Veinticinco (Or “Showing Up”)

31st July, 1990.
Warri, Bendel State.

“Isn’t the food here yet? ”

“Nna’m,  calm down, it’s almost ready. ”

Nna’m. That was how she addressed her husband. No sugary nouns, no shallow sweet-nothings, no expressions whose paper-thin weight you could even feel from the voice pitch. She loved him (dutifully at the very least), he protected her, she knew what she had to do around the house, he knew when to reach for his wallet, and that was it: the vintage West African couple, none of that Hollywood reality show faux gloss.

.
It was still the military era with ‘Maradona’ in charge, a planned coup had been thwarted not too long ago, Goldspot and Krest still had a place in refrigerators of retailers, and Liverpool had won its 18th league title few months earlier, never mind that the people in these parts had no access to viewing the games live as yet. Four-year-old Stephen loved to play outside, but the rains had deterred him that evening, and when his father returned home, demanding for food after alighting from his “Beetle” which he cleaned twice a day, Stephen was in his room reading the comic series Adventures of Asterisk and Obelix.

Stephen’s father, a mid-ranked officer in the State Ministry of Health, had moved to Warri from the state capital at Benin few years earlier, after the mother of the house had complained about the hostility of the natives and the continued “borrowing” of her wrappers by “the true owners”. It was a rented apartment, with half-decent furniture, a television from the Sharp brand, a black video cassette player, and drawers littered with movie clips featuring Jean-Claude Van Damme and Loren Avedon, but it was pretty comfortable. One did not have to be magazine-cover rich to get married at the time; all that was necessary was a decent job, long rounds of letter exchanges, and a fair dose of emotional maturity. Then again, not everyone could afford a Beetle, so it was fair to say that family was above average.

Stephen’s mother was a teacher, but she still found time to keep the kitchen department running; no talk of gender equality, no epistles of female emancipation or war against patriarchy, just old-fashioned domestic playing out of events. Graces were shared, mouths danced, throats reacted to the sliding down of morsels, hands were washed, and Stephen knew what to do with the dishes.

PHCN was called NEPA at the time, and their instability was nothing new, but that did not stop Stephen’s father from crashing into his wife that night, their bodies moving in sync with the raindrops outside. There was no copying of animal mating habits, no adaptation from adult educational videos, nothing bordering on the tantric, just some rather boring, heartfelt lovemaking, with the mutual aim to please rather than score virility points. The effects of that night were felt in the following weeks, with frequent bouts of dizziness and nausea, and when the monthly visitor failed to show up, the mother of the house knew that she had to get ready for a new set of diapers.

****************
1st May, 1991.
Family Clinic, Warri, Bendel State.

“Get her in! Ward 5, quickly! ”

It had been a public holiday, and Stephen’s mother knew that she was deep into her third trimester, but it still did not prepare her for the events of that Wednesday morning. The kicks became more ferocious, moving became a lot more difficult, and in moments, she felt her water break. She was in labour!

Her husband would ordinarily be away to immunize infants on holidays like this, but for some reason, he was home that day, and there was a lot of screaming and kicking in the Beetle as he drove to the hospital from Ugborikoko. They finally got there amidst increased wailing, wheeled her in, and set her on the delivery table. Legend has it that the baby refused to put out any limb on display for close to one hour, and the woman, down with accumulated fatigue from her teaching job, thought she would give up there and then, but she hung on….and the stubborn foetus reluctantly agreed to make an entry into the world. Stephen, who turned five a week earlier, had gone out to play, but by the time he got home that evening, he realised that his days as an only child were over.

A short ceremony was held days later, the pain-induced wrinkles long gone from the face of the new baby’s mother, and the guests wanted to know what she would name the child. Remembering how the pregnancy was tedious compared to the first, how it was hard for her to juggle impending motherhood with a teaching career, and how she had almost passed on at the operating table, she named him Ifeanyinachukwu; nothing was too difficult for God, afterall.

As she rocked him gently, nodding and humming responses to prayers and wishes from the ones who had come to rejoice with her (or fuel their envy), she had no idea of how the baby’s life would play out; the slow development of coherent speech; or life-threatening head injury in KG 2, or the lifelong addiction to video games that would begin from his seventh birthday, or the perennial aversion to cats fuelled by her religious approach, or the evolution from shy boy to unapologetic heartbreaker, or even the fact that she would only spend nine and a half years with the boy, to embark on an indefinite vacation to the celestial skies nine Christmases later. But that day, she held him tenderly, cooing softly.

*****************
Few months later, Bendel was divided into Delta and Edo state.

Liverpool have not won a league title since 1990.

Goldspot and Krest are now extinct. From 5 naira, Coca Cola and Fanta are now 60 naira.

On a Monday evening in February 1999, Ifeanyi was baptised by a priest with a huge Afro. It was there he picked the name Jerry.

On Christmas day of the year 2000, the mother to Stephen and Ifeanyi took a trip across planets. There are days Ifeanyi still feels that the years so far are all a dream, and he is actually still nine years old, waiting for his mother to reprimand him for not washing dishes.

In June 2015, Ifeanyi relocated from Delta State to Lagos.

The military leader from whom ‘Maradona’ forcefully took over, is back in power, as the citizens wait to see how old wine will fit into new wineskins.

(P. S: “veinticinco” is the Spanish word for twenty-five.)

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10 responses to “Veinticinco (Or “Showing Up”)

  1. 👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏👏!
    Nicely done, as always. Happy Birthday Jerry Ifeanyi

  2. Amazing!

    This story took me back in time to vintage Warri – nothing was left out. I still miss gulping Goldspot down my longa throat. Lol.

    Oga Jerry, I love the way you write. Beautiful.

    Happy Birthday, Sir.

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