When you are a child and your family is broken up, you tend to blame yourself for everything. This was the situation I found myself in following my parents’ breakup. I blamed myself endlessly since I could not blame them; after all they were my parents. I thought that by taking the blame, I could somehow change things for the better. Moreover, it was easier to blame myself since I had somehow caused the fight that led to the separation. I endlessly told myself that the fight would never had happened that night if I hadn’t insulted my father and provoked him into beating me up. But then I was wrong, for my parents’ marriage was doomed for failure long before it actually failed. Indeed, that unfortunate harmattan night’s incident was bound to happen even as my mother was bound to abandon us all and leave. But I was just too hurt by the fact that it actually happened to see the reasons why it happened.
Unfortunately, life became extremely difficult following my parents’ divorce. Hunger was the greatest challenge, followed by that feeling of despair which came with being completely abandoned. I remember those days my siblings and I were left at home for several days with nothing to eat. My father would be too busy getting drunk and shamelessly disgracing himself at the village square to care about providing us with food. And so in a desperate bid to find what to eat, we would often climb the trees around our neighbourhood looking for fruits but seldom finding any. And then one particular afternoon as the hunger became so unbearably excruciating, my brothers stood in front of our compound and cried miserably while passersby watched them. It was while they did that that one old woman who was returning from the farm saw them and enquired what was wrong. She then gifted us some tubers of yam which we cooked and ate without telling my father about it. But somehow he got to know about the yam and punished me for disgracing him.
Meanwhile, inasmuch as I readily took the blame for everything that happened to us during this time, I wasn’t prepared for my father’s blames. I wasn’t prepared for it when he decided to make me the scapegoat in every situation, punishing me every time he wanted to relieve his frustrations. He beat me up at the slightest of provocations. As a matter of fact, he seemed to anticipate the opportunity to beat me. And every time he did beat me, he beat me exactly as he used to beat my mother. Perhaps he saw my mother in me; after all I was the spitting image of her. He imagined himself punishing my mother every time he punished me. He would call me a witch and a prostitute just as he used to call her, and then he would threaten to kill me if I didn’t leave his house.
Prior to this time, I always knew that my father disliked me very much. Right from when I was a toddler, there was hardly any special father-daughter bond between the two of us. I grew up being scared of the man I called father because he was a wife beater who frowned all the time except when he was drunk and stupid. And then he blamed everyone else for his woes in life except himself. He especially blamed my mother whom he accused of blocking his good fortunes with her bad lucks. All the time I wished my father could love me but he never did. And as I grew older, it dawned on me that he would never ever love me. Instead, he hated me just as much as he hated my mother. This was one of the reasons why life became extremely difficult when she left us; for my father shifted his hatred for my mother to me. And while I tried my best to endure it all, I wasn’t prepared for it when his blames and punishments became constant. This was why on the day he nearly killed me for menstruating for the first time, I knew I had to leave and never return.
(Shame and Forlorn Gaze by Emmanuel Abara Benson; coming soon)
Finally left alone ever since they arrived at their new home, the twins got to explore the place. Mrs Ijioma’s was a three bedroom flat, located on the uppermost and nicest part of the building. It was the only flat with its own inbuilt kitchen, toilet and bathroom, and this was expected considering that this was the same flat the late Mr Ijioma lived in prior to his death. The woman had forcefully claimed the flat for her own, arguing that since she was her late husband’s first wife, she was deserving of it. Her co-wife was however unhappy about this, seeing as she had to manage a cramped two bedroom flat with her teenage children.
All of the Ijioma’s lived on the same floor of the building. This was their own way of staying together as much as it was a well devised plan to save costs while renting out the rest of the flats to tenants. Unfortunately, the space was barely enough for all of them. There was Mrs Ijioma with her adult children- her eldest sons Sam and Uchenna who, though very grown, were still living at home. Each of them had a room to themselves, and they didn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
Cynthia, one of Mrs Ijioma’s daughters, shared her mother’s flat even though she was always traveling in a desperate effort to escape from the bad reputation that trailed her following the mysterious death of her infant bastard son. The rest of Mrs Ijioma’s children were either living outside of the city or married, including Cynthia’s twin sister who had distanced herself from her family as though she was ashamed of them. And of course there was the last child James who lived in a boarding school in Umuahia.
On the other hand was Mrs Ijioma’s co-wife and her children who managed with a two bedroom flat. The woman had four children, the oldest of whom was Ifeanyi. At age seventeen, Ifeanyi was a very lanky, handsome and happy chap. His academic brilliance was equally unrivalled by the rest of his siblings. Sadly, underneath his happy go lucky persona was this frustration about who he was and the family he was born into. He longed for the time he would finally get admitted into the university so he could be away from his family. In the meantime, he lived with his mother and three siblings, all of whom were sharply contrasted to him. There was his immediate younger brother Johnson who had a perpetual frown on his face as though he was constantly angry with the world. Johnson had one of those broody old people’s faces- very knowing and constantly gloomy. He would stare at people with those set of knowing eyes, his demeanour completely unfriendly and very reproachful as though he could tell people’s deepest secrets just by looking at them. His mates were scared to befriend him. And for that, he was a loner.
Ifeanyi’s second sibling was Nkiru, an ugly girl who was undoubtedly the least beautiful of all her siblings. But what was most unflattering about Nkiru was that she had the bad habit of always begging for things. She would beg for anything and most especially something to put in her mouth and eat. The only time she wasn’t begging was when she didn’t see anybody holding something in their hands. Nkiru was indeed very much unlike her immediate younger sister Chika who was very beautiful and beloved by all. And here is the interesting thing about Chika- in spite of all the attention and privileges entitled her, she remained a sweet little girl. She walked gently, spoke softly and wouldn’t hurt a fly. She was the kind of girl who cried whenever a Christmas chicken got killed, even though she would be the first person to eat the chicken legs…
As Nnamdi and Chukwu continued to explore their new home, they soon came upon the general parlour which was located closer to Ifeanyi’s flat. It was a truly massive room which had taken up much of the space on that floor. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite as beautiful as the sitting room in Mrs Ijioma’s villa mansion. Unlike that one, the décor here was archaic. The carpet was old and discolored, and the TV had a huge, box-like back which made it look hideous. The boys stood there for a while, carefully admiring everything in the room from the family portraits hanging on the walls to the old chandelier dangling from the ceiling. And it was as they did that that they were suddenly rattled by someone else’s presence.
“What are you doing here? You are not supposed to be in here!” the girl spoke hastily and sternly. She was the same girl who had sorely served them some bottles of Coca Cola earlier that day at the village. She was a pretty girl, thanks to her exotic facial features which was made possible by an obvious mixture of East Asian and African bloods. Her name was Chinko, a name which had a rather long story behind it. In the meantime, Nnamdi and his brother stood speechless, staring at the girl while feeling guilty.
“Sorry…” Nnamdi muttered. “We didn’t know we are not supposed to be in here.”
“It’s okay” Chinko replied, her voice nicer now. “Sorry for shouting at you. It’s just that cleaning this place takes a lot of work. Moreover, it is meant only for entertaining important guests.”
“We understand now…” Chukwu said, just as an awkward moment of silence passed during which the three kids just stared uncomfortably at each other.
“So I am Nnamdi. This is my brother Chukwu.”
“It’s nice to meet you. Are you Mama’s new houseboys?” Chinko asked. She said the word houseboys with such indifference; as though she was used to saying it. This made Nnamdi uncomfortable.
“Yes we are–”
“Do you know what happened to the last help she had?” Chinko asked them.
“What happened to him or her?”
Both boys were suddenly curious, edging closer to the girl as if doing so would help them better understand the big reveal.
“She was a good girl” Chinko said. “Very hardworking too. But to mama, she was not good enough. Mama constantly accused Nma of stealing from her. By the way, every servant in this household is always accused of stealing. I just think you should know that!”
Nnamdi felt the urge to ask Chinko whether she too was a servant. But he restrained himself because somehow he could tell that she was. So he asked to know what exactly happened to Nma instead.
“Nma never liked this place” Chinko continued. “She told me that her mother forced her to come here because mama had promised to always send the woman money at the end of every month. Apparently, Nma’s mother had no idea the hell her daughter was about to go through. It was so bad that on several occasions the girl tried to run away. And then all of a sudden she became pregnant!”
Chinko paused at this point as though to let the full implication of what she had just said to fully sink in. She had a dramatic tone to her voice and a uniqueness to her persona which was so captivating. Perhaps it was her mixed race that generally made her features so striking and hard to ignore. She was so exotic that many of the men who watched her in the streets as she went about her daily activities would go home and masturbate at night while thinking about her. Indeed she was captivating, and the twins were enthralled by the story she was telling them.
“Who got Nma pregnant?” Nnamdi asked.
“For a while she refused to tell anyone. Actually, she tried so hard to hide the pregnancy. But mama was quick to notice the signs and so pressurised her to reveal who was responsible. But Nma wouldn’t, even as mama beat and starved her for days. At this point, all Nma wanted was to return home to her mother…”
At this point, Chinko paused yet again, her eyes furrowed as though in angered frustration as she recollected Nma’s ordeal.
“Mama eventually forced Nma to abort the pregnancy!” Chinko said. “It was after this that she sent her back to Igbere. But before she left, she told me that it was mama’s second son who repeatedly raped and impregnated her!”
“That’s horrible” Nnamdi muttered.
“It is horrible” Chukwu agreed. And then Chinko warned them-
“Do not tell anyone about this. I’ve never told anyone about this… I have to go now.”
“But wait…you didn’t tell us your name” Nnamdi pointed out to the girl who was already headed towards the door.
“My name is Chinko” she said and then finally hurried away before the boys could ask her anymore questions.
“Her name is Chinko?” Chukwu said almost to himself. “What kind of name is that?”
“Well she does look Chinkoish; doesn’t she?” Nnamdi replied as they both left the place even as he couldn’t help but think about why the girl had such an unusual name…
Chinko was a fifteen year old girl whom troubles had trailed even before she was born. Her challenges in life began when her village beauty mother became betrothed to a man who was based in the city. The marriage was a fanfare, because not only was Chinko’s mother a village celebrity due to her unrivalled beauty among the maidens, she was also from a relatively well known family background. After the marital rites, the young maiden was brought to Lagos where she began living with her husband. But it wasn’t long afterwards before she was carried away the exciting lifestyle she saw in the city. She liked it when other men began to notice her beauty as she walked in the streets, and then she encouraged the sexual advances that ensued. Soon afterwards, she was sneaking around with the different men that flirted with her. She did this even though it greatly unsettled her neighbours, friends and relatives of the man who married her. Rumour spread like wild fire about her infidelity. But her husband loved her too much to listen to what the people were saying.
Before long she was pregnant. And while people were happy for her, they were also concerned; for they knew of her adulterous ways just as much as they knew of her husband’s constant absence from home. And truth be told, it wasn’t indeed her husband who was responsible for the pregnancy. Instead, it was a Chinese-American business man who had once been in Lagos for work and needed a muse. The married woman was the muse he had for the days he was in Lagos. And it was barely a few weeks afterwards that the woman realised she was pregnant. Nine months later, she gave birth to a baby girl. But the baby looked nothing like the typical African baby. It was at this point that her infidelity became obvious, for her baby had striking Asian features.
The baby and her mother instantly became social outcasts.The disgraced and embittered husband sent his wife away along with her baby. And upon returning to the village, the woman and her Chinko baby were rejected as well. For many years afterwards, the woman remained shunned by her immediate family members who were angry that she brought shame and dishonour to them. As for the baby, the villagers simply called her Chinko; a name which stock after many years and which the teen would later embrace just so nobody would bully her with it…
(Culled from Emmanuel Abara Benson’s forthcoming novel “SHAME & FORLORN GAZE”)
The first time Nedum set eyes on Ginika, he felt the power of attraction. She was a total stranger, yet deep down within him he felt an instant click; that romantic feeling that just overwhelms you when you find the one! It was more easily felt than expressed because it all happened so unexpectedly when they both looked into each other’s eyes from across the concourse. He was there waiting to pick up his girlfriend who was flying in from Abuja…
The awe-striking moment didn’t last forever though because Ginika quickly looked away from Nedum and had hurriedly left the place instead. Truth is, she felt exactly the same way Nedum did. It was nothing short of an instant connection, a typical moment of attraction every sexual human finds [themselves] in every now and then. But then she decided to let the moment slide because it made her feel guilty. She was a married woman although quite unhappy no thanks to her husband and his cheating ways. It had however been a long time since anybody admired her way Nedum did and the encounter awakened a lot of desires within her. She however didn’t know exactly how a married woman was supposed to react to such feelings! Nobody taught her these things. All her life she had been the good girl- church-going, Jesus-loving and married to the only man who knew her private parts. She was loyal and loving to her husband despite his many shortcomings.
But as she sat at the back of that taxi heading to her deluxe Lekki residence, she kept thinking about the strange man she saw at the airport, the man with who she felt the best attraction ever. She knew quite well that sitting in a cab and fantasizing about a stranger wasn’t exactly the most Christian thing to do as a married woman, yet she couldn’t help herself. So she fantasized that Nedum was every bit the realest man she had always wished she got to have and to hold. She wished she could see him again and feel the same way she had felt earlier. She kept thinking about him as the cab drove her home.
Unknown to her, she was getting home to meet an unexpected surprise. Her husband never expected her home that night. So as she got into the house and climbed upstairs to their bedroom, she met husband in bed, caught up in compromising positions with two women. They were busy doing many things at the same time, so busy they hardly even noticed her presence at first. Never before had Ginika’s husband been careless enough to let her catch him in the act. He was a pastor, highly respected in church and easily mistakable for a saint. Those were attributes that made her love him enough to marry him. Unknown to her, she would spend every day suspecting him until she finally caught him in the act. And what was more; the two women he was frolicking with were highly respected sisters in the church! That evening, she had the perfect excuse to leave the marriage…
Fast forward to five months later, Ginika was a divorced woman, facing all the stereotypes and loving it all. She felt good being free and was looking forwards to better days. And then one day after work as she stopped over at her favourite restaurant to have dinner, she met someone she thought she’d never meet again. It was Nedum, sitting just a table away with his back to her as he ate alone. Their gaze met and got hocked again when for whatever turned around to scan the place. And just like the first time, they shared that moment of attraction. And this time, neither of them was going to let the moment slip away. Just like Ginika, Nedum was freshly out of a relationship after his girlfriend left him to become the second wife of a senator. For months he was devastated and meeting Ginika again was indeed the best thing that happened to him the longest of times.
Today their love story continues, blossoming with every single day that passes. Got to love Love!
Written by Emmanuel Abara Benson
At first I felt him staring at me in the dark and later I saw him in brief flashes, eyeballing me as I would walk along the streets. And then he was everywhere- at the supermarket and the library, always staring at me viciously and seemingly vanishing into thin air whenever I tried approaching him. This most certainly drove me crazy, for I thought I was hallucinating. And just when I thought I couldn’t have it worst, the most bizarre part of the drama unfolded unexpectedly…
I got home that evening to find a huge surprise; somebody uninvited had made dinner for me while I was away. As I stood in the middle of the kitchen letting fear grip my heart, I puzzled over what was happening to me- who was stalking me enough to have access to be apartment; could anything be creepier in the world?! But then discovering the cooked jollof rice on the stove wasn’t the shocker of the night because as I tiptoed upstairs, I found a man on the floor of my bedroom, still. With my hands shaking uncontrollably, I turned on the light and beheld the man who had been stalking me, covered in his own blood and obviously dead! Yes, the fellow who stalked me for weeks was dead on the floor of my bedroom. His head had been smashed with some hard object, braking the skull open and causing some grey [matter mixed with blood] to ooze out…
As I stared at the sight horrified, I could see it wasn’t long before life was snuffed out of the man. The wound still oozed fluid, the blood smelling strongly fresh and nauseating. My mind was confused, thinking several things at the same time but never considering the possibility of the killer still being in the building. And just then my cell phone vibrated in my pocket, startling me as I answered with my shaky voice and listened to a rather cold female voice address me.
“You have three options: either you report the crime to the police, dispose of the body or you disappear tonight. If I were you I ‘d disappear because when you do, the authorities are going to believe you were the victim! That will enable you unravel this entire mystery, with my help of course. You have five minutes to call me back with your decision. Don’t call back if it is a stupid decision!” Click.
I stood in shock, the phone held to my ear as I stared at the dead man on my floor. For the first time since he mysteriously showed up in my life, I could see that he bore an uncanny resemblance to me; almost as though we were twins. Without thinking straight, I immediately redialed the unknown female caller and told her that I was ready to disappear. And two hours later, I was in a bus bound south, heading towards Calabar. According to my unknown guide, the first step to finding out what had happened was to be on the bus heading to the beautiful city; nobody else must know I was on that bus.
The following day it was reported in the dailies that I had been murdered in my apartment- High-profile Government Official Found Murdered in Lagos Home.The news said the police was working hard to find the killer. But of course the mystery was mine to unravel, at least so I had been manipulated into believing…
Story by Emmanuel Benson
*Emmanuel’s debut novel in development. Kindly anticipate.
Sitting beside the smelly bus driver, I observed the traffic through a cracked windscreen. All the vehicles in front of me were of assorted kinds- the old, the new/expensive and the rickety ones. They all made a long stretch along the pothole-ridden road, moving at a snail’s pace. It was almost a beautiful sight, although I was too uncomfortable to dwell much on the aesthetic nature of a gridlock.Yet, I could not help but notice the yellow buses. I just am fascinated by those buses! They are my favourite part of the Lagos traffic…
Lagos! The fast-paced city with crawling traffic! It was early morning rush hour, the worst time to be on any road and worst still a Lagos road. Already the sun was out, seemingly making a conscious effort to combine with the dust and exhaust fumes to make my life and those of the other commuters miserable. A certain fat man who was sitting by my right was clearly distressed even as he fanned himself furiously with a newspaper. I assumed from the way he was dressed in his fancy suit that he was some kind of business executive, although I couldn’t be so sure because all the executive people I know in Lagos always commuted in private cars; windows rolled up and air-conditioning on point. Sadly, the man beside me was so uncomfortable. He probably wasn’t used to riding with the “commoners”. Perhaps his car broke down or something… I listened to him curse repeatedly under his breath even as he struggled to adjust his bulky self into any form of comfortable position. But cramped in the bus as we were, all his efforts proved futile. So he kept fanning furiously while sweating and cursing.
Luckily for us, the traffic eased up just a bit even as the breeze came blasting through the windows, accompanied by dust and exhaust fumes of different kinds. Many people hissed at the same time, some in relief and others in disgust of the dust. A few windows were slammed shot in desperate efforts to to wade off the dust and fumes. As for me, I heaved a long sigh of relief, exhaling the driver’s odour which had been hitting directly at my brain. Goodness me! I could not wait to get off the bus! Unfortunately, it was going to be a long ride.
This was a commute that should have lasted at most fifteen minutes. Sadly, we were about thirty minutes in with no hope of getting to our destination soon. It had been a slow ride, one in which I was a witness to different kinds drama. The bus conductor had exchanged fiery words with two passengers over change. He was angry that despite him repeatedly telling everyone to board only if they had the exact denomination of one hundred naira, some stubborn people still boarded even though they had bigger denominations. And so when it came time to pay, he fired at them with his mouth. The man spoke fast, and knew just the right things to say to piss off the two passengers. At the end he collected their money and refused to give change to them. The quarrel lasted for long, stopping intermittently only to start all over again each time any of the passengers asked for her change…
I must confess that despite the many things wrong with taking a bus ride in the city, I do enjoy it nonetheless. It’s always a good way to observe the city. Each time I’m in the bus, I always take time to observe the different faces of the humans of Lagos. Every one of the faces I see fascinates me. There’re the children on their way to school, the embittered house girl knocking their heads as she tugs them along. There are also the many workers stranded at bus stops as they wait for the BRT buses going to the Island. And of course, there are the yellow buses and their drivers! Those ones deserve an entire story dedicated to them alone. Meanwhile, there are many more interesting things to observe while in a Lagos traffic. For fashion-inclined people like me, the traffic would allow you feed your eyes to different kinds of fashion statements. I for one have beheld all sorts, from the beautiful, simple to the wacky and outright outrageous!
TO BE CONTINUED…
-Emmanuel Abara Benson is an aspiring Nigerian novelist whose first novel will soon be self-published on Amazon.
But as bad as life was, it felt good not having to hide under the canopy of the forests. I no longer had to run for cover as I did each time the shelling began. The new found freedom felt good and so I dedicated my days to feeling good, playing [the entire time] with the other children in the open yards. We played football with the human skulls that littered across my community. Those were the skulls of the unfortunate people who were not fast enough to escape the village as the Nigerian soldiers advanced upon us, as well as those stubborn enough to leave. There was this story of Eze for instance, a brilliant Science teacher who ran mad because of too many books in his brain according to legend. He had just been brought back to the village to be cared for by close relatives when the war broke out. Every day he sat in his late father’s easy chair telling all who cared to listen that the Biafran warlord Ojukwu was up to the task of crushing the Nigerian military. The day the Nigerian soldiers advanced deep into Biafra down to small town Igbere, Eze remained seated in that chair and refused to run with the others to the forest; he believed Ojukwu would save Biafra. Months later as we returned from the forest, we met his skeleton on the easy chair in front of his father’s house, but his skull was missing. There was no doubt to me that his was one of the skulls my friends and I kicked around in the form of football. But then again, there were those who were courageous enough to return home [in search of food/valuables] before the war ended. Perhaps my father’s skull was among those; my young mind could never know the truth to that. So I kicked those bones while having my fun, disregarding the elders’ warnings that we could get seriously injured. We were young and free, never caring about the risks of life. After all, what more violence could befall a tween who already nearly escaped bomb shrapnel cutting him to shreds! We saw enough violence to last forever, and the risks posed by playing with those skulls (with their jagged and sharp edges) meant nothing. Unfortunately, in the end the older people’s warnings came to pass when serious injuries resulted in infections that led to deaths. And it wasn’t until then that the bones were finally gathered and incinerated…
Forlorn Gaze is a soon to be published novel by Emmanuel Benson. #Anticipate
I was having such a good time with some friends whom I hadn’t seen in a long time. You know how it is when you are overjoyed and excited just wishing the moment never ends? That’s exactly how I felt that day. It was my birthday, and my friends were making it memorable for me. The day long event ended at a Lagos beach where we drank liquor and did other unmentionables. And then the night came just as trouble loomed.
I was almost tipsy by the time we were leaving the beach. Now I usually don’t drink much, but I did let myself indulge that particular day because aside it being my birthday, it’s not all the time you get the spend the day with almost all of your favourite people in the world; no? Anyway, I got drunk and could literarily not wait to get to my bed and kiss it all night. As the speed boat transported us across the ocean to the mainland, the rain began to fall and all around us was just the water and darkness. And in the midst of this rather unfortunate circumstance, the boat suddenly stopped. It was like a nightmare, a really bad one! And then my heart sank with fear. You see… I never really had a good relationship with water because I almost [once] drowned in a swimming pool at my Alma Marta. Meanwhile, much earlier on in life I also almost drowned in a water tank while doing what I can’t remember. So I never had a cordial relationship with water except drinking it and perhaps standing by its shores at the beach. You can then imagine my predicament after the boat broke down in the middle of the ocean with nothing but darkness and roaring waves around us Scary stuff!
Before I knew it the tipsiness disappeared. I was so wide-eyed coffee wouldn’t have had a better effect on me. What to do…swim to shore? Laughable. My mind raced in different directions. I wondered if I was going to die that night. What a sad way to die, I thought. Can you imagine drowning while some ugly fishes surround and wait for you to die? Holy Kadarshian! That had to be my scariest moment in life, and I swear I didn’t handle it well at all.
Everyone was yelling at the boatman. “Get us the hell away from here! ” they screamed. Somebody even said he would tell his “daddy“; like the funniest thing to say in the middle of a major crisis. It turned out my friends were just as scared as I was. Nobody had time for macho stuff at the moment. Nobody wants to die as they say!
As I sat there drenched in the rain water with the wind starting to slightly toss the vessel, I began to think about all the books I’ve read about ship wrecks. Would I end up like Robinson Crusoe or would a fish make me dinner for the night? Those are hard things to think about. I shivered (both with fear and cold) as everyone else panicked and the boatman tried to restart the engine. But each time he tried the stupid engine would make one annoying sound and then silence. This madness kept up for a moment until the engine made one awful sound and then started. And without even waiting to ensure it actually did start, the man zoomed off.
I can’t even describe the haste with which everyone jumped off the useless boat the moment we got ashore. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of those friends of mine ended up giving testimonies in their churches, after all a miracle happened to us; no? Well if your answer is “no” you are just as right because this story is one of my attempts at fiction. Lol