Nduka Odili’s intimidating form caused a stare as he briskly made his way through the corridors of the department. His black leather jacket on white crispy shirt, tucked into brown chinos, which felt a little bit tight in the middle, gave him this dashing celebrity look; it left this sweet feeling of hot creamed chocolate. He waltzed into the lecture hall, paying the least attention to some roving eyes that stared at him as though he was a hot meal ready to be devoured. The man was simply the catch to take home on a cold Nsukka night. It was common for one to mistake him for a student: he was too sexy to be a professor of literature: Nduka had all the good looks and charm. Professor Mba, from history, usually teased him about not looking close to forty.
Mr Odili brushed his fingers through his thick low jet-black moisturized hair, and put on the headphone. He opened a text before him, and everywhere grew mute to show how much they craved his baritone.
“Good morning, everyone!”
Nduka said, his brows gathered in a twisted form while he swept his eagle eyes all around the hall for the first time, as though he was looking for something in particular. His students responded to his greeting with murmurs. Mr. Odili leaned his slim bony structure against a wide table on the podium, crossed his straight legs, held his right arm under the left, lifted the novel to his face, and read:
….There is no story that is not true, what is good among one people is an abomination with others….Among the Igbo, the art of conversation is regarded very highly, and proverbs are the palm-oil with which words are eaten….” (Things Fall Apart, Achebe).
At the end, when he lifted his face, he saw that they were completely mesmerized; he continued:
“A fine way of capturing the culture and tradition of a people is through the art of storytelling. Chinua Achebe exposes us to….”
All of a sudden, he paused: Nduka noticed that he was sweating. He dipped his hand into his jacket and brought out a white hanky, and as he tried to wipe his face, his hands started shaking. What was wrong with him? He noticed that his students waited in anticipation. Nduka tried to talk but all of a sudden, he felt white flashes before his eyes and his mouth went dry. He had to continue:
“Today is meant for introduction. When you get back, pick a copy of Achebe’s Trilogy; they would serve as our case study in the next lecture. Good day.”
Immediately, he took the exit end; he blindly bashed right into someone. Scripts and texts flew into the air and rained down on them. The woman gasped; she couldn’t believe what actually happened.
“I am so sorry that I didn’t see you coming.” Nduka quickly apologized and went down on all fours and started gathering the books. Although his vision was fast failing, he couldn’t help as his eyes trailed up her slim straight legs. He cursed himself for looking, and dragged his eyes away. Her voice caught him unawares:
“I apologize! I was actually rushing out for an appointment. Look at what I have done!”
“No, not to worry.”
Nduka tried to assure her, but she bent down and joined him. His eyes caught a good portion of her inner thighs, wide hips, indulging chest, slender arm, and her straight neck which showed through the short gown, which was the colour of a faded leaf. Nduka swallowed hard and jumped right up immediately.
“Here, I have to run. I apologise.” Nduka said through a shaky voice.
“Thank you so much. I am Emelie Agu.”
The lady introduced herself, smiling.
“Nduka Odili. See you around.”
He replied coolly, and slowly walked away like someone who was intimate with his mind.
Immediately he got to the car park, Nduka brought out his phone and punched in some numbers; the receiver picked at the first instant, and said:
“Uche, I’m coming over. Sorry, I couldn’t book an appointment.”
Nduka apologized. Uche was a close friend of his and a psychologist. He worked at the general hospital in Enugu, and also had a private practice in Nsukka. Uche read the sense of urgency laced all over his friend’s voice, and replied:
“Why don’t you come over to my office? I would be leaving the hospital in minutes. Meanwhile, your test results are ready.”
Nduka had already gotten to his Pathfinder; he pressed the unlock key, opened the door, and gently eased his lean frame onto the driver’s seat.
“How is it?”
Nduka asked anxiously.
“I will see you in a bit.”
Uche was trying to hide something. Nduka knew him well enough.
“I will be right there.”
Nduka replied. The car came alive, and he drove into the peaceful terrain of the campus and towards the GRA.
Nduka eyed Uche from where he sat on an old gray extended couch. They allowed the silence in the room to linger for a while. He couldn’t believe that there was absolutely nothing wrong with him? He knew that what the doctor said was right: he needed rest, but Nduka was too scared to be idle. He didn’t want his past to catch him unawares and weigh him down. Uche studied him closely, and after some minutes, he decided to break the silence.
“Do you still have their stuff lying around the house?”
There was a window on the right hand side of where Nduka sat, and in order to avoid making eye contact with his friend, he turned and sun-kissed his face. It was already getting to mid-day. Mr Odili got up, and went to look out through the window; his eyes settled on cars, men and women who made their way around the busy streets of the young town. He buried his hands in his trouser pockets, smiled, and replied guiltily like a child:
“Yes, I still do.”
At that point, the flashes came back in quick succession, his hands began to shake, and he saw Chi and the girls crying for help while he watched the car blow up in a wild flame. He didn’t know when Uche came over; he patted Nduka on the back and in a low tone, he said:
“You know, it has been five years.”
Nduka turned to Uche, the skin on his face had turned pale and stiff all of a sudden.
“I don’t care how long it takes.”
Nduka replied adamantly.
“But you know that they are never coming back?”
Uche asked patiently.
Nduka kept quiet.
“How I wish I didn’t have to travel that week.”
“But you couldn’t help it. You had to work.”
Uche tried to offer some consolation. Nduka breathed hard and replied:
“I don’t know if I can ever get over it; over everything: the shock, the pain, the bitterness, the regret, the resentment, it is just too much for me to bear.”
“You can, only if you try.” Uche offered.
“How?” Nduka asked.
“By taking a bold step.” Uche said. He came to Nduka, and presented a card, and added:
“Here is a first step towards getting back on your feet.”
Nduka took the card, and read aloud:
“St Matthew Charity and Orphanage homes? What is this for?”
Uche shrugged and said:
“They need clothing and warm blankets for the cold season. You can also volunteer to teach the kids.”
Nduka knew exactly what Uche was driving at. Everything was still as though Chi and his girls were still around: her hair brush and rollers were still on her dresser with strands entangled on them from her honey coloured hair, and the girls’ toys and bicycles all lay in the backyard. Everything was as they left them five years ago. Even the black silky lingerie she wore the last time they made love before he travelled was where she left it on the bedpost. He didn’t know how to part with everything. As though Uche read his mind:
“I will send over a volunteer to help you pack; it would be less painful when you have someone talk you through the whole process.”
Nduka didn’t utter a word; he just stuffed the card into his pocket, and quietly walked away.
Deji’s was the best spot for Abacha in the whole of Nsukka: people came from afar just to get a taste of the African delicacy.
“Hi! May I sit?”
Emelie inquired. It was too late to hide the embarrassment on his face, Nduka stammered and said:
He looked shyly at his almost empty plate.
“Sorry about the other day.”
Emelie said while smiling and scooping a mouthful.
“No worries at all. I guess I was in too much of a hurry.”
Nduka replied. For the first time, he got a closer look at her luxurious lips, lined with a nude lipstick and her slender structure. She cut a small piece of kanda and it gently disappeared in between her lips; she licked and sucked on her fingers indulgently. Nduka coughed and looked away.
“I am sorry, I was actually staring. I have never seen anyone eat like that before.”
Emelie smiled, and said:
“Actually, it is my favourite. I come here often when I don’t prepare it at home.”
He suddenly lost appetite and wouldn’t dare touch the pieces of fish and meat left on his plate. His heart was racing, and he felt somewhat funny; Nduka had never felt that way before.
“I hope I didn’t interrupt? I just wanted to put on make-up for the last time.”
The lady enquired.
“Sure, no problems. It’s just that I have to run.”
Nduka sprang up, ran to the nearest sink and washed up, and then made his way out of the restaurant, leaving Emelie confused.
He busily worked on the dining table when the bell rang. Mr. Odili frowned, and looked at his wrist watch. He reached for the door and let in the cold air, okochi was fast approaching. Both man and woman stared at each other out of surprise: it was as though they both lost their sense of speech. His eyes brushed over her deep coffee skin, slender body, and chestnut eyes which complimented her very dark natural hair that settled in a bunch on her skull. The green jacket she wore on top of a red gown made Nduka smile: green and red were his favourite colours. After some minutes, they both burst into uncontrolled laughter.
“I am a volunteer at the orphanage. I never knew you were the one?”
“Oooh! I am sorry. It is already Saturday?”
Nduka asked. At that point, he remembered he just had on shorts and polo. He felt embarrassed, and nearly turned a shade darker. He made way, and said:
“Please, come right in. I was actually working, and had lost touch of time.”
Emelie smiled; she went straight to the dinning as Nduka directed. Her eyes fell on the table. She looked at Nduka, and asked:
“You teach literature?”
“Yes, at the university.”
“You would really come in handy at the orphanage. Mrs Echezona travelled to Owerri, and we need a replacement. Do you think you can do that?”
Emelie asked with some sense of seriousness. Her hands fell on copies of Achebe’s trilogy which Nduka left on the table. He came forward, and stood behind her, trying to make out what she was up to. Unfortunately, his nostrils were hit with the sensual smell of her perfume which made him smile all the more because she smelt like wild honey. Emelie picked one of the books, and opened a part.
“Well, we have a lecture on these three, and I ….”
Nduka’s voice made Emelie’s heart race a bit; he stood so close to her that she felt every inch of him. Nduka’s speech tried as Emelie’s sweet voice read aloud.
“….that boy calls you father…”
She turned around and found out that Nduka was smiling to himself.
“You have a wonderful collection here.”
Her eyes caught some books lined up in his bookshelf that stood on one part of the room.
Nduka had gone and brought soda for the two of them. He handed one to her, and opened his.
Their eyes locked for some seconds before she dragged her eyes away, looked around the house, and asked:
“So, where do we start?”
Nduka coughed a bit, and responded:
“Sorry for keeping you waiting; this way please.”
When they got to the door, Emelie turned to Nduka and said:
“You know, the kids at the orphanage would really appreciate this.”
Nduka replied. He opened the door, and the first thing they saw was the girls’ little beds. Nduka looked away, and said:
“I don’t know if I can do this!”
Emelie looked at him and smiled.
“Kedu afa ha? What were their names?”
“Chika and Chino. They were just babies: five and four. I couldn’t help them. My wife was pregnant with our son. Chim!”
He sighed heavily. Emelie looked at him, and said:
“You know, they would be happy you are doing this for them. My husband wanted me to give out everything he owned before he died. We knew that death was right at our doorstep.”
At that moment, Nduka stopped short in his well of emotions, frowned and asked:
“How did he die?”
Emelie looked at him, and smiled. She walked into the girls’ room, and sat on one of the tiny beds, picked up a pink stuffed dull and hugged it very close to her chest, rocking back and forth, and started:
“Eweluzo died in my arms. He had cancer. We never had kids. He was the only man I ever wanted to love. I don’t even have any memory of him. He was diagnosed some weeks after our wedding.”
The look of empathy was written all over Nduka’s face. Looking at her, she looked more like a woman in her mid thirties.
“Today marks five years of his death. I don’t know how I have stayed strong, but I assure you that you would, too.”
She got up, and without asking, began to remove the bed covers. After some minutes, Nduka walked into the room for the first time after so many years, and started clearing the toys from the desks.
When they got to his room, Emilie could feel the resistance: it was as though he wanted nothing to leave his sight. He fidgeted at her touching Chi’s stuff. At a point, Emilie looked at him and said:
“You know, I grew up on campus.”
“Most times, when we walked back from school, we came across a short plant. I think they called it ‘Africa never dies.”
Emelie said with a smile, as though trying to recall her childhood.
Nduka asked while he joined in getting some of Chi’s things out of the way without knowing. Emelie opened Chi’s side of the closet and gradually removed her shoes and clothes. He noticed a kind of gentle care to the way Emelie touched her late husband’s belongings, as though they belonged to a very dear friend.
“The thing is that Africans never die: our death is not death but the beginning of a new life. Our dead are always with us, and around us, watching over us. They are always here.” Emelie placed her hands on her chest, right on the position of the heart. “Your wife and children are always in your heart.”
“Thank you so much.”
She nodded, looked around the room, in order to see if there was any other thing that was left. Her eyes fell on something on the bedpost; she took a few steps forward, and at the point of grabbing Chi’s black lingerie, Nduka’s palm fell on hers, and covered it. Emelie shuddered. She looked up, and their eyes met. Nduka came closer, his hand still placed on hers, he bent a bit, and drew his lips closer to Emelie’s face and gently, he dropped a light kiss on her right cheek. Emelie felt dizzy, and before she could talk, Nduka brought down a thumb to cover her lips, and said:
“Sheww, don’t say a word. I really have to thank you for coming over. I feel elated for the first time after so many years.”
When they took their soda cans to the kitchen, Nduka started up a conversation which was surprising.
“You know, we used to do everything together when Chi was here. Now, it is as though….”
He paused. Emelie looked at his sharp eyes hidden behind thick lenses, and said:
“I dried and Eweluzo did the dishes. When the disease got worse, Eweluzo couldn’t walk anymore, he would insist I bring a chair and place it close to the sink so that he could dry while I washed.”
Her voice trailed off.
“Well, I think it’s late, and I have to drop these off at the orphanage before I head home.”
Emelie said through a shaky voice. Nduka watched her closely like a hawk. He had fallen in love with this woman the very first time he set his eyes on her.
“Oh! Yes, let me give you a hand.”
They packed the boxes into the trunk of her Lexus jeep. When they were done, Emelie turned to him and asked:
“So, you would be coming over to teach the kids?”
Nduka shrugged and said:
The walls were lined with colourful paintings of animals and trees. As he read to them, his eyes caught Emelie’s radiating form by the far end of the room, smiling with so many promises. At that point, he knew that loving her was not dead to him.
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Thank you so much!
Nice story, from start to finish
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