Chizoba glued her eyes to the ceiling fan hook thrusting out from the ceiling board in her one room apartment in Owerri.
“Why isn’t a fan up there?”
She asked herself for the umpteeneth time. It had been barely four years since moving into the apartment after completing her one year youth service program. Why did the hook exist? Did it mean that the landlord still had plans for the building six years he began renting out the rooms? She had a small standing fan that already served the purpose. She stared repeatedly at the hook like one hypnotized by road side magicians at Douglas Road,
“Who knows, you might serve a purpose someday”
Chizoba had returned yet again from another stressful day of job hunting under the kindness of the blazing sun, which gave the sky a crimson complexion as it retired, sinking slowly into the fluffy horizon, as if to rest for a job well done. Earlier, she’d dropped her CV at the office behind UBA bank. She’d secured an interview with O&O group of companies the next day.
She soliloquized loudly, gesticulating with her fingers like an artist painting a precious portrait hidden in plain sight. She would sink in thoughts at the slightest chance, thoughts deeper than the bluest of seas, one that could swallow a trillion megalodons. She would be twenty six by the end of the year. Was this her fate after the four stressful years in the university studying banking and finance, graduating with a first class, a one year national youth service program and the additional four years wasted in job hunting? Why was she told that she would get a job if she focused and made good grades? Why was she asked to study hard?
She only survived on the little financial support she received every now and then from her parents and her close friends, which were all waning as the months went by. This wasn’t the life she dreamed of as a child. She had envisioned a life where happiness and satisfaction would enshroud her job as a banker in one of the popular banks, she wanted a life where as a career woman she can go on holidays to any country of her choice and enjoy her singlehood. Her parents were at a stage in which her assistance would be greatly needed, this she was willing to give them through any positive means possible, they had from the outset, sold lands and other valuable properties to ensure she got quality education, but the ever sharp spikes of fate had pierced with futility, her desire of rewarding her parents.
Chizoba’s one room apartment had on one side, her cooking utensils, cutlery and plates sitting gallantly with the aura of an important guest, a bathroom and mini wardrobe. On the other side lay a jumbo sized foam arranged neatly in proximity with the wall, leaving quite a suitable space for movement or dressing up. Of course, one with good observatory skills would shower encomiums on the architectural prowess employed into the construction of the ten room flats located in the heart of amakohia where she occupied a room out of the ten.
Chizoba lived a private life, her neighbours only knew basic details about her, which included that she was a graduate currently job hunting and in addition, a very respectable young lady who never had time to explore the contours of the city with men like her age grade would. Her light skinned complexion was complimented with an hourglass physique, her long hair usually gelled and rolled into a pair of buns on the left and right sides of her head, a pointed nose, delicate dreamy eyes whose long lashes seemed like a properly groomed bouquet of flowers each time they locked together, and neatly arranged teeth that revealed themselves whenever she parted her lips.
Standing at an enviable height of six feet, a rare endowment amongst majority of women, one couldn’t help but wonder if God kept her aside for creation on a Sunday morning. She was indeed a classic work of art whose presence sent chills of intimidation down the spines of other women. Whenever she walked down the road, they stopped to stare. Chizoba had despite her flaws such as her poor relationship with individuals and inability to admit when wrong, she imbibed humility, self discipline, hardwork and respect for all as core values, courtesy of her parents who never spared the rod as that was the abnormal norm for an only child in most homes. This made her scared of letting go of her high moral standards, although she had been lured time after time with exotic jobs, expensive gifts and other tempting offers by connected men and big boys who run the town in exchange for sex.
She’d sworn never to budge. After all, she had ventured into the path of living an exemplary lifestyle of piousness and care for those less privileged than her whenever she could, it would be nothing short of sheer absurdity to back out now like a few friends of hers from school who had all long succumbed to the pressure of the randy society, being dropped off every now and then by a variety of exotic cars, flooding social media timelines with vacation trip pictures from Dubai, Mauritius, Seychelles, Bora-Bora just to mention but a few, clearly, only girls who were oblivious of the grotesque conditions met to attain this feeble height would bask in the pool of self hate and envy.
Things began to look up for Chizoba on the last Sunday of March. The day was almost being fully swallowed by the slow and steady jaws of dusk when suddenly its calm ambience was interrupted by her phone. It rang repeatedly until she picked up. It was her mother, calling to inform her of a strange ailment which had left her father bedridden for over a week and how much its treatment would cost and then about her uncle, Ekene who stays at Port Harcourt and his effort in trying to secure a job for her at Chevron oil company in Lagos State. He was optimistic it would work out.
Chizoba knelt down to pray for this job to come but she had given up on prayers and night vigils she attended religiously at pentecostal churches, She had experienced a rapid level of renaissance within her consciousness since she embraced the ever welcoming arms of free thinking, caused perhaps by the incessant rise in number of supposed “Men of God” who sneaked on passionately sculpted oratory hinds into ones pocket and vanished with his or her weekly proceeds, riding upon the logic defying request for one to bring money to God’s alter in return for blessings while condemning money as the root of evil while asking them to pray for divine solution when certain issues could be solved or better still prevented with ones common sense.
This sunk her deep into an ocean of thoughts, like an anchor in the deep blue. She finally arrived at the conclusion that the only valid end of prayer was to ask for God’s will to happen as it was bound to happen against all odds, prayers or not, what was bound to be would be. This solidified God’s omniscience nature, she was ready to throw this in the form of a big question mark to hook the throat of anyone perhaps a religious fanatic who might stumble across her and dismiss her stand as one reeking with insanity. The least she could do now was to prepare for the job interview she had earlier secured with JT Bank the next day for the position of a bank marketing manager. It was her dream job. If she didn’t get it, she’d go insane. She was thinking about all these as she revised and answered some past job interview questions which she had a stock pile of until she fell asleep.
Her name jumped out vibrantly from the baritone voice of a young man who called in candidates that had applied for the same position. She was number five on the list, while waiting, she had met and acquainted herself with Uche, who had a Ph.d in Marketing. He was among the seventy other candidates present who had Master’s degrees. They sat in ten rows like church congregants, everyone bore a file containing necessary academic credentials, a few reflected confidence and calmness while most chatted anxiously relieving various job hunting experiences
It shocked her that this many people had applied. She had just a bachelor’s degree, , but she’d earned a first class, At least, she had an edge over others even though Uche insisted on the supremacy and practice of what he termed “Sabificate over Certificate” here in the country where you get employed when you have people at the top, against all odds he encouraged and wished her well. Chizoba stood up straightened her skirt put on a smile and walked in with a poise of elegance. Anyone who saw her would think that she already worked with the bank and perhaps occupied a top position or that she didn’t have a single thing to worry about, but beneath the alluring lady walking in, were series of problems closely following her. She had to pay for her house rent which will expire in two months time, buy food stuffs and get some personal effects. Indeed, one would give her kudos for her ability to wear a heart melting smile upon these thorny issues as she walked into the Manager’s office for the interview.
“Good morning Sir!”
She said confidently between her hypnotizing smiles to a young man in his early forties sitting at the end of a uniquely crafted table, his well-nourished rind clearly exposing the fact that they never saw harsh conditions. A plaque stood at the corner of his table with the title MANAGER, JT BANK boldly inscribed on it.
“Good morning Chiii-Zooo-Ba, right?” he asked
She smiled as she said this, exposing her overwhelmingly white teeth. The manager seemed hypnotized by her.
He said immediately, recollecting himself from what seemed like a trance, focusing on her credentials with the aura of one who had seen countless CVs and only glancing through hers like a ritual which must be performed. Chizoba drew out the chair in front of her and sat, scanning the office within seconds. The art works which hugged strategic sections of the wall in creative patterning first caught her attention, followed by a rare type of gold encrusted chandelier which hung gallantly from the ceiling, illuminating the whole place with its splendour, and then a forty inch television which stood majestically, showing CNN’s Richard Quest spewing economic jargon.
Further out were two big air conditioners which exhaled an overdose of coolness and made one think the blazing sun venting from the skies was meant for a particular set of people. A pair of super comfortable white couch whose fluffiness could be felt with the eyes sat graciously at a designated side of the large office to form a sort of mini parlour. Chizoba dreamed of occupying such a position someday. Such positions weren’t meant for men alone, she thought, her eyes resting on the manager’s fingers. He had a wedding ring, beautiful than any she’d seen before. On one of the frames hanging on the wall, these words were boldly inscribed: LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF. Somehow, these words and the wedding ring assured her. He must be a godly man.
He said, raising his face slowly from the papers and closing her file.
“First class graduate in Banking and Finance huh?”
He spoke louder this time, fixing his gaze on her
“The job is yours”
These words entered her ears at first like a stranger stepping into the house of an unknown host. It was as if he was speaking in a different language, like French, one she didn’t understand. . She pinched herself to confirm she wasn’t dreaming or hallucinating. It was all real. She would keep her cool until she got home or left the premises then maybe, she would scream all she wanted.
“Thanks a lot sir, I promise to give this establishment my very best”
She said confidently, wearing a smile.
The manager offered his right hand across the table for a hand shake
“Congrats Miss Chizoba on your new position as the Marketing manager of JT Bank”
He said winking and smiling at her
He shook her gently, their hands still entangled. At this point, their eyes met. Chizoba wasn’t new to men and their advances or antiques. She’d seen worse during her days as a university student. She knew what he wanted. At first, she wanted to retract her hand and run out of the office, but there was something about the manager, her new job or perhaps both, something deep which overpowered her and glued her to the chair. Their eyes met and she looked away. He stood from where he sat and came over to her side of the table, she could smell his cologne as he got close brushing his body against hers. He took her hands, leading her to the neatly arranged couch in the office.
She didn’t protest. The distance between where she’d sat and the couch felt long, then short. Her start up pay would surely be nothing less than five hundred thousand naira, with an official car and a four room apartment in eastern palm estate. She’d seen these incentives listed in the flyer bearing the vacancy publication while shopping at destiny supermarket and wished she could live there. Was this enough reason to let herself go for this man? What was his name? She’d forgotten to ask. With this job, she’d be rewarded for her years of hard work and patience, her father would receive adequate treatment. She’d build a befitting house for her parents and a car to go with it, that still wouldn’t be enough to say thank you for all they’d done for her over the years.
For God’s sake, she thought, he is married! Maybe no one would found out.
His calm interrogative voice jolted her back to reality.
“Um, no sir!”
For a moment, she worried she’d spoken her thoughts loudly.
Chizoba recollected herself. She was now seated on the couch holding her skirt tight, her legs pressed together, she stared at the television but didn’t hear what was being said, she fixed her gaze at the chandelier which illuminated that section of the office and her eyes met with the manager’s once more which quickly fixes on the cream tiled floor. The manager noticing her uneasiness comes and sits next to her crossing his right arm over her shoulder
“Just feel free, you will be fine.”
He said, like soothing words said to a dying patient. Chizoba’s dilemma grew as he begins rubbing her shoulder, her eyes caught a blue flower vase sitting on the center table with a bouquet of sunflowers which reminded her of a randy lecturer Prof Johnson back in the university who tried his possible best to get in between her legs but gave up after her smart move of telling him that she was a newly wed who was three months pregnant. For a moment it was as though the flower vase was ominipresent during her difficult moments, perhaps trying to witness her defeat.
For a moment she admired his body which looked exactly like that of Dave, her crush during her first year in the university whose body build was somewhat similar to the manager’s – Tall, chubby and light skinned, except his belly which seemed to be at the incipience of protrusion, once again she smelt his cologne and seemed to be arrested by its sensual fragrance, she felt herself melt from within as he planted a kiss on her neck, she was helpless, angry, surprised, all at once. Soon, he was on top of her letting out vocals of pleasure while Chizoba lay supine – motionless, in a jaw breaking dilemma. She was angry at herself. Tears ran down both sides of her temple and into her ears as painful moans escaped her lips. Within a few minutes, he buckled his belt staring at her as one would at a mouth watering meal, leaving her to wipe the blood stains off the couch.
“Here, take my card, call me tomorrow. I’ll need to see you one more time. In the meantime, I’ll start drafting your appointment letter.”
He dropped the card on her exposed thigh and walked back calmly to his table. Chizoba felt a piercing pain in her heart. She had betrayed herself and made a deal with the devil. She took the card, dried her tears amidst soft sobs, walks to the door and opens it
She managed to say, he lifts his face from the laptop before him smiles a little and focuses on what he was doing once again. Before shutting the door, she sees a surveillance camera on the ceiling. Why hadn’t she seen it before? She had heard several stories of blackmail and she need not be told that this could amount to one if she didn’t play along. She shut the door behind her. Her head felt heavy on her shoulders. She was desperate to lie on her bed, cry her eyes out and stare at the fan hook up there in her ceiling. The hook always seemed to cradle solutions to her problems. She flagged down a taxi and held herself together until she opened the door to her apartment, and as she lay on her foam, she felt the weight of the world pressing upon her shoulders,
“This is indeed a gift from devil himself – a head for a head”
She muttered, her voice full of agony,
“Why did I sell myself so cheap!? Why!?”
She screamed, her voice dissolving into tears. She bit into her pillow and cried until she fell asleep.
It was a Monday morning, the week Chizoba was to be driven to her office in her official car. , Everything seemed to have aligned in her favour. Even the sun hung humbly in the sky, pelting its rays downwards with more caution. When the driver arrived at her new official residence, he had with him her appointment letter and wore a smile on his face.
“Good morning Ma”
He said to a woman in her mid fifties who sat by the step of the entrance to Chizoba’s room
“Yes my son, how are you?”
She asked with an air of motherly tenderness
“I am fine ma. Here to pick up Miss Chizoba Okoye for work, I’m her new driver.”
He said confidently. She quickly springs to her feet does some native dance moves after which she hugs the driver. Clearly, it was obvious that Chizoba’s mother was overwhelmed with joy as she too was bearing an appointment letter from Chevron oil company for Chizoba, who had also been employed as an accountant in the company with an official apartment in Lekki, Lagos
“I’m her mother.”
She said, as she received the appointment letter on her daughter’s behalf.
“I’ve been calling her number and it has been ringing but she has refused to pick up so that I can at least give her the news of her father’s demise last night, I will wait here until she returns from wherever it was she went to.”
She said, her face dissolving with worry. One could tell she had been crying not too long ago.
“A neighbour of hers informed me of how rarely she interacted with them. They couldn’t tell her whereabouts. Maybe she travelled because her protector is locked.”
The driver moved to the protector to confirm it was actually locked. He gave it a gentle push, and the protector swung open, he carefully rested it against the wall in the bid to prevent a sharp disjointed metal from the protector from causing harm. He made for Chizoba’s door followed closely by her mother. When he turned the handle, the door flung wide open. A stench graced their nostrils but they weren’t really sure what it was, the driver quickly covered his nose ran out and and spat, this raised the old woman’s curiousity as she now follows the driver closely into the room with her eyes asking him over five times what the problem was. At first it seemed dark as the windows were shut, but as his eyes readjusted to the lightening condition, he gasps, immediately she ran inside her eyes met Chizoba’s body hanging from a rope fastened to the fan hook and a paper on the floor which has on it boldly written:
BEWARE OF WOLVES IN SHEEP CLOTHING, I AM SORRY DADDY AND MUMMY – ATLEAST, I FINALLY LEFT THE LABOUR MARKET, I WON.
Chizoba’s mother couldn’t find her voice or the right words for a while after which she let out a scream, the type that could inflict one with an instant headache,
“Ada-mo! Chi-mo! My only daughter! igbuo’m, You have killed me!”
She lifted herself in lamentation and in a bid to land on the floor, she lost her balance, slipped and dug her head into an exposed sharp metal poking out from the door protector. She landed on it with a thud and within few seconds, submerged in a pool of blood, she convulsed then her body went still . The driver had untied Chizoba’s body with the help of a neighbour before realizing that the woman who minutes ago was lively now lay in a pool of her own blood, it happened like a movie . It was a gory sight to behold. A crowd, mostly neighbours materialized immediately with the desire to squeeze themselves into the room and see for themselves.
“ I saw her return last week, she was quiet as usual and composed but I suspected she wasn’t okay, I may be wrong, I may be right”
Said Kamsi a youth corper who lived in the next room after Chizoba’s. He fixes his gaze on the floor while thinking of what could have possibly gone wrong
Everyone who was told about the event would either shudder or give a heart melting account of how unique a person Chizoba was. Some took to argumentative lamentations on how a young, well behaved young woman would resort to taking her own life.
“She greets you each time she sees you as if it was the first time seeing you, such a well behaved girl, such a beautiful girl, she was my best customer”
Lamented Nkechi a woman who sold provisions in the next street as she leaned on a tree stump just before the entrance to Chizoba’s room
“Ewoo, nwa oma! She was well behaved, death why!?”
An elderly neighbour exclaimed in anguish. Perhaps fate has drummed its beat for its beloved dancer.
What's Your Reaction?
A pan-African writers' collective and publisher