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TRUE FRIENDS (MORE THAN BROTHERS)

          By 06:00p.m. Adi was already at the Abakwa motor park waiting to welcome his childhood friend, Anaba, from Togobei village in the Mekwemo clan, the gateway to Njikwa Sub-division. They had not met for many months and he was anxious to see his friend. It was almost dark when a land rover with a single cabin wheeled into the motor park with a deafening sound from the broken exhaust pipe which was emitting black, toxic fumes. The passengers crowded in the cabin, some sitting on the luggage, legs pinned wherever they could find space, clutching the iron poles and bars of the cabin. It was an old rickety land-rover but was redeemed by brand new Michelin caterpillar tyre. Reddish mud on the earth road coated most of the jalopy. What they called road was not better than a cattle herd track and the scary scrap of a land rover was one of the misery-born that could ply the Mekwemo ‘road’. They galloped down on the eve of Edom market to load on the market day and then groan with anguished exhaustion back to Abakwa.

            With Adi were a few other people hanging around the park, waiting for relatives from the village since most people who had business to do in town travelled on market days. Adi soon spotted his friend, Anaba, among the forest of heads that silhouetted the goods end of the land rover like a chariot ride restraining the horse pulling it. He screamed with excitement and raced behind the smoke-puffing vehicle that was anguishing under the weight of men and bags of coco yams. When the beast at last puffed to a stop, Adi helped his friend to alight. They embraced each other and shook hands several times, each struggling to use the most intimate expressions of conviviality. The park was noisy with many such welcome and some not so affable sounds. After a little wait, the boys collected Anaba’s small bag and walked home side by side, the bag swinging between them.

            “How is the village?” Adi asked for the umpteenth time.

            “Things are not easy there, ooh! Lot of poverty and we bury people every day. I’m fed up with it all. How is your master?” Anaba inquired, connecting his appraisal of the village with his thought of a future respite.

            “He’s doing fine and will be very glad to see you,” Adi answered softly.

            “Are they kind to you? Does his wife treat you well? I hear some masters are cruel, especially their wives,” Anaba piled question on question for Adi to sum all and give an appropriate answer.

            “Yes indeed; some, but not all. My master is tender-hearted and God-fearing. Besides, I’m always with him in the market and his wife does not really order me around as she does the houseboy”.

            “Will my own master be as good as yours?” Anaba questioned.

            Adi laughed and poked his friend in the ribs.

            “He’s an Ibo like mine. Ibos are kind and considerate. They are not whimsical like the Malinkes for whom you may slave, only for them to do everything to incriminate you when it is time to settle you off. They would claim that you embezzled money and then send you away without an under pant to cover your private. Sometimes they even connive with the police to arrest and lock you up. They are so exploitative, they can even sell you in their ‘famla’ houses- those occult houses where it is said they drink human blood.”

            “That’s terrible!” Anaba exclaimed unable to envision it.

Mr. and Mrs. Abassi were in the sitting room when the boys arrived home.

      “Good evening, Oga; good evening, Ma. Here is my brother whom I went to bring home from the motor park.” Adi greeted and introduced his friend to his master and wife.

       “Welcome, my boy”, said Mr. Abassi. How was your journey and what’s your own name?

      “Anaba, my name is Anaba, Sir. I travelled well. My parents asked me to greet you both.”

            “Hope they’re doing fine.”

            “Yes, they are; God is alive”

            “Okay, welcome oh! Welcome, my Son,” Mrs Abassi greeted.

            “Adi says you are his great friend,” Mr. Abassi remarked.

            “Yes, Sir; we’ve been bosom friends from childhood. We grew up together and did everything together until he left me in the village to come and stay with you.”

           “It’s okay now that you’ve met your friend again. He will take you to Oga Emeka tomorrow and I hope Emeka will be pleased to have you,” Mr. Abassi concluded and enjoined Adi to take Anaba to his room and to get him something to eat after he bathes.

 Anaba’s room was in the backyard building referred to as the ‘boy-boy’ quarter’, the servants’ quarter since it was mainly for the servants. Adi got water for Anaba to bathe and thereafter brought gari and okro, prepared with egusi and they both ate. All night, they hardly slept but had questions to ask each other and reflect on their childhood adventures. And their adventures indeed were many. Adi kept asking, “So how, how is the village?” Anaba answered casually with: “Does a pregnant woman menstruate?” which emphasized that, things had remained more or less the same.

   Although Adi was some two years older than Anaba, they were seen as age mates. They, in fact, looked like siblings, even though they were of different parentage. They had grown up in neighbouring compounds and were frequently together. You could be tempted to pun, that proximity breeds similarity. In their early teens they were tall, lanky and wiry. It was difficult to see one without the other, and if it happened, the one would tell you instantly where you could find the other. Very scrupulous parents considered them notorious truants. Anaba caught up with Adi in primary four, when Adi had failed and been asked to repeat. They were as they say, ‘birds of a feather’.

            That night, they dwelled on their primary school days and their numerous mischief that included invading farms and  stealing fruits from there and going up the hills to steal and ride the horses of Mbororo men without harnesses. If anyone dared a fight with one, the other automatically joined and if they were defeated, they ambushed their foe with catapults days after. After school, they went to Adi’s house and ate his food together and to Anaba’s house and to do the same.  At times they ate one man’s food and went on adventures and only ate the other’s food on return. If they had the mind to do the work their parents assigned them to do after school, they did so together. But truants as they were, they tended to sneak off and about rather than work.

            In those days, there was an Ibo man with a high-frame Zephyr bicycle would come to Edom market from Abakwa. He traded in old dresses and shoes, okrika from Onitsha and in primary school books and uniforms for children as well as tobacco and other assorted items. His bicycle was usually so overloaded with sacks and cartons that he could hardly find space to sit; so he pushed the bicycle most of the time and only rode on it when going downhill. The load was often too heavy, the bicycle archaic and compounded by the fact that Abassi himself was already age-beaten.   He no longer had the force to smash hard on the pedals all round. So he did it halfway, rewound the pedals and re-smashed halfway with all his force, hunching on the steering. That was when he managed to ride on level land.

 The whole clan knew Abassi; he was popular in all major markets along the 65km road from Abakwa to Mekwemo including Mbon and Tad markets. He knew all the market days and sold from one market to the other, sleeping in friendly compounds. He even fumbled with the local languages, an attempt that made him more acceptable.

It was not difficult to do so since the Mekwemos, Menemos and Moghamos spoke vernaculars that were dialects of the same language, being all descendants of a common ancestor, Widikum.

            Adi would sit and sell with Abassi at Edom market because Abassi often slept in their house. Anaba would sit in the sun admiring Adi and Abassi shouting all day long and ringing a hand bell to attract market men and women.

          This is how at the age of nine or ten, Adi had developed interest in trading and when Adi and Anaba completed primary school their parents did not send them to college because they were poor. Abassi easily proposed to take Adi to Abakwa because his son Mr. Abassi the Younger, some 25years old then had a thriving business and needed a trustworthy sales boy. Adi promised Anaba that he would call for him if he found anyone in need of a sales boy. For two years therefore, the pair lived apart, communicating only through letters.

           It was Adi’s last letter that summoned Anaba to Abakwa the following market day to work for a master he had found. He travelled from Togobei village, in Mekwemo clan to Abakwa.  His excitement was elastic as he announced to his friends in Bemban, Nyebai and Bereje as he prepared to climb into the cabin of the land rover that he was Abakwa bound. He was happy to leave the village to the city at last. Most of his classmates who went to college in Widikum and Bali, told fabulous tales about Abakwa which they only passed through. Now he was going to live there. His parents encouraged and cautioned him especially against lies telling and stealing since he was going to work in someone’s shop.

            He thought of classmates like Ambi and Ade who had gone to Trinity College Widikum, a school for failures but became very proud when they came home for holidays. They spoke French as if to taunt him. He heard them say, “Hey vous-là, attention! imbécile, feignant. Moi parler, toi parler? Toi le stylo, voir moi le cahier-ci!” He didn’t understand anything and took these for assassinating insults, whatever they meant … These ‘insults’ disturbed him because none of the guys ever measured up with him in class. However, he hoped to have the opportunity to learn French in town while working as a sales boy, above all, he hoped to one day be a rich businessman so that  none of the impostors would be able to vomit their rubbish into his ears.

            The next day Adi took his friend to EMEKA ELECTRONICS SHOP, one of the biggest in Abakwa.

      “Good morning, Oga; this is my brother whom I called from the village to work for you as promised”. Adi greeted and introduced Anaba.

            “Oh, Adi, abi na you? Welcome. Welcome, my boy. How you travel?”

            “I travelled well, sir, and Adi picked me up at the motor park”.

            “So weti you come do for town? You sabi say life for town trong, you lef free foufou for village come suffer for town?”

            Anaba reasoned fast, understanding this to be an unannounced interview for the job;  he responded politely.

            “Sir, after primary school my parents didn’t have money to send me to college. After two years in the house, without learning any trade, I want to work for anybody who can help me to become a man in future.”

        “So weti you want do?” Emeka asked.

        “Anything you ask me to do, sir.”

        “Do you have an identity card?

        “No Sir, I’m still sixteen, not old enough to own a National Identity Card.”

         “Oga, I’m going to our shop. I took permission just to bring him to you,” Adi announced.

         “Ok Adi, you go greet Oga Abassi for me. Tellam say we go see for evening.”

         “Okay, Oga; he go hear. Anaba I’ll come for you when I close, ”Adi concluded and left knowing delightedly that Emeka would engage Anaba.

            Emeka employed Anaba on a verbal agreement: he would ‘settle’ him 10 years after.  Settling meant that he would give Anaba capital with which to start his own business. Adi had started work two years before on the same terms. What the master would give at the end of the contract depended on the spread of his generosity and kindness. Anaba was trained to sell in the shop. Emeka admired him for his smartness. He gave him a room in his boy-boy quarter like Adi too had.

The Ibo traders lived with their sales boys, privileging them with comfort that was somewhat proximate to the master’s. But this largess of Ibo masters had other motives, including the opportunity to monitor the sales boy and keep him from stealing money from the shop. Additionally, this prevented the boys from mixing with wrong friends- smokers, drinkers and womanizers, whose wayward tendencies also led to theft. The boys were fed in the house and given a small amount of money once in a while for their personal needs. Anaba soon won the confidence of his master and was progressively entrusted with huge sums of money.

            The two friends remained intimate, meeting in church every Sunday and when opportunity was available. On Sunday afternoons they met in one of their rooms, and watched T.V punctuated by narratives of the week. At other times, when there was an interesting football match, they would negotiate for money from their masters for the gate fee to watch the match at Abakwa Municipal Stadium. Sometimes they went to Roxi Cinema to watch Chinese Kungfu films. Their masters appreciated them and helped them to develop business acumen. With time, they started thinking of what they would do upon leaving their masters. They agreed to engage in the sale of the same articles their masters were selling; electronics for Anaba and ready-made dresses, shoes and various fabrics for Adi.

            Eight years after Anaba came to town, Adi was settled. His master gave him five hundred thousand CFA francs and helped him to acquire a small market shed and to stock it with ready-made dresses, shoes and fabric. Mr. Abassi monitored him for one year, and saw Adi’s capital nearly doubling. He then gave him his full independence to manage his own affairs, advising him to get a hardworking wife who would not be a liability, irrespective of her village of origin. Adi was clocking 26 and had grown bulky in a fresh and handsome way. He did not need to, nor did he have the leisure to, go searching for a wife in the village. Many girls entered his shop everyday to touch and eye-shop dresses and shoes. They hardly bought anything, but kept asking the same questions every time they came.

            One of the girls who visited his shop so often had caught his attention. She was called Omaghen; still a student in form five. That notwithstanding, Adi fell in love with her and decided to propose to marry her. Omaghen accepted, pleading only for them to wait for some years for her to further her education. She came from the neighboring clan of Moghamo and her parents, like most villagers, found it difficult to sponsor her and her two brothers in college. For one thing, the children needed to go and live in the towns where colleges were found- a real burden to most village families. She was pretty, brilliant and smart-looking. No wonder that she passed her GCE Ordinary Level Certificate Examination in Eight subjects. That year she started high school, Adi happily deciding to shoulder the responsibility of her tuition, lodging and feeding in Bambis High School.

            Now renting a small apartment of two bedrooms for himself and paying rents for his shop in the market, Adi added Omaghen’s expenses to his budget. Additionally too, his middle-age parents in the village depended largely on him for health care. Predictably, the crunch of responsibilities soon started having a toll on him.

            For her part, Omaghen worked hard and performed well at school and.  She came to Abakwa on Saturdays to assist her fiancé in the shop. Adi had already made formal contacts her parents. Several times he had made gifts to them and they were aware of the relationship between their daughter and him. Immediately after writing the GCE Advanced Level, she packed out of her room and started living with Adi in Abakwa, going daily to assist him after house chores. Sometimes she took Adi’s own food along to the shop. When results were read in August, she had passed in three subjects.  Adi organized a small party at home to which he invited Anaba.

            In the same manner that Mr. Abassi had settled Adi, Emeka settled Anaba. He opened a small electronic shop for him and supervised it for one year before leaving him to his independence. Within a short time, Anaba had tripled his capital. His business grew rapidly, overtaking Adi’s. In fact, Adi’s shop had not improved since he started dating Omaghen. He was aware of the situation but considered Omaghen an asset and not a liability. Yet the draw-back was having a visible toll on him.  One evening Omaghen noticed that Adi lacked the fun and high spirits she had known him for. Her concerned emotions came quickly:

            “Dear, you’re not really yourself these days; is anything the matter?”

Adi looked at her and offered no word. Instead, he sighed which worried Omaghen the more.

“Please, talk to me; you’re not happy. What has gone wrong these days?”

            “Just my business, the shop and everything falling; can’t understand.”

            “Are you sure of that?” Omaghen pressed on, not knowing what to say.

            “Yes, my capital has dropped drastically and I can’t stock as before. Anaba who only started yesterday has overtaken me by far.

Adi didn’t make any direct complaint, but Omaghen perceived some form of accusation and disappointment in his explanation. She chose to tackle it upfront.

            “So you want to put the blame on me? Am I the cause of the slump?”

            “I’m not accusing you, but only thinking of how to make my business pick up.”  Adi’s tone was serious. Omaghen preferred to think silently for a while.

           “Can I suggest something to you?”  She asked a while after.

           “My ears are yours,” Adi answered.

          “Discuss with your friend Anaba and create a joint venture”.

          “What does that mean?”Asked Adi.

            “I mean that you ask to amalgamate your enterprises, that is, combine your businesses into one large venture. This will enable you to take a bank loan that would put you back on the rail”.

Adi reflected on the suggestion for a while.

      “The idea sounds good. I’ll talk with my friend; he’s more like a brother than just a friend.”

            That week-end Adi discussed at length with Anaba, explaining to him the advantages of merging. Omaghen helped to make the point clearer and explained how she could help them apply for a bank loan. The young men finally undertook a joint venture, Anaba providing 2/3 of the business capital. They were at about three million CFA francs capital now. Following Oma’s advice, they opened a bank account in RIC (Rural Investment Credit Bank) and named it ADI & ANABA Enterprise Savings Account. Anaba brought an extra 800.000 CFA Frs. that he had stacked and they put into the account. They applied for a loan of seven million but were granted only six million, based on the amount in their account and the value of their business that served as collateral.

            Anaba was of elevated disciplinary poise. He didn’t drink alcohol, didn’t smoke and didn’t involve himself in the chase of succulent girls whom he knew as proverbially the doom of business men. He had requested his parents to look for a prospective hardworking wife for him. He reasoned like an experienced old man, more maturely than Adi who could be said to simply gamble and daydream.  Adi was also rather simple-minded. He could be led by the nose, as the saying went. All that was needed for this to happen was an intelligent crook. Anab’s faith in his friend was nonetheless strong; he preferred his friend’s lukewarm collaboration to the enthusiasm of an alien, since hypocrisy from a brother was considered worse than a stranger’s betrayal. And so he pumped in nearly three million francs into their joint venture.

            Omaghen had enrolled in the University of Bambis, Adi doing everything for her. Trouble began when she met sophisticated friends and became extravagant. Her room luxuriously furnished, her mates and friends were always parked full in the room to comment on T.V movies and finished whatever was cooked in a brief moment. This was but normal since birds flock to the tree that bears much fruit.  Omaghen also desired to maintain the reputation she enjoyed as a ‘big’ girl.

Before long, young men were flooding her room, fortune-hunters and gold diggers prospecting or even extorting from Adi through her. Omaghen became increasingly dissatisfied with Adi and what he spent on her.

            ADI & ANABA ENTERPRISE prospered greatly just for one year after they obtained the bank loan. Anaba’s keen sightedness spotted the cracks: Omaghen was draining the business;  Adi himself drank  and smoked ruinously.  And that was not all. Some of his friends gambled and he had started moving with Malinke business men.

Anaba gathered courage and analysed the situation to Adi; how he was killing the business, how to cut down expenditure on Omaghen, and how to kill excessive drinking and partying with bad friends.

        “A true friend is he who tells you the truth about you, no matter how bitter. My intention is to help you out of danger and avoid a catastrophe,” Anaba explained in a bid to convince Adi.

        “Anaba, you simply don’t understand. I have spent so much on Oma’s education that I can’t help continuing it to the end. She’s my heart and I know when she graduates and starts working, she will be an asset to our business.”

Actually, Adi was deeply disturbed by his girl’s attitude but would not express it to his friend. This negative knowledge accounted for his increasing drinking and smoking habit.

   Things came to a head when Anaba got wind of Adi’s gossip. He became infuriated and asked to withdraw from the venture. Adi had gossiped like a woman to Omaghen and Malinke boys about his intimate advice. He had, besides, became arrogant, behaving as if the enterprise belonged to him alone and as if Anaba was his servant.

            Before long,  Anaba on cleaning cobwebs from around the threshold  noticed that the inscription   ADI & ANABA ENTERPRISE had been changed to ADI & SONS ENTERPRISE. Had he read well? He wondered at first and reread several times over. He went cold with anguish at his discovery and sank into a stool. He buried his head in both his hands and wondered when the modification had taken place and why it had to be done without his consent. His childhood friend had set on a path to ruin him. Not a man for backdoor appeals, he confronted Adi without a blink. To his question, Adi responded that Anaba had only joined him in the business; that the set up they were using was his. Not a man to act without counsel, that evening Anaba went to his master’s house and explained what had happened, how Adi had been misusing business money and how he was now trying to push him out of the business.

His master sharply reprimanded him for the stupidity of risking so much with a gambler. Emeka was business smart and otherwise a very intelligent man. Viewed in a more diverse spotting, however, there were gaps which only time and experience would reveal. For family, familial and friendship bonds were stronger than spritely business wisdom. Emeka reminded him of the lesson he had repeated so often to him: “Don’t tie all your money in one bundle; don’t put all your begs in one asking; don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Out crops of this lesson included the knowledge that business does not flourish every day; that rainy days were sure to come but would not be catastrophic for the prepared.

          The following day he again saw Adi on the issue. This time, he was not inquiring but decisively stating a stance.

            “My brother, I think it’s high time we parted ways. Let us evaluate what is left of this crumbling enterprise and share it.”

            “And what about the bank loan?” Adi asked rather indifferently. Since all colours agreed in the dark and the befuddled mind was not equipped to read disaster.

“We will split it so that each person works and pays his part.”

Adi smiled cynically and raised his eyes from a fixed spot on the ground to Anaba’s face. The eyes were bloodshot from excessive drink and unhidden lunacy. But he was backed by cogent facts.

      “Remember, I brought you to town, found you a job with Emeka Electronics, incorporated you as a worker in my business here; and now you want a share?  Do you take me for a fool? For your information this is ADI & SONS Enterprise, one and indivisible. You don’t need to dream of quitting, and don’t mention sharing because I brought you here.”

            This was shattering for Anaba and Adi was straight-faced and cogent. He couldn’t believe what he heard. He tried to talk but his speech was discordant. He stammered even though he was never a stammerer. He found himself trembling from hair to toes. A colossal lump of anger stuck in his gullet. Blindly enraged with murderous instincts, he gripped Adi with both hands by the collar of his shirt, shook him violently and flung him away.

 Adi floundered and flailed around before collapsing over a wooden stump and rolling down in the dust. A guilty soul, he couldn’t resist or fight back, but simply got up, dusted his buttocks and resumed his seat. With tears in his eyes, Anaba walked away and never came back to the shop that day. So infuriated was he that he could have set the shop ablaze if he had stayed there.  He went off and waited for his anger to die down while he ruminated on the unfolding drama to the conclusion that Adi’s Malinke friends certainly had intoxicated him with nectar of hellish counsel. He didn’t consider Omaghen alone as reason enough for this betrayal. He felt badly cheated but did not consider it wise to abandon the enterprise completely to Adi. This would entail forfeiting his own share of the capital- and where would he start again? He squirmed in silence but kept working with Adi, hoping that Adi would one day receive a call from his sub conscience and change. If that didn’t happen, he would think of how to get back his own share of the capital. He was willing all the same, if Adi persisted in his nefarious attitude, to end up paying the debt alone because the loan was in the enterprise’s name.

          Since life serendipitously brings us to focus on things that frustrate the more in bad times, one wrong step followed another like quivering ducklings plunging to cosmic abyss.  Adi stuck to Omaghen, her excessive extravagance notwithstanding worsened by insolent and overtly infidelity.  He could not drop her, having spent so much on her. A vicious circle spun and girded his every move. Her behaviour caused him to drink and smoke in further excess. She rarely came home to his apartment, but whenever she did, she asked for money. A certain compulsion guided him to always fulfill her demands even when she openly said that Adi was ‘illiterate’ to her friends, and didn’t think it odd that he heard her say it. Wasn’t it the obvious truth? And that is as far as virtue went in her life. Truth to her was the vicious insult she meant him to get. Virtue of sorts it still was. For haven’t brigands been known to torture their victims for lying about their wealth or possession being seized?

            In a bid to salvage the dwindling business, Adi joined the Malinke business men’s Njangi to which he was hurriedly welcomed with promises of assistance for his business to boom. Naïve, he took the very obvious turns in the complex of life. And new though he was, they offered to give him. Like ill-luck, they faithfully honoured their pledge, only asking him to start paying back after one month. The one month went by and business, you could say, was good. He too faithfully kept his pledge in banknotes.

Mekwemo people were very superstitious and believed a lot in witchcraft and mysticisms. With them, no one died naturally. To them, people who died had only been killed mysteriously. Many people had been accused of belonging to the ‘ Nyongo’ sect which killed people to become rich. But this concept was a complex mirage, for most of those who were considered as nyongo people died wretched after having, as it appeared, prospered for a while. They quickly linked Adi’s connection with rich Mandike boys as belonging to a sect. Rumour circulated that Adi joined their sect and took a loan. That they refused to take back the money when he brought it to refund, asking him to give a white fowl.

“No, no, no! We don’t need that,” the chairman halted him; “bring one white fowl,” to Adi’s embarrassment. “We need people to work for the money, not the money.” To cut a long story short, Adi lost both his parents in a road accident the following December.

            Advised by his Malinke friends, he had sent the fare for both parents’ transportation to Abakwa, “to kill them on the road”, villagers gossiped. The poor parents only entered Abakwa in shrouds and were laid side by side in the mortuary following a fatal road accident in a Land Cruiser that had somersaulted. Two weeks later the middle-aged couple was buried side by side in Togobei with great pageantry, typical of the Malinkes. Sophisticated gunshots rent the skies in multiple disorderly rounds, pruning all surrounding trees. Food and drink were a panoply of excess. The festive ambience of overdoing constituted the conundrum of what in local parlance was a ‘big’ or ‘good’ death, quite miles apart from the implication of the meaning of ‘good’ in moral doctrine.

         Rumour started its endless spins that Adi had sold his parents to a famla sect. No one chased him revolver for the kill, but something worse immediately came on- stigmatization. People cursed him openly, changed direction when they met him, even refused to answer his greetings. He was branded the latest “nyongo-man” of his clan and would have been exiled or ostracized had he lived in the village. But he was living in Abakwa, a town that like the ocean, diluted the dirty and the clean into a murk. He avoided the village as much as he could thereafter.

            Well, he became apparently rich, sole proprietor of Adi and Sons Enterprise. His friend, Anaba was reduced to a sales boy with no say in the business, taking orders from Adi who acted the boss in every way; Anaba persevered.

         The death of Adi’s parents scared the few friends he had from Mekwemo. Anaba too, gingerly eating with a long spoon, as they would say, was watchfully alert. The sect would be asking for more sacrifices and he might just be sacrificed like a lamb, he feared. And indeed he was next on the list, followed by Omaghen. But if Anaba lacked where to go, he still had guts and words. After hesitating a while, he made up his mind and one evening mustered the courage to take the bull by its horns.

       “Adi, the whole Togobei village is saying that you sold your parents for money; are you aware of it?” Anaba began.

        “What do you mean by the whole Togobei village? Who is the whole Togobei village?” Sophistry managed Adi’s words.

            “I mean that it is the talk of the day in the village. Haven’t you noticed a change of attitudes towards you?”

            “Hmm, you ought to know that villagers are too superstitious and even jealous. Haven’t they witnessed more tragic road accidents?”

            “They even say that if you have joined a sect, then I must be in it because the disease that affects cocoa will also infect coffee. My own parents are worried and to tell you the truth, I’m not at ease.” He didn’t expect much from his stretched question but there was nothing wrong in laying the net wider in the water.

            “And you, what do you say? Do you believe the scandals?” Adi fought back.

            “My brother, to be frank with you, when you started dealing with those Malinke boys, I became very skeptical. If the rumour is true, then I am not safe either; and that’s why I have come to loosen it with you.”  Since boldness grew by experiment, Adi was on the bold rise and learning by brazen assertions to fully fight his way through:

            “There’s nothing, Anaba; people must talk, especially when they see that you are progressing in life. They become jealous and begin to frame tales about you. I only consider it part of life. You can’t stop people from making baseless scandals.”

            The discussion ended the way it had started, nay, woollier.  Anaba felt a somewhat relieved though; he had cleared his conscience as a true friend should. He couldn’t claim to be a friend (in spite of their business squabbles), and remain silent in the midst of such degrading scandals.

            Omaghen soon graduated from the University, announcing her results to Adi the evening she arrived Abakwa. Adi was elated.  Champaign was popped to celebrate their success because he believed that it was a giant step ahead for both of them. Omaghen merely tasted the drink; Adi gulped down all the content. He had withdrawn almost everything in their bank account and added to the money they had sold for almost a week, including some njangi money he had received. In all, he had more than five million CFA Francs in his wallet ready to set out for Onitsha in Nigeria the next day for new purchases.

            While away in school, Omaghen secretly prepared her papers to travel. She only had three days left for her visa to the U.S to expire. She had not found the means to coax Adi into releasing enough money for her flight ticket and other logistics. It was therefore a wonderful coincidence to meet Adi also preparing to travel. She lulled him to sleep when he had emptied the bottle of wine. She didn’t need any sleep that night. She knew exactly where the wallet was kept whenever Adi had to travel.

When Adi got up early before 6 a.m. to prepare to take off, Omaghen was not there. She had disappeared in the night with Adi’s wallet of bank notes.

            Enraged and perplexed, Adi dashed out to hunt for Omaghen, heading first to Bambis only to make a fool of himself as two boys occupied the room he had been renting for Omaghen. The boys told him they had rented the room for two months since and did not know who left the room before they came in.

            Adi moved to the gendarmerie brigade and to the public security police office to report his ordeal. In both offices he was asked to write a formal complaint, affix a fiscal stamp to it and pay some money for the search. Individual officers cornered him as the days passed and extorted whatever amount they could from him, telling him that they had evidence that she was hiding somewhere and they would pick her up. He made contacts with her parents to no avail. The poor parents were dumbfounded and ashamed of their daughter’s behaviour. Days fled past into weeks and Omaghen was nowhere to be found. Her disappearance soon clocked one year of a stretched reverberating throb on Adi’s psyche.

            Anaba had mixed feelings of pity, gloat and anger for his condescending friend who seemed determined to ruin them both. They still owed the bank much money. For, although he had been reduced to a mere worker in the deal, half the bank loan was a load on his head. Interest on the loan mounted as they daily grew from insolvency to abject and dejected wretchedness.

            It wasn’t long before a bailiff came to their shop with two police officers and served them with a notice that the bank had seized the shop, (Adi &Son’s Enterprise) because they had failed to honour their financial engagement with it. The scanty shop was sealed. The following Saturday, everything was taken out and auctioned at the Commercial Square. The sales did not make up for the debt, so Adi and Anaba were arrested and detained. They had to pay the money or go to jail.

            Anaba extricated himself from the affair, claiming that he was working for Adi who was the sole proprietor of ADI & SONS ENTERPRISE. He secured his freedom but Adi was jailed for five years. His Malinke friends forsook him and psychosis overtook him.  In his depression, he thankfully joined prisoners who drugged and smoked cannabis. It wasn’t long before he started talking aloud to no one, keeping overgrown hair and a rough beard. He would suddenly burst into hysterical laughter at what no one else could tell. It soon became irrelevant to keep him any further in the Central Prison. He was taken to an asylum that catered for the mentally deranged in Bululand- Jamot Centre. That was where he was likely to spend the rest of his days.

            Too worried with the turnout of things, Anaba sought advice from his former master once more.

            “Well, it’s unfortunate. I trained you to be a successful business man”, Emeka spoke gravely. “Remember I asked you to be honest to your partners and customers, not to look for money by hook or by crook, but to be honest and plan with God.”

       Anaba nodded gravely as a token of both understanding and remorse that he had not lived up to the master’s admonition.

            “That is what has taken your brother to Jamot. I also advised you to always think of rainy days and not to tie all your money in one bundle, didn’t I?”

         “You did, master. And I never forgot it, but…”

          “But what, how did you prepare for times like these?”

            “When we agreed to merge our shops I opened an account and reserved 500,000 CFA Francs of my money there. When I realized he wanted to own the business alone, I took away the little I could from daily sales and saved in the account. There is one million two hundred thousand in the account presently.”

            “Very well; you will linger with me for another six months and then we’ll see how you can restart all over,” Emeka coached.

        Anaba set up his business after six months. His capital grew tremendously; his earlier errors instructing him to skirt round failings.

            No traces of Omaghen were found since she disappeared with Adi’s wallet full of banknotes.  Adi remained at Jamot Mental Hospital and nothing was heard of him ever.

Scared of the bitter past, and afraid of another failure, Anaba threw all his weight into the business. He was often the first to open his shop in the morning and closed as late as 06:00 p.m. He renamed his shop Anaba Electronics and used the local FM Radio stations for publicity. He printed posters advertising his shop and posted on street walls and electricity poles on Sunday afternoons and sometimes on his way back after work in the evening. To facilitate movement and his transactions, he purchased a motor bike. In the third year of this restart, he got married to a girl his parents chose for him. They were soon blessed with two kids. Work on a construction site for their personal home was on-going and Anaba hoped to escape from the ordeal of monthly house rents soon. So, all seemed well and on track. Anaba was supposed to be happy, but that was not the case.

            An internal sore gnawed and kept him from being cheerful. Something still lacked in his life, despite his accomplishments. One evening he decided to open up to his wife when the kids had gone to sleep.

“Mom, I have something that takes away my sleep at night; I don’t know what to do. With the progress we are making, I ought to be happy but daily I feel that my life is far from complete. There is something lacking.”

 “Daddy, I know that you are healthy; your problem can only be in your mind. Is it that you’re thinking of Adi?” She had put her thumb on the point without much search.

 “Hmm, you’ve hit it. My life is incomplete.”

“Do you feel guilty that you sent him to prison? Didn’t he take himself there? By now he should be long dead in the mental home. His bones should be in the community cemetery by now.”

 “Oh no; please, don’t say that! God forbid! Not my friend in a community cemetery! He did wrong me, yes; he erred. Is not to err human? He helped me come to town and gave me to Oga Emeka who in turn built me up to what I am today. I must seek him. And whether he is dead or alive, I’ll find him. I will have to do that to maintain my sanity!” Determination underlined his every word.

   “Daddy, you are right;” his wife was thought. “It’s important to live with a clear conscience. The place to start is surely Jamot Centre and Christmas time would be propitious. I’ll take good care of the shop while you’re away.”

  Anaba set out for Jamot Hospital in Bululand that Christmas season. His heart jerked and squeezed in each time he thought something bad might have happened to Adi. What if his friend had died? Would he find anyone to assist him in that land where the people spoke only Bulu and the French Languages, none of which he understood? He prayed all through the trip for God to clear his path.

          God heard him for immediately he entered the main gate, he saw a man with a broom and a shovel. His heart sank, for it was the shadow of a man he had known and not the man himself– emaciated, unkempt and wearing an old and torn T-shirt over tattered jeans trousers, smeared with crusted brown stains. The slippers he wore were cut from an old rubber tyre. He drew close to the disheveled object and called, “Adi, Adi!” The object turned and looked at him like a child woken from deep slumber. A distant embarrassment glazed his face. For almost a minute, both men stood gazing at each other vaguely. Then Adi shouted “Anaba, my friend!”

They ran to each other like two vehicles in a head-on collision and went crashing on the ground like wrestlers in a tight grip. It was a heart-touching sight. Both men wept a mingling of empathy, sympathy, sorrow, joy and surprise in the arms of each other. Heaven must comprise partly of this kind of embarrassing recognition of a forgotten past.

Jamot Hospital had succeeded to stop Adi from drugging and eventually corrected his mental derangement. But there was no one to acquit him of the hospital charges. He remembered vaguely his past in Abakwa and did not have the urge to return to the town that had sent him to Jamot. He therefore accepted the hospital director’s proposal to stay and work as a yard cleaner in the hospital to compensate for his treatment.

Anaba settled all the bills and signed all the documents to liberate him. Two days later, he returned to his house in Abakwa with his friend, had managed to make him clean and bought some new dresses to replace the dingy rags he had on. That Christmas, he organised a thanks-giving feast to which he invited a pastor for prayers and spiritual deliverance.

           If the lesson is hard enough, experience teaches it even to fools. Having learnt the harsh and hard way, Adi could indeed thereafter be said to be a new man. He soon started showing all the signs of having been where he should never again go– the realm of error and consequent sorrows.  Anaba promised to help him generously, which was not the same as daring to consider another joint venture with him; for the first fool is a fool indeed but the second fool is doubly foolish and irredeemable.

             Adi was all gratitude. He lacked words with which to apologize. A gentle resolve to be a trusted friend spoke from his face and heart, and Anaba read all this right and made him feel at ease.

 “A man has to struggle in life right to the end,” Anaba lectured his friend. “It’s not how many times he falls, but how determined he is to stand on his own feet. Being honest and planning with God is all that is needed for all to be well.”

 “Anaba, you’re more than a brother and I shall remain grateful to you the rest of my ruined and redeemed life,” Adi spoke solemnly. Have you since heard of Omaghen? I should like to know how she’s faring”

Anaba shuddered at the mention of Omaghen, uncertain how Adi would take the bitter truth, but he couldn’t let go this opportunity to keep him abreast.

“ Omaghen is dead! I learnt from her parents that her petrifying remains were found in a locality far out of Abakwa town. Her identity card helped the identification. She fell in the hands of armed robbers the night she robbed us and they got away with all the money. Believing that she would alert security men to hunt them out after seizing the wallet, they carried her out of town and killed her.”

“Why did they not tell us when we were searching for her?”

Story Continues …

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