BITTER PERCEPTIONS: CHAPTER THIRTY-FOUR


 Jide

      “Chineke m! Nwa m nwoke egbula m! Kedu ebe m sịrị mejọo? Anwụra m! Drugging an innocent girl and raping her? You see where your laziness and jealousy have landed you?”

      “Mama…”

      “I’ve spent years trying to raise you right, but all you’ve done is disgrace me.  When you left Aba for EU, I begged you to prove you were nothing like your father, but you keep piling trouble upon trouble at my door. You forged your exam results, they threw you out, and you had the boldness to return to my home with no degree after four years. Do you know I nearly threw you out myself that night? Just look at yourself…”

      I’d finally come clean to my mother after a business rival spitefully slipped a copy of Doris’ note through her warehouse unit. Only the truth could set me free. Mama still hadn’t recovered from the possibility of never seeing her only grandson again, and nearly collapsed when I informed her of the other grandchild she’d probably never see at all.

     “Did I never teach you the difference between right and wrong when you were a boy? Remember that talk we had the day your school punished you for stealing? I thought you’d changed, but instead of graduating from EU you graduated from thievery to rape. Have you no shame?”

      “Mama, I was young, and I wasn’t thinking…”

      “You were 28!” Mama interrupted. “Old enough to know better. My son, a rapist? And for what reason? Was it the girl’s fault we were poor? Do you blame her for saying she’ll never forgive you? Shame on you!”

     I crashed onto the floor in a distressed heap, blinking back my tears. I longed for my mother’s support more than ever in this hour of need, but she’d run out of sympathy. 

     “And running away from someone you impregnated? You never told me about this Nkiru girl until now, and I never knew I had another grandchild all these years. A grandchild I may never know because of your pigheadedness. Do you blame her for refusing to let you see the boy?”

      “But I didn’t even know I had another son…”

      “You really are thicker than pig shit, aren’t you? You knew his mother was pregnant, and you were responsible. Whether that Etim Bassey told you or not, it doesn’t matter. You never contacted the girl after you finished Alvan, what did you expect? Why do you want to see the kid anyway? To become a father? At least your father stayed a few years before he ran away, unlike you. Your kid will start university soon, by the grace of God, and he’ll one day become a graduate, unlike you. Why corrupt him with your bad influence?”

     That’s it, bring up that subject again, why don’t you? “Mama, I’m bearing my soul here, why bring up the past? Or have you forgotten my connections helped you secure that wholesale contract?…”

     “Biko mechie onu there! I don’t care if you built me a plaza, I’ve just found out my son is a rapist, how do you think that makes me feel, eh? You think you’re the only person whose father left? Your friend Iheanyi Ibe—the one who joined your Enyimba Rats group—his own father died before he was born, and he lived a few streets away from us. Have you seen him now? He saw sense after your band failed, and now works for the federal ministry of health…”

      “Mama, I’m sorry. I never appreciated you, I should have been a better son, but I let you down. I don’t know what I’m going to do with my life now, but I’m sorry. I want to come home…”

      “Whose home, mine?” Mama thundered. “Whatever you do with your own life from this moment, I don’t care, I’m done. I’ve been saying it for years, you’re the carbon copy of your useless father, and I don’t need two Obioma Okoroafors in my life, inugo? As of today, I no longer have a son. I’d rather be childless than have a hardened criminal for a son. You’ve let me down for the last time, never again.”

      “You don’t mean that!” Did she really mean that? “You’re abandoning me?”

      “I’m setting you free. Go your own way, I’ll go mine. Stay in Lagos, maybe you’ll find another Shirley Bassey who’ll put you up in her big house. Do you know how that family treated me those few times I travelled down to Lagos to see Isaac? They thought they were better than anyone else—your stuck-up wife felt too high and mighty to say a simple ‘good morning’. Even when she came to see me here in Aba, she was so rude, and this was after I moved out of that tiny room, and into a decent flat in Ogbor Hill. Stupid woman, I could tell she was the type who couldn’t keep her legs closed, exposing her journey to hell to any unsuspecting man, lying about her son’s paternity, using her father to force you into marrying her…”

      “Mama, please…” I pleaded desperately, tasting the salt on my lips. “Mama…”

      “Don’t call me that! You are not going to disgrace me any more than you already have, I won’t allow it. You are not going to bring your bad luck to my door after your victim cursed you. Please, go your way.”

      “I see, you no longer need me because you’ve found yourself a new husband and perfect stepkids, is that it?” I screamed down the phone. “You think you’ve finally reached VIP status because you have that wholesale business, and you…”

“Your useless father tried forcing me to abort you, but I chose not to. Now I wish I had.”

      Click. End of call.

      End of my life.

      ***

      Thank goodness Isaac couldn’t see his beloved Daddy. Dirt of ages from past residents mingled with crumbly blue emulsion flaking off the damp walls in this dingy roach-infested hellhole with rats scurrying across the worn lino. Stagnant air drifted from the neighbourhood refuse heap, and God knew how many hours I’d spent slapping off those annoying buzzers flying above me at night. My new neighbours weren’t exactly the friendliest people on the block either, especially the sulky landlord who ranted and raved at any tenant who failed to greet him during his unannounced visits. I no longer hung laundry outside lest a few items mysteriously went missing. Hardly The Ritz, but was there a better alternative? 

      I’d already emptied my bank account of every remaining penny after investing in those dodgy business deals to put down a deposit on this single room, the cheapest I could afford. (Thank goodness the landlord didn’t recognise Shirley B’s widower). No other TV channel would employ me, and my chances of ever working in media again appeared slim. I even considered dusting off my old NCE certificate, but how many school principals in their right mind would take a chance on the rapist formerly known as Titus Okoroafor? I disguised myself with a bushy beard, and wore dark glasses, but constantly lived in fear of observant neighbours taking sneaky snapshots on their cells for Indigo Lilly. Thank goodness Anna Agu only covered fashion and lifestyle, or she would have totally crucified me on . After the way she abused me at Juliet’s café, after the confrontation at Nkiru’s salon, after the showdown with Etim Bassey… Everyone hated me. 

      My stomach growled madly. I hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the previous day, and my red D&G wallet carried nothing but a few business cards from old acquaintances who had also abandoned me. I had no real friends. Everyone I knew was either a business associate, or a downtrodden colleague I’d maltreated. I’d never taken the time to appreciate their efforts, and now I was dead to them. I‘d discovered the hard way that old quote about showing kindness to people on your way up still held true. Why hadn’t I spent those salad years building towards a secure future instead of wallowing away in bitterness? Had I used up each one of my nine lives? 

     I selected an old Armani t-shirt hanging from a nail drilled into the damp wall, wincing at the sweaty stench. I had to find money soon, but without any source of income, how could I? I’d already sold most of the designer gear I packed into my suitcase when I left Shirley’s. Clothes she’d forced me to wear to fit into the Bassey family image. Yet every penny I’d made from those sales had injected their way through my veins. My ‘doctor’ had confiscated my old Tiffany cufflinks after I failed to pay for the gram I’d previously ordered. Despite breaking free from the Bassey shackles, I still found myself straddled with one permanent reminder I couldn’t quite shake off. My once-casual drug use had escalated recklessly. I no longer did cocaine, cocaine did me. 

      I made my way out of the door in those grungy Dolce shoes without a clue as to where I was headed. I didn’t care if that cranky landlord appeared in my face demanding the next instalment of the rent I was yet to pay, I only cared about my next hit. The sun blazed down with a vengeance that Monday afternoon.  School kids with satchels swinging at their sides chatted loudly on their way home. Office folk devoured rice, yam, and eba at the nearest buka and discussed what had happened so far that day. Traders sitting behind roadside stalls urged passers-by to buy their goods. Temperamental barrow boys shouted at pedestrians to move out of the way. Yellow buses jam-packed with passengers zoomed past muddy potholes… Just another day in Mushin for many. Another day of torture for me. Mama had disowned her only child, and the raging demon within begged for a fix to numb the pain. Where would I find one, though? The only credible supplier in the area had banned me from approaching him in future, and I wasn’t prepared to waste a dime on low-quality shit. Maybe I could go elsewhere, but where would I find the cash? 

      The aroma of nutmeg and vanilla drifted through my nostrils. A puff-puff seller dutifully attended to a chatty customer who rambled on about the hustle and bustle at the office, a situation I knew too well, but this wasn’t the time to reminisce, it was time to take action. I knew the seller pretty well as I’d bought akara and puff-puff from her several times before. Her husband, a charcoal-dark Ghanaian, regularly helped her on the stall, and they seemed like a lovely friendly couple, always serving customers with a smile, occasionally rewarding regulars with an extra portion. Today they were extremely generous without realising it. A black money belt bulging with the day’s takings hung loosely from the stall table. I watched the seller listen earnestly to the talkative purchaser; neither seemed to notice when I tactfully yet slowly stretched my hand towards the bag until I finally grabbed hold, trying to yank it off the nail hammered through the wood. The stall’s structure immediately collapsed the second I tugged, sending the roof and stills crashing down, and the puff-puff balls on display rolling into the gutter.

     I stood in a trance, once again cursing my bad luck, other customers watching speechless. What was my next plan—move on and steal from some other careless trader? As if.

     “Ole!” The puff-puff woman pointed to the money belt still in my hand and ran after me, her giant frying spoon still in her hand, attracting the attention of other traders and customers willing to bring a thief to jungle justice. Still clutching the bag, I ran fast as my battered D&G shoes could carry me, fearing the angry mob would lynch me, but I needed that money. I needed that fix. I continued to flee as the incensed crowd continued their hot pursuit along the slippery road, and for a lethargic junkie who hadn’t eaten anything in twenty-four hours, I managed to leave some distance between myself and the crowd until I slipped on an empty waterproof packet and fell, plunging face-down into a muddy pool.

     “Ole…ole…!” The enraged traders gathered around me, fists, kicks, rocks, and sticks flying down from every angle. I lay helplessly in tears, once again thanking my remaining lucky star Isaac couldn’t see Daddy’s fall from grace to the mud. The unforgiving crowd continued to vent their spleen, jeering and cursing as blood flowed from the wounds they inflicted, ignoring the excruciating pain I suffered.

      “Wait, isn’t that Titus Okoroafor?” I heard a girl ask excitedly above the melee. “Isn’t that the guy who married Shirley B?”

     “No way, Titus Okoroafor isn’t that skinny,” replied another bystander.

     “No, it’s him, he just has a beard now…”

     “Chineke meh! It’s him-o…”

     “What happened, I thought he worked for Bass…?”

     “What is he doing here in Mushin…?”

     “Oluwa mi-o, he looks haggard now. What happened…?”

     “Apart from being a filthy rapist, he’s also a market thief? God have mercy…”

     “Everybody, come and see! Come and see Shirley B’s husband, he stole money from Kofi’s frying corner. Upon all the money he already has? The EU’s rapist’s sins have finally caught up with him. Ole!

      The unsympathetic crowd clicked their gadgets around me, keen on making a quick buck from gossip blog sites with their selfies. The endless flashes blinded me, and my eyelids dropped shut. In a flash, I visionised my dirt-poor childhood, my uneventful school years, my stint as a rap artist, my more successful stint as a radio actor, my unhappy marriage, my beloved son…

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