Saturday, September 29, 2012

Except from my new book - Those without a voice

       Chapter One

It was a cold humid evening. The sky was grim and overcast with thick cumulonimbus clouds. The moist earthy scent of wet soil hung everywhere, an evidence of the recent rains in the area.
Ginika Odogwu stood quietly, her face sad and forlorn and her clear hazel eyes filled with unshed tears. Her ragged black dress rustled in the slight breeze as she sighed deeply taking a lungful of the clean crisp air.
She was of average height, about five feet two inches with a lean angular face, full red lips, brooding hazel eyes and thick eyebrows. Her hair was long, crinkled and curly as was natural of the people of African descent. It covered her head like a shroud, round like a halo.
She was pretty; not in a loud distracting sort of way. Her prettiness was wholesome, natural like fresh dew on an early morning. It was not dissimilar from a rose in full bloom. Her looks had always gotten her more than a few male appreciative looks. Sort of like the looks she sometimes got from her stepfather.
That thought made her stiffen and she glanced back at the tiny hut behind her. There were loud snores emanating from inside the hut. It was her home where she lived with her stepfather, her mother and her five younger siblings.
Sighing deeply she turned away from the hut her gaze settling on the small settlement several hundred meters below where she stood. It was called Iseluku. A small village on the outskirts of delta state in eastern Nigeria.
The village covered an area of over five acres. It was a motley collection of small huts with a small road meandering through the center of it.
The snores behind her increased in volume and tempo; she sighed when she heard that and turned around slowly facing the hut once more. Her family was sleeping early. It was barely seven pm. She sighed again turning her gaze back to the settlement in front of her.
Sleep was the furthest thing from her mind at the moment. Not when the future before her seemed bleak and uncertain. She couldn’t remember a time in her sixteen years of life that she had ever dreaded the dawning of a new day as she did now.
Dawn had always meant something special to her. New hopes, new dreams, a fresh start, and the chance that maybe, just maybe the pain and failures of hundreds of yesterdays would fade away with the birth of a new day. Ifeanyi her best friend; in fact the only friend she had, did not share her somewhat whimsical view of the dreary village life.
Ifeanyi felt she looked at the world with a simplistic overly positive attitude; only seeing the bright colors and sunlit skies refusing to acknowledge the rains, the pains and the inherent evil lying just beneath the surface.
She however did not agree with that assessment. Granted she did try to see the positive side of everything, but that did not mean she was ignorant of the darkness around her. Ifeanyi tended to be overly pessimistic. That was probably why they were such good friends. They complemented each other. Her mother always told her that opposites tend to attract. She and Ifeanyi were shinning testaments to that adage.
Thinking of Ifeanyi made the unshed tears brimming in her eyes to spill down her cheeks. She might never see Ifeanyi again after tomorrow. This was because tomorrow was the day she was being sent off by her mother and stepfather to work in a city very far away. Someplace in the west of Nigeria she had been told.
The person organizing the whole thing had been rather vague. Her face hardened as soon as she thought of him. Nonso Ogochi; a thin, short pot bellied man of undeterminable age who always came to Iseluku every year to gather young boys and girls like her to go work in the towns and cities as maids and servants.
Many of the young men and women taken were always excited about the trip. To them it meant an escape from the dreariness and extreme poverty in their small community; so many of them had very lofty dreams.
She remembered countless occasions when she had been seated in the village square listening to groups of them chattering excitedly the night before they were scheduled to leave. She and Ifeanyi had listened as they talked making all their grandiose plans of somehow becoming rich and famous. Though how they planned to do this was never clearly explained.
Who would have thought that barely a year later, she would be one of those going. A light shone brightly in the square. From where she stood she could see the light creating eerie shadows in the gloom surrounding it.
Few homes had electricity. If you had electricity in your house, you were thought to be influential and very well to do. Everyone traveling would probably be gathered at the village square right now. Ifeanyi might even be there. That thought brightened her sad eyes.
Sighing deeply she headed towards the square picking her way over the rough uneven landscape as she stepped onto the deeply pot holed road meandering through the entire settlement.

                                    Chapter Two

She glanced at dozens of houses on either side of the pot holed road as she walked down the slope. She stared at some of them so intently that a casual observer would think she was trying to commit them to memory which wasn’t that far from the truth.
Heaviness flooded her insides when she realized that she didn’t know when she would see these homes again. The sky lightened at that moment and she looked up as a bright half moon peeked out from behind the thick blue black clouds, bathing the earth around her in a soft silvery glow.
There was a rumble in the sky which was quickly followed by a bright flash of lightening. She stiffened bending low. She hated the lightening; ever since a young man in their village had been struck by it many years before.
Thinking about the lightening made her wonder why God created some of the things he created. Why create lightening in the first place? What purpose did it serve besides killing an unsuspecting person every now and then? Snakes were another thing she couldn’t understand why God created.
They were loathsome and fearful creatures, cold and slimy looking. She knew this because one had crawled over her leg once when she was asleep. A long black one; its cold body sliding over her had roused her from her slumber fast.
Luckily it hadn’t bitten her even after she had screamed and screamed. Her stepfather had rushed over immediately and killed it. That was one of the few things he had ever done for her. She found him loathsome.
Her real father had died when she was five. She barely remembered what he looked like anymore. The only thing she did remember with any clarity was that he was tall and dark. She also remembered asking her mother what had killed him on countless occasions, especially how he died.
The explanations her mother gave never really made much sense to her. She called it the blood sickness, something about his blood being different from everyone else’s. This sickness she said sometimes occurs in one person within a family.
The person’s weak and different blood made him or her sickly and if care wasn’t taken it could result in death which was what happened to her father. Her mother had remarried a year and a half later, to her repugnant stepfather.
To be fair to him, he had tried to be nice to her the first few months after marrying her mother. When he realized she remained unresponsive he had given up and ignored her completely. Now for some strange reason he had began to pay more attention to her and this attention was one she couldn’t say she was that comfortable with.
He kept looking at her breasts in a hungry sort of way. And sometimes (though he claimed it was an accident) he tried walking in on her when she was bathing. She considered telling her mother about this several times but changed her mind at the last moment. In her mother’s eye, her stepfather could do no wrong. He was the only thing that made her not sad to leave the village.
Pushing her sad and troubled thoughts to the deep recesses of her mind she stepped into the wide oval area which made up the village square. Huts were built in a concentric circle around the edges of it. Dozens of people were gathered in the center sitting around a large bonfire. Most of them were young, between the ages of twelve and seventeen.
Nonso Ogochi sat at the extreme end of the square towards her right with about six of the most respected elders. They were talking in low tones their white robes gleaming in the night. Tearing her gaze away from them, Ginika scoured through the sea of heads looking for Ifeanyi. She spotted her a few feet to her left sitting amongst a small crowd of girls.
 Sighing deeply Ginika made her way towards her edging through a small crowd of youngsters till she reached Ifeanyi’s side. Ifeanyi looked up as she stopped beside her, her oval face breaking into a beautiful and heart stopping smile. Ginika smiled back sinking down beside her on the cold damp earth.
Ifeanyi was beautiful. Ginika always felt very plain when she looked at her full red lips, high cheek bones, and limpid brown eyes which had a splattering of grey in the center.
She also had a fuller figure than Ginika. Her breasts were large and pointed, her shape curved into a near perfect eight. Even the loose slightly stained gray frock she wore did little to hide her sensuous curves.
Many boys and a few young men around them kept darting appreciative glances at her. She hardly seemed to notice the looks or she simply chose to ignore them. Reaching forward, Ifeanyi took Ginika’s hand in her own.
“I was afraid you wouldn’t come.” She whispered.
“I almost didn’t.” Ginika admitted with a shrug.
“You are unhappy!” Ifeanyi stated her eyes large and sad.
“Shouldn’t I be?” Ginika shot back with a hard edge to her voice.
Ifeanyi sighed.
“Have you spoken to your mother again?”
Ginika’s eyes filled with tears again which threatened to spill down her cheeks. She was barely able to keep the floodgates closed. Ifeanyi’s hand tightened over hers, her eyes shining with tears when she looked at the heart broken expression on her friend’s face.
“Tried last night and early this morning too, my mother’s mind is made up. I have no choice but to go.” She said sadly.
“But doesn’t your opinion count for something?” Ifeanyi asked aghast.
Ginika shrugged.
“Obviously not am afraid. She says the family needs the money. You know with the rains as heavy as they have been, my stepfather’s farm hasn’t done as well as it should have done. As a result food and money is scarce. And I still have five younger ones.”
“Same in my house too__” Ifeanyi agreed with a deep sigh. “The whole village is suffering from the unpredictable weather. But my own parents haven’t asked me to go and serve as a maid to absolute strangers many miles away.”
“Maybe they aren’t as desperate as my own__” Ginika began with a mirthless smile. “___ Yet.” She finished quietly.
“I don’t think they would ever do that to me, except of course if I offered to go and they could see it was what I really wanted.” Ifeanyi said quietly with a speculative look in her eyes. Ginika sighed not noticing the look on her friend’s face.
“I must resign myself to my fate. Tomorrow bright and early the bus Nonso brought will carry I and the others to the destiny our parent’s and guardians chose for us.”
“Do you know where you are going?”
“I heard some of the older boys say that it is somewhere in the west.”
“Oh!” Ifeanyi said with a hard frown. “The land of those Ngbati, ngbati* people. How will you cope my friend?” *Offensive description of the Yoruba people.
“God will guide and protect me Ifeanyi. Should he choose to abandon me, then you had better look at my face very well because you might never see it again.” Ginika said grimly.
“Do not say such things my friend.” Ifeanyi said in a sharp voice, fear and anger glittering in her eyes.
Ginika opened her mouth to fire back but paused when she saw the fierce look in her friend’s eyes. With a loud sigh she closed her half open mouth and they both lapsed into silence listening to the loud chatter of voices all around them.

                                    Chapter Three

An hour and a half later
       They walked up the sloppy road which led back to their huts. Silence engulfed them like a shroud and they both had long troubled looks on their faces. Ifeanyi turned glancing at Ginika through the corner of one eye and reached over holding her right palm open in front of her.
Ginika glanced down at her hand for several long moments before placing her left palm into Ifeanyi’s own with a sigh. Their fingers locked and held swinging slightly as they walked. Holding Ifeanyi’s hand comforted Ginika in no small degree. She felt less alone now than she had been feeling for the last thirty six hours.
She remembered the horror that had surged through her when her stepfather had told her with a gleeful look on his face that she was being sent to work as a maid in the city.
She had rushed to her mother for confirmation. One look at her mother’s troubled face had told her all she needed to know. Her worst fears had been confirmed.
She had listened in a daze as her mother tried to explain the reasons behind their decision. None of which seemed to make much sense to her at the time. She knew they weren’t well to do, but she didn’t think they were on the brink of starvation as her mother had suggested.
       Sighing she shook her head slightly trying to clear it of her troubled thoughts. Looking up slightly she realized in surprised that they were barely fifty feet away from her hut. She pulled to a halt slowly. Ifeanyi stopped too glancing at her with a puzzled air.
“I think this is where we say goodnight.” Ginika got out in a flat voice.
Ifeanyi frowned.
“I thought I’d see you off to the door of your house.”
“It’s not necessary Ifeanyi. Its not that I don’t want to spend more time with you; its just too painful for me right now. Please try and understand.”
Ifeanyi’s frown deepened for several seconds before fading away all together, her eyes becoming sympathetic and understanding.
“I bid you goodnight.” She whispered surging forward and hugging Ginika so fiercely that her air supply was almost cut off.
Without another word she pulled away and hurried back down the slope.
“Will you come and see me off tomorrow?” Ginika called after her.
Ifeanyi slid to a halt and nodded without turning around. A heart beat later she continued running down the slope quickly disappearing from view.
Ginika sighed and turned back to her hut. It looked grim and forbidden in the moonlit night. With another sigh she hurried towards it. As she got closer she heard the sound of raised voices. By the time she was fifteen feet away she could hear what they were saying and realized the voices belonged to her mother and stepfather.
“Are you sure we are doing the right thing Chukwudi?” Her mother asked.
“Listen woman do not disturb my sleep! How many times do we have to go over this? It’s the only thing we can do. I don’t think I have to remind you how terrible the rains have been. The harvest from the farm is barely a tenth of what it should have been. Not to mention that land dispute I have with Edochie. Sending Ginika to work is the only way we can continue to put food on our table.”
“But it doesn’t feel right in my spirit. Its like we are selling her off to slavery or something.”
“Now don’t exaggerate, it’s just for a year. Nonso assures me the contract is on a yearly basis. He says we are likely to get sixty two thousand naira for her salary for the entire year. Though not all that money will come to us, Nonso will also take his own cut. But at least we should get close to thirty five thousand which will go a long way in augmenting our income for the year.”
“Besides if things improve, she doesn’t have to go back to work next year.”
There was a long moment of silence. The silence stretched on so long that for a second Ginika felt they had both fallen asleep until she heard her mother’s low sniffles which was followed almost immediately by an impatient grunt from her stepfather.
She sighed and crossed the intervening distance between herself and the hut. She made enough noise so that they would both know she was coming in.
The inside of the hut was shrouded in gloom but it was so familiar to her that she could find her way around even with her eyes blindfolded. Turning to her right she stepped over the bodies of her two youngest siblings took three more steps and sank down on a mound of soft rags bunched tightly together to form a make shift bed.
Her mother and her stepfather had lapsed into silence. And her mother was doing a poor imitation of quiet snores. She frowned slightly in the darkness her teeth tightly clenched behind her pursed lips.
Shifting restlessly till she found the most comfortable position, she sighed deeply and she closed her eyes. Only God knew when she would get to sleep she thought to herself grimly. But she needn’t have bothered because five minutes later she was fast asleep.

                                               Chapter Four

4 am (Next day)
Ginika’s eyes fluttered open slowly as she raised a palm to stifle a yawn. A cock crowed in the distance and she sighed rising into a sitting position. There was a bright red glow coming from outside the hut. This was accompanied by the intermittent crackling of wood burning.
The glow faintly illuminated the inside of the hut. Her stepfather and other siblings were still fast asleep. Her stepfather was snoring loudly his thick sausage lips parted slightly. A bubble of saliva burst out of his lips every couple of minutes exploding on his lips.
She grimaced in disgust and rose to her feet slowly. Her mum’s mat which was lying beside her stepfather was empty. She realized she was probably the one outside preparing breakfast.
She hurried out of the hut as quietly as she could carefully stepping over her siblings. Stepping outside, she raised one hand to shield her face from the glare of the large fire burning ten feet away from the entrance of the hut.
A large pot held up by two strong wooden spits bubbled merrily over the fire. The pot was blackened by years of continuous use and thin spider line cracks streaked across its surface like veins.
Her mother sat four feet in front of the fire staring into its smoldering and cracking depths as if entranced by the burning flames. She wore a white robe which was wrapped around her body in thick folds. Her hair was long hanging in untidy tufts on her head. Her skin was dark like gleaming ebony but her face was slightly wizen and very care worn. Ginika knew her mother must have been pretty once but years of worry and unhappiness had taken its toil on her.
Ginika walked forward slowly sinking down on the hard earth beside her. For several long moments none of them spoke. Then slowly almost imperceptibly Ginika’s mother reached out to her daughter clutching her arm, gripping it as it was her last link to life.
Her hard grip hurt but Ginika endured it because her mother seemed to be drawing some comfort from it. There was another long moment of silence.
“You do realize that this is not what I wanted for you?” Her mother asked quietly her voice a thread over a whisper.
Ginika nodded slowly but did not speak. What was the point anyway? At the moment words seemed unnecessary.
“It’s just for a year. Hopefully next harvest season will be much better so you won’t have to be put to work again. And who knows you might even get a chance to go further with your education; perhaps go through J.S.S 1 – 3.”
Ginika’s face hardened. She was on the verge of giving her mother a stinging retort when a loud snore rippled from the insides of the hut. The frown on her face deepened and she rose to her feet slowly gently prying her mother’s fingers off her arm.
“I need to take a bath mother.” She muttered as she walked away.
Walking round the side of the hut she could feel her mother’s eyes boring into her back. Directly behind the hut was a shower stall which was simply four sets of wooden slats eight feet tall whose ends were driven into the earth and nailed together to form a box like shape. It was wide enough for two people to stand in, side by side comfortably.
Two large clay pots about four feet tall and two feet wide stood directly in front of the stall. Ginika walked to the one closest to her and slid the clay cover off it carefully. It was half filled with water. A green plastic bucket lay inside the stall. She picked it up and quickly filled it up with water from the clay pot.
Closing the pot carefully she carried the bucket into the stall and closed the crudely constructed wooden door. It slid shut with a loud creak. Slipping out of her dress, she poured a bowlful of the bitingly cold water over her body. A tremor surged through her as she began to lather the foam like sponge with soap. The cock crowed again in the distance. She knew what that meant. It would soon be five am. She had to hurry if she didn’t want the bus to leave without her. Pausing slightly at that thought she had to will herself to continue bathing. Trying to miss the bus was just delaying the inevitable. She might as well face her problem head on. With that thought she began to bath faster.

Thirty minutes later

She strode down the narrow sloping road which led into the center of the village square carrying a slightly faded blue traveling bag which contained all of her possessions. She was clad in a white sleeveless blouse and a blue jean skirt which reached just below her knees. Her hair was combed back and tied into a knot at the back of her skull.
Her mother had wanted to see her off to the square but she had declined not too politely and thankfully she did not press the issue. Glancing backwards Ginika saw she still stood on the crest of the slope watching her walk towards the square.
Sighing deeply, Ginika turned her gaze back in the direction of the village. There was light shinning in the square. But this light was not the light from a fire. It was brighter and shone in two straight lines which ended in elliptical circles.
As she got closer she realized it came from the large eighteen seater bus which was to be her transport to her new life of servitude in the city. A heavy sigh burst from her lips as she thought this and she slouched in sadness as she walked. The loud chattering of excited voices made her look up again.
A small crowd was gathered in front of the bus. Majority of them were youngsters like her who were going to the city to work. The rest were family, friends and well wishers.
Nonso stood beside the door of the bus watching as each person clambered aboard. His eyes were narrowed to slits and she could see the almost hungry look on his face as he watched the boys and girls climb aboard the bus.
Ginika lengthened her stride reaching the bus when the last five people were about to enter. Nonso gave her a long irritated look which she pointedly ignored as she climbed onboard. The door was closed behind her with a loud bang. Ginika shuddered. It had an air of finality about it which made her want to start crying.
The engine of the bus started with a healthy growl. Nonso climbed into the front with the driver and they were off a few seconds later.

A place that is not home

 If you like this preview keep watching this blog for more information and to read more of my writing go here

No comments:

Post a Comment