There was something about that grin that plastered her chubby cheeks. Her face looked very supple and edible at a sustained glance. Her double chin looked quite glamorous and with the piece of African fabric she wore, royalty seemed her middle name. Arit was 32 years old and her hubby Emeka was 31 years old. They originally came from Nigeria. They met at a Nigerian gala night event in Houston. They were sitting at the same table and struck off a conversation.
Emeka was supposed to have come with a colleague of his and at last minute, his mate Fred sent in a message that he might not be able to make it. Arit on the other hand came with an old friend of hers who was on call duty that night and as duty called, she had to leave. Arit was determined to stay on for the event. It was no coincidence when Arit and Emeka naturally started chatting about the events of the evening. They particularly enjoyed the group activity – assembling the puzzle of the 36 states of Nigeria. It was a time to show that you were not a novice of the geography of your country. It was also a time to show how quick you could navigate your way around the boundaries of the states. This was what I called the ‘biting moment’ for them.
After the puzzle fix had ended they kept talking about the states in Nigeria, the ones in the north, south, east and west. Arit talked passionately about the former Cross River State where she grew up and all the delicacies from Calabar. She talked about ekpang nkukwo, afang soup, atama soup, pounded yam, ubobok ukom, yam porridge, afia efere. Emeka was salivating all the while! This brought back some treasured memories from Emeka. In a corner of his heart Emeka had secured the memories of his mandatory one year national service. He had never in his life had so much fun with such a warm hearted people who lived life as if there was no tomorrow. The Efik people just loved living life. Their life revolved around tales over some beverage, food and plenty laughter.
People from Calabar did not ascribe that heavy seriousness to life like people who lived in big like Lagos, Aba, Onitsha, London, New York etc.
Emeka was born in Onitsha, Anambra State even though his father hailed from Awka in Anambra state. He started his primary education in Onitsha before he moved over to Leesburg in Florida, the US. He spent the rest of his young life schooling at Leesburg and Gainesville. He studied Industrial Engineering at University of Central Florida and completed his Master’s degree at the same University in Industrial Engineering. He did his research in partnership with the Centre for Advanced Turbomachinery and Energy Research.
His parents thought it a good idea for him to go back to Nigeria to do the mandatory national service, NYSC. Having been out of the country for about eighteen years, Emeka thought this would be a great idea to break back into the Nigerian system. The only memories of Nigeria he had were about the spicy food, the rough plays, football in the neighbourhood streets, playing with what they called ‘bora’ as kids, playing with discarded car tyres, using a stick to beat the tyre to keep the tyre in motion on a street. He looked forward to going back to Nigeria. This he dubbed as home coming! When he arrived Nigeria, he stayed with his uncle, Mbadiwe at Lagos to wait for his redeployment. His uncle lived in an area of Lagos called Ketu in a block of flats. His uncle’s wife, Dorothy was a military commandant. They did not have any kids even though they had been married for 15 years. They still trusted and believed that one day the ruler of the universe would smile on them.
In this block of flats, people were naturally nosy. Any time a new person arrived the yard, people were curious to find out who the person was, what does he or she do for a living. This place was like a transit camp because of how people came and went. It was a place where people made new bonds and also where people got deceived as well. Because of the nature of the Nigerian society where relatives always visited folks for either short or long term stays, people were accustomed to seeing different faces in a place like this on a periodic basis.
No amount of preparation had prepared Emeka for that shock that awaited him in Nigeria. The perennial power outages and portable water shortage. Mosquitoes and decay and neglect of infrastructures. He kept ruminating over what he could do to solve one problem or the other. It wasn’t rocket science he would often say. They were simple things. His uncle had a generator that was usually turned on in the night whenever there was a power outage. During his first week of arrival, he was perspiring so much that he thought he would actually die of dehydration.
The generator was turned on every now and then to help him acclamatise but soon the reality had to strike.
“Okposongowo!” Emeka called out. “Okposongowo!” he called out again.
In the backyard, Judith said “Okpo, e be like say small oga dey call you.”
“Oooooh. I don dey talk am say, anytime, wey oga Emeka wan call me, make him dey shout, so I go fit hear am, him no wan hear. Him think say dis na oyinbo land.”
“Okposongowo” this time it seemed like the call out was three octaves higher.
“Oga Emeka, I dey come o”, Okpo as he was fondly called, yelled back.
“Okpo, please turn on the gen, I am suffocating” he pleaded.
“Oga Emeka, na small diesel remain, I dey keep am for Big Oga”.
Emeka was frustrated. Listen, Okpo, can’t we buy some diesel?”
“Oga I fit go buy the diesel, if you give me money.”
“For the 50 litres jerry can, na 8750 Naira.”
Emeka thought about the fact that he was lean on resources and he needed to be frugal with his expenditure till he started earning some income.
“Ok, Okpos, I will give you some money to buy the diesel, turn on the gen please”.
Emeka heard the machine roar to life and then the click sound of the changeover switch.
Emeka quickly turned on the AC and the fans and after about thirty minutes he turned off the AC and let the fan keep rolling.
Emeka fell asleep and Nnenna the maid from the next compound came to visit Okpos. Okpos was lost in the labyrinth of time and Emeka was dreaming of a life where he could sleep without mosquitoes and perennial power shortage.
The generator began to choke choo choo choo choo like a vehicle struggling to climb a hill on gear four. It finally died out. Emeka woke up in the pool of his perspiration and wondered what had happened.
“Okposongowo”, he yelled.
“Okposongowo”, he yelled again.
Bang bang bang!!! on the door of the boy’s quarters, Judith hammered.
“Okpo, small oga dey call you, he don dey shout your name since” Judith continued.
The door opened just slightly and Okpo poked his face out.
Judith wanted to push the door open but Okpo stood firmly by the door.
“Oga Emeka don dey shout your name since, e be like say the gen don die and the guyman dey suffer” Judith rambled.
“Abeg abeg abeg, I dey come now now now. Help me tell oga Emeka say I dey kaka, say me go soon come” pleaded Okpo.
Kpim Kpim Kpim went the horn from Uncle Mbadiwe’s car.
“Ewoo oooooo, yawa don burst be dat. Chei” Okpo cried.