BOOKHOUSE PRIZE-NAKED COIN
NAKED COIN BY ALBRIN JUNIOR
Naked Coin follows the travails of an Igbo family in the era of the Biafra War who though lived outside the Biafra land were nonetheless affected by the tribal strife and patriotic over-zealousness surrounding the pre-war years and its antebellum.
Ikenna’s family found wealth; they lost it all and would be driven to search for it again by all means. Ikenna found love before the war, he did foolish things for it and counts on love to see him through the horrid times as they ran from jungles to villages and back to jungles running away from war zones and deaths.
In the end, deaths caught up with them, penury did too, love failed them, and an assumed brotherhood betrayed them.
Ikenna and his family, or what is left of it must relearn to forge new survival paths around the same things that punished them; family, money and love.
Nothing was the same anymore, not only in our home but also in the country. After the two coups, tension was heating up and Igbos living in the north were being massacred. That was the beginning of the rumors of retaliation by the Igbos whose lands the northerners’ reside in.
Papa’s view hadn’t changed. He still believed his Igbo brothers shouldn’t have tried to usurp power in the first place. He argues that they are no better than the north and greed was their driving force.
“I am telling you danger is approaching,” Papa told Mr. Oyibo fervently as if what he was talking was already happening. He got into argument with almost everybody who cared to argue, this was a trait he had long dropped when he got a miracle job, and little by little, he’s revisiting the habit.
Mr. Oyibo didn’t say much, he never did.
The sun was just beginning to set that evening when they both sat outside discussing, at least that’s what Mr. Oyibo intended, but Papa was doing the opposite.
“The pogrom is part of the growing tension between the east and the north,” Mr. Oyibo stated boldly, “Hope you are aware of that?”
“Which is as a result of the Igbo greed, why did they usurp power in the first place?” Papa asked, “Why begin a fight that you can’t win? Do they think the British were not wise to hand power over to the north; they had eyes and still do."
“Do you think these unrest and massacres can lead to a civil war?” Mr. Oyibo asked innocently.
“No. greed and selfishness will lead to war and that’s the part the governor general of the east is treading,” Papa answered assuredly.
“I think so too,” he replied, “Especially with his menacing remarks against the FMG, it shows he has a hidden agenda.”
“This creation of states by the military government is for the eventuality of war,”
“You think so?” Mr. Oyibo asked.
“I know so. From my calculations, I think twelve states will emerge eventually from this creation. Their aim is to isolate the east totally from the oil producing states.”
Mr. Oyibo nodded as he mulled over what Papa had just said. There was sense in it, even though all were assumptions; they seemed well calculated.
The noises on the street were getting louder, feet were heard in a hurry, and it was obvious they were returning home from work. Papa I have a feeling missed that, coming from work to take his bath, then tie his wrapper around his waist and ask for his food to be served him. It was a routine, one that he sometimes relives just for the experience, but as we all know, the best way to relive a thing is to actually live it.
He should have ceased the opportunity to live it this morning when he was visited by Mr. Shehu, but he didn’t, instead he told me to tell the poor messenger that if they know him as they claim, they would know that his decision is sacrosanct, that after all they have done their worse. You should have seen the look on Mr. Shehu’s face after I had delivered the message, I couldn’t tell if it was one of disappointment on not getting his cooperation or if it was pity, for the bad road that’s still ahead of us due to Papa’s decision.
It got Nne so angry at her husband that they quarreled for almost over half an hour, throwing words at him for being selfish, and lazy. If he wasn’t selfish, he would have considered his family before taking such stance, and lazy because now that he’s facing the consequences, he’s too lazy to look for work elsewhere. Not that he'd find any in the government establishment, his name has been blacklisted, but he was too lazy to use the money he had saved to start up a business, that’s if he had even saved. My concern was my tuition fee for my resumption in few months’ time. He never replies whenever I ask him about it. I knew this was trouble for me.
Christmas passed and then came a new year. There was still fear and tension in the country as months flew by, and in our home, we were changing too. Not for better, but at least not for worse which isn’t far off if we continued in this way. Eating twice was being rationed. You divide your food into two halves so you can eat one mid-day and the other at night. It became clear Papa had no savings, the little he had didn’t even last us through the season of festivity. He now went to the market himself to buy whatever we needed, not because he wanted to but because he felt he knew how to buy good foods and could negotiate heaven and earth with the market women, and importantly, he didn’t want Mama to gain a kobo from buying foodstuffs. It occasionally bounced back on him as he would buy less quality products and even cheated in most cases. I remember having followed him one day to buy yam, I couldn’t tell if he was pricing or telling the woman his condition so as to be pitied, it rarely ever works. We all were sick of this new attitude; it was more frustrating to Nne.
It was mid-June; Papa hadn’t said anything about my schooling, from the way it seemed he didn’t even care. Three months since school resumed and I’m still home, I wanted to go make new friends, I wanted the opportunity to see Ivie, hoping she would have found the money for fees.
I met Nna in the parlor listening to the immobile radio, I wondered what he’s listening to because I heared nothing.
“Papa,” I called his attention.
He didn’t look at me. He just continued tuning the radio hoping to hear any broadcast. He had been doing that since May 30th after news broke that the governor general of the east had declared Biafra. The news didn’t come as a surprise to him, not since when Ojukwu had been advocating for secession.
“Nna,” I continued, “you still haven’t said anything about my school, they’ve resumed and I’m still at home.”
“Don’t you listen to the news? Soon, there will be no school to go to,” he still didn’t look at me; his attention was fixed on the radio.
“But Nna, they didn’t say anything about a war, the man only declared themselves as Biafra and that doesn’t change anything,” I said grudgingly.
“And that doesn’t make you think the federal military government won't order a retake of those states? It is criminal for a group to go against a country and declare themselves a country inside another country. It’s illegal of them.”
“Even if they do Papa, it’s between the North and East, it has no business with the mid-west.”
“That’s what is killing us in this country and will continue to if care is not taken,” Papa retorted irately, “it affects every one of us whether we like it or not.”
“Okay Papa, I’m not arguing we aren't. All I am asking for is tuition fee so I can resume.”
“And so you want me to get the money where?” he retorted, “From the job I've lost or from what I borrowed for us to feed?”
“Can do what,” he interrupted, “tell me, can do what? My friend let me tell you, it’s not a must I send you to school, my own father didn’t, I trained myself and you are not too young to do same.”
I didn’t know what to say, I just stood there staring at him. Why now, why me? This was my chance to have a normal life, make new friends and maybe even see Ivie again and he’s not willing to be a part of it. Nne warned me not to put all my trust and hope in him, or on any man but I did and before me were all the hope and trust I built crumbling down.
Days had swept passed and I still haven’t wiped away the disappointment on my face. I almost cried but didn’t, men don’t cry or at least I don’t. I thought about what I would miss if Nna eventually didn’t pay my fees, I would miss the most - getting the chance to see Ivie once again. I wasn’t going to give up, not just yet.
I started for the parlor only to meet him talking to Igbane, I wasn’t expecting anything less, not since the breaking news that General Gowon had ordered the military to retake the eastern region, “before their secession madness got out of hand” according to Nna’s words. I sat opposite them for Papa to see my face and know that I was worried and he can ask me my problem and I would write him a full page of my pain.
“If care is not taking, this is the beginning of a civil war,” Papa told Igbane with full confidence.
“I think so too,” Igbane replied still mulling. “I think Ojukwu had underestimated the man in power, believing he’s a gentle and compassionate leader and would not respond.”
I kept my gaze on my brother wondering if he was the same person or a different Igbane, he was changing, I could see it. He had a ravishing hunger for anything violence, especially since papa began telling him war stories.
“Papa,” Igbane called. “I've been thinking. This would be the best time to join the Nigerian army.”
“Why do you think so?” Papa asked.
The statement stunned me. Stunned is an understatement. What surprised me more was Papa’s reply. He actually wasn’t sounding it into my brother’s ear that it is wrong to think such; he seemed more in support of the idea. Mama would kill them both, Nna especially.
“The federal government has responded to Ojukwu’s call back home by ordering the northern soldiers to go back to their various states to do their military duty leaving us the mid-west open to harm.”
“You make a point.”
“I could enlist and increase our defense,” said Igbane.
“Are you sure that’s what you want, you might want to think about...”
Nne rushed in and interrupted Papa “Think what, enh Di? What should he think about? You better not corrupt my son,” she rushed to where he was and dragged him out as if Igbane was complaining. I had not seen Nne this way in a long time, “this has gotten to its limit” she must have said to herself as she rushed to drag him away.
She turned to face Igbane who seemed to be boiling, he wanted to walk out the door and Mama grabbed him by the ear and squeezed it. “If I hear you talk about joining the military again, I'll show you I’m still your mother,” she let go of his ear and hissed.
Igbane moved closer to the door, looked at Nne grudgingly and whispered “You are not my mother,” then left.
Nne was shocked, everybody was. She turned around to look at Papa as if to say ‘see what you caused,’ then she looked at me sitting at the edge of the chair seemingly moved by what my brother had said. She looked at me again, and this time I could see the water in her eyes, she was lost, confused, broken and needed fixing.
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