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Nosagie calmly walked out of the general hospital, eyes bloodshot, oblivious to the words of comfort and sorrow muttered by the nurses. It was well past midnight, but he walked calmly through the streets of Iyanaworo nonetheless, slowly making his way to the bridge, thinking of what he could have done to save Osato’s life. He should have brought her in yesterday, or last week, but even so, he couldn’t have seen this coming. His wife, Osato had been pregnant for eight months, and everything was fine until she felt a sharp pain in her stomach that evening and began to bleed. He had been out driving his blue Volkswagen bus that afternoon trying to make whatever he could so his wife would have enough money to buy more goods from those Hausa traders. She sold onions, pepper, tomatoes, vegetable oil and fish at Ketu. By the time he got home, her blood had already covered a huge portion of the carpet and had thickened like palm oil. He did all he could to get her to the hospital immediately, but it was already too late. The baby came out lifeless, and she also had died having lost a lot of blood.
Nosagie thought about the amount of blood that she lost, he thought about the carpet that he would have to discard, the goods that he would have to sell as he would have no use for them. He thought about going to Europe through Libya just like many of his friends did. He thought about his mother, who he hadn’t seen since the armed night robbers had broken into their home in Ebute Metta and carted with most of the things they owned. His mother had gone to the police station that night determined to find a solution, but she never came back. By now Nosagie had already made his way to the bridge, confident he would jump into the water when his life flashed before his eyes.
As a child, Nosagie thought that all the adults were rich; the kids he played ogirise with thought so too, that since adults were so tall, they probably plucked money from trees—the guava tree most especially, whose branches were so high.
He loved the earth, the red earth that filled the entire Benin Kingdom and was never shy to soil his hands and clothes either at day or night. His mother would often reprimand him sternly complaining that he wasn’t the one who washed his clothes, but his father being a sculptor will laugh saying that the red earth is a goddess and she clearly had interest in him. His father had told him a story once, in bini language, about why the entire Benin was filled with red soil;
“It was sometime in 1897, long before I was born, the ‘Punitive Expedition’ if I recall correctly when thousands of British soldiers massacred hundreds of people and lay waste to the Oba’s palace. So it is the blood of the innocent people that died which turned the soil into red.” Nosagie loved listening to such stories and would bribe his father with Palm Wine so that he could say more. But that was many years ago, and Nosagie would not be there to say goodbye to him when he passed away in his sleep.
When he started going to school, they told him, his father and mother told him, that he was intelligent, the brightest amongst his peers, that he will make the family proud. The time he got a scholarship to Word of Faith secondary school, his mother called him into her tiny room where she sat on a lowly stool beside her sleeping mat and began to tell him in a low voice how proud she was of him and how much she loved him. She told him he was better than all of his father’s children, many of whom had little or no interest in education and just preferred to roam the streets and constitute a nuisance to the neighbourhood. Non-entities, his mother had called them, and she emphasized greatly on how seriously he had to study so that he would make all ‘A’s when the time for him to take the WAEC examinations came. She reminded him of how lucky he was to be in school regretting that she listened to her mother and sold yams and tomatoes in the market instead of completing her secondary education. Nosagie nodded all through the length of the conversation saying “Okay, no problem” on occasion, all the while fixing his gaze on the dimly lit kerosene lantern which hung from the clay wall.
They lived in Uselu, not too far from the market, in that big family house which they shared with his father’s wives. Five they had been in number—including his mother, making fourteen children in total. The year was 1985, the period where young girls had already gone to Italy and come back, bringing with them new hairstyles, new clothes, and fancy items. Some of his siblings had traveled too, but they brought nothing back for him or his mother. Out of spite, they mocked his mother saying that a pair of shoes they brought back was worth more than a basket of tomatoes that she sold.
Being the last wife meant that the other wives would be jealous of her because their husband would spend more nights in her room than with all of them combined and being the only child of his mother meant that his other siblings too would be jealous of him. Of the way his eating bowl was always garnished with extra morsels of meat anytime his mother cooked her delicious Iyaan and Owo (Yam and Owo stew) or of the way his mother heaped mounds of jollof rice on his plate every Sunday afternoon.
It wasn’t until the Christmas he spent in Lagos, the Christmas he was raped by his mother’s friend’s maid that he became aware of himself. The Christmas after his father died, after which they were forced out of the house in Uselu, taking whatever was left of their belongings and leaving Benin because they blamed his mother for his father’s death.
He would never tell his mother about the incident with the maid because he had enjoyed it and because the day before the incident, they attended mass at St Dominic’s in Yaba where he had received Holy Communion. He would never speak of the day he got into a fight at the new school he attended in Maryland where he thrust a knife into the arm of the head boy. His mother will never know that he stole car parts in Surulere and Ojuelegba because they were broke. Only he will understand the depression he felt when he had to drop out of Unilag, how he became familiar with the taste of dry gin, the smell of tobacco and the emphatic feeling of female tongues circling his penis.
He struggled alone, suffering from PTSD the night his mother disappeared without a trace, just after their house was robbed for the fifth time. He stopped going to church, never touched his Bible and was in a state of despair until he met Osato.
She worked as a hairdresser in a salon along Ogudu road, and he worked at a petrol station in Ojota as an attendant. They bumped into each other as they fought with a few other people to get on a Molue bus going towards Iyanoworo. They became friends that day and talked about everything. They spoke about the people they grew up within Benin, about the schools they attended, about the insane things that go on in Lagos. They shared dreams, where love, finance, and happiness coexisted, unthreatened. It wasn’t long before Nosagie started to feel whole again, like the child that soiled himself in the red soil with no hint of turmoil yet in the surrounding air. Eventually, after some years, she moved into the two-bedroom flat he rented in Iyanoworo, and they began to build a life together. She owned a hair salon and made extra money by trading goods at Ketu. He worked in a school now and carried passengers on his way home in his blue Volkswagen bus as a way of making a little extra money. When the bump in her stomach became visible, they raved about what names to give the baby. They settled on Efosa if it was a boy and Adesuwa if it was a girl.
Nosagie was beginning to experience the joys of being a father and was at peace up to the very moment Osato died. Now there he was, alone on the third mainland bridge in the dead of night, having already resigned himself to the comfort of death when a small Toyota Carina pulled up beside him and honked.
Joseph Wodo is from Delta State in Nigeria and he currently resides in Lagos. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Landmark University, Nigeria.
Joseph began writing poetry in 2012 and he has utilized opportunities, networks and experiences to maximize his knowledge of poetry writing in literature. He loves to read works of African literature, especially fiction and is currently learning the art of storytelling. Joseph’s literary role model is Chinua Achebe and while writing poetry, he draws inspiration from life, love, politics, and society; to mention a few. He aims to inspire people positively with his poems and to influence the world of African literature.
Joseph participated in the first cohort of the SLM Mentorship Programme, and he is currently part of the SLM team as the Website Coordinator.
2019 SLM Poetry Contest Winner will be announced on August 1, 2019.
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