You walk into the shared office, dragging your feet clumsily and avoiding eye contact at all cost. Your colleagues greet you, all at the same time. Perhaps, they still see a thick, principled, gutsy man. But lately, when you look at the mirror, you see a weak, troubled man, wallowing in trepidation; you see a defeated man, wailing unrestrainedly, like a Yoruba woman employed to cry at a funeral.
You mumble something that is meant to be a reply to their “good morning Sir” and move towards your desk – the biggest in the room. The office has already been cleaned so you settle immediately. But your mind remains grossly unsettled. You check your phone and realize that you have two unread messages – one from 5900 and another from a number you don’t have.
You read. Your uncle, Uwadiegwu is asking you to make financial contributions towards his Chieftaincy taking ceremony. “Chukwu kpoo gi oku!” you unconsciously spit out, calling your colleagues’ attention for a moment.
Uwadiegwu who refused to accommodate you in Kano in 1996. If only he knows that your wife is lying helplessly at home, suffering stroke. If only he knows that you just sent the girl that takes care of your wife home because you cannot afford to feed an extra mouth any longer. No. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t know that your four kids barely eat two good meals per day; that your diabetic younger brother’s sores are getting worse and all you can do is watch and wish.
“Nonsense!” you mutter, loud enough for Stella the typist to turn and ask, “Oga, you well so?” “I’m Fine”.
Your mind jets back to the past. You remember the money you cornered three month ago. The money meant for the purchase of fertilizers for rural farmers. You couldn’t help it. That money is the reason your wife is still alive; the reason your landlord didn’t succeed with his devilish plans; the reason your kids are not carrying trays in the market.
Even if the local government finally decides to pay salaries after several months you will not get N1. You have collected soft loan, hard loan, overdraft, underdraft, bank credit, thrift money and have borrowed from the church.
You have withdrawn your kids from private school except Nduka who is the smartest – your shining star, your future doctor. He is in JSS3 now and his school is demanding an instant deposit of his annual fees. You are immensely concerned. “How can you give Nduka the possible best?” you reason.
You begin to blame your father for your problems. You blame your eldest step-brother, the Local Government Chairman, Uwadiegwu, your father-in-law, Buhari, the Mbaise master you served in Kano who died seven days before your settlement day.
You spring up from your chair, like the drunken master, and drift away, absentmindedly, farther, and farther.
You get to a kiosk and stop. You order a stick of Benson and a shot of mmiri nso. This is a habit you dropped many years back but you need this anxiety to go away. You gulp the spirit in one try but you drop the cigarette halfway. “Is this the kind of father somtochi deserves?”, you ask yourself.
You give the salesgirl N100 and as she turns to fetch your N30 change, you check out her backside. But instead of refreshing your mind, it reminds you of your problems – large, shaky and heavy.
You leave the kiosk, contemplating which road to take. If you take the express, you may meet Eneje, the man whom you owe N6000. And if you take the other path, which is considerably shorter, you will definitely pass through Papa Emma’s shop and you took 11 cups of rice on credit the other day. You head towards the express because Eneje is your townsman and will be fairer.
As you make to cross the main road, you sight Obere-peter, your primary school classmate who turned completely mad years ago and now roams the streets wearing only a knitted sweater which scarcely covers his Jack sparrow. You walk over to him, reach into your pocket and hand him that N30 change. He grabs and goes back to scratching his legs.
You sit on the pavement close to him and begin to imagine widely and wildly.
“Will Nduka turn you a profit if you finally decide to sell your last piece of land for his education?” “Would it be better to be like Obere-peter, no kids, no bills, no debts and no responsibilities?” “Does Obere-peter remember how you used to leave your houses very early, carrying old kerosene lamps in search of Udara?”
“Is he aware that you’re still searching for ‘udara‘, every day, everywhere, the only difference is that you have no direction, no light – no lamp?”
To all fathers (and mothers) struggling to pay their children’s fee. #Ogaadimma.
By chike Nwoke