03 October 2007

Bad News Travels Quickly by Adesola Orimalade

The cock raised its red crowned head and crowed loudly. In the quiet early morning, it roused men from deep sleep, ushering in a new day. A man sitting on the now worn wooden stool, his wrapper carefully wound around his robust frame, he heard it too. The sun was still trying to shoot out its rays over the early morning clouds. He could hear men and women passing by his window heading to their farms, but he just sat there and stared into space.

In the palm of his left hand, he held firmly a small open pint-size calabash filled with rich foamy palm wine filled to the brim. By the side of his bare feet rested a soccer-ball-sized gourd filled with the same substance. He was not alone at the other end of the courtyard sat Bingo. Her mouth curled at the edge as if mourning with her owner, but like a loyal friend, she sat on the red dust keeping vigil from a distance. The man raised the calabash to his mouth and swallowed half of the content in one gulp, smacking his lip in the process. He was not afraid he knew what he had to do he had thought about it all through the night. He knew that any time from now, his creditors would start coming and he was going to be ready for them. He reached for the gourd and poured more wine into his calabash.

The rain came crashing down without warning heavy raindrops pummelled the road and walls of the houses. Thunder crashed overhead as he ran through the little ponds and channels of water on the footpath.

'Thank God I am nearly there' he said aloud to himself, as he as he hopped over a puddle of water. He dashed round a large mango tree and ran onto the verandah of the house, pausing in the shade to wipe water off. He looked himself over sighing in the process as he surveyed the effect of the rain on his attire. He took off his sandals and wiped them on the foot mat outside. Satisfied he looked up and knocked; gently at first, then he smacked the door twice more. He pulled on the doorknob it was locked.

'Yes! Who is that trying to destroy my door' the voice from inside bellowed, quite impatiently, he said nothing.

'Look who is there! If you do not answer I will leave you outside'

'It is me Osemeka'

'Who is me?'

The owner of the voice opened the door blocking the entrance with his large frame. His protruding belly spilled over the edge of the wrapper he tied. For a moment, he looked at the rain soaked figure expressionlessly.

'Yes what can I do for you?'

'Osemeka himself!'

'Look Okey this weather is not a good time to visit. I am planning to go to Lagos tomorrow and I need to rest'

'Osemeka I want to see you about something urgent and important'

'So important that it can't wait?'

'Yes O.'

'Ok why don't you wait for me? I will be back in the next...' He turned to go in. Through the small gap in the door, Okey pulled him back.

'So you want me to wait out here in this weather?'

Osemeka turned and pulled his arm away. He thought for a second then he opened the door.

'Go and wait in the sitting room for me. I will join you shortly', and With that, he left him standing there and walked away. Okey found the sitting room and settled down. Outside thunder crashed overhead and the rain continued to pelt the wall.

'Look Osemeka I will pay you back everything'

'But you have no job Okey. How do you intend to repay me?'

'This money is for my business as I told you'

'Ossy... ok if you must know. My in-laws are coming for my daughter Chinyere's engagement ceremony in a month's time. I am taking nothing less than three hundred thousand Naira as dowry from them'

'Ha! Okey! Is that not too much...'

'Nonsense. My Chinyere is a trained lawyer. I must make the money I spent on her back. Besides my in-law is a Senator and his family is not complaining. You saw the young man the day he came to the village ok?'


'Did you not see his shoes and car he brought? Did you notice his wristwatch...?'

'Anyway Okey I thing you should be careful. You know that from the little I know about you and this, your daughter she blames you for abandoning her and her mother when they needed you.'

'Enough of that. Who told you that stupid lie! I did not abandon them and my daughter is not going to quarrel with me. Besides it is tradition' there was a short pause then he asked his host 'Anyway can I have the money?'

Osemeka knew Okey well in fact everyone in the village knew Okey well. His laziness and unwillingness to work was a usual subject of discussion among men and women.

'Okey you know that I charge interest?'

'Yes but that is not a problem'

'My interest is fifty thousand Naira'

'What!' Okey jumped up, 'Fifty thousand Naira on one hundred thousand loan! Haba! that is too much'

'That is what I normally charge people'

'But even the banks charge far less'

Osemeka stood up 'Okey why don't you go to the bank then'

'Sorry but it is just that...' He paused in mid sentence and thought briefly

'It is ok. Bring the money'

'Very well. Wait for me while I get the money for you'

It was the wild barking of Bingo that brought Okey to the front of his house. It was only two weeks to the wedding and he was very busy handling the preparation in the village.

A black colored Jeep was parked a few feet away three men were disembarking he recognized them immediately.

'My in-laws! Welcome, welcome. I wasn't expecting you. Welcome, please sit down' he said while motioning them to the long wooden bench in front of his house.

The men nodded at him but said nothing they looked far from happy Okey noticed.

'My in-laws I hope nothing is the matter?'

The oldest among the men motioned for them to go inside the house. Okey led them in stealing glances over his shoulder as the men took seats in the sparsely furnished sitting room. Bingo had followed the men in and resumed his barking Okey picked up one of his slippers and flung it at him he missed and Bingo hurried outside. The oldest man in the trio broke the news as briefly as possible.

'The wedding has been cancelled'

Okey farted quietly. His voice trembled 'But why, my in-laws? What is the matter?'

'Ask your daughter'

'Please my in-laws don't be angry. Please tell me what the issue is. What has Chinyere done to you?'

For a brief moment, the men looked at each other. Okey, now visibly worried scanned their faces seeking an answer. The oldest man spoke again.

'Well your daughter has an incurable disease. We will not allow our son to marry her!'

'Incurable disease? What do you mean by that?'

The ceiling fan was on and the air was cool. It was late evening. Okey drenched in sweat, wiped his brows with his palm.

'I said you should ask your daughter. All we are here to do is to inform you that we are no longer interested. Period!'

The three men left as quietly as they had come Okey sat there, alone, as the sunset. He was still sitting there, alone, when the sun rose the next day.

Bad news does not travel on the back of a snail; it soars on the wings of an eagle. By evening, the whole village had heard the news that the wedding had been cancelled. He had tried his daughter's telephone number many times but it was always switched off. Finally he had sent Cletus; his younger brother's son to Lagos to find his Chinyere.

Two weeks later and as he sat forlorn under the mango tree in front of his house, his emissary returned, not with his daughter, but with a letter written in her small handwriting he was so familiar with. He could not remember all that she wrote but the closing words burnt deep into his memory

'...I am sorry father to have disappointed you but I will make it up. You will never see me again. I cannot live like this and I cannot show my face in the village again. I am so sorry'.

A day later, he sent Cletus back to her to '...force her to come and see me. Remind her that since her mother died, she has been all that I have and still have'. This time his emissary returned the next evening. Chinyere had packed her bags and left her house. There was more disturbing news when Cletus entered the room he had found a suicide note. Her neighbors had no idea where she had gone to or when she was going to return.

He heard him, before his eyes picked him up standing in his doorway with the early morning sun behind him, Osemeka coughed loudly. The man sitting in the middle of the courtyard half-turned. He smiled when he saw the tall and robust figure blocking the warm rays of the sun. He beckoned to him to come, motioning him to sit on the wooden stool by his side.

'Good morning Osemeka, come in, I have been expecting you'

'Look Okechukwu, I am not here to sit down. Is my money ready?'

'Ogini Kwanu (what is it?)? We are not quarrelling, or are we. Come in and let us break kola nut, it is a new day and one does not know the opportunities that it will bring to us'

'Thank you for the offer but I have three men waiting for me at home. Can I have the money now?'

'Very well. Wait for me' he got up gingerly, his arthritis causing him to wince a little with pain. He walked past his visitor heading for his bedroom. At the door, he paused and turned 'By the way Osemeka did you bring a bag for the money?'

'For how much? Don't worry just bring the money and let me be on my way'

Okechukwu paused at the door to his bedroom, smiled at Osemeka who was looking away, a frown creasing his face, and then he walked in and shut the door.

Hannah was an angry woman. At the first crow of the cock she had bounded out of her bed, grabbed a chew stick and left the house.

'Mama Franca where are you off to this early morning.' Her husband asked as he came out of the bathroom 'Let us have morning devotion first'.

'Not now. I am going to Okey's house to collect my money. It is now over two months since he collected money from me and he is yet to repay. I don't make money on trees' Before the husband could respond, she pushed past him and headed down the path.

She arrived Okey's house as he entered the bedroom. She pushed past Osemeka and headed for Okey's bedroom, cursing as she went.

'Come out you shameless man! Come out and pay me my money! Today I will show you pepper!'

In the room, Okey heard them; he reached for the loft and brought down his rifle.

'Mama Franca...'

She turned and noticed Osemeka.

'Sorry O Papa John I did not see you. It is this stupid good for nothing man. Pay me my money, he refused. But today I am ready for him. I will tear him to pieces and...'

In the room, tears fell from his eyes for a second his life flashed past him and he paused as if changing his mind, then he pushed the nozzle into his mouth, removed the safety catch of the gun with his toe, and pulled the trigger.

Bad News Travels Quickly was written by Adesola Orimalade

Copyright Adesola Orimalade 2007.

My name is Adesola Orimalade and I am a 37 year old resident of Lagos the commercial capital of Nigeria. I am a career Finance/Banking professional but love to write purely for pleasure. I am very keen on short stories; be they true -life or fiction. I also write articles that touch on socio-political and economic issues such as unemployment and armed conflict. I am happily married with a lovely daughter.


Ivor W. Hartmann said...

Great story Adesola! A gripping gritty urban story, one that looks fearlessly at the confluence of poverty, Aids and traditional values in a modern Nigeria.

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