THE JOY OF MOTHERHOOD

She looked at the baby and tears poured out her red, swollen eyes. A beautiful baby boy he was. Three weeks old. He was her only child in her seven years of marriage. The child had followed two daughters and a son who had all died before the age of two. The doctors mention causes like pneumonia, typhoid and convulsion. Lies. The kids died of poverty. The ailments were just reasons. Good reasons that weren’t real reasons. Indeed they suffered these but because of their drunken father’s inability to contemplate hospital bills, she had treated them only with drugs gotten on credit from the chemist’s and one after the other they had died in her hands.

Now she had another one.

She wiped her tears with the back of her veins-infested hand, the tears were beginning to soak the boy’s cover; she put the boy on his cot and began to walk small circles in her bedroom. She pitied the baby. If babies chose the families to be born into, he had made a mistake by choosing hers. He wouldn’t stay. The world wasn’t ready for him. She wasn’t ready for him.

Yes, she wasn’t ready for him.

She had employment, a good one. She worked in a big micro finance bank in Ikeja where she earned a lot, more than would be sufficient to take care of this baby and her lazy, jobless, unemployable husband, Nosa. But she had more than that on her neck. She had another family. Or, in clearer terms, her parents’ family, where she was the first child among six other siblings. The father was a sick breathe, having suffered a devastating stroke two years back. The mother had an expensive sickness—diabetes. Her siblings were all in school and she catered for them all. She paid for their fees, drugs and even house rent. The mother had a small shop from which they fed, things that went beyond the mouth had come from her.

It is a cruel world. She had known her own sufferings before now. Her first five years of marriage was a long tale of poverty, the trophy being her dead kids. Then, she hadn’t gotten this job. She was just a school-leaver who waited for her husband to feed, shelter and clothe her. He was a contractor but apparently didn’t do a single contract in these years. They lived on his past glory. First they sold the car, then the plasma TV, then their upholstery, and then they left the flat into a single room apartment. Then there was nothing more to sell and poverty began to eat into them. Nosa began to hit the bottle…

It is a cruel world. The month she got her job in the bank was the same month her father suffered his stroke. So she practically spent her first salary saving his life. He survived but was incapacitated. The insurance company he was slaving for all his life laid him off. He worked in the insurance but was uninsured against the harsh turns of life. Bed-ridden he summoned enough strength to call his daughter on phone. ‘My daughter,’ he had said, ‘the family now rely on you for their upkeep. I know it is going to tell on your young shoulders but please endure it. It won’t last forever. In three years’ time your brother will graduate from medical school and relieve you of the burden.’ Stamped. Official. She was sentenced for three years.

Now she had given birth to her baby. She now had enough money to take care of him but she didn’t. In the bank it wasn’t allowed for workers to bring their babies to the vicinity of their office. There was a Day-care two kilometres from the bank but it was expensive. The fee was half of her salary. They opened between eight and five, Monday to Friday. But she was in the bank before seven thirty am and didn’t leave before until six pm. And she sometimes worked on Saturdays and occasionally on Sundays. The Day-care was out of it. She couldn’t bring her mother from Benin City to baby-sit for her because her mother earned bread for the family. Moreover, if her mother left the father would not survive her absence. They were still in love, nay attachment.

All her siblings were in school. If she brought her last sister here and put her in school the school fees in Lagos would weigh her down and Nosa could even harass her. The poor girl had got breasts. She wasn’t really sure if Nosa would molest her, but she would rather not trust a drunk. His blood-shot blank eyes frightened her; and his giant fists which he smashed into her face whenever he wanted food or her thigh intimidated her. He had never gotten anything right, even love-making. She could remember vividly that fateful day when he had lay on top of her and didn’t thrust; he just lay there, strangling her with his hard body. Suddenly, his mouth burst open and he vomited greenish murky water into her face! No, she wouldn’t trust this man with her sister. Again, the baby was way too small to be left without breast-feeding for fifteen hours every day! You see, she left work as early as five am (so as to beat the traffic) and although she closed by six pm the traffic kept her on the road until ten pm, at least. On any day it rained, she reached home at mid-night…

A cruel world it is. She was due to resume work next week when her one month maternity leave would expire. She had been squeezing her brain for a perfect solution that now might never come. Abortion had come to her mind before but she had dismissed it. Then she had enough time to think up a solution. Now the months were gone, the baby was here; this was the time to make the decision, a tough decision: either she left the job and everyone starved or dumped the baby somewhere and hurried away. She wouldn’t want to live with the guilt of an abandoned child, a child that could be abused, a child that would curse her forever.

She sighed, a cruel world. Next year her brother would graduate from medical school and she would no longer care whether he could take care of the family or not. But before then she would continue caring…

She lifted a pillow and raised it above her head, a tough decision. She was going to kill the child. Her hand shook, her heart bled and her eyes flooded with tears. She loved the boy. He was a fine, fair toy. He cried so little. He looked so much like his father. He would grow to be tall and handsome. But he wouldn’t have the chance. She would end it now…

‘I pray you understand,’ she said. ‘You are just a few weeks old. I have my entire family on my back; not enough space for you, for now, my sweet boy. I know you would do the same on my shoes.’ She brought the pillow close to the boy, set to press him. Her legs shook, sweat streamed down her face, but she was determined to do it. She remembered Okonkwo. She had hated him for killing Ikemefuna, the boy who called him father. Now she understood. Okonkwo was not a bad man after all. He understood the meaning of duty. She was now in his shoes, Mrs Okonkwo she was. She would do it.

As the pillow began its lethal descent, the boy’s s tiny mouth broke into a toothless smile that brought dimples on his soft cheeks; she didn’t see the smile. She didn’t want to. She placed the pillow on him and smothered home. For love and family.
tears

(This story is the edited and expanded version that was first published in Black Heart Magazine as ‘Mrs Okonkwo’)
tweets to @Oke4chukwu

GOING DOWN CHINESE ROAD (DAY SEVEN)

Sade looked at the Cuban with refined hatred. She turned to James. ‘I will never jump fence, you know that.’

James sneered. ‘You don’t have a choice, Sade. The Russians have paid a high prize for you.’

‘You can take a horse to the river, James, nothing more.’

‘But if I throw the horse into the river, it will surely drink.’

Sade regarded James with a mixture of anger, pity and disgust. ‘I thought you were a patriot James.’

‘I was, Sade but everyone has a price. Everyone can’t die a slave. Look at you, what haven’t you done for this country? Now, how do they pay you back? They throw you to the Chinese devil. I am not a fool; I know when to jump. You too have a price.’

Sade shook her head. ‘I don’t have a price; Sade will never jump, she will never betray her country.’

‘But your country betrayed Sade; they framed Sade and left her in the mercy of the Chinese. You should jump for Russia.’

Sade rose to her feet.

‘Please sit down,’ James said, his hand making for his pistol butt in his jacket.

‘My country betrayed me, yes, but I am one person. It is not the same thing as me betraying my country, one hundred and fifty million people, which is what you have done. I will never do that James. And if you send me to Russia, I am going to kill half the population.’

James laughed and exchanged ominous glances with the Cuban. ‘Sade, we have thought of everything. You are too dangerous to leave loosed. And as soon as you arrive Moscow we will erase your memory. You will wake up a Russian, with Russian name and identity. You won’t remember anything, not your conscience, not love, not even God; but you will never forget one thing, your killing skills. You will just be an instrument of death. You won’t just be a robot, no; Sade, you will be worse than a robot.’

The muscles in Sade’s stomach began to tighten in spite of herself, but her face remained dead-pan. ‘You can’t do that, James.’

‘We wasting time,’ the Cuban complained.

‘Our friend is impatient.’ James brought out a two radio phone. ‘Bring him here.’

Sade’s heart began to hammer on her chest. ‘Him? Bring who?’

‘Let’s wait a moment.’

The moment lasted a century for Sade. Her worst fears were confirmed when the door of the interrogation room opened and two big men entered pushing an unconscious heavily bandaged Dozie on a wheel-bed. Sade rushed towards him but a hand grabbed her wrist, wrung her around and cut her face with a righteous blow that did its job. Sade didn’t know who hit her; she just found herself on the floor.

‘Don’t be emotional about this,’ James advised.

‘You leave the poor man out of this.’ Sade was out of breath.

‘No no,’ the Cuban said. ‘You kill my wife I kill your man. Draw draw.’

‘Your wife was a traitor.’ Sade sat up. ‘She was spying on Nigeria. And you know the rules, spying carries the death penalty.’

‘Ever heard of the word vengeance?’ James asked her.

‘You stay out of this James. Dozie has nothing to do with his wife, I am responsible.’ Then she began struggling to her feet, with the hand-cuffs it was real struggle, but Sade rose to her feet. She came to a stand before the Cuban. ‘If you want to kill anybody, kill me!’

The two big men came forward and held Sade on either elbow, ready to pounce. Mr Hernandez brought out a small pistol and pointed it on Dozie’s neck. ‘It was knife you kill my wife. But I don’t like knifing.’

Sade couldn’t watch Dozie die. ‘I beg you in the name of God, leave him out of this! He is not my husband, we only became lovers few days ago, you can’t kill him.’

‘You kill my wife!’

‘She was a spy!’

‘I love my wife.’

‘Then take your revenge on me!’

The Latin American shook his head. ‘We want you in Russia. So I kill you man.’

‘James, you can’t let him do this. Come on, where is your conscience?’

‘You asked me to stay out of this…’

Sade was at the verge of madness. ‘If you kill him I am going to be so heart-broken, I won’t concentrate in Russia. If I go to Russia we become associates! Why do this to a comrade?’

‘We wasting time,’ Hernandez rammed his gun on Dozie’s neck.

Sade’s heart stopped beating.

James hand-held phone began to ring.
# #

About twenty-five Chinese men armed with heavy machine guns stood around Mr Xing in the dark hall of an abandoned building; the hall was lit by a small bulb and the hatred in Xing’s eyes.

‘Put on your masks,’ he ordered. Fifty hands put on black hoods over yellow faces.

‘Your assignment is to launch an attack at the Secret Service Headquarters. They think they can deceive us, but China can never be deceived. We will get her our way. When you get there, shoot at anything at sight. You have all seen the girl’s picture. Now, whatever you do, don’t leave the headquarters without her dead body. Is that understood?’

There was a Mandarin chorus of yeses.

‘The Nigerians are no fools. They will know we did it. But if they can’t prove it, then we can bluff it away. We could blame the attack on Boko Haram.’ His voice rose menacingly. ‘But don’t leave any clues that will point back to us. If any of you falls, take his body or if his body is too heavy, take his head off. Whatever you do, the Nigerians shouldn’t know we did it. Understood?’

‘Yes sir.’

‘Good luck. Remember, no errors.’

The men began to troop out to the hall, ready for war.
# #

James hissed when he saw the caller was the National Security Adviser.

Mr Hernandez’s face crowded as he watched James lift the phone to his ear.

‘Hello, sir.’

‘James,’ the National adviser’s voice was firm and piercing. ‘What is the status of Sade?’

James hesitated. ‘She is dead.’

‘Don’t lie to me, James, Sade isn’t dead. What the hell are you up to?’

‘What the hell do you people want from her? Didn’t you wash your hands from Sade a few days ago? For a crime you yourself committed!’

‘Forget history, James. We are interested in Sade. We gave the Chinese seven days and they didn’t use it. There is an urgent job for Sade in Brazil. Get Sade into a plane and fly her to me immediately.’

‘I am not going to do that, sir.’

‘It is an order,’ the superior security chief shouted.

‘I won’t take your useless orders; you can’t order me around. You guys wanted Sade dead and you left her offside; now you have a job in Brazil for her; that is nonsense! Utter nonsense!’

‘Do you know who you are talking to?’

‘I don’t care!’

‘I—’

James flipped close the phone.

‘Who that?’ the Cuban asked.

‘A stupid politician asking that I transfer Sade to Abuja.’

‘You dare not do that.’

‘Of course,’ James said.

Dozie coughed and stirred. Sade rushed to him and knelt before him, her hand trembling on him. ‘Dear!’

‘Wait,’ James touched his Cuban accomplice on the shoulder. ‘Let her have a minute with her lover. 60 seconds.’
# #

The National Security Adviser dropped the call and smiled mercilessly at the phone. He pushed the blanket off his body, stepped on the tiles and walked to the fridge. As he brought out a bottle of gin he came to his decision. He left the bottle on top of the fridge and walked back to the telephone on the foot of the bed. He dialled a number. It rang for a few moments before been connected and a tired voice grumbled a ‘hello’.

‘Toby, listen…’

‘It is almost 1am,’ complained the tired voice.

‘Toby, listen. James has defected.’

‘What? James is the last man in the Service to defect!’

‘Well, he has and I think Sade is in danger. Take a squad to the Headquarters, arrest James and get Sade here. If need be, use force, kill anybody who stands on your way. It’s under my authority, use all your power! Get Sade out!’

‘Yes sir.’ Toby was now fully awake. The Adviser’s orders were never manhandled.

‘How long before you get to the Service headquarters?’

‘Twenty minutes.’

‘Make it fifteen. I always forget, how many years have you been in your rank?’

‘Six years.’

‘That’s too long. Your promotion will be made public this week, but first get Sade out alive. I am not sure, but I suspect I don’t like James too much. If you get him on your custody, arrange a little accident for him. Understood?’

Toby who was only thinking of his promotion answered, ‘Sure, sir.’
# #

Dozie opened his eyes and saw Sade’s saddened face. He couldn’t place where he was, but the pungent smell of forebodings was overpowering.

‘Didn’t know we will ever talk again.’ Sade smiled brightly in spite of her fears.

‘Where are we?’ Dozie’s voice was surprisingly strong.

‘On our wedding bed,’ Sade whispered.

‘I see.’ Dozie sighed. ‘I was going to say this is my death bed.’

‘Please don’t say that.’

‘Our wedding was today?’

Sade nodded. She couldn’t trust her voice.

‘Why are you not on wedding gown?’

Sade looked at the lace Jemima lent her. ‘It’s traditional wedding.’

‘And you are crying.’

‘Tears of joy.’

‘And the hand-cuffs?’

Sade swallowed hard. ‘They are the wedding ring.’

‘Why am I not wearing any?’

Then Sade saw it, a shade of red liquid had stained the sheet around Dozie’s head. His breathing was becoming more and more laboured. It must be palm-oil, yes it must. She hadn’t seen palm oil in years, she couldn’t tell how palm oil got to Dozie’s sheet but this just couldn’t be blood. The liquid was, Sade looked at it closely, so much like blood! The sickening revelation of the issue dawned on her when she looked up and saw the mischievous smile of the Cuban. ‘Y-you-you shot him?’

‘You kill my wife…’

‘NOOOOOO!’

What happened next was not the doing of Sade. It was Sade who pleaded with them to spare Dozie; it was Sade who told Dozie the fiction of their marriage; it was Sade who saw the blood. But the woman who charged at the sight of Dozie’s blood wasn’t Sade. There were four men in the room but no one saw it coming. They just saw Sade flying up, then Sade, Dozie and his bed and Hernandez tumble to the floor. It took the two big men minutes to disengage Sade’s hand-cuffs from the Cuban’s neck. As the men dragged Sade away, James stepped in, felt the Cuban’s pulse and shook his head.

‘She broke his neck. It is over for us! We can’t go to Russia without him!’ James kicked Sade on the belly. ‘How dare you!’

Sade writhed with pain but her face sustained its sardonic smile. ‘He shot my man, I broke his neck.’

‘You will die for it,’ James placed his gun barrel on Sade’s chest.

Gunshots began to sound on the background. James withdrew his finger on the trigger. ‘What is happening?’ he asked no one in particular.

His mobile phone and the telephone began to ring simultaneously. James hesitated then connected his mobile phone. ‘Hello.’

‘This is Toby,’ came the voice. ‘You are under arrest.’

‘Arrest? For what?’

‘I am only taking orders, James. Please, let’s not quarrel over this. But I will be grateful if I meet Sade in good shape.’

And the call ended. ‘Fool,’ James cursed. He stretched his hand to the telephone and lifted the receiver. ‘Who is this?’

‘We are being attacked by gunmen,’ came the receptionist’s strained voice.

‘Who are the attackers? The Chinese?’

‘Yes, sir. Nearly thirty of them attacking from all sides.’

‘It’s okay.’ James sighed with frustration. His Russian dream was in shambles, now the Chinese would mow him or Toby’s Service Policemen would squeeze him. He didn’t know what to do to Sade. Even if he escaped these, the National Security Adviser would never forgive nor forget about him. Gunshots continued to report in the building. He turned to the two big men.
‘This building is under fire. Go out and defend it.’ His voice was weak. The men left. He looked at Sade on the floor, Dozie’s bloodied head on her lap, and he bit his lip with hatred. He would just shoot Sade and end everything, why not? Well, the Chinese were here; perhaps to kill her now would be doing her a big favour; let the Chinese come and have their prize.

Dozie was now unconscious. The Cuban had shot him on the neck. Sade in all her years in the field had never seen anyone survive a bullet wound on the neck; but she wouldn’t let Dozie go. Her eyes were locked on Dozie’s handsome innocent face. He could be sleeping! The Chinese were coming, but she wasn’t afraid of them. If Dozie died, she would have no need for life and would gladly let the Chinese take her; but if Dozie survived, not even a billion Chinese people could subdue her. Everything rested on Dozie’s fragile life, a life which at this moment was ticking, ticking, ticking…

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

I want to thank Chikaodili, Sade’s first reader. When I started Sade, I would call her on phone and bore her with the un-straightened scenes. She listened attentively and urged me on. If she had dismissed the story, I wouldn’t have continued with it. Thanks, I will always be grateful. Thanks too, to Ella Amecks who supported this project whole-heartedly. She it was who encouraged me to include romance in the story and when I created the character that would love Sade, she named him Dozie. Now, imagine what this story would have been without Dozie! And Ella went on to edit five Days for me. Nne, I owe you more than I can ever give.

When my co-pilot and assistant, Alexis read Day One, she said she wasn’t thrilled; Kesta read Days One and Two and said ‘you tried sha’ before laughing at my glib effort. I laughed too, but I wished I had a hand fork to poke his big nose. Then Oge read Day One and said I should turn it into a film. Thanks sister for giving me the courage to face Alexis and Kesta after their cold-water responses. I might have abandoned the project, if not for you, Oge. When I returned to Kesta he opened my eyes to the real thriller, with his experience of having read over nearly a thousand thrillers, I got the work heightened and removed implausibles. Then I returned to Alexis and got a pass mark. Thanks Kesta and Alexis for your tough loves.

Herbert read Day One and made corrections, thanks boss. Ruth read Day One and in her analysis called me a small Achebe, thanks for making my head swell. Thanks to Moses who gave me the e-version of Sidney Sheldon’s entire books, (Sheldon taught me the rudiments of thrilling) and who never fails to retweet Sade. Thanks Seun—Engineer ‘the ‘‘men’’ of God’ who does 100% share of my blog on Facebook; my regards to madam, my ardent reader. Thanks Ugbem for your intriguing encouragements. Thanks to my ex-roommate who introduced me to the wild life of Jack Bauer. Thanks Vicky for your Day One encouragement that carried me throughout the Days. Thanks to Vincent who encouraged my founding this blog. Thanks to Walter whose blog mentors mine. Thanks Mwangi whose novel Going Down River Road inspired this title. Thanks Adeline who did the first share. My gratitude to Haske for your constant support. Miriam for your constant love for my work I say na gode.

My brother Daniel took the blog personally and Sade seriously, thanks man. To my sister under whose house I began writing Sade and for the overfeeding, Thanks. To Favourite Cousin Loveth who thinks I am already as good as Achebe, imela.

How could I forget Sencen? Sade’s biggest lover, I can’t thank enough. She is my biggest commenter and the first non-Nigerian reader of my blog. Kenyans, South Africans and Americans now read my blog, but it is Sencen’s Zimbabwean connection that waters my eyes and greases my elbow. Nor would I forget Anie, Sade’s biggest adversary and a good critic of the episodes.

Thanks to Ahmadu Bello University for their abundant free wireless internet service.

You guys are the bomb!

And a few hours ago, Nedy read the entire six series of Sade and called me on phone to shout, ‘I love Sade, I love Sade, I so so loooovee Sade, but I love you more.’ Whenever people praise my work on Sade I frown (so as not be called arrogant—‘arrogant’). But with Nedy, it was impossible to tighten the face; I didn’t just smile, I cheered. Thanks, Nedy, I love you too. In fact, such is my love for you that when you asked me not to kill Dozie I edited Day Seven.

Thanks to the greatest parents on earth for everything, especially for sending me to the university where I met 90% of these people.

My Father in Heaven. Thanks for the gift of life, thanks for the grace to carry on and thanks for these people you put on my path. I bless You God.

(And to Sade herself I’d say, ‘Let’s do this again!’)