NIMI PETERS – GRACE OCHIGBO
EPISODE TWENTY THREE
Mr Johnson stared patiently as Chief Ogbonna returned from his room with a big brown envelop. He was curious and enraged at the same time and prayed for his friend’s sake that no one plays pranks on another this time.
“How low could you descend?” Mr Johnson hurled out at his friend, slapping Tolu hard on the back at the same time. Tolu shivered – his both hands were in cuffs and mouth tightly sealed, so he could be defined as completely handicapped.
“You descended low yourself, Emeka, when you told a doctor to help abort your own daughter’s unborn child. How more wicked can a grandfather be?”
Mr Johnson stared unbelievingly. He let out a sarcastic chuckle amidst his frowned face. “Ike, you said to do. You said the boy’s status doesn’t befit me and so can’t be tagged as my grandchild’s father. What the heck are you talking about now? Traitor!” He screamed at the top of his lungs and the latter only quietly sat down.
“I’ll kill this poor boy right before your very face and leave you to do your worst!” He brought out his pistol from his caftan and pointed at Tolu. Tolu shut his eyes firmly. He wondered how many more times a gun or knife would be pointed at him before he finally sees hell.
“You are as wicked as your wicked late mother… very and extremely wicked and heartless.” Chief Ogbonna said pathetically before drawing a long hiss.
That statement sort of weakened Mr Johnson and he turned questioning look at the latter.
“Yes!” Chief Ogbonna snapped. “I swore on my mother’s grave that I’ll never let her killers know peace!”
“What the hell are you talking about, Ike?”
“Oh, your mother was rich and had a lot of money to throw around. She had money that could buy anything she required, the same way you have now to buy a young girl for a wife, but none of these morally permit any of you to take away anyone’s happiness. No! Never! You don’t step on toes because you have power, my brother.” He sounded sarcastic towards the end.
Mr Johnson stared at him and truly, he was lost, so lost that he doesn’t know the direction this conversation was headed.
“It started slowly while we were yet in primary school, myself and only sister. Our father would travel for months and ignore every one of us as though we didn’t exist anywhere in his life. It was bad, it was painful. My poor mother struggled hard to barely make us live through each day, we struggled from hand to mouth and I finally had to drop out of school and go do sales boy for some man in Onitsha then!”
Mr Johnson sat down slowly. How he’s had a best friend for several years and he’s just realising that he barely knew him!
“Life was hard and it kept getting harder by the day. My sister had to hawk the streets of Uda just so to survive. She couldn’t even count how many times she was raped by those vagabonds on the streets until she became ill…” he paused to swallow and continued. “My mother didn’t want to bother me, so she tried getting her all the possible local herbs there was but the little girl was getting no better. The worst was that our father was also nowhere to be found.”
He talked about how his sister’s health deteriorated by the day as there was no money for proper medication and they couldn’t afford consultation fees with the doctors. Few months later, message was sent to him that his sister had died. She died of a STI that could have been managed, save for money and late detection. People, who knew where his father was, sent messages to the stupid man that his daughter was gone, but no reply. No response. His mother couldn’t take it in anymore and so she went down with a chronic illness as well.
“I struggled, Emeka. I ran around in search of money, in search of help for my sick mother. I did all I could, sold all we ever had after I was tired of sending ‘no-response’ messages to my stupid father. I became an artisan, a merce, a labourer at all sites in Enugu. I did everything possible, but at last, I still lost my mother, my dear mother to the cold hands of death!” He swallowed painfully and Mr Johnson took in a very deep breath.
Chief Ogbonna continued to explain how he was hell mad at his father and wanted to find him and strangle him to death with his bare hands for making him loss the two most important people in his life. He later found out that his father had ran after a rich woman from their village.
“You won’t believe they met at one of those times your mother was invited over for a chieftancy title in the village. My father used to be a very skilful drummer back then, if not the best in the village. It was there Lolo Chidimna, your wicked and heartless mother, saw him and stole him away from the reach and cries of his poor family.”
Mr Johnson wiped at a sweat on his forehead as he collapsed weakly into the chair.
“Your father, where is he?”
“The stupid man! Rumors had it years later that he was shot by one of your mother’s jealous lovers. That was how he ended!”
Mr Johnson took in another deep breath as utter embarrassment filled him. His mother probably wanted to keep him out of all the messy life she lived when it came to men and that must be the reason she kept him out of the country for a long time. If there be any notorious thing about the late Lolo Chidinma, it was her numerous lovers and reputation of breaking homes. In fact, Johnson still doesn’t know whoever his own father was, until now. He could remember coming on holidays every time and meeting different men in the house. He just had to ignore and grow up that way. Only money was all the asset he had and could boast of, never a good mother, nor a known father.
“You never told me any of these, Ike? All these years? I thought we were friends?” Mr Johnson lamented.
Chief Ogbonna chuckled in spite of himself. “I came to take a revenge. I came to your lives solely because of that. I wanted Lolo to pay for all the harm and havoc she caused my once poor but happy family. I wanted her to have a feel of the hell she made my mother go through!” He turned his gaze to Mr Johnson. “I wanted to use you to get through to her and that was why I first of all became the friend you could trust. You were Lolo’s most precious thing on this earth and she really tried hard at protecting you from all the hazards she’s caused homes. So I thought to get to her by injuring you, and injuring you so badly but unfortunately…”
Mr Johnson’s eyes popped open.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t achieve much before Lolo died. Worst was that you and I, and the whole family at that, became closer than I planned to.”
“How were you going to get at me, Ike? By sending this riffraff to disturb my only daughter?”
Chief Ogbonna smiled. “I had no clue when leaving Enugu initially. I was only revenge-bond. But I started from somewhere. At a point, I had gained so much trust from you that my words were it. I helped with your business enlargement, I helped with your empire building after the death of your mother. There were all gimmicks and schemes to an end.”
“To what end, Ike?”
“The end that I’d take over all the wealth that you have amassed over time and thence watch you die a slow and painful death.”
Mr Johnson swallowed. Unbelievable! He tasted sore fear on his tongue. “How were you going to do that?”
“Don’t question me! I would have done it however I wanted, starting from having you will your assets to your son-in-law, letting my son marry your good-for-nothing daughter, and the game plan begins from there.”
Mr Johnson broke into an uncontrollable laughter suddenly; so long and so loud that everyone else felt embarrassed for him. Tolu on his own part was just quietly observing the older men exchange words. He didn’t get the complete game plan of his boss by the way.
“Wait wait wait…” Mr Johnson tried to stop himself. “Ike? Your son? As long as I know, you have no wife and no child alive, except if the plane clash news was all a scam. Even if it were a scam, Ike, you only had two daugters, Nkechi and Chinyere, their both ages put together were not even up to Joelyn’s. So what are you saying here?”
Chief Ike opened the brown envelope in his hand and handed a large picture to Johnson. The latter took it hastily and stared at it.
“That was the last photo I took with my family before they travelled. Everyone kept saying it was just a mere plane crash and could have happened to anyone, but I knew who was behind it. That trip was sponsored by our state governor who I helped get into office. He wanted to treat my family and his to a vacation as a show of appreciation, remember his wife was in the private jet too?” he waited to get responses from Johnson who nodded in the affirmative. “I was supposed to also be on that plane but for some reasons. I later found out that it was his opponent that arranged for the crash of that plane. That’s by the way anyway. The koko be say, I lost my wife and two precious daughters in one day, in one plane, in one crash.”
Mr Johnson only took in deep breaths in rapid successions now. He didn’t know what else to say.
“Count the people I’ve lost now Ike; my precious sister and mother, my stupid father, my beloved wife and daughters, Nkechi and Chinyere. And boy! My quest for revenge only heightened after that last straw that broke the Carmel’s back. I needed to hit you and hit you harder!” His face looked very stolid and wicked.
Mr Johnson swallowed painfully. “But how on earth were you going to do that?”
Chief Ogbonna gave him a wicked stare for a while and then pulled out another document from the white paper. Mr Johnson took the paper reluctantly and read through it.
“Supreme court. Judge signed. Is this some sort of contract marriage? I don’t understand?”
Chief Ogbonna smiled. “Check the date.”
Mr Johnson’s eyes gradually went down to the date and his eyeballs popped open. He almost let out a scream but refrained himself.
“This is dated far back, about two years before we even met.”
“I said earlier I was some poor fellow who came into the city from Enugu, how do you think I got the money enough to make me deserve friendship with the son of the rich?” Chief Ogbonna demanded.
“Ike, you had a contract marriage?” Mr Johnson didn’t want to believe that.
“I was so broke when I came around here that I couldn’t even afford a meal. I was still sales boy at several places and barely slept an hour a day. Cynthia was a rich and happening high class babe in Abuja then and we met somehow. Later, she pulled this stunt about wanting a baby from me without getting really married. I had nothing to lose, she was my money-bag then, so I accepted. Later on, she suddenly lost trust in me and insisted we go swear before a court that never will I come to claim fatherhood of her child and all. Wetin concern me? Moreover, she paid me off in millions and that brought me to the status of deserving friendship with you, Emeka!”
“So what are you saying exactly. Come, wait…” Mr Johnson screamed as a thought came through his mind. “are you saying… do you mean…”
“When it looked like I had lost out in all the game plans, I suddenly remembered Cynthia. I know I’m under a court injunction to stay away from her and the child that resulted from our union, but I had become desperate now. She used to live in Maitama… I sent my men in search of her and her mother who I knew so well then. We later found out that they’ve moved to Keffi…” Tolu’s head rose up in shock. “…my men discovered Cynthia had abandoned my son and left the country with her estranged lover. Her mother, my son’s grandmother, couldn’t handle the boy as he turned ‘street’ by the day, involving in all sorts of drug trafficking and reckless life…” Tolu wasn’t taking his eyes off Mr Johnson and the later turned to him. “That was how I sent Cajal specifically to come get you and I paid you to get Joelyn pregnant. That way my initial plans would eventually come through.”
Mr Johnson felt extremely weak at the knees. “Ikechukwu, so you mean this riff raff, this bastard, this good for nothing…”
“I forbid you to use swear, insulting or demeaning words on my son, Emeka. I forbid you!” Chief Ogbonna thundered loudly and moved to untie Tolu.
“Maami, the woman sounded stern, mean and brief. She emphasized that agreeing to marry chief was signing into a lifetime of barrenness!”
“God forbid!” her mother screamed from where she sat at the dining table and hurried over to Fiyin. “God forbid you be barren, Fiyin. You cannot be barren. Look at me nau. I’m your mother, am I barren?”
Fiyin swallowed. “But she sounded sincere. She sounded like she had things to tell me.”
Fiyin had been sore worried since calling the strange number back after reading the text.
Her mother smiled and sat down. “My daughter, my daughter. Look, how on earth are you going to be barren if your husband isn’t impotent? How can chief be impotent with a grown up daughter called Joelyn. Link these things up. How can he have a daughter if impotent?” Fiyin swallowed again. She continued. “You have to realise that this is a celebrity wedding we are planning here. And inasmuch as chief wouldn’t want it to go public, people, especially the hungry media would hear it somehow somehow and start spreading propagandas. Don’t be swept away by this one that doesn’t even hold any water whatsoever.”
Fiyin heaved a sigh of relief, even though she wasn’t so convinced. She rested her back against the handle of the couch. She was going to trace the address texted her by tomorrow without letting her mother in on it. Whatever was fishy about chief, she wanted to find out and she wouldn’t be needing any discouragement in the image of her mother. Concluding this in her head, she shut her eyes firmly.
Nimi jerked as his door opened. His heart skipped several beats from some sort of fear he didn’t understand where it came from. He later heaved in a sigh of relief seeing who walked in and he left off the window rod he held onto to hug her.
“Good evening, beautiful mum!”
Ojima blushed carelessly as her son hugged her. She felt like holding tighter to it but then, Nimi would pick offense if treated like a ‘child’ as usual.
“I’m sorry mum. A lot of things going on since you came, I’ve not even had time to sit and talk with you, let alone take you out, but I promise, I’ll make it up to you before you leave, OK? Moreover, you are leaving in two weeks’ time, huh?”
“So that my husband will die of hunger, abi? You boys are not even serious a bit. If I can, I’ll leave after the program I came for tomorrow.”
Nimi scowled. “No way, mum. I’m so taking you out before you leave, two days’ time is fine. I need you to see the beautiful city of Abuja. What program is that by the way that you really needed to travel down? Won’t it be lifestreamed?”
Ojima smiled. “Even if this program is happening in Kano tomorrow, son, I’ll be there. You guys don’t know what Lauren mean to me…”
Nimi smirked. “Who is Lauren? Oh! The host. I remember. Good luck with the program.”
“So you are dragging wife with your boss?”
Nimi didn’t see that question coming and didn’t hesitate to show his shock. Unlike his expected reaction of flaring up – flaring up that Ojonugwa probably didn’t keep his mouth shut again, he acted calm this time. All his wings were broken after all. The whole wedding plan and arrangement going down at Crestac has even made his office impenetrable to him. He had deliberately avoided Mr Johnson since he last came to his house. And funnily enough, he wasn’t getting queries for all his recent truant behaviours at the office.
“Son, come! Sit down!” His mum motioned him to the stool beside the bed.
Oh no! Nimi thought in his head. He’s in for a long sermon.
“So there was this little roughly fifteen year old, who was bright and brilliant and…”
“Mum! You know I’m no longer in the age range for midnight folklores!”
Ojima Peters smiled and continued. “She had plans for her future. She’s seen in movies and had fallen in love with some doctors she saw and so desperately wanted to become one. Her teacher in the LGA primary school told her that she would have to do well in primary school, get into secondary school, become a science student, pass her examinations and only then can she become the doctor of her dreams. She worked at it and became the best graduating student in her primary school set. Everything was going on well until she was done with primary school and her father suddenly broke the sad news that he wasn’t going to waste his money in training a girl through secondary school, let alone a university.”
Nimi smirked reluctantly. “For real right now? Such men still exist?” He drew out a long dry hiss and finally collapsed onto the bed beside her.
“The little girl cried. She begged. She used everyone and everything available to beg her father, from teachers to friends to even some church members, but the old man was hell bent on not wasting money in training a girl child.”
Nimi scoffed again. His mother’s emphasis were getting too much for his patience. “Ehen o! so what happened? She stayed back, and got married, and gave birth to kids and had her life lower than her dreams? Mum, I know how all these stories end, if only you could spare me.”
Ojima Peters smiled and patted him lightly on the back. “No son. The girl found a way of escape. I mean, she decided to run away from the house… her father’s house?”
“What? At fifteen? Run to where?” Nimi sounded so serious while asking this.
“Well, she knew nowhere to run to, but she knew her dreams were never going to happen if she stayed back in her father’s house. She knew she had to find a way and off she ran to a faraway land, very distant from the reach of anyone she knew.”
“A girl for Christ sake? What if she got raped? I don’t know why some fathers would treat a girl child any lesser than the boys. Children are children and should be treated equally and to the same level of freedom and respect. You never know which of them would save your head. That’s my own opinion anyway.”
The older woman took a deep breath. “The man’s action unintentionally drove his daughter away from the house into a land, hand and into something that blocked her out completely from her dreams… Up till now.” She shut her eyes firmly.
“Oh my God!” Nimi exclaimed. “I hope she wasn’t kidnapped, raped, or even killed. All these gender bias in families, it’s not wise. Potentials are not measured based on sex of the child. Look at Fiyinfoluwa for example, mum!” he turned to face her with all seriousness. Ojima Peters felt interrupted but didn’t mind. “…this girl is the real definition of bread winner of a struggling family. With a gardener father and a bedridden mother, she worked twenty-four hours round the clock, just so everyone would survive. She went through a lot, mum. A whole lot. I am a man, but I don’t know if I can go through being chased out of the house few days after my father’s burial. That’s the height of wickedness, if you ask me. I don’t know where are world is headed.”
Ojima let out a short smile as though she stole it. Nimi mustn’t see it. The young man shut his eyes tightly while speaking, the way he would when he’s saying something that meant a lot to him. That was an obvious indication of who meant that much to him right now.
“Yet… you watched your boss take her away, seeing you love her this much?”
Nimi swallowed painfully. The words struck him like hammer and for the first few minutes, he was still simulating responses in his head.
“Mum, I would be frank with you. I don’t know what came over me. I’ve never been a coward and you know it but I value the girl so much that I didn’t want my indecisiveness to rub off on her. I love her so much but I wanted to be sure I wasn’t seeing Atim in her. I wanted to be sure that she wouldn’t leave me someday when she suddenly remembers she is Yoruba. I don’t want to be that deeply cut again, mum.” He leaned his head on her now.
Ojima Peters stroked her son’s hair lightly. One can never be too old around his mother. “I understand, son. You don’t have to beat yourself to it. The deed is done and putting up any contest with your boss may be the most foolish decision to take. I don’t know him but from what Ojonugwa said, the man is influential enough to ban you from the country!” She smiled at her failed attempt at cracking a joke and Nimi smiled too.
“Iya! Haba! Omi? How nau?” he laughed out this time.
Ojima was happy Nimi could smile… laugh, at least.
“You see, son, we all have been in love at different times. In fact, Achile and I had an incredible story. I gave him the toughest of times after we first met. I had trust issues. Memories of a hurtful past wasn’t getting away, so I hated men and really wanted to be by myself and… and raise…” she suddenly remembered something and changed the statement “…ehrm, you know, I just wanted to have my life aside men. But he stood there. Like a rock, Achile refused to move. Was it insults, was it frustrations, there was nothing I didn’t do to him…”
Nimi’s eyebrows popped open. “Really? Dad is a really great man. Why would anyone want to give his proposal a second thought before accepting it?”
Ojima smiled shyly. “Well, a hurt woman is grossly unreasonable. I learnt something later on though. I came to agree to the saying that, if you love something so much and it’s not forthcoming, let it go. If it’s yours, it would come back to you.”
Nimi took in a deep breath. “So you are saying… you are saying?”
“Let Fiyin go. This may sound weird but darling, let her go. If she is yours, she would come back to you!”
Nimi breathed so hard one would think his lungs cracked. “How on earth is she going to come back to me? She’s about to be married in two weeks to my boss. I don’t know, mum!”
“We’ll pull through this son. You surely will.” She patted him with all touch of tenderness and he shook his head pathetically in response to it. “Be a man. And you should sleep now, you are driving me down to Lauren’s meeting, first thing tomorrow morning. If possible, I want to be there before everyone else.” She giggled while saying this.
Nimi scoffed. “How about we get going from now?
Ojima slapped his shoulders while still giggling. “Jealousy! Good night, beloved son!”
“Good night, ever young. And…” he paused for a while. “I love you, mum!”
“I love you more, Ojonimi. You may never know how much!” she sounded really deep as she closed the door behind her.
Mr Johnson approached the swimming pool area with utmost caution like he was stepping on hot coals. Some inexplicable fear gripped him and with all the revelations this afternoon, Ike seemed more like a stranger to him now than his overrated best friend. He watched as the slightly hefty man stared into the blue waters in the pool as though he picked some things therein. Chief Ogbonna was the heftier, bigger and huger one among them. In fact, Johnson could be mistaken for someone in his late thirties, save for the white beards around his jaw. Mr Johnson has the ageless stature and exact looks of the Nigerian actor, Richard Mofe-Damijo, RMD. The real description of an ‘ageless old man’.
“I don’t know exactly what to say to you now, Ike. I had to leave earlier because I couldn’t bear the weight of the revelations you made today. How could I have known that my best friend was on a mission into my life, a mission to revenge my mother over her promiscuity?”
“I’ve had enough of you Johnson…” Chief Ogbonna snapped, still not looking away from the water.
“I’m sorry, Ike. I’m sorry about my mother. I may never be able to rewrite the wrongs, I may never be able to bring back your family, but I’m very sorry. God! I feel so horrible.” He wiped perspiration off his forehead.
Chief Ogbonna swallowed and turned around to stare at Johnson. He had ordered his men to take Tolu into the house and make him as comfortable as a son should be in his father’s house. The latter was yet to get over the shock whilst being taken in. Chief Ogbonna instructed Cajal to be at Tolu’s beck at call, all the time and information should be given to him if he needed anything at all. That’s how someone’s destiny can rearrange in few seconds. He had also sent some men over to Tolu’s grandmother and plans are being made to relocate her to Abuja or wherever she preferred to live in the world.
“You see, the more I got closer to you, the more revenge didn’t appear enticing to me, Emeka. But I had already sworn on my mother’s grave. You remember the house help girl? I was the master-brain behind you chasing her away. I knew she gave you joy. I knew she meant everything to you, but I needed to take away your joy. That which mattered most to you.”
Mr Johnson’s eyes were sore red. He couldn’t believe it. It was strange how suddenly the Ikechukwu that supported his newly found love turned his back and joined his mother in instigating him against the poor girl back then. And all these were done without any iota of suspicion whatsoever?
“If I had a gun here, Emeka, I’m never going to kill you. I can’t kill you…”
“You know the Emeka name is not allowed.” Mr Johnson said with a gentle tone.
Chief Ogbonna laughed now. “You have to get used to it. It reminds you of her. She’s gone and gone for life.”
“But you don’t have to remind me all the time, right?” his face looked very stern and helpless.
“Yes. I don’t have to remind you every time. I only have to forgive you first…” Chief Ogbonna said, drawing closer to his friend with genuine smile all over his face. The smiles rubbed off on Mr Johnson as well and it brought back memories of their meeting and the early days of their friendship. Chief Ogbonna was barely in front of him when his cell phone began to ring out loud. It was his emergency line, and it must be from his men. He quickly reached out for it and picked it up.
“Plans gone wrong?” He used his most authoritative tone and his face distorted as he listened to the person on the other side of the phone.
“What? When?” He screamed before he could stop himself and Mr Johnson reflexively hurried over to him.
“Alright, get all you can get.”
He ended the call and faced the eagerly looking Mr Johnson for several seconds without saying anything.
“C’mon Ike? What happened?”
Chief Ogbonna hissed. “Your stupid wedding plans and Tolu’s issues preoccupied us so much so that we didn’t know when she got into the country.”
Mr Johnson stared back at him, eyes almost dropping off.
“Lauren! Yes, Lauren is in Nigeria!” Chief Ogbonna affirmed.
Merry Christmas, Lovelies!