Fiction

Okamma n’ilo: A Short Story by Cheluchi Onyemelukwe

As the plane climbed up in an awkward takeoff, my fear of flying rose again in my gut.  I prayed yet again not to die in an air crash.

I was going home for the Christmas holidays and wanted to avoid the nightmarishly slow and long journey from Lagos to the East.  And so, instead of traveling on one of the big buses, I had chosen to make the shorter journey by air.  This was despite the fact that one of my friends had once told me that flying in one of Nigeria’s planes, deathtraps he called them, was like issuing an invitation to death.  At the time, I remember arguing that the buses had even higher accident and death rates than airplanes with the extra and not unusual downside that one might also get shot by armed robbers even in broad daylight.    My friend countered, however, that at least one could survive an armed robbery attack or a motor accident.  Hardly anyone ever survived a plane crash in Nigeria.   Since we had that conversation two years ago, there had been three air crashes in one year.  While I loved my life, however, I also loved being able to get to my destination in one hour instead of seven hours.   I had even paid a tout to buy my ticket at the airport.  As usual for this time of year, there were too many people wanting to buy tickets and too few seats available.

“It is rather noisy, isn’t it?” the man sitting beside me asked.

I had noticed the way he was looking at me soon after I sat down.  He was wearing a wedding band, but he sounded like he would not mind picking me up. For some reason, I attracted the adulterous type, especially on airplanes.  Normally, I would chat with them in a friendly but deflecting way.  Unfortunately for him, however, I had taken an unreasonable dislike to him as soon as I noticed that he was sitting in the window seat that I always preferred and I had to sit in the aisle seat.  So, instead of giving him an entry into a proper conversation which would probably end in exchanging complimentary cards or even in an offer to drop me off once we landed, I nodded yes and said nothing.  He gave up; he was apparently not the persistent type.

But it was true that the plane’s engine sounded noisier than usual or perhaps my fear magnified the noise of the engines.  Whatever the case, I just shut my eyes and intensified my prayers.   To take my mind off the fear that we could crash at any minute, I daydreamed about getting home and seeing my parents whom I had spoken to severally over the phone but hadn’t seen in nearly one year.   My daydream was marred by the recollection that one day of the holiday would probably be spent finding out if the next year was going to bring my new husband home.

“Water, juice or tea?” the hostess asked me.

I said juice. I had had nothing for breakfast, so I accepted the pastry they served.  It should have been meatpie, except that there was no meat in the pie and the crust tasted dry and old.   Still, I ate it, grateful that I had some sweet juice to wash it down.   The man who had taken my window seat munched his with an open mouth, his chewing motions so audible they nearly drowned out the noise of the plane, and I mentally wondered how his wife could possibly stand him.

The landing was even bumpier than usual and that, besides not being able to see the green vegetation and the tiny dots of houses from the window seat, a usually calming influence for me, tightened the knots in my stomach.   But we landed in one piece.   In the airport, the conveyor belt was not working.  Perhaps there was no electricity, or perhaps it was broken as so many things were in the local airport.  People milled around waiting for their luggage to come.   A porter asked me if he could help me pick up my bags.  I had just one suitcase, so I said no. It felt comfortable hearing so many people speaking our native Igbo.  I thought I heard the relief of being safely on the ground in their voices.  Eventually, the bags came and I picked up my luggage and headed out to the carpark where my mother was waiting for me.

She hugged me excitedly.  “Ngonwa, nno.” Welcome. “How was your flight?”

“It was fine. You look well,” I told her.

“I am fine.  My daughter, God is looking after me.”  She watched me as I put my suitcase in the boot.  “You seem to have put on weight and you look darker, don’t you use any toning cream on your face?  You know the sun here just darkens your skin.  And you have to use more moisturizing cream now, the harmattan just dries you out.”

Here we go again, I thought.  Not home five minutes and we were back to the old routine.   This was home.  This was Christmas.

*****

I have always loved spending Christmas in the village.  As far back as I can remember, we always went to the village for the Christmas holidays.  Now as an adult I remembered with nostalgia the dry, cold winds of harmattan and the rustling of dry leaves that had fallen off the trees.  The smell of smoke from burning grass from different farms, the dry red dust were all a part of Christmas, much like the snow was an intrinsic part of Christmas in other parts of the world.   Coming home this year was special for me because this would be the first time that I was going home for Christmas in three years, having spent over two years outside the country pursuing postgraduate studies.   In those two snowy cold Christmases in Canada, I missed the smells and activities of Christmas back home.

 This year I was traveling to the village with my mother, a departure from earlier years when I traveled in my father’s car if I could, slow driver though he was, because he would always sing us funny songs and buy banana and groundnuts at the Oji junction.  That I was able to come back this year was an absolute blessing, I mused, looking out of the window at the bread sellers who were rushing to our slowing car to beg us to buy their bread.

“Wind down your glass,” my mother told me as we drew near Awka junction.

“Ehn, ehn, no, no, we don’t want “kingdom” she shouted, referring to one of the types of bread on display, if you could call the many loaves of bread pushing into my face from the hands of up to five people a display.  The bread sellers were jostling against each other and each was shouting and asking me to buy theirs and that the bread was fresh.

“Nne, get us “goodwill,” my mom says fumbling in her handbag for money.  “Make sure it is fresh.”  There was no sell-by date.  You could only tell that a loaf of bread was fresh by smelling it and squeezing it to make sure it was soft.

 “Have you chosen one?  Ok, make it three, we should give Mama Hyacinth one when we get home.”  When I chose three loaves from two different persons, my mother told the others to go away as they continued to shove against each other hoping that we would buy some more.

This, too, had always been the tradition, buying bread on the way to the village, some of it for breakfast in the mornings, some for distribution to poorer relations at home.  We also used to buy cabin biscuits to share to children who would crowd the house as soon as we came in, shouting and following our car as we drove into our compound.     These days there were no children coming into the compound.  We had all grown up. So we did not buy cabin biscuits.

The journey so far had been pleasant.  My mother gave me all the news from home, including that Ada, one of my cousins who had left two marriages, was getting married again.   How was it, I wondered, that some people could find three husbands in a lifetime, and some like me could not find even one.  I was sure my mother had the same question in her mind, given how she desperately she wanted me to marry, but she said nothing.  Also, the oldest man in the village, Nna Nna, had finally died.  Nobody was sure of his age; registration of births was non-existent when he was born.  But he had been old for a very long time.  I remembered visits to his house with my father as a child; his completely white hair, his trembling voice and hands.  I was surprised to find that I was sad, it seemed that everyday my childhood was becoming more of a memory.

“I am glad your father left before us,” my mother remarked.  “Everyday he drives slower than before.”

There was nothing to say to that.  My father had always been a slow driver who disliked driving. My brothers who could have driven him were coming back on Christmas day.  It was a pity that I was not yet making enough money to get him a driver and was unlikely to do so for some time to come, I thought.

We got home about thirty minutes later.  My mother honked the horn several times before a little boy, no more than eleven or twelve opened the gate.   A new houseboy, I thought.  Why was he not spending Christmas with his family, I wondered?

“Good afternoon ma,” he greeted my mother.

“What took you so long?” my mother queried.   “I have warned you severally that if you do not want to live with us, you can go back to your parents,” she said angrily.

He had not taken that much time, and there was really little reason for her to be so angry, but I knew better than to say that.   It would only get the boy into bigger trouble.   The boy just quietly went to the boot to get the bags.

“Where Onyeka’s Daddy?” she asked the boy.  Onyeka was my first brother.

“He is in the sitting room with somebody,” he replied.

“Somebody who has no name?  Have I not told you to ask whoever comes here his name?” she asked.

I was debating whether to intervene when she turned to me and said, “Leave those bags.  Come and greet your father.”

I held on to the bag I was carrying and just started going into the house.   My father, who had likely heard the car coming in, came out of the sitting room.  He smiled broadly when he saw me.

“Nne, nno,” he said smiling warmly, his arms held out for a hug.

I embraced him.  I was really glad to see him.   His potbelly seemed slightly bigger than when I had seen him last, but otherwise he looked his healthy self with his baldhead shining brightly.

It was good to be home.

                                                ********

“Why is the baby crying? Nkechi?” my sister, Nneka, shouted.

The children were downstairs and Nneka’s baby was attempting to scream the house down.  My sister had come in on the twenty-seventh, two days after my brothers, who had come in on Christmas day.  With her two-year-old daughter and the four-month old baby, it was a full, noisy and warm house.  A Christmas house.  She also brought two helpers, two girls who must have been in their teens.   They both seemed quiet and withdrawn, and I wondered if they wished they were spending Christmas in their homes, with their own families.

“She is sleepy,” Ugonna replied, carrying the baby to the foot of the stairs as I went to see what was going on.

“You know she likes to be walked before she can sleep, and I am sure you were sitting down on your lazy behind watching television,” my sister shouted.

“Why don’t you take the baby?  She might be hungry,” I said.

“No, she is not, I fed her not too long ago,” she replied.  “Carry her and walk around the house,” she ordered Ugonna.

When she left, my sister complained, “She is very stupid and she steals.”

“I told you to put a lock on your fridge,” my mother, who had just come into the room, told her.  “I told you what happened when I came for omugwo.  All the meat and stockfish I put in the soup disappeared from the pot.”

“I am tired of her.  It is just that finding good help is so difficult these days,” my sister said, going into the sitting room where we had all been sitting before we heard the baby cry.

I was a little surprised at the way my sister had quite simply become a mama mmadu, completely matronly, in her ways.  She sounded like somebody from my mother’s generation.    She seemed to have little or no sympathy for the girls she took on as help.  And she seemed lazier than ever, expecting to be waited on hand and foot and, shouting at every little mistake.   Was that what having children did to you, I mused.

 “You know,” I said mildly, “perhaps, you should be grateful for the help of those two girls.  Ugonna, in particular, is very good with the baby.  In fact, I am kind of sorry for them that they can’t spend Christmas with their families.”

“You are forgetting that I pay for the services they render,” my sister replied.  “I pay both of them 10,000 naira each month.  That is a lot of money, and with that money they can take care of their people at home.”

“But you must admit that they would prefer to spend Christmas at home with their families,” I said.

“Don’t be so sure,” my brother Amaechi who had just walked into the room said. “There might not be enough food for them to eat in their parents’ house.”

“Food is not all that is important.  Sharing with your family, being free as you could never be in another person’s home is also important,” I replied.

“Really? Try going hungry for one day and then you can tell me that spending Christmas in your own home hungry is more important than spending Christmas in a place where you can eat.”

“I know being hungry is difficult, that is why we should all think of ways to help poor people, including family, which does not involve exploitation,” I said.

“Who is exploiting whom?” my brother asked.  “We grew up having help in this house.  They did most of the chores.  I don’t remember you complaining then.”

“I know we did, but that does not make it okay.  I felt sorry for them most of the time,” I said.

“What do you mean by that?” my mother, who had said nothing up to this point, asked.  She clearly felt it was a personal attack on her treatment of help.  “We do not maltreat any help.  You should know that.  You grew up here.  Do you know how much money I spend on Obinna’s school fees?” Obinna was the boy who lived with my parents.  “Do you know how much money I gave his parents for Christmas?  Without my help, do you think his parents would have been able to feed their seven other children?”

“Don’t mind Ngozi,” my sister put in.  “Ever since she came back from Canada, she has become the champion of the poor and downtrodden,” she said sarcastically.  She was referring to my work with street children in Lagos.

“Perhaps, there is nothing wrong with that.  Perhaps we need to think less of ourselves, and more of other people, perhaps we need to think not just what the government is doing wrong, but we can do as individuals to better the society and help people around us,” I responded heatedly.

“Is that why you came back from Canada when you had an opportunity to remain there and make a better life for yourself?”

“Don’t you think that we need our professionals back in the country to help mend things, to propel us forward in this millennium?” I asked.

“Or to stop brain drain?” he asked sarcastically.  “You want to change the world singlehandedly.  At your age, don’t you think you should be more realistic?”

“Don’t mind Ngozi,” Nnaemeka, my immediate elder brother chipped in.  “She is living in a different world.  Other people go abroad and they send home used cars to their family.  Or send back even mobile phones for their family to sell and make money like Ikenna Akuenyi is doing in Germany,” he said referring to a guy we had all grown up with. “They arrange for their family members to come over and better their own lives.  But, what did she do?  She just looked around in oyibo land and came back with idealistic ideas.”

His vehemence took me by surprise.  But I really should not have been surprised.  I knew my siblings had not been too happy about my decision to come back to Nigeria when I finished my master’s program in Canada.  They could not understand how I could give up the opportunity to live abroad, an opportunity people prayed for, queuing up at embassies for visas and giving testimonies in church about.  Worse still, I had come back and instead of looking for a “good” job, I was working in a non-governmental organization, where I was not making very much money, all in a bid to “make a difference.”

Nnaemeka my brother, whose every thought seemed to be focused on money, was particularly upset with me.  He considered me spoilt and always sought an opportunity to tell me so.  He worked in a bank, and although he hated his job that consisted of marketing and finding new customers for the bank, he stayed in it for the money.  I think he secretly envied my freedom of thought, but I never said that to him.

“Madam do-good, let me see how you will cope when you get married and have a home, a husband, children and a busy career,” my sister concluded, sounding more than a little put out.

She and I had not been friends ever since I visited her after she gave birth to her second baby girl.  She was upset that it was not a boy and said as much to me.  My response to her was to count herself lucky that she had children at all. So many were looking for children and could not have them.   I also criticized how she always spoke English to Nneoma her first daughter, ensuring that she would probably not speak Igbo, our native language, a trend that seemed to be taking over in many Igbo families.  She responded rather nastily, telling me to go get married, have my own children and bring them up as I saw fit.   I was upset with her, but it occurred to me after I left her home that I could have been more tactful in the way I put it.   After all, many people in Nigeria might agree with her that having two girls when you wanted no more than three children was a hardship, having them struggle with English, an even worse hardship.

“Enough of that,” my father ordered.

He had sat quietly listening to us.  He was not too upset that I had come back and I knew that this was mostly because he felt that I stood a better chance of getting married in Nigeria.  My mother did not agree with him.  She, I think, had hoped that I would meet a man abroad, living in the United States preferably; Canada was way too cold and whoever talked about Canada anyway?    It was certainly not one of the “in” places. It was a bit like living in Russia or Bulgaria, out of the way places. The US was perfect.  Then she could come for omugwo when I had my first child and spend months with us, after which she would come back and tell her friends how well her daughter and her husband were doing abroad.  This was a fantasy she had when I was growing up, and she did not take my decision to come back very well at all.

I knew that I had not really lived up to the expectations of any member of my family, with the possible exception of my father, who simply considered me, the last of his children, his pet.  In the loneliness of my time in Canada, I had had time to think things over carefully and to decide that I wanted to live a life that did not answer to other people’s expectations.  I saw pictures of starving African children on television, and the charities asking for money and partnership in fighting hunger and poverty in Africa.  And I asked myself how it was that I never saw that when I was living in “Africa.”  How it was that I thought it normal for hawkers, including children, to chase after cars in traffic jams, holding onto my money till they came up with the change.

 “Meet Ngozi.  She is from Africa,” people in Canada would say.  I always found myself explaining to people that I found it strange that people thought I came from Africa.  I had always thought I came from Nigeria.  I had never even been to Ghana, close as it was to Nigeria.  I got tired of saying that Africa is a whole continent with many countries that I would possibly never visit in my life.

I loved the friendliness so typical of Canadians.  I loved the predictability of life, the constant power and water supply, and predictable timed bus transport.  However, though I loved a lot of things about Canada, I knew that I did not want to live permanently in another country, looking for all the tricky ways I could find to extend my visa and to stay until I became a permanent resident or a citizen, or ways to buy used cars or mobile phones or clothes on sale to send back home, hating my life all through the winter, the bare trees, the bitter cold winds and the early dark evenings, then loving the green, green leaves and the warm long hours of sunshine in the summer. To my surprise, I had missed the bustle of Nigeria, the noisiness of people speaking at the tops of their voices even when they were speaking to people right next to them, the food, the hot sun, the gusto with which life was lived and enjoyed like goatmeat peppersoup.

Perhaps I was spoilt.  After all, I came from a fairly comfortable background and had no seriously needy parent or sibling who would die off from lack of Western Union payments.  I told myself I wanted to “make a difference.” What a cliché that was.   I knew that I was naïve in many ways.  What stopped me from working to become rich like Bill Gates or Warren Buffet and then spreading my largess to the poor?

Nevertheless, that was how I felt.  I was determined not to be scared of tomorrow.  My sojourn in oyibo land, as my brother called it, had opened my eyes to living a life of possibility, of life not boxed in by the bare necessities of survival, to a life of extravagance in giving of myself.     My job working with homeless children in Lagos gave me a measure of peace, although I sometimes despaired at the bottomless need that no organization could hope to fill.   It did not matter that I had no car, had very little money in the bank and currently lived with my aunty, although I hoped the latter situation would change in the coming year.

And it was just good to be warm all the time, and to come home for Christmas, no longer a child, but still able to come home to some of the old comforts of childhood.

 “What are you wearing to Ada’s traditional wedding on the second?” my sister asked, partly to change the subject.

“I did not bring anything suitable.  Mummy just told me about it when I came back.”

“But, you knew you were coming back for Christmas and that many events are scheduled for this period,” my mother said.  “Anyway, you can wear one of my bubas.  I have a blue one that would look nice on you.”

“Thank ma,” I responded happily.  I knew I could always count on my mother to get me out of these sticky situations.

“Are you coming for the New Year’s Eve service with us?” my brother asked me.  I said I would.  What kind of Christmas would it be without going for the New Year’s with all the loud fireworks, the boys and girls making lots of noise and the parents walking ahead more sedately, and getting to the church to hear the priest admonishing that no fireworks were allowed inside the church?

“We are walking down to the church.  Are you sure you will not be afraid of the bangers and knockouts as you used to be?” Nnaemeka asked me, rather mischievously.

I smiled at him.  I was sure I would be ‘scared’ and I would have them protecting me all the way.

“Who wants some cake?” my mother asked.  She always baked cake for the Christmas holidays.  My brothers jumped up noisily as they used to do when we were kids.

Yes, this was Christmas.

                                                            *********

“Are we walking to the ceremony?” I asked.

It was the second of January and we were getting ready to go for my cousin Ada’s igbankwu, her traditional wedding ceremony.   Although the venue was not far off from the house, I wanted to know if we would be walking because the masquerades were going to be parading the streets of the village, as they did during the New Year festivities, and I did not want to get flogged.

“No, we won’t,” Amaechi replied.  “I know you are still afraid of masquerades,” he teased.

Before I could respond to that, my mother called me. “Come and dress up,” she said.  “You know it takes you forever.”

“She gets that from you,” my father told her.  “The boys and I will leave if you women don’t dress up in a hurry.  I want to be there before our in-laws arrive.”

We dressed up and we were soon at the ceremony.  My father presented some kolanuts and a bottle of whisky to Ada’s father.  My mother sought out Ada’s mother to congratulate her.  I greeted her mother, who told me that it would soon be my turn to get married and assured us that there was little we needed to do since they had it all well in hand, I settled down in one of the canopies to enjoy the proceedings. The in-laws arrived shortly after we did and the ceremonies began.  Ada came out to welcome her husband and his people in a beautiful lace outfit accompanied by her lady friends who had worn aso-ebi for her.

I was enjoying a plate of jollof rice, moimoi and salad, and watching Ada and her husband dance to the excellent akwunechenyi music with people throwing money all over them, when I heard Nnaemeka’s voice from behind me, “Look, you won’t believe who I have here.”   I turned round and, true to his words, I could not believe my eyes.

“Ikenna!” I exclaimed.  “Where did you come from?” I asked a little foolishly.  I was really surprised to see him.

“Happy New Year,” he said smiling.

“When did you come back?  Don’t tell me you have been around and you have not come to see us?” I asked.

“Please ask him,” my brother said.

“I only came back to the village yesterday.  I came into the country on the thirty-first,” he told us.

Ikenna was a childhood friend.  We had all grown up together.    When we were younger, we all played together at our house. We were not related by blood but we acted as if we were.  Later on, he and I attended the same university, where we looked out for each other.  After our national service, he won the US lottery visa.  He had been living in New York for the past five years.    He was doing well and he frequently sent money home to his parents, who were now retired from the civil service and had moved back to the village.

We had kept in touch very infrequently since he left for the US and I wanted to know what he was doing at home. As it turned out, he had come home to get married.   He was going to pay the bride price of his wife, who was also from our village.  I wondered if his parents had found her for him.

“So, you are home for Christmas,” he said to me.  “When are you heading back to Canada?” he asked me.

Why did he assume I was going back to Canada?

“I came back some time ago,” I told him.  “I work in Lagos now.”

“You do?” he sounded very surprised.  “You did not like it in Canada?” he asked.  “I know it is too cold, but a tough Naija babe like you should be able to rough it out.”

“Well, I wanted to come home,” I said.  I did not really want to go into any long explanations.

“Lucky girl,” he said to me, but his tone implied something else.  “I don’t know how you can stand it here, already the power outages are getting on my nerves.  We had to buy fuel on the black market yesterday for the generator.  Nothing seems to work in this country.”

I said nothing to that.  Five years was not long enough to forget what the country was like.

“So where do you work?” he asked.

I told him.

“Lucky girl” he said again.

“How so?” I asked him.

“Well, I thought that you would be making money in a bank like your brother Nnaemeka or working in a consulting firm or something.  But clearly, you don’t need the money.  Or NGOs must be paying a lot more these days.”

“How do you mean I don’t need the money?”  I asked him, cautioning myself not to get heated.  “I have bills and things to do with money too.”

“But, you don’t have the responsibilities that I do.  You know my parents are retired now and two of my sisters are still in the university.  As the first child, I have to put up the money for their fees, as well as take care of my parents.  Also, now I have to think of building a good house in our compound.”

I had not noticed anything wrong with the modest bungalow his parents had built, I thought.

“You are lucky,” he continued. You are the last child.  Moreover, you are a woman.  You don’t have any problem at all.  Soon, a well-to-do man will come and marry you and you will live in comfort the rest of your life.  Just look at Ada,” he said motioning towards the couple that was now seated for the next stage of the ceremonies.  “Her husband has just engaged in the most expensive venture of his life.”

The last statement was more a joke than anything else; Ada was definitely an expensive woman to maintain.  I had heard that he had bought her a brand new Kia car.  He could afford it of course; he was known to be doing well in the 419 fraud business.

“Really?  Is that what your wife will do? Live in comfort the rest of her life?” I asked him mildly.  It was interesting that five years in the US had not changed Ikenna’s view of life and of women, I thought.  Nor the fact that his mother had worked hard as a secondary school teacher, helping his father put them through school.

“Well, we will live in the US.  Everybody has to work there, you know, plenty of bills to pay,” he said.

I looked closely at him, he sounded serious.  How many women in Nigeria did he know who were full-time housewives I wanted to ask him.  Most Nigerian women worked and kept house at the same time.  I did not really want to get into an argument with him.

Before I could speak however, he said, “Perhaps, you could start your own NGO.  You will make more money that way.  You know, collect money from all those international aid agencies.”

“That is not the reason why NGOs work,” I said.

He said nothing to that, but his expression said that he knew better.

In an apparent effort to change the subject, he said, “You still look as pretty as I remember.”

“Don’t let your wife hear that,” I bantered back.

“Please don’t tell her,” he replied, smiling.

“I haven’t eaten,” he said.

“Let me see if I can get you some food.  Sit here,” I said giving him my seat and carrying my half-eaten plate of rice with me to the cooking area behind the house.

                                                            ********

Lord, let me land safely again.   I still have plenty to live and see in the world, I prayed with my eyes shut tight.  My stomach turned queasy as the plane climbed upwards towards the skies, the roaring noise of the takeoff hurting my ears slightly.

This time I had the window seat and I could look out and think.   And I thought how good it was to spend time at home with my parents.  How good it was to spend Christmas with my siblings, different as we had all turned out.  I had enjoyed myself, enjoyed being with my family.  But, I was not able to change any views or anything. If anything, I only succeeded in making them question what I was doing with my life.  With no husband, no children and little money, it was no wonder that they thought I needed a different life compass from the one I was using.   Recalling the loneliness of Lagos, the busyness of everyday life, the jumping off and on moving buses, the dirtiness of the streets, with gutters filled with bad, smelly water, constant power outages, and the seeming hopelessness of the job I did with street children, I knew that my family had good reason to consider me crazy for leaving an organized, easy to predict life in Canada.

My encounter with Ikenna had also given me the most food for thought.  Did I really want to live permanently in my country, with its unpredictability, the corruption which drew almost everybody in its vortex- witness my having to pay a tout to get my ticket at the airport?  Had my coming back home to Nigeria been an act of self-indulgence and selfishness?  Was I moving towards failure in life, as an okamma n’ilo, a person good only on the outside, having nothing good to offer those on the inside?  Was I working for others and not seeing those who needed my contribution right under my nose?   I could not, after all, save the world single-handedly, but I could certainly better the lives of my parents, if not my own.   My parents, however, seemed more interested in my settling down to marry than in what to them seemed my idiosyncratic search for a meaningful life and had told me before I left to keep my eyes open.  I shook my head to clear it.  This introspection was making things no clearer.

With my thoughts, the fifty-minute flight seemed shorter; I was surprised to hear that we were about to land in Lagos.  There was hardly any green vegetation to see as we flew over Lagos.   The landscape was dotted with houses so close to each other that one wondered how people could possibly breathe.  The landing this time was smooth.  There was no one to pick me up at the airport.  Instead, I had to wave off the expensive cab drivers inside the airport and head out to the road leading out of the airport where I could catch the cheaper yellow taxis.

“Aunty, let me carry your bags,” one of the men told me.

“I won’t charge you too much,” the other said, pulling on my bag.

I snatched the bag from him, keeping my eyes straight ahead.

“Where are you going?” yet another asked walking close behind me.

“Don’t mind him; his cab is too old for a fine girl like you.  Come and enter my car.”

I held onto my bag tightly as I hailed yellow taxis.  I waited in the scorching sun, sweating.  Harmattan is almost non-existent in Lagos.  I bargained until I got the right price. I put my bag in the backseat and jumped into the taxi.  I was back to my real life.   A gush of excitement went through me.  It was good to be back.  Tomorrow, I would go to work and do my bit in “saving the world” and living in a land where life amidst chaos was nevertheless enjoyed like a plate of pounded yam and ora soup, and continue this seeming life of okamma n’ilo that I appeared to have chosen.

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