‘Don’t be afraid, young, girl,’ the elderly man advanced as he sat next to me on a bench.
A thousand and one thoughts flew around my mind as he stared at me.
‘I’ve come to talk to you like I would my daughter,’ he began.
‘First of all, I must commend you for your determination…’
‘Determination?’ my eyes widened, ‘but you don’t even know me…’
‘You think so?’ he smiled, ‘the journey of a thousand miles begin with a step…the few minutes I’d spent here is enough to form my opinion about you.
‘So what opinion do you have about me?’ my curiousity soared.
‘Linking my observations with my guts feeling, I would rate you as a hardworking and focused young girl,’ he paused, allowing the statement to sink in before he continued.
‘The mere fact that you can combine the hassles involved in this business with your studies is highly commendable. I know many a young girl like you who in the bid of seeking the rosy path, had had to mess around with all sorts of men…’
What hypocrisy! I reflected. How come this old fool is condemning the very act that he is involved in?
He paused as though reading my thoughts.
‘I can guess what you’re thinking about…listen carefully, let me tell you some facts. Men are hunters by nature; no one can dispute that. Now let’s look at a different scenario, where this particular hunter, without setting any trap, now discovers an animal right in his domain on its own free will, what do you expect such a hunter to do?’
‘Sir, there is no smoke without fire. No prey naturally walks into the hunter’s territory without this so-called hunter enticing his target with food.’
‘You’re such an intelligent girl,’ he applauded.
‘But the fact still remains that Julie offered herself willingly to me…I’m a man with blood, and not ‘zobo’ flowing through my veins. Who am I to resist such beauty?’
I was stunned. What a professional way to uphold a major shortcoming!
‘Please don’t judge me,’ he continued, ‘these things happen…men are moved by what they see…the power to resist temptation resides more in the female folk than in their male counterpart.’
‘And what if Julie were to be your daughter?’
‘Impossible!’ he shook his head vehemently, ‘she can never be!’
‘Okay let’s just assume she is your daughter…’ I persisted.
‘Please don’t go there, she can never be!’
I was bewildered. Really,there is no executioner that is not afraid of death.
‘My girls are well brought up and are currently with their mother in Manchester,’ he continued, ‘my wife is such a strict woman that none of our daughters would dare go astray.’
I felt a sharp pain within. How I wish other young girls could hear the true confession of this ‘executioner.’
‘But sir is there is no way you can empower this young lady?’
‘I’ve tried that severally, but all to no avail; she is very stubborn. All that she is good at is sex. She is such an expert in that act…it’s never a dull moment with her…’ he paused at the expression on my face.
‘Well let’s suspend that subject for now like I said earlier, let’s talk about you…’
I felt uneasy. Could this be a smooth operator?
‘I want to be a part of your success story…’
His last statement caught my attention. My two ears stood still like a radio antenna.
‘What’s your future ambition?’
‘To be a Journalist…’
‘What a daring profession! And what preparations are you making towards that?’
‘I’d be writing this forthcoming JAMB exam.’
‘That’s good; you just go ahead and continue with your preparations,but as soon as the result is out, let me know about it. You strike me as someone who is strong-willed and I admire girls like you.’
‘I’m ready to help you secure admission in any university of your choice…any course…whether you meet the cut-off mark requirement or not…’
A part of me leapt in ecstasy, and while the other just pondered like Alice in wonderland.
‘I’m Chief Alex Oche Ikwue,’ he stated, handing me his complimentary card, ‘please, feel free to call me…’
‘Thank you, sir.’
‘And what’s your name?’
‘Nnenna, please never you settle for less; never!’
‘Yes sir…thank you, sir…’
A light downpour ushered in the new dawn. April 16th had been like a bumper sticker on my mind right from the beginning of the month, not really because it was my birthday, but because it was the deadline for the sale of the JAMB examination forms.
Papa’s discharge from the hospital the previous day finally calmed down every iota of tension which had plagued everybody. Apart from the leg injuries he sustained, every other part of his body was perfectly in good condition.
‘Happy seventeenth birthday to you my dear!’ mama embraced me as she offered a word of prayer on my behalf.
‘I’d never bought you a birthday present before,’ she continued, ‘but against all odds, I’ve been able to raise the money for your examination.’
She embraced me once more and gave me the sum of three thousand naira.
‘Thank you ma’ I said as my fear of not being able to write the exam suddenly vanished into thin air.
‘Happy birthday, big sis!’ my siblings embraced me as they rushed off to school.
‘Nnenna, please hurry up to the shop. Fridays are usually my lucky sales day,’ mama reminded me as she handed papa’s medication to him.
‘Okay ma, but you know I’d still stop on my way to buy the form first.’
‘Whatever, just be fast about it.’
‘Cynthia,’ papa’s voice quaked, ‘can’t we use that money for other pressing domestic needs? Is it compulsory Nnenna must write that exam this year?’
I stared at the injured man; even in pains, he was still his old self. It was pointless throwing up any defence, for it’s only a question of time, and the effect of the pill would have thrown him into a sound sleep.
His complaint however, hastened me up and picking up few other things, I dashed out of the house.
Bayo was washing his uncle’s car by the time I passed by.
‘Nnenna how are you?’ he stopped working and wiping his hands on his jean trousers, he extended his arm for a handshake
‘Fine. Aren’t you going to lectures today?’
‘I will, but later in the day. Today is our student union week and there isn’t much academic work to be done.’
‘Bye then. I’m off to the shop…’
‘Please excuse me,’ he called after me, ‘I just remembered, you haven’t given me the stories you promised.’
‘Oh that’s true,’ I recollected, ‘I’m actually in a hurry but because of you, I’d rush and fetch it for you.’
Luckily for me, mama was not in the sitting room by the time I commenced my search.
Finally, the lion had been tamed; I smiled glancing in the direction of the bedroom where papa’s snoring sounded like a locomotive engine.
A few minutes later, I heard a mild knock at the door, as though the caller was hesitant.
This can only be Bayo, I thought as I opened the door, but surprisingly, the caller was a just a small boy of about twelve years old.
‘Yes, who are you looking for?’
‘Baba …money…’ he muttered.
‘What’s the meaning of that?’
Mama came in through the passage.
‘Nnenna, what does he want?’
‘I don’t know,’ I explained impatiently, ‘the only statement he made was, ‘baba money.’’
Mama studied him carefully and smiled.
‘I think I can recognise him; he’s Musa’s son.’
‘Aboki na,’ she communicated with the young boy in The Hausa language.
While they spoke, I noticed the gradual contorted expression on her face.
Finally, she turned towards me and spoke solemnly.
‘Please, can I have the money I gave you for your exams?’
I was stunned and merely stared as though she was speaking the Greek language.
‘Didn’t you hear what I’ve just said? Let me have the money.’
Parting with the money became like giving out my entire lifeline, but eventually, I did with reluctance, while my heart bled.
She collected the money and handed it over to the lad.
‘Nagode,’ he thanked her and dashed out immediately.
‘W..why?’ I cupped back the tears, ‘mama…why? What about my exams?’
She stared at me sadly and held my two arms.
‘Calm down and let me explain…’