My name is Ikenna Obi. Close friends call me Iyke, for short. I am the first of the either living offspring of Obi Okonkwo of Agbaja in the Eastern region. My mother was a local primary school teacher, popularly known as ‘onye nne,’ meaning ‘the mother,’ in the language of its naming, Igbo. She was dubbed onye nne for her exceptional attention and tenderness towards the pupils during her active years in service when she taught in the community primary school.
“I got admitted and left for the famous University of Nigeria Nsukka, where I studied Architecture and graduated tops two years ago.”
One would see her every morning at the assembly ground panning left and right, to and fro the lines, either wielding tissue paper to tidy the noses of the children that never ceased to drip of catarrh. Adjusting their uniform and or just dabbing their tiny shoulders and gifting free smiles. It was a sight to behold, electric as it was outstanding.
And my father…not so much was known to me about him. One of the few things I knew about him, besides that he died when I was four then—and my sister Nneka, four months shy of being two—was that he was a businessman. He was a stockfish merchant. He had traded in and made so much money from stockfish during the Nigerian Civil war. He was the first to own a brick house roofed with the iron sheet in the entire village and the surrounding clans.
Growing up was fun. Although it was intermittently sandwiched with a few moments of sorrow, especially the few times I posed mother some questions about my father. Outside that, our lives were relatively laid-back since the burden was light. Mother sacrificed much during turbulent times that we passed through then—we did not make a shipwreck of our quick walk through our primary and secondary school days.
I got admitted and left for the famous University of Nigeria Nsukka, where I studied Architecture and graduated tops two years ago. I did my compulsory one-year national youth service—an initiative the government aimed to involve graduands in the process of nation-building and development, in the Tudunwada axis of Madura State, where I worked with the Ministry of Works and Housing.
A thrilling twelve months in the North gave way to a tour across the Western region of Nigeria. This was indeed necessary because it was easier for one to collide with a decent opportunity capable of earning one a living there. Relocating wasn’t too hard, to be quite honest. Ayotomiwa had made formidable arrangements that made the whole process easy.
I had met Ayo at the orientation camp in Zaria—a temporary camp for graduates. It was a three-week Bootcamp of sorts. Here, the government passed youths through rigorous training meant to prepare them with survival skills. After which, they are dispatched to every nook and cranny of the country. They are disbanded to contribute to nation-building and development in their various fields of training. We took to each other and have remained friends ever after.
Ayo, a rich young handsome ebony lad from Agun, grew up in a very conducive neighborhood on the rich-concentrated Island of Kudash. However, there was no trace of those grouchy attributes of the rich kids found in him. Not arrogance, for he was down to earth as they come—the personality that attracted me to him in the first place. Not laziness—he was dogged and diligent, then cheerful and soft-spoken.
Coincidentally, Ayo had just one sister like myself—one of the few places where we shared some resemblance. The others were: sharing the same birthday, being avid lovers of the color white, and potential politicians in the making. After serving in the Youth Corps, I immediately moved into his family house on Plot 10B Amazing Grace Way, Salt Lake Island, Lagos.
Ayo showed me into a—three-bedroom mini duplex—wrongly tagged “boys quarters,” for it was such only in its naming. Like the main building, the boys-quarters was vastly equipped with building facilities of the best quality and modern home appliances. In some parts of the country, these so-called “boys’ quarters” could pass for many people’s primary homes. Please talk about the class and standards of it all. It sure was remarkable.
The structure stood adjacent to the elegant seven-bedroom duplex-mansion, which the family occupied. The house spoke of opulence that left all to the imagination of the observers. To the left and opposite my apartment was another two-bedroom mini-duplex which served as the gatekeeper’s home. It was a sprawling estate of worth and importance.
“She stole the quickest glance I ever saw at me and headed in the direction of Mr. Zach, where she politely bowed in greeting.”
Shortly after I came to the West, Ayo, in his bid to have a “superior certificate,” left for the UK, where he reunited with his father. His mother, Bimbo Ajayi, was an easy-going gentle lady in her fifties. Her simplicity didn’t in any way get in the way of her debonair but classy comportment. She carried herself with utmost grace, elegance, and panache. She was an Island-based businesswoman, a dealer in lace materials.
Upon my arrival, she was home and welcomed me warmly. “Now I know where Ayo’s good looks and gentle spirit stemmed,” I said to myself as she left after mutual introductions. She had the lead house help start making lunch for myself and Ayo while Ayo took me to my residence on the property. I felt very much at home after the very kind and warm welcome.
However, one seldom saw her as she was always on the move. If not France today, it would be Turkey. Then, tomorrow Spain or Italy, the next day, Switzerland or Dubai. Ayo’s mum was a globetrotting businesswoman indeed. Therefore, practically, the house of the Ajayi’s belonged more to people who were not consanguineously related to them—the gardeners, the cooks, the security detail, cleaners, friends like myself, and so on, than the owners and their families.
It was about 5:20 PM this Saturday. The sun had yielded its scorching potency to a beauty that radiated from the yellowness its fading strength had birthed. The flowers and trees had a common testimony of the presence of air as they swerve involuntarily. The air was chilly, soothingly caressing my bare arms and legs.
I had come out from the house and was by a corner of the compound—the back of my apartment, gathering my sunned beddings. After which, I was to view a soccer game that would cap my weekend that would kick off in just a few minutes. Suddenly, a blast of car horn rented through my mind, which harbored no thought of note at the particular time. I have heard that honking the car horn in countries like the United States is only used in emergency times or when people are alerting a careless driver of putting others’ lives in danger. Oh well, in Nigeria, it’s the culture and norm to honk, honk, and beep, beep, all the time.
Mr. Zach was handy to attend to his duty. He peeped from his room upstairs and exclaimed, “Yeeeh…Queen Iyabo is back o o o!” And immediately hurriedly down the stair and slid the metal gate to a corner, and an airport taxi drove into the compound. The raving engine died, and a majestic glister of a girl who didn’t look anything older than twenty emerged, beaming shyly. She stole the quickest glance I ever saw at me and headed in the direction of Mr. Zach, where she politely bowed in greeting.
Questions and counter questions issued on the two’s well-being took a few more moments than I would—such a delicately polished beauty should have the patience for, to say the very least. When it finally ended, she turned, walked towards the car, paused at its already lifted trunk, and exhumed two big boxes and a backpack. She smartly entered the latter onto her back and dragged the suitcases on both hands towards the family house about twenty meters or sixty-something feet from where the car had parked.
“Hello, may I…?” I offered to help with the suitcases. She turned and dinked me a ‘good evening, sir,’ with an expression that asked the question, “Do I know you?” “Oh! Forgive my manners; I’m Iyke, Ayo…,” midsentence, she cut me off, saying, “Oh… It’s you…my brother told me loads about you already…so glad to meet you in the flesh,” with a sweet and coy voice to go with her welcome and intrigue. She enthused, letting go of the luggage on either hand, but didn’t stop moving. I dragged the bags up the stairs and lined them in front of the door where she stopped and then made to leave.
“That was very kind of you Iyke, thank you so very much,” she said heartily, all masked in a beautiful smile.
She extended a hand, thanked me rather too profusely, and promised to come downstairs after she had rested. “That was very kind of you Iyke, thank you so very much,” she said heartily, all masked in a beautiful smile. I loved the softness of her palm, the warmth she exuded, and the scent of the perfume she wore was out of this world heavenly. Although I was a bit disappointed, she never said her name by way of introduction to me, even though I already knew she was Iyabo.
…to be continued.
Watch out for “Near and Dear – Episode V” on Oaekpost.