Okwukogu was a perennially restless man.
His job made him restless. He hardly had time alone to himself at the office. Despite being the boss, he felt he was not in control, and everyone was plotting against him.
His car made him restless. There was not a week that passed that the damned chunk of steel did not find reason to visit the mechanic, who in turn always found a thousand excuses to fleece him.
His wife made him restless. They’d been married four years with no signs of a progeny kicking in her womb. They had tried and tried. Therapies. Counseling. None had worked. He watched the smile leave his wife’s face bit by bit – much like how waves chaff away at beach rock – until only mask was left. Since the last time they visited the village three months ago, and she had had a row with his mother, Uloma had stopped trying. His words of comfort or entreathy were now easily dismissed with a wave of the hand, and vicious silence which often lasted days.
His father made him restless. Yesterday, a Demesne brought a message from home: his father was sick and needed to see him as soon as possible. Okwukogu knew his father was not sick, at least not physically. Ebenezer, the son of his distant uncle had just bought a Prado four-wheeler and laid the foundation of a massive edifice in his father’s compound, both in December; Chuka, the renegade son of Okeke the drunk, only recently completed a four-room bungalow for his family; all over and around their village, signs of progress were sprouting tendrils but Okwukogu was not a part of any of it. He and his wife couldn’t even produce a grandson for the old man. That was the sickness his father suffered from. Okwukogu knew it, and it made him restless.
The restlessness in his heart had led him to the hospital where the doctor diagnosed hypertension and he was handed a bunch of drugs. That was a little over two months ago. Since then his drug-stash had accumulated enough to start a chemist shop. He absolutely refused to calculate the financial impact; the pills no doubt ate up as much as 10 percent of his two hundred and six thousand Naira Director salary.
The room was hot. He opened the glass windows and felt a little relief from the meagre portions of breeze that his position as the first house on entering the Estate afforded him. The blasts of cool air were accompanied by the distinct wail of a male voice in the thick of adoration and praise for the Most High.
That was Saraki, the gateman; the annoyingly garrulous gateman whom everyone seemed to like except Okwukogu. Uloma had jokingly informed him days back that one of Saraki’s children had come begging for salt and she had given her money to buy a bag instead, which really surprised the child so she had had to cajole and encourage before she reluctantly took the money. It made Okwukogu mad and he struggled to hide his anger.
How dare they? Next they’ll come asking for his wife’s undies! Of course they would beg for salt when all Saraki did was breed children like rats. Last time Okwukogu counted, the gateman had eight children in various states of rumple from two wives. While he, a Director at the Ministry of Works, struggled to maintain one wife, a gateman had two, with eight kids. The irony of it was startling, and Okwukogu chuckled, in spite of his anger.
Meanwhile Saraki’s worship continued unabated, his ululation carrying into Okwukogu’s living room on the wings of the afternoon breeze. What exactly was the man thankful for? Okwukogu wondered. Thankful for a miserable life? A life that couldn’t afford a commodity as basic as salt? Okwukogu needed to know. So he leaned across the window ledge and called out. “Saraki. Saraki!”
Moments later Saraki pushed through the door, his steps undecided. He was draped in his trademark brown jalabiya and bathroom slippers well-worn at the heels. His face bore surprised curiosity and a week’s growth of scraggly beards.
“Gooraftunoon sir” he bowed slightly.
“Yes, good afternoon. Please sit down.” Okwukogu motioned in the direction of the sofas.
Saraki made for the nearest sofa, then changed his mind, and settled for the battered table chair set beside a standing fan.
“How is your family?” Okwukogu asked. He still leaned on the window ledge.
“Ah Oga, dem dey fine o. Tank sah.” Saraki replied, all teeth.
“And your plenty madams?”
The gateman failed to spot the sarcasm, his reply was just as gleeful as the previous one. “Oga, na onle two dem dey o. Dem dey okay sah.”
A prolonged silence followed. It was cut short by Saraki’s rapping of a discordant tune on the glass table.
“I heard you singing and praising a while ago.” Okwukogu pushed off from the window ledge and perched on a sofa opposite the wide-eyed gateman. “What was that about?”
Saraki’s face dawdled between surprise and amusement, then chose amusement. He laughed and shook his head. This Oga dem and their mumu questions.
“Ah Oga, I dey very happy oh. Very happy sah.” Saraki stopped abruptly, the grin left his face. Should he tell Oga? What if he called in the five hundred naira debt Saraki owed him from last year when one of his sons had to be taken to hospital after prolonged bouts of convulsions? He was sure Oga had not forgotten. These rich people hardly forget – one reason he loathed being rich. Wealth saddled one with so much responsibility, including the inability to forget things. As poor as he was, Saraki forgot debts owed him. Well not completely since he always remembered whenever he sighted the debtor, but it never bothered him. Not so with rich people. And they could hold a grudge …
“What’s the problem, Saraki? It’s okay, you can tell me.”
“Ah Oga, nothing o. Just that dem be raise my salary.”
“Wonderful! That’s great news. You must be a rich man now. By how much?”
“Ah Oga, e no plenty o,” Saraki tried to downplay it. “Dem add something put am.”
“Oh really? How much then?” Saraki hesitated. Okwukogu watched the man’s discomfort for a second and it clicked. “Don’t worry,” he said with a smile, “I’ve forgiven that money you owe me. Now how much?”
“Ah Oga!” Saraki was all smiles again. “Thank you Oga. God bless you o. Dem say dem go dey pay me twenty thousand from this month. Now I go fit put another of my pikin for school be that o. That my company try well well, na why I just dey happy sah.”
“How much were you paid prior?”
“Oga?” ‘Prior’ hadn’t made it into Saraki’s vocabulary yet. “Wetin dem dey pay you before?” Okwukogu rephrased.
“Eighteen thousand, Oga.”
“Thank you,” Okwukogu said. His steps were slow and deliberate, heavy with thoughts, as he reached in the fridge for a can of beer. He passed the beverage to a profusely thankful Saraki and bade him farewell.
A family man on eighteen thousand naira! Yet he was at peace!
That evening, Okwukogu gathered all traces of his home-based ‘chemist shop’ and set them ablaze, cartons and all.
A father of eight on twenty thousand! Yet so thankful.
That night, Okwukogu surprised his wife by telling her she did not need his permission to offer assistance to Saraki’s family, or indeed anyone she deemed fit.
That night, Uloma surprised her husband with sexual overtures never seen since they were married. Okwukogu’s fingers shook with libidinous frenzy as he struggled to insert Celestine Ugwu’s “Ije Enu” into the DVD player, a lecherous wife beckoning on the bed.
By Chidozie Nnachor
Chidozie is Nigerian. A bored Economist. Dreams about changing the world with good intentions.
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