This story is set somewhere in South-Eastern Nigeria, in a land called Eze-oke Nsu. You cannot find Ezeoke-Nsu on the map of the vast country because it is not important; it has no oil, no tin nor limestone. Its riches lies in its people, their variant forms, their tendency for spreading all over the surface of inhabited earth and to come back home every once in a year to celebrate their good fortunes, and to enlighten the ignorant on a new way of life. But then they had one flaw in common; in their romance with foreign ways, they had lost their culture but never knew it until the end of the year when neighbouring villages celebrated cultural festivals handed down to them from ancestors of time immemorial. Alas, then the people of Ezeoke-Nsu found out that they had none to celebrate, instead every man tried to live the culture he had learned in a strange land; speaking in strange accents, the boys sticking golden rings into pierced ear lobes, sporting rebellious tattoos and ignoring taboos.
This story, I am trying to narrate is set on one of such occasions; at the end of the year, marked with lost cultural activities:
Two teenage boys sat on the central patch of grassland on which stood the old cathedral built long before the war, its stone walls standing in defiance to the elements. Dotting the grassland were gravestones cast in marble; graves of prominent clerics who had died upholding the doctrines of the Church of England. As children, the boys used to be afraid of the gravestones, but now they feared not to seat in the cool of the evening amongst the dead watching the village life go by. Some others would harbor no ill in sitting some few metres away, at the foot of the giant iroko tree believed to be the shrine of some god. They never knew what god, and they never bothered to ask their fathers who still might not know either. The boys watched the village life go by while engaging in small talk. Occasionally, their discussion was interrupted by some familiar young girl passing by and they would cat-call after her, while she swung her hips tentatively while they leered after her till she turned into a corner or disappeared downhill towards Umunumuoka, a sister clan. A Lexus SUV drove slowly past, loud rap music blaring from the stereo interrupted their discussion. The boys strained indiscreetly to take in as much sight of the driver as they could through the rolled down window while he drove past nodding to the rhythm of the music. They saw enough; the tattoo covering every inch of the arm the singlet exposed, the ear ring that threw off the light, his dreadlocked hair, the Malaysian flag on the polished dashboard and the unmistakable fumes of burning marijuana that trailed after the car as it drove past.
“Do you know that guy?” Ozo, the taller of the boys asked Chidi the fatter one in excitement.
“Your eyes aren’t supposed to be in your head, they should have been in your buttocks” Ozo chided.
“Who is he? Tell me” Chidi asked expectantly
“I think it is Rugged” he said. Chidi hissed his disappointment.
“I hope you are not high on dried plantain leaves? How would you say such a thing? Is it today that Rugged disappeared into thin air? For all we know he is either dead or languishing in a cell somewhere”
Ozo contemplated it for a while, then his eyes lit up suddenly, “but didn’t you see that jeep, isn’t it more cute than Tony’s own?”
“Hmmmmm” Chidi contemplated, rolling his eyes in his head as he did. “yes, I agree. It is smaller in shape, but then it is better suitable for a ‘happening guy’”
“But eh, when I make money, I will buy the best jeep in town and ask the producers never to produce any of its kind. I will want it customized, for only me”
“Then you must make a whole lot of money to be able to pay that much to the white men”
“What do you think I mean when I said ‘I will make money’? do you think I am talking about the loose change your father used in wooing your mother over?”
“God punish you” Chidi cursed, slapping his companion hard but playfully on the head while the latter ducked a bit too slow. They both burst out laughing.
“As for me, I would go for the highest chieftaincy title ever taken in the whole of Ibo land” Chidi said when the laughter had died down.
“And what would that be?”
“uuum…..” he contemplated “I have a thing for ‘onwa n’etiri oha’, the moon that gives light to the masses, but it has already been taken by that handsome man in Umunumuoka. ‘Akajiaku’ the hand that holds wealth, is already taken”
“You have already run out on the best of titles when every year, people take new titles” Ozo said to him
“Will there still be any titles left for our generation by the time it gets to our turn to make money?”
“As for making money, I believe there will always be enough for us to make since nobody who makes money uses them in making soup but spends them. But as for chieftaincy titles, I’m afraid there won’t be any left for our generation to take. Imagine when Eze Nduka is giving off titles to one hundred and twenty prominent persons tomorrow”
They talked far into the approaching dusk, leaving off for their respective homes for dinner and bed, but Ozo wasn’t to lie easy that night. He was convinced it was Rugged he had seen driving that SUV. It had been a long while ago, but he still remembered Rugged so well.
Tobechi a.k.a Rugged was the only son of his mother besides two daughters who came in earlier before the lone son. The boy was pampered even when his parents were poor. He grew up deriving pleasure from playing pranks and so he easily made the acquaintance of the very species of like nature. They scaled fences as little boys, plucking fruits off trees in people’s compounds. As young men, they snatched wandering chickens and goats, sold them off for money and feasted on some. Aggrieved neighbours began to tread into Okengwu ,Rugged’s father’s compound with reports of his son’s misdemeanor. They contained it then but there weren’t to be able to contain it for too long. The boy grew into a heady young man at twenty two and began to get mixed up with real low-lives. He had once been rounded up by the police, sharing a rolled joint of marijuana with two other friends squatting in the bush. His father had borrowed the five thousand naira the police charged for bail, but there wasn’t to be any change for Rugged. It was said that chicken and goats scampered into the undergrowth of bushes when they sighted Rugged from afar.
One day, Mama Nnenna had complained of a missing twenty-litre tin of oil. She asked her children and nighbours, but nobody could tell where the tin of oil had gone to. She was convinced it was stolen, for the lock to her kitchen hung askew on close examination. The next day in the Orie-agu market Ezinne, the newly married wife of Nnaka saw a familiar tin of oil with a young man. She recognized it because it was her mother in-law’s own which she had lent out to Mama Nnenna only the previous day. While she prepared the evening meal with her mother in-law, the older woman mentioned something about a careless neighbour who couldn’t keep safe another’s property. On further enquiry, she disclosed to her daughter in-law that the property in question was her palm oil tin. The younger whom she had seen a like tin with in the market and then all hell was let loose; it was established that Rugged had graduated to burglary, an unpardonable offense to the community. Mama Nnenna’s house and Ezinne’s mother in-law stormed Okengwu’s home. They screamed abuses on the parents of the thieving youth who hung their heads in shame. The elders and family heads held a meeting and presented Okengwu with a non-negotiable ultimatum; their son was never to be seen any longer in the village, his presence was a threat to the peace of the land and that if after three day’s time, he was seen anywhere within Ezeoke-Nsu, nobody would be held responsible for whatever happens afterwards. Okengwu was no child; he knew that his son’s life and the perpetuity of his lineage hung on the scales. That very night, he didn’t sleep, he made arrangements and the boy was shepherded to his sister’s married in far away Ohafia before the break of dawn.
As they would say, ‘many waters swept under the bridge’ and the villagers forgot all about Rugged. Still there were tales trailing his whereabouts; some said they saw him in Enugu some described how they saw hi look-alike in Aba, but many years came and he never returned home. Nobody bothered to enquire about Okengwu’s villainous son.
Of course it was a hard life for Rugged, but one prank led to another and he eventually landed in Kualar Lumpur, Malaysia on a student visa. One year later, he has come back home to Ezeoke-Nsu, a changed man; this time with a swagger and lots of dollars to throw about.
The next morning, news around Ezeoke-Nsu was that Rugged was back.
“I told you it was him we saw yesterday” Ozo said triumphantly to a defeated-looking Chidi, “Let’s go see for ourselves” he goaded Chidi, and off they went with determined steps in the direction of Okengwu’s house.
The gate was thrown open for all to enter. As the boys entered through the gates, with less determined steps, they saw the same Lexus SUV parked besides a beastly Chrysler saloon. Two old women were walking towards them from the house admiring with shameless glee their cans of foreign soda offered them. They hadn’t drunk the ‘precious’ drink, but would keep it as a souvenir to remark their visit to the man ‘just come from abroad’.
The boys proceeded towards the parlour but stopped some metres away from the window that offered an inside view to the parlour. Elders were seated together, helping themselves to bottles of cognac on the table. Okengwu sat proudly besides his son Rugged who was the centre of attention to all gathered and to them who looked through the window.
He was bare-bodied, every inch of his body covered with undecipherable drawings tattooed all over his body. From his neck hung two huge chains bigger than the one used to secure the principal’s gate, ear-rings gleamed from both ear lobes and he dragged at a rolled joint held in place between his fore and index fingers.
The elders were cheerful, loosened with the generous flow of cognac. They were blessing him.
“Whatever it is you do, may it prosper?”
“‘Isee’ so be it”
“May those who stand in your way hit the ground to shatter like moulded clay”
“The dove will perch and the hawk also, whichever says his neighbour shouldn’t perch, may his wing wither”
“We will always offer libation on your behalf that you don’t stumble on your way” one of the elders said.
“May the good I have seen in Okengwu’s home come to mine also” another impish one said in solemn supplication.
The boys decided to come back on some other time, and so they retraced their steps towards the gate and out of the compound.
“I swear to God, I must make money” Ozo swore, breaking the silence as they walked away.
Chidi said nothing, thoughts ravaged his head. He wouldn’t be surprised should Rugged be bestowed with a chieftaincy title today. He questioned many things, mostly the borderline between right and wrong.