The tennis ball bounced off the wall in the cubicle he called home. Copious amounts of perspiration poured down his face.
“Bros, no be play I dey so. I’m telling you, I saw her at the hotel.”
“The hotel? Which hotel?” He growled.
“The Abinibi L’Orient Hotel.” There was uncertainty.
“What?! Which branch?”
“The one for Mbanugo Drive, which hotel I wan dey by dis time? No be my working place?” There was incredulity in the voice.
“What?!” He intoned at the same time a numbing pain had shot from the left side of his neck down his left arm, it had also radiated from his chest where his heart raced faster than a bloodhound on the trail of a prey. What felt like hot liquid had trickled down his left breast.
“Did you say The Abinibi L’Orient?”
“Mbanugo Drive?” His pitch had increased.
“Yes.” Came the clipped reply.
He had paused and bit his lower lip hard, the taste of blood and raw flesh did nothing to assuage whatever it was that he felt. “How long ago was this?” He had asked between belaboured breaths.
“This is 9:27 pm, umm, about an hour and sixteen minutes ago. I’ve been trying to get you on phone ever since but to no avail.”
“I was stuck in traffic now, I was stuck in traffic.” He had replied in a semi whine, a lump in his throat. “I went to return the vehicle and was on my way back ho—”
“Bros, you’re my guy and I won’t sit back and watch you be deceived. We’ve come too long a way since primary school, for me to let that happen. You know me now, I go tell you as e be. The matter be say that babe no worth am. It was me who took champagne in a bucket upstairs to them when he ordered room service. And no, they were neither having a business meeting nor a prayer session. She was under the sheets and your oga was in a bath robe. Luckily she doesn’t know me.”
“Hello? Hello? Oriseasotie, are you there?”
“The bastard. The bloody bastard. He had his tennis gear with him. That bloody son of a— It wasn’t enough that he was absent from my life, it wasn’t enough that he bailed on my mother before I was born…”
“What are you talking about?”
“…Now he would go ahead and take my woman from me? I did not think his asking about her regularly meant anything. How did I not see this? I knew he was up to some mischief when he told me not to worry about him for the rest of the day and that he would find his way home. I know say him wan play away match, but with my woman? MY WOMAN?!” He yelled, this time, rage, evil deadly lethal rage had taken him over.
“Oriseasotie, wetin you dey talk so? You mean say oga boss wey you come drop for hotel na your fa—“ *click*
He had dropped the phone.
The bitter rage that was born that night had grown in his heart from that moment forth.
Everytime he had driven the boss, he had kept his eyes trained on the rear view mirror for long intervals, feeding his desire, dreaming up the perfect revenge.
More than once he had entertained the idea to swerve off his lane onto the opposite lane and make the car and its occupants one with the asphalt underneath an oncoming trailer. But knowing how unpredictable and, sometimes, unreliable fate was, he knew she could make a death as horrid as that happen too quick, then there would not be pain enough, or at all, and that thought did not satisfy him one bit.
How he had been disgusted at the reflection he saw on that rear view mirror daily; the silky smooth grey hair, the suave persona, the neat clothes, his accursed frame. Even the vial of the odourless and tasteless slow to act poison, thallium, which he carried around tucked in his pocket, and had planned to empty in the boss’ take out lunch several times, with the hope of watching him die a slow painful death, seemed an unworthy venture. And that —his inability to think up the most painful revenge— angered him almost as much as the man who sat behind him daily. Until he could conclude on what the perfect act would be, he had busied himself with feeding his anger till it became obese and enveloped every fibre of his being. To his anger, he had added hatred, and his hatred he had nurtured into loathing.
“I mean that my son, Mr. Jeremiah Onuigbo, is not your father!” She spat back.
“What? What are you talking about, grandma? Why do you refer to daddy as ‘Mr. Onuigbo’ and not as my father?”
“Tufiakwa! God forbid!” The old woman had wound her arms over her head and snapped her fingers away from her body, a look of contempt on her face. “Do not call me grandma. I cannot be the grandmother of a child whose mother was a harlot. It is the great God who deals justly with all men that took that witch, Izegbuwa, away all those years ago. I am in awe that the spell she cast on my son did not break at her death, for he kept you and called you his son.”
“Mama, please don’t do this, please, it isn’t fair. The soil over daddy’s coffin is still moist and upturned, we are still…”
“Are you talking to me?” The old woman had screamed and sprung to her feet with a surprising agility that belied her age and weight. “Are you insulting me? Did you say it is not fair? It is not fair?” She continued at the top of her voice, her eyes almost popping out of their sockets, a massive frontal vein prominent on her forehead with its various tributaries turning a darker hue of blue beneath her fair skin. Saliva sprayed from her mouth, white and thick at the edge of her lips. Her target, a girl in her early teens had warily put some distance between herself and her grandmother, staring wide eyed at the old woman, disbelief and hurt in those wide eyes. “Speak again and see if I will not break every bone in your body.” The old woman returned her focus on the little boy who stood at a corner of the house, his eyes had glazed over, his ten year old mind driven to the edge.
Where was all this bile from? Was this not the same mama who had often bought him his favourite snack, unripe plantain thins fried to a crisp, whenever she came to town from Mbaise? What was happening?
The wall became blurry before him as tears filled his eyes, falling down to the ground as his reflexes kicked in when he attempted to catch the tennis ball but missed. He reached for it, picked it off the floor and readjusted himself in the steel chair. He launched the ball at the wall.
“Mama, why are you talking like this? Why are you shouting at me?” The little boy had cried.
“Don’t mama me. Your mother did not get my son, so you did, you killed my son, you wizard. Now you finished her work for her, okwa ya? Isn’t that so?” The old woman placed both hands on her head, tears appeared as if from nowhere and fell freely. “Was his blood tasty? Was it filling? Did your coven accept it? Enh? Answer me!” She wailed.
“Grandma stop it! Junior did not kill Daddy. I was there. Daddy died trying to get him off the road before the truck could hit him, instead, it got Daddy, you know that.” The teenage girl had shrieked at her grandmother.
“Shut up! I said shut up, Chikamso!” She had leapt to her feet with that amazing agility again and with a swift move of her hands had pulled her breasts from underneath her clothing, exposing them. She had grabbed them with both hands and at the top of her voice, she had spoken.
“You dare speak to me with such disrespect? You dare shout at me? I curse you this day. Your children will bring you pain all the days of your life. It will be so, unless your father, Jeremiah, did not suckle these breasts. I curse you this day, your…”
One of the mourners, the late man’s widow, the third woman he ever married, had lunged at the old woman and pulled her hands off her breasts, she had blocked off the view from others around with her own body and had shoved them back underneath the older Mrs. Onuigbo’s clothing. She had pleaded with tears in her eyes for the older woman to rescind the curse, but her request was refused, the pain of losing a son too unbearable to forgive.
“And for as long as that demon is in this house, I will not give you peace.” Grandma had threatened the widow, pointing at the little boy who had crumpled into a sobbing mass.
Those words echoed in his ears even now.
“Junior, you remain my brother, and I will love you forever. Do not worry about grandma’s madness.”
Chikamso had whispered in his ear as he sat crying in her embrace, looking at her luggage packed in her room.
“If daddy isn’t my father,” he asked, sobbing, “Then who is?”
“Junior, you don’t want to know this, you’re too young.”
“I do.” He yelled and burst into fresh tears. He held her face, searching her eyes, “Please tell me, please, please.” He cried.
“I don’t know who he is. What I know is this; Daddy was a strange one. I know when mummy, your birth mum, came to us as daddy’s new wife, she was a few months pregnant. She would sit and cry a lot. I do not know what it meant, but she kept calling the name ‘Banue’. When you were to be born, she refused the hospital, so local midwives came in. She died when you were a year and five months old, refusing to see a doctor when some complications with her health arose. Big sis later told me that she had a major dislike for doctors because one of the young ones had gotten her pregnant and abandoned her. That was when I knew you weren’t my biological brother.”
‘Banue’, that name stuck in his head like adhesive.
“I hear he has a small clinic down that bush road. But what does it matter? The Onuigbos are your family, we have always been. And I love you dearly.”
Chikamso had assured him the night before she left, but what could she do from over 400 miles away in boarding school?
The pain and pressure that followed became unbearable, and before he clocked eleven, the little boy had run to the streets and found shelter in abandoned vehicles. He had wandered for about seventeen months, surviving off the goodwill of vehicle owners whose windshield he wiped clean with soapy water and a wiper without their permission. More often than not he had been insulted for this endeavour by drivers. He had often swore after each tirade that one day, he would drive a car.
By the end of the seventeenth month, a task force picked him and several others from the streets and took them to a home for destitute children. Here he had received a semblance of secondary school education and by the time he was grown enough to venture out on his own, he had realized the gift of his hands. Getting by as a handyman was not easy. Yet by the eighth month of the third year outside the home, he sat in a hall fidgeting, awaiting the results of a series of tests for a job interview.
“Oriseasotie J. Onuigbo!”
“Present ma.” His hand had shot in the air, calloused, trembling, sweating palms.
The official went through her sheaf of papers then at his face. She beckoned on him to come closer and handed him an envelope as soon as he did.
She yelled at the top of her voice.
The young man waited for her to speak to him, but evidently, she was done with him.
He left the place. His heart drummed in his rib cage as he tore the envelope open and read.
Dear Mr O.J Onuigbo Jr.,
Based on your sterling performance in your written test, and your dexterity at the wheel and proper knowledge of traffic codes, we are glad to inform you that you are qualified for the post advertised. Your employment commences ten working days after receipt of this letter. Forthwith, you have been granted the position of Personal Driver to the Chief Medical Director.
Please come with your passport photograph, your…
But he had stopped assimilating the words. He had done an extremely awkward dance, jumped up high and landed with his buttocks on the bare ground. He felt a sharp pain pierce through his hind quarters, the left butt cheek, but who cared? The driver to the CMD, that had to be something major. Was that not akin to being the head driver? Excitedly, he pored through the names on the side of the letter-headed paper, looking for the name of the Chief Medical Director whose driver he had beco—
Dr. Micah Banu Pwanglong. Chief Medical Director, Hill Nadir Hospital.
He stared at the freshly laundered grey suit hanging in his wardrobe and sighed.
I AM ONE MEN