BLACK PAGES OF THE PAST by Ikenna Igwe
THIS IS AN open account of how the icy fingers of my dark past reached out, ominously, closed around my bright future, and nearly crushed it to death.
Certainly we live in a world framed by good and evil…a world markedly defined by the cyclic system of ‘cause and effect’ – echoing Sir Isaac Newton’s third law of motion, which, indisputably states that to every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.
My name is Michael Ugo. And this is my story…
I was born and raised in Lagos; the last child out of four children. My father is a major league contractor. Sadly, my mother is dead. She died of a rare case of typhoid fever when I was seven. My older sister, our first born, sort of mothered the rest of us – a role she still plays remarkably well.
My father is a polite and cultured man…nice and very generous. His paternal role, especially after my mother’s demise, has been nothing short of exceptional. Please, don’t get me wrong. Like everyone else, there are chinks in his armour. But on the overall he’s a great guy. I couldn’t have asked God for a better father.
After my primary school education I sat for the Common Entrance examination, which I passed excellently. I was admitted into St. Ferdinand’s College – one of the finest, all-boys secondary schools in Nigeria.
I recall, with nostalgia, that I always wore my school uniform – a white short-sleeve shirt over equally white shorts – with a high sense of dignity and esteem…unlike some students I knew.
However, maintaining the white colour of the uniform was quite an arduous task for a good number of students. To say the least, it easily showcased those of us who were, perhaps, dirty by nature. You ought to have seen how such students’ uniforms quickly aged, browned with dirt and tattered, owing to their recklessness in terms of usage.
This went for both students who were fortunate to have parents/guardians who could afford to procure more than one uniform, for them, per school term…and others who weren’t as fortunate.
I was one of the lucky (and hygiene-conscious) ones; and, as it so happened, some of the unlucky ones chose to sell themselves over to the demon of envy.
After my junior secondary education, and passing the relevant examinations, I chose the Science Department for my senior secondary schooling. I did this because I really wanted to become a mechanical engineer.
Now, without the faintest hesitation, my classmates had chosen me as their class captain – a position I held from my first year till I graduated from the school.
In my final year the school board made me the health prefect – one position that engendered some controversy because it broke protocol.
As a rule, back then, any class captain who was about to step into the role of a prefect had to first relinquish his position to someone else. My case, however, was remarkably different, as none of my classmates was interested in donning the mantle of captaincy. They hotly insisted I retain the position. They even went ahead to boycott classes to press home their fiery point. As far they were concerned I was an exceptional captain who would equally make an outstanding prefect. I had the discipline, charisma, academic intelligence, and all other required qualities of a competent leader.
Well, the voice of the students eventually became the voice of God as members of the school management bowed to their demands.
So, I ended up functioning simultaneously as both the class captain and the health prefect – something that had never happened before then, or after. Naturally, I became an object of hate to some of the other students and even a few of my fellow prefects.
Like a whirlwind, time blew by swiftly, and the next thing we knew was that the Senior Secondary School Examination, which had appeared miles away, several years back, had just rounded the academic corner and was now approaching at full speed.
After paying the mandatory SSCE fees, each of us (final year students), as part of the registration requirements, had to fill a form with the subjects we intended to sit for. Below the form, on its left hand side, was a dotted line – a space for signature and date.
A month to the SSCE we were assigned our various examination numbers. Mine was 302. Two weeks to the SSCE, the time table, for each examination paper, was released. The first Science-related subject was Chemistry Practical. And it was scheduled for 9AM.
I felt every student was already studying hard, possibly filling the brain with as much texts as it could hold, and even pushing it beyond its limit, in earnest preparation for the forthcoming exams.
What? Wait a second. Did I say every student? Preparing studiously for an examination? No, I take that back. Perhaps most would have been a safer word.
Like a channel of water, flowing to its naturally designed destination, the day for the Chemistry practical paper arrived. That morning was cold…as a result of a downpour the previous night.
The venue, as designated, was our Chemistry Laboratory. We all stood dutifully outside while a tall, middle-aged, and well-dressed West African Examinations Council (WAEC) official read out our names and examination numbers from a broad sheet of paper. Whenever any student heard his name, and number, he would immediately walk into the Lab and sit down at the desk assigned to him.
And here comes the bolt from the blue. Every student’s examination details were read out – except mine.
What the hell?
When the WAEC official was done with the examination roll call he looked up and was astonished to find a student still standing a few feet from him.
“Young man, what are you doing there?” He asked, in a tone coloured with concern. “Shouldn’t you be seated with your colleagues in the Lab?”
When he heard my complaint the astonishment on his square-shaped face deepened. He now examined the broad sheet in his hands, staring at the document as if it was somehow responsible for my dilemma. Finally he gave a brief nod of certitude. “I’m positive I called every name and number on this list. I don’t think I missed any.”
His eyes found me again. “Come closer.”
When I did, he, surprisingly, handed me the broad sheet and told me to look through it myself; now accepting the possibility that he had erroneously omitted my name and number, earlier.
As I read cautiously through the sheet of paper it turned out he hadn’t. My examination details were missing.
That’s weird. How is this possible? How on earth did day suddenly turn to night?
Again, I looked carefully through the broad paper…and again my name and number were absent. I began to sweat, despite the cold air.
Oh, God, why am I the only odd student out? What the hell is going on?
The sympathetic WAEC official advised me to report the matter to our school principal, at once, before I was totally excluded from the SSCE.
A few of my classmates, who were already seated in the Lab, with the question and answer papers on their desks, were staring at me, through the Lab windows, with puzzled expressions – visibly worried as they wondered at what the problem was. What the hell was I still doing outside when they were about to commence writing an important paper?
I wish I knew, guys.
I dashed off, worried and muddled, to the principal’s office to register my predicament, just as the Chemistry practical examination kicked off.
WHEN I ARRIVED hastily at the reception area of the principal’s office I learned the man wasn’t on seat; he wasn’t even around, as he had travelled out of town, the preceding evening, to attend to an emergency.
What is so imperative to warrant his absence, from school, when the SSCE is currently taking place? I wondered. I didn’t really know. His secretary, a dark-skinned, small-statured woman, in her mid-thirties, who I suspected knew, clearly wasn’t interested in telling me.
As I looked at the woman’s bean-shaped head, I couldn’t help wondering if the rumour that she and our married principal were lovers was true. Two boarding students had recounted the few nights they had collectively seen the fair-complexioned and stout-framed man laying his massive pipe, feverish with ecstasy, behind his secretary at his big office desk. These guys had played Peeping Toms – thanks to a damaged section of one of the office’s louver windows. Concluding that our adulterous principal had a preference for ‘back entrance’ had prompted the boys to christen the table: ‘The Doggie Desk.’
As my mind recalibrated to my current problem I reached for the next best thing. I asked for the vice principal. Without honouring me with even a glance, as she typed out a document at lightning speed – her long, thin, and busy fingers clicking noisily on the keys of her typewriter – the secretary told me the VP was making the rounds to ensure the SSCE was running smoothly.
I offered the secretary a plastic ‘thank you madam’ and hurried out in search of the vice principal. I soon found the slender, bone-thin, bespectacled and soft spoken man, and concisely explained my dilemma to him.
His face was strained with incredulity as we both rushed off to his office.
One thing I loved about our VP was his orderly nature. It reflected in everything he did; the way he dressed, talked, and arranged stuff in his office. Everything, from his file cabinets to his pens, was meticulously placed.
Whenever I was in his office I couldn’t help but be awed. But when I stepped into his office, on this particular day, I was in no mood for admiration – not when I was yet to figure out the kind of academic mess I was in.
The VP hurried to one of his office cabinets, pulled it open, and brought out another broad (actually, broader) sheet of paper – this time containing the names and examination numbers of all the final year students sitting for the SSCE. The sheet also contained the subjects entered for by each student.
The man and I searched scrupulously through the sheet and eventually found my name and exam details. But instead of feeling immensely relieved, we were both immensely surprised because my exam number and the subjects I had entered for were different from the ones I originally had on my registration form. The former, which was initially 302, was now 305, while the latter, which were strictly Science-oriented, were now Commercial-oriented. It was really baffling.
The VP, clucking ruefully, began to sweat. My school uniform was already soaked with perspiration.
To be certain, the VP looked through a bulky file, on a corner of his table, soon located, and brought out the photocopy of my registration form (the original had been submitted to WAEC). I was stunned at what I saw. If I were a white person a close observer would definitely have seen the colour drain from my face.
The photocopy before me was not that of the registration form I had initially filled out weeks back!
Yes, my name was on the form quite all right, but, like in the broader sheet, my exam number and the subjects I had entered for were different. And here’s another bolt from the blue: the handwriting I saw wasn’t mine. Clearly, someone, for whatever fiendish reason, had tampered with my original form, and then submitted a fake in its stead. Furthermore, this devil’s apprentice had even forged my signature remarkably well. The only tell-tale sign of fraud was that the size of his (or hers) was smaller than mine.
The VP’s jaw dropped as I pointed out, and explained, my discoveries to him. By this time he was sweating copiously. He brought out a white handkerchief from the left pocket of his trousers and wiped the sweat away from his face and arms.
When he eventually found his voice he said, more to himself, “This is incredible! How could this have happened?” He heaved a sigh as he nervously rapped his fingers on the edge of his table – apparently thinking on the next move to make. Then he looked directly at me, his anxious face searching for the faintest ripple of a lie. “Are you sure you properly filled out and submitted your registration form?”
I remained a solid portrait of sincerity. “Sir, I assure you, I did.”
The man gave another disconsolate sigh. I could sense his mind was still twirling with confusion, as it wrestled with the real source of this monumental fault. Was it me? Was it the school management?? Or was it WAEC? Arriving at what he considered to be the appropriate move the VP faced me again. “Okay, come with me. Let’s go and see the WAEC Chief Supervisor.”
The VP and I rushed out of his office to look for the man. I glanced at my watch as we did. About forty minutes had slipped by since the Chemistry practical examination started. And it was a two-hour paper.
One hour twenty minutes to go! I still have enough time to write the paper. As soon as this error, intentional or otherwise, was corrected.
When we found the Chief Supervisor, a short, bulky, and bearded man, in his fifties, and explained my predicament to him, he was quite sympathetic. After offering a detailed explanation on how the error couldn’t have been from WAEC he made it pellucid that at that stage I had just two options. “Young man,” he said in a tired voice, “the truth is…it’s either you sit for the Commercial-oriented subjects, as they are, or…you completely forget about the SSCE for this year.”
And there they were…loud and clear for all who cared to listen and see.
At first, for me, both options were, totally, unacceptable. How can I sit for subjects I know next to nothing about? And how can I just forego my SSCE, after six good years of secondary schooling?
No doubt, I was at a crossroads.
Which do I take? How the hell did I arrive on this island of madness? Just two hours earlier, my life had been peachy; but, now, in front of me were two full tall glasses of vinegar. And I had to drink one. I just had to drink one.
Eventually, after a critical assessment of the reality on ground, I chose the second option. Devastated is a mild way of putting how I felt.
My father, all refinement and sophistication temporarily suspended, was mad with fury. What the hell was he hearing? That his son wasn’t going to sit for his SSCE, with his colleagues, because some damned person deliberately doctored his exam information? No, there would be hell to pay for!
He wanted to take legal action, bordering on gross negligence, against the school management.
“I’ll sue that bloody school board to hell and back!” He thundered…his face dark with rage. “How could they have been so lax with such a sensitive process? They ought to have double-checked and then triple-checked everything!”
Somehow my siblings and I managed to dissuade him from instituting the legal proceedings.
The school principal, on returning from his emergency trip, and nearly on his knees, expressed his sincere apology – promising to deal ruthlessly with anyone, staff or student, found to be culpable of tampering with my SSCE registration form.
Three years later, one of our teachers – the Biology teacher, actually – while on her death bed, after being struck by a strange and incurable ailment, confessed to the heinous crime. Regrettably, she carried the reason for her devilry to the grave.
I was astonished – since, like most students, I had venerated the woman. She was intelligent, warm-spoken, and kind-hearted…the type that appeared to lack what it took to hurt a fly. Apparently, it was all a veneer. Apparently, the woman had been a mistress of witchcraft all along.
I remembered what the Scripture says about man’s heart being desperately wicked. In context, it’s curious how the least expected people end up doing the most unexpected things.
Anyway, as the storm of my failure to sit for the May/June SSCE blew over, I registered, and began to prepare diligently, for the Nov/Dec General Certificate Examination (GCE).
As God would have it I scored excellently in all my papers – with seven A’s and two C’s. The next hurdle to surmount was the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examination, as it was referred to back then.
As was required, I picked two higher institutions; the University of Lagos (UNILAG) as my first choice, and Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUTECH) as my second one. Interestingly, I chose the same course for both institutions: Mechanical Engineering. I wanted to study the course because I was simply crazy about machines – or is machinery a better word?
In any case, when the JAMB examination result was released, I scored 232. I now waited, almost apprehensively, for the cut-off marks for Mech. Engineering from both universities. There was no Post-Jamb examination – an internal examination conducted by higher institutions for candidates who are successful in the JAMB examination – in those days.
The cut-off marks eventually came out, and zipped past me, leaving twin disappointment in their wakes. For UNILAG it was 250, while for ESUTECH it was 246. Obviously, in both cases, I was more than 10 marks short.
I tumbled into depression – a state that worsened when I learned that some of my friends and colleagues had clearly scaled the cut-off marks for their respective courses. I found it hard wrapping my head around the fact that, unlike me, they were going to gain admission into their chosen higher institutions.
How can life be so mean!
I was still floundering about in gloom’s dark cavern when a ray of hope shone through an unforeseen opening.
One morning, my uncle – my father’s younger brother – who lived in Enugu, called and informed my father that he knew someone – a friend – at ESUTECH, who might be able to help me with my admission into the institution, to study my dream course. And for that to happen I had to come over to Enugu and stay with him while the admission process was worked out.
At first, my father played the skeptic…uncertain about the fruition of such an endeavour. But my uncle convinced him to give the proposition a shot. So, with a good measure of faith, I set out for Enugu on a cloudy Tuesday morning.
I BOARDED A bus bound for Onitsha, because I couldn’t get a vehicle headed directly for Enugu. As it turned out, back then, very few buses journeyed from Lagos straight to Enugu without a stopover at Onitsha to switch buses.
I sat beside a dark and corpulent male passenger, who looked to be in his forties, and who turned out to be a first-class glutton. Like biblical Solomon he saw to it that he wolfed down every edible item that caught his fancy – banana, fried groundnut, roasted yam and stew, bottled beer, meat pie, biscuit, soda, fried rice, fried meat, fried fish, name it. The man’s cavernous mouth worked voraciously – biting, tearing, and chewing away – nearly throughout the entire journey. He offered me some of his goodies, repeatedly, but I politely turned him down each time. At a point he turned my way, gave me a quick once-over, smiled mischievously, and made a joke that I needed to eat more food, seeing how slim I looked.
I smiled back, thinking: I’m trim and fit, while you, my fat friend, are headed for an early grave. So, RIP… in advance.
Apparently encouraged by my smile he went on and tried to engage me in some disjointed discussion about how the country was at an all-time economic low as a result of the steady mismanagement of our resources by the ‘military bastards’ in power.
That’s no news, I thought, only half listening to him as he ate, swallowed, and talked. But, so long as you don’t choke on your meal, you and I are good.
“Abacha and his cronies have nothing to offer…”
And then there was silence.
I waited, thinking he had paused only to catch his breath. But the stillness persisted.
Prodded by curiosity, I turned to the man. His bald head had dropped to his chest as he was suddenly overcome by sleep. But I had been astonished at how he went from talking to falling asleep in an instant. It was automatic…like a switch was turned off in his large head. For one brief and alarming moment I thought he was dead; that he had suffered a coronary malfunction that shut down his heart in a blink.
Jesus…he’s dead! In that millisecond I had panicked like hell…my heart beating so furiously I thought it would tear its way out of my chest. O Lord, let him not be dead. Let him not be dead. I was only kidding earlier about him heading for an early grave. Please, let him not be dead.
I sighed with inexpressible relief when I looked at him closely and saw his chest rising and falling…rising and falling…in perfect rhythm.
Oh thank God. The foolish ape is only asleep. Thank you, God…thank…
I was barely done with my prayer of thanksgiving when the man suddenly commenced a different kind of conversation; now snoring his words. Furthermore, he was drooling saliva. Lord have mercy.
You should have heard the jumbled orchestra that was playing out of him. Other passengers weren’t spared of the noisiness either. As the pitch of the noise increased, some of them began murmuring their displeasure while others threw visual daggers at the man.
A young woman, in the seat behind me, snapped her fingers in disgust and quietly prayed, “May God never let me marry this kind of man.”
Twice, I shook the man awake, so he would stop embarrassing himself and his generation; twice he awoke, muttered some drivel, wiped the saliva from his mouth with the back of his hand, and went back to sleeping and snoring.
I couldn’t wait to get to Onitsha. I could say the same for most of the other passengers.
We arrived at Onitsha by 6:05PM – which, by standard travel time, was late. This resulted from a sudden and heavy rainfall, a few miles to Asaba, in Delta State. The nearly blinding rain had induced a severe gridlock, stretching miles.
After debussing, at the bus-park, like some of the other passengers, I boarded a mini-bus going to Enugu…specifically Independence Layout. We arrived there 8PM on the dot. I climbed down and flagged down a commercial motor cycle, popularly known as Okada. After reaching a fair fare with the rider – a dark and burly man, with four broad tribal marks on either side of his chubby cheek – I mounted the bike.
As the guy sped through the streets of Enugu, like some speed demon, I pleaded with him, in Pidgin English, to slow down…that I didn’t journey smoothly all the way from Lagos only to come and die in a fatal motorcycle accident in Enugu. The bike rider snorted laughter and decelerated considerably. As we rode on, my poor nostrils were suddenly invaded by a malodorous waft of air.
Where the devil is this nastiness coming from? I discovered I didn’t have to look any further. The bike man in front of me was the guilty purveyor of the stink. He smelled like he hadn’t had a decent bath in years.
God, please tell me, where I did go wrong today? First it was the gluttonous baboon in the bus…and now this freaking pig?
Mercifully we arrived at my uncle’s residence ten minutes later. I glanced at my wristwatch; it said 8:30PM.
My uncle and his family were wide awake. They had been worried when I failed to turn up on time. My father and my siblings were equally worried because each time the former called my uncle, over the telephone, to find out if I had arrived, he got a negative response.
Of course, in Nigeria of those days, mobile phones were not as commercially available as they are presently; so there was no way I could have communicated with my family to let them know where I was at every point in my journey.
Anyway, everyone was quite relieved when I arrived safely at my destination. I felt somewhat tired as I walked into my uncle’s house, which was a massive, two-wing, duplex. Each balconied-wing carried four bedrooms, and a mini living room. The large central living rooms were situated on the ground floors. My uncle and his family stayed in one wing of the duplex, while the other wing was, more often than not, used by guests. Both wings were accessible by means of a short passageway, downstairs.
After quickly explaining why I had arrived late, to everyone, I was ushered into a welcoming bedroom in the guest wing. I unpacked my luggage, undressed, took a long cool shower, house-dressed, and came downstairs for dinner, which consisted of hot Fufu and Nsala Soup, containing two enormous chicken laps. I ate dinner alone, because the rest had eaten theirs, before I arrived.
After the rather tasty meal, and several glasses of cold water, I walked to the living room where my uncle and his family were seated, watching an interesting movie on T.V.
I joined them.
Now, my uncle had four kids; two boys and two girls. I and the first child and daughter shared a similar age. Her name was Chineye. She was two years older than the second child: a boy; four years older than the third child: another boy; and seven years older than the last child: a girl.
Before then, the last time I saw my cousins was four years ago; and now they were all remarkably grown up.
Chineye, who was nineteen at this time, was particularly stunning. She had blossomed into a beautiful young lady with, as they say, the right curves and edges set sexily in the right places.
My, when did she become this beautiful?
While we were all watching T.V, I suddenly noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that Chineye, who was seated to my left, was staring at me.
I turned in her direction.
She maintained eye contact. A rather seductive smile lay curved, downwards, on her pretty face.
I couldn’t quite comprehend what lay behind the pleasantly devious expression. But I smiled back and returned my attention to the television set.
Several minutes later the interesting movie ended.
As the list of cast and crew scrolled up in reverse vertical on the screen my uncle turned to me and we began to discuss issues relating to education. I learned he had helped with Chineye’s admission into ESUTECH the previous year. She was now a second-year student.
My uncle assured me he would do his best to ensure I was also admitted into ESUTECH. He kept up with the academic-related discussion, but, at that point, my mind was processing less than half of our discussion, as sleep was relentlessly pushing its claws deeper and deeper into me. It registered in my tired eyes…my eyelids battling with the weighty bags of slumber.
My uncle’s wife noticed this and pointed it out to her husband – prompting him to allow me retire for the night.
I thanked him for his concern and promise before rising to my feet and excusing myself. As I made to walk out of the living room, I observed that Chineye, once again, had her eyes on me – but the sultry smile was gone this time. But there was this intense look in her eyes – like she wanted something from me. And whatever it was, she was going to get it – no matter what it took.
Well, I wasn’t exactly fazed by her facial expressions. I summed it up to the fact that she was just toying around with me. She and I were close. We’d been that way right from childhood. We chatted and played together. We were really good friends. But when she was eleven she and her family had relocated from Lagos to Enugu – after her father finished building the family house. We didn’t see each other again until four years later when she and her siblings (except the last child) came and spent the Christmas holidays with me and my family in Lagos.
She and I were very happy to be together again, to play together again. A night before my cousins returned to Enugu, Chineye had given me a small envelope, containing a folded piece of paper. She made me promise not to read the content of the letter until after she and her siblings had left the next day.
So, a few minutes after they departed, the following morning, I opened the envelope, brought out the letter, and read its content, which was just a sentence, written in red ink: Darling, I love you with all my heart. A heart-shaped diagram had been drawn beside ‘heart.’
I read the letter a second time and smiled; but I didn’t take it seriously. I felt there was nothing unusual in saying she loved her cousin. I mean…I loved her; she wasn’t just my friend; she was family. Anyway, I tore the paper in bits, and threw the pieces into the dustbin. That was four years ago.
I remembered the letter episode as I crept into bed that night, oblivious of – and consequently ill-prepared for – the bomb that was set to explode in the foreseeable future.
THE NEXT DAY or so Chineye and I were back on the same track. We talked and played games together. She was pretty good at Chess and Ludo. It was as if there had been no four-year physical interval in our relationship.
Everyone in the family knew we were close; they were already used to seeing us together. Although we had spoken, not too often, over the telephone, over the last four years, it was incomparable to seeing each other in the flesh.
Chineye took me on a tour of ESUTECH on the third day of my arrival while her father kept pushing every button he could to see to my admission.
On the fifth night of my arrival, I was lying in bed, in my room, on the verge of drifting off to sleep, when I kind of sensed someone’s presence; sensed that someone was close to me.
My eyes shot open and, to my astonishment, someone was actually there… seated on the bed, beside me.
Is it a ghost? A witch? A demon?
I nearly screamed out in sudden fear. But just before the sound of terror escaped my trembling lips, a wave of recognition washed over me.
Jesus! Girl, you almost gave me a heart attack.
Yes, my unexpected guest was none other than Chineye.
Although fear had left the stage…surprise still remained, spotlighted.
The guest room door wasn’t locked. But I still wondered how the hell she got in without alerting me. Did she spirit herself in? She must have been sneakily quiet and I must have been more asleep than I initially thought.
Chineye had on a see-through night gown. As such, I could see she was naked underneath it. Curved downwards on her lovely face was a smile – the same seductive smile she had sent my way the night I arrived at their house.
As I said, I was most surprised to see her. I glanced at the wall clock opposite my bed. It registered: 1:45AM.
What in heaven’s name is she doing here, in my room, at this time of the night?
I had observed that my uncle and his family usually went to bed between 10PM and 10:30PM.
“Did I scare you?” my unexpected visitor asked teasingly, on noticing how astounded I was.
Quickly regaining composure, I said, “Of course, not.” Bloody lie. She had scared the hell out of me. “It’s just that I’m…er…”
“Surprised to see me,” Chineye finished for me.
“Er…yes…yes…surprised to see you. So…er…what are you doing here…at this late hour?”
Gazing directly into my eyes she said, “Well, I came to check up on you – to know how you’re doing.”
Again, her gaze was knife-like – this time, nearly frightening. Quite unexpectedly, I felt my heart racing.
“Well, as you can see, I’m fine,” I said, sitting up in bed, trying to sound as genial as I could.
The penetrating look remained penetrating. “Did you read my letter?”
What? What letter?
Then I realized she was referring to the ‘Darling, I love you very much’ letter.
Oh, that letter.
But I feigned ignorance. “What…letter are you talking about?” At the same time I wondered why she was bringing up the letter issue now – after four years. I figured she’d forgotten about it since she never once mentioned it anytime we talked on the phone.
“And what’s that supposed to mean?” Chineye asked, her voice rising in anger.
I kept up with the act. “Honestly, Chi, I don’t know anything about any letter.”
The anger shifted from her voice to her eyes, as they seemed to assume a fiery quality. She said, “Don’t tell me you lost the letter…that you didn’t read it.”
I felt it was time to put her out of her misery. I smiled, broadly.
Then she knew I had been kidding with her. She relaxed.
Her face softened into a smile. “So…you read it.”
“As a matter of fact I did.” But I didn’t tell her what I did to the letter afterwards – since I hadn’t taken it seriously. And also because, for some reason, I felt she might lose her head at the news and claw out my eyes with sudden blinding rage.
Her next statements made me feel more than a bit uncomfortable.
“So…what do you think?”
What do I think? You snuck into my room at this time of the night to ask me what I think about a letter you wrote four years ago. Are you nuts?
“Well I…er…” I tried desperately to find the appropriate words, “…it’s natural for family members to feel…er…love for one another.”
She was quiet for nearly a minute, but her eyes never left mine. At that stage I became rather concerned that someone might come looking for her…and end up finding her in bed with me. And who do you think they would hold responsible? Me of course!
So, you’re screwing your cousin? Abomination! Shame on you!
Then Chineye drew closer to me, her full breasts jiggling slightly under her night gown in the process. “I’m in love with you, Mike.” There was an earnest look on her face. I didn’t doubt her. A painful lump formed in my throat.
“I love you with every molecule of my existence.”
The lump became bigger.
I was tasking my brain on how best to respond when, to my utter surprise, she leaned forward swiftly, aiming her lips for mine.
Swallowing hard, I caught her, by the shoulders, just in time. “Chi, what are doing?” I asked, alarmed. “Do you realise I’m your cousin – that I’m your close blood?”
“I know.” Her voice was clearly laced with indifference. She struggled to break out of my grip, intending to lay her lips on mine. I held her back as much as I could.
Then she relaxed. “But, Mike, I can’t help how I feel about you. I just can’t. I’ve been in love with you for so long…it’s driving me crazy. Don’t you see? Don’t you love me? Don’t you want me? Am I not pretty enough for you?”
Merciful Lord! What sort of twisted temptation is this?
I knew I had to be very careful with my answer.
The last thing I wanted was to say something she would interpret as outright rejection and, in a twisted and cruel thirst for vengeance, suddenly scream rape! This troubling line of thought was birthed by a scene I once read in a novel. I recalled that from the moment the character was wrongfully branded a rapist he commenced a topsy-turvy journey that saw him spend a few years behind bars….for a crime he never committed.
“Chi, I…do love you…but not the way you want…not like this. We’re too related…too close to have passionate feelings for each other…it’s not right…”
“I don’t care if it’s right or not!” she responded sharply, cutting me off, her voice a shade too high. “I want what I want! I want who I want!”
I knew she was somewhat spoilt… and, sometimes, could be unduly obstinate.
I raised both palms and gestured to her to keep her voice down.
To my relief, she did. “I’m madly in love with you, that’s all I know,” she went on, her tone now lowered. She looked and sounded rather determined.
I tried another approach. “Chi, what you feel for me is not love…it’s…it’s infatuation. Yes, you’re totally infatuated with me.”
She laughed quietly. “Mike, I might be young. But I’m not naive. And I’m not stupid. I know what infatuation is. I know how I feel. I know what I feel. My heart beats intensely for you. I love you.”
She tried to kiss me again…and again I held her back.
You, my dear, are losing it.
I felt she wasn’t in her right frame of mind. I had to end this lunacy fast, before it took a turn for the worse. “Look, Chi, it’s late…and moreover, someone might walk in on us and get the wrong idea of things.”
“No one will walk in on us, Mike,” she responded defiantly. “I didn’t just shut the door; I turned its key. So, it’s locked.”
Okay, I see you came prepared.
“Still, Chi, you never know; somebody, one of your siblings perhaps, may suddenly wake up, discover you’re not in bed, and, for some reason, come looking for you. If that happens, then there is little doubt that this room will be exempted from the where-is-Chineye list?”
That seemed to jolt her back to her senses.
She sighed with what seemed to be regret, rose slowly from the bed, and sashayed over to the door. She leaned and placed her left ear against it, listening for any movements outside. Hearing none, and just before she turned the doorknob, she turned and blew me what I supposed was a goodnight kiss. She unlocked the door, slightly, and cautiously poked her head out, glanced furtively along both sides of the passageway, stepped out of my room, and closed the door behind her.
I spent several minutes trying to mentally process all that had just happened. What I initially felt was a mere joke had apparently turned out to be quite serious. Admittedly, I really loved and cared about Chineye. And, I must confess, if we hadn’t been closely knitted by blood, I would, certainly, have fallen in love with her. But we were too bonded by blood – and that ruled out any form of intimate feelings between us. However, unlike me, Chineye didn’t seem interested in keeping to the first-blood rule.
I was still mulling over her ungodly-hour visit, and the startling things she had said to me, when I reflexively fell asleep.
THE FOLLOWING EVENING, I was standing on the balcony, leaning against its railing, admiring the beautiful scenery spread out before me, when I heard someone approaching from behind. I turned to look. It was Chineye. I hadn’t seen her all day, because she went for lectures – the last of which was why she returned home late.
She came and stood beside me on the projected platform. She greeted me, her tone, soft. I responded with the same measure of voice. She looked solemn, and was somewhat uncomfortable or, to put it better, embarrassed. We both admired the gorgeous panorama before us, in silence, for some time. My uncle’s house is situated in one of the best locations in Enugu.
I shot my friend a covert glance. I could see she wanted to say something, but didn’t exactly know how to begin. So, I decided to help her.
I said, “Chi, don’t worry about last night…I’m not, in any way, angry with you.” That was all she needed to hear. Heaving a sigh of relief she apologised for her indecent behaviour the previous night, stating she didn’t know what came over her.
You were only mad for a minute, my dear. Only mad for a minute.
She asked for my forgiveness. I told her there was nothing to forgive; that she had just been overly emotional – a state which had thrown open the gate for the animals of her twisted desires to jump out and get the best of her.
She asked if we were still friends. I assured her we still were. At this she smiled, brightened visibly, and narrated how her day went. In the end she asked if I wanted to play a game of Chess. To convince her I held nothing against her I agreed. We played the game, thrice. And, as usual, she won each time.
Our friendship went on smoothly…having cast aside the dark clouds of abominable intimacy that had threatened it.
A couple of days later, my uncle presented me with bittersweet news: his friend at ESUTECH had, regrettably, informed him that he couldn’t help me process my admission to study Mechanical Engineering. But, he could help me get in to study Chemistry – since I did Science-oriented subjects in my Nov/Dec GCE. The ball was now in my court. How did I want to play it?
How did I want to play it?! Are you seriously asking me that?
I didn’t spare a second considering the Chemistry option. It was Mechanical Engineering or nothing else. In fact, I was willing to sit for another JAMB examination – just to achieve my aim.
Fortunately, my father and my uncle, unlike other members of my family, stood on my side of the fence. My stay in Enugu was no longer necessary. I had to return to Lagos.
Chineye, of course, was saddened by the unanticipated development. But my mind was already made up – set in concrete – unchangeable by man or angel.
Two days to my departure from Enugu, my uncle and his wife travelled to Asaba, for the burial ceremony of a family friend. They planned to spend a few days there.
A night to my departure, around 11PM, after a refreshingly cold shower, I, dressed only in shorts, was about to climb into bed, and sleep off, when I heard a soft knock on the door. I faced the door and, without really thinking it through, told whoever was on the other side of it to come in.
The door knob turned, the door opened, and Chineye walked in, clad in a pink, silk robe.
Again, I was astonished. What is she looking for this time? Another attempt to kiss me? For some odd reason I felt uneasy. Very uneasy.
But before I could utter a word, she held out her laced fingers in a pleading gesture. “Please, Mike, don’t be offended…there’s something I need to tell you…and it’s urgent.”
She now turned, locked and bolted the door behind her.
What on earth does she want to tell me behind a locked door? My uneasiness shot through the roof.
In what I can only describe as a split second, Chineye disrobed, and stood completely naked, all her natural glory displayed, before me.
I was distracted for an instant, only an instant, which was all the time she needed to narrow the distance between us. It seemed she floated, like some resolute spirit, across the room, towards me with celerity. She threw herself literarily at me. The impact knocked me slightly backward. She held me in a vice-like embrace – simultaneously planting her hot and demanding lips on mine…her ready tongue diving deep into my mouth…probing and stroking and tasting.
I tried to push her away, but she fought back, clinging on – absolutely determined not to let go of me. She was purring like a cat on heat, and she kept muttering, at intervals, “Oh I want you…I want you so bad…I want you inside me…deep inside…please, Mike, take me…take me…and don’t stop…”
I tried to push her away again, but I really couldn’t. Her grip was astonishingly strong.
How did she become this powerful?
“Make love to me…” she blurted out, her voice husky with emotion. It sounded more like an order.
At that point, the feel of her soft, delicate and nude body against me, the intoxicating smell of the perfume on her smooth skin, and the deliciousness of her hot lips and tongue, had to a great extent clouded my reasoning and eroded the firm foundation of my self-control.
Chineye, apparently sensing this, began running her hands feverishly all over my partially nude body – drawing me deeper into the abyss of ecstasy.
Then she slid to her knees, pulled down my elastic band-waist shorts, and grasped my private member, seemingly in one fluid move. Her fingers went to work, gently and skillfully massaging me. I felt all resistance and logic go out the window. Within seconds I was thick and at full attention. Chineye paused and looked up. As our eyes met, she gave a faint smile of victory. Yes, her sexual healing was working…and working perfectly well. Curling her fingers around my hard length she wetted her lips with her tongue and took me into her mouth.
As I stroked her hair, shuddering with pleasure at the wonderful damage she was doing to me, I couldn’t help thinking, This girl is good. Clearly this isn’t her first time.
As my appetite for gratification increased I pulled Chineye to her feet, grabbed her thighs, and lifted her. She straddled me, wrapping her legs firmly around me. I could feel her heat seeping right into my skin. At that intense moment I desired nothing more than to bury myself deep in her moistness. I carried her to the bed, carefully positioned her, exploring all of her, and together we rode the thunderous waves of bliss. It was simply explosive…so explosive that we did it again.
As we lay silent, wet and spent, in each other’s arms I recalled the first time I had sex. It was a year ago. And I had lost my virginity to Morenike – a fair-skinned, slender, and pretty graduating student of St. Martha (sister school to St. Ferdinand). It actually happened during the after-party of that year’s graduation ceremony.
One moment we were seated, talking excitedly, laughing infectiously, and drinking freely; and the next moment she was leading me along a wide deserted school hallway and into an empty classroom.
After locking the door behind us, we began kissing…and then kissing more with fervour; and then we were on the floor, on our knees. As our kiss deepened, and our passions heightened, Morenike reached down, unbuttoned and unzipped my trousers, and freed little Michael. Further excited by the sight of my impressive sex organ she hitched up her short skirt, laid on her back, and spread her thighs wide open. Then I saw she had no panties on. Clearly she had attended the event, intending never to leave without copulating with someone. And I just happened to be her lucky pick.
I noticed there was an odd look on her face that seemed to say, ‘Here is my farm, all green and ready. See to it that you cultivate it properly.’
All the images in the porn magazines I had read, up till then, floated to the surface of my mind as I lowered myself into the warm, slick opening of the beauty beneath me…
Several minutes after our second round of illicit engagement, Chineye climbed down from the bed, and went and retrieved her robe, which was still lying on the floor where she had dropped it earlier. She slipped it on, held it in place with its cord, and walked back to the bed where I was lying lazily and observing her. She leaned down, and we kissed for nearly a minute; lips parting…tongues seeking and penetrating. I felt another wave of heat rising in my groin. I was tempted to undress her and pull her back into bed for a third round. But I checked myself.
After the intense kiss, she smiled – a satisfied smile. “I really enjoyed myself, Mike. Thank you for such a wonderful time.”
I gave a faint smile. “Me too.”
“Have a safe trip back to Lagos.”
Chineye straightened up, turned, walked to the door, unbolted it, unlocked it, and listened closely for movements outside. Satisfied, she opened the door, glanced furtively along both sides of the passageway, walked out, and closed the door behind her.
After a satisfying stretch I got down from the bed, went to the bathroom, and took another cool shower. After that I came back to the room, fell on the bed, and fell asleep. Truthfully, I had thoroughly enjoyed myself. I felt a hidden part of me had always craved Chineye sexually.
I felt neither guilt nor regret…not until a couple of days later. But, somehow, I was able to put the entire unholy affair behind me.
At least that was what I thought.
I SAT FOR the next JAMB examination, and scored 285. The cut-off mark for Mechanical Engineering, for UNILAG, was 279.
I was admitted on merit.
During the second semester of my third year in school my family and I received a, rather, tragic news from my uncle: Chineye was dead.
She, and a few of her course mates, had lost their lives in a ghastly motor accident, while they were on an excursion to a certain company, headquartered at Onitsha.
But before the heartbreaking incident Chineye and I hadn’t spoken in nearly three years. I felt us having sex had somehow blotted the scales of infatuation from her mind. Wrong sex sometimes has a way of vaulting people from the depth of illusion to the surface of reality.
We attended her funeral ceremony. And when I stood before her corpse, to pay my last respect, images of what we did – our dirty secret – hotly flashed through my mind. I pushed them out as swiftly as they appeared. I blinked back the burning tears stirring in my eyes as I found it hard looking at the body I had twice copulated with just a few years back. Now here it was. Lifeless. Empty. Dead.
I finished my first degree programme with a solid Second Class Upper. A month after my National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) programme I got a job with a foremost mechanical engineering company. The pay package was great. A year later, I got married to my sweetheart – a beautiful fashion designer I had met during my service year.
Three weeks after my marriage, I lost my job, over a case of financial fraud – one in which I was implicated. But then, I was innocent. Fortunately, I wasn’t gaoled. Getting another job proved quite difficult. But, eventually, I found one – only to have my appointment terminated three months later – over another case of financial misappropriation. Again, I was innocent. And again, I escaped being immured.
I was fired from my third job, after working for just two months, without the least thread of cogent reason.
I had arrived at my office, that momentous morning, only to find an official envelope, addressed to me, sitting patiently on my worktable. I picked it up, opened it, and read the content of the letter it held. It was just a paragraph of four lines. I was told that my services were no longer required, and that I was to pack my stuff and vacate the office premises the instant I received the letter.
I reeled in confusion.
What the bloody hell is this? Someone’s idea of a joke? Well, it isn’t funny. It isn’t funny at all.
I marched into my immediate supervisor’s office and showed him the, what I considered to be, prank-letter.
The bald, brown-skinned, and broad-shouldered man frowned deeply and assured me the letter wasn’t a joke; he told me, frankly, that I had been fired. When I asked him the reason for my sudden termination, he told me coldly that he had no clue; and, more so, he wasn’t interested in finding out. The company’s board members had decided, and there was absolutely nothing he could do (correction…would do) to change their minds. His big dark eyes narrowed, and his voice turned gruff, as he warned me to comply quietly with the directive, or he would order the security personnel to throw me out.
Throw me out? What sort of twisted nightmare is this?
“Listen, Michael, if you have any sense, and I mean any sense at all, you won’t fight us on this issue…because, if you do, we will make you wish you never worked here.”
I was confounded by his sudden hostility, since before then he and I had being on pleasant terms.
“Now get the hell out of my office…and get the hell out of this company!” My supervisor roared, his eyes blazing with contempt.
As I walked dejected to the workspace that was no longer mine, to gather my personal effects, I noticed that the present office workers – every last one of them – were giving me odd and chilly looks. Somehow I knew they all knew I had been fired. None of them even came over to offer any consoling words.
What do they know that I don’t?
For over two years I couldn’t find another job. My wife’s fashion house shut down, because she, mysteriously, stopped receiving patronage like she used to.
In addition to this, and sadly too, she suffered three miscarriages. My two cars, and some cash, were stolen in one night, when some daredevil armed robbers felt it was about time they called on us.
Our once perfect lives just turned upside down, literally, overnight.
There were times when we went without food for days. My wife and I began to lean on our families and friends financially. Like us, they were deeply foxed by our predicament. Why are we the recipients of these back-to-back cycles of negatives? I often wondered.
At some point, I began to even suspect my beloved wife of being responsible for our woes. Several nights, I lay awake in bed, watching her as she slept. Did I marry a cursed head? Is this woman a carrier of bad luck? Wait a minute…if I divorce her, will things revert to normal? These were questions that constantly plagued my mind…shadowing me wherever I went. However, I was uncertain about any of them.
One day, while out job-hunting, I ran into an old secondary school mate who, to my amazement, was now a minister – a prophet to be exact. I was astonished because while we were in school he had hung out with the wrong crowd; guys who were willing tools in the devil’s workshop.
Anyway, while the prophet and I were discussing, in his car – a current-model Range Rover Jeep – something suddenly prompted me to tell him the dark and maze-like tunnel my wife and I were currently lost in. But as I was about to do so he suddenly closed his eyes, and angled his head, upward, to the right – like he was listening to some sound or voice audible only to him.
Curious at the posture, I kept mute. A minute or two later, he straightened his head, opened his eyes, gazed directly into mine, and said, “The Lord said I should tell you that you’re the source of all the ills presently hounding you and your wife.”
I didn’t understand what the hell he meant, and I told him so.
Still holding my eyes with his, the prophet smiled, a brief smile, and continued, “Some years ago, you travelled to Enugu State. Am I correct?”
I hesitated…and then nodded. “Yes.”
“Good. Now while you were there, you did something…repugnant.”
His gaze was now burning deep holes in my mind. “I believe you know exactly what I’m talking about.”
Realization crashed over me like a violent wave. Yes, I did know what he was talking about. It was emblazoned in a portion of my mind. There was no use denying it; not with the appalling way things were. So I said, “Yes, I do.”
The prophet encouraged me to confess my sin, as that was one sure way to turn my present, obnoxious situation around for good. I didn’t argue with him. The feeling of shame was no longer in question here; not when your secret was no longer your secret.
I bowed my head right there in the car – in the presence of a man I hadn’t seen in over nine years, but who had told me something humanly known only to me and my late cousin – and confessed the evil act I had committed, in Enugu, years back. I asked God to forgive me.
Admittedly, I had felt guilt over the dreadful affair, but, surprisingly, it never occurred to me, not once over the years, to own up to God.
After my confession and plead for forgiveness, the prophet prayed for me. It was a short, simple prayer. When he was done, he assured me the stormy days were over.
And they were, because two weeks later I got a plum job with a multinational mechanical engineering company.
Today, I own a thriving mechanical/electrical engineering company. My wife owns a much bigger fashion house, which caters to an impressive clientele. And, to crown it all, we’re parents to a beautiful set of twins; a boy and a girl.
Dear Reader, thank you so much for reading this short story. Your reviews are truly appreciated.
The literary piece you just read is one of the ten stories in the collection titled: IN THE ARMS OF MIDNIGHT.
Available on Bambooks and Okadabooks.