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d'INK Writes

I Swear to You
By Binyerem Ukonu

Master’s fiancĂ© is one of those girls that do not know what they have until they lose them. She barked like a dog at every little thing that Master did. Even when Master had to stay out late in the night, because he sat at the bar with his friends to drink beer, she grabbed his mobile phone off his hand, and smashed it against the glass table at the center of the living room. She never said sorry for what she did. The next morning, after she had smashed Master’s phone, she insisted that Master needed to apologize to her for staying out with his friends. She threatened to throw pebbles at the plasma TV screen that hung on the wall, if Master uttered no word before she counted five from one. She was at number 6 when Master said he was sorry. He even called her Baby, held her right arm; the one that held the pebbles, and drew her close to his chest. Master kissed her on the fore-head, and told her that he loved her. She hugged Master around his loins, and never said a word. She never said she was sorry too, at least, for hitting Master’s phone on the center table. She never apologized for shattering the center table, and leaving the glass pieces all over the floor for me to gather them later. She only held Master by the hand, and led him into the bedroom.

The day Brother Theo came to the house to ask Mama to let me follow him to the city, I had gone to Mbaa to fetch water for cooking and washing of cloths. Nnamdi panted when he met me at the river shores. He had done what Mama told him to do; to run fast to the river, to find me, and to tell me to leave every other thing I was doing. “Even if the water is yet to settle,” he said, “drop the calabash and follow me at once. Mama is at home with Brother Theo.” I did not leave the calabash at the shores. I only held it under my arm and ran faster than Nnamdi, my younger brother. While running, I was careful not to step on young cassava stems, but the sound I heard behind as I ran confirmed to me that Nnamdi must have destroyed all the cassava in the farmlands. I never turned to see whose farmland he had destroyed. It did not matter to me. All that mattered was that Brother Theo was waiting for me at the house.

Brother Theo is Mama’s youngest brother. He stayed in Lagos, and we heard he was a business man, trading clothing from Cotonou to Lagos. He sold cloths that seemed a bit washed and smelt of the Whiteman. Mama said he sold bend-down, and Sister Joy – Mama’s immediate younger sister – called Brother Theo’s cloths Okirika. Whatever both women called his cloths never mattered to me. All that mattered to me was that they were beautiful, and that Brother Theo always gave me a skirt and a blouse anytime he came to see us at Orlu. He was the only one that remembered us after Papa’s demise, sending us food supplies once every month. He said Mama was the only mother he knew, and that I looked like Mama. Anytime he said that, I smiled and felt thankful for being his chosen niece. Brother Theo also looked like Mama, except that he had become a bit fairer and fatter than Mama. He said his fairness came from the constant use of air conditioners in the city, and that his size was as a result of his many visits to Mr. Biggs. I wanted to ask Brother Theo to take me to Lagos, but I was never going to tell him that it was because I wanted to feel air conditioners and eat Mr. Biggs.

“Nne, get your things ready,” Mama said to me. “You’ll be leaving with your uncle first thing tomorrow morning. He’s taking you to Lagos.”


“Yes, Nne,” Brother Theo interfered, “I’ll take you to Lagos, where you’ll serve a rich man and earn money for your education. You cannot continue staying in the village with a beautiful result in WAEC. You must continue to a university.”

“Brother, you mean I can make money in Lagos, and go to school?”

“Yes, my dear,” he assured me, “that’s what young girls like you do in Lagos. Don’t worry, everything is settled.”

Lionel Smit's AFRICAN GIRL
That evening, Nnamdi helped me pack my bags. He threw my underwear into the sack bag, to form a foundation for my red gown, and navy blue skirt, and my black skirt; the one I only wore whenever we had a youth anniversary at the mission. Later, when he realized I also needed to wear tops in Lagos, he carefully folded my red t-shirt, and placed it on top of the rest. It was the same t-shirt Mama stopped me from wearing, because the designer had sinfully written Kiss Me on the chest. Nnamdi said people in Lagos were not as holy as the people in the village, and that they wouldn’t even blink if I wore it. Nnamdi was young, but I trusted his words. Maybe, I did not argue because I had no other shirt apart from the blouse that I was wearing that evening. Together, we sought for my slippers, and when we found them, we wrapped them in a plastic bag, and forced them into the sack bag. I cut a short twine, and tied the handles together. I was done and ready to go to Lagos.

Mama woke me quite early that morning. She said Lagos people woke that early. She said they woke quite early because there were too many cars in Lagos, and that it was only wise to leave early before the go-slow would start building its terror. Mama said it was going to be nice for me to learn the Lagos life. I sat on the wooden stool, while Mama lay on her bamboo bed, chewing a stick. She paused, and spat on the mud floor, held the green plastic cup and drank some water. She raised her face towards me, and smiled, with a droplet of tear on her cheek.

“Nne, you have really grown big,” Mama said. She wanted to say something else, but she couldn’t.
“Mama, I’m already nineteen,” I hushed.
“Yes, you are my daughter,” She continued. “You will soon be nineteen, and men will be coming to knock on my door. I do not have that strength. I will tell all of them to go and see you in Lagos. You will marry the one you choose.”
“Mama, no man is coming to marry me,” I said. “Brother will help me find a good university in Lagos, where I will be schooling. I will not have time for those men.”
“Don’t say so, my daughter. You must try and have time for them. I must carry my grand children before I die.”
“Don’t Mama me!” She sat up. “You are not going to Lagos to serve a rich man and school alone. You are also going to look out for a handsome man, who is rich. He must help us out of this poverty.”

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