-Conflicted Destiny

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 15

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 14, read it Here

In my cell room, we were packed like sardines and there was no room to move around. There were no toilets, so people defecated and urinated on the floor. The place smelled like nothing I had smelled in my life. There was a hierarchy that existed in each cell. The most hardened criminals were usually the leaders, surrounded by lieutenants who did their bidding. The cell had no windows; a metal door with iron bars was the only source of ventilation. Inmates had to bribe the leader of the cell to be allowed to stand in front of the metal door to catch some fresh air passing through the corridor.

Life in the cell room was horrible. There was barely any space to move. One could only sit on one side of one’s buttocks. Legs could not be stretched because doing so would cause one to hit somebody, earning oneself a good beating. There were few entertaining moments when cellmates would tell stories about their crimes and how they had been caught, some of which were fantastic. Sometime, after listening to the stories, the cell leader would set up a mock trial and predict what the outcome would be in court for each of the trials. Sometimes his predictions turned out to be correct.

The cell leader acted like a Mafia kingpin. He was so powerful that he could order anyone to be beaten up in the cell. He also had connections outside the cell and could influence his people outside to do whatever he wanted them to do. Jailhouses in Nigeria usually didn’t have enough money to feed their detainees, so the inmates relied on their relatives for meals. The majority of the men in the jail had no one to bring food to them and therefore relied on other inmates’ goodwill in order to eat. For those who were fortunate enough to receive meals from their relatives, it usually came once in two days, and when the meal was brought to them, they would divide it into two parts, giving half to the cell leader while the rest would be shared among the other inmates.

The experience took a toll on me. I was starved and no one brought food to me. None of the inmates shared theirs with me, either. I had never gone more than twenty-four hours without eating or drinking. At one point, even the horrible food that was brought to other inmates appeared appetizing. I prayed so hard for someone to come to my rescue because I couldn’t stand it anymore.

My first night in the cell, I was beaten up by a huge prisoner just because I accidentally touched him while I was shifting in my corner. As a result, the next morning I had a black eye and my whole body was bruised. The next day no one came to see me, and no one brought food for me. The second evening, the police commissioner, the father of my friend Ikojeh, visited the jail. He was in my cell, but didn’t recognize me. He gave some money to the constable on duty to buy ten loaves of bread for my cell. The cell leader must have felt some pity for me because he gave me a little piece of bread—my first meal in forty-eight hours. That night, before going to sleep, I had a serious talk with God, begging him to get me out of jail. I asked him not to allow me to remain in jail for more than three days—not this time and not ever, because I had a feeling this wouldn’t be the last time I would wind up in detention.

I was full of anticipation on the morning of the third day. I had a good feeling that my fortune was about to change. Indeed, around 9 a.m., the officer on duty came and got me out of my cell. He returned my belongings and I was free to go. I smelled like I had slept with a corpse for two months, but I didn’t care.

As I walked outside, my uncle’s manager was waiting for me. He told me that they had settled with Christian’s family. Apparently, my uncle had given the family a large sum of money to cover Christian’s medical expenses, and the family had decided not to proceed with the case. As usual, the police were given some money “for their trouble.” The manager drove me back to my uncle’s house and my mother was overjoyed to see me. I went to the servants’ quarters, took a long bath, and borrowed some clothes from the servants, since I had left all my belongings at the dormitory and wasn’t allowed to return to my school to collect them.

There was a turning point in my life after my jail experience. I realized that I couldn’t continue my life the way it was going. My family’s situation was far less than ideal and, being the first son, I was responsible for taking care of my father’s household. It was imperative that I changed my ways. I had to take my destiny into my own hands. I became more determined to leave the shores of Africa for London, where I could potentially get a good education, meet and marry a good woman, and be able to care for my family back in Nigeria.

Once again, everyone had given up on me. No one seemed to care anymore and I was completely on my own. Every day I read books, studied my map, and planned my escape from Africa. Since I was staying at my uncle’s house, Uncle John and his family exploited my situation and turned me into their personal servant. I washed their cars, swept the entire compound, did their laundry, and ironed on a daily basis. I was treated worse than their servants.

One day a relative, Robert, who also lived at my uncle’s house, called me into his room and gave me some very valuable advice: even though everybody had given up on me, the worst thing I could do was to give up on myself. He advised me not to be a dropout. He stressed the importance of education and encouraged me to go back and finish secondary school, even if I had to repeat a class. I took his advice and started making plans to go back to school, even though I had no money and no one to fund my education.

As the days went by, I began falling into a deep depression because my situation wasn’t getting any better. One day my cousin Charles paid me a visit. He told me he was running his own business and that he had bought a Dymo tape machine, which he used to print name stickers that people could paste on their electrical appliances, and he was paid for each printout. He took his Dymo tape business everywhere—to markets, streets, wherever he could. The trick of the trade was to convince people to have their name tags made and placed on their valuable appliances to prevent them from getting stolen. He seemed to be very successful. It sounded like a good idea to me, and I told my mother that I wanted to join my cousin in this business.

Unfortunately, I was unable to raise the money to buy the Dymo tape machine, and my uncle was no help at this point. So I traveled back to Orji Uratta to see if I could raise the funds there. My grandmother had no money to give me, so I grudgingly went to Sydney for help, but he refused. I went back to my grandmother Eunice and told her that I would sell all my mother’s chickens to raise the money. When Sydney heard this, he decided to help me raise the money another way.

Sydney had a lot of checkerboards made for sale. He propositioned me to go and sell them at the market, and whatever profit I made from the sales, I could use to buy the Dymo tape machine. The next day I took a couple of checkerboards and went to sell them. Fortunately, I sold all of them, and when I returned home, I gave all the money to Sydney. He asked me how much I needed for the machine, and he gave me the money. I immediately returned to Aba and bought the machine.

The next day I started the business with Charles. It was tedious at first. We had to walk through the whole market and beg people to get their name tags made, but by the end of the day I had gotten very good at it and ended up making a lot of money. I was thrilled, mostly because it was a legitimate business and solely mine. I could do whatever I wanted with the money I made. On my way back home that day, I stopped at a restaurant and had a nice meal, and also bought some snacks for everyone at my uncle’s house.

I continued with the business and kept outdoing myself every day. At one point I came up with a jingle to attract more customers. Within a short period I had made more money than I ever had in my entire life. I bought two more machines and many more tapes in different colors in order meet my customers’ demands. Business was good. Finally, it seemed like we had printed tags for everyone in all the markets in Aba. I suggested to Charles that we start traveling to other cities, and he agreed.

We went to Port Harcourt, Owerri, Umuahia, and many other cities. We were on the road a lot, making and spending a ton of money. We usually ate at the best restaurants, and from time to time we would stop at brothels to drink, patronize prostitutes, and play the slot machines. I was also putting money aside and was able to save a substantial amount. At the end of each day, I would return to my uncle’s house with snacks for everybody, and my relationship with everyone—except my uncle—became much better.

As the weeks went on, my desire to leave Africa kept getting stronger. It was always on my mind. Even with my busy schedule, I always found time to read my books and study my map. One day I was delightfully surprised by a revelation from a stranger during the course of business in Umuahia. While at the market, I approached two gentlemen in their store and started to explain the importance of having their name tags made. The two men listened to me go on and on about my product, and at the end, one of them said to me, “Young man, who do you think you’re fooling? I know people like you—you’re one of those smart ones. Today you’re doing this hustling, but before long you will travel out of Nigeria to London or America and become someone very important. So please, don’t talk to me about Dymo tape anymore. Go forth and your future awaits you.”

I knew he was right. But I didn’t know what had made him say it. It sure wasn’t because of the way I looked or the way I was dressed. I smiled and begged them to buy my product anyway. They eventually did, and Charles and I went on our way. But I never forgot what that stranger said to me. It seemed like a good omen to me, almost like God had revealed my future through this stranger.

I returned to Aba that evening and decided to go and spend a couple of weeks at my grandmother’s sister’s village, Mbieri. My grandmother’s sister, Beatrice, was delighted to see me, and her family received me well. Most of her children were older than me, except for the youngest, Kingsley. Her first son, Stephen, was living with my uncle in Aba. The second, Clement, lived in the village and taught at a local school. The third had just graduated from university and was teaching in the north for his National Youth Service year, while the fourth son, Udo, was a senior at Iho Comprehensive Secondary School, about five kilometers from their house.

Aunt Beatrice’s husband, known as PapaSitee, was around sixty and suffering from dementia. He was a very religious man and spent all day reading his Bible. Before his sickness took hold of him, he was excommunicated from Faith Tabernacle Congregation because he constantly challenged the presiding elder of the church. PapaSitee had grown up with this man, and they had lived in the same city for a long time and knew each other well. Familiarity bred contempt. PapaSitee was convinced that the presiding elder and some pastors in their church were not true Christians, but members of a secret society. He also accused them of being responsible for the frequent deaths in the church, claiming they were using church members for sacrifices in their secret society. Perhaps it was the onset of dementia that caused his allegations, but he was excommunicated nonetheless.

PapaSitee liked me right away because I listened to all his stories. His mental health had deteriorated to the point that he was sometimes unable to recognize members of his own family. His mood changed from time to time, but I would always sit patiently and listen to him, even when his family told me to ignore him.

I really enjoyed living in the village of Mbieri. Everyone was so nice to me. In the evenings I would go on long walks with Aunt Beatrice’s daughter, Chinma. We were very close; she was my favorite great cousin.

After two weeks of living with them, I did not want to return to Aba. The family inspired me, and I enjoyed their company. They were all educated, and there were plenty of books and maps in their house, which I spent hours reading. I spent even more hours having intellectual conversations with Aunt Beatrice’s sons. Knowing my situation back in Aba, they all encouraged me to stay, and Clement said he would try his best to enroll me in school so I could finish my secondary education. I accepted the offer.

Clement kept his word and looked for a school for me. At first it seemed impossible that he would find one to accept me, until a teacher friend of his also got involved, and finally they were able to get me admitted into Iho Comprehensive Secondary School, where Udo was attending. All was set for me to go back to class four again the next academic year.

To Be Continued…

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