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When Things Change (Short Fiction) by Bibi Ukonu.

By February 11, 2019 No Comments

Charlie is not his name, not his English name. Charlie is a name he cleverly chose because no one in Britain had the tongue to call out his real name, Mgbeahuruike, not his old white lady; not the lady in her eighties. She can not, today, remember the names of her two sons; the ones that left her as soon as they were sure they were eighteen. She is yet to see them or find where they are. The only thing or person she sees these days is Charlie, the Nigerian boy in his twenties whom she is in love with. She is sure her sons are no more in Coventry. No, not my Coventry, she sounded so sure to Charlie. To Charlie, it doesn’t matter to him as much as his work and residence permit papers. It doesn’t matter to Charlie more than the new house in Leamington Spa which she just paid off the mortgage. This house matters to Charlie more than the house in Coventry. ‘Who would wish to stay back at Coventry, with the old vintage stench of Sally after she’s dead and gone?’ Charlie confided in me while we got drunk in a pub at Canning Town. Today, a week after, Charlie calls me.

‘She’s sick again,’ he sounds happy over the phone, ‘This time, the doctor says she won’t survive it. A woman as old as eighty-four years will never survive a heart attack.’

‘How about your papers?’ I ask him. ‘What will become of you?’

‘I’m her next of kin, isn’t it? Who cares about residence permit this time. Very soon I’ll own a house in this fucking United Kingdom, and all will be history.’

‘Lucky you!’ I say. I’m not sure that I meant congratulations.

He giggles. It was irritating to my ears. ‘You’re not smart, Ike. I told you to do the same several years ago. You chose to be a scholar. First degree. Second degree. Phd. How much?’

‘How do you mean?’ I meant to tell him FUCK YOU.

‘How much have you earned after all your London education? You can’t even send money home.’

‘But I called Mama last Thursday,’

‘You called your mother last Thursday,’ he sounds like he means to ask me a question. I don’t answer him.

‘And today is what?’

‘Thursday,’ I answer him this time.

‘It’s one week today and you’re yet to send her the cash you promised her for her business,’ he says, reminding me of my failure to provide for my mother. I keep mute. ‘Fuck the schools. Get a white lady and go for your stay.’

It’s Friday morning. I did not find sleep last night, I did not look for it. Charlie made me hate sleep. It was intentional. He knows I love my sleep. He feels I sleep too much and that is why I am yet to make a free pound since I dropped out of Architecture in Nigeria and ran to London for a better education under white professors who I thought had white beards like Wole Soyinka. He feels I got disappointed when I got to London and found that universities here are not as big as ten classroom blocks, not as big as University of Benin. What’s in the size of a university, when it can not make brains? I tell myself as I embrace this morning. But I am disappointed in many things, in many things that brought me here.

‘Chibuike won the councillorship election,’ Mama said last week when we spoke over the phone. ‘Your younger brother is a real brave man. He won that old idiot who thought he was the only one in this ward who knew how to rig elections. He’s now surprised at how your brother did it.’

I remember those words of Mama, and how I heard Chibuike in the background, chuckling all his lungs out. I exhale, wondering if can release all the air in my chest. Then I wonder what made Mama call him A REAL BRAVE MAN. It must be because her son can now rig elections, I reckon. My immediate younger brother has become the hero of the house. Papa refused to speak to me, last week Thursday, even after Mama told him I was still hanging on on the other side. It was Chibuike who spoke to me and said Papa was busy with some neighbourhood elders who came around to fraternize with them, the winning family of Aladinma Ward 1. I am in the bathroom, brushing my teeth, thinking to my self, so Papa now hosts visitors on Chibuike’s behalf.

We are just two of us, born to our parents; Chibuike and I. I am the one that ran to Europe because I could no longer stand watching visitors who came to our house from overseas and spoke English as if it was not the same language we had always known. I was the one who got angry, easily, because my aunt who stays in Germany said education in Nigeria was trash. I was the one who wanted to send Mama red apples and chocolates, the one who wanted to stop her from asking the visitors, ‘What did you bring back from America?’ I was the one who felt studying Architecture in Nigeria was a waste of Papa’s hard earned spare-automobile-parts money. I was the one who felt Chibuike was fucked up when he boldly told me, in the bedroom we shared, ‘One day, I will rule this useless Imo State, and steal the remaining money. After emptying the state account, I will sell the damn state to these cora lebanese people and run away. Maka chukwu!’ Maybe it’s time to return home, before Chibuike sells the ward. I may just be there on time to take my share of the sales.

I get to Victoria Station, pay twenty four pounds for a train to Coventry. Today, I will boldly meet Charlie and tell him of my plans. I will tell him that my time to enjoy Naira has come. I will tell him of my plans to drop out of the Phd course and head home where Chibuike has reserved a contract for me through his friends at the State Government House.

‘They’re here,’ Charlie yells the moment his eyes meet mine at the station in Coventry. ‘The silly boys are here.’

‘What are you talking ab–‘

‘Sally’s useless sons,’ he says, and he inhales huge volume of air into his lungs. He now looks like Incredible Hulk.

‘They’re back to claim the dead woman after all my sufferings. After they made me service that old woman’s private part and place my tongue on those weak nipples. And do dishes and all the laundry. That dirty underwear!’

‘But it all doesn’t count, son,’ I hold him by his arms and shake him real hard. And I’m thinking, did I just call him that; Son. ‘It all doesn’t count. They can’t lay claim to what belongs to you. It’s all written and signed.’

Charlie yells in Igbo language. He then yells in English, not the same English Sally had taught him. He slumps and falls upon a bench. His eyes turn red.

I don’t know what to say to my friend of ten years. We have always known ourselves before we left Nigeria to United Kingdom. We were in the same university; Imo State University. Charlie had just gained admission to read Medicine and Surgery when we met at the Registrar’s Office. He was a young boy with hopes of better things ahead. He told me all his life plans the moment we met.

‘I will not stay in all those cheap hostels where you only see village girls.’ 

‘I will go straight to Old English and buy good quality stock jeans and tops. Who wan fall hand for IMSU?’

‘I go belong nah. I’ll be so rugged, they’ll fear me in this school.’ 

‘There’re freshmen parties everywhere but, I’ll never miss that one before matriculation, the one in the night where boys will be made men.’ 

Charlie soon got tired of everything in school, and mostly because he feared he would lose his life. But he acted like my life was more important than his the night we slept in the bush behind Lake Nwebere because there was war in school, and most of our boys were already dead.

‘You’re still young, Ike’ he whispered into my ears. ‘You’re not even in your second year. You can start all over again in Europe. Don’t let these boys end the beginning of what could be an enjoyable life for you.’

I nodded in acceptance, and we slept close to the banks of the lake for the fear of our lives. Six months later, I convinced Papa to send me to London where I would try again to bring pride back to our house.

 

Charlie stands up from the bench. He now wants to talk to me.  He wants to hug me. He embraces me the same way he did the day we were both initiated into the cult before he whispered those fainting words to my ears, We are now men. But this time he has something different to say, something I have not heard him say before.

‘Fuck! Sally was about to write that will before death came calling.’

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