Chapter One.

“Emeka! Emeka!!” The woman across the street called. Emeka whirled round and saw Mama Nkechi moving towards him from the other side of the road, shouting his name continuously. As their eyes met, Emeka began a soft trot. She continued to scream his name louder when she noticed he was warming up to take flight. It was the same routine everyday for the past one week. The moment Emeka took the bend leading to the untarred street, he would disappear. She couldn’t go on like this, she thought. She had to do something drastic for the young man to understand she was serious.

Mama Nkechi owned the provision store cum supermarket across the road and enjoyed high patronage as hers was the only one of its kind by the road side that boasted of many streets. Apart from the usual ‘aboki stores’ that was a consistent feature in almost every house in this part of Surulere, hers was the only supermarket that boasted of so many wares. It would have been very difficult for her, had it not been that she had just come into a huge amount of money she never knew she possessed.

After the family of her late husband, his brothers particularly, had practically ripped her and her three children off of nearly everything they owned. It was indeed a godsend for her to discover that her husband had taken out a huge life insurance policy naming her as beneficiary; that, the three bedroom flat they lived in Surulere along with her old but dependable Audi 80 wagon which was bought in her name. She was able to use part of the money to ensure her children’s schooling continued and invest the other in her previously, part-time shop business.

Her shop blossomed as she stocked, re-stocked and expanded, turning her provision store into a supermarket and soon, she had customers from virtually every house on the street and beyond making purchases at her shop. Her name was actually Anna Adiele but she was known affectionately as Mama Nkechi, Nkechi being her first and only daughter. She doted on her kids, but she loved Nkechi with a fierce passion. Nkechi was just 16, light-skinned like the typical Igbo girl of Anambra State extraction, very pretty with a well developed body that attracted stares everywhere she went.

Nkechi was the pride of the Adiele family in terms of beauty and a constant reminder of Anna’s younger days as the belle at her home town of Odekpe. It was there her fellow towns man, Obi Ogbonna Adiele had plucked her at the ripe age of 21 and made her his wife. Obi was a handsome man and was the most sought after bachelor amongst her age mates back then. And why not? He was tall, dark complexioned and very intelligent. While most men his age were thinking about going into one apprenticeship to learn one trade or the other, he’d won a scholarship from the community school then headed by the Anglican missionaries to study engineering in the United Kingdom.

He had just come back and had gotten a job at the Federal Ministry of Works in Lagos and had come home to visit. Anna’s parents had refused to sponsor her tertiary education, claiming the her brothers were better candidates so she had begun to learn tailoring. She had just left the shop and was on her way home when she saw Obi coming out of the Igwe’s palace which was along the old dusty road with his father. Everybody in Odekpe knew Mazi Adiele. He was a successful farmer and probably the wealthiest man in the village. He had acres of farmland where he planted palm nuts, yam, cassava and pear. He was a handsome diminutive man with an air of unimpeachable authority and an amazing taste for tall and beautiful women. He had four wives and 14 children in all, Obi being the third son from the second wife. Mazi Adiele was good friends with the Igwe and it wasn’t out of place to see him at the palace sharing a gourd of fresh palm wine with the Igwe.

Mazi Adiele had taken his son who had just returned from “obodo oyibo” to visit the Igwe and to probably make arrangements for him to marry the Igwe’s second daughter. Rumours had been afoot for a while that the Igwe and Mazi Adiele sought to strengthen their family ties by becoming in-laws. It didn’t stop the girls from oogling and making passes at him though. It was that day they saw each other clearly for the first time. Obi’s jaw seemed to have dropped as he was clearly mesmerized by her beauty. She had smiled shyly and looked away. She respectfully greeted Mazi Adiele and mumbled a greeting to Obi but he continued to stare like he’d just seen the eighth wonder of the world. She was used to men gaping foolishly at her because of her beauty but there was something about Obi that made her uncomfortable.

She had shuffled on quickly after exchanging pleasantries. She couldn’t look back inasmuch as she wanted to because she felt the flame in his eyes burning her back. From then on, she couldn’t stop thinking about him. She wanted him in a way she hadn’t wanted a man before. Her parents were strict Catholics and she’d been brought up sternly with the belief that if she allowed a man touch her, she would get pregnant. The myth kept her in check as a teen despite attempts by several young rascals then. The myth was finally de-mystified after her best childhood friend Obiageli, at 16 her confided in her that she had lost her virginity to the village rake, Elokah. Still, Nkechi hadn’t felt any need to let a man touch her. Until she set eyes on him.

She sighed and drifted back to the present. She missed Obi very much still. Time hadn’t cured her of the loss. Two years since that ghastly motor accident on the Benin-Ore express road claimed his life, she still didn’t feel self sufficient. She needed him now, especially with the kids. He was an awesome father and his children adored him. His death created a void she feared she couldn’t hope to fill and it became more and more evident with the sudden rebellious streak she had noticed recently in both Nkechi and Nnamdi, her second child. Obiora, the last boy was a darling; so much like his father. She had thought to dismiss their rebellion as just teenage exuberance till she discovered Nkechi was pregnant. It was then she knew she was in real trouble.

She had been so busy trying to make ends meet that she lost touch with the reality that her children needed her now more than ever before. Nnamdi was in boarding school but even there, she had become very familiar with the principal as a result of incessant trips to his office over Nnamdi’s frequent scrapes with other students, especially his seniors. Mr Popoola was surprisingly very understanding and constantly encouraged her and soft-pedaled on punishments. It was when she discovered that he was a widower as well that she began to understand why he did. She had even broken down and opened up to him about Nkechi’s pregnancy. Nkechi had continued to remain mute about who was responsible for the pregnancy though Anna was convinced Emeka was the culprit.

She was tired of chasing him and no one seemed to know where Emeka lived. He was just well known in the area. She had to do something quick before the pregnancy began to show. Her never-do-well in-laws would have a field day heaping insults on her for this error of hers. She was sure one of them was already nursing plans to marry Nkechi off to one of their wealthy friends. She was totally averse to abortion and wouldn’t put the life of her daughter under that kind of risk.

She had to meet Emeka, get him to admit the pregnancy was his and come to some sort of arrangement with his family. He was a gentleman, unemployed but with bright prospects. She had noticed how Nkechi would always swoon each time he came to buy something from the shop. She had found it amusing at first and was so sure that it was harmless. He was such a nice young man. He would come to the shop on cool evenings when he came back from the day’s job hunt to tutor Nkechi in Chemistry and Physics. She had encouraged their friendship until she discovered Nkechi was pregnant.

Looking back now, she wished she had discouraged it as she had discouraged so many others. She had always known her high patronage was due to Nkechi’s beauty. Nkechi always came to help with the shop after school and it was usually that point that the highest sales were made. The young boys and men who lived in the environs came in their numbers to make unnecessary purchases just to have an opportunity to have words with her. However, since the pregnancy incident, Nkechi had been banned from leaving the house for any reason. Luckily, she had already completed her WAEC exam where she cleared most of her papers.

Anna knew she had to enlist outside help as Nkechi steadfastly refused to divulge a thing about Emeka. She sighed heavily as she saw Emeka take the familiar bend into the untarred street …


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