for our marriage…nothing more. He would never have accepted a kobo from them.”
“Not even if it was for your own good?” I exclaimed.
“I was already a well trained hairdresser! Just because I wasn’t formally educated didn’t mean I was useless. I’d already had good vocational training, and that was what mattered.” she answered, without any edge in her voice at all. “That said, I do wish Anuli hadn’t been so reckless with her own education.”
I looked at her quizzically. “She didn’t go to University?”
“She did…but she just didn’t finish…” her voice trailed off, and I could tell that was all she cared to discuss on the matter.
As we turned the bend, the sound of Fela’s Shakara alerted me to the fact that we were approaching Nduka’s house. Just as expected, he was leaning on his balcony, but instead of a cigarette, this time he had a cup of what could have been tea or coffee in hand. Like the first day I saw him, he was bare chested, with his skin glistening under the early morning sun.
“Duke!” Awele called out to him.
He turned to look our way, a small smile on his lips as he waved back. “Awele.”
Driven my some unseen force, I raised my hand to wave, to which he smiled and also waved back.
“He knows you?” I asked, once we were out of earshot.
Awele cast me a bemused look. “Of course he knows me. We all grew up together.” then with a dramatic sigh. “But na wa oh! I wonder what could have happened to him! Drugs??! Who would have ever thought?!”
“He didn’t seem the type?” I quizzed.
“Not at all! He was perfect! Straight A student and everything. He was his mother’s only child, and the woman was widowed pretty early.” Awele answered. “He left for the UK in 1989, the year before I left Ogwashi, on scholarship to one of the top Universities there.”
I turned back to have another glance at the enigma that was Nduka…Duke…and was surprised to see he was still looking at us.
“In fact, the year I returned home to get married, he was also home as well…visiting his mom with his pregnant wife and daughter.” Awele continued. “I wonder what could have happened!”
That was a puzzle that was almost as intriguing as the one that had brought me home in the first place.
Getting home, Aunty Ekwi was in the kitchen making her breakfast, and she cast a sour look our way. “Having some mother-daughter time? I see none of you deemed it fit to tell me how the discussion went the other night.”
“As much as I would have loved for it to be so, she isn’t my daughter, Aunty.” Awele said, smiling patiently. “But I wish she was! Proff and Aunty Agbomma did a fantastic job with her! Have you heard her speak Igbo?”
Aunty Ekwi smiled. “Yes, I agree. The only thing I will criticize them for is allowing her put all those tribal marks all over her body!”
“I wonder who could have started the rumour in the first place.” Awele mused. “About Golibe being my daughter.”
Something told me we were standing right before the source.
“But how come Proff and Agbomma emerged with a new daughter shortly after your own parents were away for so long?!” she demanded.
Awele smiled and shrugged. “Unfortunately, all the people in that equation are dead and can give us no answers.”
“But I’m going to…” I started to tell her about my intended trip to Onicha-Ugbo, before Awele yanked me by the arm, and led me upstairs.
“Never, ever divulge anything to Aunty Ekwi! That woman is evil personified!” Awele muttered, her resentment of her aunt shining through. “She must never be aware of any of your plans! Do you hear me??!”
Even though I wasn’t convinced there was anything evil or diabolical about the old woman, I nodded in acquiescence.
“Where did you people go to?” Anuli muttered, scrolling through her phone as usual. “Awele, I see you have the power to fight off kidnappers, okwiya?”
“What exactly happened to Duke?” I heard myself asking, almost involuntarily. “Just curious…” I had to add, when both Anuli and Awele cast surprised looks my way.
“Who knows what happened? I just know he arrived home, like a lunatic, three years ago.” Anuli answered, in detachment.
“And his wife?” Awele asked.
Anuli chuckled. “If na you, you go stay?”
Awele shook her head sympathetically. “How about his mother?”
Anuli made a circular motion around her head, with her finger and whistled. “Also crazy. It’s like the thing is in their blood!”
Her phone rang, prompting a giggle and the effective end of our conversation.
Later that morning, Awele proceeded to dress up for the wedding she’d come for.
“Are you sure you don’t want to come? Chibuzor is around your age. I’m sure you’ll remember her from school. She will be very happy to see you.” Awele said to her sister.
“No, thank you! I don’t need endless lectures about why I’m still single. I’m still young, biko. I’m still enjoying my life!” Anuli answered, not even looking up.
But somewhere in her sense of detachment, I sensed she cared more than she’d ever want to admit. I was hopeful of one day getting to know the real Anuli, the one beneath the wigs and heavy makeup.
After spending only a couple of hours, Awele returned home, to change and grab her things before leaving for Abuja. Just as she had arrived, a bike was waiting outside to take her to the bus park.
“Safe journey o!” Aunty Ekwi called out, sounding almost patronizing. What was it with that old woman?!
“Please greet Pastor Ize for me.” Anuli said, with her own dose of sarcasm, as we both stood by the door, seeing Awele off. “Tell him to spend less time praying, and more time acting! God helps those who help themselves!”
“My husband and I will never cease to pray…and one day, God will hear us!” Awele answered, her trademark patient smile on her face.
“I’ll miss you.” I said to this woman I hadn’t even known existed a few days before…but whom I now loved so much.
Awele enveloped me in a bear hug. “My darling Golibe. My reminder of what could have been!” she said tearfully. “I’ll be praying for you, in this quest of yours. I hope your search leads you to a fulfilled conclusion!”
As she rode off in the same dusty cloud of haze that had brought her, I found myself making the same prayer too!
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
- Golibe 6: Awele