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“Nkechi, take this bastard out of this house before I come back from work tonight. I do not care where you dump him. Just make sure I do not set my eyes on this thing by nightfall. This alien cannot be my child. Tufiaaaaa…” and with that, Obinna spat on the floor as he angrily made his way to the door. He banged the door so hard that Kelechi, his supposed son, shivered and had goose pimples dancing atilogu all over his skin.

With tears streaming down her eyes like a waterfall, she looked down at her frail son. “He called you a bastard, he says you are an object, he may have disowned you… but the God that I serve will never disown you. Nna, all will be well”. The three-year-old child’s bright eyes shone with rays of hope as though he understood what his mother had said, and gradually he drifted into an idyllic world- a place where he heard no hate-filled words or saw hideous faces.

Nkechi had slept off with her son in her arms, worries in her heart and dried up paths of tears on her face; as the clock ticked away, she woke up repeatedly each time she heard a footstep, thinking it was her monster of a husband. “Oh, how I wish he would not come back home ever again, he has caused us more pain than joy”, she had soliloquized on one of her unpleasant awakenings. Fatigue then set in and she finally had to give in- for the next four hours, she slept so peacefully like her baby…until a brutal slap landed on her supple cheeks!

Like a flash of lightning, she woke up confused and dazed, unable to think clearly for the next 30 seconds. When the mist had cleared from her mental horizon, she saw her husband, Obinna standing right before her, with a terrifying look on his face. “Woman, you are asking for trouble. Didn’t I tell you to take this object out of my house before I come back today? I can see that you take joy in disobeying my orders and I have had enough of your strong-headedness. You and your son must leave my house tonight!” The dried patches of tears on Nkechi’s face came alive like the waters of River Mississippi. “Why are you doing this to us? What has this innocent child done to you?

This is…” She hadn’t completed her sentence when another violent slap landed on her face, sending her sprawling on the floor. Obinna proceeded to let his fist do the talking on her body but the shrill cry of his rejected baby who was now so scared, stopped him in his tracks. He took a brief look at the frail child and stormed into the room, cursing as he went. Without bothering to pack his wife’s clothes, he stuffed what he could lay his hands on that belonged to her into her suitcase and dumped them outside. Next, he grabbed the baby with one hand and Nkechi with the other and kicked them out of his house into the cold hands of a wicked world waiting to devour any helpless thing that comes their way.  Her pleas for the sake of their son fell on deaf ears as his mind was made up.

Bewildered, she just sat outside his gate and wept. Who was she going to run to for help? What was her fate now? More importantly, what was going to be the fate of her son? Stinging questions plagued her mind as she prepared herself for a cold and dangerous night.

 ***

One would have wished that in dire situations like this, the clock would show some mercy and stand still, just like the sun stood still for Joshua and his warriors in the bible- but the velocity with which it moved on this cold and lonely night was alarming. Luckily for her, Obinna had also stuffed her alarm clock in the bag. “Good gracious God, its 1am!” She exclaimed from the painful depths of her wounded heart as she wrapped up her son in his little blanket to shield him from the cold. Oblivious of what was happening around him, he responded to the cuddles of his mother by letting out a loud and long yawn- and then fell asleep again. The events of that evening had taken its toll on his weak body.

With nowhere in her mind as a destination, she started out on a dangerous journey, one that would alter the course of events in her life and that of her son. “If only I had parents, siblings or relatives, this would not be happening to me and my son. Goddddddd…. Why is this happening to me? Where are you? I was told that you are a father to the fatherless, but I have never felt your love. I feel so lonely in this world. Where do I go from here? How do I pick back the pieces of my life and put them together? When…”

For the umpteenth time, she broke down in tears and sobbed quietly for she didn’t want to rouse Kelechi from his peaceful sleep.

The prevalent quietude in the atmosphere surrounding her sent chills down her spine. She began to tiptoe as fearful thoughts crossed her mind. “What if we are attacked by hoodlums? Since I do not have any money to give them, they will surely take something else from me. O God, please send your angels to go with us, I am so scared”. She was almost walking in the air as she tried all she could to prevent her footwear from making so much noise that could attract danger. Just in the nick of time, she looked up and saw a dilapidated building some meters ahead and along the road.

Hastening her footsteps, she looked like someone who needed to use the washroom urgently as she was torn between getting there quickly and avoiding the noise generated from her footwear as she accelerated. On getting there, her eyes were greeted with pitch darkness, so mush so that she had to squint for her pupil to gather any available ray of light.

She almost tripped and fell when her legs hit something that looked like a pot. The resultant noise from that impact woke Kelechi up and the poor child cried out from the shock. Nkechi immediately unstrapped him from her back and tried to rock him back to sleep, but the hornet’s nest had already been stirred. The more she tried to pacify him, the louder he cried; so loud that it echoed all around.

“Who goes there?” A male voice thundered from within. “I said who goes there?” The voice from within grew menacingly intense as she heard the footsteps of someone approaching her. “I am homeless and have no place to stay”, she said with a trembling voice. The flash of light, obviously from a torchlight, straight into her face, momentarily blinded her as she struggled to block the rays of light from penetrating into her eyes. After a few seconds, the rays were directed downwards and she saw two figures standing right in front of her- a man and a woman. They both stared at her like they had just seen a ghost. “Who are you and what are you doing here by this time of the night”, the man, probably in his late sixties brashly asked. “I..i…i… ammmmmm….homeless” were the words Nkechi could muster the courage to mutter as she did not know what next to expect from the frightening humans standing before her. “What happened to you? Its very unsafe for you to be out here all by yourself by this time, you and your son could have been attacked by miscreants”, the woman standing with the man softly said. Her voice was like a soothing balm on the open wound in Nkechi’s heart. “It’s a long story, a very long and sad one. I do not know where to start from or how to begin”, she said, with hot tears streaming down her face. The man motioned to the soft-spoken woman to attend to her as he turned around and went inside what looked like a room while the woman provided a stool for Nkechi to sit on.

He came back with a large blanket and gave it to the homeless mother who quickly used it to cover herself and her child- despite the stench oozing from it- as the cold was becoming unbearable. “I can see that you are not in the best frame of mind to speak now, just take your time and calm down. We will be right back in a minute or two”, the man said as he motioned to his wife to join him in the room, obviously for a discussion concerning their new visitor.

A couple of minutes later, they both emerged from their decision-making chamber and the man told Nkechi that they had both agreed that she could stay with them till she could stand on her feet again. On hearing this, she went down on her knees, with her child in her arms, as an act of gratitude for their kind gesture. “Thank you so much…”, she looked quizzically into their faces and they got the message instantly. “Please call us John Nkanu and Mary Nkanu”, the man responded. “ “Ok, thank you so much, Mr. and Mrs. Nkanu, you have just lifted a huge burden off my shoulders, I deeply appreciate you going out of your way to help a helpless stranger like me. Thank you so much!”. The couple smiled at her and asked her to get back up on her feet, and then they gave her a spot in the uncompleted building.

“Thank you lord”, she prayed silently as she settled down with her son to give their tired bodies a much-deserved rest. Were her troubles over? Or were they just about to start?

***

John and Mary were like angels sent down from heaven specifically to meet the needs of Nkechi and her son. Even their names resonated perfectly well with Nkechi’s rationale. Though they were not in the best of places, she took solace in the fact they were in the best of hands. So she thought.

The meals provided by their hosts- though it fell overwhelmingly short of nutrients compared to what they were used to in Obinna’s house, Nkechi savored the taste of every morsel and swallowed it with relish each time she ate. Kelechi was also beginning to get used to the “unrich” baby meals his mother now fed him with. Surprisingly, neither of them fell sick even with the drastic change of environment.

A couple of weeks had passed since their relocation, and Nkechi was beginning to get worried. She knew she had to get her hands on something in order for herself and her son to survive. “For how long are we going to survive on other people’s benevolence, eh Nna”, she asked her little son, who stared back at her with his bright blue eyes- hope radiating from within. He seemed to be asking: “What is benevolence?” as his face was a mixture of love and questions. For the next couple of hours, Nkechi pondered on these hard questions as she planned her next course of action. So deep she was in her thoughts that she didn’t notice when Mary came in. “Nkechi, what are you doing sitting on a spoilt stool? You could get yourself and the little boy injured”.

Her voice sounded so sonorous- a clear departure from what she heard on her first night there- that Nkechi almost jumped out of her skin when the sound waves hit her eardrum. “What! I must have been really lost in my thoughts, so much that I didn’t even notice I was sitting on a spoilt stool”, Nkechi thought to herself as she welcomed Mary with a hug. After exchanging pleasantries, Nkechi bared her heart to Mary about her desire to start doing something to fend for herself and her son. “That’s impressive! You know, I was already thinking about that too. You can join me in my business.

I fry akara by the roadside, about 5 km away from here. Though it’s not a very lucrative business, but my customers have become so numerous that I struggle to match their demands these days. So an extra pair of hands will help, especially now that I have decided to start selling bread too”. The worrisome look on Nkechi’s face was obliterated when Mary went further to add that she could keep the proceeds she made for each day for herself. Overjoyed, she thanked her for her kind gesture. “There’s one more thing though. You may not be able to go there with your son, as the volatile environment will not be conducive for him. He could fall sick”.

Nkechi opened her mouth to say something, but Mary continued. “Don’t worry, my husband will help you out with that, he hardly goes to work these days because of his excruciating back pain. Nkechi felt an unusual unease, but after pondering on her options, she agreed with Mary, although hesitantly. “What can I do? At least, I have to start from somewhere. As they say, the idle mind is always the devil’s workshop”, she mused, as she got ready for the normal routine of every African woman in a typical evening- it was time to cook. Little did she know that her last sentence was about to become the bane of her existence.

Very early the next morning, Nkechi beat the crowing of the annoying cock and was up and about even before the bird performed its daily ritual. With a mixture of excitement and apprehension ostentatiously written all over her face, she tidied up the house and fed her son. Next, she prepared his lunch and strategically kept it in a spot where John could easily see it. By the time she was done with bathing her son and having her bath, Mary was ready for the day’s hustling. John also had woken up to attend to the needs of his “foster son”. All was set for what looked like a great day.

Her first day at work proved to be an eventful one. Nkechi barely had time for herself throughout the whole day as all caliber of people thronged to their favorite “akara spot”. Even to go ease herself was an issue as the customers came in droves and in their numbers, all hungry and impatient. “Madam, which kine piss you wan go piss? You nor piss for house before you come work today? Abeg abeg abeg, no just go anywhere, alarm wan tear us for here”, one of the customers bellowed in vernacular as she tried to explain her situation to them. Finally, she had no choice but to hold it, and pray for an opportunity to dash off to relieve herself. Sadly, it never came till the end of work that day.

As the two tired “akarapreneurs” packed up for the day, Nkechi couldn’t help but comment on the turbulence she experienced. “Is this what you go through everyday with these people?” She asked Mary who let out a long loud laugh that lasted for about ninety seconds. When she had recovered, she regaled Nkechi with stories of her daily experience with her customers. Some were very palatable, and to the others, her ears cringed when she heard them. She giggled with excitement when Mary told her about some “big men” who sometimes come to buy from her too, and they always dropped huge sums of money as tips.  “God pleaseeeeeeeeeeeee, let those rich men come my way everyday”, Nkechi gestured with clasped fingers to the heavens.

As the women approached what they had now come to call their home, they noticed an unusual silence. The whole compound seemed desolate. Her motherly instincts got Nkechi’s brain and legs acting in unison- she feared the worst as her legs sped up in a frantic search for her son, and Mary followed right behind her. They both rushed into the makeshift living room and found everything tidied and clean. “He made away with my baby!”, Nkechi’s mind threw fearful arrows at her as her heartbeat increased geometrically.

Next, she rushed into John and Mary’s room and behold, there was Kelechi sleeping peacefully beside John who was also fast asleep. She heaved a sigh of relief so deep that it must have sounded like an earthquake as it caused Mary to rush into the room thinking Nkechi’s eyes had met a gory sight. What she saw melted her heart and she joined her friend in heaving a deep sigh of relief. To their amazement, none of them woke up. “Hmmmmmmmm, they must have had a lot of time to bond, let us allow them to rest properly”, Nkechi said as she followed closely behind Mary, out of the room. All seemed to be well.

***

Later in the evening of that same day, Nkechi fed her son almost in the dark, as the light from the kerosene lamp was getting dim and flickering away. The women had forgotten to buy some kerosene on their way back from work due to their engaging conversations. She was quick enough to lie down to sleep with her son just in time before the light eventually went out on its own. But her motherly instincts would not let her be. “Why were they sleeping so deeply when we came in? Why is Kelechi sleeping again, almost immediately after waking up from a deep slumber earlier? Isn’t he supposed to be restless and wide-awake by this time, bearing in mind that he slept well earlier?” Questions, like a flood, inundated her mind and gently nudged her into a deep slumber, free from all the cares and troubles of the world.

The next day, the cycle began again. By 6:30am, both women were ready to seize their day. They got to their stations on time and got everything ready before customers started trooping in. Nkechi handled them better than she had done the previous day; in fact, many of the customers commended both women for their exceptional customer service skills. A customer even commented that they were supposed to be working in a bank; not selling akara, a comment to which both women graciously smiled. In all these, Nkechi’s mind was far away, in the room where her little boy was being nursed by a man whom she wasn’t sure of, but on whom necessity had forced her to lay the wellbeing of her son on.

At the close of work, Nkechi hurriedly packed up and had little to say to Mary about how the day went; this she did gracefully, without even raising any iota of suspicion in Mary. As they walked home, Nkechi made sure she bought enough kerosene that could last them a whole week, even though she was barely making enough money to enable her get by. On getting home, they both met John and Kelechi outside, playing and having fun. The little boy ran into the welcoming arms of his mother and excitedly regaled her with happenings of the day- in his gibberish language. To all this, Nkechi nodded, smiled and laughed with her son. It was such a beautiful sight to behold. She thanked John for his benevolence and then went in with Kelechi. Then she noticed marks on the boy’s body… finger marks… scratches… teeth marks… She thought she was dreaming!

“Kelechi, what happened to you? Who did this to you?” She asked him in hushed tones. He just stared at her. Confused, she proceeded to check his body closely, but found nothing else. She checked again, hoping to find something and nothing; and she found the latter again. Her apprehension reduced a bit, but she was not satisfied. “Maybe I’m just getting myself worked up over nothing, he could have gotten those marks on the playground. It’s nothing.” She tried to convince herself that all was well. She carried this conclusion well into the night and had a somewhat peaceful sleep.

For the next couple of months, Nkechi worked hard with Mary but sadly, was still not making enough money that could enable her stand on her own. The food at home remained less than a nourishing meal and it was now evident in her physique and that of her son. The condition she found herself in had actually bent her destiny, but what could she do? Daily, she cursed Obinna under her breath. “Just because Kelechi looks frail and weak, you deserted him. May the heavens frown on you too”, she had said on one occasion of her bitter outburst. As for her son, he was beginning to see John as his Father. The four of them were living in abject penury but were still happy. Oh… How I wish the latter were truly the case.

***

“Mary, please take care of these customers. I will be right back. I forgot something very important at home while we were rushing out to work today”. With a nod, Mary acceded to Nkechi’s polite request and like a general at war; she took charge of their numerous customers.

She got home and made straight for her bag, but stopped short when she heard loud moans and muffled cries coming from the room. Not knowing what to think, she peeped into the room and the scariest sight hit her straight in the eyes – John was on top of Kelechi! Taking a closer look, she saw that his manhood was in the little boy’s mouth!

“Oh no! What are you doing to my son you pervert? Now I see where those marks came from”. John jumped up as if he was hit with a thunderbolt and made straight for the woman.He grabbed her, pinned her down to the floor and continued on her what he could not finish on the little boy. For the next ten minutes, he violently raped Nkechi in the presence of her son. What a wicked world. Imagine the multiple traumas the child passed through. And oh, how he cried! He wailed and screamed but his mouth was already sore.

When he had gotten his fill, he got off Nkechi, walked to the crooked bed, roughly lifted the boy and carelessly threw him on top of his weak mother. “For your information, this has been going on for the past two months, and I have always covered my tracks. Now, you have spoilt my fun!” He sarcastically taunted Nkechi who was permanently oblivious by this time to the happenings around her. Blood oozed in copious quantities from her nose, ears and mouth… and for the first time ever, she could not hear the cries of her abused son, neither could she rock him to sleep or feed him anymore.

This gross wickedness went unpunished as John left the dilapidated building immediately he noticed the result of the untamed fire in between his legs. Mary came back and surprisingly did the same on seeing what had happened. Was this a planned script all along? Did she know her husband’s tendencies and still allowed the little boy to remain in his care? What was Kelechi’s fate now?

Unanswered questions like these inundate the lives of every downtrodden child in circles all around the world. Sadly, many of these perpetrators go unpunished. Many, like Kelechi are left motherless and hopeless and it behooves on heroes to step forward to make this world a better place for children. I WILL… WILL YOU?

Odigwe

Good Luck Ifechukwudeni Odigwe ! :D

JUDGE’S REVIEWS

Good plot!

★★★★☆
4 5 1
Good plot but did not dwell on the theme. Well-written. Writer only captured the theme in passing in the last sentence. The theme is what the entire story should be about.

Very organized and articulated!

★★★★★
5 5 1
A long tale of a short story, though in simple language, with nice use of English; very organized and articulated piece of work. A story that started from the blues and ended in blues but faithful to the theme of the contest; with few literary expression and in simply style.

Superb infusion of Nigerian pigin

★★★★★
5 5 1
I like the presence of a child's innocence, portrayed by Kelechi as seen in the part where he asked his mother what benevolence meant. The infusion of Nigerian pidgin is superb.
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