Thank you for reading the Love Africa Book Club Festive series. These specially selected stories celebrate love during African festivities. These stories are about hope and joy and goodwill. Of course, they are all love stories and include happy endings.
The final one for this series is Kisses Under the Udala Tree by Obinna Obioma. This story sets a forbidden romance against the back drop of New Year celebrations. I love Kanero--she is beautiful, fierce, knows what she wants and how to get it. She doesn't let her disability (deafness) hinder her. Ebelenna is the gigolo who doesn't know what hits him when he encounters Kanero.
I hope you enjoy this.
Read, comment, like and share.
Love, Kiru xx
Copyright © Obinna Obioma, Love Africa Press, 2020 All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in reviews.
This is a work of fiction. Names, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Night on Rapuruchukwu Flats resonated to the same peculiar sounds, from the heavy snores of the residents to the cawing black crows.
Then there were the high-pitched cries of the Efik couple living on the last floor. Those two rutted like dogs on heat, and tonight, they just wouldn’t stop shaking the very foundation on which the three-storey building stood.
For them, love was about who made the most noises. Same when they, as a routine, quarrelled at noon—the chattering of voices and shattering of ceramic plates. Around midnight when they’d reconciled, they’d tear at themselves too, ripping off pants and boxers in celebration. It didn’t matter that the other flatmates could tell from the eavesdropping “privacy” of their own rooms that they had tried—really hard—for five years to make babies.
“Unlucky bastards!” Kanero muttered, alone in bed.
Some people got the thrusts and trust, while she had been reduced to a sleepless killjoy, getting all the tosses and turn.
Admit it, you are jealous.
I am not!
You know you want a man that strong and clingy.
I don’t give two hoots!
Na cold and konji go kill you then.
The little voice in her head taunted.
The chilly wind blowing past the window blind seemed to agree.
Okay. Fine! I should have called him.
Yes, him. No, no, not the other him.
The pounding and creaking bed frames from the flat above increased in tempo.
“The hell with this!” She took out her frustrations on the pillow.
If this were some Hollywood movie set in the States, she could sue them for disturbing the neighbourhood, and no one would think her crazy. At least, she’d gain some listening ears.
But this is Reality TV, Nigeria. This is Nnewichi.
Try it, and both police and defendant would laugh at you scornfully, call you “bad belle”, and tell you to go home, die in peace, and not to ruin the lovebirds’ Christmas.
She yanked out her hearing aids, and there was peace, at last.
Ah! Why didn’t you think of this earlier?
She sighed into the silence, letting her thoughts drift, and then settled on … him.
Ebelenna—mid-twenties, younger than her, chocolate soldier, bodybuilder, a granite face, unsmiling eyes, yet, soft-spoken.
She puffed out another breath.
It had been the first week of December. Jilted and fresh out of a four-year relationship, she’d dared to walk into Orange Groove. The venue has once been a no-go area for her. Yet on that Saturday night, she’d ordered six shots of boilermaker and sex.
She remembered every word of their conversation when he came to sit by her in the pub. Why not? They’d barely spoken. After her third shot of the mixed poison, after he’d caught her staring the third time, she’d mustered enough tipsy guts to ask.
“How would you love to f**k this drunk, tired lady for five thousand naira?”
“I don’t love. I am a gigolo.”
Outside, the Harmattan wind billowed, piercing and sharp as his reply.
“Anyway, it’s seven thousand naira. No transfers.”
“What? Am I a joke to you?”
“No. You are heartbroken, probably depressed. It’ll take a lot from me to get you to really come off whatever it is you’ve been trying to kill yourself for with that.” He pointed at the shot glass.
That got her—the leery baritone, the seriousness of his light joke, the wild guess, his assertiveness.
They’d done it, rushed it, in a male restroom reeking of alcohol, jism and urea.
Not something Kanero had ever done—sleeping out, sidekicks. Sex for her had previously been within the premise of the only relationship she’d ever built since she finished med school.
Nonetheless, it’d happened, and she’d loved every moment of it.
When they were done, he’d left her with a parting kiss and a phone number.
It had been an act of rebellion—the one-night-stand.
She wasn’t even supposed to recall the proceedings.
Ebelenna had warned her.
He was a gigolo, and gigolos didn’t fall in love. They loved your money. Like many of his kind, his was a p*n*s on a pilgrimage to pandemonium. It pummelled into you now, and tomorrow, pitched its mushroom-headed tent in a distant p*ssy.
However, there was something about him that had instantly sparked those dying plugs of hers to life.
A sensation Esomnofu, her ex, had killed, two nights ago, when he’d called to say, “I am sorry. Papa says I can’t marry an Ngwa lady. Mama found me one from Nnewi here ... and I don’t have to worry if your kind of deafness is hereditary...”
“Screw you, Esomnofu!” she yelled into the night before turning onto her side.
Between the poundings above, the ponderings of her heart, and another pertinent curse reserved for her ex, she allowed herself to roam into a dreamless sleep.
When Kanero saw him again, a week later, during Christmas Eve, he’d not changed one bit.
Ebelenna was a dash of colours in a custom-made Ankara shirt buttoned just enough to reveal his hairy chest, blue pantaloons, and a red pair of moccasins.
Of course, she hadn’t expected to see him that soon. However, it was where she—to put it more truthfully—bumped into him, that’d struck her as odd.
“You? What are you doing here?”
“Ah! You. You came?”
“Oh, don’t be ridiculous. Here is for every ... seeker.” When Ebelenna smiled, his white teeth dazzled in the nightlight that illuminated the crusade ground.
“Depends on what you are seeking for?” she jabbed, noticing he even had a copy of the Holy Bible clutched under his armpit.
The Christmas version of One Night of Liberation this side of Otolo had promised the full package: salvation, breakthrough, and—now seeing him too, she wanted to think—women.
These annual yuletide evangelistic vigils were sure to be the best places to find the kind of women he must be scouting for: broken-hearted spinsters wishing to crossover the New Year bearing engagement rings, and desperate housewives too.
Kanero had come here partially to satisfy Anulika’s plea and cleanse her soul of sin and the lustful thoughts that’d barraged her all week long.
“Well, aren’t we all sinners in need of grace? Did you miss me?”
The smile on her face gave way to an awkward one. “Me? Psst! Do I even know you?”
“You know you could have called, right?” he goaded.
God! “No. I wrote out your number on a piece of paper, lit it and flushed the scattered ash down the drain.”
“Aha! You memorized it!”
“I did ... not need to call,” she parried.
He loomed close. The essence of his perfume, which must have a name like Sweet Sensation or Ecstasy, flooded her nostril. Her knees trembled, and she nearly toppled into his arms.
“It’s almost midnight. Won’t you take me home tonight?”
“E-be-le! Fear God kwanụ. You’re standing on holy ground-o.”
“And you’re already wet, so much I can smell desire from here.”
“See how ya begging like those little almajirai children at Roundabout. So, na woman you come evangelism come find, abi?”
“I am not working tonight,” he defended.
She folded her arms, “What are you doing then?”
“Something my job ethics don’t allow.”
Suddenly, she wanted to hear all about it, because her heart missed a beat, thumped twice, and skipped again.
But, Dear God, you know say na atonement I been come do this night, not him. Not him! But you shaa know say I no dey hear word. So, I’m taking him home. Amen.
“Alright, let’s go. Fortunately for you, my co-worker, who I came with, left with a group of prayer warriors. I live alone. So...”
“You won’t be lonely, and I won’t charge too much this time. I promise.”
“You’re just a comedian.”
Chuckling, she guided him past a cluster of church girls chatting animatedly about “the music director wey give one girl that sings soprano belle.”
When they got to her flat a little after midnight, they were greeted by two silhouettes making out in the dark hallway on the second floor.
The Efik couple, probably back from one of the clubs, downtown. Obviously, their drunk urges couldn’t carry them through the last flight of stairs to the third floor.
“What’s wrong with those two?” Ebelenna grinned when Kanero let him into her living room.
“Ọ̀mọ́, na so we dey collect the thing here for those two hand-o. God just create them finish, carry love, and high libido do saraka for them.”
“Aww. I don dey feel for you-o.”
“Why? I get as much sex as I want.”
“Forget na.” She waved aside his disbelief and sauntered to the master bedroom. “Should I say welcome, are you hungry, or should we just get down to business?”
He ignored the taunt and scanned the exquisitely furnished parlour, dimly lit by orange lightning. “You have a nice apartment.”
When she joined him again on the couch, with two glasses of Smirnoff, she’d peeled off her churchy dress for a silky see-through nightgown.
“I earn well. I am not broke,” she replied, handing him a glass.
“So, why did he leave you?”
“Do you want to talk about him or ...? You can as well leave and not waste my night.”
Maybe that came out too harshly because he recoiled and spent the next few seconds sulking like a scolded child.
“Hey, I am sorry. I just don’t know. It’s frustrating thinking about someone you give yourself wholly to, but who isn’t man enough to stamp his decisions on the heart of his old folks. His name is Esomnofu, and we were on the verge of marriage.”
He brightened up a bit. “It’s okay. I understand. Mine has been a life of comings and goings too. Women are all I’ve ever grown up with and known most of my life.”
“Okay. That sounds funny, but, really?”
“I don’t have a real father. Okay. I have one. But he isn’t an actual ... you know? Man. She is my mother’s husband, sorta. And they’re all I’ve ever known.”
“Woah! Hold up.” Kanero sat up. “You mean to say, you have a mother, and a woman you call “father”?”
“Yup. Once, it was hard to accept, I was an offspring of two women. Like, come on, who can accept that?”
“I am a medical doctor. I should know that it is extremely impossible. Unless science has done things to the human system while I was busy screwing you back there at the Groove!”
“Or maybe, mother did it with a man to make me?”
“Ow-kay. Or that, too.”
“Well. That’s what happened. I got to meet my surrogate father when I needed to come to terms with my identity. Later, he started coming around our home. I was twelve then, and when he did come, the three of them did stuff...”
“Like what? Threesome?” Kanero enthused.
“Well, it’s a liberal world. Mum told me her marriage to my “dad” was customarily acceptable since the latter, an only daughter, wanted to have children who’d keep her family name.”
“So, she married a woman and borrowed a man’s pen*s.”
“Ha-ha! Crazy, right?”
“Wait-o. What part of Igbo are you?”
“I am from Akanu-Ngwa,” Ebelenna answered.
“You don’t mean it? I am Ngwa too! And never in my life have I known such lesbian relationships were culturally acceptable!”
“Well, we exist. I’ve not been to my hometown in a long. We left Abịa for Anambra, say 15 years ago. But my parents have decided we’d be spending the New Year there. Travelling on the 28th.”
“Oh. Great. How about we meet up at home? I heard the Ị́chụ-afọ̀ on 31st night will be taking a different dimension this time around.”
“Viva Africa!” Ebelenna ululated. “Wait, are you indirectly asking me to come see your people?”
“No. I am saying … Christ! You’re just full of nonsense! But I’m not sure my people will be exactly happy I brought a boy home instead of a man!”
“Alright. You’ve said it. I’m going to give you belle this night.”
He dropped his glass on the side-stool, spilling the content while reaching for her. They wrestled, teased, and cackled until they were out of breath.
It was past 3AM when they stopped. They spent the next minutes smiling at their tumblers, sipping the spirit, and probably congratulating themselves inwardly for discovering each other.
Ebelenna broke the silence. “Why did he really leave you?”
“Oh. He … decided he couldn’t put up with my hearing loss. Not about me this time. But about our kids when we had them.”
“Like they could be deaf too or something?”
“Yes. Like yeah. Deaf. Stone-deaf. Whichever.”
“But that is not reason enough. You’re a doctor, right? This might not be that serious.”
“Well, right now, if you ask me, I don’t think I’d want to bring a child into the world that’d forever be committed to using hearing aids. I mean, my life was almost not balanced after one stupid doctor like that almost ruined it with gentamicin. I got lucky, really lucky.”
Ebelenna edged closer to her. “I am sorry.”
“Hey man, feel sorry for me again, and I’ll walk you to the door,” she chided.
He exhaled in relief.
She was strong-willed, almost ceaselessly in control, commanding.
She sparked something inside him, something akin to ... love?
“You’re really stubborn. I want to think you actually chased this dude out of your life with a pestle!”
“Ha-ha! Idiot! He suddenly decided he didn’t want this girl from Ngwa. And you know what? I don’t need him, either. Now, you come here and make me scream again before I decide to borrow a certain Calabar woman’s husband.”
And they tumbled between the sheets. Again.
The Ị́chụ-afọ̀ festival raged on at the village square. It was high noon, and the clouds of dust, raised to life by the dancers’ feet, kissed the hazy brown sky above.
Masquerades, spirits of ancestors long gone, were about the earth. Their acolytes swept the floor with palm-fronds, so the deities trod on clean soil. The attendants chased away women, children, and non-initiates.
To the men who refused to acknowledge the spirits of their fathers by giving money, they gave harsh strokes of the long utarị̀, they carried about. There were twelve such divinities, each representative of the autonomous communities that made up Akanu.
By night, Mmụọ Ukwu, the deadliest of all spirits would be unleashed upon the earth to cleanse the clan of all atrocities committed in the calendar year.
And by midnight, the Great Spirit, after accomplishing this arduous task, would be sent back to ala mmụọ with cannon shots and firecrackers.
The people would usher in the New Year in high hopes that the old year had gone with all its disappointments and transgressions. But this could only happen in the dead of the night when no human was about. For now, men could make merry and gnaw at the last comestibles of the old year.
The Izeres were caught up in the same euphoria as their kinsmen. To crown it all, their “dokinta” daughter, the only palm-nut in their bunch, had come down from “the city” with bags and bags of Christmas goodies.
Why would Mama not dance? Her Kanero had survived the deadly “colonal drivus” that had wreaked mayhem upon the earth. And how about the End SARS protests that’d seen her scale the big Teaching Hospital fence to save her life when aggrieved youths raided the police station close by? What had they not seen this year?
“Both good and bad have we received,” Mama commented. “Ọ bụzi dị nga afọrọlaghụ ịlụ.” And then she stopped dancing and wore her serious face. “You didn’t come back with man, Kanerochukwu?”
“Akpọdila m, gboo—don’t mama me. What happened now? You said your Nnewi suitor would be coming with his people this December.”
Kanero nodded. “Yes, but, there was a little change in plan.”
“What kind of change, eh? What kind of change, gị bụ nwa?”
“Like we-no-dey-marry-again kind of change.”
“Ewoo! I knew it. I know you don’t want to marry. Ị dịghị ịnụ ntị— I don’t know if you stop using your hearing aids whenever you travelled back to the city. Káá, how will you hear men call to you when you don’t wear your ear now? Papa Káá, come o. Your daughter has refused marriage o.”
Kanero wondered how her father would react. She’d expected Mama’s hysteria. She most of all had been looking forward to this year’s ịchu-afọ̀, because finally, a particular suitor was supposed to relieve her of an almost overripe daughter.
It was not until evening that Papa came back from ámá—the council hall where every firstborn son of the soil met. He was in a jolly good pami mood when he walked into his small m̀gbé— the sparsely furnished living room. Kanero welcomed him with cheer and Mama with complaints. The old man sat down, tapped his snuffbox twice, and said his mind.
“My daughter is successful and smart, maybe a little too much. Strong, independent women scare men away. If you must marry, Nnem, marry a man. Not a chicken.”
Kanero could not help the giggle that escaped her lips at the imagery of Esomnofu with a cock’s head.
“Thanks, Papa,” she said, “I wasn’t even looking for a husband—”
“What were you now looking for?” Mama interjected, “So, ị chọghụ ịchụ́ alụụghụ-di n’afọna? You don’t want this old year to die with your spinsterhood?”
“Mama, you know I don’t mean it that way. I don’t have to look for one like I’m desperate. They flock about me.”
“Ehn? Where is the flock? Is it when we die you will let one of them bring out the grandchildren you owe us?”
“Mama, you raised me well, naa. So, I must make up my mind to give you and Papa the best son-in-law. In fact, one of my friends is on his way to see us. You might even like—”
A car honked outside and interrupted her.
“Oho-o! He’s here. Ebelenna is here,” Kanero announced, excitedly.
“Nnaa, batawa o.” That was Mama, wide grin and arms, getting out of her moods, to receive who, if God helped, was a prospective son-in-law.