A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 10, read it Here
By that point, I didn’t care too much anymore. I was spending less time at the teacher’s house and more time at the principal’s house. The principal and his wife liked me a lot, and even allowed me to sleep in their children’s room. The teacher was infuriated by my relationship with the principal’s family, but he dared not say anything or challenge me because of my close tie to the principal. He was even angrier not to be receiving money for my care. When I told Uncle Francis what was going on, he stopped paying the teacher and gave my money directly to me.
During this period my ambition to travel out of Nigeria was rekindled. I started to read books about different countries in the world. I also carried a map with me wherever I went, looking it every day to remind myself of where I wanted to be. But since I didn’t have the resources to travel, I buried myself in books instead. I read every novel that I could lay my hands on, from James Hadley Chase to Pacesetters. These were so much more than just novels to me—I became a character in these books. I felt transported from my environment into the world of the book, leaving behind all the sadness, tragedy, and suffering that seemed to surround me while embracing the glamorous, more civilized, progressive, and futuristic environments that existed in the novels. I became less interested in everything else, including food, and instead wrapped myself up in my reading. On average, I read one book a day.
One of the books talked about a famous West African kingdom—Mali Empire—which had a very powerful king called Sundiata Keita. I knew immediately after reading this book that I had to explore West Africa before moving on to Europe. Other series that I read talked about the European countries, and I was most fascinated by the story of the Spaniards, their culture and their way of life, especially the Flamenco music and the Gypsy culture. I decided that Spain would be my starting point whenever I was ready to explore Europe. I highlighted the different countries that I would travel to on my handy map.
At some point while I was busy reading, Uncle Francis decided to go into politics—a very dangerous venture in Nigeria at the time—to the disapproval of many people. My mother tried to dissuade him, saying that it was against our religion, but he wouldn’t listen. Uncle Francis was a very charismatic man. He was also considered handsome and was one of the tallest people in town at about six feet four inches. He was very articulate and would often play the role of master of ceremonies at events. He had an aura that commanded respect, and people liked to be associated with him. It wasn’t surprising that his peers talked him into joining the world of politics.
Within a short time of becoming a politician, his popularity exploded. He became well-known not just within the state, but at the national level. He joined a new party founded by billionaire Tunji Braithwaite. Tunji was the presidential candidate for the party, and Uncle Francis was responsible for setting up offices and coordinating the party’s activities in the eastern part of Nigeria. Tunji subsequently persuaded Uncle Francis to run for the senatorial seat in the Orlu Zone.
Uncle Francis’s campaign started smoothly, and all the people in Orlu Zone were taken with him because of his youth, good humor, and charisma. But because of the nature of politics in Nigeria, he sometimes felt that his life was in great danger. Though he attended church regularly, he decided to see a witch doctor. He wanted to make himself invisible to protect against any political enemies who might try to kill him.
One weekend, I left school to spend time with Uncle Francis, and he seemed rather nervous and jumpy. He was rattled by every little noise. Before we went to bed, he would ask us to lock the doors, double-checking them each time. He said that his concern was for us, not for himself, because he had been assured by the witch doctor that he could not be killed by a human being.
Two days before the elections, Uncle Francis was summoned to Lagos by Tunji Braithwaite to collect some money, or so I believed. Unbeknownst to the family, Uncle Francis had his own car and driver. On this occasion the party didn’t have enough funds to pay for his flight, so Uncle Francis had his driver take him to Aunt Comfort in Aba and she lent him enough money to get a plane ticket. He proceeded to Port Harcourt to catch a Lagos-bound flight. That was the last time anyone would see my Uncle Francis alive.
On the day of the elections, no one saw him. My whole family went out to vote for him anyway. I wasn’t of voting age, but I cast about ten votes for him, and so did everyone I knew. He was running neck and neck in the exit polls with his opponent, a billionaire called Arthur Nzeribe. We became very worried when we didn’t hear from him that day. Rumors began to spread, but we could not get any confirmed news. One of the rumors had it that my uncle had been shot in Onitsha. Tired of the suspense, I decided to hitchhike there without telling anyone.
When I got to Onitsha, I went straight to the general hospital to inquire about accident victims from two days before. I was given a description that fit my uncle. They said that he had been shot in the back of the head on his way to the bus station to catch a bus to Lagos.
It felt like my life had ended.
Since I didn’t have any money to return home, I decided to go nearby to my father’s friend Chioma. I explained the tragedy to Chioma’s family, and they were all saddened by the news. Chioma’s father gave me enough money to get back to my village. By the time I returned to Owerri Nkworji, my family had already confirmed that Uncle Francis was indeed dead. My grandmother refused to cry, saying that she had already lost more children than any one person could endure, having buried ten of her twelve children. Just four years before, she had lost one of her two remaining daughters, Adaoha, and now her youngest son had been shot dead in cold blood.
Uncle Francis’s death was a loss not only to my family, but also to everyone in Orlu Zone. The newspapers and radio programs talked about the tragedy, and the police never did find conclusive evidence about the circumstances surrounding his death. The mystery remained as to why, after purchasing his plane ticket and having a chauffeur to drive him to the airport, he would turn around and travel two hundred kilometers in the opposite direction to catch a bus to Lagos. It made no sense at all. Rumors began circulating about his death. One was that he was going to win the election and that the opposing candidate, Arthur Nzeribe, had hired people to eliminate him. The other was that his driver was part of an armed robbery gang and had convinced my uncle not to go by plane, but instead had driven to Onitsha, where Uncle Francis got shot by the driver’s gang. We didn’t know what to believe, but the fact remained that he was dead, and the voodoo did not protect him from the bullet that had killed him. The driver kept the vehicle he had used to drive Uncle Francis around, claiming that it belonged to him and that my uncle had only been renting it.
After my uncle was buried, I went back to school for my exams, but I was very distracted. Life had become meaningless, like I had no future. Uncle Francis had meant everything to me, and he had planned to take me to Belgium after the election. I didn’t know what would become of me without him. Somehow I was able to pass my exams, which meant that I would be promoted to the next grade the following term, but I didn’t plan on returning to that school. It reminded me too much of Uncle Francis.
I went to visit my Aunt Mercy, who had since moved from Orji Uratta to Nnaze with her husband and children. I supposed her husband, Emmanuel, had grown tired of the embarrassment from Sydney and his family, and decided to move back to his hometown. Their house was a brand-new one-story building, one of the most beautiful in Nnaze at the time. While I stayed with them, I worried about what I would do next—how I would continue my education and pay my fees. I felt sad and very lonely.
One day Emmanuel suggested I remain with them and attend secondary school there, saying that they would pay my school fees. I gladly accepted the offer. As usual, something extra was required for me to be admitted, so Uncle Emmanuel and I bought gifts for the principal, who accepted them and welcomed me into my new school.
Nnaze Community Secondary School was the most boring school I had ever attended. My class was the most senior class because the school was still new. As usual, I was unable to concentrate in class. I was still devastated by the death of my uncle Francis. Although I’d had minor nervous breakdowns in the past due to all the deaths in my family and all the experiences I had lived through, nothing had affected me like Uncle Francis’s death.
Living at my aunt’s house became very uncomfortable for me. I loved Aunt Mercy and Emmanuel; they were both very kind to me. I had always known them to be a loving couple and had aspired to be like them when I grew up. But the loving relationship I had been familiar with was no longer a reality. Emmanuel had found a new religion as a Jehovah’s Witness. In the past he had always argued about what he saw as inconsistencies in the Faith Tabernacle doctrines, so it was no surprise to me that his faith eventually waxed cold and he left the church. However, switching churches did not make him a better man; instead, he became a cheater and a wife beater.
It was devastating for me to see my aunt with a battered face, constantly crying. Sometimes Emmanuel would beat her so hard that other church members would rescue her and keep her in their house for days. The circumstances were such that I could not take revenge on behalf of my aunt, which was very unlike me. I liked her husband a lot because he had always treated me very well, so I was faced with a terrible dilemma. I couldn’t get him to stop beating my aunt, and I couldn’t convince her to leave him and return to Orji Uratta, where she still had her shop and her family. She would not abandon her children.
I couldn’t see a way out. I decided that I would rather leave than stay with them and be tortured by my aunt’s predicament. I moved back to Orji Uratta and commuted to my new school every day from there. Somehow I’d have to make things work.
To Be Continued…