Victim of Greed
By Tony Chuks Modungwo (Nigeria)
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I regained consciousness in the hospital. I tried to remember what happened but my memory was blank. I lifted what used to be my right hand there was nothing there. Without warning a sudden, overwhelming sense of loss invaded my chest. I fainted. The discovery was too much for my weak body. I came to the surface again after a period I couldn’t estimate. My head was very heavy. I lifted my left hand to my head and discovered that it was heavily bandaged. My heart swelled with sadness. I made another effort to remember the event that landed me in this pathetic state but I couldn’t remember anything. This was one of the blackest days in my life. I was still struggling with my thoughts when a beautiful, slim, fair-complexioned nurse made her entry.
“Hello Mr. Okafor, happy survival.” Everyone knew me in the state because my election posters were posted everywhere. I’d several interviews with journalists, so my face was always on the television and newspapers.
I didn’t say a word. I didn’t know if I was to be happy for losing my right hand.
“Your survival is a medical miracle. You had bullets in almost all parts of your body. Everybody was surprised you didn’t die before a Good Samaritan rushed you here. I better let Dr. Okon know you’ve come through.”
“Please come. How long have I been here?” I asked.
“Two weeks; you were in intensive care after the operation on your arm for one week.”
I was consumed by a fit of coughing; my body was as hot as a fired-up barbecue pit. I lay in bed groaning piteously. I was in a great deal of pain. I was reduced to a state of extreme and dangerous exhaustion by the loss of blood.
“I better get the doctor,” She said and walked away. The mention of bullet sparked my brain and I remembered what happened. I was crying when she returned with a bespectacled young man with stethoscope hanging from his neck. He smiled at me as he entered my room.
“Mr. Okafor, you must be a very tough man. So you clung to life so tightly?”
Softly I continued to cry, my body racked with pain for Biola, for myself, for what might have been.
I didn’t enjoy the joke if it was meant to be a joke. When he came closer, he saw I was weeping. “You’re not well enough so please take it easy,” he advised. I thought the doctor was mad. My wife and child had been killed and he was telling me to take things easy. I ignored his advice as though he were speaking some foreign tongue. When he saw I wasn’t ready to heed his advice, he directed the nurse to give me an injection. I felt initially dizzy before I went into oblivion.
When the effect of the drug wore off, I tried to review what led to my disastrous state. I found myself, when not giving in to drugged sleep unable to refrain from touching my empty right sleeve. I was overcome by fear, by panic --- Panic quickly turned to anger, then to bitterness. Chika be a man, some voice whispered in the back of my mind.
The whole thing started from my greedy nature and introduction into politics by Senator Harrison, the rigging of election and the landslide victories of both of us. My ostentatious life-style, political ineptitude and lack of political candor had annoyed a lot of people. Many complained I was corrupt and immoral. “But how many Nigerians were upright? How many lived on their salaries and legitimate allowances? How many never cheated their employers? Wouldn’t many of them have done worse granted the same opportunity? Hadn’t many social critics and anti-corruption crusaders turned embezzlers?” I asked the empty air in my room. “Killing Senator Harrison and trying to kill me will solve nothing. Other opportunists will take our place. Okay, how about my wife and innocent child? Were they corrupt? The hungry bastard had said it was a matter of genes. Does it necessarily mean that the son of a thief must become a thief?”
My raised voice brought in the nurse. “Mr. Okafor is anything wrong?” she asked.
“Yes. A lot. People said I was corrupt and that was why they wanted to kill me. Can you mention a righteous man in this our society? If not for the love of Nigerians for things that are illegal and foreign would our business have thrived? If men of Customs and Excise did their jobs wouldn’t our smuggling business have been aborted in its infancy? If importation license were issued to other recognized and registered companies, would we’ve had the opportunity of importing prodigious quantity of essential commodities and hoarding them? If not for the kickback experts in the government offices would we have been able to inflate contracts fees with brazen impunity? What have they done about the policemen who have turned the checkpoints to bribe collecting centers? If they want to fight corruption then everybody must be affected – a total social purge. I’ve lost my right hand and have got several bullet wounds for doing what others have been doing for years and are still doing. Who is not corrupt,” I broke off.
“Please rest, you’re still weak,” she chided in a protective tone.
Life has been cruel to me,” I said. “Could destiny be so cruel as this? I know my wife loved me. I know she was proud of me. It took sometime for us to work everything out, but we did and we were closer. I loved her and look at what that bastard has done.”
Coastal Hospital was a serious, no-nonsense facility devoted to the task of keeping people alive. It served a mixed clientele from the state, outside the state, the nearby highways, the adjacent waterways and anywhere else human beings got hurt or sick. The staff there had seen everything, not once but so many times, that almost nothing seemed to ruffle them, except a wounded politician. That was in a category all by itself.
The hospital had magnificent buildings, very impressive to look at, and equipped with the state-of-the-art equipment. Corridors connected all the buildings. It’d well-trained doctors and nurses.
“Good morning, sir. Sorry to disturb you. I just want to dress your arm,” a nurse said.
The dressing was done, but a few minutes later there was red stain seeping through the bandage. Something was wrong; blood was oozing through the bandage.
“How do you feel?” the nurse asked, as she came with my drugs.
“I feel awful.”
“There’s a little bleeding and you may feel weak, but it’s nothing to worry about,” she said reassuringly. “Go and get Dr. Okon at once. If he’s not there, any of the doctors working under him will do,” she told her assistant.
Dr. Okon rushed down. “Let’s get the bandage off and check if there is any damage. Nurse, check the blood bank and get a pint of blood.”
The nurse left. Dr. Okon started to check if he could see the cause of the bleeding. He adjusted the drip and fixed the blood, the nurse brought from the blood bank.
“You’re coming along nicely.” Dr. Okon said. “I’ve arrested the bleeding.”
“Doctor, I don’t know how to thank you.”
“I was told I would’ve died without your care,” I said.
He frowned, “Die? Nonsense! Who said that? I just did what I’d to do. Whether you die or survive is for God to decide.”
“I suppose you’re right. But thank you all the same.”
“Doctor, you’re wanted in the Accident Ward. There is an emergency,” a nurse rushed in to inform Dr. Okon.
“I shall be back later,” he said before he left.
I turned to the nurse, “I’m very thirsty,” I said weakly.
The nurse poured a glass of water, and then slipped an arm under my back to raise my head and shoulders. I felt helpless and ridiculous as she held the glass to my mouth.
“Just take a few sip for now,” she cautioned. “I’ll get you a cup of hot coffee later. That’ll help you to feel better.”
I lay back. The simple act of sitting up had exhausted me. I closed my eyes and slept.
When I woke the next day, the nurse was there. I saw the bright sun streaming through the windows.
“I’ve come to clean you up.” She started to clean me up with warm water and hand towel. It took some time before she believed she’d done a thorough job. “I’ll be back with your drugs at eight o’clock.” She left, and returned thirty minutes later with my drugs. “You’ve a visitor,” she said, after giving me the drugs.
“I feel exhausted. I don’t want to see anybody. I want to rest.”
“Well, she’s very anxious to see you. I’ll tell her, she can only stay for a few minutes.”
“Tell who?” I asked suspiciously.
She opened the door and my mother stepped into the room. At the sight of my mother, I broke into tears. “Mom!” I tried to sit up but couldn’t. My mother rushed over to the bed.
“Relax,” she said, crying as she embraced me. I looked at the nurse watching us from the door. She smiled, shook her head, and closed the door gently as she walked away.
My mother was the first person to visit me in the hospital. Never in my wildest realm of imagination did I ever think I would walk the valley of the shadow of death during the politics. I was now a pathetic shadow of my old self, battling to cling to life. I had emaciated. My decision to join politics had turned out to be a tragic mistake.
“Thank God. Thank God -,” my mother repeated between gulps. She sobbed, pulling out a handkerchief and wiping her eyes. “What happened?” she asked soothingly. I noticed the redness in and around her eyes; the result of tears and exhaustion.
I frowned with the effort of recollection. Why did the good Samaritan rush me to the hospital, deposited money for my treatment and left without leaving his name or address? I wondered.
“You haven’t said anything?” my mother reminded me quietly.
I gave a little shrug, as if to deprecate my sufferings. “There’s not much to tell. I won the election, and people went on rampage claiming I rigged the election. They killed Biola, our child and tried to kill me too?” I said in a flat voice that concealed unbearable emotion. “I feel so guilty over being alive and the death of Biola and our child, because I caused their death.”
She pressed my left hand, tears pouring down her cheeks. “I just thank God, you’re alive.” She cuddled me and soothed me.
“Yes, I owe my life to a good Samaritan, someone I don’t even know who rushed me to this hospital. Some good people still exist in this country.”
“God will bless him.”
I looked past her to the top of the cabinet by my bed, where my drugs were kept. I brought my gaze back and focused, not on her face but rather on her hands, which lay twisted nervously on her lap. When the realization of my situation hit home, it was too much for my weak body.
“You are thinking,” she reproached gently. “Don’t think too much, you look terrible. You’ve lost so much weight.”
“I look a lot better now. You ought to have seen me two weeks ago. No, I’m grateful to God, you didn’t. I was in coma for three days.”
“We were worried, because we didn’t know your whereabouts, till the hospital sent a message to us,” she said with tears in her eyes.
“It was when I regained consciousness; I gave them your address. Two weeks ago I didn’t understand what was a dream and what was real. To know that Biola was dead and never to be seen again was the hardest thing to bear.”
“It hurts me to see brutality during campaigns and elections in this country.”
“I made the biggest mistake of my life this year.”
“Get a grip of yourself, my son.” My mother tried to comfort me, to reach out to me in my disaster, to tell me I was not alone. “Many people in the past had done things they were not proud of afterwards. You’re not the first,” my mother’s tone was sympathetic. “Chika, Biola might be dead, but you’re still surrounded by those that love you.”
It was heavy for me; I’m not back to hundred-percent strength, but getting closer to it everyday, and still undecided whether to be grateful to be alive.
“You’ve been through too much in these past years.”
“A lot of them were my fault, though some of them weren’t.”
“What are you going to do when you leave the hospital?”
“Do? Go and be sworn in, of course. I won’t quit. I won’t give up.”
My mother was astonished. After what you’ve just passed through? You mean you want to continue?”
“But of course, when one have set one’s hand to a thing, one have to finish it. Isn’t it.”
“I learnt your father-in-law was also killed?”
“That is what I was told.
“I never thought, after all Senator Harrison did to us, that I could feel sorry about his death,” my mother said, “but now he’s murdered, one thinks how good he really was. Some people were even saying he was a generous man. Better try and sleep, you’re looking so weak.”
“I can’t sleep.”
My mother had this almost uncanny ability to rise to the occasion. She sat with me for hours, held my hand, mopped my brow, fed me, helped me in and out of bed.
A week later, before the hospital rounds, Eunice checked my temperature and pulse. Eunice was a splendid nurse and good at her job, though overprotective. She kept many visitors away from seeing me.
How is my special patient feeling today?” Dr. Okon asked.
“I’m feeling so much better, and I can’t wait to got out of this bed,” I sighed deeply. “It’ll feel wonderful to take a hot bath.”
“You can get out of your bed tomorrow, but only for a short period of time. Do you still feel pains anywhere?”
“Just a slight pain in my amputated arm.”
The doctor began to scribble in my medical treatment file by the foot of my bed. He put his stethoscope in his ears and checked my chest.
“Your heart and lungs sound good,” Dr. Okon said, pulling the stethoscope out his ears. I didn’t say anything.
Eunice came later. “Have you eaten something?” she asked.
“No. I’m not hungry.”
“You need to eat something.” She left and came back with a pot of coffee. She poured some coffee into a cup. “You must eat to keep up your strength.” She checked a cabinet near my bed and brought out some biscuits.I shook my head. “Please Mr. Okafor, drink this and eat some biscuit.”
Too weak to resist, I grudgingly accepted the cup and drank a few sips of the hot coffee.
“Thank you,” I said. For a brief second, our gazes locked, then I lowered my head and drank some more of the coffee.
The following day, accompanied by Eunice, I took my first outdoor stroll since I was admitted three weeks before. My mother followed.
“I see our patient has regained his footing,” Dr. Okon complimented.
“I’m enjoying my first outing very much,” I said demurely. “Thank you for your kind assistance.”
“I need to attend to a patient,” Eunice said. “Please watch over him,” she told my mother.
“Go ahead, he’ll be fine with me,” my mother said.
Inundated by a wave of dizziness twenty minutes later, I grabbed for my mother, as my knees buckled. She caught me before I fell to the ground and shouted.
“Get the stretcher and the doctor please,” She cried.
When I opened my eyes, Eunice was putting a cold cloth to my head.
“What happened?” I asked.
“You fainted, because you over stressed yourself. How are you feeling now?”
“Better. I would’ve waited till I was stronger, before taking the walk. It was a stupid thing to do.”
“No. You needed the exercise. You only overdid it. You’ll be fine. Do I get you something to eat or drink?”
“Yes, something to drink? Please get me a cup of coffee.”
I was feeling pains all over. I wasn’t alone in my grief and trouble, because Kola came to console me. I lay on my bed weeping intermittently amid excruciating pains when the nurse came to inform me that my friend, Kola had come to see me. Most times, she was the one who checked my blood pressure, temperature and pulse and entered them in my treatment file at the foot of my bed, daily.
“Chika, how are you?” he asked, immediately he came into my room in the hospital.
“Very bad,” I said. Shock and humiliation washed over my tired face. “My life has turned upside down and inside out.”
“It’s risky to talk this way, Chika. You realize that, don’t you?”
“I admit I’ve made colossal wrong turn in my life. I wonder why life has suddenly become so complicated.”
“Oh yes! You’ve been jolted into reality. I warned you that you were embarking on a dangerous adventure. It could mean pain or death. It could mean victory and joy. Don’t take it tragically, will you? No need to cry over spilt milk.”
I was in atrocious agony. “I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way, no doubt. I’ve been in victories and defeat, but I never thought it could come to this.” My eyes moved to my empty right sleeve. The tears that had welled up, despite my best efforts to maintain my composure suddenly blurred my vision. I couldn’t stop crying.
Kola shut me a look of concern. “This was a narrow escape. And you were very lucky, you were not killed.”
“But the trouble is that people refused to acknowledge or value the hard work that I put in, in the campaign and in most things I did. They only see the rewards and wondered why I get more than they did. The reason they never got as many rewards was that they didn’t work hard enough; they had the opportunity to do something worthwhile. That wasn’t my fault.”
He turned his head to meet my gaze, his eyes alight with accusation. “In most recent past, Chika, you’ve exerted your energy in the wrong direction. Nothing is for free in this life. You must reap what you sow. How are you sure the gun used to kill your wife and child and in injuring you fatally wasn’t among those you imported?”
“The bastard killed my Biola and my child. How I wish Biola was alive. We’ve had such a happy life together. Maybe one day I’ll be able to take my revenge. It is a strange world.” I avoided answering the question.
“The danger of storing up resentment and wishing ill on people is that it’s liking drinking poisonous substance. You think your resentment will kill the person who wronged you. However, usually, it ends up killing you. Nicholas Roerich, in his “Burning of Darkness’ read at the meeting of young Idealists in New York in 1931 wrote: “Beware of poisonous thoughts, not one of them will be lost without traces.” Study the history of humanity and you’ll discover how men of violence fared.”
Kola’s intelligence always baffled me. “It is horrible. My grand house in the village and all the treasure inside were burnt by that scoundrel.”
“It’s a shame to talk of house and things after what you’ve been through. The greatest problem is your love for glamorous life. You’re too greedy.”
“What do you expect from a man in a society that money is sought at all cost. And a few that have got to the top prevent others from getting up. I looked for an honest job, but I couldn’t get one.” I closed my eyes for a moment and said in a low voice laced with sorrow, “The inability of the government to create employment, made me decide to go and get my own share of the national cake. I went into politics for the identical reason, why many young men have turned criminals and our women turned prostitutes.”
Kola looked pitifully at me. “And what is that reason?”
“To escape the humiliation of poverty.”
“That is not true. You were already rich before going into politics. You went into politics to satisfy your personal greed and your father-in-law. I’ve been thinking of your days in the university and when you newly graduated; I’ve been remembering the things you said about the way the rich treated the poor. But when you became rich, you did the same. Just the same.”
“I’ve learned that I couldn’t change Nigeria, so I might as well get my own share. There is not much one person can do. I joined politics because I saw the nonentities of yesterday taking pride of place in social and even official gatherings because of their political affiliation. I saw bright, beautiful cars glide pass me, sometimes owned by former hoodlums. It was then I decided “Honesty is the best policy” taught me by my teachers was a complete misnomer. All the period, I protested against these sybarites and narcissists yielded no result. I was described as a fatuous person and a mad man.”
“Oh, you astound me, Chika! That is no excuse for doing the wrong things you did. I’m sorry you’ve had such a scary time, but thank God you came through it somehow. If you hadn’t involved yourself in those dirty affairs, you wouldn’t be in this mess today.”
“What do you mean by dirty affairs? Can serving one’s people be referred to as dirty affairs? I acted honestly.”
“Chika, stop pretending. You know what I’m talking about. It is fools that take our elections seriously. The smarts ones stay at home. And it is only crooks that go into politics in Nigeria.”
“That is not true.”
“Where in the world, except in Africa and especially Nigeria do people go to vote carrying guns? You were racing downhill, running so fast and I tried all I could to stop you, but you refused. I was scared that you’ll crash and you did. You were too blind to see. You betrayed yourself.”
The most burning tears came at once. My lips quivered. He’d seem through my skull. I despised self-pity. And blaming someone else for my own folly wasn’t going to help. This was my first encounter with death. No one I knew had ever just disappeared, just vanished until my wife and my child had vanished. “Oh my God! Biola where are you? What is this?” my voice broke. Tears rushed down my cheeks.
“Don’t look glum,” Kola admonished. “When one has been dealt a deathly bodily and psychological blow, one needs time for the bruises to heal.”
I was very, very tired, with weariness and confusion in the depth of my soul. Best not to think about anything more just now. Best just to close my mind and eyes.
“What is to become of me? What kind of man will I be when this is over?”
“I know you’ll sort yourself out. You’re a very strong person. I don’t think you ever realize how strong you are. Gloom never made the world better.”
“I learnt they burnt Senator Harrison his house in his village.”
“Yes. Senator Harrison had a bloated ego of himself. He only suffered the fate of someone who believed he is infallible.”
“But the people must be lunatics.”
“There was no way a massive revolt like this would’ve been avoided, without removing oppression, dehumanization of fellow citizens. The politicians and the former military leaders damaged the economy of this country and caused austerity that has made many people commit suicide. They were enemies of the society and stupidly you joined them. While they preached dignity of labor, self-sacrifice to the rest of us, asking us to awaken our patriotic instincts, they wallowed in profligacy. They are betrayers of what they preach.”
“How was the riot brought under control?”
“The police boss ordered that the rioters should be shot at sight, because they were enemies of the nation. So many of them were shot down, many died; some were brutally flogged to death. The incident was similar to the Sharpsville massacre in South Africa, during the apartheid era.”
“Kola, tell me something. Tell me you’re not too angry with me. I feel you’re angry.”
He put out his hand to touch my shoulder, pressing it lightly. “Chika, I’m not angry with you. I’ve long known you’re stubborn. But your marriage to Biola was marked by pain and tragedy. It’s time for me to go so that you can rest. I think you are weak.”
We both stood up. Hesitating, we faced each other, caught in one of these uncertain moments of departure when neither wished to appear abrupt.
“Kola, thanks for coming. You’ve come a long way. You’re a friend indeed. Give my regards to Toyin.”
“That reminds me. Toyin wanted to come with me, but I stopped her. She is three months pregnant.”
“Thank God. At last, you’ve made it.”
“Chika, bye. Take care of yourself and stop feeling sorry for yourself. Before I leave there’s this poem I read somewhere, titled survivors. You had endured a great tragedy and emerged triumphant. You are a survivor.”
The greatest risk
Is not taking risk
Risk is different
From stupidity or
Careless flirting with danger.
Nothing solves anything
Those build strong
Those build soft
Those build malleable
Never give up.
Give up, no.
When Kola had gone, a silence, in its way more threatening came down upon me. Even a momentary rush of wind outside was too loud in that silence.
“Damn it!’ I said. The visit was therapeutic for me, like talking to a psychiatrist.
I gently closed the door to the hospital room and slumped against the wood paneling. I took a deep breath to try to steady my nerves, wondering if I’d finally, completely, lost my sanity. I walked unsteadily to my bed and sank onto the mattress, my mind reeling.
A gentle noise roused me from my thoughts where I’d been considering my bizarre experience. The door opened a few discreet inches, Eunice, followed by Uche and Jayne walked in. Jayne clung to Uche’s arm. She was beautiful as usual. On seeing me, she went stiff with emotion. Uche and Jayne stared at one another in mute disbelief. My look was a hideous shock to them. This was not the vibrant young man they saw in New York. Nigerian politics had taken the shine out of me, and left me with suffering and humiliation that was its hallmark. Uche straightened in the chair, stiffening his spine, his eyes glued on me, his face overwhelmed with sadness. Jayne sat by my bed with tearstained face, staring at me. My air of sadness and resignation struck them. Uche sighed after watching me speechless for about two minutes.
Shaking my head in remorse, I lamented, “What a tragedy there is in this life.”
“You remember I warned you about the violence associated with Nigeria’s politics. A very wide road leads to Nigeria’s politics, but a very narrow path leads to survival and victory. You’d no right, to drag your family with you down the precipice,” he said with a concerned expression on his face.
“Uche, it is unfortunate, I’m a victim. Politics in Nigeria is business, just like church. In a society in which money is worshipped, there is no doubt that people will aspire to acquire wealth by any means. Our society idealizes corruption and edifies materialism. In the society where the less privileged are trampled upon and made to go into extinction, in the survival of the fittest syndrome, I felt I shouldn’t just standby and watch.”
“There’s dire need to change the perverted value system in our society. Those values that glorify and worship material acquisition without sparing a thought as to the legitimate means of such wealth should be done away with. They encourage corruption,” Uche said.
“For this to happen, people must be patriotic. But you can’t force people to be patriotic. People will be patriotic if there are overt reasons to be. Many people that have sacrificed a lot for this country have nothing to show for it, but poverty, hunger, and disease, while the dishonest ones live in affluence. That was why I joined them.”
“Martin Luther King Jr. said: ‘The prosperity of a country lies not on the abundance of its revenue nor on the splendor of its public buildings nor on the strength of its military forces, but in the number of its cultivated citizens, in its men of education, enlightenment and character.’ This is what we lack in this country.”
“Politics here offers the extremes of emotion, from gloom to ecstasy. Bitterness always flowed with blood and pains are oftentimes inevitable.”
“Nigerians deserve God-fearing leaders, so that the country’s wealth will be properly harnessed and equitably distributed, among the citizenry. Maturity and wisdom is not measured by age, I think it is time for generational shift. All these old men who’ve mismanaged the affairs of this country since independence should give way.”
“They can never give way. When they are not contesting for elective posts, they turn kingmakers or what is call “godfathers’ in our national politics. They impose their anointed candidates on the electorates. They engage in behind-the-scene maneuvers, expecting their candidates to emerge victorious from the usual non-transparent wheeling and dealing associated with political elections in this country.”
“It’s very sad that all one require to be a politician in Nigeria is the ability to deceive the people to gain what one needs.”
“It will ever remain so, till the era of “money politics’ is over and people no longer cast their votes based on candidates’ financial capability. The National Assembly that is supposed to make laws is an institution serving the satisfaction of the personal ambition, vanity and self-interests of members. The same thing goes for other organs of government. The National Assembly is a madhouse of shouts, insults and brawls.”
“Chika it is unfortunate, I met you in this shape. I thought we’ll be able to have a happy reunion after the New York experience.”
“When did you come into the country?” I asked.
“We came in three days ago. It was my father who told me what happened. It’s very pathetic.”
“My greatest regret is the death of my darling wife Biola and our innocent child. Biola rescued me at a moment when my life lacked direction. She brought me into a world of affluence where I found both happiness and love. We lived through many beautiful experiences which cannot be easily forgotten and for which I will be eternally gratefully. I feel very sad anytime I remember them. There have already been enough bloodshed and unhappiness caused by people trying to take laws into their hands in this country. Just because one doesn’t like the way things are, doesn’t give one the right to try to change them by a violent means. How long are you staying in the country?”
“I hope to be here for two weeks. I’ve come to establish a branch of our company in U.S. in Lagos. I felt touched by your accusation when we met last in New York. And I’ve decided to heed what president Lincoln told Americans, Think of what you can do for your country rather than what your country can do for you. I was hoping you and Biola would help us oversee it.”
“That is very good. I wish you success. As you can see I’m not in the form of doing any serious work for now.”
“Chika, we shall be going, before we miss our flight. We shall be back here, if you are not discharged before the next one week. I wish you speedy recovery.”
“When you feel better I’ll like you to take me to my late friend’s grave, so that I can lay a wreath before I leave the country,” Jayne said cautiously.
“Alright. Thanks for coming.”
When they left, an inexplicable feeling of gloom seemed to close in around me. For sometimes, fate had a way of bleeding some joy out of my everyday life. To my astonishment, I wept again.
I must try to calm my feelings, to put some order into my murky tangle of despair, I reasoned. There was the frustration of being at the mercy of the society. Yes, and the loneliness, looming around me. Knowing that I would never see Biola or my child again. Never. What a shame.
I glanced toward the window, where, not five feet away, people were passing on the hospital’s corridor, darkening the translucent curtains of my room as they passed. I was alone, there was no one, I could tell how I felt. I wasn’t even sure I knew how I felt. I bit my lip. I wasn’t going to make a sound, no, God damn it, not again.
“When can I leave this place?”
“Not yet,” Eunice said flatly.” You’ve made good progress in the past three days, but you’ve had a severe concussion – and it only three weeks since your attack.”
“Yes. Keep calm --- you mustn’t get excited. As the governor elect, the police has posted ten officers outside to protect you against another attack and to stop the press disturbing you till you get better. I’m afraid there have been a few silly stories in the papers.”
“Your party members have visited several times but we didn’t allow them to see you, and many of them telephone everyday inquiring about your condition.”
“I don’t want to see anybody. Please see to it that nobody is let in without first informing me.”
“I will tell the police officer in-charge of your security. Don’t get excited. You needn’t see anyone you don’t want to see.”
“I need a telephone straight away,”
“I’m sorry, not yet. Doctor’s orders.”
“If you don’t bring me a phone, I’m going to go in search of one. I must make just a call.”
After further argument, in order to calm my growing agitation, Eunice brought me the phone in the nurse station.
“What! That can’t be true!” I shouted.
Eunice removed the phone from me and replaced it. “Don’t be excited. You have a visitor.”
My swearing-in had been delayed because of my unfitness. When I was well enough, the doctor allowed a court official to serve me a paper summoning me to the court. My defeated opponent had taken me to court along with the electoral officers who conducted the election.
I sent for my lawyer for briefing. The lawyer closed the door to my hospital room as he came in. He sat on one of the visitor’s chair near my bed.
“Welcome, Barrister Temisa.”
“How are you feeling today?”
“I’m feeling better.”
He placed his thick briefcase on top of his legs and opened it. He pulled a pile of papers from inside the case.
“There had been some unpleasant publications about you,” he said, as he handed me three tabloids with screaming headlines about how I rigged the gubernatorial election in Coastal State.
“Flamboyant Chika Meets His Nemesis”, one of the newspapers wrote. On the same page was an unflattering picture of me, lying in a pool of my blood, after I was shot. I stared at the picture, mesmerized by my pathetic posture. Definitely, it wasn’t a pretty picture. The story described in riveting detail of how I rigged the election using thugs to switch ballot boxes and using electoral clerks to alter figures where switching of boxes were not possible.
Another headline shouted, “Chika’s Untold Anguish”, sub-head read, “Chika Rushed To the Hospital by Good Samaritan.” The newspaper described how I lay on the hospital bed unconscious.
The third tabloid headline screamed, “Chika Meets His Waterloo”.
I didn’t want to bring any of these up, till I was sure you were feeling better.”
I stared at the stories. “How in the world did they write these rubbish about me?”
“I felt it is good you know what is happening outside,” Barrister Temisa said, shuffling through the pile of paper in his briefcase. “We must have our defense for all the issues raised to prove that your opponent is lying. The journalists have tried you and already found you guilty.”
The truth was that, unless people had been through the nightmare I’d endured, they couldn’t comprehend as I certainly did now, that there wasn’t any amount of wealth or position that could ease or erase this type of life tragedy. What my lawyer didn’t understand and what nobody in the country would ever fathom was that nothing could compensate for my eliminated family. Nothing could bring Biola and my child back or make up for their death. What a price tag for my greed. I reflected on the events of the previous months with bitterness so potent.
“Do whatever you have to do. I just want this over with,” I told my lawyer.
The suit was an opportunity for the highly talented lawyers in Nigeria to match wits because my opponent fielded his best lawyers. I dressed to court every session in expensive suits with insouciant expression on my face.
After my team of lawyers led by Barrister Temisa had rounded up their defense, it was left for the judge to make his judgment, from all the facts made available. Many times during the case, Judge Omorogbe interrupted with a warning to both sides of the legal gladiators. On the eve of the judgment, tormented by my own sense of mild panic, I awakened at five. Tried as I might to sleep back, a thousand thoughts about the judgment crowded my brain. The Judge returned that morning to deliver his judgment.
“I bear in mind everything, that has been said on behalf of the defendant by his team of learned counsels as well as the presentations of the counsels of the plaintiff. However no rational human being will smile at the increasingly senseless acts of violence being perpetrated by our politicians and their supporters. Everything should be done not only to condemn these horrendous acts, but genuine efforts, should be made to discourage them. It’s unfortunate that many of our people have disproportionate faith in the power of the gun. This doesn’t make for a peaceful society. And our people should desist from jungle justice and taking laws into their own hands.”
The whole court was quiet. “The actions of the apostles of violence constitute an intolerable menace to our nascent democracy. I am of the opinion that the counsels of the plaintiff have not proved their case beyond reasonable doubt. Therefore the election of Mr. Chika Okafor as the Governor of Coastal State is hereby upheld.”
“Court!” the court clerk shouted.
Everybody rose and the Judge left the courtroom. Many of the supporters of my opponent wept heartrendingly in disappointment, while the cheers from my supporters were deafening. The victory was a tonic to my spirit.
“Imagine the injustice in this country. This evil man, stole our money, used the same money to corrupt our electoral system and now he is our governor. What type of country is this,” I heard one of my opponent’s supporter lamented. “What a scandalous betrayal.”
My opponent’s lawyers filled an appeal in the Federal Court of Appeal. I spent a lot of time preparing for my defense with my team of lawyers. But the end didn’t justify the means. I lost the case. The electoral officers were jailed for falsification of election figures. All my dreams died. What a disappointment! My life became empty and unfulfilled. My security details were quickly withdrawn.
Senator Harrison was given an expensive burial by his political and business colleagues. In our society, the status of a man or that of his family was measured by the richness of his casket and wreaths with which his body was interned. How lavish was the entertainment during the funeral and the quality of the clothes worn by the family members.
Like it was the tradition in Nigeria, there was a large turnout at the burial and I was among the crowd. I attended despite all discouragement from friends and relations. In this part of the world, burying the dead was a big business.
Plastic chairs, tables, canopies were rented from rental companies. Some rented cooking utensils, cutleries et cetera, while some undertook the video coverage of the burial. Recently undertakers had surfaced in many cities.
During the church service, the officiating bishop described Senator Harrison as a man who gave selfless service to his country. “The pillar behind cherished memory in any society is selfless service. Men right from recorded history, who gave selfless services to their countries, always have their name written in gold. I’m convinced that Senator Harrison’s name will be written in gold in our national history,” the bishop said.
“Never an unkind word is said about a dead man, even when he was known to have been a wicked fellow,” a man sitting behind me said.
“The bishop has confirmed the insincerity of most of our so-called religious leaders. They’ll always call black white,” another man next to him complained.
At the graveside, Dr. Williams’ funeral oration was more hypocritical.
“Senator Harrison’s death came to us, who are his friends as a rude shock. We don’t know why such a fine gentleman should be a victim of misguided elements in our society. He was a noble and righteous man. He was an erudite and fearless politician. He was a man of dazzling intellectual virtuosity, who hated injustice and inequality. He bequeathed into the political system such values as honesty, humility, straight forwardness, love, fair play, firmness and selflessness.”
A man standing by my side smiled and shook his head.
Dr. Williams continued: “He was incorruptible and a pious Christian. He was articulate but gentle. He was a likeable fellow, who made himself accessible not only to people of equal status, but to the generality of people.”
“Bullshit,” the same man by my side shouted. “His life had benefited no one.”
“He was particularly fond of and generous to the downtrodden.”
“My God! This man is a crazy liar!’ the man exclaimed.
“He’d an illustrious upbringing and background having been the son of a chief. This exposed him to hard work, honesty and forthrightness right from childhood.”
The man walked away smoldering with anger.
“By his death, Nigeria has lost an accomplished administrator, a patriot, and above all a philanthropist,” Dr. Williams ended his speech. He spoke with such eloquence that even his adversaries respected his oratory.
The casket which contained just ash from his burnt country home was lowered by five o’clock in the evening at Ikoyi cemetery. Many prominent Nigerian politicians and businessmen were at the burial. Many of them laid wreaths at his grave. Within the week, Senator Harrison’s statue was erected at the grave.
Unlike the statue of historic or commemorative statue of persons, who though dead, but were immortalized for their contributions to the development of their countries or their humanitarian services and achievements, Senator Harrison was immortalized for no clearly defined purpose for honor.
I went back to Lagos and to our house at Ikoyi. When I entered Biola’s room; her clothes were still intact in the wardrobe, as if awaiting her return. As I wandered aimlessly around the room, I could smell the faint scent of her perfume that lingered in the air.
With a shuddering whisper, I said, “Oh God, why? Why did you allow Biola to die?” Tears glimmered in my eyes. I wiped away the tears, slammed the wardrobe, and left the room.
The house reminded me so much of the past, so I didn’t feel happy inside. I would have done anything before to live in that kind of a house but now it gave me no peace. The house that echoed daily with the sound of voices and laughter was now empty and quiet. I sold the house and went to live with my parents till I got another flat. Imagine going down to the valley from the mountaintop. What a worthless world. I wasn’t myself again. People feared I’d become mentally deranged. I contemplated to commit suicide but later changed my mind. That was a sign of cowardice. I learned that life was fraught with hazards, that money wasn’t everything and that the road to ruin was a short one.
When I packed to my parents’ one room apartment my father asked me: “Didn’t I warn you? Have you now seen that money is not everything? There are certain things it can’t buy. What an old man sees while sitting can’t be seen by a young man even while standing.”
“Dad, I’m sorry I’ve disappointed you, and I’m sorry you think I’ve dishonored our family name, - you believe I didn’t use my head when I decided to marry Biola. Well, may be not, but I used my heart and there’s no dishonor in that. I loved Biola. Maybe you do not know what love is all about.”
My bank account was still pregnant, but I didn’t feel like touching it. Any beautiful fair-complexioned lady reminded me of Biola. I stayed indoors to avoid seeing any. I read all sort of books to prevent me from thinking. Never before had I felt quite so alone.
My life was dominated by Biola’s death. Everything I did and everywhere I went reminded me of her.
I felt bereft as if a part of me had been amputated. Every time I remembered her, my heart seemed to shrivel and I felt a physical pain in my chest. I remained practically a prisoner in our house. I became obsessed with the thought that I had somehow failed Biola, and caused her death. My perceptions, whether right or wrong, produced more unhappiness.
My mother was worried. “Chika, go out and mix up with your old friends,” she advised. “Don’t feel depressed. The mistake has been made, you’ve to take the consequences gracefully and turn a new leaf.”
But how could I go out? Any time I saw people talking or whispering, I felt they were talking about me. “What you sow, you reap.” I reprimanded myself. I’d slipped into an abyss of shame and misery. I was reading a novel one evening, when there was a knock on our door. My mother was in the kitchen, my younger ones were in school and my father had gone for evening prayers. I was annoyed at the disturbance. I shouted for the person to come in. Amina came in slowly as if she was walking on eggshells. She’d walked into one hell of a surprise. She could hardly keep her eyes off my empty right sleeve. A shiver rode through her body. She didn’t know how near I’d been to becoming a corpse.
“Your arm,” Amina’s voice rose out of control.
“Don’t, don’t talk about it,” I admonished.
“Your arm,” She repeated, looking at me in utter bewilderment
Bitterness, the most intense I’d felt, since I lost my right arm, went through me. I didn’t look at her but at the floor. She tried to compose herself, forcing her eyes away from the empty sleeve to my face.
“What do you want? Where are you coming from? And who showed you our house?” I asked in succession.
She stood rigidly, and for an instant her pleading gaze looked unflinchingly into mine. “Can I sit down?” she asked
“To do what?” I’d been sullen and withdrawn – a far cry from the young man who’d gallantly gone into politics.
She stood without answering. She showed no sign of wanting to go away either. When I saw she was determined, I told her sit down.
“Where are you coming from?”
“Kano,” she replied. I’d not seen her for two years after our National Youth Service Corps Scheme.
“You came all the way from Kano?” I asked. “Why have you come?”
“Chika, I came into the country yesterday and heard all that happened to you. I’m awfully sorry.” Tears started to flow down her cheeks. “I thought I could put you out of my mind, but the harder I tried, the more firmly embedded my memory became. I don’t mind telling you, I’d been miserable.”
“Ehh, I don’t want to talk about it. It’s past and I want to forget about it.” But how could I, with the empty sleeve where my right hand used to be to always remind me.
Horrified, she stared aghast. The Chika she knew had undergone some sort of metamorphosis and would never be the same again.
She busted out crying again, “Chika-Chika-Chika, why-why-why?” she asked mournfully. Tears gathered at the back of her throat, and she swallowed.
“Why did you go into politics? Didn’t you know that is a very dirty game especially in this part of the world? People just regard it as a means to make quick money? And once they have made it, they’re determined to maintain and retain the status quo at all costs?” She said breathlessly. I wondered what she thought that drew me into politics, service to my fatherland?
“Is killing fellow citizens for one person or a group of people to achieve their selfish ambitions worth it? Why must people want to rig in an election? Must they impose themselves on the electorates? Are they not confident of their qualities? Must acquisition of power be a matter of life or death? Why must people destroy what took others a lifetime to acquire in seconds? Does a nation maintain peace and stability by unequal distribution of wealth?” she asked, with a fine edge of sadness in her voice.
I felt uncomfortable. She thought she was speaking on my behalf, but she didn’t know all she said were against me. Who told her about me didn’t give her details, I believed. After all, those who went fishing must not be afraid of getting wet and those who fear lion should not go into the forest.
“Please, if you’ve no other thing to say, apart from reviewing what happened to me, you can leave.”
Disbelief flared up in her eyes. “Chika, I’ve come because I felt you need someone that really love you at this turbulent epoch of your life. I only came in yesterday from London where I’m reading for my master degree. We are on summer holidays.”
“I’ve no time for anything called love any longer, so please go. Thanks though for caring. You better be on your way now, you’ve a long way to travel.”
“I know you’ve experienced a lot but it’s not enough reason to live like a hermit. I decided to come down when I learnt you’re living a solitary life. I think you’re being too hard on yourself. I believe in you. It’s going to take time. Everything does. But at the end you’ll be just fine again.”
“Thanks for your consideration. But nobody is going to tell me how to live my life. Please go and leave me alone.”
“Chika, I still love you as ever.”
The love Amina felt for me was evident but I responded in a cavalier manner. "I am grateful for your concern and for coming all this distance to see me. But talk of love. No. I’ve never been lucky with that word. I couldn’t have gone through these tragic months, without changing my mind about what is call love. It has always brought me pains. Forgive me, but that is the truth.”
“I’m sorry for what happened.”
“It wasn’t your fault, so why be sorry.”
Seeing my sober face, Amina reached out instinctively. She took my left hand; pressing its palm against her cheek, murmuring, whispering, and letting the words rise to her lips without hesitation or shame.
“I want to live my remaining years on earth with you. You are young. We can still,--”
I cut her off before she could finish. “How can? The way I am?”
“What does that matter? I don’t care.”
“You don’t care, but I do. One hand husband?”
Her eyes deepened with sorrow. “You’re stubborn and you’re wrong. Tell me if there is any other reason. Perhaps you don’t want me.”
“Not just you, anybody. I don’t want anybody.”
“I know you loved Biola, but you’ve to try to pick the pieces of your life.”
“I’m trying,” my voice faded.
Though Amina was not as flamboyant as Biola, she was too much in love with me for her own good. I was surprised that after the way I dumped her, she still came back and was groveling at my feet.
At this point, my mother entered. She was happy seeing me with a lady. She didn’t hide her feeling.
“Chika dear, who is this beautiful lady.?”
“She is Amina.”
“We’re friends ma’am,” Amina intervened.
My mother cast her eyes heavenward. “Glory be to God. Where did you come from?”
I was surprised my mother was happy, even though Amina was a fulani girl – another tribe. “Oh! You came all that distance? It’s getting late, I hope you’ll spend the night with us.”
My anger flared. “No. She was just leaving,” I protested. Goodbye, Amina. I think the last word has been said between us.” She stood up and tried to leave.
“Amina dear, you better stay till tomorrow. With the armed robberies everywhere these days, it’s not safe to travel at night.” As always, my mother was the anxious hostess.
“I’m sorry about everything. It wasn’t my intention to make you angry. There’ll never be a last word between us, Chika.”
“Look beautiful girl, in this country today, honest people who’ve worked hard to earn their money and properties are being robbed of them,” my mother announced with a bitterness that was palpable. “People now jump out of bed every minute to check if their windows and doors are properly locked and supported with crossbar.”
“You’re right ma’am. Armed robbers have succeeded in damaging the psyche of our people by their operations, people are now afraid of their own shadows,” Amina said, staring at me with an air of triumph.
“I witnessed a car snatching last week in the market and I shuddered at the ruthlessness and the disregard to human life manifested by the young men during the operation. They didn’t only snatch the car, they killed the owner of the Mercedes car.”
“Why our young men have decided to engage in such callous acts of brutalizing their fellow human beings is mind boggling. Men who should contribute to the development of our society reverted to the brazenfaced undesirable elements,” Amina said, her face wearing a look of puzzlement.
“These men of underworld are waxing stronger and acquiring extra sophistication everyday. They’ve successfully imposed a reign of terror especially here in Lagos,” my mother affirmed.
“Tales of their activities are told daily by words of mouth, on pages of newspapers, on radio and on television. Most surprising thing is that these hardened criminals and social deviants have continued their daredevil activities, despite the efforts of the law enforcement agents to keep them in check.”
I held up my left hand, “ Enough of this discussions, why not discuss something else.”
“Please excuse me,” my mother said, as she stood up, “I’m cooking in the kitchen. Chika has been hot tempered since he came back from the hospital.”
My eyes now blazed with fury as my anger intensified. My mother had been trying to interest me in another girl since Biola died. “Chika, it’s about time you have another wife. You’ve to give me a grandchild in my lifetime,” she said. “You should realize that I’m not getting any younger.”
Amina felt at home. She soon joined my mother in the kitchen.
“Chika, please take things easy. If you re-organize yourself, you can start again. And I’m willing to help you make a fresh start,” she said, trying to display a show of verve in the face of my anger.
“Thank you,” I said.
My father didn’t say anything when he saw her. Amina slept with my mother. The next day, she washed a heap of dirty clothes in our house. I was grateful anyway. She left the same day for Kano by afternoon flight.
“Chika, Amina is giving you the chance to start afresh, without having to swallow your pride. Think about it,” my mother said. “Pray to God to put wind back in your sails.”
She came once more before she returned to London. I was still confined to our one room apartment. I dreaded showing my deformity in public places. A few times I went out, people stared at me. I spent my time thinking of what lay in my past rather than what might lie ahead in my future. My expression was tinged not only by grief and apprehension but also by astonishment. It was the look I’d worn since the day I was shot, a disbelief that things could tumble and I with them.
Amina was surprised I was still feeling depressed. “Chika, enough of this! It’s spineless and does you no good.”
I took a dangerous plunge and used up my ambition. Amina was back and the comfort of this fact soothed me like warm milk. For a long time, we sat without speaking, joined by the tightening contact of our hands.
The way I treated her, I didn’t think I was worthy of this affection.
I forced myself to say the two words that have since time immemorial, undoubtedly altered history and reshaped the destiny of the human race --- two important words that those who wish to hear them find so easy to expect yet those who wish to say them find so difficult to utter. Slowly and painfully I said, “I’m sorry.”
“Forget about the past. Let us talk of the present and the future.” Neither sorrow nor sympathy flickered in Amina’s eyes – instead, joy and pride radiated from her very soul.
“You’re such a wonderful person.”
“I can’t bear it when you’re unhappy. Remember that every day brings something new, so brighten up.” She kissed my eyelids. “I want you to be happy.”
“Your walking in today is like sunlight in the dark. Your words of encouragement are highly appreciated. My life nearly came to abrupt end due to greed. I’d more wealth than I ever dreamt was possible, but still, I wanted more. Though, the fierceness of my belief in materialism was inspired by my revulsion against the abject poverty of my family.”
I was surprised, I felt depressed when she returned to London. “And I’m willing to help you make a fresh start,” continued to enter my mind. I started to miss her. She still had a semester to finish her course.
Try as I might, I couldn’t put Amina out of my mind. It was as if she had cast a spell to keep me taking pleasure in any other woman.
After her departure, I sat down to reflect on her words. I knew Amina was right; I’d to make up my mind what my future will be. Furthermore, if I intended to remarry, I must make the commitment to myself as well as to Amina and stop wallowing in guilt and self-pity, I thought, disgusted with my mood and my station in life. After all, Amina was offering a chance to start again. No one knew what tomorrow could bring. Political violence wasn’t the only catastrophic event in life.