I left the class and walked towards the Staff room.
“Corper!” Someone shouted.
I turned. A woman around Aunty Obiakpor’s age hurried towards me. While Aunty Obiakpor could have been beautiful if she didn’t look like she suffered from constipation all the time (read about her here), this woman was neither ugly nor beautiful but her open friendliness made her very attractive.
She walked up to me, smiling. I smiled back and greeted her. “Good morning, ma.”
“Good morning, nne.” She replied. “You’re one of the new Corpers, okwa ya?”
“Yes, ma.” I replied.
“My name is Cordelia Onyema. I teach Igbo Language”.
“IT kwa? Is that your name or nickname?”
I laughed. “No, it’s short for Itohan. I’m Edo.”
“Oho, Itohan. O di mma. I want to invite you and your friends to my house this weekend to give you a proper welcome. I hope you will come?”
Finally, a friendly face to welcome someone in this Godforsaken town, I thought. I smiled gratefully at her.
“I will, thank you. I will tell the others.”
And so, that weekend, Debbie, Dami and I had lunch with Cordelia and her husband in their home. Cordelia’s house was located at the nearest town; the same town we went when we wanted to use the internet. The house was big and beautiful. It was one of the best houses in town and could even compete with houses built in the choicest parts of Lagos. The living room alone smelt of serious money.
Cordelia’s husband, Mr. Emeka Onyema, aka Mekus Zentus, was a huge man with a pot belly that could accommodate seven strong babies and there would be enough space left for more – a result of too much bottles of beer, pepper soup, nkwobi, isi ewu, and other menus at those local joints. He had a very disgusting habit of talking with his mouth full and distributing saliva mixed food everywhere.
We watched as he cut a big ball of fufu, rolled it with both hands, threw it up, rolled it again before he dipped it into his soup and put it into his mouth. He shut his eyes tight as he swallowed loudly. He blinked his eyes open. Tears were already threatening to fall from his painful swallowing. He belched long and loud.
“Igwe!” He exclaimed in satisfaction.
The girls and I tried not to look disgusted and concentrated on our food, even though our appetite had disappeared with Mekus Zentus fufu swallowing Olympics. Cordelia looked embarrassed. The man didn’t even care. It was an awkward lunch.
He flashed his soup stained teeth at us in what he obviously thought was a smile.
“I hope you gals are enjoying the food?” He asked in a very thick Igbo accent.
We mumbled that the food was fine. Debbie added, “the food is very delicious, sir.”
“I know. My wife is a wonderful cook.”
He wrapped a loving arm around Cordelia’s shoulders and smiled with his soup stained teeth in her face. Cordelia smiled back, trying to hide her discomfort. Then he turned to us again.
“So you people are Corpers, eh?”
No, we are reporcs, I thought in disgust. Outwardly, we said, “yes, sir.”
“That is good.” He said in approval. “It is good that women are going to school. Men like me concentrate on making money. Me, I stopped at Primary 6 and went into business. I don’t have the brain for books. I only have brains for money.”
“You’re obviously doing well for yourself”. Debbie said in admiration.
“Thankio. It is not easy. But I have learnt in this my life that God can bless you anywhere whether in the city o or village.”
“Well, you’re lucky. But everyone knows that there are more opportunities in the cities than the village.” I countered.
He scoffed. “Who told you? The problem with people nowadays is that they are lazy. They want to go to the cities ebe ọkụ n’enwu n’elu (where light shines in the sky) and make it sharp sharp. Life is not like that.”
I have friends who are suffering and smiling in the cities.” He continued. “I know a man who traveled overseas for ten years and came back with only one polythene bag. But look at me, I don’t live in the city but I have money. In this small town, I have a block industry. I built this house with my money. I did not borrow shishi from anybody. My children are going to the best schools in town. My wife is the only teacher that owns a car in that school. Let me give you a simple advice.”
By now, he had our undivided attention, his bad table manners completely forgotten.
“Before you run to the city, think of what you want to do with ya life. If it is something you must go to the city to do, then go to the city. But if it is something, you don’t need to go to the city to do, stay in ya village and make ya money. I have talked my own. Ka Chineke mezie okwu”.
He dropped a bundle of one-thousand-naira mint notes on the table.
“For ya transport.”