BY ISRAEL USULOR

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It was the first time he was traveling that far. Though Ikenna was 19, he never really travelled or stayed out of Agu-Ukpaka Kingdom for more than a day. As a matter of fact, that was the first time he was boarding a car! It was not that there were no cars in his village, for every Nkwo Market day, several buses came to Alikeme Bus Stop to load and convey passengers to Nkwo Market, the biggest market in that axis. 

That was the farthest most villagers ever travelled! Ikenna never boarded those buses anytime he went to Nkwo Market to sell his palm fruits and oha or yams. He preferred traveling by his father’s old Hero bicycle, and Ikenna was such an excellent rider! It was surprising how he got to the market and sold all his goods even ahead of those who boarded buses. So, Ikenna really had no need to board cars or even to travel out of his village for that matter. He was the type cynics would call a typical village boy.

It was therefore not surprising to Akubundu that when they arrived Zaka City that evening, Ikenna had betrayed the village boy in him so that even those around could readily tell that, that was the first major journey in his life. Ikenna’s was not the excitement that was normal when one was visiting a particular city for the first time. His was the excitement of venturing out of the village for the first time.

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Like a kid in the museum, Ikenna had questions about everything he saw. It was as if he wanted to know everything about the town in one fell swoop. Even though Akubundu wanted to prove to Ikenna what an area boy he was in Zaka City, he soon got tired of answering those questions most of which were outrightly foolish. Akubundu heaved a sigh of relief when Ikenna fell asleep.

He was still deeply asleep by the time they finally arrived Atima where they were to disembark from the gwongworo that conveyed them from the East. Most occupants of the lorry were yam traders who regularly came to Zaka City to buy yam for resale in the East. The Tivs who own the city were notorious for yams. So reputed were the yam farmers that one Ezza woman who came to the city for omugo once joked that one Tiv farmer could equal all the farmers in Agu-Ukpaka Kingdom. No one knew how true this claim was, but what was not lost on any visitor to the city was that the Tiv farmed with spectacular dexterity.

‘Ikenna, Ikenna!’ called Akubundu, slapping him on the shoulder. ‘Ehn! ehn!’ Ikenna answered sluggishly.

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‘Wake up let’s go home,’ said Akubundu who by then was clutching their two Ghana-Must-Go bags and had started towards the exit which by then had been lowered by the motor boy to enable passengers to disembark. Ikenna, still sleepy and confused, grudgingly stood up, cleared his sleepy eyes with the left lobe of his dog-eared okrika shirt, and wobbled after Akubundu.

‘Akubundu! Where are you?’ he called, finding his way down through the crowded exit of the lorry. When he finally disembarked, he found Akubundu standing on the other side of the road where he was waiting to flag down a cyclist who would take them to Yam Road where his brother, Oduburu lived. Ikenna crossed the busy road to meet him.

Hire! Hire!’ Akubundu called a particular cyclist who promptly turned and stopped. In Zaka City and most parts of the Middle Province, commercial cyclists were addressed as “hire”. ‘U pande ve. Good evening,’ Akubundu greeted the cyclist in Tiv. He was bent on flattering Ikenna with his fluency in Tiv language.

‘M sugh ne. I greet you too,’ responded the cyclist. Ikenna noticed that the Honda motorcycle was smaller than the big, highjack that commercial cyclists used back in his village. He could barely hear the sound of the bike, unlike the highjacks that sounded like a sewing machine.

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‘Yam Road na how much?’ Akubundu asked. Experience had thought him that to negotiate the fare with cyclists was the wisest thing to do always.

‘Na two Kilashila Shillings,’ responded the cyclist, in his heavy Tiv accent. ‘2K? No now! We go pay one Kilashila Shillings,’ Akubundu bargained in a weary tone.

‘Oya make we go,’ the cyclist agreed, collecting their two bags which he placed on the frame of the motorcycle.

As the cyclist engaged the gear and the bike moved, his headlight caught a skimpily dressed damsel moving like a seductress on the other side of the road. It downed on Ikenna that Atima was the red light district of the town, where lorry drivers visited brothels and paid to have sex with commercial sex workers.

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Soon, Ikenna found himself seated before Oduburu in his parlour. His wife Adaugo was preparing dinner. Akubundu went out and soon came in with a bottle of Coke for Ikenna, but he wouldn’t touch it. Lebechi, his mother had warned him before he left the village that Ogas tested their new recruits with soft drinks. She said if he took the bait, he would be closely monitored because the Oga would reason he was a glutton who could pilfer money to buy eatables for himself. He took his mother’s advice even though he wanted the chilled Coke.

‘You are welcome to Zaka City,’ Oduburu said. He was a fat man with a tiny voice. ‘Thank you sir” Ikenna responded. He was not sure if he sounded respectful enough.

‘I hope you like the place?’ Oduburu asked. Ikenna thought the question was unfair because he had just arrived a few minutes ago. All the same, he answered in the affirmative.

‘Yes, sir. The place is awesome’ he answered. ‘That’s right. And I hope you are aware of the number of years you would spend with me?’ Oduburu asked, sounding very serious. Akubundu had discussed this topic with Ikenna’s mother back in the village where it was agreed that Ikenna would spend seven years as Oduburu’s apprentice. ‘Seven,’ he answered. ‘Good. Be a good boy,’ he said as he rose and left the palour.

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Oduburu was a major distributor of ceramics and household utensils. From time to time, he traveled to the East where he bought the items in large quantities for retail and wholesale in Zaka City. To facilitate a quick sale, he had brought Akubundu from the village three years before to help him cover other markets in neighouring towns and villages. These markets were simply known as bush markets since they were located in the hinterlands. It was also for this purpose that Ikenna was recruited.

Soon, Adaugo served dinner of pounded yam and egusi soup. Ikenna thought Adaugo was the quiet type because she had said very little since his arrival. As he went to bed that night, he prayed Adaugo would be a good madam and that Zaka City would treat him well.

Read part two HERE

Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]



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