Chief Ajanaku is a believer in the sacrosanctity of might. Oga Sir, is his appellation in political assemblages. The epithet must be uttered with a bow of the head and one wrist in the grip of the other palm behind the back. His cooks, servants, gardeners, guards, including children and wife, pay him obeisance in this manner. His intimidating stature in position of power has proscribed ‘Daddy’ from the lips of the fruits of his loins. Neither does his wife dare use ‘dear,’ ‘darling,’ or ‘honey,’ in addressing him. And because in Labule, the wealthy never go wrong, ‘yes sir, yes sir, three bags full!’ is the constant refrain to any of his utterance—be it sane or absurd.
His will dominates Labule’s corridor of influence. It grants him the prerogative to public spondulicks stowed in coffers under his care. Ofango & Co, Temi & Temi, and numerous local and international entities in the habit of tax circumvention, must grease Ajanaku’s palms for assured evasion of talons of the law. Sadik & Rahab, Hajia Construction and its ilk, those who seek government favors through the sewer backdoor, are also in business with the chief. The Abokis, the Irikejes, the Danbutus, those juggernauts whose whims and caprices manipulate the protocols governing the entrenchment of figures in lofty towers of government, must first earn Chief Ajanaku’s approbation for the preservation of their own stake in the national cake. They need not be reminded to whom their perennial cash laden sacks are owed.
And because a man of might must own properties in luxuriant enclaves is the core creed of his faith, himself and his family; he has built a mansion along the manicured boulevard of Oko. His palace also stands on the summit of Irudu and along the beaches of Kawaa. BMWs and Mercedes Benzes replete these residences. Dobermans and the Alsatians therein wear necklaces of gold for collars, have expatriates for veterinary doctors, growls and bare fangs trained to be intolerant of the flesh of trespassers.
When he was implored to sit at the head of a fundraiser during the earliest onset of his ascent into the realm of grace, ‘Every donor should respect whatever I give,’ he had sent attendants, and they had circulated his directive. Since a favor or two might be needed from this shining star someday, nobody contented. And thenceforth, people became acculturated to it; donations at philanthropic enterprises never matched nor surpassed what the mighty one gave.
Once on a wet day, when the clouds writhed here and there in the sky, unsheathing sheets of darkness and streaks of lightning along the way, ‘What a wonderful god is the maker of this glorious day!’ he had hailed the gloom.
‘A gorgeous sight, sir!’ had concurred the drenched Okus, who held an umbrella over the big man’s head.
And, when, almost immediately, he stepped into a puddle, ‘God punish the devil for a day this terrible!’ he had cursed, not with an instant’s misgivings.
‘Amen, oga sir!’ came the immediate affirmation of Okus.
Being in tandem with whatever the mighty man opines is wisdom. Because in Labule, the necessities for survival: food, water, electricity, employment and the rest; are dire needs that are you must seek one way or the other at the feet of Chief Ajanaku.
‘Everybody rides on my back in this house! If not for me, all of you will be on the street like the rest of the world, pauperized!! Stupid idiots! You don’t know how much I have sacrificed to provide you with this lavish life!’
That’s him lambasting his family when their whispers seeps into his living room, distracting his brittle nerves, when he is enjoying the sight of himself on the television’s news. On tiptoes must everybody walk whenever he is at home. And with signs and gestures they must speak —a toothpick dare not rattle on the floor when Chief Ajanaku is taking his siesta.
Omotayo Ajanaku is his eldest child, the one he relishes to flaunt in public as his crowned prince. Who is the stripling, by the way, to disobey a mighty father who loves to make him endure the rituals of meeting this dignitary and saluting that royal. He is some earned trophy presented to a succession of luminaries in order to command their respect. His father sent him to British School, that crème de la crème private school in Labule, because in this chief’s reckoning, all the public schools in town were beneath an Ajanaku. He attended that school quite alright and it was when he failed the final exams, after a private tutor had been hired to prepare him for it, that his father’s mighty nerves were unhinged. Without a care for the presence of his retinue of servants and all, the chief had snatched the glass of orange juice from between the lad’s lips and downed the refreshment in one draught of reproof, when he received the tidings.
‘Stupid idiot!’ he had then barked. ‘I sent you to a private school, hired you a Cambridge trained private teacher, thinking you were going to burst the skies. Total dullard! You’re here drinking my orange juice. Dead brain; good for nothing like your mother!’
She was there, fully present, but who was the hapless woman to contend with this mighty, mighty man of means.
And being a man of might, he paid the invigilator to go count pebbles by the river bank, while he contracted Olu Titus, the young Labule scholar, to rewrite the exams for his son. That was how Omotayo Ajanaku passed his ordinary level exams and then decided to pursue his passion in Sociology.
But because might is right, ‘You must follow in my footsteps,’ his father banished Sociology from his life. In the end, the stripling ended up with Public Administration.
He was famous on campus owing to the sheer might his surname bequeathed his import. He also had a car. And his father loaded him with cash. Women adored him, friends patronized him and foes yearned for his acquaintanceship. Omotayo Ajanaku was generous with his cash. The happiness his magnanimity bequeathed others relieved him of the feeling of inadequacy he had imbibed from his transactions with father. And because he was thusly selfless, everybody on campus thought him a happy fellow. However, he was miserable, for Public Administration was never his passion. In the course of failing his courses, he learned to grease his lecturers’ palms and curried passing grades.
The multinational company the mighty one then approached upon his son’s graduation, the only employer in Labule he deemed befitting for his child, could not tell the chief to his face that Omotayo’s certificate was of mediocre standard. So the blame was shifted on some clause in a policy drawn within the rigid walls of the multinationals’ head office over the seas, which was outside the bounds of the mighty chief’s sphere of dominion.
Well, the chief went and built Ajanaku & Sons and made Omotayo its Director. How could a son of his whole very self work under anyone in the first place, was his justification for this action.
And with a directorship came a mansion along the shores of Takura Bay for this young man. A man that has never cleaned, cooked, hunted or disemboweled a thing in his life. Domestic staffs have spoon-fed him throughout his existence, and because he has never exerted himself on anything even as delicate as pap, he neither had a vision nor a mission for the company atop which he now sat. He would arrive the office at 10am, and at noon, vacate for the day. Steered by a clueless captain, the outfit was bereft of creativity and had neither the vigor nor tact to compete in the market. It ended up accruing gigantic operational costs without earning a penny.
Year in year out, chief Ajanaku will swing by the place and demand to see its books, and the redness of the figures would spark the berating of the Director right in the presence of the entire establishment. By and by, embarrassment in public and the belittling in private, became unbearable for Omotayo. So, he decided to seek his peace of mind abroad.
His father neither dissuaded the idea nor condemned it in public. It was an added reputation to the status of his household, for, in Labule, taking up residency abroad is regarded a leap onto the of height success…irrespective of how you end up there; you are in abroad. But in the privacy of the man’s living room, before the children and their mother, he finished the young man.
‘There is nothing a man can do for his child in this world that I have not done for you. The quality of food you are raised with in this house is gotten only in Buckingham Palace. I sent you to British School, the very best in the country, got you a Cambridge trained private tutor, bought you a car, sent you to a prestigious university, and ensured that money wasn’t your problem. But what happened; school certificate, you couldn’t pass! I had to pay for the exams to be written for you. And with all the spoils you had at your disposal in the university, you came back home with an ordinary pass. Still, I overlooked all of that and built you a company, made you the director, and bought you a house where even the Queen of England dreams to reside. Yet, you failed woefully in every aspect.
‘It is clear to me,’ went on the chief, ‘as I’m sure that it is clear to everybody here,’ he indicated his wife and the rest of his children. ‘You’re a confirmed failure,’ he declared. ‘But because no good father throws away a bad son,’ he went on to say, ‘since you say you want to go abroad, I’ll let you. It’ll save me the embarrassment your failure will bring upon my name if you remain here.’
He then went on to use the occasion to rub the noses of his wife and that of the rest of his children in the pristine quality of air they breathe, courtesy of him. The silence in the room brimmed with his bully, and with heads bowed, arms held behind the back, his audience maintained obeisance in muteness, absorbing the harangue. And because he is a man of means, in the end, he handed his son a suitcase full of money, and sent him on his way.
Omotayo Ajanaku arrived London with an open return flight ticket, a counsel of his mother. He lodged himself into The Ritz, because it is the only standard of living he is used to. But even if a house is brimming with it, money expended daily without replenishment, will be exhausted in due course. So when this fate befell Omotayo, he made a telephone call to his father.
‘It’s a shame that you’re domiciled abroad and you’re still calling home for money.’
‘But sir, how else can I survive without money?’
‘How do others like you survive?’
‘I’ll rather return home, sir, than wash dishes here.’
‘Then you would have opened your rump to the entire world on the compound resounding failure you indeed are.’
Before Omotayo could respond, he heard a click and the line went dead.
What the mighty man of means didn’t divulge however, is that retirement has excluded him from the bounds of privilege; that those bulgy sacks of money have since stopped coming his way; and that retirement is so powerful that it has deprived him access to the jewels in public coffers. Omotayo also didn’t know that his father hasn’t sold his business even when its books were in perpetual red. He also didn’t know that his father will not sell any of his properties, when there is no need to keep them, even when he can no longer maintain them, because disposing of his possession will present him beggared in people’s reckoning…
Snow had congealed itself into a blanket of slippery surface atop the pavements on the night Omotayo was evicted from The Ritz. Puddles of iced water bordered the edges of the curb on which his boots crunched ice flakes. Clouds of white smoke bellowed out of people’s face in the streetlights whenever a word was uttered or a breath was exhaled. In that cold and in desperation for not knowing where to head, he threw frantic gazes here and there, like a soul that has just arrived hell, and everywhere his eyes fell, people carried on in brisk footsteps, chased on by frigidity. Nobody, it seems, noticed this crowned prince. With his trunk on his head and his feet in hesitant motions, his aimless boots crunched the ice beneath their soles in fright of the cold to which there seems no escape. He opened one of the double doors into a McDonalds, the soothing heatwave into which he was cuddled told him of the criminality with which cold tortures the homeless abroad.
He was sent out of this store when it was shut down for the night. So he sought a spot in a tunnel where some folks, bundled up like North pole nomads, crouched on the floor as if frozen to death. And with his trunk for pillow, chill descended on him the way barrages of blows fall on a boxer held on the ropes, he felt every bit of his bone sting with the anguish that a biting frigidity can bring. When morning came and people in uniform started to clear the tunnel of the nomads, though he could see that they were still part and parcel of his being, his limbs had lost all sensations, they felt as though severed from him.
He brought himself to lean on the railings of London bridge. Calm and serene, with sheets of ice stagnant here and there, the water below seemed strangely indifferent to the cold that abounded. And when an expanse of water bereft of ice floated by, the deep into which he peered, bared by the clarity of its slow motioned wave, beckoned its icy claws at him.
Come lay with me, he heard. Come unto me and rest.
But before I into you enter, he didn’t contend with the voice, I must first return home, he said to himself.
Then he remembered the open flight return ticket. It has always been in his trunk…So, he spurred his dead legs and they plodded him towards the airport, goaded by revenge and patricidal instinct.