Hello Yarners, we’re sorry for showing up late – the Team has caught the bug of the holiday spirit and we’re on shut down mode. it’s time to pause, take stock and strategize for the coming year.
However, before we do, we’d like to wish every Yarner and everyone who visited the blog in 2015 a ‘Merry Christmas’ and a happy holidays. You all made the blog tick. And to one of us, “Nai”, whose birthday is on Christmas day, the Team says “Happy Birthday” (Jummy’s voice is the loudest).
We’ll be back on the 23rd of January 2016, ready to create new memories and to serve you better and yes – Love. Music. & Dreams will def” be back.
Enjoy today’s feature presentation, enjoy your holidays and we’ll be together next year in Jesus Name. (I really tried to make this intro short -)
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It was dark when we got to Port Harcourt. Raining too. The type of pattering that lashed every part of the body and left clothes soaking wet. Body cold, mind blue.
I trudged towards our work’s building, compelling legs that didn’t want to walk. I could hear my mother telling me to get out of the rain. Uncle Mike’s voice echoed her instruction. They were under the shelter at the gate with someone that introduced himself as Colonel Boma.
I wanted to get wet. I wanted my body to feel half of what David’s felt when those men turned their guns on him.
Colonel Boma had met up with us when the military’s helicopter dropped us off at Omagwa. On the way here–a journey as hazy as the helicopter travel itself – he told us how David refused the highly ranked military personnel he told him to travel with when he found out he was going to speak to village elders in the outback. David cared too much about people and communities. This became obvious to me when he talked about the charity work he did with mining communities during his university days with unreserved passion. His eyes glinting like gemstones.
So it didn’t surprise me that he would have thought that the Colonel’s safety measures were a waste of resources. That seeing soldiers on their lands would have infuriated the elders’ further. The colonel said he called the elders ‘peace loving folk.’ He expected them to welcome him like they had done before. So that they could talk about oil drilling and spillages affecting their livelihoods and reach an agreement.
No one would find out if he thought the men were peace-loving when he met them.
A gang of men decked in military uniform cornered them on their way back. Pa Rufus was shot first. Then they aimed their guns at his young interpreter as he tore into the bushes to escape them.
“Chioma!” My mother grasped my hand and forcibly led me back under the shelter. The colonel had disappeared somewhere, leaving Uncle Mike by himself. “Why are you doing this to me? Why Chioma? Is David going to be happy if you kill yourself too? Is he? Aah Chioma, you have no choice but to get over this tragedy. There are plenty of men in this country. You will find another one, biko.”
“She is struggling, Ada. Let her be.” Uncle Mike didn’t look at my mother.
He pulled me to himself and wrapped his arms around me. My head rested itself on his chest in the same manner it usually found a spot on David’s chest whenever we were in bed. He often teased me about this. Although the sparkling of his eyes told me he would rather have me resting on him, his hand playing with my hair than away from him.
“They found a body Chioma,” Uncle Mike said. “They want us to go and identify it. I can go and see it. I know David would not want you to see him like that.”
I withdrew from him to look at his face. My wet hair dripped water into my eyes. They merged with the tears that were already there. “I want to see him uncle. I owe it to him to say goodbye. I will try my best to be strong … Please … I will.”
“Can his mother not identify him?” My mother asked. “Didn’t Alhaji say he had called her before we left Lagos?”
“I want to say goodbye, mum. I have to see him and be sure it is really him too. ”
“The man is dead. What is there to be sure about?”
When the village elders, who had heard the gunshots, got to David’s car, Pa Rufus was still conscious. He fought to stay conscious. To tell them how men pretending to be soldiers stabbed his boss and dragged him away.
“I want to come uncle. Then I want to stay here in Port Harcourt and wait for Aviel.”
Uncle Mike nodded. He gave my mother a look that forced her to mutter, ‘okay’. We were quiet afterwards, waiting for the colonel who wanted to come with us to the hospital.
He showed up not long after, waving a radio in the air, his huge stomach nearly tripping him up.
“My young lady…” He stopped to catch his breath. “I have news. The dead body is Indian. Maybe he is the missing oil engineer who vanished in Akassa.”
Relief washed over me. A short one. I found myself thinking what everyone else had probably arrived at. The abductors had not demanded any money. Perhaps, because they had no one to negotiate with.
David had probably bled to death.
“You have to come with me right now though.” The colonel said. “My boys say there has been sighting of another white man.”
“Another Asian?” Uncle Mike snorted. “This one might actually be an albino knowing how sharp the eyes of your soldiers are?”
“My boys confirm that the man has white man hair.”
“Please uncle.” I turned to him. I owed David that much at least. Identifying his body so that his mother would not be put through that trauma.
“The man here is not your man.” The tall, bearded doctor that attended to us at the hospital the colonel took us to said, taking his glasses off to clean them whilst shaking his head to Uncle Mike’s questions.
“Is the man white or not?” Colonel Boma snapped. “It doesn’t matter if the man here is ours or not. If he is white, then we take am.”
“His name is Oma,” the doctor replied. “He is certainly not your David Williams.” He held my gaze now, squinting as he did so. An apologetic expression had been squeezed on his face, to faze off the preoccupied expression that resided on it before. “I’m sorry. I hope you find him.”
“He said his name was Oma?” I couldn’t leave it like that.
“No, he whispered Oma when I was trying to question him before we took him to the theatre.”
“It is David.”
He put his glasses on and stared at me.
“He was asking for me. My name is Chioma. Please sir, let us see this man.”
The doctor examined me for a while. Readjusting his glasses afterwards, he gestured for us to follow him. We walked into a vast ward. Few of the beds were occupied.
Matching the doctor’s pace, my mother and Uncle Mike were soon left behind.
The Oma version of my name had started after one of his associates called me Oma several times during a meeting I had sat in on to take notes. David’s insistence on correcting the man every time led to us, having a long chat at the end of the meeting. ‘If he can pronounce Greek and Italian names, then he can try harder with Nigerian names,’ he had said after I told him I didn’t mind.
From then on, I called him Oma’s guardian every time he tried to protect me. In retaliation, he would call me Oma.
Staring at him in a strange bed, asleep with a white sheet pulled up to his chest brought tears to my eyes. He didn’t look well. Bruises and grazes covered his hands. The tubes of a surgical drainage bag and an intravenous drip were amongst the ones covering his body. Yet, I couldn’t go near him.
“That is your David then?” The doctor asked.
My neck moved in a nod. Uncle Mike and my mother had caught up with us. They both asked the question on my lips. If David would live.
“He will be fine,” the doctor said. “We operated on him when he arrived early this morning. He lost a lot of blood on his way here but he is lucky those fishermen found him when they did.”
I had fallen asleep when his familiar voice woke me up. My mother and Uncle Mike had left to get some rest and bring in a change of clothes for me from the flat. They had relented after they both spent a while persuading me to come with them.
Pulling my chair closer to his bed, my hands touched his chest to check he was really there. His nearest hand reached for me and stroked my face.
“You have been crying.”
“You scared me.”
“I’m sorry.” He glanced at the empty beds near him and frowned. “How is Rufus? Is he alive?”
“Pa Rufus is okay.” I had seen one of his wives earlier when I took a walk outside to stretch my legs. “Please don’t worry… but… they haven’t found the interpreter yet. Don’t worry about that.”
His gaze shifted to the bruises on his wrists. They were purple with hints of red bordering them.
His eyes didn’t meet mine afterwards. He was hiding something.
“Darling, what happened?”
He glanced around and then gestured for me to move closer. “When those men took me, they blinded me with a rag. They bounded my hands and legs too and sweetheart, from where I was, I could hear them discussing how much to ask for my ransom…”
“That’s serious. You need to tell Colonel Boma all this.”
“No. No my love.” He held my hands in his. “The person that untied me and told me to run after leading me to a path, had a familiar voice.”
I raised an eyebrow. He had started to confuse me.
“The man that helped me sounded terribly like the interpreter.”
“What? He set you up?”
“Perhaps not. It is possible that someone from the gang and him are related or they are friends. Maybe that’s why they spared him. Maybe that’s how they knew where we were going. All I know is, that man helped me. If I tell Colonel Boma, we both know that he will be locked up indefinitely and tortured. His mother and grandmother might get arrested in his stead if he is still on the run. So, I’m not going to grass him up.”
“Okay David. Anything you want.”
“Thanks. In return, I will be more careful.” He smiled and squeezed my hands. “Do I get a kiss now? I did crawl through thorns and rocks to get to you.”
I had arrived at David’s, after leaving him to Alhaji’s jokes the day I heard what her thoughts were.
As my mother had shared in the hospital visits and the appetising cooking for David, I believed she had accepted him.
This was until the afternoon I overheard her conversation with the gardener at the back of the building.
“Madam, u try o. U dash yah daughter to a English man.” he said to her.
She laughed long. A dry laughter that didn’t sound like that of someone amused. “That one no get wife yet o. If he say im go marry her by force, na im go return her to me with his own hands.”
That afternoon whilst fanning David after he finished his fried rice, he tapped my shoulder and asked what was wrong using his eyes. My smile didn’t come quick enough. He asked my mother.
“What is wrong with our wife?” Alhaji echoed his question without taking his eyes off the TIME magazine on his laps.
“I think she misses me too much when we are not together.” David took my free hand and turned his neck to my mother on the cane chair. “Which is why we should fix a date for the wedding.”
“Oh,” my mother opened her mouth and closed it again.
She shifted on her chair, the same time as me on the hospital bed. My hand stopped fanning him. With his eyes he apologised but it was the deepening of his dimples that told me to trust him.
“I’m happy about you two. The thing is … my husband will be busy this year,” my mother shifted again. Her bangles jingled. “Next year is his late wife’s fifth anniversary too. Give it three to four years.”
David held my eyes and stopped me from saying anything. “That’s fine. As long as you know that Chioma is not coming with you when you go back to Lagos on Friday.”
Mum’s mouth opened to say something whilst her eyes locked with mine. I turned back to David and continued fanning him.
Mary had been living with us for months, so when she turned twenty one, I didn’t think twice about organising the most extravagant birthday for her. It gave me something to do following my resignation from work a week before. Aviel who had arrived two weeks before and Steph were on hand to help out. But they seemed to be spending more time comforting me. My mother’s appearance had put us all on edge. She walked around wrinkling her nose at everything.
I was in the bedroom, on our bed, when David got back from work. We hugged and kissed. His face told me his day had been stressful. Since his recovery and subsequent return to work, there had been a crisis every week. The government’s decision to arrest and detain the Ogoni environmental activists had led to the worsening of the relationship between the people and oil companies. Farmers and land owners took to arming themselves with machetes on their lands. It became a common occurrence for engineers on the sites to demand for the presence of the police and the military.
“You are stressed,” he pulled away to examine me. “I’m guessing it is because your mum is here. The party starts in two hours, you need to get ready. Mary and Steph have been told to keep her busy. She will be back in Lagos on Monday.”
I settled on the bed. He joined me.
“What’s wrong lover?”
“My mother told me Mary’s friend is pregnant. Then she asked if I’m pregnant yet?”
He was quiet after that. The sort of silence that piled my mind full of anxieties.
The last time I found out I wasn’t pregnant, he had been more disappointed than me. He held me and told me not to worry, that he loved me. We had hoped that I would be pregnant before we left for London. As he would be working away in The Hague for the first six months whilst I would be with his parents in London, we thought it would be best that way.
Seeing him playing football with Pa Rufus’ sons that Saturday filled my eyes with tears. His white vest and shorts were no longer white by the time they finished but there was a swiftness to his speech that day that to showed his joy.
“It will happen when it happens,” he said, putting his hand around me. “We will practice some more starting from now.”
He laughed with me.
“There is time, love before our guests start arriving for the party.”
“You mean the time you should be in the shower and I should be doing my nails?”
We were kissing when the door opened without warning. We let go of each other to find my mother staring at us like we were two teenagers caught having sex. Adaora was at the door, behind her. She muttered ‘sorry madam’ and hurried away.
“Is this what you are doing when we have a party to organise?” She asked without waiting for an answer. “You are here prostituting yourself with a man no one has given you to! Chioma, you are a disgrace to your father.”
“Mummy!” I stood up and faced her. “If I am a prostitute, then it is your fault.”
She had slapped me before I saw her hand in the air. My ears didn’t work for a few seconds. Closing my eyes to blink tears away, I didn’t see David move in between us.
“Touch her again and I swear I will throw you out. Do you understand me?”
Aviel came into the room and told her son to leave. By now I couldn’t stop the tears. She held me, her gaze fixed on my mother who had crumpled on the rug.
“Do you hate me this much, Mum?”
“I don’t hate you.” She stretched her palms outward. “I don’t want what happened to me to happen you my daughter. This is why I want you to stay in this country. I don’t want you to be spat at and violated because you are foreign.”
Aviel led me to the bed. She helped my mother to the bed too and stayed with her, squatting and holding her hands. “What happened to you Ada in London?”
My mother sighed. “Let us just say, my father was right. I was treated worse than a slave after my husband died. His parents, the teenagers on our street and even the police that I went to report those children without home-training to were nasty. I was brought up to be tough so none of them succeeded like our neighbour did.”
She started to really cry now, the way I had never seen her cry before. I found myself rushing to her and holding her.
“That man broke into our house… Chioma but it was me he broke.” She pulled the edge of her buba up to her neck and shivered. “When he finished on top of me, he urinated on me and called me a slave whore. You were crying, my child. I rushed into your room before he could get to you. I picked you up and he spat at us. He called you names too. That night, I washed my body and yours until you started to cry. When you were asleep, I washed my own legs with a metal scourer and bleach. We had to sleep in a hostel full of drug addicts that night because your father’s parents refused to take us in. Then hotels after that. Until, Mike’s sister saw how we were and drove us to her house.”
My mother touched my face and wiped the tears I didn’t know were there. I went into her arms and we cried together. She held me, the same kind of way she held me whenever I was ill as a child. She had done the same when I told her I wanted to go to Port Harcourt. Her original refusal now made sense to me.
The door creaked open and David came in. From his face, I knew he had only been at the door and heard what my mother disclosed.
“I’m really sorry.”
He glanced at me and I looked away. My mother let go of me and got off the bed.
“I am sorry, David.” She gave Aviel a weak smile. “Your mother said you would lay down your life for my daughter. I didn’t believe that until today.”
She held out her hand for him. He took it.
“Nothing will happen to her, I promise. Especially, not with you coming to visit us at least twice a year.”
“I can help you track down that criminal too. Whatever it costs.”
“He was a European work immigrant who has probably moved back to his country. I don’t want to dredge it all up again. I want to move on with my life. And actually, for the first time in years, I feel light. My daughter is happy, I’m happy.”
“We will all protect her.” Aviel patted mum’s back.
“She does karate.” David said.
My mother and Aviel laughed. He came over to the bed and kissed my forehead.
“I’m sorry lover.”
“Give her a minute son,” Aviel chuckled. “Pregnant women don’t forgive easily.”
My hand went to my mouth. “I’m not pregnant.”
He stared at me as if inspecting me for symptoms of pregnancy. Our mothers were laughing now. We both turned our attention to them.
“She has been crying for no reason and doing less work than even before. Look at her stomach properly. She is very pregnant.” My mother was laughing as David hugged me. She had tears in her eyes. Happy tears that I hadn’t seen for a long time.
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