I could do nothing but stare at the picture, as we rode back to Ogwashi. The more I looked at the beautiful, pregnant woman in the picture, the more I wondered whether this was where my search ended…with that picture.
“No, she doesn’t look familiar.” Anuli said, her brows furrowed as she stared at the picture intently. “She’s very pretty though.”
“What about the name Cha…Chalok…” I asked, looking at the letter again.
Anuli laughed, taking it from me. “Don’t dismember the name, I beg you!” she glanced at it and shook her head. “Chalokwu? Nope…not familiar either.”
I sighed deeply. If Anuli didn’t know, and if there was only one other family member who possibly could, it appeared I’d have no choice but to speak with Aunty Ekwi after all.
It took us a little longer to get back to Ogwashi, as there appeared to be a funeral convoy in front of us. But I didn’t even notice, as my mind was immersed in the mystery of the woman…and the letter. When we’d parked in front of our house, Olisa was out of the car quick enough to dash to my side to open the door.
“So I’m not a human being, abi? I’m a sack of garri?” Anuli hissed, as she helped herself out of the car.
I smiled politely as Olisa reached for my hand, to help me out of the car. Not wanting to be rude, I accepted it, and shuddered at the feel of his cold yet clammy hands.
“So when are we gonna see again?” Olisa asked, leaning closer to me than I was comfortable with.
I tried to pull my hand out of his grasp, but he held on tight. “I don’t know. You can see that I have a whole lot occupying my mind…” I muttered in response, still struggling.
He smiled and released his grip so suddenly, I stumbled back. “That’s cool, beautiful. I know you’re tired after the trip. I’ll come check you up tomorrow.”
And then suddenly, without warning, he grabbed me by my backside and pulled me closer to him. Unluckily for him, I’d spent a lifetime dealing with his type and my palm connected with his face in two swift slaps, one for each side.
“Golibe!” Anuli exclaimed.
“Feisty. I like that!” Olisa said, holding his face, still with that lazy smile.
“How dare you touch me that way? You think because you gave me a stupid ride, you can do whatever you like?!” I snapped.
“Olisa, just go.” Anuli said, taking me by the hand.
“Na wa for you oh, Goli!” she mumbled, as we walked into the house. “Did you have to slap him like that?”
“Didn’t you see the way he assaulted me?!” I exclaimed, looking at her in disbelief.
“Assault sha! All you oyibo people!” she said shaking her head. “The boy was only appreciating you, you’re saying assault! His father is the wealthiest man in Ogwashi. That’s not the kind of person you want as an enemy!”
“Wealthiest my foot!” came Aunty Ekwi’s voice from the sofa. Neither of us had even seen her lying down there. “Someone that is living on past glory. The man’s businesses have all crashed, and AMCON has seized almost all of the rest that haven’t!”
“Aunty Ekwi please!” Anuli retorted. “Stop spreading lies! Olisa’s family is still very, very rich! I’m sure you saw the car that dropped us off now, that spanking new Land Rover! Is that a poor man’s car?!”
“That car is Osamor’s only car oh! He has sold off the rest!” Aunty Ekwi answered, matter of factly. “Haven’t you stopped to wonder why that young man is sitting down here in the village? For how many years has he been singing the same tune of going to America for further studies?”
Anuli stood and pondered. “Eziokwu oh! You have a point, Aunty. He has been saying he’s going to America at least since 2013 Christmas!”
“You better retrace your steps from that young man, or you’ll soon be the one giving him money and not other way around!” Aunty Ekwi cautioned.
Then turning to me, Aunty Ekwi looked at me intensely. “Golibe. Ebee ka ị gara? Where did you go?” she asked.
“Nowhere…” I muttered barely audibly. “Excuse me. I need to go lie down.”
Without listening for her response, I walked out of the living room and went upstairs to our bedroom. Lying on the bed, I peered at the picture and envelope again, wondering what they meant in this mystery of mine.
I knew, right then and there, that there was only one person I wanted to speak with. I reached into my bag for my phone, and dialed my brother’s number. He answered the call on the first ring.
“Oh thank God, Emma!” he exclaimed. “I was considering buying myself a ticket to come see what you’re up to! Why haven’t you been answering my calls?!”
“I told you I needed some space, the last time we spoke.” I answered, my voice flat…even though I was over the moon hearing his voice. “Chuka, why did you lie to me? Why didn’t you tell me you’re Dad’s son?”
He sighed deeply. “Golibe, I did it out of respect for our dad. If he didn’t tell you when he was alive, I didn’t think it was my place to tell you in his death. Besides, I didn’t think it mattered. Whether through blood or not, you’re my sister…my only living relative. You’re all I’ve got!”
My heart warmed hearing him. Of course it didn’t matter. Nothing could change the fact that he was my brother. He’d been more than a big brother to me for the last 13 years…but also a friend, confidant and protector. I suddenly felt ashamed for lashing out at him the way I had. I proceeded to tell him all about what happened with Awele, and our trip to Onicha-Ugbo, and also the documents I’d found.
“Chalokwu. Yes, I remember the man’s name.” Chuka answered. “He and dad met in secondary school, and remained close for years.”
I sat up, my hopes shooting to the air like a launched rocket. “Do you know where he is? If he’s still alive?”
“I’m sorry, love. I think he and dad lost touch when they moved to London. I never heard him talk about him again.” he answered, sending the rocket right back to earth. “You said there’s a picture. Can I see it?”
“I’ll take a picture of it, and send it to you.” I answered, afraid to be hopeful.
“I’ll call you as soon as I get it.” he said, disconnecting the line.
Reaching for the picture, I took several shots of it, from different angles, hopeful at least one of them would strike the chord of familiarity. I proceeded to share them by WhatsApp, and in less than a minute after I’d sent it, my phone rang.
“Negative, love. I have no idea who she is.” he answered. “Have you shown it to Aunty Ekwi? I’ll bet she’ll know.”
Looking at my door, I knew he was right and that all my answers probably lay with my cantankerous, bad mouthed, septuagenerian aunt.
“Goli! You can’t be taking out your annoyance on everyone. See how you just walked out on Aunty Ekwi!” Anuli exclaimed, walking into the room later that afternoon.
“I needed to be alone.” I answered sullenly, “I also wanted to talk to Chuka.”
“Does he know anything?” she asked, getting out of her clothes, stripping herself to just her underwear.
I shook my head. “He remembers the name Chalokwu as a friend of dad’s, but that’s about all he knew.”
She shrugged. “I guess we have no choice but to ask Aunty Ekwi.”
Well, it appeared so.
Anuli let out an exaggerated sigh. “But biko, I need some fun abeg! If I don’t get someone that can trip us, and get our minds off all these Samanja moves of ours, my head is going to explode!”
I rose to my feet and walked out of the room. If her own problem was how to get entertainment on a Saturday night, we were clearly not thinking on the same wavelength.
“Aunty…” I called out to the sleeping form on the sofa, wondering if she was truly, in fact, sleeping.
“Golibe! Have you come to tell me where you and Anuli went to?” she asked, not even moving.
I took a seat beside her. “We went to Onicha-Ugbo.”
She sat up. “To see Ogechi? Agbomma’s sister?” she asked, making me marvel at her sharp mind, once again. “Did they tell you anything?”
I handed the two envelopes to the old woman. She peered at the picture long and hard. “There is something very familiar about this woman!” she muttered examining it with such intensity, it looked like she was trying to take position beside the smiling pregnant woman. “I don’t remember where, but her face is one I have seen before!”
She opened the second envelope and smiled. “Ah, Chalokwu!” she exclaimed. “It’s been such an age.”
“You know him? Chuka said he was my father’s friend.” I exclaimed.
“They were more than friends…they were like brothers!” Aunty Ekwi answered. “They were friends right from CKC Onitsha, and even went to the same college afterwards! When Austin hadn’t found a job after marriage, it was your dad who made him move here, into this house with the rest of us…with his wife! Your dad was the one taking care of all their needs; clothing, feeding, everything. For over a year, Austin and his wife were with us. Even after she gave birth to their first baby, they were still with us. Thankfully, he got a job in a factory back in Onitsha, and eventually moved out in 1979 or so.”
“1979? But the letter was dated 1990…” I noted. “Or did they remain in touch afterwards?”
Aunty Ekwi clucked her tongue. “What kind of a question is that?! I told you they were like brothers, you’re asking me if they stayed in touch. They were very, very close! Even the wives were extremely close. It was where your mother went when…”
Her voice trailed off, making me realize I was on to something there.
“When what, Aunty? It was where my mother went when what?” I prodded.
“When she left your father.” Aunty Ekwi answered.
And that was where I learnt how, after having forgiven my father for the indiscretion with a student that had led to the birth of a child, my parents had tried to rebuild their relationship. However, when my father’s people found out about the existence of a child out there, and a male one at that, it was like blood in a river full of sharks. They heaped so much pressure on the fatigued couple about not only accepting the child, but his mother as well.
It was this pressure that had led the couple to relocate to Agbomma’s family home in Onicha-Ugbo, where they lived for several years. To keep his marriage, Proff had resigned from Abraka and gotten himself a job closer by. And all was fine in their world, until…
“When Chuka was about 15 years old, his mother passed away. Even though he hadn’t seen anything of his son in almost that length of time, Proff had been moved to reach out to the boy. It also didn’t help that Chuka had scored close to perfect marks in his GCE’s, but had no prospect of actualizing the dream of getting to University.” Aunty Ekwi continued. “But Agbomma was so angry and incensed by it, she went to stay with the Chalokwus. It was the Chalokwus who actually saved their marriage.”
“Is anyone, the husband or wife, still alive? Do you know if they’re still in Onitsha?” I asked.
“I think they’re still alive. I haven’t heard anything to the contrary.” Aunty Ekwi answered. “I’ll try to get an address for you for them.”
For the first time that day, I smiled broadly. Finally, I had a lead. And it didn’t matter that nobody could identify the pregnant woman yet. Something told me I would find all my answers in Onitsha!
Getting back to our room, Anuli, still in her underwear, was applying a full face of makeup.
“You’re going out?” I asked.
“WE are going out, Goli!” she answered, painstakingly sticking on her false lashes. “I just made a call to my friend in Asaba, and he’s on his way!”
I laughed and shook my head. “And who is this guy?”
“He’s a handsome, young and RICH guy, that will give us a good time!” she answered, not even looking up. “His rich is not just audio money, like Olisa’s own, but the one where we will see the money with our own eyes! And you are exactly his spec, which makes it even sweeter.”
“Anuli, I’m sorry, but I’m not up to it. All I want to do is sleep…” I mumbled, hopping on the bed.
“Golibe, you owe me!” she answered, looking me square in the eye. “After today’s draining experience, my dear, you owe me big time!”
“Besides I have a boyfriend…” I offered lamely.
Anuli laughed. “Which boyfriend? The one you were talking to this morning? The one who took days to call you after you arrived The one who left you almost in tears today? Goli, you better smell the coffee and move on.”
Not that I was out to look for a replacement for Dozie, which I wasn’t, I found myself eager to also get some air…and maybe even possibly a ride to Onitsha soon, since it appeared I’d bungled any chance of Olisa repeating that favor.
Refusing to do any more than change into a fresh pair of jeans and top, brush my hair and apply lip gloss, I declared myself ready.
“Goli, you better not slack oh! The guy is a real catch! And he’s looking for a fine girl to marry now now!” Anuli admonished.
“Then how come you don’t want him for yourself?” I asked, curious.
“My dear, he only likes small girls like you. As I have passed the threshold of 30, I no longer qualify!” she answered, giggling. “If I say I didn’t try to get his attention before, I’ll be lying. It didn’t work out. But the good side is that we have remained friends. If I can’t have him, let me have a shot at introducing him to someone he’ll like!”
I shrugged. What did I have to lose or gain, save for the possibility of a free ride to Onitsha when I needed it…
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
- Golibe 7: Frolicking
- Golibe 8: The Trunk