I gave it to her, you know; her wings. I bared all of me and knitted it into wings for her to fly with. Her name was Ugomma; the angel with a dream for a form and nought for a heart. And after she stole mine and ruined me, she flew away. I want to curse the day I met her but then again, meeting her was the best thing to ever happen to me. She was like the little blade of sunlight searing the distance between curtains; lighting up the cold dark room that was my immature heart. Ours was a love for fools if what we had was love at all; more like obsession and indulgence. I loved her and she loved that; so she indulged me, feeding me with portions of her that were not so much but just enough to keep me wanting for more. Then came the obsession; what a fool I had been!
She was married to my master; Chief Okezie, a burly old miser. I would have said that of his harem, she was his heartbeat; but the ogre was heartless. Some said it was the price he had to pay for his wealth; others said it was carved out and burnt to ashes by one of his many wives who didn’t live to confirm the story. It wasn’t my place to say but truth be told, there was no one in the village who did not want to carve his heart out, if he had a heart to spare. The man was a merchant in the city but he was notorious for his money-lending venture; all the way from faraway Lagos, his malevolence still held sway in the village. Only the desperate came to him to lend money and they never seemed to be able to pay back. He would, in turn, always take something incommensurate to pay off their debts; lands, wives even their children. Some to marry, some to give out and some to slave away on his farm. Imagine breaking your back on land that used to belong to your father and get nothing in return, save a roof above your head and scraps for food that failed to rid you of hunger but was just enough to keep you alive. If there was such a thing as a deal with the devil; Chief Okezie was Umunri’s equivalent. My father was one of such victims and that was how I ended up a servant boy; on the bright side, I was a puny little 17-year-old when he acquired me and seeing that I was useless on the farms, I was shipped off to the devil’s estate in Lagos.
Ugomma too, was a victim of such circumstance but she came out of the other end better off. She was his most prized possession, a quarter of all the servants catered to her every need and I happened to be one of such servants. From the moment she said my name, my brain became stupid with disbelief; of all the servants in the estate, why does she call my name? Why am I the only one she lets come close enough to overlap shadows? I was at her beck and call, even the very thought of me would cause me to appear. I was drawn to her like a moth to a flame; knowing the dangers but hovering still. If my thoughts were riddled with Why, then only her needs would be my Yea and Amen.
Gradually, her needs began to intensify beyond mundane tasks and teasing requests. She would ask me to climb the towering cashew tree in the orchard grounds and get the plumpest fruit I could find at its crown, or sneak into the kitchen to get some more meat from the pot. It felt like she was trying to test how far I would go for her and I was more than ready to show that my loyalty was unwavering. I would go on such dares without her asking; I felt like Heracles on his 12 labours, dauntless, in my mission to secure her dimpled smile. Sometimes, she would reward me with a smile; sometimes she gave me something more valuable. I once twisted my ankle trying to get her the largest pear I could find, she looked at me with distaste and said she was in the mood for pineapples. To an ordinary man, it would sound like a complaint, ungratefulness even, but to me, it was a treasure. It was a chance for me to serve her better, know her better. And it paid off because soon, she began to voice out her innermost desires. First, she wished the first wife wasn’t such a better cook than she was; so I filled her pot of soup with a bag of salt when no one was watching. When the Chief took his first bite and threw up on the senior wife, the delight on Ugomma’s face was to me, more reward than money could buy. Then, after I beat up a maidservant that scoffed at her, Ugomma took me to one of the many hiding spots on the grounds and had me lay my head on her laps as she sang to me; an ode to her hero. It was the first time my skin touched hers, through the thin thread of her chiffon skirt. And when the days bled into nightfall, the feel of my cheek on her supple skin, the sound of her voice echoing in my ear, haunted my dreams without end. I longed for more, panting at her feet; waiting for another opportunity to breathe her in.
I got my chance on a cold harmattan night; Ugomma had voiced rather loudly that she wanted to get some cherry from the orchard and I swiftly offered to go with her. The house was swarming with the yuletide bustle so no one seemed to pay us any attention. I followed her into the vineyards and sat across from her; listening as I always did, to her ambitions. My eyes will roam her body dotingly, memorizing every curve and line, every nook and cranny that my eyes could see. She told me of the lagoon, a vast expanse of sea somewhere not far from where we were, she told me about something called an airport and aeroplanes and other countries. She told me about how she longed to go overseas. When I asked her what she meant by overseas, she said the country she wanted to go to is called Malaysia and they had to cross the lagoon to get there. I was awestruck; what did I know? After the night journey that brought me to Lagos, three years ago, I had never stepped out of the estate and neither had Ugomma. All we knew was Umunri and the brick walls that now held us prisoner. I was confused as to where she was getting all the information from; so I asked her.
“Kalu”, she said, “I’m not a small girl o. I’m not like all these other wives with their heads full of palm kernel” I believed her, Ugomma was capable of anything and I knew it.
“I learn from the Tee-Vee”, she said. Only the wives were allowed to watch but I knew what she was talking about. “And this too…” she continued, her eyes were glistening with mischief as she reached into her skirt and brought out a box.
No, not a box, it was one of these things the Chief always seemed to be angry at, yelling into it like he was addressing someone. She told me it was called a phone and when I cringed as the light came on, she laughed a very hearty laugh. If I wasn’t so excited that I made her laugh, shame would have consumed me. She showed me pictures on the phone and I saw all the things she spoke of; the lagoon, the airport, Malaysia- I began to see through her eyes, dream her dream. I watched till my curiosity was fed and it was replaced with wariness. We were side by side now, knees touching and I was close enough to measure the length of her eyelashes but I managed to snap out of my compulsion and ask her the question that pounded in tune with my heartbeat.
“Ugomma”, I began cautiously, checking for any change in her expression. More than anything, I did my best to prevent her wrath. But she paid me no attention, she kept fiddling with the box, ehm… phone.
“Where did you get this from?” I continued, bracing for impact. She did not like to be questioned but this was a question I had to ask.
“Get what from?” her eyes still fixed on it, tapping away.
“This thing, the phone”, I answered pressingly.
“Ikenna gave it to me”, she answered unbothered.
Before I had time to process the blow she had dealt me, she made me listen as she went on and on about Ikenna. He was one of the boys that helped the Chief in his business, I knew him because the other servants called him Sharp and for the life of me, I could not find out why. Ugomma told me; he was the most wide-eyed, experienced hustler the chief had. The servant girls that slept with him always had something to show for it but this was the first time I had seen him give anyone a phone. But then, Ugomma was special and up till now, I thought I was the only one who knew. She told me that she wanted to escape, leave this place and start a new life in Malaysia and we could do it together with Ikenna’s help. She dared me to imagine; imagine us, imagine her, all to myself. We could finally be together in a better place away from the wretched spell of servitude that had been cast over our lives. It was tempting, but still, my mind was like a razor blade and she knew. I opened my mouth, I can’t remember what I wanted to say or ask, but before I could the strum out the sound from my lips Ugomma covered it with hers and I became numb. That settled it.
We went over the plan; Ikenna would make the preparations for us and we would provide the money. I cleaned the Chief’s study which was where he kept his valuables locked away in the giant wooden cupboard. Ikenna had already confirmed that the Chief received a suitcase of money but not the normal money I knew, another one they called Dollars. Ugomma would get the key on her night with the Chief and I would get the suitcase. The next morning, we would be out of the compound on our way to happy ever after. Holding my hands and looking into my eyes, she whispered about how amazing I am, how my bravery over the years had willed her heart to belong to me; only me and no one else. I was always meant to do this for her, she said, I was always meant to become her own. It was her words, it was the overdose of her skin on mine; I was drunk with desire, so I did it.
I took the suitcase and delivered it to her; then, I waited patiently for our sweet escape, our leap into the dawn, together. Dawn came and I roamed the orchard, shivering; whispering her name, like a farmer calling to his chickens. She was long gone and so was Ikenna; I don’t know how they did it but they did. I sank to the dew-soaked ground and wept; I felt the walls closing in on me and between sobs, I fought to breathe. Knowledge is a powerful thing; the reality of my abandonment forced a surge to my heart, a feeling almost electrical but indescribable, as it caused my heart to deflate. The absence of Ugomma in that garden was like a presence of its own; the awareness of my loss like a deep dark crater threatening to consume me. Soon, I was no longer alone in the orchard, strong hands grabbed me and dragged me to the front yard where I was battered. Even as the men in black uniforms drove me away, my wounds and my bruises could not compare to the agony within me.
Ugomma wanted to fly; soar as close to the sun as possible and she did. But I was the one falling.
Author’s note: Thank you all for your patience! It’s the second story of ST’ART and the 10th story on TIAR and I could not be more grateful. I want to thank you all for taking time out to indulge my imagination and pushing me to conjure up stories week after week, I can not do this without y’all! I also want to thank my friend, Olamma Onwuchekwa, for donating that stunning photograph of herself for a good cause; Olah, you are what Muses are made of! I can’t wait to hear everyone’s thoughts on this one and please don’t forget to like, comment, share and follow TIAR so you can get updates. Gracias! Tienes mi corazon!
Love, Rosie (xoxo)