Sojam Publish

THE ELEVENTH YEAR IN AGONY

The afternoon mail brought in a letter for Ndidi; the seventh in a series which she had been receiving from France for ten years. They had all come from Vincent to whom she was married for twelve years.

Hardly had she finished reading the letter than she collapsed on the floor of her bedroom spilling a pan of water which she had just used in cleaning the dust off her bedroom windows. And there she lay in a pool of dirty water sobbing with such depth that her body shook and trembled like a discarded mass of jelly. As she had none to console her, she kept sobbing until she grew weak with agony and desperation. Yet she lay in that dirty pool of water with her clothes wet and discoloured. She stared most pitifully at a box of clothes under her bed, with lips withdrawn from each other and giving the lower lip a chance to be completely relaxed; a position which it assumed only when she slept.

Grrrhh! Grrrhh! Went the door bell. She sat up and listened. A little girl ran out from the kitchen which was in a smaller house some yards away from the main house. She hurried up to the front door and opened it. In walked Mr. Uzoma, an old school teacher who was heading the school from where Ndidi obtained her First School Leaving Certificate. He was also a good friend of Mr. Nwoga, Ndidi’s father. “Is your mother in?” asked Mr. Uzoma. She nodded and ran back to the kitchen. He lowered himself unto a seat and noiselessly dropped his walking stick on the floor as if it were made of glass.

The bedroom door slowly opened and Ndidi sauntered out, having removed the wet clothes. “Good afternoon!” she greeted in a cracked feeble voice. “Good afternoon! You look sickly, Ndidi. What is wrong?” followed Mr. Uzoma. She handed him over a piece of paper in her hand and started weeping. “It’s alright; it’s alright”, he pleaded as he unfolded the letter.

My dear Ndidi,

I cannot understand why you should continue to worry me about returning to Nigeria. There are men here who have been here for the past fifteen years without their wives and they have not received one quarter of the headache you have been giving me.

You should better forget about me and take me when you see me. I am working to save up some money to go back to the university and I will not return until I study to my satisfaction. You are supposed to be earning over N20,000 a month. I don’t see why you cannot manage this with the two children. There are many who don’t even earn N500 in a month and they are existing. Greetings from Miss Navarro! Enough is enough.

Vin.

“This is wonderful” shouted Mr. Uzoma dropping the letter on a small table beside him. “So this man is not even thinking of coming home again? What does he want you and the children to do? Poor woman! Is this what you have been suffering?” They stared at each other speechless with awe.

“My daughter!” called Mr. Uzoma breaking the silence. “Prepare! You will go with your children to France and stay with him there. I will bear the cost. Don’t tell him you are coming”. I have already heard that Vin plans to marry Navarro and forget you”.

It was summer in Europe and Paris airport was usually busy, with visitors streaming in and out of the city. Ndidi was now in France with her two children. She looked more attractive in her national dress with a pair of dark glasses that symmetrically flanked a moderately-sized nose, and a pair of beautiful red shoes that not only matched her red ear-rings but also added some five centimeters to her moderate height.

A taxi soon pulled close. A tall handsome young man came out of it and muttered something to her in French. She did not understand the words but understood what he meant. She showed him a small piece of paper containing the home address of her husband: “472 Cure Roshale” he whispered; and opened the left door of the car. They entered and he drove off.

The next 15 minutes found Ndidi and her two children alighting in front of an old structured building with beautiful well-trimmed flowered shrubs in front. It bore neither the number of the house nor the name of the street. She wanted to be sure and looked around for a passerby. A young lady with a basket filled with materials from a beverage shop showed up. Ndidi walked up to her and asked, “Please I hope this is Cure Roshale?” Without any change in either speed or direction of movement, the young lady passed by with lips as clenched as Ndidi had observed them meters away. “Perhaps she is hard of hearing”, she soliloquized.

A few minutes later, two women walked up, deep in conversation. Behind them was a little girl of about eight, turning curiously the pages of a new colourful book, and now appearing to stop and now starting off a short race in an attempt to meet the two women in front; one of whom appeared to be her mother. Ndidi felt more confident and reassuring asking the little girl rather than the women. As she walked up to meet her, she started off; crying out “A-a-a-a-a!” The two women halted and looked back with faces scowling with curiosity. She pointed to Ndidi and both women burst into laughter. At this, Ndidi recalled stories she had been told about discrimination against the black race in several countries of Europe and in America. She quietly bent over her few luggage and picked them up and decided to head for the house which the taxi driver had shown her as No. 472. Her two children holding hands with each other followed after her; giggling quietly at intervals as they exchanged glances.

In the veranda of the house was an old woman sitting in an evening chair. Beside her sat a large white cat with a plaster of Paris over its left hind leg following a fracture from an automobile accident. She had accompanied the cook to one of the meat Inspection Centers where members of the Paris community usually bought meat from chicken, turkey, sheep, rabbit slaughtered in various homes to be inspected by veterinary doctors and certified fit for human consumption.

She soon heard footsteps coming up the steps that led onto the house. She pressed her eye glasses over her nose flattening the nostrils a little, and looked. She quickly rose from her seat with such agility that but for the thick wrinkles on her face, one would have taken her to be about 30 years old. “Good evening, madam”, greeted Ndidi. “Good evening”, she replied with eyes steadily firing shots of curiosity at Ndidi.

“I have come to see Mr. Vincent Ugorji who lives here”. I am his wife and these are his children”.

She showed her Vincent’s apartment but told her that Vin was out and would be coming back shortly. She offered her a seat in her sitting room.

Meanwhile, news that a black woman with two children had come from Nigeria to look for Vincent had gone round; and before long Mr. Ugorji was receiving a call in his office from a friend who lived very close to him informing him of the visitors. He dropped the telephone and sank into his seat, with sweat pouring out of his body in streams. He had told Miss Navaro that he was a bachelor. He wondered if Navaro had met the visitors. He imagined what her reaction would be towards him. He became more afraid. An idea crept in. “I must leave this country”, he whispered to himself.

Meanwhile, Ndidi and her children continued to wait for his return and Navaro had come in to meet the strange visitors. She could not bear the lie with which she had been fed all these years. She dashed out of the house in search of Vin. She called at all places Vin was used to going, but there was no trace of him. It became obvious he had fled.

After seven sorrowful days In France at the hospitality of her husband’s landlady, Ndidi and her children left for home to narrate her experiences, it was clear her marriage with Mr. Ugorji had ended. Her parents came and collected her and undertook the education of her children.

Three years had elapsed and Ndidi was still living with her parents. She had been approached by a man who worked as Deputy Permanent Secretary in the Civil Service who lost his wife two years earlier. He requested Ndidi to be his wife. She took him to her parents, and they became married to each other. She then started a new phase of life as Mrs. Udoye.

Mr. Udoye had planned a trip to Spain with his new wife for a short holiday. Mr. Udoye had chosen Spain for his holidays because that was where he had his university education and had a lot of Spanish friends too.

The Mayor of Madrid, a close friend of Mr. Udoye had invited the couple for dinner. The dinner was scheduled in one of the top hotels in Spain and the Mayor came to collect this couple for the dinner in his private car.

As they were driving to the hotel, the Mayor was delighted in telling his guests that he had sent his personal secretary to arrange for a photographer to be at the dinner and take photographs. He said he would like to keep an album of their visit. He further mentioned that his secretary is a black man and is of Nigerian nationality.

As the car pulled close to the hotel, the Mayor’s secretary and the photographer were already there waiting for their arrival. As soon as the car stopped, the secretary rushed up to inform his master that the photographer had been brought and also to collect the Mayor’s portfolio.

As he got near to their car, Mrs. Udoye quickly recognized Mr. Vincent Ugorji, the man to whom she was formally married and who had fled France when she came to see him. “Vin”, she shouted. He looked into the car and recognized Ndidi, very richly dressed, looking fatter and more beautiful than he had known her.

During the course of the dinner, Ndidi narrated her experience as Mr. Ugorji’s wife. The Mayor was so astonished and infuriated at his secretary’s action towards her and their children that he could no longer contain him as secretary. Consequently, he got him fired and he was not able to secure another job in Spain thereafter. He was soon compelled by hard time to return to Nigeria.

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