Excerpts from Bones & Closets (my latest novel)

Chapter Thirteen

It was late morning. The shaft of sunlight seeping through the gap in the white silk curtains settled on a spot on her exposed thigh. She rolled lazily upon the bed, rustling the sheets and exposing more of her firm thigh.

An eyelid peeled open. The eye peeked half-heartedly at the world outside through the gap in the curtains. She hissed and turned her face away from the window for it seemed to accuse her of staying in bed so far into the morning.

She didn’t bother to check the time. She never did, except when there was an appointment to keep with Otumba. She had long removed the clock in the bedroom on the very first week of her moving into the flat.

She hissed again at the thought of Otumba and the flat.

There were no plans for today just as there hadn’t been any for as long as she could remember. Everyday has always remained the same for the past four months, with the same boring routine of sleep, eat, and TV viewing. And then there was the occasional shopping and outing when Otumba felt like it.

She would have remained in bed, but her full bladder wouldn’t allow one minute of it. It was the nagging pressure that had woken her. This was one of those moments when she wished she had a tube connected from her bladder to the toilet so that she wouldn’t have to get off the deep comfort of the king-sized bed. She eyed the toilet door, hissed again and then lazily pushed herself upright. For some moments she remained seated, her dishevelled artificial hair pouring about her face like shredded strands of some black veil. Drowsily, she surveyed the spacious bedroom about her. It was neat, quiet and peaceful all about. Only the low hum of the split-unit air-conditioner broke the silence.

Edging out of the bed, she ambled with unsteady steps towards the toilet door. The oversized long-sleeved shirt she always slept in lent her the look of a character from a zombie movie. She didn’t bother to shut the door while she peed, but she took her time, seated on the closet, her hands supporting her jaw as she gazed thoughtfully into space. Done with easing her bladder, she reached for the bath-hose, turned the tap on and aimed the surging jet of cold water at her vagina. Her body erupted all over with goose pimples at the coldness of the water. She stood up, reached for a white towel hanging on an overhead silver railing and dabbed at the areas between her thighs.

Back in the bedroom, she would have returned to bed but for the beginning of hunger pangs gnawing at her stomach. And so, lazily, she made for the large wardrobe instead. She singled out a pair of close-fitting shorts, wriggled into it and donned a yellow vest, never bothering with a bra. She gathered her loose hair at the back and secured it with a band, and then she strode out of the bedroom, in the direction of the kitchen.

She leaned against the doorjamb of the kitchen, undecided as to what to have for breakfast. Her eyes roamed the kitchen. It still looked wonderful but not as it had struck her on that day Otumba had brought her to the flat and dangled the keys in her face.

The little pile of unwashed dishes from last night’s sparse supper waited in the gleaming sink. She wondered how she had grown into a lazy girl in a space of only a few months. Of all her vices, she had never recognized laziness from those days when she would have to wake up very early to help Mama prepare the foods to be sold in the shack at the Onitsha Main Market. Even in her university days, she still did her bit of academic hard work. But now, she could hardly bring herself to pick up a book or do some timely house chores without having to viciously kick herself mentally. She had asked Otumba to hire a house help, but he had looked at her with those perpetually bloodshot, bulging eyes and said to her in a leering whisper:

“Baby, this is our private getaway. I won’t want to hear of another soul’s presence desecrating the sanctity of this place.”

The hunger pangs bit at her stomach again and then she shuffled to the silver-panelled fridge and pulled the double doors open. She stared undecidedly at its chilling interior packed full with supplies she had only gotten the day before from Port-Harcourt City Mall.

It was to avoid more dishes to wash that advised her decision to reach for the remainder of the chicken breast wrapped in aluminium foil. She tossed it into the microwave, set the timer, and then summoning up courage, she attacked the unwashed dishes in the sink.

 

Eighteen minutes later she was seated cross-legged on the sitting room floor, before the flat-screen television. She had her attention torn between the warm chicken breast and Africa Magic channel. Every now and then, she would take a swig from a defrosting pack of mango juice beside her on the floor. The soft ring of her phone drew her attention. She wondered who the caller was even as she sprang to her feet to get it from the top of the CD player. It was Otumba. A wave of resentment washed across her face. She slid her thumb across the phone screen and placed it to her ear.

“How’s my baby today?” the gruffy voice sounded.

“Fine.”

“Where are you now?”

“In the house, of course. Do I have any other place to go to?”

A moment of silence lingered. She imagined the contentment on his flabby face.

“What are you doing now?”

She rolled her eyes and heaved a resigned sigh. “I’m doing nothing. Just watching TV and eating breakfast.”

He chuckled. “That is my baby.”

The background on his end was still, but she could swear he had his phone on speaker for his colleagues at the office to listen in. On some of their outings, she had been in the company of his colleagues, and the look on their faces had told her so much. It was pointless confronting Otumba; she knew him showed them their sex tapes. No wonder he demanded they tried all those hardcore porn moves in front of his digital camera. At first she had protested the idea, but the experience had taught her to grant the old man all his bizarre fantasies if she was to remain a beneficiary of his ‘generousity’. The leering look of his friends and colleagues never unsettled her anymore; they were all as old and mischievous as their friend, Otumba. They could be listening in on their phone conversation for all she cared.

“I will be coming to the house in twenty minutes time. I want you to look sexy for me. Put on that bikini I bought for you last week. In fact,” he seemed to change his mind, “forget about the bikini. Lie down in bed stark naked and wait for me. Don’t lock the front door …… And remember, don’t shave your pussy today. I would like to fuck some hairy pussy for some time until I decide to fuck a shaved one after doing the shaving myself.”

She said nothing in reply.

“Do you hear me?”

“I did.”

“Be a good girl and don’t give me any reason to feel disappointed.”

“Okay.”

The connection went dead. She sighed heavily, tossed the phone onto the sofa and returned dispiritedly to her place on the floor. Without the initial gusto, she returned to the plate of chicken breast. The television program appeared like a meaningless blur. With considerable effort, she tried to shut her mind from the imaginations of what derogatory fantasies of an ageing sexual pervert she was soon to pander to……….

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At The Mercy of Brothers

We sit, sentenced, amongst fellow brothers
Like roaches in a congregation of broilers
How did this come about?
Will they spell our crimes aloud?
Of course not;
For our cries avail nought
 
Perhaps we’re the guilty lot
Hence this is our lot
If only we were not wander lust
Our feet would never have been lost
In the soils of our brothers’ household
After all, introversy might still be a stronghold
But here we are at the mercy of brothers
 
I am not satisfied
My victimization is yet unjustified
What is my part in this restlessness?
How am I deserving of this wickedness?
Perhaps this was meant to be an isle of coconut palms
And I am but an intrusive raffia palm
Diluting this hallowed plane,
With my presence so mean and plain
 
Who is to judge this injustice?
To whom shall our plight come to their notice?
Shall we call upon them who dwell across the seas,
To precide over all we everyday see?
Who within this shores,
Can call this house to order?
Who will wash these putrid sores,
Which we inflict on each other?
Perhaps at the mercy of brothers,
We mean nothing to each other.
 
Say NO to the looting of foreigners’ shops in Pretoria, South Africa.

A House So Spent

Slowly, slowly,
Nightly shadows steal across the day
Slowly, slowly,
The shadows retreat for the approach of day.
But with unequal haste,
Does the hearts of men change their state;
And what once radiated love
Does brotherly coexistence shove.

Intolerance walks the lands
I see its imprints in the sands
What then is left?
What remains of a brother’s right?
Who is right;
They who oppressed,
Or them who are suppressed?
They who looted
Or them who are looted?

This farmhouse lies desolate
The rafters alone remain in a fair state
All occupants talk of repairs
But the four-legged ones still huddle together in sorry pairs
The winged fellows flock to the rafters,
Mocking their sorry comrades now every after
But while up they lay,
Their eggs they do lay
And down they come crashing
Whilst the winged creature looks on, ashen
But that is all there is,
For as long as this desolate house is;
Comfort or relief shall none breath
Serpentine predators shall this premises forever breach
And when moons and seasons are spent
What shall remain of this place so spent?

© Ikenna Chinedu Okeh
Say NO to the looting of foreigners’ shops in Pretoria, South Africa.

 

You Loot All That Is Mine

You loot my shop
You loot my livelihood
You cart away my pride
My manliness
My hope
My tomorrow
You loot all that is mine
 
In the night, xenophobia came through the door
By morning you carted away all that is mine
And here I am;
A scarecrow in a deserted cornfield,
Torn and ravaged by merciless winds
Now, I’m a perch for scornful crows and ravens
For you have looted all that is mine
 
When did my existence ring an abhorrent chime?
What is my crime?
Does a ‘foreigner’s’ existence spell an abomination?
Is not variety a condiment for a beautiful garden?
Has your tolerance of me become such a burden?
What then is remaining of me,
Now you have looted all that is mine?
 
I once suckled noble sons
And planted them upon the soils of my shores;
Nkrumah
Mitchel
Lumumba
Mandela
Nyerere
Mugabe
Tambo
Biko
Grang
Kenyatta
Sankara
Hani
They lived for the pride of me
They existed for the unity of the generation
But they suffered scorn and jests
Like Nnamdi Kanu, they were the jailers’ guests,
Because they dared rise against all them,
Who loot all that is mine
 
Sons and daughters of Africa,
Yours is a blessed land,
Vast from shore to shore.
Embrace your kit and kin
Stand together as one
Bask in the beauty of your variety,
And then you will no longer stand besieged,
By them who desire,
To loot all that is mine.
 
This is my protest against the looting of shops in Pretoria, South Africa.
Excerpts from my novel, ‘An Assignment In Owerri’:
 
Prologue
Somewhere near Owerri
LATE AUGUST, 2012.
Aniete thought he was alone in the magnificent church on the hill. It was quiet everywhere except for the gust of cool evening wind intermittently rustling the fruit trees that dotted the uneven grassy landscape of the churchyard. Whenever the wind stood still, the silence weighed heavily on Aniete’s eardrums that he felt like screaming at the top of his voice just to break the quietness that threatened his sanity.
He was just a youth, somewhere in his mid twenties, with large ears, pitch-black hair, and a face tensed and roughened with worry and lack of sleep. He appeared a little speck in his seat in the second pew on the centre column of the large, high-ceilinged church building. The stained-glass windows on either side cast a hallowed presence inside the church. He wasn’t a religious fellow; he had gone to church with his mother as a little boy, but those had occasions to celebrate a wedding or a child’s dedication, with coolers of steaming jollof rice and soft drinks to look forward to.
A glance at his cheap wristwatch deepened the worry lines on his face. The unknown informant was already five minutes behind schedule. He never liked shady meetings. Were it not a matter of life-and-death, he wouldn’t have considered coming in the first place. He only hoped the fellow would not fail to show up as he had twice repeatedly done. There was so much of the mess that had become of his life to clear up, and much more to lay to rest.
The dull echo of hurrying footsteps approached from behind, interrupting his thoughts. He turned tentatively. From the line of his peripheral vision he noticed a man hurrying in his direction. The man’s white clerical collar stood distinct against the blue of his loose-fitting short-sleeved shirt that flailed like a ship’s sail with every advancing step.
 
The Reverend briskly strode into the church, stretching his short legs to their limits. He was already running late for a meeting with the archdeacon; the man he inwardly despised with as much a bitter brotherly hatred a priest could be safely allowed. He hated that The Venerable Archdeacon always derived pleasure in making a scapegoat of him, and running him hard like an ass; he believed it to be some sort of calculated attempt at asserting his authority over him. A very much unnecessary trouble. Everyone knew already that the power-drunk fellow sat comfortably at the top of the clerical food chain, he was lord and king over the likes of the lesser clergymen as he. Even the bishop knew better not to cross swords with the man because of his wide connections within and outside the diocese. Every dumb priest and diocesan insider knew better than to be in the man’s bad books, but would he let it rest there? The petty bastard of an Archdeacon! Who didn’t know that the man was a weakling when it came to his own wife? It wasn’t news any longer. Such juicy information had ways of seeping through unseen crevices in the walls of the most secluded parsonages. Everybody knew it, and they would exchange knowing glances whilst the ‘venerable’ couple kept up their public appearances in the assurance that their bedroom secrets were safe behind the close doors of their bedroom. He wished the balding man didn’t preside over his fate, especially now when the news making the rounds was of some diocesan appointments to be made. He was in desperate need for one of such; at least a chaplain in some important organization or a principal in one of the diocesan seminaries or convents. It wouldn’t feel right to sit by and watch his colleagues from the Theological College surpass him that much. Only if he had a godfather higher up the clerical ladder to further his cause.
He noticed the form seated in one of the pews ahead. Even though the church was always left open, he hadn’t been expecting seeing anybody in there. In all his three years as the parish priest, he had never met anyone meditating all alone in the church. The villagers contributed towards the church building, they still did, and then gave their tithes and offerings and goaded their children abroad into making big donations, but that was as much religious as they all were. They weren’t given to prayers or meditations in the church building on any days or nights. Strange things do happen, he reasoned as he approached, not slowing his pace. He recognized the face. It was the same fellow from yesterday, and still seated at the same spot! The face was that of some stranger, he could tell, because he had never seen it on any Sunday services. He appeared a troubled young man, a city dweller perhaps, just returned to spend time with his parents in the village. But then why did he have to sit alone by himself? Was it not for the meeting, he would have stopped by to have a word with the strange fellow, to give him some spiritual guidance and hopefully win back a lost soul to the Christian flock. But he had only come to get some copies of the monthly financial report he was supposed to present to the archdeacon. He resolved to just say a ‘hello’ as he walked by the young man.
The youth had his eyes shut, he observed on coming closer. The blackened thin lips moved silently too; he was murmuring a prayer. The Reverend thought better of interrupting him; he hastened on towards the altar brilliantly lit by the sunset coming in through the huge stained altar windows. He parted one part of the heavy purple curtains besides the altar, and disappeared through a small door.
Aniete had recognized the man from the day before; he still wore the same short-sleeved shirt, with the white clerical collar, tucked into black trousers meticulously ironed so that they stood stiff with a razor-sharp line running vertically in front. He never liked priests; they made people feel belittled and vulnerable. He didn’t want to encourage any discussions with the man, and so he had feigned deep meditation. He cracked his eyes open a fraction in time to see the priest hurry in through a small door by the magnificent altar, and then he dropped his guard, but only momentarily.
He glanced again at his watch. Another twenty minutes had gone already. He sucked air into his lungs and exhaled noisily, resolving to wait for another ten minutes and no more. After then, he decided, he would have to leave and forget everything about this shadowy fellow.
Two men strolled in through the eastern arched doorway. He turned in the direction of their footfalls. They looked a very unlikely pair. Where one was short and stout, with bow legs that made him waddle like a duck, his partner was skinny and tall with sunken eyes that made him look like a man from a photograph of drought-stricken Somalia. If there was anything the newcomers shared in common, it was only their dark complexion. In their composure, they both seemed to contest for attention; the short one’s pair of white trainers appeared too large for his size. They accentuated the oddity of his bow legs and his duck-like waddle, making him look all the more like a creature meant for the circus. The tall one walked with a slight waver that made it seem like a suicide mission to walk on a windy day. They were both engaged in some heated argument with the short one appearing to be gaining the upper hand. Their argument had reduced to a low whisper as they strolled into the quiet church, but then the whispers were still magnified by the emptiness of the building. They walked on, crossing towards the western arched doorway like two travelers using the church as a shortcut. When they came abreast the altar, they fell quiet, faced the altar and then bowed deeply before continuing on their way. Their heated argument picked off from where it had been left off as soon as they had walked past the arched doorway and out into the open church yard.
Twenty minutes more had passed and the informant hadn’t yet arrived. Aniete’s patience had worn thin; the fellow must know better not to be tardy in matters as this; it made one paranoid. He got off his seat, and made towards the southern doorway. He favoured that exit because the short stairs offered a lesser view of the church building to an observer down the hill, unlike the other more conspicuous entrances. On the third rung of the wide steps, a sharp sting bit into his stomach. He doubled over instinctively, clutching his stomach in both hands. It was seconds later before the shot rang out loud and clear against the evening wind.
He had been shot! Thank God he was still alive; they said you never get to hear the bullet that killed you. An angry bee wheezed past his temple at that instant, only grazing the tip of his right ear. The accompanying shot rang out seconds later. Another shot! He made to hurry into the church, but too late. Another bullet tore into his right shoulder just as he had straightened up a fraction. He fell facedown upon the steps. All the while, he hadn’t felt a thing, but the pains came surging through his body. It appeared as though someone had poked a red-hot branding iron into his stomach and shoulder. He crawled on his belly, up the steps, determined to get into the sanctuary of the church before the unseen shooter finished him off. With every determined effort to make away, the pain seared through his body, clouding his vision. He fought to climb into the church just as he fought to stay awake, but as much as he tried, the darkness like a blanket descended over him. And then the world turned blank. Everything stood still and peacefully quiet in a strangely different way than the quietness inside the church.
 
Two men hurried towards the body sprawled facedown on the steps like a poisoned rat. The short, bow-legged one nudged the limp body with the sole of his big white trainers. His locally-made pistol, still smoking from the wide rusty muzzle, hung down his arm. He dared not tuck it into his belt lest the hot metal scald his skin: but for the layers of rags tied around its butt, he couldn’t have been able to hold the hot gun in his hand after firing off the first shot.
“Is he dead?”
He tilted his head to throw a sidelong look at his slim companion standing next to him. It was the kind of look a man would give his son for asking a stupid question. “Before nko? Don’t you have eyes? Or do you think he is Rambo?”
“Let me shoot him another bullet again, just to be sure.”
The short one stopped him before he could take aim. “What is wrong with you? Don’t you know that bullets are bought with money, or do you think they shit them? You just wasted some bullets and you are still not satisfied.”
“Who told you that I wasted bullets?”
“Do I need to be told? Don’t I have eyes?”
“Was I not the one who shot the bullet that finished him off?”
“Which one?”
“The head shot.”
“You dey craze abi? Look at his head, do you see any wound?”
The tall one examined their victim’s head. “Only a small wound.”
“When did ear and head become one? Looks like on your way growing towards the skies, you forgot your brains at your knees.”
“Hey! Stop it there! Don’t try to insult me again.”
“Why then should you act like someone who never went to school?”
The tall one hissed. “So you win abi?”
“Yes na. You will be the one to give me three bottles of Gulder.” He was still grinning triumphantly as he signalled for them to leave.
Their pistols cooled down considerably, each man tucked his piece into the waist of his trousers as they began the leisurely descent downhill like two common villagers. They had begun their argument anew so that the evening wind wafted bits of their sentences over the distance. Nobody could tell that they were assassins, light-hearted at the knowledge of a job well done and the promise of payday.
 
The Reverend hurried out of the small office. The last-minute decision to put some careful touches to the financial report had robbed him of some valuable time. He had felt that the cost incurred on hosting the visiting foreign missionaries for one week might alarm the archdeacon. It would be unwise to give the petty bastard something to hold onto, and not especially now when the man would be looking for some excuse to deny him a place in the new diocesan appointments. The distant gunshots had come to him while he was absorbed in doctoring the figures, but he had dismissed them to be one of those crazy university cult boys at their thing again. He had only sacrificed a few seconds to ponder on why people placed little value on their lives only to cling desperately to it in those few minutes when they were about to lose it. And then he had returned his full attention to the figures again.
He rushed towards the Southern doorway, and onto the steps. He nearly would have tripped over the body lying lifelessly facedown had he not halted just in time. It probably was because he was in the hallowed premises of the church, but it had to be a miracle that he missed suffering a heart attack at that instant. He recognized the lifeless face. The sight was too strong for his senses to withstand. The young man he had seen praying only a few moments ago now lifeless and bleeding on the steps! He struggled to gain control of his quivering limbs and his frayed heart threatening to leap out from his mouth. He looked about. Thank goodness there was nobody in sight. He stepped over the lifeless body, careful that his shoes did not so much as brush against it, and then he flew down the hill, a slim file containing the printed financial reports tightly clutched under his arm.
God forbid he would be the one to bear the news of a murder in the church, he swore. Someone else would have to bear that cross……
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