Akpan was born and brought up in Ibiaku Uruan, a sprawling village in Uruan local government area of Akwa Ibom state in Nigeria, which is bordered by Nduetong Oku to the north, Utit Uruan to the South and Eman Uruan westwards. He schooled in the village primary school and in the village secondary school and upon graduation, went to study at a university in another village that is about 800km away from Ibiaku Uruan. So, to a very large extent, it wouldn’t be out of place for someone to say that Akpan was a rural boy. He felt comfortable at village settings and small towns and anytime he had to go to the big city, it was a nerve-racking experience for him.
Surprisingly Akpan ended up working in some of the biggest cities of the world and it was such an intriguing experience for him, it changed his perspective on how he saw men in the cities as compared to the men in the villages, especially villages in a typical African setting like Ibiaku Uruan. A man child meant a lot in the traditional African setting. His birth signaled a lot of things such as: the arrival of another protector to the household, another extra hand for farming, another cap in the feather for a man who will one day depart this earth and be sure that no man will take his piece of land because of his son or sons and so forth.
Giving birth to only female children portends danger in the African context. Many a times people liked to prey on these vulnerable families because the traditional rites which had to do with landed properties were often times restricted to the male gender. No wonder the saying among the Ibiaku Uruan people which goes thus that, ‘when a man has only female children, he prepares his daughters to be lions so that they can ward off the devourers’.
Akpan remembered clearly his days at New York City when he was studying at the famous New York Film Academy; he was friends with Linda, a beautiful young lady from Tennessee. Linda who had never left the shores of the United States wanted so badly to learn about other cultures. Akpan loved telling tales to her about his growing up days and the things that they were proud of as children. How they observed various seasons – season for planting and harvesting, season for rain, market days, masquerade seasons, the death and burial of kings, announcements in the villages, local wrestling matches, dances and cultural displays; village meetings, launching of projects, the list was endless. He talked about how girls were wooed and how men metamorphosed from boys into men. One of the characteristic aspects of his culture was based on conquering fear. The society was structured with events orchestrated to make boys conquer fear or at the least, to pretend to have conquered it. This was a sharp contrast to what he saw in the big cities.
Linda came to him on one spring morning to tell him that she must rush back to Tennessee because her father had passed away and she was the only child. She had to go and sort out the funeral rites and other family issues. Akpan was shocked because back home and in the rural where he came from, that would have been a major catastrophe. A man died and is survived by only one daughter? Hmm, the entire members of his extended family would surely bully the girl and take everything the man owned from her.
Akpan remembered those good old days when he and his father would return from the farm and there would be double portion of food waiting for his father from his two wives. It was always fun to see how his mother and his step mother would jostle to attract his father’s attention.
Akpan’s father Okon, would eat from Akpan’s mother’s hut and then go over to Affiong’s, his step mother’s hut to eat as well. Afterwards, he would sprawl on his mat under the mango tree and doze off. Akpan and his immediate younger sister would then come around to fan him and pluck off the grey hairs from his head until he was fast asleep. As soon as he starts to snore, they would run off to play.
Akpan cast his mind back to what happened on one fateful afternoon after they had returned from the farm where they went to harvest some cassava which they planned to process into garri(cassava grains) and fufu (cassava balls)for the use of the homestead. Some would be sold as well to generate extra funds for the family. Akpan was always an active participant in this venture because this was where his school fees came from.
“Akpan!” Okon called out for him. There was no response.
“Akpanowo!” Okon called out again. There was still no response, Akpan was not within earshot of his father’s call, but within the next few seconds, there was a cacophony of “Akpan! Akpan!” resounding freestyle from different quarters of his father’s compound because other members of his family heard his father calling for him and decided to chorus his name.
Akpan eventually heard their calls and ran out from his hideout and through the lonely pathway to his father’s favourite spot under the mango shed.
“Papa, I’m here” Akpan responded
“Where were you, Akpanowo?”
“I was turning over the pressed bags of cassava” He lied
“Oh great, I am glad you remembered to do that. How is that coming along?”
“It will be ready by tomorrow”
“So you guys will commence the frying of the garri by tomorrow?”
Akpan liked the way his father always said “you guys” clearly exonerating himself from every of their household tasks.
“Listen son, sit down.”
Akpan pulled a bench and drew it closer to his father. His father was sitting on a recline-able chair but in an upright position, which was an indication that he wanted to have a serious discussion with him.
His father brought out upookh, the traditional palm wine jar from under his chair and the traditional wine cup as well. He poured a little palm wine into the cup and threw the wine on the floor. “Our ancestors, this is for you” he said in his characteristic usual manner.
Akpan frowned. ‘This was a waste of good wine’ he thought. His father noticed his expression and smiled. Akpan shrugged, it was a culture he had never really understood.
Akpan’s father cleared his throat noisily, and then came the sermon which Akpan must have heard for at least a million times. “My son”, he began, “the two reasons for doing this are, one, to rinse the upookh in our traditional way and secondly to give a little wine to our worthy ancestors who watch over us day and night”.
“Alright father” Akpan replied, wondering exactly why their ancestors preferred to have wine thrown on the ground for them to lap, rather than to drink from upookh like everyone else.
Satisfied with his own explanation, his father tasted the wine and then passed the jar to Akpan. Akpan poured some for himself and drank a little and held the cup in his hands to listen to his father.
“You know Akpan, I have been thinking that now you have come of age, there is a need for you to settle down.”
“I have watched you grow up to be such a fine young man, very responsible and I want you to know that I am so proud of you.”
If the gods were to call me home today, I know that you would be capable of handling the affairs of the family responsibly and you would fight off anybody coming in to oppress the family.”
“Thank you papa.”
“I also want you to know that, I have redeemed the parcel of land next to the swamp from Mbioto. So the land is safely back to the hands of the Ntaad family.”
“Oh that’s great news papa. So we now have a total of 36 parcels of land belonging to the family now?”
“Yes, you are correct and I have also corrected that in the family lands notebook.”
“Remember if anything happens to me, the formula I have given you to share the land?”
“Yes papa, I still remember it vividly.”
“Now, I have decided to give you as my oldest son five parcels of land. Two parcels will be used to build you a homestead and three will be used for farming purposes.”
“Thank you so much papa. I really appreciate this.”
“You are welcome son.”
“Tomorrow, we will commence the building of your homestead and in the next six months, you should be able to move in and then settle down to your own home.”
“That soon papa?”
“Yes, that soon.”
Akpan became silent for a while. “I was thinking that since I have plans to further my education, there will be no need for that great hurry for now. I can continue to stay with you people until I finish my studies then I can move into my own place.”
“That is a good idea son, but I want you to move into your place now that I am alive. I want to establish you as the heir to all my properties now that I am alive so that everybody in the family will see and know that you are the next in command. That way, when I pass away, they all will know that you are the family head, and they will accord you your due respect.”
“Thanks papa. I am so grateful. I will sleep on what you have told me.”
“There is nothing to sleep over. You should be rejoicing because what that means is that with your own homestead, you can marry and start your own family.”
Akpan didn’t see this coming; he didn’t know how to handle it. He knew that a lot of folks in the village would have loved to be in his situation but he had bigger dreams, he had his own dreams. His dream was not to be a farmer and raise family so early. He was only eighteen. He wanted to go to university and study engineering. He had often dreamt at night about being in the big University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He had often dreamed about leaving his village for the first time to experience life in a different culture. He had been saving for this great day. His mother was an ally and was saving also for his studies. The only person who did not buy into this dream so early was his father. Akpan came from the second wife. His step mother did not produce a male child early enough. His father Okon had seven children, three from his first wife, three from Akpan’s mother, and one from a concubine. Okon had two boys. Akpan was the oldest recognized male. The other male Etim, was from a concubine. When Okon was working with the Nigerian Railway Corporation, he got posted to Aba at one stage and while there, he got entangled with a girl whom he impregnated. The parents of the girl would not let Okon have the boy until he married their daughter and Okon was not ready for the marriage. So he left the boy. The whole family knew that someday that boy would appear on the scene. He was like a time bomb soon to detonate.
Akpan didn’t know how to tackle his father on this. He knew that his father’s mind was made up. But why would his father want him out of the house so early? He was only eighteen and was trying to save money for his university studies.
Six months after that talk with his father, Akpan was married to Arit amidst pomp and pageantry. Despite all his opposition to his father, he had to give in to his father’s request. The night before the traditional wedding ceremony, he lay in the porch of his newly erected mud hut and stared into the moon. His father’s words kept reverberating in his mind: ‘Son, stop resisting marriage because of your dream, nothing and no one can stop your dream except yourself’. These words rang out so well.
Akpan wondered why his father should be so bent on him marrying and leaving home early in life. Why did he have to prove that he was the heir? He wondered to no avail. Akpan swore to himself that he was going to break away from every chain holding him bound to a village life full of mediocrities and limitations, marriage or no marriage. He concluded to himself that he will never allow his dream to die.
In view of this resolution, he decided that he would start out on time to make his new wife understand his situation. So, one month after his marriage, he woke his wife up very early one morning to have a heart to heart talk with her.
“Arit” he called, tapping her lightly on the shoulder. She was fast asleep by his side.
She opened her eyes, yawned and smiled at him.
“Yes, my dear husband.”
“In as much as I love you so much, I want to let you know that I will be away for four years. As soon as I get admission into the University of my dream, I will be gone.”
“So you will leave me all by myself?”
“I cannot take you along with me. I will be studying. But I will be back for you.”
Arit became very sad and moody.
“I hear in the universities, they have very fine girls.”
“I hear so too. I have never been to a university in all my life.”
“What if you get another girl while you are at the university?’
“I will not. I love you. I am committed to you and I will not marry another girl.”
“Are you sure? Remember Okpon who married Adiaha and went to university. After graduating he got a job in a bank and married an Igbo girl. He forgot about the wife of his youth and how Adiaha went to the farm every day and sold yams and cassava every market day in order to be able to support him throughout the duration of his study.”
“Our case is different my dear Arit. Don’t take on another person’s fight. Leave Okpon and Adiaha and the Igbo girl alone, and come show me how well you are going to be treating me until it’s time for me to leave.”
Three months later, the village postmaster dropped by Akpan’s house and delivered a mail to him that turned out to be his long awaited admission letter. Akpan received the news of his admission with great nostalgia. On one hand he was ecstatic that he was about to launch out in life to pursue his dream, and on the other hand, he was so worried about leaving his pretty wife alone in the village.
Much to Akpan’s annoyance, his date for departure soon arrived. At the motor park it was only one more passenger left and the seats would be filled up. Arit snuggled on Akpan’s shoulder; they were sitting on the bench that faced the taxi that Akpan was about to board. They were eating from a food flask – yam porridge cooked with pumpkin leaves and dried fish. It was Akpan’s favourite. There was no time to eat at home that morning and Arit had carried the food, just in case there would be enough time for them to steal a bite together before Akpan boarded the vehicle. Arit would scoop and feed Akpan and Akpan would do the same. They were like two love birds nestled to each other during the winter months.
When Akpan eventually boarded the taxi, Arit was like a wave that lashed out at the sea. She waved at the taxi that ferried Akpan away until it was completely out of sight. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks. She was happy that she was married to the sweetest man she had ever imagined even if it was for four months. A strong man who was going to the university to acquire the Golden Fleece!
She resolved that she would do everything within her power to ensure that her husband succeeded. Akpan had attended a political rally one time and saw women speaking in the rally. These women were respected by men. These women were not seamstresses, they were not petty traders; they were renowned women, women of substance, women who had men driving them around in cars. He wanted his wife to be like one of those women. So, Akpan had promised her that as soon as he graduated from the University and got a job, it would be her turn to go to school. Akpan had extracted a commitment from Arit that she would further her education. He was glad his father chose a woman who had thinking prowess.
Akpan couldn’t take his mind off why his dad was so adamant about him marrying so early. His life was just about to start and he was starting off with a burden. He hated to think of his wife as a burden. But that was the case anyways. He would not be able to enjoy life in the university as he would have wanted. He would graduate with a responsibility waiting for him. He flipped his thought process, and he felt better. His wife was going to help him financially. He will be able to concentrate on his studies without distraction. He will graduate and get a job and train his wife too. So, he took it as a challenge.
Arit worked hard on the farms. She planted yam, corn and cassava on Akpan’s lands. During holidays, Akpan joined her on the farm to work. They made money and expanded. They rented additional lands and soon, they owned vast expanse of farmlands that yielded crops that fetched money. Arit started travelling to the big cities for business transactions. People travelled from the neighbouring towns to come and purchase farm produce from Arit. Akpan and Arit named their farm ‘Akparit farms’ and it became well known in the entire community. Four years flew by and Akpan graduated with a 2.1 from the university in Business Administration. He did his national youth service and came back to manage the farm, while Arit set off to the university to study marketing.
Akpan’s father sent one of his younger sisters to him on a cool evening in the month of March, asking Akpan to come for an urgent discussion. Akpan went over to his father’s compound immediately and met his father relaxing at his usual spot under the mango tree.
“Akpanowo!” His father called his name with all form of seriousness.
“How many times did I call you?”
“Three times papa.”
Akpan knew the tradition well enough that if an elder called you three times, it meant the matter to be discussed was of utmost importance and all ears should be wide open.
“Since you married and started out on your educational and agro-business pursuit, have I demanded anything from you?”
“Have you ever come back to pay homage all these years – six years?”
“Have you ever come back to make returns?”
“I don’t get what you mean papa?”
“I mean since you started making money from the lands that I gave you and rented to you, have you ever come back to declare profits and share with me the dividends?”
“But papa, I have paid the rental fee for the lands and…”
“I do not owe you anything for the lands I rented from you.”
“Listen to yourself. You are the one who went to the big school and you cannot even read my lips. Did I mention anything about rent?”
“Then I will like you to give my speech the greatest consideration and get back to me before the week runs out. I have waited patiently for seven years for what is rightfully mine.”
“I have heard you papa. I shall wait for Arit to return from big school and we shall talk about it and see what we can do.”
“What did I hear you say? That Arit, a girl I married for you and into my household will determine what comes to me? ”
“That is not what I am saying papa.”
“Then what are you saying?”
“Arit is my business partner and wife. I need to talk with her and get back to you.”
“Ok, remember I said that I would like to hear from you before the week runs out.”
“But papa she is writing her exams in the big school. I shall wait for her to return and then we shall have the discussion.”
Akpan did not foresee this coming in his wildest dream. His mind travelled back eight years to when his dad talked him into marrying at such a young age and in spite of his protests. His mind went back to the agreement he had with his wife Arit. He reminisced over how Arit had worked her socks off to ensure he had a smooth education, the great strides they made in their farm, the innovations Arit brought in, the trading part that generated for them huge income. Why would his dad want to do this to him? What was his agenda? He didn’t get it. Was that why he recommended Arit for him, knowing that she was a very hard working girl? Was that why he rented out his lands to him and Arit? Things began to take shape in Akpan’s mind. For the first time in his life, Akpan discovered why his father was a successful farmer; he discovered how his father was able to acquire all his lands. Only two of those lands fell to his father as inheritance from his own father, the remaining 24 parcels of land were all acquired through calculated shrewdness and hard work. Akpan’s father was a shrewd business man.
As Akpan predicted, the issue did not go down well with Arit.
“Akpan, why would papa want to impose himself on our sweat? He did not contribute anything towards Akparit farms. I sweated when you were at school. I went round the surrounding communities canvassing for buyers to come to the farm and make purchase directly from us cutting off the middle men and their fees hence making the farm produce more affordable. I trekked to the farm lands. I hassled with the workers of the farm. I worked my butt off night and day, to make this farm what it is today and papa wants to reap from where he did not sow? He saw me struggling every day to make the farms meet and he did not offer any help of any kind. None of your family members helped me out. Yet, during harvest seasons I will always take a portion of the yams, corn and cassava to him. It is not his right and it will never be. How could you have agreed to give it a thought?”
“Arit, I was taken off guard and I have been taken off guard. Honestly I thought I understood my father but I just realized that I don’t understand the man. Now the issue is how do we resolve the dilemma?”
“Simple, we are not paying him a dime. If you want to support him as your father, you can do so. But for him to impose himself as a shareholder on Akparit farms, that will be over my dead body.”
Akpan knew well enough that if he did not handle this issue properly, it would split the nuclear and bigger families. As the heir to his father’s properties, he needed to display wisdom and a lot of maturity here. His father clearly had no claims over Akparit farms and Arit being the brain behind Akparit farms will not allow her father in- law to impose himself on them. He asked Arit to go with him to see his father concerning the issue, and made her promise that no matter what he says to his father, Arit will not argue with him there or contribute. Arit reluctantly agreed with him, after he had promised to explain the reason for whatever decision he took to her once they got back home.
“Having thought carefully about your speech to me papa, I have decided that, we will make you a shareholder on Akparit farms”
“What!” Arit exclaimed, almost jumping to her feet. Akpan held her down to her sit and whispered into her ears.
“Remember your promise my dear.”
“Okay” Arit replied, shaking her legs in disapproval.
Akpan’s father smiled, he was very happy with his son’s decision, he felt that the young man had made the best decision of all time, and in a few months time, he would be able to take total control of Akparit farms. He couldn’t stomach the thought of his son becoming more prosperous and famous than him.
“Thank you very much my son, I knew you will never deny me anything I ask of you because you are my son, you are not a bastard.”
“I am glad that you are happy papa, I will instruct our lawyer to include your name as a shareholder of the farm, and to calculate a very nice percentage for you as a major shareholder. How do you like that?”
“Wonderful my son, I am very proud of you.”
The two men shook hands on the new arrangements and Akpan went back home with his wife. But as soon as they crossed the threshold, Arit descended on her husband.
“Now, Mr. Man, can you tell me the meaning of that drama you were acting this morning with your father?”
Akpan smiled, took her by the hand and led her to a sofa.
“Please sit down my dear; I will explain everything to you.”
“Talk Akpan, I don’t want to sit down.”
“Alright, as you wish my dear. See, I discovered that it would be pointless fighting my father over our investments, it will only make him angry and there will be discord in the family”
“Be patient Arit, I am not through. You see, my father is an old man, he is 92 this year, now tell me, how much longer do you think that he will live to acquire the whole world?”
“I don’t get what you are saying.”
“My point is this; let’s make him as happy as we can now that he is alive, bearing in mind that I am his heir. Whatever belongs to my father invariably belong to me, and at his demise, I will be the one to manage all his properties and then I promise to return Akparit farms back to you my dear wife, and that too with a lot of dividends.”
“Oh, I see” says Arit smiling broadly. “Akpan Ntaad, you are truly your father’s son.”