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“Mazi Uzodika nnoo (Welcome, Mr. Uzodika),” Egoyibo, Uwanya’s wife greeted Uzodika at the door....

“Mazi Uzodika nnoo (Welcome, Mr. Uzodika),” Egoyibo, Uwanya’s wife greeted Uzodika at the door. “Daalu ezi nwanyi. Ole otu I mere? (Thanks our good wife, how are you?)” “A di m mma (I am fine, thank you).” “Is he home?” “Yes, I will go and fetch him. I hope everything is fine. You are here so early.” “Eeeem,” he stuttered, “not too bad.” She knew Uzodika’s visit had to do with borrowing money from them again. “Your good friend, Uzodika is here.” “Okay, I will brush my teeth and go see him. I hope you offered him kola nut.” “Not yet. I think he is here to ask for another loan. We have our problems too. I can’t see how we can keep giving him loans, not knowing when he will ever pay back.” “Well, I have to hear him out first,” Uwanya replied diplomatically. Even he was convinced that Uzodika was in their house this early for another loan. “You sounded as evasive last time when you proffered most of the money he asked for,” Egoyibo argued. She was a very stubborn and possessive woman. Although they could afford the paltry loans that Uzodika often asked of them, she always felt he was asking for too much.

“I have heard you Egoyibo. Please offer something to my friend. I will be with him shortly.” “I will, but be sure not to give him a penny.” Uwanya ignored her last comment and proceeded to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Egoyibo grudgingly went to the kitchen to serve Uzodika some whisky. She griped bitterly as she fished out a bottle of whisky and a glass from the kitchen shelf. “Yes, you helped my husband years back, and so what?” she murmured to herself as she rinsed the glass. “How many times do you have to come and borrow money from us? We have kids too!” She hissed, fearing that her husband would give Uzodika another loan. She returned to the living room with a huge plastic smile on her face. If only he knew how much she wanted to spill the whisky over him. “Have something to warm yourself up this morning,” she said as presented whisky to Uzodika, who praised her lavishly. “So, how are your children?” She asked as though she meant it. “They are fine. We are grappling with the worsening state of the economy,” Uzodika answered. “It is same everywhere, I wonder who is not affected,” she replied wishing she could spell that out to him in clearer terms. Uwanya joined them at this point. “Ego, please can you get me a glass. I could use some whisky too,” he requested. Egoyibo went to the kitchen and returned briskly with a glass, and poured him some whisky. “Daalu Ezigbo (thank you my good wife).”

“How is life Uzo?” “We are patching up. At least we are still alive” “Once there’s life, they say, there is hope.” “Well said my friend. We hope that tomorrow is better,” Uzodika philosophized. They expected Egoyibo to leave so they could discuss privately, but she remained stationed by the door waiting for Uzodika to declare the purpose of his visit. Uwanya stared at her, hoping she’d understand and leave them alone. She ignored his glare and stuck to her position. The two men discussed politics, the economy, the Umuobo development association, and the weather. Uzodika wondered why Egoyibo had stuck around. He knew she was a controlling woman. Although he had sensed she did not approve of her husband offering him loans, he did not expect her to be so blatantly rude as to encroach on a discussion between two friends. “Egoyibo, would you give us some time please. I guess Uzodika did not come here this early just to discuss politics and the weather with me. He must have something he wants to tell me,” Uwanya finally stamped his authority.

An ugly frown traversed her face even though she tried very hard to maintain her superficial smile. “Okay, you two should enjoy your discussion,” she said with an empty chuckle on her face as she headed into the bedroom. They could almost hear her stomping her feet on the ground in subdued rebellion as she left. “I hope all is well,” Uwanya asked again, lowering his voice. “Well, Uwa, I hate to bother you again, but my family is facing imminent starvation if I cannot raise some money quickly enough to buy some food for us.  I understand I owe you some money already, but as soon as things improve, I promise to pay you back. We have yet to receive our wages for the fourth month running. This morning, I could not look my children in the face and walk away knowing that they will go to school again without breakfast and return home to the same dire and torturous scenario after school. They haven’t done anything to deserve this and as father I have to provide for them and their mother, but the government does not seem to care about our needs. I cried myself to sleep last night wondering what more I could do to stave off hunger that is threatening to torment by beloved children,” Uzodika appealed solemnly to his dear friend.

 Uwanya sighed, feeling sorry for him. He imagined not earning money for that long and the consequences that would have on his family. He had four daughters; just half of his friend’s and even with his decent earning, sometimes life’s burdens seemed quite onerous. “How much are you looking at?” “If you could raise eighty Naira for me that will be wonderful.” He considered his friend’s request for a moment. Egoyibo was eavesdropping. She had her ears pressed tightly against the door. She could not hear them lucidly enough, but she was convinced Uzodika had asked for another loan. Knowing that his wife would challenge his decision, he had come into the living room prepared. He put his hand in his pocket and dug out two twenty Naira bills and a ten Naira bill. He handed it to Uzodika. “I do not have enough cash at home. I will stop by your house in the evening. I will give you extra thirty Naira when I come by.” “May God bless you Uwa. You will live long. You will see your children’s children. May someone else remember you in your time of need.” Uzodika thanked his friend vociferously. “No problem, Uzo. I know you’d do the same for me.” He was very grateful for Uzodika’s favor to him when he needed a land in a new city to build his factory.

 He had arrived with little knowledge of Enugu, having been told of an Umuobo man whose heart was larger and deeper than a sea. “He works with the NRC, and we understand they own half of Enugu. If you need a land, he is your man,” Uwanya had been told and Uzodika did not disappoint. He worked so hard at pushing his application through, making calls and talking directly to people involved as though he were buying the land for himself. Back when public service was reputable, Uzodika had been more well of. The slide in the economy couple with his bulging family size over time had shrunk the man’s status. His kind-heartedness could not be doubted though. Despite his declining economy, he had remained a figure in the Umuobo development association, holding the position of the president for ten consecutive years.

Armed with the fifty naira, he stepped onto the streets with immense relief and started for the market. His preferred choice was New Market, some twelve miles north of Independence layout, where Uwanya lived. It was a newer market as aptly referred to, straddling the boundary between the city and Milken hill leading to Ngwo town just outside Enugu. New Market was famous for cheaper food items in comparison to the older market, Ogbete main market located off Ogui road in the heart of the city. Unless he was shopping for items proven beyond reasonable doubt, to be cheaper at Ogbete, Uzodika would always opt for New Market. A bus ride to the market would cost him fifty kobo, but even that was luxury. He walked along Bisala road for about 13 minutes, and turned left at Bisala-New Haven junction towards Ogui road. It was slightly breezy. The air was filled with the pong of mmiri ani. His sweat-covered bald head shone brightly, reflecting the sun. He walked past Otigba junction and descended the steep road along Ogui road. He was only a few minutes from home, but he was intent of bringing home some food with him. He passed the dusty road towards his apartment, climbed another steep on the road and veered right towards the NRC complex. By cutting through NRC, he averted a longer path and saved vital time and energy. Passing Constain, he took a narrow path to Relay quarters, also belonging to the NRC. Relay quarters was a mini slum, full of corrugated iron shacks. The apartments baked like an oven in the dry season.  It was mostly inhabited by the most junior staff of the Railway Corporation (NRC).

Uzodika strode past Railway hospital, and then the senior staff quarters onto Okpara Avenue. It was now a straight path from here. He headed north until he reached his destination near the city limits. His feet were like chimneys puffing out dust as his slippers slapped away. He stepped into the market, eager to strike a good bargain. “Madam, how much is a basin of garri?” “Twelve Naira.” He eyed her coldly as though she had committed a taboo. “Twelve what? Why don’t you make it hundred Naira?” “It is the same everywhere oga (sir).” He let out a long hiss and proceeded to the next shop. “Oga! Come back. I will sell it to you for ten naira. Just for you. I think you are a good man,” she tried to win him back with flattery, but he was too engrossed in his mental arithmetic. Splashing ten naira on garri alone was abominable. He had to find someone willing to sell at a cheaper price. A few shops down the lane, he walked into another stall.

“Madam, kedu? (Madam, how are you?)” He tried a more jovial approach. “A dim mma. (I am fine thank you)” “How much is a basin of garri today?” “I will sell it for ten Naira oga; just for you,” she attempted to wheedle a deal out of him.  Sensing her desperation, Uzodika feigned disinterest. It was part of his repertoire of bargaining techniques. “Okay, thanks. I just wanted to know,” he said nonchalantly and began to leave. “Oga! Ego one ka I choo? (Sir! How much do you want to pay?)” “Well, I am not that keen to buy today, but if you are willing to sell if for six Naira, I might consider it.” “Mbanu! (No!),” she yelled. “I can’t make profit at six Naira. Sir, please pay seven Naira.” “Six Naira fifty kobo?” He asked, still walking slowly up the street. “Okay, come and take it,” she finally caved in. With garri taken care of, he bought rice, a few tubers of yam, pepper, Maggi cubes, ugu (pumpkin leaves), Ogbono, egusi and onions. Delighted, he loaded his buy into a wheel barrow and haggled tenaciously with the barrow pusher, driving the cost to forty Kobo. They both proceeded to the bus stop. Uzodika followed the pusher closely, half running sometimes. Pushers were always fast, in an effort to make as many runs as possible in a day. Some of them however, had been known to deliberately lose their clients in the process, thereby stealing their belongings. Uzodika was well aware of the trick, so he followed the barrow pusher closely, every turn of the way.

Uzor, Mma and Orjiugo were sitting on a mat in the backyard when Nzo finally appeared. He shuffled lazily as if he was badly beaten. “Is daddy back?” He asked them in a low voice. He had his right hand over his forehead, and squinted to suggest that he was having headache. “O bu gini Nzo? (What is it Nzo?),” Uzor asked. “I am having a headache,” he lied. If only you all knew how much fun I had today and how much food I had at Chisom’s house, he thought to himself almost laughing as the thought flitted through his mind. “Ndo (Sorry). Dad and mom are on the porch. I am sure mom will have some paracetamol for you.” Nzo tanked him and strolled into the bedroom. He quickly jumped into bed, shot his eyes and pretended to be deep asleep. He had escaped having to explain his whereabouts all day. Half an hour later, he dozed off. “I haven’t seen Nzo since he came to inquire about breakfast in the morning. Does anybody know where he might be?” Iheoma queried Uzor and the twins. She was cooking egusi soup for dinner when she discovered that Nzo’s brunch was still lying cold and untouched. “He was complaining of headache when he returned home. I think he might be sleeping in the bedroom,” Uzor answered. Iheoma walked into the bed, flipped on the lights and found Nzo, dead asleep. She tapped him gently. “Nzo are you alright?”
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Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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