BY ISRAEL USULOR

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Throughout the month of October 2005, an air of uncertainty continued to blow across Zaka City and Ikenna was now fully aware that come what may, he had come to stay. There was no going back. So the best was to be happy and enjoy life in the city. Mimi was already in the picture. Since their unplanned coitus that happened on the night they were attacked by armed robbers, nothing happened again, except that they kept in touch and became lovers, so to say. They met sneakily under the cover of night at the Main Market Junction where Mimi’s mother sold roasted corn. In the evenings after returning from Bush Market, Mimi helped her mother to roast and sale corn and pear. Ikenna had always gone there under the pretext of wanting to buy roast corn but had always used one stone to kill two birds. He had never failed to foxily whisk Mimi into a dark corner, where he fondled her breasts and kissed her lips. But Mimi’s mother, Mrs Bambina knew with her practiced eyes that the two teenagers were up to no good. She had in fact confronted Mimi, asking if she and Ikenna were romantically involved, but Mimi flatly denied there was anything going on.

‘I swear it Mama, nothing is going on between I and Ikenna,’ she had sworn, but her mother remained suspicious and never kept mum about her suspicion.

‘Nothing is hidden under the sun and even hidden things would one day be made open,’ Madam

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Bambina liked speaking in parables.

‘One day shall be one day, monkey go go market, him no go come back. Whatever you hide from me, remember that one day, the breeze will blow and it shall properly expose the anus of the fowl.’ She had prophesied, drawing her left ear warningly some weeks back.

Her prophetic words seemed to have caught up with Mimi and Ikenna because Mimi’s monthly rose flower failed to shed for that month, signaling that her bush fling with Ikenna may have put her in the family way. Her body had been acting strange lately and she felt like a stranger inside her own flesh. Her face had become puffy like puf puf. And as she felt her breasts, she realized they were bigger, and the nipples were darker, swollen, painful and hard.

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‘I’m pregnant!’ She said to herself as she stood in front of the mirror examining herself that Tuesday afternoon. She hadn’t gone to market for a week or so, feigning headache, and the mirror had become her best friend since she became her strange self. She desperately wanted the mirror to tell her she was wrong in her thoughts-that she was just imagining things, that the changes in her body were just a normal process she had to experience as a teenager, and that she was not pregnant-but no word came. Instead, the mirror reflected double-dyed reality.

Her mother’s ate or round hut had always been cool and balmy and was a good place to cool-off. Yet, that afternoon, it seemed oven-baked, hot as hell. As the truth of her pregnancy rang home, she felt as if an invincible fire had ignited within her soul. She wanted the earth to open and gulp her. She felt the dusty floor of the round hut should transform itself into a big river so that she might blithely drown. Minutes passed and none of these happened, she was still Mimi, still alive and one month pregnant for an Igbo boy called Ikenna.

She raced out of the hut like a cheetah, scantily clad and headed for Zaka City Main Market. Her body was weak, but her spirit was flying like a kite. ‘Ikenna must hear this,’ she kept saying repeatedly as would an errand girl who wouldn’t want to forget a message. She ran past people she knew but offered no words of salutation. She behaved like a messenger who was going to announce the death of a relative in a distant clan. Occasionally, when she dashed her foot on stones, she felt no pain, but she continued to walk like a corpse. She crossed the road without caution and was almost hit by a yam lorry coming out of the market. Once inside, she faced the direction of Oduburu’s shop.

That day, Oduburu was at the shop himself inspecting goods that had arrived from the East earlier that morning. Akubundu and Ikenna were also there arranging new stocks, silently. Usually, when the Oga was at the shop, everybody would behave themselves like mere animals would do whenever they knew the lion was in the forest. Childish plays, chit-chats and njakiri were unheard of when the boss was around. Apprentices feared the ogas and none wanted to be seen as stubborn since that alone meant doom. Ogas read meanings into every move and all apprentices had a file in the brain of the boss. Offences were recorded and properly kept in memory for the day of reckoning. Apprentices were under the whims of the bosses. An apprentice could be dismissed without settlement on the flimsiest of reasons. Putting a girl in the family way was the height of it.

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So, Ikenna was in hot okra soup! It was not only that he got Mimi pregnant; the graver issue was that she was coming to spill the beans at a very delicate time and place. Some weeks ago when Mimi had told Ikenna she had stomach upset and that she was vomiting, he had suspected something fishy. Back in Agu-Ukpaka, whenever a girl vomited, it was assumed she was pregnant. Many of these assumptions turned out true.

So, when Ikenna sighted Mimi from afar as she approached the shop, his soul left his body. Though he still picked and arranged the newly arrived goods in their proper places on the shelves, he knew that at that moment, he was like an empty flesh being wheelbarrowed by Oduburu’s voice. He was sure he was going to collapse out of fear if he didn’t go out quickly to address Mimi and find out why the frog chose to hop in a broad daylight. Mini had got very close to the entrance of the shop and her fizzog told Ikenna that whatever was in her mind, she seemed determined to spill it, such that it would flow across the entire market. But Ikenna was foxy too, he wouldn’t allow her open any Pandora box in the presence of Oga Oduburu. That would be ruinous! He scratched his head conspiratorially, and placed the bunch of ceramic plates he was holding on the counter and moved closer to Oduburu.

‘Oga!’ He called to draw his attention. Oduburu looked up from the invoices he was holding. He was cross-checking the invoices that accompanied the newly arrived goods, making sure his orders were correctly supplied.

‘Please, I want to go to yard and use the toilet,’ Ikenna said.

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‘But you went out for the same reason some minutes ago. Is your stomach running?’ Oduburu responded in a harsh and bossy voice. The question pushed Ikenna into a very tight corner, but he quickly lied his way out.

‘Oga!’ He called confidently, fixing his eyes on the cartons of ceramic plate that littered the floor of the shop. ‘The beans we ate yesterday is upsetting my stomach,’ he lied. That lie seemed sweet to Oduburu’s ears because he and Akubundu had complained of a running stomach obviously due to the beans served by his wife the previous night. He soft-pedaled.

‘Go!’ He barked. ‘But be back quick. We have work to do.’

Ikenna dashed off with the speed of a rocket, and Akubundu who was oblivious of happenstances, laughed heartily. He obviously thought Ikenna was so pressed he would soon poo in his pants. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Mimi and Ikenna collided at the entrance of the shop, but the smart boy smartly turned her 360o so that she faced the direction from which she came.

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‘Mimi, please follow me! We can’t talk here,’ he whispered, but his face remained dégagé.

Both teenagers walked apart but nevertheless marked each other closely. Ikenna took to the left and finally stopped at the lorry section of the market where he was sure they could hide and talk among the forest of lorries waiting to be loaded with yams. He beckoned to Mimi who promptly caught up with him.

‘Mimi what is it? Why did you come to the shop? Do you want to put me into trouble? You know Akubundu already suspects us and my Oga was there. I told you never to come to the shop.

As a matter of fact, I think we should end this! Yes! We can no longer continue. It’s over between us! Go, and don’t ever come looking for me again!’ Ikenna commanded in a livid voice and made to walk away, but Mimi grabbed him by the collar of his shirt.

‘Where do you think you are going?’ She asked abruptly, ceasing Ikenna’s movement. A truck pusher was passing by with a yam-laden truck and sort of briefly stopped to see if the two lovers were fighting but went his way when Mimi smartly let go of Ikenna’s shirt. Their conversation was buried in the chaos of a market in which everybody went about their businesses and no one seemed to notice each other. Strangely, Mimi was now calm and unfuming. Ikenna’s rants didn’t unnerve her, but she knew the barking dog would calm down when it learns the person at whom it is barking is a dog eater.

Mimi’s hands were folded across her breast while Ikenna’s were akimbo and their eyes were fixed on each other. Both teenagers steamed with anger like a cooking pot.

‘My monthly visitor failed to show up,’ Mimi said. Her tone was calm and collected, yet very resolute.

‘Ehhn! Hmmm! So what’s my business with the visitor you were expecting? Do you want me to go and drag the visitor to your house?’ Ikenna responded stupidly.

‘Idiot!’ Mimi cursed. ‘I mean I missed my period and that means I’m pregnant and that also means you are responsible for the pregnancy. You’ve ruined my life!’ She shouted, beating Ikenna’s chest violently and repeatedly with both hands. Ikenna grabbed her forcefully and held her tightly to himself so that her head and bosom rested on his chest. As the truth rang home, Ikenna was weakened to the bones. He gently leaned on the wooden body of the lorry beside him to support himself. He looked up and saw another lorry directly in his front. The wooden body was painted black and it had the inscription “Whatever is sweet can also be bitter” boldly embossed on its body in red colour. He wanted to think, but his head was a tabula rasa like that of a suckling. He desperately wanted to say a word to Mimi, but his lips seemed sealed. He wanted to tell Mimi to abort the baby because Oga Oduburu would kill him if he ever found out, but the words got stuck in his throat like Adam’s apple. He temporarily passed out!

Mimi suddenly disentangled herself from Ikenna’s body and left him in his dazed state and walked away.

‘I have failed my mother!’ She said, amidst suffocative sobs as she approached the market gate. Just like Ikenna, Mimi was an only child. Her father, Igbana was killed the year before by herders who had invaded his yam farm at Ayagi. He was cut into pieces and only a few parts of his body were seen and picked for burial. When Ikenna heard the blood-chilling story, his mind flashed back to Agu-Ukpaka. He remembered Otunkwo who was murdered in a similar manner by herders. He remembered how he killed the lone cow that invaded his farm in the village and how his friends had gruesomely put an end to the life of its herder. He thought nowhere was safe in the country, village, or city.

Before his gruesome murder, Igbana had worked hard to train Mimi in secondary school and had made it a duty to see her through higher education at the North Central University. His death crushed Mimi emotionally but somewhat made her stronger. The absence of his father didn’t diminish Mimi’s educational dreams, it rather re-enforced it. Her mother, Madam Bambina had picked up the baton, as every little profit she made from her petty trade was being saved up for Mimi’s education. Mimi remembered all the dreams and the efforts made by her parents to help her actualise them, and how now she had crashed the dreams and she became ashamed of herself.

‘What will people say? What will my friends say? My mother will be disappointed in me!’ She thought as she stepped out of the market, crying.

She wiped her tears with the collar of the “Be The Reds” shirt she wore. Turning to her left, she briskly walked into a drug store along the dusty market road and bought a bottle of sniper or ota pia pia insecticide. She started walking home without looking back and determined to end it all.

Read part eight HERE

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



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