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-Conflicted Destiny

Must Read: Conflicted Destiny… Part 18

A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 17, read it Here

The holiday after the first term was usually only three weeks long, but it was always packed with festivities, including the New Yam Festival, an Igbo festival held at the beginning of each harvest year. Traditionally, no one can harvest their crops before the festival; it is considered an abomination to do so, and in the past, punishment for noncompliance could mean death. The ceremony involves giving thanks to the ancestors and gods for a bountiful harvest, followed by a lot of drinking and celebrating; the next day, everyone goes to their farms to start harvesting. Christmas and New Year’s also fell during this holiday. People who lived in the cities would usually travel to their various villages to celebrate the festival and holidays.

Throughout the holidays, I thought about Nwaurenma. After the first week in the village, I was so restless that I decided to visit her. I convinced one of my cousins, Charles, who happened to be in the village at the time, to go with me. When we arrived, Nwaurenma invited one of her girlfriends to join us. While Charles was busy chatting up her friend, Nwaurenma and I were able to talk without interruption, and we stole a few kisses. I was delighted at the opportunity to be reunited with her and paid no attention to the passage of time. Before we knew it, it was midnight and there was no way of getting transportation back to my village. Though I had my rented room, I decided we couldn’t spend the night there—I was supposed to be staying with my grandmother, and despite my independence at that point, I was still afraid of her wrath.

We decided to return to my village that night. We saw the girls back to their houses and walked about five miles to the main road, hoping to catch a ride, but there were virtually no vehicles on the road at that time of night. Silence surrounded us. We walked back home—a thirty-mile stretch, the moon and the crickets as our only companions.

The holidays ended and I went back to school for the second term. Ike and I spent ample time discussing and planning our potential overseas travels. His brothers and sister had already filed an immigrant visa for him in the United States, and he could be called for a visa interview at any time. If his application were approved, he would go to the United States. As for me, it all remained a dream since I had no realistic means of traveling. But I was not discouraged; I knew my determination and hard work would eventually help me realize this dream.

Meanwhile, Winterkpus and I hadn’t talked since our fight, even though we both still hung out with the same group. But something else had changed: I returned to school to learn that Nwaurenma had left. Her neighbors couldn’t tell me where she had gone, only that she wouldn’t be back anytime soon. I was sad and disappointed, but it didn’t last long. A few days later, the old lady I lived with invited her niece to the house to spend time with her.

I returned from school to find a tall, beautiful girl cooking in my landlady’s kitchen. Jacinta was a very kind and gentle person, soft-spoken and mild-mannered. We became good friends, and when it was time for her to return home, she changed her mind and continued staying with her aunt. I enjoyed her company very much; she was like a sister to me. She told me that she, her mother, and older sister lived alone in their village. Their house was a one-room mud house with a thatched roof. Her mother was suffering from cancer, and her older sister died in her sleep a few weeks after I met her. No one could tell the cause of her death. They were the poorest family I had ever known of. They had no significant means of livelihood. Life had dealt her family a bad hand, just as it had to mine—so I was totally drawn to her. Sometimes I would accompany her to visit her mother and leave her some money.

While Jacinta stayed at her aunt’s place, our friendship grew so strong that she started doing my laundry and cooking my meals. The old lady wasn’t pleased about this. She found it ironic that Jacinta was supposed to be spending time with her, but she spent most of her time with me. She insisted that her niece return home to her mother, but Jacinta refused and stayed at the house for the entire term.

She became my best buddy. Even after I graduated from high school I would occasionally go to her village and spend time with her and her mother. On those occasions I would take provisions and money for them. They prayed for my well-being all the time. I suspected that they had both thought I would marry Jacinta. In truth, I had thought about it, but it would have amounted to giving up my lifelong ambition. At the same time, I didn’t want to sever my relationship with her and her mother. During one of my visits to her village years later, her mother told me they had gotten tired of waiting for me and had married Jacinta off to an older man who lived in Rivers State. She had gotten pregnant and had given birth to twins. I was pleased that she had moved on, but I never stopped visiting her mother and giving her money.

The second term was coming to an end and things were looking good for me academically. One day, a nice man stopped me on my way back from school, asking me how classes were going and giving me advice. Arusi was young, probably in his late twenties or early thirties. He said he was a philanthropist and cared very much for students, especially those from families who were struggling financially. He represented himself as a businessman who ran a taxi company, and asked me to visit him at his house when I had the chance. I was impressed by him and thought he was kindhearted, so I promised to visit one day.

Just before we started second-term exams, I ran out of money. I hadn’t set aside part of my budget that term to pay for my West African School Certificate Examinations (WASCE) and University Matriculations Examinations (UME). These were crucial exams that we had to take during the third term of class five; they would qualify a secondary school graduate to enroll in a university, and the fees had to be paid during the second term. After paying the exam fees, I was left with no money, and we still had a week of school left. The final week was set aside for our exams, so I couldn’t leave to do my Dymo tape business and earn money. I needed help, so the weekend before exams started, I decided to visit Arusi, the philanthropist.

When I got to his house, the first thing I noticed was the unusual nature of his compound. There was a small, ominous-looking building at one corner of the compound that looked like a dedicated ritual or sacrifice house, with a bold sign advertising the services of a native doctor. I was welcomed by a woman I later learned was the philanthropist’s mother, and accompanying her was another woman who was introduced to me as his wife. When Arusi got home, he was pleased to see me. He was jovial and childlike, and I had no reason to suspect any malicious intent on his part. I asked him about the suspicious-looking house, and he explained that he was a native doctor—that he had magic powers that could cure all sorts of ailments. He also said he could talk to spirits. It was hard for me to imagine this young man as a native doctor. The ones I knew of were old men who dressed in traditional clothes and wore funny makeup and jewelry. I didn’t like native doctors and had never visited one before. There was a general belief that they were connected to witchcraft, and it went completely against my faith to associate with them.

Nevertheless, I stayed at the philanthropist’s house and was invited to eat fufu (a thick paste of starchy vegetable ate with soup), which they had just prepared. I couldn’t bring myself to even look at the food, so I politely declined, telling them I had eaten before coming. The family asked me to spend the night at their house, and I accepted with the hope that before leaving the next morning, the philanthropist would give me some money. After all, he had promised to help me if I ever needed it.

When it was time for bed, I thought they would have a room for me, or if not, then let me sleep in their living room. Since Arusi was married, I expected that he would sleep in his room with his wife, but to my surprise, he insisted that I sleep in his room—in the same bed with him. He argued that I was his guest and I should be comfortable; his wife would sleep in a different room. Innocently, I accepted. I was shocked later that night when Arusi started touching me all over. At first I thought it was an accident and he was dreaming, but then I realized he was wide awake and knew exactly what he was doing.

At this time in my life, I knew very little about homosexuality. My knowledge of it was limited to what I had read in the Bible about Sodom and Gomorrah, which God had destroyed for their sins, and I had always found the idea repulsive. When Arusi started to touch me, I was absolutely disgusted with him—and angry with myself for getting into the situation in the first place. He disturbed me the whole night, begging me to have s*x with him, and since it was late at night, I could not go home. There was a horrible stench from his mouth from the fufu he had eaten earlier, and he kept breathing down on me, trying to force me to kiss him. I fought his mouth off with all my strength, but the more I struggled, the more he kept coming at me. He was much heavier and stronger than I was.

At some point I grew tired from all the struggling—and also realized my life could be in danger. There was nothing stopping him from killing me. But I simply could not allow him to violate me. My survival instincts kicked in, and I lay unmoving on the bed, with my backside firmly protected by the mattress. I used one hand to cover my mouth so he couldn’t kiss me, and the other to shield my groin from his joystick. He jumped on me, and before I could push him off, he had ejaculated on my lap. I was repulsed and had never felt so dirty in my life. This man who pretended to be a philanthropist was, in reality, a pedophile who preyed on innocent schoolboys, luring them into his house and raping them with the help of his mother and his wife.

I jumped off the bed and ran into the bathroom, where I spent hours scrubbing myself, trying in vain to also scrub away the image of this monster now ingrained in my brain. As soon as day broke, I tore out of the house.

When I arrived at school, I recounted my ordeal to my friends, leaving out the really humiliating bits. I hated telling the story, but I had to because Arusi was already working on some of my friends, including Winterkpus and Barbarossa, and I had to protect them. They had been planning to go to his house that weekend. The news spread quickly, and so whenever Arusi was seen riding his motorcycle around our school, students would chant, “Homo! Go away!” I never told anyone in my family about the incident.

I managed to get through the last week of the term without any problems. I passed all my subjects except for math, which I hadn’t expected to pass, since I had barely attended math classes that term. Immediately after we got our results, I left for Aba to continue with my business. Sales were unusually slow, probably because I had already printed name tags for most of the people in the markets there. As a result, I had to work much harder and become a little more creative. I came up with new lyrics and jingles, and things picked up a bit. I was able to raise sufficient money, but not as much as I used to. As usual, a week before the end of the holidays, I returned to Orji Uratta to leave money for my siblings’ school fees and pick up everything I needed, including my home cooked meals.

My final term in secondary school kicked off with a flurry of excitement. Life was good, but the reality was that we all had a lot of work to do, too. We had two major exams to take—the UME and the WASCE—and this meant we had to study three times harder than we usually did. I didn’t want to repeat class five, so I poured my heart and soul into my studies, while Ike went from school to school looking for copies of the actual exam questions, usually sold by unscrupulous staff of the examining bodies. Most times these copies were faked, and students who relied on them usually regretted it in the end. Unfortunately, they would only find out after the results had come out.

We all took the exams, and secondary school ended on a high note. There was no need to wait around for the results because they were not administered by individual schools. The results would be announced on the radio months later, and also posted on notice boards in the offices of the examination bodies. I returned to my uncle’s house in Aba…and waited.

A few weeks after our graduation, Ike visited me in Aba with the good news that his immigrant visa to the United States had been approved, and he would be joining his brothers and sister there in a few months. I was happy for him, but deeply saddened by the fact that he would get to travel abroad before me. The news made me even more determined to travel by any means necessary, and I swore to do whatever it would take. I decided to be extra humble and nice to my uncle, hoping that my change of behavior would convince him to send me abroad sooner than later.

Meanwhile, my uncle’s business continued to flourish. He had started receiving contracts worth huge sums of money from oil companies, mainly for the rehabilitation of access roads that led to drilling stations. My uncle had an inside connection in the oil companies—a friend of his who was a Shell executive responsible for awarding contracts. He would approve my uncle’s contracts in exchange for substantial amounts of money. Since my uncle was a building contractor and had no experience whatsoever in road construction, he would rent the required equipment and hire professionals in the field to handle the job for him. He liked to micromanage; he didn’t trust his managers or engineers, and felt that even his suppliers who brought chippings (gravel) for the road were shortchanging him. He asked his manager to assign someone to go with the trucks whenever they offloaded the chippings at the work site. As I had just graduated from secondary school at the time and was idle, I was excited when the manager asked me if I would go with the trucks.

As my uncle had suspected, the men were not offloading all the chippings from their trucks. When I asked them about it, they told me not to be silly. They obviously didn’t realize I was related to their boss, so they explained their whole scheme to me. Apparently, it was the normal procedure for most truck drivers: They would offload nine-tenths of the material, resell the rest, and keep the money. They asked me if I was in or out. I thought about it for few seconds. The temptation was great, and it didn’t help matters that I was broke at the time. My uncle wasn’t paying me anything and my Dymo tape business was barely moving, so making some money at the expense of my rich uncle wouldn’t hurt. I told the driver I was in on the scheme.

I followed them to the location where they resold the rest of the gravel, and got my share of the money. It was the first real money I had touched since graduating from secondary school. Fortunately, I was sent on the same mission a few times and was able to make more money.

The last trip we made was to a place called Obigbo, where the company had an ongoing major road rehabilitation job. Suddenly, I had a change of heart and didn’t want to be part of the scheme anymore. If anyone was going to rip off my uncle, it should be me alone, not a group of strangers. I made the drivers offload all the chippings that time. Instead of returning to Aba with them, I pleaded with the site manager to employ me as a laborer. He did—and my experience as a construction worker began.

The vast oil reserves of Nigeria are in the Niger Delta region, where Obigbo is located, and so are the oil fields. Most oil fields are located in underdeveloped, sparely populated rural areas with virtually no basic amenities. During this time, most of the residents in these communities lived in mud houses with thatched roofs. The construction workers lived among the residents and rented a couple of mud houses for the duration of the job. I had to live with seven other guys in a single-room mud house. Although I had no money, no cooking utensils, and no clothes except the ones I had on, I was desperate to make a better life for myself. I had to depend on other people for food while I waited for my first pay at the end of the week. By mid-week I must have borrowed money from every single guy I worked with.

The road rehabilitation work was supposed to last two months, and I wasn’t sure if I could endure it. On my first day I thought I would die; we had worked all day in the blazing heat without a break. First, the grater would prepare and smooth the surface of the road, then another heavy machine would compact the soil. After that, the bitumen truck would drive slowly over the one or two miles of road as the operator released the hot coal tar. After a few minutes, when the tar was set, the dump truck would follow along in reverse with the bucket tip, slowly moving over the coal tar, and I would operate the sand release at the back of the truck, rapidly releasing the sand as the truck rolled over the coal tar. This process would continue until the stretch of road was completed. After the sand was released on the coal tar, some people would move to the next mile or two to do the same thing over again, while others would sweep off sand from the stretch that was already done. Once the sand was completely removed from the road, another truck with the gravel would drive backward with the bucket tip and slowly roll through the one-mile stretch, and once again I would operate the gravel release manually. It was the toughest job I ever had, but I didn’t mind because I was making an honest living.

Sometimes, when we had a few minutes’ break, a couple of the workers would buy fresh fish pepper soup from the locals and share some with me. Occasionally, the locals would stop by to chat with us and show their appreciation for the work we were doing. Though the road was meant to provide access to the oil drilling fields, it indirectly benefited the local communities, linking them to other towns.

I survived my first week and was very excited to receive my pay. On payday, I had expected that one of my uncle’s managers would come to make the payment to the workers, but instead my uncle showed up with his entourage, riding in one of his Mercedes-Benzes. The workers were delighted to see him, thinking they would not only get paid, but would possibly get some bonuses from my uncle. But that would not be the case. My uncle told the site manager that we wouldn’t be getting paid that week; rather, we would be getting two weeks’ pay the next week. When my uncle saw me, he did not acknowledge me in any way. I was ashamed to tell my co-workers that he was related to me—not that they would have believed me anyway.

We continued toiling for the next two weeks, but no one came to pay our wages. I don’t know how I was able to survive those weeks. I was physically drained, my weight dropped dramatically, and I felt very sick. But I didn’t give up. Quitting was not an option for me, as my number one principle at the time was never to start anything that I couldn’t finish. Eventually, at the end of the fourth week, Robert, one of my relatives who lived at my uncle’s house, showed up…

To Be Continued…

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