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YObACHi

A Novella by Tunde Leye

YObACHi

A Novella by Tunde Leye

Copyright 2015 Tunde Leye


All rights reserved. The right of Tunde
Leye to be identified as the author of this
work has been asserted by him in
accordance with the copyright laws.
Layout & Design by:
Ayomidotun Freeborn

Child
What an adult sees sitting down, the
child cannot see from the top of an
iroko tree.
The announcer had called my name, Yobachi, as the winner of one of
the most prestigious literary prizes in the United Kingdom. Yobachi. In
my native Igbo, it means Ask God, and that was all my mother did after
she had me: ask God. I signed my work by my first name only and so
no surname was announced along with it. As I took the measured
steps from my seat to the podium in the midst of rapt applause, the
events that had led me here flashed before my eyes in technicolour.
What fascinated me however was that the pictures I expected to see,
those things I termed the landmark events of my life, were not the
images I saw. Rather, it was a different mash of events that might have
been deemed insignificant that now played in my head. I realised as I
took that walk that those events had shaped me more than I would
have ever admitted.
I was the third of three girls born to Igbo parents living in the then

capital of Nigeria, Lagos, a decade before Nigeria got its


independence. My mother, Obianuju, was a devout member of the
prayer group we called the Scripture Union and she was the
dominant influence in our lives. My father could not be bothered with
raising us girls. That meant that we were made to conform to the
image of my very religious mother. We could not perm our hair or do
the popular jerry curl hairdo that stylish girls donned in those days. In
fact, we could not plait any of the very elaborate local styles available
to girls who still carried their natural hair. Mother drummed these
words into our ears: Your Christianity is half secured when you are
modest. Modesty is next to cleanliness, which is next to Godliness.
And so with rigid military dedication, mother enforced stoic modesty
in all things on all of us. Twice a day, morning and night, we had
devotion. Devotion was the most important ritual in our house and
you had to practice leading the prayers a day before. Praying without
inserting different bible verses would earn you stern reprimands after
devotion and so we made sure we committed fiery verses to memory.
I especially liked the verses that called down fire and brimstone upon
all our enemies and mum smiled whenever I dramatically quoted
them when it was my turn to pray. I was eight at that time, and my
sisters were ten and eleven. For as long as we could remember, my
mother's most important prayer point, repeated at both devotions
daily, was that God would have mercy on her and grant her a male
child. Now that I remember it, I realised that this had subtly put into
my head over the years that one male child was somewhat superior

and more desirable to her than us, mere three female children.
I was ten years old when my mother's prayer was finally answered and
she had Afamefuna. In all my ten years, I had never seen my father that
excited about anything. On Afam's naming ceremony, he even
produced his rifle and shot excitedly into the air. My mother named
him Ugonna, but my father insisted on everyone calling him
Afamefuna. And woe betide if you made the mistake of calling him
Afam as most people who went by that name shortened it to. My
father would remind you sternly that he waited for thirteen years for
this child, and he would not be denied the full meaning that the name
carried.
And so, Afam came, and the rest of us became invisible. Afam was the
sun around which my parents revolved. My sisters didn't feel it as
much as I did. The first, Uzoamaka, was just like mother. She had been
apprenticed to a seamstress in Ikoyi and had moved in with her
madam when she turned fourteen and Afam turned one. Father was
only too glad to let her go; he would have one less mouth to feed. I did
not see Uzo again until the time she was getting married two years
later.
Cheluchi was my other sister, and she was very different from Uzo.
Where Uzo conformed to everything mother laid down as the rule,
Cheluchi was rebellious and constantly got into trouble with mother.
She was the one female child my father grudgingly showed some

affection towards. He always said she was a boy trapped in a woman's


body. Of all of us, she was the only one who learnt to speak Yoruba
from friends around the house. It was mother's mission to make sure
she made a woman out of her second daughter. As for me, Chelu was
my hero and it was her I wanted to be like in all things.
Although all attention was on Afam, mother suddenly discovered
vividly the moment any of her modesty rules were broken. I
remember one day when I got the beating of my life. Chelu and I had
gone to watch the soldiers' parade at Dodan Barracks from our
Obalende home. We had started making these visits frequently. My
sister was one of the early bloomers, and even at fifteen, her body was
full like a woman in her early twenties. Of course, a dashing young
captain called Usman had noticed her and she went to see him
frequently. She dragged me along so that mother would not suspect
anything, and we always went along with our bibles, so we could
claim we were evangelising the lost souls. Mother didn't mind
anyway - we were out of her hair for the periods we were gone and we
knew to be back before our 5pm curfew passed.
That day, as we got back, giggling in between our chatter, we didn't
notice mother eyeing us and fuming in the living room.
And where are you coming from, dressed like this? she asked. There
was no mistaking the tone of her voice. It meant one of us was going
to get it.

We both looked at ourselves and then at each other, wondering what


we were wearing that was different from what we wore usually. Chelu
was wearing what was then the standard Scripture Union gown, with
bogus arms, pleated lower half to hide any curves and turtleneck. The
only flesh that showed were her hands and face, with no earrings or
neck chain adorning her. She was not even wearing a wrist watch.
I was wearing a pleated skirt and a shirt mother herself bought for me
that conformed to the Scripture Union teachings. There was nothing
wrong with our clothes, yet we knew from her question that she felt
something was wrong.
We are coming from the barracks, Cheluchi managed to squeal, and
I brought out the bible I was holding behind my back as if to buttress
her point.
Oho, so that is why you dressed like this, abi? She stood up and
walked towards us. Then she moved to my own side and ordered me
to raise your hands. It dawned on me that I was the erring party and
my hands began to tremble. Unsure of why she wanted my hands
raised, I hesitated.
A heavy palm landed on my back and pain shot down my spine. The
slap spurred me into action and my hands shot up into the air. With
my hands raised, my lower tummy became visible.

You see! You went about showing off your body to men in the
barracks, you want to bring pregnancy home with your lack of
modesty abi? Mama thundered, poking my midriff.
But mama, maybe the dress just got smaller and Yobachi didn't
notice ni. This is like giving a dog a bad name to hang Cheluchi
tried to chip in.
A slap silenced her. Will you shut up! She didn't see any of the decent
gowns like the one you are wearing abi?
Cheluchi quickly beat a hasty retreat and stayed out of range of
mother's slaps.
Mother turned back to me as my trembling got worse.
Before you disgrace me, I will show you I have been longer on this
earth. The child that wants to kill the mother will not live to tell the
tale. I will not spare the rod and spoil you. The leftover punishment of
Judas, you will get it today.
With that, she produced the cane she had hidden behind the chair
and descended on me. It was the last time I accompanied Cheluchi to
the barracks. One year later, Cheluchi joined the army as a medical
officer. She told me one of the reasons she joined was so she could
have an excuse to wear trousers without mother being able to stop

her. I was left alone in the house with my parents and Afam.
That was when I took up writing stories to fill the vacuum Cheluchi's
absence created. In those days, the only way we could communicate
was writing letters, and I wrote lengthy letters to her, filling her in on
all the happenings at home. I remember the first reply she sent, along
with a few pictures. She had pierced her earlobe and was wearing tiny
earrings. Her hair was permed and she was wearing her army uniform
combat trousers. Mother had torn every single one of the pictures she
could lay her hands on in anger, screaming akwuna at the top of her
voice as she did. I managed to hide one in the calendar wrapping of
my literature textbook and I would look longingly at it each time I
pretended to study. And then I would write lengthy letters to
Cheluchi describing how I longed to be free.
In all this time, my father was a distant figure, living on the periphery,
only featuring in my life on rare occasions. We lived in the same
house, but I hardly saw him. He had built his house the way traditional
Igbo men did, with the wife and children's quarters separate from his
own quarters- his obi- and we hardly ever went there.
However, there was an enduring memory etched in my
consciousness for a very long time, and it took growing up to break
free from its influence. It was in the period that led up to Uzo's
wedding, and Cheluchi was yet to join the army. Afam was just three,
but as it was typical of little boys of that age, he wanted to walk on his

own two feet. We were going out as a family to the Apapa


amusement park, one of the wonders of that period and every child's
dream. We had ridden in my father's Datsun Laurel car and after we all
got down, began to walk from the carpark towards the main grounds.
I found myself walking a little ahead of them but close enough to be
part of the group. I suddenly heard my father's guttural voice call my
full name. Yobachi, will you come to the back to join your sisters and
stop walking in front with a gait as if it was you that brought all of us
out! Hian!
I definitely didn't see skipping in front in those lights but my feet
obeyed my father before my brain could fully comprehend what he
was saying. He continued lecturing me: You are always doing like
this, with your shoulder up. Don't you know you are the youngest
here?
My eyes unconsciously darted to my younger brother who I was older
than by ten full years. That statement didn't make any sense. My
father followed my eyes and caught on to what I was thinking.
Laughing, he said lightheartedly, Yoba, Afamefuna is a man, and the
place of a man is different from women. He is Onye Isi Ulo, head of the
house. I was going to say something to protest this logic, but mother
nodded in agreement and I thought it wiser to keep quiet. By the time
we were on the merry-go-round some minutes later, I had forgotten
the incident. But it left an indelible mark in me.

Girl
The one place I felt some freedom was school. Maybe it was because
it was an all-girls school. We were lucky in my house. My father's
friends who had their boys and girls around the same time had
educated their girls only up to Standard Six (modern day Primary Six)
and then shipped them off to learn a trade and marry. It wasn't
unusual to be married by eighteen. My sister, Uzo, followed this path.
But that wasn't because my father was unwilling; it had more to do
with her own acumen for book things. For Cheluchi, she was
admitted into Methodist Girls School. Mother had made sure it was an
all-girls school. She didn't want her daughters corrupted by any boys.
In those days, secondary education was what most people got and a
man who trained his girls up to secondary school level was ahead of
his time.
My case was a little more interesting. Afam was born around the same
time I sat for my entrance exams. It was a day after he was named that
the letter from the school arrived. I was one of the top ten students
that the government had offered a full scholarship for secondary
education. It was years later I would realise how close I was to not
going to secondary school. Father had been unwilling to spend

money on sending me to secondary school since he had a son, but


the scholarship and mother's insistence had saved the day. I ended
up in the same school as Cheluchi and secondary school turned out
to be one of the most enjoyable parts of my growing up. It must have
been why I threw myself into my studies so fervently- they were my
escape from home and all the things about home I wanted to forget.
And the most important part of that escape was the school library. In
the books there, I found women who were different from my mother
or the wives of father's friends and relatives that came to our house. I
realised that the options of how my life should go were before me. I
could become Uzo, conformed to expectation, or I could follow
Cheluchi's path and blaze my own trail. I was already on the latter
path, and I determined in my mind that it was exactly what I would do.
When Chelu joined the army, I was even more determined to become
an independent woman like her. A year after she joined the army, she
informed the family by letter that she had married Usman. Father
vowed never to speak with her again until he died.

Of course, I decided to bide my time. Whilst in school, I began to ask


around about how to get into the prestigious University of Ibadan. I
was going to finish my secondary school in 1966 at a record age of
sixteen and I thought if I applied myself well enough, I could get a
scholarship to go to Ibadan. My teachers were already speaking of the
possibility of me being one of the few female university graduates in

the years to come, and a very young one at that. I wrote to Chelu
excitedly about it, and when I read her response, I could hear her
shrieks of excitement jump out from her letter.
I sat for the university entrance exams about a month to my final
exams at Methodist Girls. I remember when alumni of the University
of Ibadan like the great Chinua Achebe and a white man, Uli Beier
came to speak to us about education and life at the university. I put in
my best and began to pray very hard at every devotion about my
university education. I dreamt about being at the university every
waking hour I had. Every time I said those prayers, mother would
smile, as if she knew something I didn't know. I wish I had been raised
differently and had the courage to ask her why she smiled so. Maybe I
would have also summed up the courage to find a way to run away.
One should never look back with regret though. Only thanks, for how
life has turned out, are in order.
A week to my graduation, shortly after my sixteenth birthday, I
returned home from school to a full house. There was a shiny silver
Mercedes car parked in our compound and it made father's Datsun
look very old. I passed the back of the house to avoid the voices I was
hearing. They were coming from father's obi. I saw the signs of heavy
cooking in the backyard as I skipped over the utensils still scattered
and entered mother's quarters through the kitchen.
The eagle has landed! I heard a familiar voice say.

I waited for my eyes to get accustomed to the darkness and


confirmed it was indeed a pregnant Uzo who was in the kitchen.
Which eagle? What are you doing here? What is going on? I fired in
quick succession.
You better go inside and see mother. She said, giving me a knowing
look. As I was leaving the kitchen, she squealed like she was forcing
herself not to burst the bubble Owww, I love surprises!
I was practically running as I entered my mother's room.
The nwuye ofu herself has landed! someone said.
I was dumbfounded. Nwuye ofu was what we called a bride in Igbo.
My mother's room was packed with women from her umu nwayi, her
age group, all decked in our traditional party attire complete with
headties. My mum was beaming at the center of it all, smiling in a way
I had never seen.
Mama, what is going on? Who is getting married? I asked, raising my
voice to my mother for the first time in my life.
The smile on her face vanished and the mother I knew resurfaced. Is it
six-year-old Afamefuna that will be marrying? Or Uzo that is married?
Abi Cheluchi that has gone to marry Hausa soldier? You are a smart
girl, so use that thing between your ears. Don't you know that God
answers prayers?

Mama, but I didn't pray for a husband, so which prayer is God


answering?
Did you not pray to go to university? Did you think your father was
going to pay for you to go to the university? Do you know how I had to
beg for him to let you go to secondary school, you this ungrateful
child? She bellowed in righteous indignation.
But mama, I'm hopeful I will get the University of Ibadan scholarship,
and all I will need is papa's blessings and
Shut up! You're such a headstrong child. Are you limiting the mighty
God I serve? You were praying for University of Ibadan, but he has
done Ephesians 3:20 for us. Do you know that scripture?
Yes mama, I said obediently. Now to him who is able to do more
than all we ask or imagine, according to his power at work within us. I
repeated it woodenly.
Well, you were asking for Ibadan, God has done London and you are
being ungrateful.
I was confused at this point. How did marrying me off to some man I
had never even heard of translate into university in London? She read
my confusion, and her demeanour softened.
See, your father betrothed you when you were eleven and now your

husband is here. He has been in London for the past six years and he is
going to take you with him and you will study in the same university
he went. You should be doing serious thanksgiving, see as God used
one stone to kill three birds for you. What some people twice your age
are praying for, God just gave you like that. Miracle worker. You get
husband, university education plus living in London at once.
I was bewildered by all this. It was too much to take at once. I knew
telling my mother that I hardly knew this man would be stupid. She
would never understand, really. She would remind me she hardly
knew my father when they married and they had been together for
twenty years with four children. I had never felt so helpless in my life.
While everyone around me was joyous and boisterous, ululating as I
changed from my school uniform into the attire already prepared for
me, I was moving in a haze. In those days, we didn't have telephones
everywhere and so I couldn't tell the only person in the world who
would understand the way I felt: Chelu. I felt alone.

A week after our traditional wedding known as the igba nkwu, I was
on the way to London on a British Airways flight with Ugonna, my
husband. I had convinced myself I could live with being his wife. It was
not like I had much of a choice in the matter anyway so I resolved to
make the best of it. I had written Chelu a lengthy letter telling her
everything, but more importantly, telling her how I felt about

everything. Years later, these and all the other letters I wrote to her
would be the main reminders of these feelings.
Ugonna was not a bad looking man. I was dark-skinned, and like my
polar opposite, he was as light-skinned as they came. He spoke Igbo
in a funny manner on the rare occasions that he did. What enamoured
me the most was the way he spoke English. He had soaked in the way
the onyeocha spoke and if you heard only his voice, you would not be
able to tell that it was an Igbo man speaking. I looked forward to
sounding just the way he did after living in London for a few years.
One thing he had not lost was the measured deliberate pace of
speaking that Igbo men possessed, along with our classic guttural
voice to booth. I believed I could make this life work if I put my heart to
it like mother advised me to do. Her words echoed in my head: If the
home is happy, it is the woman. If it is not, the woman is the one. Your
home is a reflection of who you are. And so, the little girl who was
living a regimented life in secondary school a few weeks before
headed for London to be the mother of a house.

Woman
Those first couple of weeks were a blur the regular things that
shocked first timers in London did not occupy a large place in my
memory. From the get go, it was clear to me that Ugonna was in the
same conundrum I found myself in. If he had his way, he would be
with one of his white friends, but his parents had prevailed on him to
come back home to honour the betrothal. Now that we were alone, it
did not take long for the Londoner husband to manifest his disdain
for his wife from home.
He complained about everything. The food was too Nigerian. Why
couldn't I cook it like his friends. My sense of style was local. My English
disgraced him. The pains I felt when we had sex disgusted him. Of
course, it didn't matter that I was a virgin and just sixteen years old. I
was his wife and I couldn't please him. Our marriage quickly devolved
into Ugonna having affairs, eating out and only the occasional sexual
encounters. I attempted to assert myself as his wife and confront him
on his affairs, but my husband never took me seriously. He acted as if I
was a child throwing tantrums. Maybe that was what I was, but I
deserved the dignity of being quarrelled with. That would have made
me feel human and worth something. But even that courtesy, I didn't

get. All he gave me was disdain. I never wrote about this to Chelu. I
didn't want to burden her with my marital troubles. I was sure she had
her hands full with her Hausa in-laws.
As my people would say, my body was full of children. So, in spite of
the sparseness of the sex, I became pregnant in the second month of
our marriage. I had several emotions running through me at the
news. Maybe it was the hormones, but my hands trembled every time
I thought about it. The dominant emotion was awe, that little me
could have life growing inside. Mother was ecstatic when she got my
letter informing her and she even went to Iddo to telephone us. Of
course, Ugonna was not around to speak with her. She prayed some
fire and brimstone prayers, covered me and the baby with the blood
of Jesus and then went on to give me detailed instructions on how to
take care of myself during pregnancy. It actually felt good to hear my
mother's voice. Distance had made the heart grow fonder.
It was in this time that events in faraway Nigeria that would again alter
the trajectory that my life was going on began to unfold.

News reached us of the Nigerian countercoup in which Igbo officers


were murdered in reprisal for a coup six months earlier. I feared for my
sister in this period, but was relieved to learn that she had been
working in Enugu at that time. Her husband was in Kano and she had

often complained about how hard it was being married to a fellow


soldier, a superior officer and a northerner rolled up in one. I always
teased her that she always chose the hardest options as if to prove a
point to life. It was this eventuality that saved her life, as well as that of
her husband now. Chelu would never see her husband again. The war
broke out and she was forced to become a Biafran officer, while her
husband was an officer in the enemy army. Chelu's anguish came
through in all the letters we exchanged in this period. She tried to
sound optimistic that the war would be a short one and that General
Ojukwu would lead Biafra to victory. She was able to locate the rest of
the family where they had relocated to in Biafra since she was a
military officer and used her position to ensure they were well
provided for within the limits Biafra's conditions set. I did my best to
comfort her but felt a guilt I couldn't explain that I was safe in London
while they were all living through the horrors of war.
Ugonna's behaviour got worse in this period. He moved from disdain
and ignoring me and became decidedly abusive, calling me all sorts
of derisive names especially around the fact that I gained pregnancy
weight. I chose not to burden my sister with all this. My own pain was
nothing compared to what she was going through.

The war was still raging when I had my first and second children. Biafra
had taken a serious beating and was on the verge of defeat. My father

had been killed in a freak accident when they were manufacturing


our locally made bomb, ogbunigwe. Mother was devastated, but she
had found refuge in her religion. We were not particularly close to
father and in my letter to Chelu in that period I confessed that I would
be lying if I said I missed him. I didn't know him enough to miss him.
Chelu expressed the same feeling, but hers was tinged with regret
that they never made peace before he died. In spite of her trying to
help them as the war progressed, he kept his vow never to speak with
her.
The war did not allow mama come for omuguo, the period of
customary grandmother care, so I had struggled to learn how to care
for them on my own. In many ways I was still a child and Ugonna did
not help in any way. Anytime I mentioned my university education,
he would curse me to the heavens and ask me if anyone in my lineage
ever dreamt of coming to London and how he had upgraded my life
and how much of an ingrate I was for asking for more.
Are you not an Igbo woman? Do you think it's your low intellect type
that they are looking for in the university? When you cannot hear
what I say well, it is the white people you will now hear. Rubbish. You
better stay at home and take care of your children. You think I have
your time. Onye ala!
I persisted in asking and he got more violent each time, breaking
things and making the children cry. It became less and less likely I

would ever go to the university again. I felt truly, truly trapped.


One day, I received two parcels from the mail. I wondered who had
sent them to me as they were addressed to me personally. Before
then, I only got letters. They were mostly Chelu's; mama sometimes
wrote too and papa wrote only once, to congratulate me on the birth
of my first child, Charles. He was dead by the time I had Ebube and so I
got no more letters. I left the packages in the living room until Ugonna
returned. I didn't want him flying into a rage if he saw strange items in
the house. He would assume I got it to undermine him or that they
were his items and I chose to poke my nose and open them before he
came. These days, he always found a reason to get angry. He was
careful though. He never hit me, because he knew the laws in this
country would deal with him if he did and there was nothing he
feared more than having to return to Nigeria. But he was creative in
his abuse, and he found ways to torment us, the children and me. That
day, he came back late, after I had put the children to sleep. I settled
quietly into the couch and began to unwrap the bigger of the parcels.
Who sent you these? Ugonna grunted from his lazy position on the
seat.
I heard him, but I chose not to respond.
Are you deaf? Or you want to be counting my voice? His voice was
more threatening.
I don't know, I responded.

He stirred as if he wanted to get up, and then he seemed to think


better of it and sank deeper into the couch.
The package revealed a beautiful aqua 1960 Singer portable
typewriter and a bundle of paper. On the first of the sheets, I saw
Chelu's familiar chicken scrawl. The world needs to hear your stories.
Write
I smiled in excitement as my hands danced to the second parcel,
eager to see what it contained. It was a box, the strong leather type on
a wooden frame with two buckles. I undid them. The box contained
all my letters to Chelu. It took a few seconds for realisation to hit me.
She was gone, the war had taken my sister from me forever and these
letters were all I had left of her.

I did not cry. I tried to, I really, really tried. But the tears refused to come.
I spent the next few days obsessively collecting all her letters to me
and arranging each letter and its response together chronologically.
Of course I was not as organized as Chelu, so I had to search for them.
One by one, I stapled them together and began to read them,
laughing here, giggling there. I wonder what kind of picture I must
have painted to Ugonna in those days. It must have looked to him like
I was losing my mind. He kept away from me and wasn't his usual
obnoxious self. There was one letter in the collection that was not

from Chelu. It was the letter that pained me the most, my offer of
scholarship to the University of Ibadan. Yet, the tears did not come.
It was something else that triggered the tears. I saw in the papers a
few days later that the war was over. If death had shirked its duty for
those few days, the war would not have taken my sister. It was also in
this period I discovered that I was pregnant yet again. I willed the
baby to be a girl. In fact, I prayed to God the way we used to at
devotion back home for the first time in my years in London. It must
have been the news of the pregnancy that gave me renewed resolve
to do something with my life. I had been waiting on Ugonna to make
my university education happen for four years. It was time to take the
bull of my life by the horns myself. I didn't say a word to him. I simply
picked up my typewriter and began writing.
The writing didn't come easy at first. It was very different when I was
simply pouring out my experiences to Chelu. Now that I was trying to
write deliberately, nothing flowed. I spent hours staring at blank
sheets of paper on the typewriter daily. I would write half a page and it
wouldn't sound right. The bin around me got filled with crumpled
paper.
Ugonna consistently taunted me by unfolding the junked writing
and reading them out aloud with an exaggerated Igbo accent. He
would finish by reminding me that I would never be a writer and that
all I was good for was bearing children. He wasn't even sure I could

raise them, he would say. I had learnt by this time to ignore him.
The writing grew in me like the pregnancy I was carrying. The first
trimester was the struggle, the nausea and the inability to write. As I
eased into the second trimester, the pregnancy got easier and the
writing flowed easier. Now, I was producing a beautiful tale and had
even been introduced to a literary agent, Rosabelle. She thought my
story was shaping up fantastically and was certain we would find a
publisher easily when I was done. I missed Chelu dearly in these days,
but writing became my new friend and we were getting closer every
day.

Three things happened in quick succession that changed the course


of my life. A call came from home. It was mother, and it was the first
time I was hearing her voice in three years. She sounded like a broken
woman. She had lost so much in the war. Father was gone. Chelu was
gone. They couldn't go back to Lagos, the house had been taken over
by some people and they simply heckled her when she tried to stake
claims. Maybe if father was around, it would have been different.
Mother now lived in devastated Umuahia. Afam had left home one
day and had not come back. She refused to believe he was dead and I
didn't want to be the one who would convince her to consider the
possibility. My heart bled at how resigned mother sounded. The only
time it seemed like a smile came through her voice was when I put the

kids on the phone. I wept quietly after that call.


After this, I found out that Ugonna had a kid with a white woman. The
kid was about Charles' age. I didn't love Ugonna, but I had been
brought up to respect the sanctity of marriage in mother's Scripture
Union meetings. It shattered what was left of the fragile thread that
held our marriage together.
When I confronted him about the child, Ugonna flew into a rage. He
had been abusive before and had broken things in the house. But I
had never seen him like that before. Are you questioning my
manhood? Are you questioning who the head of this home is? Is it
because I have been lenient and allowed you to do something? I will
show you! He kept shouting this way as he broke things. By this time,
I was eight months pregnant and I became afraid that he would hurt
me or the baby. My eyes kept darting to the phone. He noticed and
violently yanked the box out of its line.
You want to call the police abi? You want them to deport me? Witch!
he screamed.
I knew I was in serious trouble by then. The typewriter sat on a table in
the living room in a small space I had turned into a little office of sorts
for my writing. The finished manuscript for my first book sat on the
table. Rosabelle was meant to come the next morning to pick it up
and run copies to begin to hunt for a publisher.

That is what is giving you the mind to challenge me! he said as he


moved towards the typewriter. I reacted instinctively, putting myself
between him and the table. For the first time in the marriage, Ugonna
put his hands on me and shoved me to the ground. I couldn't move.
He climbed over me and attacked my typewriter, smashing it on the
ground repeatedly. I shuddered to think that maybe he was taking
out the rage physically on the machine since he was trying to
constrain himself from not attacking me physically with that
viciousness. Not satisfied with the carnage, he carried my manuscript
and went to the kitchen. My eyes followed him in horror, wondering
what he wanted to do with it. I didn't have to wait long. He threw it
into one of my large pots and set it ablaze, a twisted smile on his face
as he watched it burn. I tried to shout, but my voice was gone. I
sobbed quietly as I watched months of work burn to ashes. It was as if
the baby reacted to the horror before my eyes. My water broke.

Legend
I almost lost my second Cheluchi. But God was merciful and the
healthcare system in the United Kingdom was superb. I had her one
whole month earlier than scheduled but she survived. It was as if her
survival spurred her mother to be strong like the person she was
named after. I never returned to Ugonna's house after that. I moved
into a council flat with my three children. Rosabelle was my angel and
she helped me secure a job writing for some magazines. The income
was small, but one of the good things about the country was that
once you had work, you could at least feed and have a roof above
your head. I locked Ugonna into a corner of my memory and threw
the key into an abyss. I didn't even bother to try to get any child
support money from him. Not like he was keen on it anyway. I realised
I had lost myself and needed to rediscover who Yobachi was. Writing
helped me find this person over time. Rosabelle didn't put pressure
on me to write a book during those times.
She nudged me only ever so lightly. On Chelu's second birthday, she
brought a gift for the little madam. Before she left, she told me she
had a gift for me too. It was an exact replica of my old typewriter and
she had stuck a note that repeated my sister's words on it. That night, I

cried, finally allowing myself to cry for the loss of that final night in
Ugonna's house. As I rose in the morning, the story danced in my
head already. I began to work my typewriter and by Chelu's next
birthday, the book was done. This time, I got an even bigger present
on my baby's birthday that year- the response to my application for a
place at the University of London came through. Four years later I
would look back as I completed my degree, unsure of where the road
was leading, but determined to enjoy the journey all the way

Yoba, they are waiting for your speech, a pretty lady said to me
gently.
I smiled and adjusted the microphone. First, I would like to thank the
judges who selected my second novel for this award.

PHOTOGRAPHED BY: DOLA POSH

Tunde Leye is the author of novel the, Golden Sands


and children's book, Rat Race.
He is also the writer of fiction series on his blog
www.tlsplace.wordpress.com, including the popular
Finding Hubby.

His next novel is an Epic Fantasy story,


Guardians of the Seals, and is due out in the
second half of the year (2015).

@tundeleye