Victim of Greed
By Tony Chuks Modungwo (Nigeria)
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The day Biola wedded me was one of the days I would never forget. My father-in-law had bought me a tuxedo, a hat and walking stick. I’d never used a walking stick in all my life, but he insisted I should use it on the wedding day. He’d objected to my wearing the suit I had bought earlier. He claimed it was of poor quality.
Left to me, I wouldn’t have wedded. I believed it was nothing but an ego-boosting ceremony, especially the way it was done in my country.
I had been driven to the church in a cream Mercedes 500 SEL and Biola came in a white one. It was a church wedding with all of the trimmings. More than one thousand guests thronged St Anthony Catholic Church for the wedding ceremony of 25-year old Chika Okafor and his 35-year old bride, Biola Harrison. The Archbishop of Lagos conducted the Nuptial high mass, assisted by other high-ranking clergymen.
The reception was held in Millionaire’s Inn in Victoria Island. The occasion was chairmaned by a retired Major General Hassan, a former military Head of State. He was assisted by senators, ministers, business tycoons and a few government officials. I’d requested a special marching-in song. It was Don William’s “Pressure Makes Diamond.” The part of it that usually sent me crazy was:
“Pressure makes diamond
Much harder than stone
And they only get fine
As each day goes on
We’ve been through some bad times
But we made it somehow
Course if pressure makes diamonds
Our love’s a diamond by now.”
It told the story of my love affair with Biola in a nutshell.
As we marched in, beautifully clad young girls threw confetti and bubbles on us. My best man was Kola, and Kemi was the chief bridesmaid. Kola was my best friend. We grew up in the same neighborhood in Ajegunle. His father was a businessman and his mother was a secretary in the Federal Ministry of Health. The family lived in their own house built by Kola’s father. I met Kemi for the first time at Biola’s thirty-fifth birthday party. She was Biola’s childhood friend. She studied Economics in Tokyo University before returning to Nigeria. She was a manager in one of the prominent banks in Lagos. Her father was a pilot with Nigeria Airways and her mother was a London trained beautician.
Biola’s wedding gown was fantastic. She had purchased it from a bridal shop in London. Kola proposed the toast, followed by the cutting of the cake. Video, photographers and journalists from all the known newspapers and magazine publishers, radio and television stations covered the whole event. When we went to the floor to do our nuptial dance, guests covered us lavishly with dollars, pounds sterling, and others with naira in high denominations. I became a pacesetter for all prospective grooms and Biola for hopeful brides in Lagos. I made a brief speech as the head of the new family. I prepared the speech and memorized it as the wedding drew near. Senator Harrison was impressed. He realized that I could be poor but nonetheless had a good brain.
The hotel served all the drinks and food. All sorts of exotic drinks and delicious food were in abundance. The gifts we received filled two Datsun E20 buses. Most of them came from Biola’s family, her friends and their family friends. My parents attended after much persuasion and pleading. I felt adequately compensated for the risk I had taken to rescue Biola from her kidnappers.
Immediately Biola tossed to the bridesmaids her bouquet of pink and white spray orchids, we left to change for our honeymoon. London and New York had been Biola’s idea. She had spent so many years in London and New York and certain places had stuck in her mind as the places she most wanted to spend her honeymoon. Her father quickly accepted to sponsor the trip feeling the oversea honeymoon would help revitalize Biola after her traumatic experience in the hands of the kidnappers. At exactly 8 o’clock, we were driven to Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos where we boarded KLM for Amsterdam. We traveled in the first-class compartment everywhere we visited.
Biola disappointed many of her friends, who felt she should have married a man from the same social class. To have taken me as a lover was bad enough but to have married me, a poor man from an unknown family they felt was unwise. They were more impressed with people that had names.
I’d read and heard so much about the spectacular nightlife, canal cruise, discotheques and shopping in Amsterdam that I was very happy the day we arrived there. All our flights were booked with KLM.
The day after we arrived in Amsterdam, we went to see Rotterdam, the world’s biggest seaport. We later did some shopping at the Amsterdam Airport Shopping Center and ended the day in a disco. I wore my joy like a garment.
The next day, we went to a KLM transfer desk and checked in for our onward flight to London. We received a new boarding card, which showed the boarding and departure time. As departure announcements were not made over the loudspeaker system, we checked the latest news about our flight on the TV-monitors and electronic displays. We didn’t wait long for our flight. Before we knew it, we were at Heathrow Airport.
At immigration, everything was orderly. We queued up according to our status – British citizens, Commonwealth subjects, European Economic Community citizens and others to be checked. There was no shunting and no complaints. Our passports were checked and stamped.
We chartered a taxi that took us to our hotel. I watched plain brick houses roll by as the taxi drove through the streets of London. London, here I come, I said in my mind.
London was a beautiful city with some unbelievably antiquated architectural buildings, many of them standing for over hundred years, still intact and comparing favorably with most modern buildings.
“Biola, it’s wonderful that these old buildings are still standing while many modern buildings in Lagos of less than ten years are collapsing, killing their inhabitants,” I told Biola earnestly.
“These buildings were built with quality materials. The problem of collapsing buildings in Lagos is the quality of the materials used in building them. The greedy developers compromised the quality of the materials used,” Biola replied.
“This city is simply alluring and breathtaking,” I said enthusiastically.
“Our leaders have been unjust to us. They come here, buy houses and send their children to school, but fail to replicate what they cherish and enjoy here in our country. It’s sad,” Biola said.
“Our leaders are insensitive and wicked.”
Biola was familiar with London so she eagerly took me to places. At Trafalgar Square, I was particularly fascinated by the Nelson’s column, which was surrounded by its usual complement of pigeons.
“This place remind Britons of the great admiral’s victory at the battle of Trafalgar in 1805,” Biola explained.
The pigeons took flight noisily as we approached, flopping their wings. We took pictures at Big Ben, the most famous clock-bell in the world. We were also at Liberty & Co in Regent Street where Biola bought some fabrics and also at Gerard where she bought jewelry.
She had an obsession with expensive jewelry. She didn’t bother with prices. Anywhere we went for shopping, she just pointed. She had bundle of credit cards given to her by her father. When she was through she gave the sales clerks our hotel address and we walked out.
That evening, she took me to a famous Nigerian eatery run by a Nigerian couple in south east London. The place was jam-packed when we got there by six o’clock. Biola was surrounded by her old friends, some of them men, each competing with the others for attention, but nobody paid me a heed. Playing a second fiddle to Biola wasn’t easy. We settled down and had a sumptuous Nigerian meal.
“The meal here is tasteful. It’s as if I’m in a Nigerian restaurant back home,” I said.
“We’ve many Nigerian restaurants in London, but I prefer this one. They cook well and the service is impeccable,” Biola explained.
When we got to our suite, we had our bath together and went straight to the bedroom. Soon Biola joined me on the bed. I fondled her breast till I got her aroused. We made love and later collapsed into a deep sleep.
By the time we woke up the next morning, the sun was already up. Biola, always concerned with sartorial matters, decided that I needed sprucing.
“Chika, you need some clothes. I’ll take you to Saville Row later today so that you can order some suits to be made by Huntsman. He is the most celebrated tailor in London. We’ll order the shirts from Turnbull and Asser.”
“I shall request them to have Chika embroidered on the breast pocket.”
“That will be classic,” Biola replied.
After we ordered my clothes, we ate lunch at Le Gavroche, the finest French restaurant in London.
“This restaurant reminds me of my last visit to Paris. I stayed in L’Hotel Neopleon. I ate at the famed La Tour d’Argent. And when my suitcase, the one in the hotel, was bought from Louis Vuitton. It’s a famous French luggage store noted for fine suitcases and handbags. Even this dress I am wearing was bought from Saint Laurent boutique – a prestigious boutique in Paris.”
“Biola, it seems you know U.S. and Europe more than Nigeria,” I accused her.
“Yes. I was able to watch the two miracles in sports in 1985. I was at Wimbledon, where 17-year-old Borris Becker, unseeded, from West Germany came from obscurity to defeat number one seed John McEnroe of U.S. in a hot, long tennis battle. I was also at the ringside in Las Vegas, in the U.S., when Michael Spinks, the world light-heavyweight champion, defeated the undefeated heavyweight champion Larry Holmes,” Biola informed me.
“Biola, have you ever bothered to visit Apapa Amusement Park in Lagos?”
“No, to do what? It can’t be compared to Colorado Park or Central Park in New York or Trafalgar Square, which we saw yesterday.”
“But at least it provides good food, drinks and relaxation badly needed by the people of Lagos after undergoing the hectic life there,” I responded. “Have you been to the popular Bar Beach at Victoria Island. It’s Nigeria’s own version of Miami Beach.”
“Chika, you’ve a poor sense of comparison of tourist sites. How dare you compare any beach in Africa with Miami Beach? Miami Beach is fantastic and a popular leisure site for the world’s rich men and their women.”
“It’s just that you’ve not bothered to visit any of the tourist sites in Nigeria. There are many and nice spots. We have the Yankari Games Reserve, Ogbunike cave in Anambra, Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State, Ikogosi Warm Spring in Ekiti State, Assop Water Fall in Plateau State and more.”
“I don’t know when Africa will develop. We are too backward.”
“Would Europe and America have developed to their present stage without the free labor provided by able-bodied Africans carted away to these places like cargo — and the raw materials they forcefully stole from Africa?” I asked. “Have you forgotten that the forefathers of these people who advocate human rights violated the rights of our ancestors? Cruelty is embedded in their suspicious minds.”
A week into our honeymoon, tension started to develop between Biola and me. The air was heavy with tension. The tension created when trying to gain grudging acceptance into a new company. I had only myself to blame for my present predicament, of course.
Biola lost no opportunity in criticizing my table manners. She complained I slurped my soup, didn’t lift my elbow off the table when I ate and downed my food too fast. It reached the point I refused to take meals with her.
She would go to dinner parties by herself because I preferred to stay back in our hotel. I didn’t get along with most of Biola’s friends as well. Some of them never accepted me but looked down on me. They felt I was a mercenary.
I was haunted by my father’s warning. “You’ll never got anywhere in this world, being a weakling. You are supposed to be the head of your family. “Day by day, I became afraid of my weakness and the vulnerability of allowing Biola to be in-charge.
Initially I wasn’t ill-at-ease exactly. But I was out of things, not really part of what was going on. I would say that being married to the daughter of a rich and influential politician wasn’t the easiest life to adjust to. But I thought about it and figured out the best way to do things.
When Biola started going off on outings without me, I warmed to the challenge by playing “hard to get”, not always being in the suite when she returned.
Consequently I spent my afternoons visiting the usual tourist spots in London, snatching a quick cup of coffee in a snack bar before going to the early evening performance at the cinema.
When I returned one day Biola walked toward me. “Chika, how was your outing?”
“Fine,” I replied, with a deliberately casual tone that concealed my inner agitation. I removed myself from her embrace and held her at arm length.
“I don’t understand you, Chika.” She raised her shoulders in a helpless gesture. “I love you. I’ve never loved anyone else.” Her voice broke as she added, “I don’t seem to have any pride where you’re concerned.”
Just how many men had been privileged to hear that little speech? I wondered.
“But not your friends, I’m sure that at this very moment I’m being efficiently dissected by at least a dozen of your loquacious friends.”
“They’re just jealous, Chika - there won’t be another man here to touch you” she said softly, her eyes lingering with warm appreciation on my face. “I’ve never told anyone else I loved him. I do love you. ---. God knows I do.”
“I think I should have declined your very first generous offer. You are addictive,” I said after a moment.
“Our love is so new, so fragile. We have so much to learn about each other, how to understand each other’s moods, how to understand each other’s reasoning and how to understand each other’s actions.” Her word came straight to my heart.
I stepped forward and slid my arms in one fierce movement around her body gathering her close to me with demanding urgency. Biola felt a wild surge of happiness as I kissed her. There could be no doubt about the intensity of her feeling for me and she surrendered willingly to me, my doubts and unhappiness fading rapidly as she responded avidly to my kisses, her mouth opening widely to the pressure of my lips.
The next day, we left London for Stratford-on-Avon, which was William Shakespeare’s hometown. In souvenir shops, his image was on every item on sale – badges, pamphlets, medals, postcards, trays, cups etc. We bought many souvenirs.
The Avon River from which the town picked its name was a small one.
“Shakespeare’s Birthplace Trust manages the Shakespeare’s Center and helps preserve the Shakespeare memorabilia,” the guide explained.
We paid to see his mother’s house, his wife’s cottage, his father’s house, the room where he was born and the desk on which he sat as a schoolboy.
We spent two days there before we returned to London. On the following day, we left for New York.
On arrival in John F. Kennedy Airport, we were met by a chauffeured limousine, which we hadn’t expected. We later found out that Senator Harrison arranged it. The chauffeur had our names.
“Where do I take you to please?”
“Carlyle Hotel,” Biola said.
Recalling the unfortunate series of events that had taken place before this honeymoon to Amsterdam, London and now New York, I looked across to Biola.
“Chika, ” she turned imploringly to me, “do you feel that our marriage and this oversea tours of Europe and now U.S. are enough compensation for the risk you took to save my life? For me, I’m elated that my dearest dream has come true.”
It was easy to reassure her. “Even the marriage alone is enough without this expensive honeymoon. I did it for love not for material reward.”
She grew reflective. “My father will never do anything that doesn’t befit his position in the society. He loves doing things in a big way. He’s generous when he wants to be, even extravagant. His main weakness is that he is too class-conscious and arrogant.”
“That was why he disapproved of our relationship and did everything he could to frustrate it, because I come from a poor background. It’s unfortunate that our society has been divided into privileged and non-privileged, blue blood and common blood. And the privileged are doing everything possible to maintain the status quo,” I said.
“But this molestation of the poor by the rich will continue forever, unless the poor wage a stubborn and desperate struggle against this abuse of power, deliberate oppression and injustice by the rich, like you did.”
“It’s not easy to do. It is like rat challenging the cat. I thank God that I survived all that happened. At certain point, it was quite scary. But someone needed to tell your rich and pompous father that he can’t have it his way all the time. However, it would have been impossible without your unflinching support.”
“Yes,” she said, nodding approvingly. “I gave my support because I truly love you. All the wealth in the world can’t change that. However, I’m happy that at last, my father saw reason.”
“He realized I went through hell to save you from the hoodlums. He saw me in the police station bleeding profusely.”
She turned and looked directly at me. Her eyes were anxious, questioning and soft. My hand went out to tentatively touch her hand, which lay on her lap. She smiled, enjoying the warmth of my fingers as they encased her own. Her hands tightened on mine, the fingers intertwined. She sighed.
“You do comfort me. Your touch comforts me.” She smiled contentedly.
“When I was with those hoodlums, the thought of you filled my mind every day. You filled my mind. I was wondering where you were, whether you were safe, and if you were safe what you’d do about my disappearance.”
Unashamed, she raised her face, letting me see the teardrops slide down her beautiful cheeks. My mouth came down on hers, our lips glued together as though they’d been molded that way. Her arms went up to my neck pulling me closer. I was almost choked by Biola’s surging love for me.
The driver braked at a junction as the traffic light turned red and we broke apart. She regarded me with a curiosity that was prurient. Suddenly, not caring about the driver, Biola drew me back to herself, kissing my cheeks and my mouth over and over, then her head went to my shoulder and I stroked her hair, murmuring, “Wait till we get to the hotel.” She relaxed.
“Do you know my parents and my friend, Kola, told me I was embarking on a mission impossible in my attempt to achieve my impossible desire? But I refused to give in.”
“And you’ve been rewarded. Nothing good comes easy. You’re a fearless and extraordinary soul, Chika.”
I resumed gazing out of the window of the taxi, to the beautiful streets of New York. I was gaping and marveling at the fine buildings, fanciful cars and the crowded sidewalks. With my poor background, how would I have been here today without the magnanimity of Senator Harrison. For me, who’d never left Nigeria, this was miraculous. I loved the wonderful architectural structures that lined the streets we drove past. My eyes were alert. Nothing escaped me. I’d great expectations.
On arrival at the hotel, I marveled at the great architectural edifice. With my hand on Biola’s elbow, I guided her into the lobby of our opulent hotel as a porter followed with our luggage. Soon we were ensconced in a suite that offered not only a bedroom, but the added luxury of a sitting room.
“I hope you like this hotel?” Biola asked.
“Very much. You’re a treasure – how would I have been in America, let alone, this expensive hotel.” I drew a long breath. The suite was the loveliest environment I’d ever seen.
After we had unpacked and arranged our things in our suite, we went down to the book and magazine stall. Biola bought some women’s magazines while I bought the map of New York. I wanted to see enough of N.Y.
I dared not window-shop with Biola because whatever I admired, she would buy. Countless cartons and boxes from couturiers and boutiques were already stacked in the suite. Until she came along I took little interest in men’s fashion because I couldn’t afford it.
When I remarked on a shirt, displayed in one of the boutiques in the hotel, Biola walked me into the shop and bought it for me.
“Thank you. But I think you’ve already bought more than enough shirts for me. I was only admiring the shirt.”
“I’d like to buy you the world and lay it at your feet, if I can. Without you, I don’t know where I would’ve been by now.”
We belonged in two different worlds. I was simply a poor man who had married a generous woman from a very rich family.
We then returned to our suite to prepare for dinner. I took another look round the suite and thanked God. This was exactly how I wanted to spend my days on earth, in absolute luxury. Not in one congested room in a slum.
Bedloe’s Island to see statue historic sights. had a magnificent view of the city
The next morning we arrived in New York, we hired a car with a chauffeur to take us to some scenic and historic sights. He first drove us to Battery Park, where we left our car and took a boat to Bedloe’s Island to see statueof liberty presented by France in 1884. Later, that evening, we visited World Trade Center, where we dined at the window on the World Restaurant and had a magnificent view of the city.
The following day we visited Rockefeller Center Complex. We were at the Famous Radio Corporation of America (RCA), United Nation Permanent Headquarters at 1st Avenue, 48th Street, East River and 42nd Street with the eager eyes and rapt fascination of bona-fide tourists. We ended the day’s outing at drove us Radio Music Hall, the world’s largest theatre. When we returned to our hotel, I talked excitedly about all we’d seen. Each sight and sound had been etched on my mind. The beauty of New York took me.
I was in the bar one evening drinking with Biola, when someone tapped me at the shoulder. I turned swiftly to see Uche smiling down my face. I was astonished.
“Uche,” I shouted. “What are you doing here?”
“I should ask you the same question,” he replied. His eyes glowed with pleasure.
“I thought you were in Miami?”
“Yeah, buddy. But I’m here now. Life in N.Y. is exciting. Man has got to move around.”
Uche was my classmate in the secondary school. He passed only two subjects in the West African Examinations Council. But the next thing I heard was that he’d left to U.S. for further studies. I was surprised. Uche’s father was a successful businessman. After five years, I heard he’d obtained his PhD and was working in Miami.
“What are you doing here Chika,” he asked.
“Didn’t you just say that man has got to move around? I’m on honeymoon. Biola meet an old friend, Uche,” I introduced.
“Happy to meet you,” they said almost at the same time.
“Where are you staying?” he asked.
“You lodge here?” he asked with disbelief. “Have you robbed a bank or what? This is one of the most expensive hotels in this goddamn city.”
“I’m lucky to be married to the daughter of a wealthy man. Our business here is to enjoy ourselves, the bill goes to my father-in-law’s bank.”
“He is having a bank account in New York?”
“You think I’m kidding? He is a wealthy politician. All our politicians have foreign bank accounts.”
“You’re a lucky man. Is she the daughter of the President?”
“Not exactly. Daughter of a wealthy senator,” I replied jubilantly.
He looked Biola up and down approvingly “I see. Some are born great, some achieve greatness by themselves, and others become great by association. Why not let’s go over to my table, so that you can meet my wife? I saw you from our table and I decided to confirm that my eyes were not deceiving me.”
“Oh, I’ll be glad to meet her.” I carried my drink, Uche helped Biola with hers and we went to meet his wife.
If Uche knew what happened before Senator Harrison sponsored our honeymoon, he would’ve known I merited it.
Uche’s wife was an intriguingly beautiful white girl. That was the first time I saw a black marrying a compellingly attractive white girl. She could win “Miss Leg’ anywhere in the world. Her blond hair fell to her shoulders. She was really something to look at.
With all the talk of racial discrimination in U.S., I was surprised how Uche got such a wife.
“Jayne here you meet Chika, an old classmate. He is on honeymoon with his wife, Biola. Chika and Biola meet my darling wife, Jayne.”
As we shook hands, her exceedingly beautiful lips parted in a smile of welcome. As I looked at Jayne, I wondered if inequality and discrimination in this world wasn’t the handiwork of God. How could he create some people with everything in the wrong place and some without any blemish? I warned myself not to be blasphemous and discarded the thought.
After we sat down, Uche ordered for a chilled bottle of Champagne. “Let’s celebrate with you,” he said. “We are happy to welcome you into the fold. I married Jayne three years ago and we already have a son.”
As we drank, Biola and Jayne started talking about fashion, cosmetics and that kind of women’s stuff. Women were just the same everywhere.
“Chika tell me about the last election at home. We heard many horrible news here,” Uche said.
“What do you mean by horrible news?”
“I mean rigging.”
“As far as I’m concerned, there was no election. The whole thing was a big joke. A stage-managed affair.”
“I heard that in some parts of the country private and public properties were damaged, some burnt. Business was paralyzed and the streets were covered by human bodies at various stages of decomposition and the air smelt of human blood after some of the results of the election were released.”
“Yes. But it wasn’t as serious as the mass media over here made it look. The western press is biased. The whole thing was rather unfortunate. As much as I believed the election was rigged, I didn’t support the violence. Revolution is not necessarily achieved by blood bath. The disturbances were however caused by some politicians who were desperate to seize power or hang onto it. It wasn’t for their love to serve the masses, but out of sheer greed.”
“Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa and has the greatest number of blacks in the whole world. What a shame?” Uche said.
The name Nigeria was given by Flora Shaw, who later married Sir Fredrick Lord Luguard, who was the first Governor General in Nigeria. He came to Nigeria in 1912 and amalgamated the Northern and Southern protectorates in 1914. On 1st October 1960, Nigeria gained her independence from Britain and became a sovereign state and the 99th member of the United Nations Organization.
“I learnt the country had modeled her constitution to that of America?” Uche said.
“Yes. Nigeria has a constitution, which states out the principles of government. It had been amended several times. The last one was drawn up in 1999. It has three organs of government; executive (the President), the legislature (National Assembly), and the judiciary (the Courts) in such a way that each has a certain authority over the others. This is to ensure checks and balances.”
“What consists of the National Assembly?”
“The National Assembly consists of two houses, the Senate ( to which each state elects three senators and one from the Federal Capital Territory) and the House of Representatives, in which the number from a state depended on its population.”
“When I left Nigeria, there were nineteen states. How many states are there now?”
“Nigeria has thirty-six states.”
“How many tiers of government is in the country?”
The country has three tiers of government; Federal (headed by the President), States (headed by Governors), and Local Government Areas (headed by Chairmen). The President is the Head of State and Commander of the Armed Forces. Election for posts of President and Governor are held every four years and no President or Governor should hold office for more than two terms.”
“How long is the tenure of the Local Government chairman?”
“It’s three years.”
How are nominations for the positions made?”
“When a candidate has been chosen by his or her party, he or she will campaign to win the election including the President. But in order to win elections at all cost, politicians engage in all sorts of mischievous activities including rigging, assassination and arson,” I explained.
“How about the high scale fraud and burning of the country’s edifice?” Uche asked.
“That’s the handiwork of some unpatriotic citizens, popularly known as pen robbers. They see their high positions as an opportunity to loot the public treasury and set their offices on fire, so as to destroy all evidence that might implicate them. Their actions have exposed the masses to great suffering – agonizing austerity, inflation, unemployment et cetera. In an attempt to survive some of these depraved people have taken to stealing. Violent robbery in the society, is really the resultant effect of pen robbery.”
“It is very pathetic that after the pen robbers in high places have falsified accounts and embezzled billions of naira, they are made chiefs, and described as illustrious sons and patriots. Why won’t more people steal?” Uche lamented. “Our country is a place where the brightest or the most hardworking people are not necessarily the most successful.”
I leaned back in my chair, stretching my long legs out and smiled faintly. “It is a poor country full of very rich men, I’m seriously looking for a chance to make myself very rich too.”
“Chika it is not advisable. It’s better to have a clean name and peace of mind.”
“What do I want to do with a clean name? What is in a name? My father kept a clean name and all he got for it is suffering. I’ve nothing to do with a clean name. I have existed for too long, I want to live. If not for the magnanimity of father-in-law, I’ll never have been here. Imagine the surrounding? Who wouldn’t get a peace of mind here? Next time, I come to U.S., I want to sponsor the trip. I’ve been a parasite for too long.”
“Old boy, watch it. Is it more important to you to be rich or happy?”
“When I’ve money, I’ll be happy. With money everything is attainable.”
“It doesn’t naturally follow. I also learnt that the politicians are enjoying while those who voted them into power live in abject poverty. Is it true?”
“Yes? But is it peculiar to our country? It is all over Africa. If I’d money I would’ve joined politics. It is a sure source of making it quick in Nigeria.”
“How about all those violence associated with it?”
“I don’t care. No man owns monopoly to violence.”
“How about this talk of high unemployment, high inflation and soaring food prices?”
“That is due to global economic recession, worsened by an international conspiracy of the so-called super power nations. The avarice of the people in power have also contributed in making the situation unbearable. Come Uche, you’ve been asking all the questions let me ask you one.”
“Yes? Go ahead.”
“When are you coming home?”
He grinned. “Coming where? Home? To do what? With all these stories you’ve been telling me? I shall only come home when U.S., seizes to exist. Jayne can’t cope with incessant power failure, dry taps, traffic jam and the filthy surroundings, not to mention the poor state of the economy. Her welfare is highest in my mind.”
“Why not come home and contribute your quota to the development of your country? If U.S. citizens ran away from their country who would have developed it for them?” I remarked jokingly.
“How about my colleagues that returned home? Were they not frustrated out of the country? Most of them are back here. They complained they were inhumanly treated. Apart that they were unemployed for months, they were paid less than a quarter of what they used to receive here. How do they expect a guy to survive on such a pittance? As if that was not enough punishment, their bosses wanted to eliminate them because they regarded them as a threat, because of their little education they fear anybody who is well educated. Our country, as it had done many times in the past, has always rewarded its geniuses by frustrating them. Boy, I’m happy here. I am the president of my father-in-law’s group of companies. I’ve all that give comfort – good home, lush cars, jet and a fat salary. If I ever come home again, it will be on a visit.”
I shook my head sadly. Here was another lost son. I saw there was no point trying to convince Uche to return home. “What line of business are you into?”
“We are in information technology business. We ship nine hundred million dollar worth of computers throughout the world annually. The developed worlds have embraced information technology and have been rewarded in extraordinary ways. If Nigeria join the world of computer, she’ll know progress.”
“Computers are already in Nigeria, but only in banks and big companies.”
“Computer is the dynamo of invention transforming the modern world. Running a business is not easy. Of course, the use of computer is the way you can make your business more capable, more competitive and more connected. We also do website designing. It is time for Nigerian companies to put their businesses on the web. It’s time for African countries to speed up, because they have been left behind. African countries are still trying to analyze and evaluate modern options and opportunities with antiquated decision-making approaches of a bygone era.”
“In Africa, we’re hostage to our culture, which still pulse to primeval rhythms. The ability to do things faster, to accomplish developmental feats in shorter time, to compress what once took months, is what make the western countries developed and Africa undeveloped.”
“Advanced information and communication technologies make for faster decisions. In America, we’re preoccupied with keeping pace with new facts, new developments and new points of view that we’ve no time for idle moments. Since I came to U.S. I now accomplish most things that use to take me a lot of time. I have tried to conquer time. Here people turn time into money, back home, it is wasted. Especially here in New York, every body is on the move all the time. “You look relaxed”, here is regarded as an insult.”
“Technology have really changed things, but very slowly in Africa. In Nigeria, people spend ten minutes talking on the telephone on inconsequential issues and loiter around. Even in the ancient time, the organized, civilized empires conquered the disorganized, uncivilized ones. The same thing is happening today between western countries and Africa countries. That’s why the economics of western countries have such buoyancy, while that of African countries built on an obsolete strategies are such deadweights.”
“We’ve heard about weak banks, catastrophic currency collapse, halfhearted attempts at fiscal stimulation and lack of budgetary discipline. Despite the so-called “oil wealth”, Nigeria still has shocking levels of poverty, a burdensome bureaucracy and crumbling infrastructure.”
“These are what have led to “brain drain”. Generations of Nigerians set off in search of a better life in Europe and America, today, millions of Nigerians live overseas, including you.”
“My father was against my staying back in America. He complained that everyone wants to get away from Nigeria. Western countries’ economic growth is what are enticing people to stay back, unlike the economic situation in Africa, including Nigeria. It’s an attraction some people find hard to resist.”
“Our healthcare system is the worse hit. Most of our doctors and nurses have left the country.”
“If our leaders can do the right thing, we’ll witness “brain gain” because all these people in diaspora will return home with the knowledge they have acquired here to help build the country. But not now that there’s a yawning gap between the rich and the poor and the economy is being mismanaged.”
“Uche, when we were in London, I saw suffering than I ever believed exist in the west. I even met many Nigerians who could hardly feed themselves. They’d left Nigeria for many years looking for Golden Fleece. I met one who’d stayed twenty-five years and still cannot make ends meet. I feel his ilk is a disgrace to Nigerians in diaspora.”
“They’re ubiquitous here too. They’re people who left Nigeria in search of greener pasture, but found out rather too late that there is no free lunch abroad. You work very hard here to earn your living. Nothing comes easy.”
“My greatest shock was when I met a Nigerian beggar at a train terminus. So why do our youths kill themselves to obtain visas to travel to these developed countries if life is not so easy here?”
“You know, there’s something about America that interest me,” Uche said. “Here if you work hard, you can make something for yourself, unlike back home, where making it depends on who you know or your family background.”
Before they left that night, they promised to come and take us out the following day.
Uche and Jayne came the next day as planned. After an excellent luncheon in our hotel we drove out.
Jayne suggested we go to the Metropolitan Museum of Arts. She was a lover of art. On our way, she informed us that the Museum contained a collection of modern and ancient art from all over the world. I wasn’t exactly keen on arts. I just managed to listen to Jayne’s explanation as we walked around the Museum.
We later visited the Zoological Gardens at Bronx Park where we saw different kind of animals. From there we proceeded to the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens. I enjoyed our tour in these two places being a student of biology. We ended the day by watching a show at Lincoln Center of the Performing Arts at 65th street.
When Biola went to Tiffany’s to buy jewelries, I settled to read a novel about the mafia. I was absolved reading how the mafia carries out their international drug smuggling, when Biola rushed into the suite.
“Chika, two black students have been killed,” she said gasping for breath.
“In a building under construction.”
“What were they doing there?”
“They were keeping guard over the place.”
“And you said they were students?”
“Yes, I think they were doing it in order to get enough money to sustain themselves.”
“Where are they from?”
“I’m not sure, but it’s one of the African countries.”
“They killed themselves. Even if they needed money there are less dangerous jobs- like being a steward, a waiter, a cleaner in a hotel or a petrol attendant. How did they think they could stop desperate robbers when the well trained U.S. police fail to accomplish the same thing?”
“Is that all you’ve got to say?”
“What else is there to say? Cry? Why should someone leave his country only to become a night guard in U.S.? Is that not signing one’s death warrant? I’ve not lived here, but the stories and movies I’ve watched at home make me believe it’s a violent country.”
“But the rate black students are being shot in this country is becoming alarming.”
“I quite agree with you, but have those living learnt any lesson? Why should a poor man’s child decide to come to U.S. to study simply because he can afford flight ticket? Have they stopped promising prostitutes marriage in exchange for financial aid and later try to jilt them after they have completed their courses? What do you expect these girls to do? Kiss them goodbye at the airport on their way home alone? They have to be shot, of course. I believe that if the black students stop their deceit and odd jobs they will have less problems.”
“That does not justify killing a fellow human being,” Biola said.
“The Americans are too security conscious that they find it very difficult to even salute you. Everywhere we have been going, they move, not minding who is around. Even when one greets them, one is ignored,” I observed.
“They’re telling you to mind your business.”
When I bought newspapers the next day, there were some interesting news about Africa. One paper reported that the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the world’s biggest regional grouping had survived yet another crisis which threatened its existence as Africa’s international voice. The cause of the crisis was the organization’s inability to find lasting solution to the fighting in Chad. Another paper reported that the South African Freedom fighters had intensified their fight against the white oppressors and that the United Nations had proclaimed 1982 as the International Year of Mobilization for Sanctions Against South Africa. The paper decried the dehumanization of the blacks in South Africa and called for immediate end to the apartheid in the country. I was happy that some western press could do rational reporting on the events happening in Africa.
Uche and Jayne came later that day to take us to see Jayne’s parents. Their house was something to look at. It was a fantastic architectural monument, situated seventy kilometers from the center of the city. The house was built on a small hill surrounded by a man-made lake. It had an ideal atmosphere for some work, which required calmness. I was, therefore, not surprised, when Jayne told me that her father had retired to writing. Different types of flowers surrounded the house. Some with fragrant smell. Birds of different colors flew around the trees in the compound, singing their merry songs.
We were received with irreproachable hospitality by Jayne’s parents. They were happy to hear that we were on honeymoon. After we’d pre-luncheon drink, we went to the dinning room for lunch. The Andrews knew how to live. The dinning tablecloth was designed with gold threads. Everything in the house was immaculately clean. As we ate, Mr Andrew told us how enjoyable his own honeymoon was. “We traveled to Australia. Betty loved Australia. A visit to the country had monopolized her dream months before our marriage. I loved the place too,” he said. The Andrews were in their fifties. They looked younger than their ages – the cumulative result of decades of good feeding. They had only two children – Jayne and Ken.
“Ken is a commercial pilot. He is married with a son. His family lives in Chicago. He only visits home once a year on his vacation,” Mr. Andrew said.
After the delicious meal, we had more drinks before we went to swim. Jayne had told us that her parents had an Olympic – size swimming pool, so we came along with our swimwear. We enjoyed the warmth of the salubrious swimming pool. By the time we were leaving in the evening we’d thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Biola and I expressed our heartfelt gratitude to the Andrews for their hospitality. And they thanked us for accepting their invitation.
Mr. Andrew presented a parcel when we were about boarding the car. “This is for you. On behalf of my family I wish you a happy married life. And please note that honeymoon is a transition period between courtship and establishing a home. This is the time much blending of your lives should be done,” Mr. Andrew told us.
I was flabbergasted. “We are very grateful for your hospitality,” I said. Uche drove us to our hotel before he returned home with Jayne. I opened the parcel immediately we were in our suite and saw two necklaces of pure gold.