Tag Archives: Nigerian Independence Day

‘Cali’: Part Three

Cali showed up outside my gate the next day. His knocking ‘Gbam! Gbam! Gbam!’ rattled the gate and brought me to the window of my ground floor flat. My landlord who had been celebrating Independence Day clinking glasses and eating suya with some of his friends around the guava tree, let him in.

“Yes?” he stood to the side, looking him up and down. He smiled as if he had just relieved himself. “Which one are you looking for?”

“Good evening, sah. I am looking for Chielozona,” came his voice.

“Shit,” I muttered, hiding behind a curtain. How on earth had he found me?

My landlord’s smile disappeared. “We lock this gate at nine o’clock, sharp,” he said in his retired-gateman voice. “This is a respectable yard.”

Cali stepped in. I saw him frown slightly. His mouth said, “Thank you, sir, I will be out of here by then.”

I started to feel bad about my toad of a landlord harassing him so I went to the front door. Cali turned when he heard it open, talking even before his eyes had verified I was the one. “I just came to return your wallet,” he said. “It fell down the other day and you ran away as I was calling you.”

My landlord was still eyeing Calestous which made me strangely territorial. “Come in,” I said, grabbing him by the arm. I shut the door in my landlord’s face.

“Thank you. I have been looking for my wallet since yesterday. I would have had to cancel all my cards.” Not too bad when you work in a bank but a nuisance nonetheless.

“Ey yaa,” said Calestous sympathetically. He did not take his eyes off me. I opened the wallet. He moved about the flat, picking things up and setting them down again.

“There is too much money in here,” I said. I felt my nostrils flare. “Did you put extra money in my wallet?”

“Yes,” said Calestous, still wandering about.

“Why?”

“For your blouse now. I told you I would buy you another one.”

“I don’t need your money.” I counted out the surplus cash and added a few more notes for good measure. I stood where I was, holding out the money, forcing Calestous to come back to me so that I could get him out the door. He turned slowly. Smiled. Walked towards me, counting his steps. When he reached me, he took my hand in his and traced the lines on my palm with a finger.

“When are we meeting your parents?”

“Excuse me?!” I squeaked and began to cough. I snatched my hand away and thrust the wad of bills into his. I knew then Calestous was mad. I blamed myself for my earlier jealousy. I should have just let my landlord lure him into his upstairs flat full of disgruntled wives and hungry daughters who waited for marriage to give them their own rooms, to save them from their father’s mad desire to keep procreating. It would not be the first time. He’d got three of his daughters married off the same way – bloated and pregnant, looking like laden ships as they glided down the aisle in virgin-white gowns. One of the husbands had been my neighbour Ngozi’s boyfriend, the only other single girl in the compound and by that virtue my friend. She had moved out soon after.

“I said, when are we meeting your parents? I want you to be my wife.”

“I think you should just leave.” I opened the door. The noise suddenly died down. I knew my landlord and his mates were watching and listening to every word. I didn’t care. I had to get rid of Calestous. Ignoring the ridiculousness of the situation, the man said ‘Pelents’ and the more I heard him talk, the more I replaced Rs with Ls in my own head. Even ‘bitiful’ didn’t seem to annoy me as much as it previously had. The man had to go.

“I will go,” he said. “But I plomise you, you will dleam of me.” He had the audacity to look sad. “You are my wife, Chielozona, and I am your husband. I am sure you feel it. Inside ya heart.”

He left. My landlord watched him go with eating eyes.

I slammed the door for the second time that day, locked and bolted it. I was agitated. I plugged in my electric heater and warmed up a bucket of water. Before it was properly hot, the power cut off. I did not have the energy to put on my generator. I scrubbed my body hard with my sponge trying to make up for the lukewarm water. I lit a kerosene lamp and put it in the hallway, dusted mentholated talcum powder all over my neck and settled in for the night.

When I slept, I dreamt of Calestous.

‘Cali’: Part One

The market was even more crowded than normal. I elbowed my way through, irritated.

“Nne-nne,” a man called.

I stopped. “What?”

Many times later in life I would wonder why I stopped. I never stopped. Not when men tried to guess at my name, calling out ‘Ada!’ or ‘Chi-chi!’ or ‘Ngozi!’ or ‘Ifeoma!’ and held my wrists so tightly that my watch snapped or my bracelets bit into my skin. Perhaps that was it – he didn’t touch me. Maybe it was that he did not do that annoying hissing thing that Nigerian men do when they want to get your attention anywhere. Or else it was the way he stood, like he had expected me to stop. Maybe it was Juju.

I hesitated, annoyed with myself and made to continue. The man walked up to me, dabbing his face with an overly-white handkerchief which nearly blinded me in the sun. Green and red dots swam in my vision when I looked away.

“What do you want?” I snapped with more venom than was required.

He shrugged. “Nothing.”

“Nothing?”

“Nothing, just to look at your beautiful face.” He pronounced it ‘bitiful’. I thought ‘Kill me, now’.

“I am going,” I said. Traders hung about, watching this exchange and it made me uneasy. I swatted a fly that buzzed around my ear. My chandelier earring swung. It got caught in my hair.

“Barrow, barrow!” A barrow boy bellowed, looking for a customer. He bore down on me as I stood in the middle of the path, struggling with my earring-hair ornament. The man reached out a hand and moved me to the side.

“The barrow was rusty. It might have cut your beautiful legs,” he said when I glared at him for touching my waist.

Ballow. Lusty. Bitiful. I abandoned struggling with my earring as my irritation – against myself, against him – mounted. The man couldn’t even speak English! Why had I stopped? I was making a spectacle of myself. My right earlobe hurt from being twisted upwards. He moved again and before I could slap his hand away, he had untangled my earring from my hair.

“Thank you,” I said frostily, walking away.

“Mummy, wait now.”

Immediately my stomach roiled. I detested men who used ‘Mummy’ as a term of endearment. I found it exceptionally unimaginative.

“My name is not mummy,” I snapped back. “Am I your mother?” I carried on walking, cursing my heels, my ill-fortune at having to enter the market on that day. I hated the market. Noisy and smelly and grabby and spitty. Had I not come straight from the office, I would have sent Chekwube or Okey, two of the fastest, most resourceful kids in my compound to get me what I needed. They always brought back correct change and didn’t dally. But tomorrow was Independence Day and markets would be closed all over the country. I had run out of cabin biscuits and wouldn’t survive the night.

“Nne what is your nem then?” he asked from behind me, undeterred.

My name? I thought. As if.  I was jostled and jostled others in turn. The loose sand conspired against me. My thighs burned. A woman with a basket of broken tomatoes as wide as her hips brushed past me, dripping reddish water down the elbows she put behind her head to support her load.

“Easy now, ah-ahn!” I yelled.

She eyed me with uninterested eyes, walking away. “Sorry Aunty,” she said.

“Are you going to pay for my clothes?” I shouted behind her. She didn’t answer. She flicked some more of the tomato water from her forehead. I examined my clothes. There was a watery-red stain on the front of my cream shell camisole.

“I will, if you tell me your nem,” suddenly the man was in front of me. He smiled, showing a gap between his teeth. “My name is Calestous. But my guys call me Cali.”

Calestous. Of course. Right up there with Pius, John-Mary and Titus. I stopped for a man called Calestous – ‘Cali to his guys’ – and I would have to live with that decision for the rest of my life.

I looked at him. At his smiling, dabbing, Bright Chimezie self and knew this was not a man to give up easily. It would help if I just gave him my name. That way he would leave me alone.

“Chielozona,” I said. The fight went out of me like wind.

“Chielozona,” he repeated, nodding. “Bitiful.”

My short story in Running out of Ink magazine

Hello blogfam! Kegwan?

Today is Nigeria’s Independence Day and to celebrate I am coining new words to reflect the fact that I am a little bit of both, born in Nottinghamshire, raised in Nigeria.

‘Kegwan’ is coined from ‘Kedu’ , the short form of ‘Kedu ka i mere’ which means ‘How are you?’ in Igbo and ‘Wagwan’, the Jamaican bastardisation of the same, popular among the yoof in London.

Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that ‘Kegwan’ is not great.

I tell you what is though; my short story made it into Running out of Ink magazine! Huzzah! You can read it here or on the magazine cover above to get access to the whole index.

Leave me your thoughts. I will be glad of them. Till then, it’s back to the grindstone for yours truly.

Have a wonderful October 1st if you’re Nigerian. If you aren’t, a wonderful month ahead.