A short story
by Samuel Oluwatosin Kolawole
It’s been seven days since you have gone and it feels like seven years. It has been seven days of torture, seven days of waking up every night thinking about you.
I think about so many things; the precious moments we shared. Remember the day you took me to the beach and wrote my name in the sand with your finger? The waves washed the sand away and you said my name can be washed from the sand but never from the tablets of your heart. I got home that day and cried. I baptized your pictures with kisses and thought about you doing things to me.
I thought about how the way you look at me makes my body cold and hot at the same time. How you make me feel like a woman. That feeling, I had never felt before I met you. I had not known what it meant to be loved. I had only heard people talk about love and being emotionally involved. My parents told me I was too young to have a man. They said I must graduate from the university, get a good job before even thinking about it. Mother advised me to go for someone rich and mature and God fearing when I am ready, someone who would take good care of me and pull our family out of wretchedness. Whenever my friends talked openly about how they felt about their men I often wondered what was wrong with them. Then I met you and my whole life changed in a nice way.
How can I ever forget the nights we spent together? Remember that first night? How nervous and unsure I was? How I told you about my decision to remain a virgin, being a catholic, and how you talked about the love you have for me. How can I forget the way we slowly reached out to each other, our shyness our awkwardness. How we allowed desire to prevail. How I laughed and cried at the same time? How can I forget those other nights? Those times when we tried to keep quiet, when you had to lock your mouth with mine to muffle my screams of pleasure. How can I forget the giggles and the pranks? Even as I write now I feel goose bumps prickle my skin. I really miss you, my darling, especially your laughter. You have a funny way of laughing you know? So funny, the mere thought of it makes me laugh.
My friends congratulated me on your trip. I have earned a new name “biggest babe” amongst my committee of friends. They say life is good in Germany and that we are suffering here. Who doesn’t know? Even the blind knows we are suffering in this country. Most people can’t even afford to eat two meals a day. There are no jobs, no power supply, and the roads are bad. The whole country is languishing in poverty while the soldiers and their bootlickers are living large. They throw big parties, fly prostitutes into the country from India, and spend the country’s money as though it grows on trees.
My friends say those who travel to Germany come back home very wealthy and build mansions in their villages. They say business is good over there. They say when you come back you will bring BMWs and Benzes. They say cars are so cheap there they sometimes give them away for free. They told me to advise you to bring cars into the country to sell and make a lot of money.
Some of my friends are envious of me because now I have a boyfriend who is overseas. I even quarrelled with one of them yesterday. She said I am becoming arrogant. She said I am bragging over nothing and that you went to Germany because you couldn’t get a visa to America. I replied that at least my man is somewhere far better than this wretched country of ours. I asked if her own boyfriend has ever stepped out of his town let alone travel abroad. In fact, one of them went as far as saying that my relationship is on shaky ground, that very soon you will forget about me and dump me for an Oyinbo girl who smokes big cigarettes and says f **k you!’ I know nothing can come between us. What they don’t know is that our love is like a thick rope which the sharpest of knives cannot cut. You know who your friends are when something good happens to you. Now I know I have to be careful with some of them.
My mother was very excited when she heard that you travelled. Yesterday she took me to a prophet she said could tell the future like the back of his palms. I knelt down and the man prayed for me. He prayed hard. He prayed in strange tongues. He showered me with spittle. When it seemed as though he was about to round up his prayers he began to shake like a tree tortured by the wind. He shook and made a lot of weird noises. Then the strangest thing happened. He began to say things known only to you and me, the things we did in secret. Can you believe that? I noticed a frown on my mother’s face and told myself I was in big trouble. But then the prophet began saying good things about our future. He said he saw a vision of us strolling arm-in-arm down a narrow gravel path leading to very beautiful garden. He said you will come back a wealthy man and marry me and we will have four beautiful kids. He said you will establish a car business here that will flourish (you see that?). He said the business will so much flourish that you will call those who supply you cars in Germany to come and set up a branch of their company here to meet up with the demands. The prophet said you will also build a church for their parish and donate big money anytime they have their Adult Harvest Celebration. He said you are a child of destiny. When we got home my mother told me to be more prayerful.
I have not been in school for two days now. The Nigerian Labour Congress started a general strike three days ago to protest the state of the economy. University lecturers, civil servants and even petrol tanker drivers are on strike. The roads are deserted. Cars are either parked on roadsides or abandoned on queues at petrol stations. Those who manage to get fuel from the black market buy it at exorbitant prices. In the newspapers this morning, a tanker reported to be carrying fuel tilted on one of our bad roads and before you knew what was happening people swarmed all over the road with kegs, buckets, bowls even nylon bags to scoop fuel. While they struggled and fought to fill their containers the tanker caught fire! Someone who was smoking in a nearby stall tossed a cigarette stub on the ground without putting out the fire completely. All of them were roasted. In another report, a young girl from the village poured fuel into a lantern thinking it was kerosene. Her father had brought some gallons from the black market the day before and had kept them in the house. The girl went to the store and could not differentiate the fuel containers from the kerosene containers.
Enough of the bad news o jare. I have to go now. Mum sent me on an errand to the market and I am late already. I can’t wait to get a reply from you my love. You will always be in my heart. I love you so much. Take good care of yourself.
Thank you for your letter, my love. I miss you too. How is Nigeria? How are your parents and friends? You can’t imagine how it feels to be far away from those you love, those with whom you have shared precious moments. You feel like an uprooted plant, shrivelling from lack of sustenance. I love you so much and I want you to be here with me as soon as you graduate. Let’s pray this strike ends soon so you graduate on time.
It’s good here, although not as people think. They have their own problems too. However, you cannot compare the level of development here with that of our country. You should see how smooth their roads are. It’s like walking on glass; you can almost see your reflection. Power failure is almost non-existent. One of the first things I did when I got here was to iron all my clothes in case power failed but I realized that power outage was not an issue in Germany. Do you see how the situation at home had conditioned me into thinking underdevelopment was pandemic? Transportation is also not a problem. Cabs are available and you go to the train station if you want to avoid the traffic. Water flows freely from their taps although it tastes a little bit different from our water. There are so many old buildings in Berlin but they are beautiful and well maintained. The panoramic view is beautiful at night especially those very tall buildings sparkling with light. It’s too early to judge how friendly the people here are, although at home you don’t need to stay too long in a place for you to feel welcome.
Language is a major barrier, so the first thing I did was to learn the simple words they use. I first learnt their greetings which I try to use often. “Guten Tag” means “Good Day”, “Hallo” means “hello” and some people here use “Grüß Gott!” Which means “May God greet you!” “Herr” means “Mister”, “Frau”, “Mrs”, and “Fräulein”, “Miss”. So all you need to do is put the appropriate titles at the back of their names.
After learning their greetings, I learnt their curses and abuses. Someone told me one of the first things you do when you enter a strange land is to learn what they would say when they are not happy with you because it’s the easiest thing to learn
Also, I had always thought Germans didn’t know God. I grew up hating them because of the stories mother told me about Hitler and how he slaughtered six million Jews, God’s own people. They have churches here though but they are mostly orthodox. You know they say we Igbos are descendants of Abraham. That’s why we are so wise and prosperous.
Germans drink a lot of beer. They pour them in big tumblers till their tumblers froth over. They drink beer when they want to wash down their food. They drink beer when they are thirsty. They drink beer when they are depressed; they drink beer when they are happy. Sometimes I wonder if they ever drink water at all. No wonder their water tastes funny.
I am having problems with their food here. Na so so sugar and sweet sweet things, nothing spicy, nothing to make you drink water. Little wonder they take so much beer and so little water. They also eat a lot of pork. They roast it and sometimes serve it as ham. They use it to make so many strange delicacies. I found a Nigerian restaurant today called Mama put. Some of our people here told me about the place and gave me the address. German food was beginning to make me sick. The restaurant is owned by a Yoruba woman. They sell pounded yam, fufu, eba, amala and all sorts of soup but their food is very expensive. They sell them in small portions as though the food is meant for ants. The portions are so small I can almost pass them through my nose. You can spend all your money in that place without you filling your belly. When I asked the owner why their food is so expensive she said they don’t sell the ingredients in Germany so they have to ship them in from Nigeria.
They don’t give cars out for free, although they manufacture a lot of them. They don’t use cars for long, so they sell them cheap. I hope to start a business along that line very soon. I am still in search of a job. I don’t want to keep living with Stephen for too long. I want to be on my own and start life here. Keep praying for me. I will keep in touch. I love you with the whole of my heart.
My sweet Henry,
How are you doing? I miss you so much. I have also been very worried. Why haven’t I heard from you for over two months now? No letters, nothing. Hope you are okay where you are. Please let me know how you are doing so I will have peace of mind.
The strike is still on and people are starving. You can’t buy enough food because they are too expensive. The market women blame it on the high cost of transportation. NEPA too has gone on strike, so that the once erratic power supply has now become a scarce commodity. When it’s dark, we light candles. And even the price of candles has gone up. We can’t use lanterns because of the scarcity of petroleum products. The strike has crippled the economy. The NLC president was arrested yesterday and thrown into Kirikiri. The military head of state this morning announced the ban of any form of protests and ordered workers to get back to work or “necessary actions will be taken”. Soldiers are already beating people on the streets and in their homes and people are disappearing mysteriously journalists, university lecturers, writers, and youth leaders. Several foreign countries have placed sanctions on us, demanding democracy and a return to civil rule. Those soldiers just don’t just want to go back to the barracks where they belong. Only God will deliver us!
You know the interesting thing about this our country? Those who don’t care if we don’t have electricity can afford a big generator. Somehow they manage to get a constant supply of fuel no matter how scarce it is. Their kids don’t attend our universities so they don’t give a damn about our educational system. Their kids attend Harvard, Princeton, Yale and all those schools with fancy names. They can buy whatever they want.
The wisest thing for one to do in this country is to join the club of the rich and save oneself from the clutches of poverty. There are things I wouldn’t have to bother my head about if I had money in my pocket. For example, as you well know, mother was diagnosed with diabetes and she needs regular drugs and good food to keep her alive. My younger sister is starting secondary school and a lot of money is needed for tuition, books and accommodation. Mother said you might be able to help out. You know these are your future in-laws. Their well being is my well being. What saddens them makes my heart bleed. And besides I need some money too. I should at least have something to show for your being abroad. You should send some designer clothes so that my friends can see that I now wear foreign made products. I should have my own car, maybe a Mercedes and have someone to drive me around while I sit in the owner’s corner. I should make them green with envy and prove to those who despise me that things have changed for me. I know you already have plans for me and will do anything I ask you.
You can send the money through Western Union. Try to change the money to dollars before sending it. It’s easier to exchange dollars for naira here than the deutschmark.
My love for you waxes stronger day by day even though we are miles apart. Last night I dreamt about you. It was not too different from what the prophet saw. We were holding hands on a hot afternoon, walking on a railway line, just the two of us. The sun was shining but we were not scorched. Lovely isn’t it?
When I woke up, I told mom about the dream. She said the shining sun that did not scorch us was symbolic of a relationship capable of enduring the harshest of times.
I will be expecting your letter and the money. I am praying for you, my dear.
Sorry for not writing you for a while now. I got a temporary job with a construction company and it’s a bit demanding. The pay is not so encouraging but it’s better than nothing. I must say I am under a lot of pressure right now. I am making plans to move from my friend’s house. He’s beginning to make me feel unwelcome. And besides he throws a wild party every Friday where he brings white girls who drink heavily and shriek like bastards. At the end of the day, I end up sleeping on the corridor outside the apartment because the place gets filled with lesbians and perverts coupling like animals. Can you imagine that? Even in Nigeria I had a room all to myself!
Every morning when I wake up I have to think of what to eat, how to get by. Now Stephen is trying to get me into his line of business. I didn’t know what he really did for a living until recently. I didn’t know he was pushing drugs, getting young girls to swallow wraps of cocaine in order to transfer them to Germany from Nigeria and sell to politicians and celebrities. I said I wouldn’t have anything to do with that.
I am trying to start a life here in Germany so I really need to focus right now. I need to minimize every possible distraction and focus on how I will make it here.
What in the world is wrong with you Nigerians, that you think once a person travels abroad he begins to pluck money from trees? You people expect things to happen as if by magic. I have not stayed six months in Germany and people are already asking for money. You need to see how many letters I have on my desk from my family, friends and relatives, begging, coercing and demanding money. It is sad. I am not saying that I will not send money. It’s just that it’s too early to be asking. Please find a way to sort out your needs till I establish myself here.
Take good care of yourself.
I feel insulted by your letter. Since when have I become a distraction to you? Since when have I become “you Nigerians” or “you people?” since when have I become like everybody else? Did I commit a crime in asking my boyfriend for money? What is wrong with you? To hell with you and your money!
Are you still angry? You did not reply my letter. I should be the one angry because I was the one insulted. We must learn how to handle conflicts. Are we going to let money get in the way of our love? Please do write me and tell me how you are doing. I love you.
Today makes it exactly ninety-one days since you wrote me. I am heartbroken and totally shattered. For weeks I soaked my pillow with tears, refusing to be consoled. Mother told me to forget about you. She said you are not worth my love and I believed her. My friends are trying to help me move on but I know that for some of them, it’s not from their heart. In their heart of hearts they are thinking “good for her, we told her it would happen didn’t we? Stupid girl; going about bragging about her boyfriend in Germany.”
Why did you do this to me, Henry? After all we’ve been through. After all we’ve shared. You have ruined my life and I will never love again. You have taught me that love is not real. Love is simply a mirage, beauty without substance, nothingness.
Someone told me of a juju that can make those abroad come back home. They use this charm for the stubborn ones who have forgotten their roots, where they started from, those who have left their family and loved ones to suffer. This juju is so potent, it not only brings the victim back home, it reduces him to nothing. It makes him lose his wealth gradually like a leaking sack till he becomes wretched and ends up picking up refuse for a living. Then the juju makes him mad. Turns him into a raving lunatic…