“What an elder sees sitting down, a child will never see even if he climbs an Iroko tree” – Igbo proverb
Obinna was an ambitious young man. He dreamt all about how his life would be like. He wanted to be rich, famous, and the star of his hometown, Umuchigbo. He wanted to be known as ‘Ochi-na-nwata’, one who becomes prosperous as a kid. At merely 15 years of age, he had already started practicing the ‘rich-man-walk’, with one shoulder stooped, back hunched, and a limp. Envious of their next-door neighbour’s son, whose start up app was recent bought by Apple out there in faraway USA after serious legal wrangling with Google, to the tune of millions of American money, he swore to be rich. He had asked his father to sell all his farmlands and send him to the States, but his father, a prudent and wise man, refused. In retaliation, Obinna dropped out of school. All his mother’s entreaties fell on deaf ears. He didn’t care if the family starved while he went there. After all he would be sending them dollars, which in local money, becomes ‘nshi obogu’. Why they preferred to suffer and toil away at the farm on a daily basis instead of sending him abroad left him bewildered. He fell out with everyone in the house as they refused to pander to his whims.
Papa Ikenna was getting fed up with Obinna’s attitude in his house. As a man with a family, it was his responsibility to look after his wife and children. All had been going on fine until Ugochukwu’s start up became a hit, so much that Apple and Google were fighting over it. Not that he knew Google, and the only apples he knew were the types that were eaten. But suddenly money started flowing into their neighbour’s house. Their thatched roof house suddenly metamorphosed into a marble duplex with gold railings and beautiful carvings. The compound, usually grass filled like any other in the village, was now interlocked with a beautiful, stylish water fountain in the middle. Flower pots and orchards adorned the now landscaped grounds. Not that he begrudged them their success, he was quite happy for them and prayed for such in his own home. But not the way Obinna was going about it. The nonsense boy was the laziest human being he had ever encountered. Never willing to soil his hands or do anything meaningful, he had suddenly caught the ‘abroad-phillia’ bug, according to the village encyclopedia. He said it was better to be ‘abroad-phobic’, whatever that meant. Had it been any of his older sons, he wouldn’t hesitate to sell off his lands to send them abroad. Those ones had sense, not this one who doesn’t use his head. Probably there was no brain inside that head, only blood and bones, an empty skull. The way he had been parading himself around the village, dressed like a man with the beginnings of madness. Then that limp. Whether some father had caught him with his daughter and luckily broke one of his legs with a stick? He laughed at the thought. That would make sense. And the hunch? They had no hunchbacks in their lineage, so that one he could not understand. He sighed. He’d better go see Onowu. Probably the man’s wisdom might be able to show him what he isn’t doing right as a father, or what other actions he could take to save his son from impend disaster. This one won’t be an act of God.
Chibueze ‘Mayweather’ Regimus loved to see the smoke coil and twist as he puffed. The shape shifting nature of the gas as it drifting always enthralled him, so he could go on a long while smoking just to watch it vanish. A fine young man, talk with a good build, he had taken to physical exercises as a kid and as a result, had developed a handsome physique which he showed off. His pictures on Facebook and Instagram generated a lot of likes and comments, especially by the opposite sex. His inbox filled with sexchats with ‘chics’ asking to see if his physique was real, albeit in hotel rooms paid for by them, gave him further motivation to gym harder. His ‘sexcapades’, from married to single and working, to students, were numerous. In fact, he now only requests to see the broke girls only when the rich ones are not available. Even then, he thought of himself as giving them the proverbial scraps falling from the master’s table. His thirst for easy, abundant money, was only matched by Obinna. Even though Obinna was a dimwit, Chibueze had recognized a kindred spirit in him and they both had taken to each other. Together they planned their escape from Umuchigbo, which they codenamed ‘Prison-break’. Most of the plans were now in place and they would soon be on their way out. The best part of it all, the stupid boy would pay their bills. He smiled. Life, for him, was filled with sweet turns and honey pots. How others manage to get lime and Alovera tea always, he cared not to know.
Obinna was in high spirits. For the past twelve days, he had been having serious fun. The sights, high rises and packs thrilled him. He had been to the Silverbird Galleria with Mayweather, gone to the beach, lodged at the Sheraton hotel in a room with a seaward view, clubbed at ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha’s No 10 club, and slept with a different girl each of those nights, man, life was fun. Sometimes he had two or three different girls in a day, booking them in at different times. This was just ‘ I’aperitif ‘, Chibueze told him, wait until we travelled to the US. That’s where you will see gbedu.
They had fled from the villa after Chibueze managed to convince him to sell a good portion of his father’s farmlands without his father’s permission. They had forged the man’s easy signature and added theirs, and sold whooping ten plots. He had no regrets at all since very soon, he would begin to send them dollars. The Benjamins. Owo. Doesn’t his father know that he too wants to build him handsome duplex and buy both his parents tear rubber cars? He especially loved those INNOSON’s IVM branded SUVs and saloon cars. He would buy those makes for his parents. No need to send cars from the US as Ugo had done. The locally made cars are now the in thing jare. But for now, they await their visas. They had gotten their international passports two days after arrival, but getting the visa has become an impediment. He had become increasingly wary as the money kept on reducing on a daily basis without any means of replenishment. But to his frustration, Chibueze showed no signs of slow down with the partying. They would get to America with plenty to spare, he was that confident. Parties and hard drugs, those were all he cared for. But Obinna could read the handwriting on the wall, he put measures in place for a rainy day.
Chibueze was at loss on how things had gotten so bad for them. Obinna had warned him they were running low on cash but he thought the money would last at least until they got to the land flowing with milk and honey. That had be almost four months ago. Until they had been swindled. Well, it had been his fault. He had become impatient with the visa application process and he had wanted a short cut. So he had withdrawn most of the money and paid the guy. Then the guy had disappeared. They had to move out of the Sheraton hotel and now they were lodged somewhere in Apapa. Things were getting more difficult and he found it impossible to deal with Obinna. The guy became touchy. Seeing that they lacked further options, he suggested to Obinna that they go back home. But he would hear none of it. Not after selling his father’s properties. But he had had enough, and well, it wasn’t him who has sold his father’s properties. So he decided to go home. Obinna refused, but rather came up with the most ridiculous plan ever. He slammed the door on the guy’s face and left.
Left alone in Lagos, Obinna knew that getting a visa was a forgone alternative. He had to find a new means after they had been swindled. The only option left, Chibueze had baulked at it. The guy offered to take them to Europe through Libya, but at a cost. Both monetary and otherwise. The guy said to have his way with them until he shipped them off to Libya in a week’s time. Chibueze had returned home, but he, Obinna, could not. After all he was the one who sold his father’s land in Umuchigbo.
The experience had made him cry like a baby and the guy had taken him over and over and over. Now he was scared to use the toilet because of the pains. But each time he remembered why he couldn’t go back home again, he encouraged himself. His only means of repaying his dad still depended on his getting abroad, or so he thought. They had departed for Libya through the desert and he had thought he would never pass through a worse ordeal. Guys weakened from starvation and dehydration dropped dead like logs of wood and none of the cars bothered to stop. In fact, if you started feeling weak, they pushed you out and someone grabbed your water bottle to salvage whatever was left. Almost a quarter of those that took off didn’t make it. They were to head to areas under government control, but unfortunately, they were intercepted by fighters from the IS terrorist group. That was where he saw hell. They were segregated into various groups, the elderly were killed straightaway. The younger ones, himself included, were kept as sex slaves. They used him a minimum of thrice daily. What was worse? Their food rations were meager. Fights often broke out in the camp over food and water. He was also required to do other manual jobs.
One day, as the government forces were closing in, the jihadists started killing off their prisoners. Those who could ransom themselves did so. The rest were simply killed. One group, the one he was included in, were seen who had nothing to offer. The young commander took them away to kill. That was when he understood what was going on. He pleaded with the commander to spare him and allow him a single phone call. It was when he mentioned a five-thousand -dollar payment that the guy paid serious attention and took him aside. Given a phone, Obinna called the banker in Lagos, who, as Obinna had instructed earlier, wired the money to the militant’s personal account. The commander, Wahib, took personal charge of his safety. Others had paid a ransom of a thousand dollars and they were allowed on a rickety boat going onto the Mediterranean to Europe. Wahib contacted his friends who had links to the American consulate. When he got his visa, he felt no elation. He was finally going to America, a broken boy. He knew he would never remain the same. The nightmares would never leave him. And even if he ever made money there, he was not sure he would ever have the peace of mind to enjoy it, because try as he may, his personal demons never drifted far from him or left him alone for too long.
© Chukwu Dominic
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