“NO ONE IS GOD!” (SHORT STORY)
“Ugochukwu, drop that painting!” Chiwetalu bellowed. Her brother-in-law was astounded. While he wondered if he had heard right, she addressed one of her daughters lounging in the sitting room. “Chidera, go and collect that painting from your uncle and hang it back.”
The girl eagerly marched towards Ugochukwu, who placed the painting on the seat he had just vacated to save himself further embarrassment. As he went to find his elder brother, Obiora, who had just stepped out to the compound before the incident, mother and daughter high-fived each other.
They had been hoping and waiting for just such a moment and to say they were thrilled was putting it mildly. Chiwetalu did a few dance steps while Chidera gave a rhythmic clap in accompaniment.
“No more restraint. It’s time to possess our possessions,” she declared. “Follow me!”
Chidera, whose teenage hormones had been dying for some excitement since she came for the holidays, did a high-pitched laugh. Then she stood at attention and gave her mum a mock military salute.
“Corporal Chidera at your service, officer!”
They went towards the mango tree in the compound under which Chiwetalu’s husband, Obiora, liked to rest on hot afternoons such as this. There were a few plastic chairs around, two of which were occupied by Obiora and Ugochukwu. Chidera brought one for her mum, waited for her to sit and then stood behind her in much the same way as aides-de-camp do.
Their arrival stopped Ugochukwu, who was just about to tell Obiora what Chiwetalu had done to him, in mid-sentence.
Chiwetalu ignored him and addressed her husband.
“Good news!” she announced.
“Hallelujah!” he answered as folks do in church.
“For the kind of news I’ve brought, you need to put more life into that hallelujah.”
“Under this hot sun? You should thank God I responded at all.”
“Anyway, Onyeka just transferred money for us to hire people to mould blocks for erecting us a be-fi-tting building!”
Onyeka, was their only son and he was living in Europe. Obiora couldn’t hold his joy.
“I thought he was joking when he said he would do so. This calls for a celebration. I can’t believe I’m alive to see my son doing well enough to build me a house.”
“Yes oh! It’s happening, contrary to the thoughts and imaginations of some people,” Chiwetalu replied, glaring pointedly at Ugochukwu.
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Obiora missed the stare as he was beckoning on Adaeze, his older daughter to come. He was considering the drink he would ask her to bring but he decided to go and fetch it himself. He was oblivious of the undercurrent of meaning in his wife’s statement. Ugochukwu, unable to stand the discomfort, excused himself to make a call.
His visit to the village had turned into a “total waste of time” as he described it to a friend on the line. His elder brother and his family lived in the three-room house he managed to build for his parents when he had a job (two bedrooms and a parlour with makeshift kitchen and conveniences outside the building). Since both parents were deceased, he moved there with his family when he lost his job as the Stores Manager of a private firm in Lagos. He opened a provision store in the village while his wife taught at a local school.
Land was scarce in their community, so only Obiora had inherited a portion of land. Due to his misfortune, Ugochukwu had calculated he had no way of building a better house. And knowing Obiora to be very kind and always yielding to his demands as his younger brother, he had mentioned he would like to build a house in the village, believing Obiora would easily surrender his land to him. His intention had been to see the land during this trip and call a guy from Nnewi to survey it. Now, with the news Chiwetalu had relayed, that would no longer be possible.
Ugochukwu, a group manager at an oil company, did not appreciate this kind of setback. He was shocked that Onyeka was doing well enough to send money for such a project. Onyeka, his brother’s only son, left Nigeria in frustration eight years back when Ugochukwu would not assist him sponsor his education in the university after his dad lost his job. At the time, he had two of his own kids in private schools abroad, had just started building his third house in Lagos and his family were due to go to Australia for their annual vacation. It was the third year that Onyeka had appealed to him and while he didn’t exactly say he wouldn’t help, he kept giving the young man the runaround till he ran out of patience.
As God would have it, a British teacher in his former secondary school (Mr Barnaby), whom Onyeka often served was going home on retirement, and offered to take Onyeka along, although he could not promise the boy much. No one told Ugochukwu about this. About the same time, he came for a stint at his company’s London office. Onyeka asked his father to get the address of his residence in London. Ugochukwu unsuspectingly gave it thinking it was no use to his brother anyhow.
When Onyeka showed up at his home in Chelsea, London, to seek assistance, Ugochukwu threw a fit and accused the boy of stalking him and his family. But favour eventually came Onyeka’s way through the family and friends of Mr Barnaby. He completed studies for a bachelor’s degree in accountancy and got a job. Although he was not swimming in money, he was prudent with what he got and sought to do something meaningful for his parents.
It pained him that his dad trained his younger brother and doted on him, but his uncle specialised in taking, sparing no thought for his older brother or his family ever since he fell on hard times. Onyeka thanked God his parents had only three children with at least five years between each of them. His mother’s slowness in conceiving which gave her a lot of concern in the past had turned into a blessing in disguise. Still, the family had to adopt the strategy of halting one child’s education at some point to focus on another’s, with the exception of Chidera’s.
In all their difficulties, Ugochukwu kept his distance. He never brought his family to spend even Christmas in the village. They spent all their vacations abroad. He never invited any member of his brother’s family to visit his own either. The few times Onyeka went to see him in Lagos, he was not allowed into his residence. He stayed with a friend and went through a tortuous process to see him at the office. As a result, his children didn’t know their uncle and cousins. On the occasions he came home, he had a favour he wanted from his brother and would zoom off the moment he acceded to his demand.
Yet, Obiora didn’t seem to mind. He maintained that he was his younger brother and should be blessed by him, rather than the other way round. So whenever Ugochukwu came around, Obiora would have Chiwetalu pack garri, palm oil, fruits and vegetables into his boot and the fellow would leave without reciprocating their kindness save for the occasional bottle of expensive wine he brought for Obiora.
He also had the penchant of expressing interest in any good thing he saw his brother had. On several occasions, he had collected new shirts Obiora bought, just like he used to do during his teenage years.
Chiwetalu played the good wife for many years but the last straw was four months ago. A man from the village who lived in Port Harcourt came home and gave Obiora an Apple tablet. (Obiora had supported him financially when he was in school, ensuring he graduated after the death of his father.)
The very next week, Ugochukwu came to attend the New Yam Festival. When he saw the tablet Obiora was using to take pictures during the event, he admired and collected it from him. Meanwhile, Adaeze, Obiora’s older daughter who was in the university had been crying for a laptop. Since the family couldn’t afford one, Chiwetalu had been meaning to tell Obiora to give Adaeze the tablet to help her with her research project.
She vowed to stop Ugochukwu’s “menace” and was looking forward to his next visit. She had overheard him talking of building a house in the village. She realised that his recent attendance at community events and public philantropy (building a health centre for the community and a classroom block for their village primary school) were aimed at qualifying hinself for a traditional title. He also needed a house in the village to show he fully identified with the people.
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Chiwetalu knew that although he could easily afford a hectare of land, Ugochukwu would be loath to buy any but would rather collect Obiora’s land. So when auspiciously Onyeka called asking what he could do to bring smiles to their faces, Chiwetalu told him the greatest need of the family was a decent house.
Ugochukwu arrived in his brand new Lincoln Continental, as usual without so much as a loaf of bread for the family. Chiwetalu served him lunch without complaining, hugging to her chest what she had in the offing for him. He had been in a hotel in Nnewi since he arrived the previous night, had probably spent a small fortune entertaining his friends but he did not decline the offer of food from Obiora.
As he was washing down the special bitter leaf soup and fufu* with a malt drink, his eye caught a painting on the wall. It was a landscape done by Chidera who was studying Fine Arts in the university. Obiora was proud that Ugochukwu adjudged the painting good. He also acquiesced when he requested to take it for his living room in Abuja, where he had recently been posted. Chiwetalu pretended she didn’t hear that conversation until Ugochukwu actually took the painting down and followed up the unexpected rebuke with the shocker about their intended house.
As Ugochukwu came back to resume his seat, she turned to Chidera and asked, “Onwe dulu onye bu Chukwu?” (Is there anyone who is God?)
Chidera replied with drama, “Mba nu! Onwero onye bu Chukwu! Mmadu aburo Chukwu!” (Not at all! No one is God! A human being is not God!)
With that, mother and daughter marched back to the house, leaving a still dazed Ugochukwu to wait for his brother and the drink which they doubted he would have the appetite to consume.
Ⓒ Edith Ugochi Ohaja 2017
*fufu is food made from cassava flour
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