This One Harmattan
By Okey Egboluche (Nigeria)
Okey Egboluche trained as an Optometrist and Freelance Journalist but he loves to write and increasingly gets fascinated by African literature. He is currently resident in Nigeria. He loves travelling, socializing, motivational speaking and fine arts. He has a blog, www.iamontopof mygame.blogspot.com (a.k.a. Game Toppers)
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He liked her because she was industrious and humble. She never allowed him to go hungry. She was a good homekeeper and took care of all financial needs in his periods of lack. Today, he felt totally different. Now, he hated her and wished they never met.
“Joy, why?” Obinna was distraught. He looked at her as she lay cuddled up at a corner of the bed. “Joy, I say why?” He muttered again. He could only hear himself. She kept mute. She was tired of sobbing.
At that instant she rushed out of the room. Obinna’s eyes followed her. He shook his head and placed both palms under his chin with his elbows resting on the plastic table. On the floor outside the building, she threw up. As she held her belly with her left palm, she could feel tenderness in her body and a slight heaviness around her breasts.
“Obi,” Joy said, “you have invested so much money posting applications for jobs and travelling to Lagos and Port Harcourt for interviews not to talk of what you spend buying newspapers and in cyber cafes in search of job adverts.”
Obinna often assured her that something good was coming whenever she complained. He just stared at her blankly this time.
The wind blew and the curtains in the room shook as if they were dancing. They formed draperies on the surface as the tip of one of them caressed Obinna’s ears. The entire length of the curtains formed a small angle with the ceiling as it was displaced upwards.
Obinna looked out of the window. The kids were playing football outside. He saw the ball bounce. It was lifted up after it hit the floor but he did not wait to see it hit the floor again. He turned back to look at Joy. The force of the wind subsided and the curtain fell on his face.
“Obi, do you have any reasonable money?” Joy asked. Obinna was held spellbound, not by the curtain on his face but by what he just heard. He could breathe some dust particles from the fabric. He immediately pushed the curtain away from his face.
“What do you mean by reasonable money?”
Joy stood up from the corner of the room where she sat and moved closer to sit beside Obinna on the bed.
“Honey, we cannot keep searching for jobs. Let us start up something. I have some money. If you could give me some money, I would add it up to what I have and start making snacks for sale. I have already bought a business line which I could use on my old mobile phone. We only need to recharge it and start using it to make commercial calls.”
The suggestion amazed Obinna. He was impressed. Joy had displayed a great deal of wisdom.
Two days after, she started making pastries for sale and displayed them in transparent plastic buckets on the table in the phone booth they had agreed to operate. Obinna saw the business in operation after he returned from another unsuccessful job search. The pain of losing out at the job interview in Port Harcourt faded when he saw the strides that Joy had made.
Every morning she woke up before cockcrow. She combined her imaginative ability with hard work to produce pastries that became choice snacks for inhabitants of the area. It was always part of the contents of the school bags of the children. Even when her emotions called for her to be moody, she defied it to focus on how to make her business venture grow stronger.
“Employers may choose to ignore Obinna and I’s applications, my priority for now is to be the best pastry maker in the neighbourhood,” Joy often encouraged herself whenever the devils running in her mind reminded her that she was unemployed, single, fast approaching 30 and living under the same roof with a man who was not her husband.
Obinna allowed her to be herself. After her one-year mandatory national youth service in Batagarawa, Katsina she came down to Abakpa Nike, Enugu to live with Obinna.
One certain evening she was ecstatic when Obinna mentioned how much money they realized from making commercial calls and selling recharge cards at the phone centre. “Honey, you are the best.” Obinna said. Joy smiled, enjoying the feel of his hands caressing her cheeks. “You are beautiful.” He whispered into her ears.
“Sweetheart, stop flattering me. I know I used to be but with all the stress one undergoes these days, are you sure I am still beautiful?”
“Always. I even want you to be prettier.”
“Then we can make it happen.”
“We?” Obinna asked.
“Yes of course. Honey, I belong to you. It is for two of us and to be done by two of us.”
Obinna nodded in approval and exclaimed with both hands raised.
“Yes, we can!”
“Barrack Obama,” Joy called him, giggling. Obinna burst out laughing too. He wrapped his arms around Joy who playfully slid out of his grasp.
“You are so crazy about this US Presidential election and Obama. John McCain is my man.”
“No way! Obama is one of us. He understands the plight of African Americans. He has a better manifesto.”
“Mc Cain will give solutions, not speeches.”
“Ntoo gi!” Joy mumbled, stuck out her tongue and pulled down her lower eyelids with her index fingers.
“Come back here, you traitor!” Obinna roared. Joy ran out of the room and Obinna laughed at the joke.
“I am not a traitor. I am only being realistic,” she almost screamed as she rushed out onto the passage.
Obinna lay back on the bed feeling so happy with himself because of the day’s remarkable sales and the progress the phone call centre was making. He no longer had plastic chairs, a plastic table and an umbrella over the table. Something bigger had happened. A kiosk was delivered to him two days earlier by Globacom. “After some hard work, there is need for some enjoyment,” he thought beaming with smiles.
He brought out the money from his bag and looked at the wad of notes. In all it was forty three thousand, three hundred and twenty naira. It was his sales turnover for the past three days.
“Joy!” he called out. “Please come. There is something I have always wanted to discuss with you.” He walked towards the passage to meet her outside. “Baby girl, you need to change your hairdo and buy some new clothes. I must be honest, you have been leaving yourself unkempt these days.”
Joy was embarrassed. She blushed. “Ok Honey, thanks for letting me know, but don’t tell me it’s the money in your hand that is making you sound this way. If we go this way, we may not be able to save enough money. ” She smiled as she spoke. Her dimples were always evident whenever her face glowed.
“It is not the money. It is my love for you that stirred up this desire for your beauty to shine.”
Inside Joy, she felt blood circulate in the vessels around her head and skull. She desired some petting.
“That is so sweet of you, Honey.” She stepped closer to Obinna and placed her head on his well built shoulders. He wrapped his arms around her and she gently caressed his back.
The love birds were instantly engrossed, locked in each other’s embrace. They forgot where they were. Obinna could only hear weaver birds quiver. Joy imagined herself on a soft bed floating on a river. Obinna wanted more than just the feel of her touch. She knew this and was ready to give it to him.
It is not possible to place a tuber of yam in a hut where a healthy goat lives and still expect to find the yam tuber intact. Joy cooked for Obinna, washed his clothes and kept their room tidy. She also assisted him greatly as they kept their means of livelihood - the commercial call centre and pastry making - moving. If their staying together was just as business associates, then Obinna would have had fewer headaches.
Joy understood Obinna very well and Obinna knew this. However, he was yet to be convinced that Joy would be his wife.
“You’d better start preparing for marriage. You do not need to have all the money in the world to do this. Joy has proven herself to be the woman who would be your wife,” These words his friend Anderson had once told him often re-echoed in his brains.
“Anderson does not understand. It is not as easy as that,” he told himself. Obinna did not only live with Joy; they did everything as husband and wife except one thing.
Joy was proving stubborn. She had been like that all through the entire week. She refused to consent to what she had earlier agreed to do.
She sat on the bench that was usually positioned on the veranda and gently rubbed her fingernails. She found an oil stain between her thumb and index finger. Without even taking time to study her petticoat, she cleaned the stain with a portion of it. She often washed the petticoat every two days whether it was dirty or not.
Her lower eyelids were swollen and tender. She was not going to be a cry baby anymore. It is her life not Obinna’s. Even if the ceilings should fall, she would not do Obinna’s bidding.
“Joy Agbodike is not getting any younger,” she whispered to herself.
Inside the room where Obinna lay, he pondered, “I cannot be trapped. I would either force her to do it or she would have to move out.” He was surprised by Joy’s resistance.
Obinna discussed at length with the doctor. The doctor understood that the lady needed to be deceived and subsequently sedated before he would carry out the operation. He was disturbed that the tablets he had given to Obinna to crush and mix in her food earlier on did not have any effect on her. Now, he was happy that he would make some money after the plan was executed. His job in the hospital did not give him such quick money.
Obinna masked the uneasiness he felt within him with a smile. On his right hand he carried a bag that contained a meal pack of fried rice and chicken and a packet of fruit mix. He slowly opened the door of the room after gently knocking on it. As his eyes searched the room for Joy, he noticed that her belongings were gone. Anxiety was suddenly written all over his face. Sweat trickled from his face.
On the table laid a note. He picked up the note and read:
I will always love you but I say NO this time. I only hope you will understand. Even in my stubbornness, something tells me this life is for two of us.
I have decided to give our pastries and other snacks a name. It is OBIJOY. I hope you like it.
You are the best.
Obinna replaced the note on the table. “Joy is proving tough,” he thought. “She did not even mention her whereabouts. If she has gone for good, then why mention that this life is for two of us? In fact, who cares about meat pies, fish pies, dough nut or chin chin? She has moved to a place I do not know.”
He made various attempts to locate her to no avail. His phone call business suffered. Even kids in the neighbourhood did not allow him rest. They wanted their favourite snacks. Their parents did not make it any easier for Obinna because these kids always demanded the snacks and asked to see the Aunty who made it.
As the days turned into weeks and Joy was nowhere to be found, so did the day he was going to be a father draw nearer. His greatest fear was that he was not ready to father a child. How was he sure he was not going to be summoned by his mother in the village? Information may have been carried to her by a busybody. “And Mama has a great intuition too,” he thought.
With another month gone, Obinna was confused. He struck some luck when he came across a basket of chin chin packs for sale in a supermarket in New Haven, Enugu. Each pack bore a label Obijoy chin chin. It was the name Joy had mentioned in the note she had dropped. Obinna purchased one of the packs. On tasting one piece, he knew it was Joy’s handiwork.
For three days he was unable to speak with whoever owned the phone number on the snack label. No one picked up his calls. When he hid his number and called, he could hear a female voice at the other end. “Hello, this is Obijoy Snacks, what can we do for you?” the voice answered politely. Unmistakably, it was Joy’s voice. The challenge for him was how to get her speak to him.
Joy sobbed. Obinna’s voice reminded her of the love they shared. She was missing him. What she did not know was how long she was going to stay hidden from him. She would love to see Obinna again if he would have a change of heart. If she could not die for Obinna, then there was something she could die for.
It was Joy’s third pregnancy. Her first belonged to her first man. Then she was so innocent and was deceived by her fantasies. Now she was pregnant for Obinna again. The last time was three years ago when she was still in the university. She was not going to succumb to a third abortion. She wept as she recalled her teenage years in the streets of Ikom where she was the leader of the Block Rosary Crusade of her zone. She also excelled in her studies and was a ready example that parents cited to their children. She moved on to become the Vice President of Mary League Girl’s Association in her parish. She was now a graduate and she was so pleased that the prayer was answered, but she was also very disappointed about the present state of her love life. She wondered what her late mother would be thinking in her grave. Where had all the pieces of advice she gave her gone to? What about her own admonitions to her fellow youths against premarital sex and abortion in the groups she championed in her church?
She still convinced herself that she was going to keep the baby. “Joy may have been battered by the challenges of life but her spirit will not die,” she said to herself. “Mama was strong because she chose not to be dragged to the ground by the pressures that surrounded her, pressure from father’s wicked relatives who did not want to see us alive after father’s death. She was like an Amazon and was able to complete our house when there was no hope in sight. I am the daughter of Mrs. Grace Agbodike. We are strong. ” She wiped her tears as the full image of her mother stood before her. Her mother was light skinned, radiant and had no time for people who tried to talk her out of what she believed in. She could recollect one thing that her mother valued so much. That thing had been missing in her life for several months. It had been a long time she went to the chapel to visit the Blessed Sacrament.
“You have to be a man and face your problems,” Anderson said, looking Obinna straight in the eyes.
“It is deeper than you think Anderson, the point is that I am not ready to be a father now. I do not have a thriving job. I am not even talking about staying in a good apartment or riding a car. I love her but it is too early...”
“Early for what?” Anderson cut in. “You forget so soon. My elder sister died during an abortion and I am yet to forgive the casanova responsible for her death. Sabi’s death had made me resolve not to do anything that could lead me to a similar circumstance. Where are the ideals we learnt together in Boy Scouts? Perhaps, I am the wrong person to counsel you at this time but one thing I know is that our fears are not always as big as we make them appear. You are dealing with two people now - Joy and the baby in her womb. You are not the first person to be confronted with this kind of situation. Joy has shown you all the love you need. She has demonstrated that she does not want to terminate the pregnancy.”
If Obinna had not come to see Anderson, he would not have felt the way he did now. Anderson had succeeded in making him feel like a heap of garbage. He wanted to stand up and leave but his legs were not firm enough to carry his weight. He felt like leaning his head over the table but that would make him look even more like a wimp. He felt light and heavy at the same time.
Anderson was no longer seated. He was standing with his back facing Obinna. All Obinna could do was to feel his lower lips with the upper one. They were dry and cracked by harmattan and he licked them. Anderson looked out of the window. The kids were playing football. Their skins were whitened by the dry air of the season. They ran around the space that served as a pitch and screamed the names of their idols. The North-East Trade wind blew. It was subtle and made the pine trees whistle but it did not make Anderson lose his line of thought.
“Think about it, a little child giggling and trying to run when he could barely walk, screaming ‘Daddy’ and seeking the attention he deserves; or his mother who carried him but did not wait to see him or allow him be; lying naked and breathless in a pool of her own blood on a couch of a theatre?”
The room was quiet. “Do let me know when she comes back,” Anderson said, breaking the silence as he closed the door behind him.
Obinna stared blankly. He was hungry. He had earlier told Anderson to pick something edible for him in town. He took the polythene bag that Anderson dropped on the table and dipped his hand inside. He could feel a doughnut and a pie. They were both in a smaller bag. He brought out the bag and on it was an inscription Obijoy Snacks. “Enough of this torture,” he murmured and dropped it back on table. He was certain Anderson did not purchase it on purpose, for the young man who loved talking would have dangled it on his face when he lectured him. He walked unsteadily around the room confused. “Anderson has challenged me. Of course, I am a man, a correct man.” With a renewed vigour, he took the snacks and chewed them voraciously. After gulping some water, he mumbled, “I am a man, that is why she is pregnant.”
“I bu Chim o, i bu Chim, i bu Chi anya mji ahu uzo,” Joy sang heartily as she kneaded the flour mixture. Obijoy snack was one thing she had made up her mind she could die for. The baby would grow up to be part of it. She would also train him to be the best in his chosen profession.
”Agada gbachiri uzo nwoke obi oma” She sang on. She had resolved to keep hiding until God took her out of her hiding place. She did not know when it would be. She wished Obinna the very best in all his endeavours and pledged that she would continue to love him.
“Olile anya nke ndi nso...” She suddenly remembered she had to package the pastries that she was going to send to Chicken Kitchen, the third of the fast food centres that had agreed to sell her products for a commission. She knew certainly that she would soon need help because she would still deliver her Obi Joy chin chin to the supermarkets that needed more of her products. So much work for one person and every day. It was good she could see financial gains.
Joy had just finished delivering her wares to the last supermarket in New Haven when she felt a gentle tap on her shoulders. She turned around and was startled. There, was Obinna holding a bouquet of Ixora flowers. She was excited to see the flowers she loved so much. She wanted them very badly. It was the first time she had seen the flower since the present harmattan season began. She knew the flower usually blossomed during harmattan. She so much wanted to grab it but she resisted the temptation.
She could not describe the look on his face. Was he grief stricken or just sober? He obviously needed some help and at that moment she felt she was not the right person to give him such help. He walked steadily towards her, beckoning on her with his eyes.
“Oh no! Not now, please.” She gasped. She had a bus to catch to Chicken Kitchen.
“Baby girl, I am sorry. Forgive me. Let us be together. You and I forever.”
Joy was startled by what she heard. She looked around and found out that all eyes were on them. It was not the first time they had formed a public spectacle but this time the reason was different. “How do you mean?” she asked.
“I want to marry you.”
Did she hear him well? Could it be he was out of his mind? It was the last thing she had expected to hear.
The little space of time that was characterized by silence seemed like eternity to Obinna. What was going on in her mind? Was she hesitant? He remembered the words of Anderson, “Be a man,” and he spoke out again.
“Will you marry me?”
Her heart leaped. It was not out of fear and anxiety but joy. She beckoned to the heavens. She could see egrets in the clouds. They were about ten and they flew in the same direction forming a V shape. It reminded her of victory. Teardrops filled her eyes. She could make out Anderson at a distance leaning on his motorcycle looking encouragingly at her. She did not care about the other faces that stared at her.
She had lost her mother in the month of January. She had been told her father died in an accident on his way from Lagos to visit them at Christmas. She had thought her painful journey to be a single mother had begun also in the harmattan season but the heavens had decided to make this one different.
She dropped the bag and ran to Obinna who opened his arms to hug her. “Yes, I will,” she replied. The onlookers chuckled and gossiped as they looked at the romance scene. Anderson quickly picked up the bag. No doubt, Obijoy snacks were an essential commodity and someone might steal the bag.
She took the flowers from Obinna and brought them closer to her nostrils. Before now, Ixora flower was the only thing that made her glow during the harmattan. Now she had a man who would be her husband. Her baby would have a father. Obijoy snacks would be boosted by his presence. Above all, she would be married to the man she understood and loved. There were so many good things to remember about this one harmattan.