I have always longed to be in America. Going to university was never my priority. Even if I washed plates in America, or cars, or did masonry work, I would still earn more than in Nigeria, even were I a lecturer. Is it not money that matters? However it comes to me, I will be admired. When I return to my country with my Moreno jeep, every knee shall bow since that is all that matters: I am a big fish in a small river. But why should I travel to another man’s country to make money when I have everything in my own to eke out a living? Perhaps I felt my country was not enticing. I wanted an already-made country, where light shines both in heaven and on earth, where the law is not fragile but takes its full course for every culprit. In this place democracy exists, life is comfortable, and there is no preferential treatment.
My mother would always tell me, “If you wish to travel abroad, never marry an American woman. Your aunt married a white man and refused to return even after our father’s death. You cannot cheat an American woman like you would a Nigerian. If you do, at the pull of a trigger you will become a history. And after all the years I nurtured you to take care of me in my old age. You know how enthusiastic I am to have grandchildren. I would not want someone to give me one child and rest. I want grandchildren. I want as many as ten,” she said.
I told her, “Marrying too soon might be detrimental.” I cited the case of my best friend, Mike Ikemba. He made money in America, came home and returned again with his wife, Ijeoma Edith, thinking somebody might snatch her from him. But when they reached America, in less than two months she disappeared into thin air. Yet despite my preaching to my mother, she insisted I marry before traveling.
After my Mum’s speech, I could not stop thinking, perhaps she hates white women; but on the second thought, she was only being rustic. She cannot imagine how white women kiss and hug friends and say “I love you” without emotional attachment. In Nigeria, for a man to kiss a woman, there must be something suspicious. In any case, I did not listen to her. I am the kind that holds the culture of my country tenaciously, like Americans with their patriotism. Suddenly I realized: Blessing Ibezi was the only woman I ever loved.
I told my mum, “Now it is time for me to travel, but we must pay Blessing’s bride price before another man snatches her away from me.”
“But she is still in secondary school.”
“Her family is financially strained, and it is expected for a man to support his future wife in secondary school and at university,” I told her.
And she conceded the point.
~ ~ ~
When I arrived in Toronto, my aunt and her husband and children were happy to see a brother from Nigeria.
My aunt’s house was enticing, with flowers of different colors and small trees of various sizes; carpet grasses were glittering on the ground. I saw a small boy on a swing. He gazed at me. His mother called, “McDonald, come and welcome your uncle from Nigeria.” McDonald embraced me with great joy.
“This is my last child; he is now six,” my aunt said.
“What of your first son McDavidson who is now a medical doctor?” I asked.
“He has gone to work,” she replied.
As we talked, his husband and a girl child came out and welcomed me.
I said to McDonald, “Kedukwanu? How are you?” and I was taken aback when he said nothing. I asked my aunt, “Have you not taught them Igbo dialect?”
She replied that none of them knew Igbo.
“Is a terrible thing,” I said. “Americans hold on to their language, but you come to another man’s land and abandon yours? When Americans come to Nigeria, they don’t abandon their language. They learn Nigerian but still hold onto theirs. You must teach your native language to your children.”
Her countenance changed after my sermon.
As I stayed, things became more and more boring for me. In the morning, everybody would leave the house, and I was left alone. Jimmy, the police dog, did not know my strange face and avoided me. I realized I was not in Nigeria. Here, everybody goes on their own. I complained to my aunt about my loneliness.
“Go look for a job. You have arrived to Canada,” she said.
Soon after, we left for a nearby African restaurant. My aunt ordered and I asked the waiter for water to wash my hands.
He did not quarrel, but my aunt took offence and said, “Why are you embarrassing me?”
“I am not embarrassing anybody.”
“When you go to Rome you must behave like the Romans.”
“I hope you are not quarrelling because I prefer using my hands to eat.”
“Of course I am.”
“Americans use cutlery because it is their tradition. I enjoy my meal most when I use my hand, because that is what I was taught. You should not be sad when I use my hands to eat food because it gives me joy.”
~ ~ ~
On a Monday morning, as I was looking for work, I saw one of our family friends, Damian. He was known to parade himself as a medical doctor whenever he returned to Nigeria.
I called to him, “Okwute” three times, but he did not answer. I ran up and pulled his coat. “I have been shouting like a parrot and you don’t answer!”
“I don’t go by Okwute in Canada. I answer only to Damian. When did you get here?”
“You should call me Damian. When we’re in Nigeria you can call me Okwute.”
“How are things at the hospital?”
“What hospital? Look, I don’t have any hospital. I work in a restaurant. If you want, I’ll introduce you to my manager.”
“I thought you owned a hospital in Canada.”
“Even if I said it, I did not mean it. Shall we?”
I realized that the saying, “A well-travelled man is more experienced than a gray hair” is not necessarily true. Some people can travel and come home to say what they have never seen on the course of their travels.
We reached the restaurant. It was a beautiful. People of different races ate there. The hospitality was superb, and when anything was demanded by a customer waiters did not hesitate, though it made their work burdensome. A woman, Isabella Ferguson, was the owner.
James told her, “This is my friend from Nigeria who has come to Canada to stay with his aunt. He is searching for work, and he seeks help from me. Perhaps he can join me in the washing of plates.”
“I have no problem with that, if he is industrious and on time like you. What is your name?”
I traveled to Canada thinking money would fall from heaven, without considering education. Education, they say, is an enticing thing. In Nigeria, when industrious students were busy burning their candles in the night, I was out at the clubs. I thought, if my peers who did not go to the University made it in America, so can I. But I was myopic. I did not know that in America some of them continued their bad life. It is true, I got the job and it was quite lucrative. But while others were taking their weekend rest, I took a second job to make enough money to support my wife in Nigeria and to assist my family as well. I struggled and came to the conclusion that there is no easy way to heaven.
~ ~ ~
Six months later, suddenly it was September. Blessing wrote to remind me that Christmas was around the corner. I worked harder to make my wife happy on Christmas, but it seemed that was not enough. Finally, I joined a money-making club. All I had to do was execute an errand perfectly and promptly, and I would be paid a considerable sum. One day, I was given three footballs to deliver to a man I did not know. I was given his address and went for the errand thinking it an ordinary one. On the way, I was stopped by three Canadian police. They asked, in a teasing way, if I was a footballer. I said no. They wondered why I was holding three footballs when I am in no way affiliated with the sport. After proper scrutiny, they discovered what I was carrying was no ordinary football. I was apprehended for the content and consequently sent to seven years imprisonment.
As I served my prison term, my brother in Nigeria told me that my wife, who I supported through university and to whom I’d always been generous, had married another man.
My brother said, “The money you sent to Blessing was squandered on her lover Kennedy Odibe. She revealed her true self after you stopped sending money and when she heard you were to be imprisoned for seven years in Ontario. Perhaps she thought, even if you come out of prison, since you did not go to the university you will have to start from scratch. We decided not to support her as well; it is building castles in the air. Since her new husband is a barrister, she did not hesitate in detaching herself from our family—a bird at hand is better than thousands of eagles in the bush.”
“So my brother,” he continued, “one year remains until you to get your freedom. You must know that friends delude friends. What got you in this mess was lack of patience. You wanted to make fast money, to tell people you could make it in America in one year. You wanted to satisfy your wife’s desire on Christmas. Like your friend, Mike, who is now in prison. He was caught by Spanish Customs last year carrying hard drugs. Before then, he’d come to Nigeria and remarried, since his first wife left him when he was in America. He took a Chieftaincy title, “Eze Ndi Igbo Nke Mbu Gburu Gburu. It is a pity, because he will wither in jail with his title.”
I told him, “Do you see why I did not want to marry immediately? Blessing might have come to America, and after two months or three of marriage requested a divorce. She might have given me one child and told me one is enough and preferred to enjoy herself. Anyway, it is clear she never loved me. Perhaps she married me so she could say she was a wife to someone in America. Mum thought marrying a Nigerian was a prerequisite for an ideal marriage. But it might interest you to know, younger brother, that since I entered this predicament, there is a white woman who had been visiting me.
“We became friends when I first came to Canada. Rosy came to the restaurant, and after eating, she forgot her hand bag. I took it home with the intention of giving it back the next time she came to eat. I told my friends about what happened, they told me not to return it, but I gave it back the next day. She was surprised, and said, ‘So, good people still exist in this world.’
“As to my crime, she knew that it was a consequence of bad friends. No sane person would befriend a criminal offender.”
After my speech to my brother, he left in tears.
Following my prison term, I returned to my aunt’s house. Soon after, I came to fall in love with Rosy. I thought of marrying her, though I had no knowledge that her father was rich. We married, and he helped me enroll in the university, to study law. Before my graduation, my wife gave birth to a boy. We named him “Ugwu Stanislaus.” In this instance, my wife cannot say I cheated her, because his name comes from both English and Igbo. We traveled to Nigeria where I began to practice law. My mother was very happy to see me with my child and wife. She told me that Blessing got the AIDS virus, and confessed from her sickbed that she infected her husband, Kennedy. Both Blessing and her husband died last year of AIDS, without any child.
~ ~ ~
Ugwu Stanislaus loves creative writing. He was born in Nigeria in 1993, and he currently lives in Nsukka in Enugu state. He has recently finished his secondary school education.This is his first professional publication.