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A Child without Ears: Fiction by Fabian Okorie Ugochukwu

IMAGE: Matt Buck
IMAGE: Matt Buck

PAGE TWO OF TWO. GO TO PAGE ONE

I woke in the morning with a jerk. I had had a nightmare where Biodun was commanding me at gunpoint to jump into a six-foot pit full of bees. The dream unnerved me, made me gasp. I was equally astonished to find myself in bed. I had wanted to stay awake till dawn. I was still sitting on the floor last night when my hosts asked me to go to bed. That was the time my head was cocking sideways against the wall as drowsiness and exhaustion overwhelmed me. I was not sure of my response to them, but I knew that I did not get up from the floor. Now I was in bed, my trousers removed, leaving me in boxers and a shirt. What happened? Were the snacks and soft drink the two men gave me in the night spiked? They had taken the same thing but had uncorked my own bottle before giving it to me. And I had suspected nothing whatsoever. I felt the bed, supposing that someone was lying beside me, but found nobody. I rose and groped to the wall, reached the switch and turned on the light. It almost blinded me. After my eyes adjusted to it, I discovered that I was the only occupant of the room. Lying on the floor was a pair of the trousers I was wearing the previous night. I lifted it and dipped my hand into one of the pockets. My money there was missing. I searched the other pockets and found them empty. I rushed to my bag, unzipped it, and ran my hand through its compartments where I had stuffed some money, but they were empty. In all, my two thousand and nine hundred dollars were gone. I glanced about me, nonplussed. My phone started ringing. It was on the bed, covered by the duvet. And it was not I who had kept it there. I picked it up. The caller was my host, the first man.

“Hello,” he said, “are you still in that room?”

“I didn’t see my…my…money.”

“What?”

“I didn’t see my money.”

“Are you accusing us of theft or what?”

“No, but I didn’t see it. I’ve searched everywhere for…everywhere for—”

“For your own good, you had better get out of that room before we come back. An ingrate!”

My heart quaked and I cut the call. The room swirled and my legs lost their strength and started shaking, knocking together. Quickly I wore my clothes and shoes, and scooped up my bag and whipped outside, leaving the door ajar. I slipped at the landing and hit my lung against the banister before regaining my balance and then hurtling down to the frontage. It was already dawn and the street had been livened by vehicles and pedestrians. I did not know where to go, what to do. Was this what obtained abroad? I should have heeded my mother. I should have cancelled this idea of travelling abroad. Woe to me in Malaysia!

I took my left side of the road, trotting to make sure I was a long distance away from the building as quickly as possible. At a point, I stopped to regain some energy, and while doing so, I dialled Biodun’s number again. To my surprise, it rang and his voice came on the line, asking who was calling.

“It’s Femi,” I shouted so he could hear me well.

“Oh, my God! Where are you now?”

I stuttered. I could not tell the name of the street.

“Where are you exactly, Femi?”

“I’m in town, but…” I looked at some signs on the road and saw Bukit Bintang. I wanted to say the name but felt I would mispronounce it.

“Never mind,” Biodun said, perhaps aware of my scruple. “Just take a taxi wherever you are to the—the—anyway—” The call cut and shortly, he sent me a text directing me on how I could reach him.

I hailed a taxi and entered.

Thirty-five minutes later, I was with Biodun who was standing in front of a condominium. He settled the driver, and when we got into his room, I quickly narrated my sordid story in the hands of the two men.

“This is unbelievable, Femi,” Biodun said. “I’ve never heard that such a thing happened here in Malaysia.”

“Please could you give me water?” I said, breathing hard. At this time the clock on the wall chimed nine.

He stood up and reached his fridge and filled me a cup of water. Although I found it difficult drinking much water early in the morning, I gulped down this one completely, and then sat on a brown leather couch.

“This is bad news and ugly development here,” he said, standing and staring down at me.

“Why didn’t you pick me up as agreed? I wouldn’t have run into this mess.”

“I had a police case and was under custody from the morning of yesterday till late in the afternoon. And my phone was switched off.”

“What happened?”

“You won’t understand. Just relax.”

As we discussed, two men entered. Biodun introduced me to them and said they were his roommates. One was called Zukky, and the other Tony. They were Nigerians in their early thirties. We all shook hands and they asked about news from home, though they said they read many papers online.

“He was sapped,” Biodun told them.

“Who?” Zukky said.

“Femi. Two guys cornered him at the airport, took him home and made away with his money.”

Tony’s face creased. “Where? What address?”

The questions appeared forceful, so I kept silent.

“I don’t believe that such a thing could happen here,” Tony said and sat down with me.

Did he mean that I had lied?

“This is abroad,” Zukky said. “Many things are possible these days.”

 

At night Biodun took me and his roommates out. We sat round a table at the outer section of a restaurant embellished with glittering colourful lights. I could not see any other black people around. Soon an aproned slim Asian girl appeared at our table, received our order, and went inside. A lot of diners were there, enjoying different kinds of strange foods, sucking drinks with straws, shaking their bodies to the rhythm of the solo music from a man on a decorated small platform. As the man strummed his guitar, he jerked his head backwards, closed his eyes and crooned a song conjured up from deep inside him. The atmosphere was like that obtained in some parts of Lagos, slightly warm, and I felt comfortable.

The waitress returned with our order—food and drinks of different kinds. I could not eat the strange food much, because I had no appetite for it. But I took the beer a lot. I drank and drank and got inebriated. The last incident I could tell there was an instance I started shouting commands to my colleagues, speaking English grammar to them, telling them that I must call the Nigerian police to come and arrest the two buggers who had despoiled me. When we left I did not know.

 

I got up the next morning with a strange experience. My whole body was tingling and my stomach felt as if the worms had borrowed sharp fangs, biting it mercilessly. I switched on the light and Biodun, lying on the bed, woke and saw me scratching my body.

“Are you okay?” he asked.

“Can’t you see I am dying?”

He sat up on the bed and alerted his roommates lying on the floor. They all appeared shocked as they saw me busy with my fingers.

“I am dying!” I yelled.

Zukky asked what was happening, and when I told him that, he said, “This is strange.”

“But we all took the same food and drink yesterday,” Tony said. “How come your case becomes different?”

I wished he had shut his bad mouth up instead of asking me that goddamn silly question. Did I say anything about food or drink?

“Let’s wait till dawn so I can take you to hospital,” Biodun said.

“Take me there now!” I took off my shirt and continued scratching my body, pinching my stomach.

“Let’s wait till dawn,” Biodun repeated.

“No!” I said. “Do you want me to die before then?”

“Have you ever had this kind of experience?” Tony asked.

“I’ve never had it. I’ve never. Hospital now!” I did not even realize again that I was penniless.

They kept pleading that I exercise patience for about two hours more. Biodun asked me to take a bath. I did and felt somewhat relieved, but my inside was still being crunched. He poured a milky liquid in a glass and gave me to drink. A few minutes after I gulped it, the warriors in my entrails began to calm down. This respite helped me to endure till daybreak.

 

The doctor was a short, middle-aged Asian man fluent in English. After I explained my condition to him, he asked whether I had ever had that kind of problem before. I said no. He checked my pulse with his instrument and said I had to undergo a series of tests which would, among other things, involve my blood sample.

Finally the results were out, and I was administered my medications. I stayed in the hospital for one week before getting discharged. But I had to go for periodic check-ups until the doctor, after two weeks more, certified that I was fit. Biodun was so caring throughout that period that I wondered when he acquired the virtue. At school back in Ore, he was often cantankerous and many girls would never go near him. Even some boys avoided him, dismissing him as a man unlikely to be able to live with a woman. Sometimes they pitied his would-be wife. I could not assess his emotional development well during the festive period he returned home, because we were all partying and drinking. But here was the aggressive man, totally transformed into something desirable. Anybody could change.

I was dying to be introduced into any business, which Biodun had said abounded here. He, however, insisted that I should be patient until I had fully recovered. Every day, he and his roommates would be busy with their laptops. Sometimes they stayed late into the night as they pressed the machines. When I asked him where he worked, he explained that he was into international online business. It appealed to me, doing business online, staying at home and commanding money. I was curious to learn how such business worked, but he kept telling me to cool down. When I wanted to stroll on my own, he would not allow me. I thought he was being overprotective, and consequently began to feel being boxed. For three weeks after my last medical check-up, I never got down to the ground floor alone. We lived on the third floor of a condominium.

 

One evening, a man visited us. I sensed that I had met him somewhere before. He was about thirty, and Yoruba, like me, but we did not say a word to each other again after our initial greetings. He came looking for Zukky and Tony, unaware that they had moved out a week earlier. He was disappointed that they had kept this information from him. He discussed briefly with Biodun and left. I had the urge to run after him and tell him that I knew him, but I restrained myself. When the pull reasserted itself seconds later, I dashed out of the room. Perhaps I would not have had the audacity to do so if not that Biodun had just entered the bathroom.

I beetled down the ground floor and saw the man waiting for a taxi.

“Excuse me, brother,” I said, approaching him. “You look like someone I’ve seen before.”

His eyes dilated with interest. “I wanted to say the same thing when I saw you in the room.”

“Have you ever lived at Ore, Ondo State back home?”

“That was my domain before. You’ve been there?”

“You bet. Are you Bayo, a brother to Funmi Olawale?”

“I am,” he said, and when I mentioned the name of his street in Ore, he yelled, “Femi Ajayi.”

“That’s me,” I said.

We hugged, rocked each other, and disentangled. We had met at a night party in honour of his sister Funmi who was celebrating her birthday. She was at our school then. That was in the third term in my class four in secondary school. By the time school resumed after our two-month holiday, he had moved to Ijebu Ode with his sister. But he sometimes called me until I lost my mobile phone with his number.

Ba wo lo wa?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”

“When did you come here?”

“About nine weeks now. And you?”

He shook his head as if he found my question unsettling. “I’ve been here for a year but…”

I waited for him to finish his sentence, but he hung it there. Thus I prompted him with “What?”

He shook his head once more and stroked his downy temples and jaw. “I shouldn’t have come here. I shouldn’t have.”

“Why the regret?”

“I came here and became poorer.”

I could not understand that, and told him so instantly.

“I said I came here and became poorer. For the first time in my life, it is here that I ever know the effect of hunger. It’s here that I stayed for three days without eating any food. What I never experienced back in Nigeria.”

“What happened?”

“My friend through whom I came here messed me up, leaving me without any foothold to start life.”

“You mean it?”

“Yeah. This is a man whose house is a few paces from ours back home. Immediately I arrived here, he begged me to lend him some money, claiming that he had invested his own money in a business that would soon yield a huge profit. For a month I waited for the maturity of the business. Totally broke, I asked him to give me back part of the money I had lent him. The next thing he did was to throw my bag outside and tell me to look for a place to stay.”

“Just like that?”

“Just like that. It was by luck that I met another guy I’m living with now.”

“How is the business environment in this country? I just recovered from an illness and haven’t moved around.”

“Well, I won’t tell you everything. You will see for yourself. The condition here is different from its simplified version which I was presented with before coming here. I’ve been trying to raise money to engage in exportation of goods back home. But it hasn’t been easy. I want to go back.”

“To Nigeria?”

“Yes.”

“I want to go back and start life again. I know that some people at home will ridicule me for returning empty-handed, but their opinion doesn’t matter to me now. I can’t continue staying here dying of hunger. It’s better for me to suffer this in my own country. At least we don’t have civil war there, so I must survive. But I don’t even have money for my flight ticket.” He sighed.

I was disillusioned by the revelation and wished I had not asked for any information. “But Biodun told me that business abounds here.”

“Okay,” he said, blandly, “he will introduce you to one, then.”

We discussed other things and before parting, we exchanged phone numbers.

 

Biodun called me the next afternoon and gave me a parcel. He said I should go and deliver it to a Malaysian man. He gave me the man’s name and the hotel. I demanded to know the contents of the parcel, but he dismissed my curiosity as irrelevant. I kept it on the table, insisting that he open it so I could know what I was carrying. After a moment of hesitation, he explained that it was a hard drug and that I would be rewarded handsomely upon successful delivery.

“Biodun,” I said, “I don’t want to die.”

“What does that mean?”

“Penalty for drug trafficking here is death,” I reminded him what he already knew.

“Stop talking like a coward, man?”

“I can’t handle this.”

“You can. You just have to develop the heart to make money.”

I shrugged. “I can’t in this case. Honestly.”

“What is the fucking matter with you?”

“I want you to introduce me to another type of business. Not this one. I don’t want to die yet.”

“You want to show me that you are wise, right?” He stood up angrily from his chair and moved to the front door.

My heart throbbed. In fact, had I got any other place to stay, I would have moved out of the room instantly. I had heard that in some countries, traffickers in illegal drugs were guillotined, and that in some others, such peddlers were injected with deadly viruses and deported to die in their own country. I imagined drug officers coming into the room to rummage for any illegal substance.

“You don’t want to go?” Biodun asked. “Where do you think that the money I paid for your hospital bill came from?”

Silence was my answer. I could feel tension all around the room. Taut.

“Okay.” He came back to his seat. “You’re playing a smart guy, abi? I know what to do.”

Two days later at night, he told me that he had another business. I rejoiced and said I would do that one.

“This business will yield not less than ten thousand dollars. But you will give me some commission. I’m the one that will link you up.”

“No problem.” The dollars were already bouncing in my head.

He sat up on his seat. “Have you ever had any kidney problem?”

I looked skeptically at him. What was the import of the question? I simply shook my head.

“Good. I will take you to one doctor. He will examine your kidneys, and if they are intact, you are going to make money.”

“How?”

“The doctor will look for a patient who has the problem of the kidney. If yours can match that of the person, you will sell one.”

“You mean I will sell my kidney?”

“Of course. That’s what some boys here have done before they were able to find their feet.”

I could not swallow that.

“You need not have any fear. The operation is simple and easy.”

“Biodun, I can’t sell my kidney.” I shook my head vehemently. “What happens if the remaining one has a problem in future?”

“Be positive, Femi. Ah—ah!”

“I can’t sell my kidney. Not even my finger.”

“What’s wrong with you? Any business I introduce to you, you reject it. I won’t tolerate this nonsense anymore.” He went to bed and covered himself with the duvet.

A little after dawn, he demanded to know if I had changed my mind so that he would take me to the doctor.

“I can’t sell my kidney,” I maintained.

“I sold mine before I started life here.”

Was that true?

“But don’t worry. I know how to treat a smart alec like you.” He ground his teeth. “When hunger strikes you for some days, you will do those things you have never dreamt of doing in life.”

I became afraid.

 

Three days later, Biodun told me that he had a severe stomach ache. He needed to see a doctor straight away. We quickly left for the hospital about eight in the morning. He was carrying a plastic bag stuffed with things.

Many people were already seated in the waiting room of the hospital when we entered. After Biodun obtained a hospital card, we sat down to wait for his turn to see the doctor. It was quarter to nine.

“I’m thirsty,” Biodun said.

“Me, too,” I said. It was a little hot here, unlike the other hospital I had been. We had now spent approximately twenty minutes.

He stood up. “Keep this bag. It contains something precious. Let me buy some water outside.”

I took the bag from him and placed it on my lap, now conscious of its precious contents.

“Do you want something to eat?” he asked.

“I would like to.” We did not eat before leaving the house.

He headed outside.

The people in the room were talking in a language I could not understand. I felt uncomfortable, and so wanted Biodun to come back quickly. But he kept delaying. When twenty minutes elapsed without his appearance, I went outside and dialled his number, aware that the account in my phone was almost exhausted. Biodun told me that he had forgotten to pick up some money he had kept on the seat in our room. He was going back to get it, so I should wait for him.

I looked around and saw a row of plastic seats fixed in place with iron frame. I went and sat there, my gaze on the gate. I waited for forty minutes more, but Biodun was nowhere in sight. Nervous, I called him again.

“I had an accident,” he whimpered.

“At where?” I asked, as if I knew every road in Malaysia.

“On my way back there. I’m in hospital right now.”

“Which hospital? Hello. Which hospital?”

The phone kept reading without Biodun responding anymore. Then it ended with a signal that my talk time had been used up. I felt dizzy and the whole environment turned dark. I guessed I’d reached the shoreline between reality and the sea of unconsciousness.

I was back to our condominium. I had been in the hospital until one o’clock in the afternoon, thinking that Biodun would later return there. A uniformed guard had started asking me many questions and, tired of answering them and believing that I had been taken as a suspect, I had left the place. I had pleaded with the taxi driver who had taken me home to forget about the fare because I had no money. And he had left, reluctantly. I stood now in front of our door, clutching my phone, waiting for Biodun to call me. Had I our key, I would have entered our room.

It was about quarter to three when my phone started ringing.

“Hello, Bayo,” I said.

“How are you doing?”

I said I was fine. We started discussing and I explained to him the two businesses Biodun had wanted to introduce me to and how he had got irritated after my refusal. Then I told him what I had been going through since morning.

“Guy,” he said, his voice raised, “Biodun had no accident.”

“What?”

“You are naïve, so he quietly disengaged you with those lies. He has moved out of that condo.”

“You mean he won’t come back here again?”

“Well, he may come back, but not in your presence. That is, if he still has some valuable things in that room.”

“He will come back. I believe he will come back.”

“Guy, here is abroad. People take on a different heart when they are abroad. You had better find your way elsewhere.”

“I don’t have money. My things are still in the room. Do you think he will just abandon me like this?”

“Look, Femi, he is not happy that he has spent so much money on you only for you to disappoint him.”

“Can I come to your place? Where do you live?”

“I’m leaving this country soon. I’m going back to Nigeria.”

“Can I come and stay with you for a while?”

“Guy, I’ve not much time on my phone. Talk with you later. Take care.” The line cut.

I sat down on the floor. I felt intense heat, and not long, sweat covered my forehead and neck and armpits. I peeped into the bag Biodun had handed to me, but the contents were stuffed in another plastic bag. I pulled it out only to discover some badly used shirts and trousers. I kept them down. Was this what Biodun had said was precious? I had no doubt anymore about Bayo’s disclosure. Why would Biodun subject me to this kind of treatment? Was this what obtained abroad? I should have heeded my mother. I shouldn’t have sold our land.

About five in the evening, I found myself wondering along the road in Malaysia. It was ridiculous that I had no known destination. I came to one street with the sign: CHURCH OF GOD IN MALAYSIA. I walked down the street until I reached the church gate. It was partly open. I peeped through the gap. A short elderly woman, an Asian, was sweeping the compound. I pulled the gate wider and slid through. A little distance away from her, I deliberately coughed. She turned abruptly. Seeing me, she began to move backwards. I stopped and greeted her. She nodded and walked inside the church with her long-handled broom. I took some steps after her, but halted upon seeing a man coming towards the door, the woman behind him pointing at me. He was also an Asian, about forty.

“Good evening, sir,” I said.

“What is it?” His face scrunched up. “What do you want?”

I told him my story, and added that “I am a Christian.”

“Sorry,” he said. “There is nothing we can do for you. You can go to some African churches around.” He waved his hand as though I knew their locations.

I said, “Can I come inside and pray?”

“No,” he replied. “There’re lots of African churches around. You can go there.”

I stood frozen.

“Go there,” the woman said with a raised voice.

I turned and left. But I knew that I would always remember that woman’s scowl.

At a certain bus stop, I stumbled on a man, about fifty, who told me he was an American. I explained to him my situation and added that I was looking for an African church. He directed me to one and gave me a hundred ringgit. I jubilated with shouts of thanks, and he watched me with a smile.

It was already growing dark when I got to the church, a few minutes past six. Two black men were standing at the door, discussing. After exchanging greetings with them, I asked where I could go and eat. They directed me.

While I was coming out of the restaurant, I got a message alert on my phone. It was Biodun telling me that since I was a smart boy, I should look for a smart people to stay with. He would tell me where to come and take my bag. Unbelievable! So Biodun found it joyful getting rid of me here in this manner? I decided that when I got back to the church, I would ask the people there where I could refill my phone. Then I would call Biodun. I would invoke Shango to strike him with thunder and scatter his body parts in the air. But after I made my decision and started going back to the church, two men in mufti approached me from behind. Each immediately slid his hand in his breast pocket and produced an identity card.

“Immigration officials,” one said, his face contorted.

“Your passport?” the other demanded with the same ferocious expression.

I searched the right hip pocket of my trousers and the left one, and then realized that I had left my passport in our room. I looked at the officers pleadingly, my mouth dried.

“No passport?”

“I—I—left it at home,” I said.

One of them made a call and within twenty minutes, a car arrived with some other officers, and I was shoved into it, stripped of my phone. The next place I found myself was at Lenggeng detention camp, a hell for the illegals. In fact, written words alone would not suffice to portray my awful experience there. I stayed in the camp for about three months. On one morning of mid-September, I was called out to get ready for my repatriation the following day. Whoever paid for my air fare I did not know. I had heard that sometimes, some churches and philanthropists went to detention camps and paid for some detainees’ flight tickets. Perhaps I was a beneficiary.

 

Our plane landed at Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos in midmorning. After walking out of the airport building, I had a fright. One question kept ticking in my head: How would my family receive me? I resolved to write a letter of apology to my mother. I would admit that I was truly a child without ears.

About half past seven in the evening, I reached Ado-Ekiti Motor Park. It was already dark then, and I liked this time because I had not wanted to return when our neighbours would recognize me, when children would cluster around me to receive bread and biscuits, which I did not have.

I was back finally, but the home to which I returned looked like one built in a jungle. Apart from the bright security light on the front wall of the house, no other sign indicated that a soul lived here. A stench of rotten flesh welcomed my nostrils at the entrance. As I walked through, my head got enmeshed in a tangle of gossamer, and I jolted upon seeing a snake slough among the grass flourishing everywhere. The mango trees spread their hands recklessly. Twigs and dried leaves crunched under my shoes, the sound echoing loudly like what obtains in a forest. Dust and the droppings of lizards and geckos covered the steps to our door. The interconnections of cobwebs on the lintel, on the walls, and on the ceilings, jarred my sight. What happened? I whispered. Afraid to touch the door handle, I tiptoed to the east side of the house to look around. There was a heap of matted earth with some plants growing on it. I bent and peered at the heap for a moment. When I noticed a sunflower at one end of it, my heart hammered against my ribs. Somebody had died and this was the tomb. I howled.

Within five minutes, some neighbours ran into the compound, young and old. I was now seated in front of our door, in the glare of the light.

“Who told you about the death, Femi?” a man asked.

“You shouldn’t have returned,” a woman said.

“He shouldn’t have,” another woman said. “He sold their land. His mother died a month later because of it.”

“And now he is crying as if he cared for her,” someone said.

Although most people hit out at me that night, there were some who comforted me, asking me to take heart. A man took me to his house to spend the night there. “Your sister, Basirat, has got married,” he said, “and is now pregnant. I’ll call her tomorrow to come and unlock your door.”

Basirat came the following morning. But I could not stand before her. I saw a red flame in her eyes, a flame that could burn up whatever neared it. Penitently, I bowed in the middle of our compound. I knew that those eyes were angry with me. But my sister walked past me silently. At the frontage, however, she burst into tears and lumbered to the tomb and started a lamentation. I walked over to her, held her by the shoulder, touched her big stomach, and wept bitterly.

——————–

IMAGE: Bigstock.com

IMAGE: Old Luggage by Matt Buck

Fabian Okorie Ugochukwu
Fabian Okorie Ugochukwu
Fabian Okorie Ugochukwu is from Enugu State, Nigeria, and studied Social Work and Community Development at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He worked briefly in Nigeria before travelling to Thailand where he is currently residing. He is a lover of written words, which he sees as necessary tools for creating orderly society. His forthcoming novel is titled “When There is No Trust.”

2 COMMENTS

  1. Mmm, do some characters behave like Femi?
    Interestingly ugly.
    I’m certain he’s one of the people recently beheaded there…

    • This is a very familiar story. It borrows the cliche about the grass always being green elsewhere… It was just heart-wrenching to have hte protagonist go through so much to learn his lesson. I really felt sorry for him at the end…

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