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A COUNTRY OF NO HAPPY ENDINGS - By Oni Gbenga David

I was returning home when I heard the voice. It was on a Sunday afternoon. I didn’t go to church that Sunday; instead, I had gone to my uncle’s house to wait for my husband’s call. He had gone the previous day to the American embassy in Lagos to seek for Visa after he had won a lottery my uncle and his friend played on his behalf before he returned to Nigeria. It was during those bleak times in Nigeria history of telecommunication. Only the rich people could afford a telephone and pay Nitel bill at the time.

For that I had to make the 2 hours walk to my uncle’s house to get the information first hand. I could not afford to take public transport. Who could at the time? Poverty is the order of the day. The most popular beat at the time is the one made by one’s gnawing stomach. And it was this walk I was making back to my house when I heard the voice. It seemed to be coming from no where in particular and seemed to fill everywhere at the same time. I looked around and saw no one in the empty street. Some churches are still in service, while some were empty.

The gloom in my eyes was worse than that of an empty church building after an exuberant few hours of service. The news was not good, I could tell. Though my husband did not call, but I could tell in my bone that the news will not be good. My uncle’s friend had called and said that he could not find a form filled and mailed to him by my husband again, and this form he ought to submit at the immigration office over there.

My husband doesn’t have another copy of the document, I was sure; he had mailed back the original after filling it. Just when I was thinking about all that had transpired that day, I saw my husband, or what seemed like his silhouette, saying in Yoruba (wan o mumi o) right in front of me, looking despondent and tired. I went from gloomy to numb. It was just then the voice came very loudly and yet could only be heard by me. The voice said; ‘Pray, so you do not stare helpless at a ready to be served pounded yam in a mortar.’ I did pray, but my husband just like I saw him in my trance, came back home saying the same words he said to me in that state.

If we had known poverty before that time, penury was the one waiting at the corner. I cried many nights myself to sleep. Watched my kids go to bed with hunger. I saw my husband walking to work in the morning and coming back with same news; salary yet to be paid, 6 months in a roll. The little farm brought nothing much to sustain on. The lands lacked nutrients. I would make fufu out of the few numbers of cassava tubers he would bring home from one long year of farming. I will pound and we would eat fufu till my body lacked strength and our teeth reek of starch. We cannot afford to buy other food stuffs yet their prices kept going up on daily basis. The NLC went on many strikes till the military government in power then started jailing them all. And those that dare revolt were either killed or jailed.

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We were listening to the radio that day, my husband sitting on the only rickety chair we had left in our living space, I was sitting on the bed opposite him, picking the huge, bad smelling Israelite beans someone had given us out of pity. We don’t cook and eat that beans like we do our normal beans. We use it for moimoi and it smells just bad enough even with all the processes. My kids will leave the house immediately I start preparing the beans for moimoi and only return when it is all done, lest the odor put them off from eating it.

 

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Suddenly the program in the radio was interrupted; ‘Breaking News' the voice that came on said. ‘The Head of State is dead' then she repeated the words three times as if she was only comprehending what was given to her to read. Nobody could believe at the moment. ‘Once we have further information, we will let the public kn….' the voice continued and faded off as my husband tuned to another station. We listened more carefully this time as the broadcaster recounted the same news. Then the whole street erupted with noise, jubilation and laughter. At last, the tyrant was gone.

The next news informed us that we had a new Head of State and he would be addressing us soon. When he came on air later that day, he informed us that a new salary scale would be drawn and all pending ones would be paid with arrears on the new scale. He also said he would fast track the changing of government to civilian rule. We all danced that night and for the first time in many years forgot our hungers. Those words fed us.

In just a year Nigerians became rich. Average Nigerian like us moved from penury to feeling rich. We built our houses and bought cars. That was rich. But it only lasted a while. Our civilian government decided the next bold step to take was to enrich themselves and they did. Then inflation came. Standard of living skyrocketed. The labour congress wanted more money for the workers. Strikes became the means for many Unions and they came incessantly.

The economy went down and we could not afford to live the way we were living in the early days of our nation democracy. My husband now looks for agent that can help us leave the country once more. We are back to being poor, in an ever rich country.


ABOUT THE WRITER

Oni Gbenga started out as a poet before venturing into story writing. He writes as a freelance on Fiverr and has an anthology, a short stories and a novel, all yet to be published. His interests includes photography, traveling and sightseeing.

Help Him Win the Short Story Contest by voting in the comment section below. 

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