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Pariah

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Oloye Bab stood at the thermal-paned window of his bedroom, mulling over the latest news from Nigeria. He swirled champagne in his glass, observing the bubbles as they were born, as they swirled, as they popped. Refracted light from the crystal glass bounced off the window as he drained the contents, already tepid from the warmth of the space heater. Colonel Augustine Etomo was the newly appointed military governor of Oyo, Oloye Bab’s home state. Outside, streetlamps cast pools of light on a snow-clad Quebec sidewalk.

“The time has finally come to go home,” he muttered.

“I didn’t hear you, dear,” Yewande said from the bed where she was curled up with a hot-water bottle under a fluffy blanket.

Oloye Bab turned to his wife. “I want to go back to my country.”

Yewande shifted and her massive body wobbled. “Which country?”

He set the glass on the vanity. “Our country.”

“Your country.”

“Don’t you think we belong there? We know who we are. We are Nigerians. We should not spend the rest of our lives in this hostile cold.”

He had been born in the town of Ibadan in Oyo, Nigeria, more than six decades earlier. He’d grown up, married his wife, and had their two daughters there, in the warm climate of Africa. After four years in Bordeaux, they’d relocated to Canada, where they had the son he’d longed for. Once Folahan was born, they’d put paid to any chances of having more children.

Yewande grimaced and her eyes almost disappeared in her round face. “My children belong here now. This is all they know.”

He pulled his blue polypropylene headband, the color of which matched his flannel pajamas, down to his ears. “Just because they have Canadian passports?” He lumbered to the bed and climbed in next to her, taking in a whiff of her apple-scented shower gel. “They’re sojourners. One day they’ll find their way home.”

She snorted, “A home with no water or electricity? Where their lives will never be safe?”

“You’re not safe in this country either.  A few days ago, a man in Saint-Damien shot his neighbors.”

She set the hot-water bottle on the nightstand. “It was an isolated case. The man was deranged.” She poked his shoulder. “You know Canada is far safer than Nigeria.”

“Even with the cold killing you gradually?”

She heaved herself upright, scowling. “In the twenty-four years we’ve lived here, the cold has never landed us in the hospital.”

“You think your immune system is as strong as it was twenty years ago? The effect of the winter may be piling up in your body, waiting to knock you down.”

She sucked in a breath and folded flabby arms across her immense breasts. “I thought you’d said ‘goodbye’ to Nigeria until a democratic government was installed.”

“I miss home terribly.” He closed his eyes and pictured his four-bedroom, one-story house in Ibadan, imagining himself there. “I miss my extended family.”

“Do you also miss the lack of respect for human life, Babatunde?”

“That’s not true. You know it is not that way.”

“Don’t we see it in the papers and on television?”

He sat up and ran a hand wearily over his face. “I don’t think the events in our country are as terrible as the foreign media makes out.”

“There are sanctions on Nigeria. Abacha and his soldiers are brutalizing the citizens. Why would you want to go back to that?”

She was over-dramatizing. Yes, yes, Abacha had killed the green activist, Ken Saro-Wiwa, in November and the media screamed that 1995 was the year that Nigeria had become a ‘pariah in the Commonwealth,’ but he wasn’t going home to sing anti-Abacha songs.

“I’m not returning home to become another Saro-Wiwa. I’m going home to work with them.”

She tugged at the beanie on her head. “Oh, I see. I understand now. Etomo is the reason for your new found love for Nigeria.”

Colonel Etomo had been the best friend of Ade, Oloye Bab’s younger brother. Oloye Bab had last seen Etomo four years earlier at Ade’s burial. At that time, Etomo was still a lieutenant colonel. During the duo’s time at the Nigerian Defense Academy, Oloye Bab had gone to great lengths to support them financially. Etomo and Ade had looked up to Oloye Bab as a big brother.

Oloye Bab yawned. “I may be able to help him.”

Yetunde’s nostrils flared. “Help him to loot the state? To divert public funds into foreign accounts?”

This psychologist of a woman had tapped into his mind again. He mustn’t give her room to dampen his desire. “Would you stop talking such rubbish and go to sleep?”

“I’m not talking rubbish. Isn’t that what government officials do there?” she ranted.

He snapped off the bedside lamp and thrust himself back on the pillows. Now that he knew somebody among the powerful elite, it was his opportunity to claim his part of Nigeria’s oil wealth. If he found his way into the government, in a single year he could double what he had earned in seven years as an architect in Canada.  She pursed her lips. “I’m not going with you.”

“And you can’t stop me from going,” said Oloye Bab.

He closed his eyes but felt her gaze on him. She must be pondering his burning desire to go home. Perhaps she thought it was because of his advancing years. But years of living with him should have taught her that whenever his mind was made up, nothing could stand in his way.

She mellowed her tone. “What could you get in Nigeria that you haven’t got here?”

He opened his eyes. “Is there a place like home?”

“At sixty-two, you’re still too young to die.” Urbane and trim, he had the looks of a man in his forties. Unlike his wife, his hair showed no gray.

“A grandpa need not be afraid of death. Truth is, I’ve only got a few years left to live. So what’s wrong with going back to the place I want to be buried?”

“I’m concerned about your safety.”

“Don’t worry about me.” He turned on his side.

To be continued next week

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