And so we arrive at the end of another second week-long serial which followed a proud father trying to figure out his son’s involvement in a double homicide. It has spilled over, for reasons that you will soon read. In the meantime, here once again is the story so far in parts 1-4, followed by the grand finale, part 5:
It is good you have an email now. But why Yahoo?
There is no other way to say this so let me just say it with one mouth: what we heard was true. I have now seen him with my own two eyes (may God forgive my sins). Call the Aja age grade. Buy them two cartoons of Star beer and two nests of kolanuts (yes, I said TWO). Tell them to dig a new grave under the Ironwood tree. Let them dig it beside my father’s grave, because I’m bringing Small Charlie home this weekend.
They say he killed his wife – that same woman that the whole village warned him about – and then he killed himself. And they didn’t even leave us a grandchild! But we both know that we did not send a madman to Britain. We sent the flesh of our flesh, a boy whose mind was running water, whose eyes were stars, and whose tongue was sweet palm oil. But this is the madness I am reading in their papers, and seeing on their TV, everywhere I turn in this land. Therefore the name I borrowed from my father is ruined. And the dignity that he loaned from my grandfather is soiled forever. – Our only child from whom we expected such great things has ended the lineage of Chinchis so disgracefully.
Please, trust your husband, MaCharlie (and hold yourself well)! Something has happened here to drive our son mad and I will get to the bottom of it. Before I bring him home this weekend I will know the truth. Have I not told you to hold yourself? I know we are both too old for children and I will not ask miracles. But what I ask, you must do faithfully. You may not believe it, but what I am about to say is harder to hear than what I have said already. Do you remember how I stood against the riot police when the whole of Waterside ran for cover? Was it not me who chased after the agberos that snatched your handbag on our trip to Warri thirty years ago? So it is not Cowardice that speaks now, MaCharlie, it is your husband Big Charlie Chinchi, following the path of honour.
If what the papers are printing is what truly happened and our son did this abomination because he could not bear to see his wife leave him, then this weekend, you must return to your father’s name to remove the last Chinchi from this world without more bloodshed. And you must call the Aja age grade again. (Have I not said you should hold yourself?) You must remind them that you paid a double fee. And you must have them dig a second grave for me. For I shall bring my son home. But then I must follow him myself. I swear to this by the Staff of my fathers.
I am now going to see Small Charlie’s childhood friend, Solumu, to find out what he knows about this abomination. If you return to Utaka’s shop at this time tomorrow, I will email again to tell you know what I have found. I am not sure I like this your email address. Don’t you know the meaning of ‘yahoo-yahoo boys’? You have to be conscious of the family name. I hope that all is well at home, and that my bus driver is returning the correct money. You need to watch that man. He is a snake…
Is this not funny? My life is finished and I am still talking about bus money! May God forgive my sins!
Big Charlie Chinchi.
You have started again. Why should you add your stronghead to this cross that God has given me? Did I ask you to dig three graves? Please tell them to fill the third one immediately! That is a very bad omen. I said they should dig ONE grave and be ready for a second one, in case what I find is not good.
What I have found so far is not good. Solumu was too busy to talk to me yesterday, but he gave me the key to our son’s new flat. The neighbours said Small Charlie and Bene quarrelled every single night of the one week they lived there before they died. They kiss and neck on the way to their car in the morning but every night they break plates in their fights. (The walls here are thin. You can’t even be free in the toilet.) One neighbour said she heard Bene shouting that she was going to pack out that very night. Not long after that they found their bodies on the pavement outside. May God forgive my sins.
You and I know what it means to swear by the Staff of my fathers. It is done and it is finished. You know there is no cancelling it, so why are we still discussing it? And why should you compare Charlie’s disgraceful murder and suicide to my honourable sacrifice to redeem the family name? And why should you bring up the matter of the grandson we disowned a long time ago? Please hold yourself, MaCharlie. Where we are going is farther than where we are coming from.
Our son’s flat is beautiful. It is on the 10th floor and I have moved there from the hotel. I have not entered that cursed balcony yet. I spent most of the day standing in the wardrobe of our son, drinking in his smell. The smell of our son is the smell of yellow corn at harvest. Mixed with Aramis. Bene’s father came to take her things. You should have seen him, MaCharlie. May God forgive my sins! His earrings are bigger than anything in your raffia box. Behaving as if I was the one that killed his daughter! Anyway, he took almost everything in that house. If the TV was not attached to the wall he would have taken it as well. Did I quarrel with him? As if I am taking anything into the grave this weekend. (By the way you have to book Menafa ahead of time. He cannot tap enough palmwine for the funeral feasts if you don’t give him enough notice.) All I told our so-called in-law was that he should leave me the bed to sleep on, at least till weekend, and he started to abuse me. MaCharlie, maybe we are too quick to condemn our son. If I lived with this man I can’t swear that I won’t throw him over the balcony too, I have said my own.
Small Charlie has your picture on the wall of his study. You remember he brought his camera two years ago when he came to tell us of this cursed marriage. It is beautiful, MaCharlie… and bigger than anything I have seen before… you will also cry when you see it… that boy loved you pieces! Why God allowed something like this to happen is what I can’t understand.
So why did you dig three graves MaCharlie? Tell me the truth now. This is the worst time for lightning to strike the mobile phone mast in Waterside! This talk is not an email talk at all! I know how the sound of your voice can change the meaning of a word three or four times before the end of the sentence, yet this your email is just flat on the screen! Why did you dig three graves? Please open your whole mouth and talk to your husband. My in-law said he is burning his daughter’s corpse this weekend so we don’t need three graves, MaCharlie. What is going on in that stubborn head of yours?
Please don’t mention that grandson that we don’t have again. We disowned Sara and her son six years ago and we will not go back to our vomit just because Small Charlie is no longer there to give us real grandchildren. Where is your shame? Think of the family pride. Do you want us to be the laughingstock of Waterside? (By the way, do you know what eventually happened to that Sara? I am just asking out of curiosity, you understand.)
We did the right thing then, MaCharlie. Leave your conscience alone. She and our son had broken up and the young man was going abroad to start a new life. When she heard it, she must have run desperately around to get pregnant, to chain him down with a baby that wasn’t his own. That in-the-nick-of-time pregnancy is the sort of coincidence that makes Big Charlie suspicious! It was our duty to protect our son. Remember how many girls went around with red eyes for days after our son went abroad! That young man had choices! That is why I don’t believe this story going around Derbyshire. The son that we knew would never kill a woman just because she wants to leave him. Before she says ‘I am lea…’ Small Charlie would have left! Of that I am cocksure. We did the right thing with Sara, MaCharlie. I say leave your conscience alone! The ancestors won’t thank us for ‘extending’ their lineage with a bastard.
Tell the driver, who spent five good hours on the toilet seat instead of the driver’s seat yesterday, that I said ‘Sorry’ about his diarrhoea, but that I want my money complete before he touches my keys again. I am not the one that gave him rotten beans. You better learn how to handle that snake before weekend. That’s all I will say.
Finally, MaCharlie, I don’t have time to write much about Viagra. Internet here is very expensive. I have two graves to fill in Waterside by weekend and I’m not in the mood to be explaining that sort of thing. Your MamaSmallCharlie-at-yahoo-dot-com address is for me and for me alone, so any other emails that is hawking Viagra or things like that, just erase them. You hear? You can ask Utaka for assistance, but don’t allow those yahoo-yahoo boys to touch your keyboard. Otherwise those 419ners will sell both our house and our graves before I come back. Let me go and see Solumu now. Don’t forget to book Menafa. By the grace of God I will write again tomorrow.
It was the goat we were fattening for Christmas that fell into the grave, wasn’t it? You don’t need to hide such details from me – my son is in the NHS mortuary, do you think goat meat is my main concern right now? I’m not being superstitious, MaCharlie, but did I not tell you that the third grave was a bad omen? Please fill it up. I don’t know how a mountain goat can fall only six feet and break his neck, but we must do our part so that when I meet with the ancestors all the blame will fall on them: tell the boys to fill up that grave before it swallows anything else in my house. And let them fence in the other two until I come.
MaCharlie, if someone says ‘how do you do’, he’s not asking for your medical report. All I asked was ‘what happened to that Sara’ and you sent me pages and pages of her life history – and photographs of her son! I know my back is very broad, MaCharlie, but I can’t believe what was going on behind it. How could you be doing birthday parties for a child that we had disowned? By the way, a six-year-old boy can resemble anybody, so I can’t say whether or not he has the Chinchi Nose. And he was looking at the camera in the photos you sent. Maybe if I see a photo from his side I can tell, I don’t know. But for now, I am not saying anything. I am just shocked, that is all.
Very, very shocked.
But I have to focus on Small Charlie. I went to see Solumu on Tuesday. Poor man. It was his off-day from the factory and he was so tired that he fell asleep while we were still greeting. (He’s very big now, MaCharlie, a real room-and-parlour of a man.) So I let him doze a little – he was eating an apple, so I thought it was the ‘church’ kind of dozing. But ten minutes passed and his snores just got deeper and deeper. So I stood up to wake him but his wife entered and said it was better to let him sleep. (She was a little rude, I have to confess.) I had to leave him there on his sofa, MaCharlie, with a Granny Smith apple in his hand and his wife standing police over him.
Another woman was waiting for me outside Small Charlie’s flat. She said she was Bene’s mother. She had come to take her daughter’s things. I told her that her husband had already come and she went down to their car and came back with a stranger who said he had never seen me before. I just stood there looking at them. By this time your son’s landlord had arrived with the police to find out why I was selling his furniture. I told them it was my in-law who took the furniture, and the in-laws beside me said it was a lie. In short, MaCharlie, they have 419 people here too. It is very sad, mother of my son: I don’t think I have improved our family name by riding in a police car. When they released me on bail the internet shop was still open but shame did not let me leave the flat again. I sat there in their beautiful flat, thinking of you, MaCharlie. There were three or four Nollywood films there that I have not seen before, but I can’t even switch on the TV! Maybe our 419 man went with the remote controller. That’s why you didn’t hear from me yesterday, MaCharlie: shame. But don’t worry about me. You hear? All these police problems will be solved by this weekend. The good thing about chicken pox is that it cures pimples.
By the way, what name did Sara give her son? Upon all the things you wrote about him, you didn’t even mention his name.
As you can see, my investigation has not gone far at all. Maybe tomorrow. Today there were pictures of Bene’s service of songs in the papers. MaCharlie, you should have seen the crowd! It was like a festival. The whole of Derby was there. All the workers in Rolls Royce, where they work, and all those people crying! Only God knows what will happen when they bury her on Sunday. This is why you have to bury me and my son at the same feast: so that the glory of one burial can cover the disgrace of the other. Because it is looking like the newspapers may be right, MaCharlie. I saw their salary cheques. Our son is not actually an engineer. He is a mechanic at Rolls Royce and his wife is a jet plane designer. – (One of their engines crash-landed the other day, you remember?) We Chinchis don’t kill our wives because they are jet plane designers and they want to leave us, but this land changes people. Look at Solumu… it is not looking good for us, MaCharlie. May God forgive my sins! You must hold yourself!
Did Small Charlie know about this monthly money you were sending to Sara? (No wonder our soup pot was always shorting meat by monthend!) Was he contributing to Sara’s money? Did his wife find out and decide to pack out?… But don’t blame yourself please, all this is still ‘maybe’. Until I find out more, let me just close my mouth.
Any time from now, my bus driver will tell you that one aunty or uncle has died. Tell him Sorry and give him a bottle of gin. But when he asks to borrow the bus free-of-charge to ferry his relations to the village tell him I said over my dead body. At least he won’t have to wait long. Please promise me you will fill that grave.
It is your husband,
Ps: By the way, bring out the dead goat before you fill the grave. You know how Watersiders talk. They will soon start saying that Big Charlie Chinchi buried a goat between his father and his son. We have the family name to think about.
So because I swore by the Staff of the fathers you too must swear? I’ve gone and married a man like myself! What has love got to do with this? If we die together what’s the point of my sacrifice?
Thirty-six years of marriage and you think you know me? Okay, tell me why I didn’t take my GCE in 1959 – despite my scholarship at St. Timothy’s, Warri. Well, my life has finished so there’s nothing to hide anymore: In Warri I lived with Tinjama, my mother’s cousin. He was an apprentice electrician at ECN. Watersiders still think he fell from an electric pole and died, but the Electric Corporation was owing him three months’ salary so he went shopping without money, at Warri market. He did not fall from a pole, MaCharlie; poles fell on him. I was in form 4 when the market-women of Warri lynched Tinjama over one mudu of gari. His wife tried to hide it but the news reached St Timothy’s. Ma’Charlie, my eyes saw pepper! Those boys were wicked. The DISGRACE. I suffered their mockery for one year before I ran back to Waterside. It was four months to my GCE exams but I couldn’t take it anymore. My father bribed me with his Raleigh bicycle. He flogged me till my buttocks peeled, but I refused to return to St. Timothy’s. That’s how I became a trader, MaCharlie.
So I won’t live that disgrace again. Never. Our house is the only one in Waterside with pillars in its frontage, like a bank. It is the fire of that secret disgrace that drove Big Charlie to big things. But see me now: this is even worse than Tinjama’s lynching! Small Charlie’s story is selling newspapers all over the world!
I won’t disgrace you by hanging myself! My plan is to drive to Ninth Mile at midnight on the day I bring our son home. As everybody knows, that is a kind of suicide on its own, but what the armed robbers will see will surprise them. I will die quite alright, but in the morning, five or six of them will be lying there with me by the roadside. Okay, it may not reach their newspapers here, but it will be front page news in our own Observer! Imagine that, MaCharlie! 68-year old Warrior Kills Armed Robbers in Do-or-Die Battle! That’s the glory I will use to cover our son’s shame – so that you can hold your head up in Waterside. But see how you have spoiled my plan now.
…And yet when you check these our terrible oaths very well… where are they? Okay, I swore to your yahoo and you swore to my google… but… where are they? Did we say it aloud to the hearing of the spirits? This… cyberspace, where is it? Broadband is not ghostband, is it? And our ancestors did not meet email. My grandfather was a woodsman and if you tell him to ‘log-in’, he will kill Utaka’s computer deader than Tinjama. Listen, woman, and this time listen to your husband. You yourself know that my Christianity has not caused me to forget my ancestors. Not one meal have I eaten without honouring them. But what they have not heard will not kill you. I will erase your email, you hear me? You have NOT sworn by the Staff of the fathers. (I have looked at your new pictures of Sara’s boy very well and yes, that is a Chinchi nose quite alright. When I come back I will eat my words in public. He will carry the name of our ancestors, if Sara will forgive me. So if you don’t want him to suffer like I suffered, you must let me cover Small Charlie’s disgrace. – And you must live, to teach Tiny Charlie how to be a true Chinchi.) So go and fill that third grave now, MaCharlie. Leave this love thing, for now. It is my duty to go, and your duty to stay. Whether the ancestors can read email or not, a man has got to do what a man has got to do.
What you said about love is making me think. MaCharlie! Is it your yahoo that made you say what you never said for thirty-six years? Or is it the knocking of the ancestors on our door? Well, me myself, I have something to say. If Utaka helped you to attach these photographs of Sara’s son, I hope he’s not there now, because this is for only your eyes. A man should not die without opening his whole heart to his wife. I shout a lot, don’t I? But this is thirty-six years and you know my heart is not like that. Maybe I have not said it out, to you, eh? But you know how I feel about you, eh? So. Okay.
Finally, you have to hold yourself very well now, MaCharlie. Because what I’m about to say is worse than what you have heard already. Yesterday night was the coldest so far. I was clearing up our son’s study – his desk was full of files and newspapers on the Rolls Royce plane crash. I was wearing all the clothes I had brought but I couldn’t feel my fingers any more, so I swallowed my pride and knocked on the neighbour’s door. Her name is Gemma. If she is very old then she is thirty years, not more. She was very nice, at first. She did not talk about my arrest (even though she was the person who phoned the landlord). She showed me how to switch on the heater… and the TV too. (It was not my fault, MaCharlie. It is a special TV/DVD flat screen and what I thought was a light switch on the wall was actually the TV switch.) There was a Nollywood film in it so she let it play. It is true that I was the one who offered her tea… but only out of politeness. And yes, we sat on the bed… but only because there was no chair left in the parlour – but I swear she was the one who spilled the tea on herself! She was wearing a morning gown so if I saw her nakedness it was very quickly and purely by accident. Did I touch her? Well, I tried to towel her – am I not a human being? – She was wet with hot tea and I had a dry towel! But she just jumped up, crying… she was slapping her face, this Derby woman! In front of my eyes, she was faking the evidence, Her thighs were red, her face was reddening like tomatoes… then she ran to her flat, and the door banged like a gun!
I just stood there, MaCharlie. I left the broken pieces. I didn’t clean the tea. I just stood there thinking. I phoned the airport but there’s no space for a man and a corpse on the next flight. So I sat on the carpet and waited for the police. Even the film I was watching was not entering my head anymore. All I was thinking was how the newspapers will write about the father of a wife-murderer who came to Derby to rob his landlord and rape his neighbour. Their 419ners are better than our own, MaCharlie, I swear. But this woman will regret. Okay, so I told her that I have buses and trailers, but she does not know that you have to divide our naira by 250 to convert it to pounds. All the money she can get from me may not even pay her lawyers.
Pray for me, MaCharlie, so that I can leave this their country by weekend and come and rest in peace with my son. I’m going back to the flat to wait for the police.
Sorry I didn’t email you yesterday as I promised. I have been under marthon police interrogation. Well, they call it ‘interrogation’, but let’s be honest: we were just watching Nollywood films, that’s all. Me and Derbyshire Police, we are friends now. We have watched more than eight Nollywood films together – Critical Decision, Husband Wahala, Living in Bondage… And it was the mayor’s car that brought me back to my flat!
I can see that you never give up. Well, I’m not angry that you filled up my grave as well, but you have to call the Aja people back again. I don’t need a grave for myself any more, but I need two side-by-side graves for Small Charlie and his wife.
I know you’re totally confused now, so let me start with what happened two days ago: When I reached the flat, Solumu was waiting outside. He had came to say ‘sorry’ for the embarrassment of the last time. I asked him whether Small Charlie and Bene were living well as husband and wife and he said that before he helped them pack into their new flat, he had not even seen them for eight months! (These days, MaCharlie, friendships are phone- and facebook-friendships.) Then he said that what I’m trying to prove will be hard, because when the police first entered the flat they even found Bene’s box packed and ready to leave.
That’s when my head started to work overtime, MaCharlie: maybe Bene’s box was full because she had not finished unpacking… not because she was packing out! When Solumu left, I lay on the bed and waited, but the police did not come to arrest me, and sleep did not come either. I looked up and down but the problems were just too much. Then the clock said twelve midnight and I drove Small Charlie and Bene out of my mind. I took a beer from the fridge. I sat on the carpet in the parlour. I put on the TV and rewound the film. That’s how I spent that night, MaCharlie, watching My First Love 2. (- Me and you watched My First Love 1, you remember?) And it was on that very carpet that I cleared our son’s name, and solved the case that a whole British Police couldn’t solve! Ask me how.
The answer was inside that cup of tea, MaCharlie. I drove Small Charlie and Bene from my mind, but Gemma’s cup of tea refused to go: why did a young woman pour hot tea on herself and then begin to slap herself like a mad woman? Since the police hadn’t come to arrest me it meant that she wasn’t framing me. As I was thinking this, Genevieve Nnaji began to quarrel on the TV and shout at Tony Umez. Knowing how the walls are so thin, I jumped up to reduce the volume, but it was too late, Genevieve was shouting, ‘I don’t ever want to see you in my life again! I hate you!’ She was shouting as she packed out of her husband’s house (I don’t want to spoil the film for you so I won’t tell you any more!), and – just like that – our ancestors opened my eyes! I saw that it was not carelessness that made Gemma pour hot tea on herself. It was this very quarrel in My First Love 2 that she heard! This was the same quarrel that she overheard on the night that our son was killed, that she reported to the Police, and that the newspapers used to destroy the name of Chinchi! That was why her hands started shaking and she poured the tea on herself! She knew she had spoiled the name of an innocent man for nothing’s sake!
I couldn’t sit down again, MaCharlie! That film released me from my death sentence! Throughout that night I was playing one film after the other, remembering how Small Charlie will buy a carton of Nollywood films anytime he comes to visit, thinking how husbands and wives are always quarrelling in these films! – If the wife doesn’t pack out, it is the husband! If it is not a witchcraft problem, it is in-laws… our son and his wife didn’t have friends here – they only moved into this flat one week before they died. Maybe they watched their Nollywood films every night and their neighbours overheard the Nollywood quarrels and… you know how every foreign voice sometimes sounds the same…
I phoned the police in the morning and they opened their ‘open-and-shut case’ again. I heard Gemma crying through the thin walls as they questioned her again. Bene’s mother must have cried during her own interrogation because it came out that she had spoken to her daughter on the phone on the morning of her death, not to plan a car-boot-sale as she lied before, but to beg her not to kill herself as she was threatening. Because of the ‘component failure’ that crashed their jet engine, Rolls Royce were doing a ‘materials and staff audit’ that was about to prove that our daughter-in-law had spent nine months at a Young Offenders, not an electrical internship at HMTQ Inc. as she put on her CV. It could have taken her from one of the best jobs in Derby to jail. It was Bene’s mother who hired somebody to collect her daughter’s property from me. – She did not want her husband to see Bene’s computer because they had been emailing about the suicide thing for a long time. As for me, they interrogated me non-stop for the whole day, but don’t mind those policemen. It has passed investigation now, it is addiction! That My True Love will become famous in Derby, you will see.
Anyway, I pitied Bene’s father, because these their newpapers are mad! You can’t believe that the Bene they were spoiling today is the same Bene they were praising last Monday. I wasn’t surprised when her father postponed her burial – it was going to be a riot from what I was hearing. When I heard that they were planning to incinerate our daughter-in-law at a private ceremony, I sent a message to Bene’s father. I told him that if my son jumped to his death to stay with his wife, it was not for us to keep them apart. I hope you agree, MaCharlie, because he did. Prepare the second grave for our daughter-in-law. I won’t abandon another woman in her hour of shame.
So I don’t know for sure how Small Charlie died. But this boy is your son. If you dug a grave to be beside your husband, I know he could have died to be with his woman. This morning, I sat in our son’s flat, asking myself if I could have followed you over a high balcony like this… and I have to confess to you, MaCharlie, the Charlie I am bringing back in a box is the bigger one. So dig up my grave once again. (Watersiders will be saying that the Chinchis have gone crazy.) I will lend it to Bene. The peace they did not find in Derby, they will find in Waterside.
You have to respect this your husband, MaCharlie, if I went to University I could have become president! I solved a case that floored the British Police! By the way, that story I told you about Tinjama, well, for the sake of Tinjama’s reputation, let’s keep it to ourselves. Eh? And tell my bus driver that I won’t give him my bus free-of-charge to carry guests to his great-uncle’s burial feast. Tell him I only give free buses for resurrection feasts.
Greet Sara and my grandson. I am bringing our children home tomorrow.
That’s the story done, folks. Sorry you had to wait for the last email; although I had decided how to wrap up the story after writing the second email, when it came to writing No.5, I was stumped for the name of an actual Nollywood film. I had to consult my network of friends who were Nollywood experts across the world. Even at that, we turned up dozens of films where the husbands were throwing out their wives after domestic quarrels, but none where the wives were actually doing the storming-out. Fast forward some film viewings myself and… My First Love 2.
Not sure if anyone of my readers has a Nollywood habit. Well, like those Derbyshire cops, you often start watching the budget-flicks with a smirk and end up with a bemused tear or two on the cheek.
Oh well, had a grand (and gray-inducing) time once again. Nobody quite caught me out again but I will sort out a few morning appointments and decide who gets my Memories of Stone by skirting closest to the truth.
African Writing No. 11 is now in production so I won’t be starting another serial right away, but I will be blogging as usual, and once AW11 goes live, we’ll be storying again! Sign up for updates in the email box on the right… & thanks for reading.