Author’s note: This whole chapter occurs after our antagonist is caught stealing at the Mushin motor park. Doris appears at the end because she was supposed to treat Jide in hospital after Ekaette and Charles Obot from Bass FM Uyo rushed him to hospital (That part was never written), but I eventually decided Jide’s story should end where the mob attack him. This scene probably wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Nollywood film, but in the story it doesn’t work.
My eyes fluttered open. The now-deserted motor park remained deadly quiet without a single soul in sight, unusual for this busy part of Mushin despite the ungodly hour, and not a single bulb from the surrounding buildings beamed its light. Power cuts weren’t uncommon here, but the eerie silence frightened me. Had the angry crowd left out here alone to perish and rot? Had I learned nothing from those callous “Nwa Anini!” kids in primary school? What a difference three months made – a former TV producer once associated with Nigeria’s top media house now reduced to stealing… The news must have gone viral in a matter of seconds, thanks to those bystanders with camera phones. Heartless fools.
How would I find my way back to my less-than-humble residence bruised and unclad? I’d already suffered enough humiliation for one lifetime, but what if my attackers pounced on me from nowhere to finish what they’d already started? I widened my eyes in the dark, searching for whatever remained of my ripped clothing, ignoring the irritating creak from the nearby stall shutter flapping in the wind. Without warning, a sharp gust blustered a huge funnel a few feet away, twisting sand and debris into the crisp night air at top speed, and snatching my ripped trousers out of my trembling hands. Still naked, I ran inside Kofi’s shack shivering with fright and cold, the rusty zinc roof above flapping uncontrollably. What if those spooky whirlwinds myths I’d heard as a child were true? God help me.
“Please…please…somebody help me…”
The howling wind drowned out my strained calls, and my mind flashed back to my eventful past. The opportunities I wasted. The enemies I made. The innocent people I hurt. A history forever gone, but still alive in my head. Who would ever care about me now? Would anyone ever trust me again? Anyone?
Someone had heard me afterall. Had he come to assist me or finish me? Was he just another hellbent local back for round two? God forbid those ritualists seeking human parts for money-making spells were on the prowl…
“Please…I’m sorry. Get me out of here,” I wailed. A tall, slightly stooped man, his scant hair and bushy eyebrows highlighted with a generous grey sprinkling, emerged from the shadows, bending beside me to examine my injuries, a malicious leer etching across his wrinkles. I couldn’t even afford paracetamol now I was penniless, but anything was better than facing a judgemental stranger. A familiar stranger, for that matter. He took my hand, slowly helping me to my feet, and I gasped. It all made sense. It was me. An older me.
“You? What are you doing here?”
“I was told you were in trouble, and here I am,” came the calm reply.
“I thought you lived in Asaba. I thought you had cancer…” He’d lied about his condition when his son came down to Bass Communications asking me to make amends? What a loser. “Oho, you finally come to my aid after all these years?” I laughed scornfully at the man I’d hated all my life. “For your own info, you’re nearly forty years late. Fuck off, you’re nothing but a waste of flesh, my mother’s sperm donor, and that’s that. You didn’t give a shit about me then, and I don’t give a fuck about you now. Go back to your other kids in Asaba, you fucking old bastard.”
A massive shove sent me plunging into the nearest open gutter, my assailant’s crazed laughter echoing through the pitch dark. He packed a mean punch for a man in his sixties, but I was ready to take him on, giving him what he rightfully deserved. Hadn’t I declared he’d only have himself to blame if he ever showed his face in front of mine? Slowly I climbed out of the drainage and hobbled forward, my fists tightly clenched, but he swiftly grabbed hold of my wrists before I could punch the living daylights out of him.
“Did you just say ‘fuck’ in my presence? Show some respect boy, or I will wash out that dirty mouth with that water!” he fiercely commanded. “It is my blood you have running through your veins, and you will listen. Yes, I messed up when I was younger. Yes, I should never have abandoned you and your mother when you were a kid. Yes, I am no role model, I know that, but at least you still could have learned from my mistakes…”
“Learn for you?” I mocked. “Me, learn from a runaway father? Biggest joke of the century, like yourself. If you’d been around like a real father would, if I’d had your guidance, if you’d taught me how to be a man, I wouldn’t be here now. You’re an asshole, get the fuck out of my sight.”
Another push sent me tripping back into the stagnant drainage, and he stood at the edge, guffawing loudly. “Did you learn nothing from my mistakes? All you ever did was stress everyone out. Your mother, she could not find work as a teacher because she did not complete her teacher training course, that was why she went into trading. She tried, and she wanted the best for you. And what did you give her in return? Stress, stress, stress…” He walked around me as I wallowed helplessly in the swampy water, grudgingly listening to his belated words of wisdom. “You bone-lazy big-eyed fool, all you do is sit around, moping about what you’ve never worked for. You might as well shit in your toilet and expect the smell of roses. It is not always where you come from that is important, it is where you are going. Do you know how many great men came from nothing?”
The wind died down, and silence engulfed the area again. “I hear you forged your papers before you entered that university, I read it in The Punch. What was the point in sending you there? Four years of university, and you waste it drinking like a fish, smoking your lungs out, pursuing young girls, sending your benefactor’s cash down the gutter for nothing. Making your mother suffer for nothing. And what are you now, you thief? Nothing.”
“At least I got a job after I left university…” I argued. To hell with our blood ties, he was in no position to take the moral high ground.
“You did not leave university, you were expelled,” he replied. “And you deserved it…”
“And my TV career helped Mama more than you ever did,” I snapped, ignoring his last sentence. “We moved out of that grubby one-room, I helped Mama when she moved from retail to wholesale…”
“What about all the people you hurt along the way when you still believed the sun shone right out of your nyash? All the workers you bullied, the people you ridiculed, the woman you raped…”
“Don’t you even go there…” I wagged a finger in his smug wrinkly face, wondering how he knew my deepest secrets. Had Mex Orlando paid him a visit? Or perhaps the Basseys?
“I just did. The news was on that computer thing they call the internet, and everyone knows you’re guilty, do not even try to deny it. Drugging someone into your bed? That is just pure evil. How could you be so ruthless?”“
“You have no right to…”
“You want to talk about rights, eh? Very well. What about the son you abandoned?”
“Who told you about…”
“What about the son you abandoned?” He repeated. “You seduced his mother, got her pregnant, and fled. Your son has never seen you because you are too selfish. Do you see him shaking his fist at the world? Look at him now, about to start university, unlike his own sperm donor.” He laughed again. “His mother was a smart girl with a good head on her shoulders, but of course you had to lead her astray with your penis. And you have the guts lie in that gutter talking to me about rights. Open your mouth to me again, and I will read you your last rites, you stinking hypocrite.”
“How did you know about Nkiru and Michael?” Had this man spent his life stalking me from afar?
“And the girl you raped in EU, what did she ever do to you? I may have been a typical bad boy during my time, but I would never have raped anyone…”
“So you say.”
“Shut up there! You think you are better than me? You thought you were better than anyone else when you lived the high life, eh?” He raised a bony wizened finger and pointed behind me. “Look up there, boy.”
Doris Duru’s winning smile sparkled brightly under the moonlight, her large eyes peering at me. The same girl I’d predicted would never graduate from university had literally made it big, her roaring success elevating her to superstar status as I lay rotting in the doldrums. I turned away from the giant AdVocate! billboard, frustration eating away at me deep inside. Twelve years ago, I felt nothing but jealousy and contempt at the mere mention of her name. Twelve years later, the tables had turned. Doris was laughing at me.
“Do you see her moping around in self-pity? No, she picked herself up and proved she was the better person. Look at her. She is up there, and you are down here. You are an untouchable. You are nothing.”
“What do you want?” I wasn’t going to lie there completely naked listening as he rambled on about my past blunders. “Did you come all this way to make fun of me?”
“No.” The whirlwind returned, reeling at a higher speed. “I came for my son. There is nothing left here for you, so you might as well come with your father.”
“What?” Obioma Okoroafor had definitely lost the plot. “Me, follow you? Over my dead body. I never thought I’d say this, but I actually feel sorry for your other children, the non-bastard ones whose mother you actually married. After what you did to Mama and I, you think I’ll ever trust you again?” Quick as a flash, I jumped up, brushing past the man I’d labelled Waste of Flesh the Sperm Donor. “Go back to Asaba, return to your family, you stupid man…”
“Who said anything about Asaba? I said you are coming with me, and that is final. Listen to your father, boy.” He grabbed my wrists and pulled me towards the whirling breeze, ignoring my protests.
“Like hell. Let me go, let me go!” The blaring wind drowned my tear-stricken voice, and I struggled harder.
“Did somebody say ‘hell’?” he taunted. “I’ll give you hell. You are coming with me, whether you like it or not.”
“No…no!” I broke free and ran as fast as my bruised legs could carry me through the bushes, gasping for breath with every stride. Obioma Okoroafor followed close behind in hot pursuit, his maniacal laughter ringing in my ears. I dashed ahead without stopping until I reached a clearing at the end. A great light flashed from above, piercing into the gloom, and I blinked. There, right in front of me, stood an unlikely saviour.