MY BEAUTIFUL NEIGHBOUR #4 (SHORT STORY)
The Story So Far:
Ebony’s neighbour, Mama Chinonso (Tasia to him), whom he is enamoured with, travelled in the last episode, leaving him devastated. While he was steeped in the blues, his younger sister Razor, paid him an unexpected visit. Through her barbs and the ensuing fireworks, Ebony snapped out of his melancholy. His thoughts and actions in this episode turn to a salient direction, but it’s largely geared to make him look good to Tasia. In the process, he has a frightening encounter which sets other significant events in motion. Surprises and lessons await. Enjoy!
MY BEAUTIFUL NEIGHBOUR #4
December 21, 2016
NO MORE CHASING THE WIND
Tasia was supposed to come back four days ago (17th of December). I cleaned her apartment the previous day as a way of saying thanks for the help she rendered by giving me access to it. There was more food there than she had let on and I’d run through the lot: there was stew, rice, ice fish, some chicken, three kinds of soup, eight yams and some grains in small buckets. When she called after five days of leaving to know how I was, I told her I was emptying her freezer and pantry. Her response was: “Be my guest!” That was the day after Razor’s visit.
I was still thinking of what to do with my life, not only because I wanted Tasia’s love and respect, but because I wanted to show my evil sister, Razor, that I could turn a new leaf if I meant to. I was running low on cash. Ponzi business was not living up to the hype about it and the losses were piling up. The gains were no match and some people I was scheduled to be paid by had told me to take a hike. I needed to do a balance sheet of the profits and losses from all my Ponzi “investments” but I was scared that the pain would be too much if everything were catalogued in black and white.
Many people think I bought a car from Ponzi (besides my former neighbours who alleged I was a ritualist). But it’s a guy I helped get a visa to Austria some years ago that sent five cars and I reported to him people were underpricing them because of the poor economy. He told me the least he would take for each and I got the oldest of the lot, a 1998 Toyota Carina, quite cheap. Our elder sister, Nonye’s husband paid for the heavy duty stuff during our mum’s burial, so I wasn’t in the red after. Instead I gathered all the cash I got as condolence gifts from friends and groups which was about 250K* being the only son, and bought the car.
It’s true I paid a year’s rent on this nice flat but now, I’m wondering if it was such a good idea. Where will I get the money to furnish the flat and pay the next rent? As I meditated after Tasia’s call, I knew that those concerns were even far. The immediate question was: How am I going to sustain myself from now? The Ponzi business promised so much and I gave it my full attention. But from the look of things, the whole thing is fizzling out. (Right now, no small scale scheme lasts up to three months before collapsing. The most is a few weeks.) I needed to find a way to move forward.
[bctt tweet=”Who ever profited from building castles in the air?” username=”edithohaja1″]
“It won’t be nice for Tasia to come back and meet me idle. Won’t make a good impression,” I reminded myself. I’d told her I was a budding musician, which had been the case two years ago. I even had a band called Egwu Ndi Muo Ozi (Music of Angels). Gospel music was our genre with highlife and R and B thrown in according to the occasion.
Before you shout, it was a smart business decision I made years ago. Most people in these parts love gospel music even though they may not really give God the time of day. So some folks like me play it quite well without any personal devotion to God. It’s an art, you know. You master your art and you can perform convincingly. Sometimes, I wondered if my inability to get a break had anything to do with my Jekyll and Hyde personality.
We used to do gigs but when I went into yahoo yahoo*, the band more or less disbanded. I found the yahoo thing distasteful. I didn’t want to be telling strangers I love them to get their money. I thought that Ponzi was cleaner, straight up, no personal ties, no heartbreaks. But all na wash!*
It was time to try the music again. It’s a hard life till you get a big break but hardwork never killed anyone. I needed to call my guys, revive the band and start featuring at events as before. It didn’t take too much convincing to get the fellows on board again ’cause they were on their butts like me, hard hit by Ponzi deals gone bad.
We were a bit rusty but we gathered at my drummer, Goddy’s family compound, where there was plenty of space for rehearsals and got a job before we dispersed that first evening: a wake keep in two days. Each member had come with his own instrument and we rehearsed again the next day. We planned to do our usual songs and a few new gospel ones introduced by our keyboardist, who is in his church choir.
But I needed serious backup. Because we’d been out of the scene, we had tough competition from younger guys with better equipment. Some had girls who did backup vocals and danced. So the jobs weren’t frequent and our patrons didn’t always pay at once. I’d thought I could run taxi services with my car but the run-ins with the road safety corps, motor park touts and government Task-Force-This and Task-Force-That meant I got next to nothing for all my trouble. So I gave that up. I thought of looking for work with my degree certificate in Psychology but that didn’t seem too appealing unless I had a top politician or rich man to write a note on my behalf.
I still wanted to look good to Tasia. I was glad she called, no matter how briefly, which meant she hadn’t forgotten me. So I felt I should concentrate on making something of myself. Which drove me to God on the 16th of December since my efforts weren’t bearing much fruit.
It was kind of awkward, I mean, me talking to God. How long had it been since I’d done something like that? Don’t get me wrong. I’ve bowed my head when public prayer was made, I may have even said a few words of prayer alone sometimes but praying a heartfelt prayer? That I can’t readily remember doing. There was one occasion, though, way way back, when my secondary school vice-principal threatened to report a bunch of us for cheating during the WAEC* Literature exam. I prayed for hours. I promised God I’ll be a pastor if he delivered me, I’ll even go as a missionary to the north*, to China, wherever, if only He quashed that case. The vice-principal saw us the next day hanging around his office and reprimanded us.
“Stupid children, you want to blame me for your misfortune in life? I didn’t report you but if you carry on like this, mark my words, you will surely get into trouble.”
He then chased us away and we ran to our classroom where we drew caricatures of him on the board and laughed our hearts out. I never even remembered my tears and prayers the previous night.
When I brought my mind back to God in the situation I was facing, I didn’t know exactly what to tell him, so I made him a deal.
“If you get me something doing, something reasonable, I’ll pay my tithe.” That sounded lame. “Faithfully. I mean, I won’t skip any.” Not good enough. Then I got scared. As strange as it sounds, it seemed like God was listening to me and responding through my thoughts. Why would He listen to me, a sinner? What right had I to talk to Him? Yet, I couldn’t shake the feeling that He was there, and was in fact, eager to have that conversation with me.
[bctt tweet=”When you don’t know where else to go, go to God. He will welcome you.” username=”edithohaja1″]
I ran outside. I wasn’t going back to that apartment alone. I felt like Jacob when he dreamt and saw the ladder going from earth to heaven. I remembered that story from Sunday School. In my fearful state, I called my sister, Razor!
“Razor, you dey town?”
“What have you done?” Arrogant girl! I might have a history of asking her to intervene when I’m in trouble but it’s in bad taste to bring that up now.
“Abeg, come my house now now. Plan to sleep oh!”
“Buy me suya, I dey come.”
I immediately regretted the call. Why didn’t I call a believer or a pastor? Truth be told, I didn’t know any of those close enough. But Razor, my devilish sister?
“What exactly do I want,” I asked myself. Am I ready to change or do I just want some financial stability? Why involve God and run when He seems ready to answer? I was very confused. But somehow I felt that Razor will see the situation more clearly and help me out of the muddle I’d created, as always.
“She should be getting here soon,” I tried to assure myself. “But I don’t know where she’s coming from, how can I be certain she’ll come before nightfall.” The time was 5:40 p.m.
To be continued
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2017
*”250K” is slang for two hundred and fifty thousand Naira
*”yahoo yahoo” refers to online scams, some of which are based on the promise of love
*”all na wash” means it was all lies or it was all underwhelming
*”WAEC” is the acronym for the West African Examinations Council that conducts the Secondary School Certificate Exams for countries in the region
*”the north” refers to Northern Nigeria which is widely regarded as Muslim-dominated
*”You dey town?” is Pidgin English for “Are you in town?”
*””Abeg, come my house now now” means “Please, come to my house immediately” in Pidgin English
*”Buy me suya” means “Buy suya for me” in Pidgin English
*”suya” is roasted meat sold by Hausa street vendors
*”I dey come” is Pidgin English for “I am coming.”
LOVE TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Have you ever engaged in Ponzi business? How did it work out for you?
If you were in Ebony’s shoes, how would you handle his job situation?
Have you ever had a supernatural experience that got you scared like Ebony?
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