It was now twenty years after Uche and Femi were separated and an election year. The air was tense and hectic with violence and assassinations. Three political parties were prominent for the highest Federal seat. Femi’s seemed most likely to get the seat having won the heart and favour of the global society; Femi was his party’s candidate while Uche was the candidate of one of the other two. The party Uche belonged to was fronting him a second time after losing the first by a whisker. Voters had liked Uche at the time for his intelligence and amiable looks. His reaction to his mother’s death won him more affection than criticism about her declaration. Still, the other majority party’s maneuvering of votes paid off.
While Uche and Femi fought hard for their individual interest in their debates and campaigns the public had no clue of their secret feelings towards each other. And even though the attempts on Femi’s life and those of his families’ and his party members’ persisted but failed, Femi became the President of his country.
The country’s excitement was not as agog as the world’s, which manifested the latent global goodwill for the country so rich yet so impoverished by the crime lords commandeering its government in the recent past. The citizens celebrated in trust that all would become well, and the international communities offered assistance in many capacities. The sun and moon seemed to shine brighter at their turns; the rains were refreshing and no longer flooding; the grasses and trees became greener; and the flowers grew again in their various colours – the people had missed their looks and essence, as well as forgotten they could grow in their country. Heaven and earth seemed to agree with the new leader, and so, rejoice and congratulate the country for its freedom from bad leaders to good ones that would serve to revive the country and improve the lives of the citizens.
While all creatures celebrated the country, many of the former leaders eventually felt the congestion and filth of the prison walls. Among them was Uchenna. The prison yard was completely silent on the day Uchenna had an august visitor. Two guards led him to a room where the President, guarded by uniformed officers, sat waiting for him. They met each other’s gaze with no smiles. The President signaled all the guards to leave the room. Alone with him, Femi stood before Uche and they both burst out chuckles, held hands in a tight shake, and then embraced, letting out tears onto each other’s shoulders.
THE PRESENT CONTINUES
‘I cannot thank you enough.’ Femi said amid his tears.
‘Don’t. You deserve this, not that.’ Uche replied as they released their grip. He felt slightly awkward and could no longer meet Femi’s face, but Femi urged him to sit opposite him as he sat too.
Femi has neither been a shy or arrogant one. While Uche still felt awkward with shame, Femi looked straight into Uche’s face, not meaning to make it uneasy but showing gratitude and admiration. ‘You risked your life, man. How did you do it?’ Femi ended the brief silence.
‘I couldn’t lose or be responsible for the death of my friend … and benefactor.’ Uche admitted. ‘I couldn’t lose my true friends and family. … All these … Politics! Power! Money! Were no longer important when they were placed as an option against you.’ Sighing and tilting his head down thoughtfully, and then to eye level again with Femi, ‘I messed up! I … I worked for twenty years for what you now have! … See where I’ve ended up!’ He sniffled in self-pity. ‘But you …’ he chuckled. ‘You just came back less than a decade ago and … there you are … with everything! … as always! … How on earth do you do it?’
‘I …’ Femi began to answer but Uche cut him to continue.
‘It’s a rhetoric. I already know your answer. It is the same as you had always preached to me: Government is a vocation for public service to the people and leadership to the growth and good of the country. It is not the desire to rule, impoverish and subjugate the people as was being done here.’ Uche sighed looking away from Femi awhile, and back to him without looking into his eyes. ‘And then politics! … My wife, mom and siblings wouldn’t support me or receive anything from me since I went into it because they term its money – bloody. Bloody, because it is stolen through corruption by government officials. Stolen from the government coffers and so neglect and degrade all infrastructures, government ministries and other welfare services. The consequence of which is people dying from poor health services and obsolete instruments, poor education and infrastructures, and what not.
‘But you! You came in and had the support of all your family members and friends. Why! …’ And he cautioned Femi from answering, ‘Don’t you dare tell me it’s because of your good and noble intensions, and forming your own party, because it was still under a dangerous terrain!’
Femi waited a little before responding, in case Uche would rather not have him answer still. But it seemed he wanted him to answer this time. ‘You’re right. It wasn’t just all that, it was faith in God for the purpose, the intended righteous implementation of the expectations, and prayers relying on God’s provision, protection and guidance to accomplishment. And He used you as the instrument in His protection and to my winning’.
A long silence and tied gaze follow. Uche was the first to speak. ‘At least, you now know I’ve had a while to think things through in here… The wealth and power I sought have not given me happiness. I was deluded’. Uche covered his face tightly with his palms and wept. Femi made to pat him but he seemed to pre-empt this and quickly wiped the tears off snapping his palms speedily apart to prevent Femi’s hand from reaching him.
Femi retreated his hand understandingly and said, ‘It is not your fault that you made bad decisions… I think I contributed to it by my own actions when we were kids. I shouldn’t have treated you like I did back then, the first time we met. I believe …’
‘Um! Of course, you studied Psychology. Is that what this has come to now?’ Uche leaned back on the back rest of the wooden chair he sat on with arms folded across his chest.
‘You may not accept it but I think that your past experience contributed to these decisions… I am sorry Uche. I am very sorry. We were both kids, though I was older and should have known better. But I did not have the orientation to have been better at the time. It was a stranger, some girl, who saw what happened between us that later came up to me and smacked some sense into me …’
< Ten-year-old Uche came and sat next to older 14-year-old Femi munching sandwich on the beach. ‘Hello! I’m Uche!’ Uche cheered as he sat on Femi’s mat. ‘Can I have some of that? Always wanted to taste a sandwich but what my family brought are bread and butter.’
‘No!’ Femi retorted. ‘Leave this place! You’re not welcomed here. You pauper!’
Young Uche was shocked at the response and quickly stood up and ran away.
Femi frowned and continued munching. A girl, looking like a 10-year-old too, saw what had transpired from the shelter she sat with her family. She stood and walked up to Femi. She smacked the back of his head forcing him to throw up munched bread from his mouth. ‘Why did you do that?’ Femi barked at her.
‘Because you are mean and mean boys like you go to hell!’ The girl responded angry.
‘But I don’t know him and I don’t know you!’ Femi defended.
‘Yet we are all here and are supposed to be having fun and making friends. And he came to make friends with you but you treated him badly. And my Catechism teacher said mean boys go to hell. So I’m smacking you so that you do right and not go to hell; or what you are eating and being selfish with will choke you and kill you and then you’ll go to hell.’ And then she sniffed at him and matched back to her parents.
Young Femi remained shocked watching the girl’s supposed guardians questioning her and staring at him at intervals. Then he looked at the remains of the sandwich in his hands and looked towards the direction Uche had retreated to. There, he found him being reprimanded by his mother and siblings. Uche covered his head in his knees and arms crying. Femi looked at his mat where more sandwiches and other snacks were covered in transparent big bowls. He felt bad and bent to take and wrap up some. He walked up to Uche’s family and apologized to Uche and to the rest of the family for his behaviour towards Uche’s attempt at friendship with him.
The family welcomed him, and Uche, reluctant at first, gradually warmed up to him.>
‘… So, you see, you are good and from a good background and so had the instinct to do right until that day. I poisoned you with this bitterness that led to these decisions. This is why I am very sorry’.
‘Is that what you were also trying to prevent with those boys in front of my house the day you came to tell me you were traveling out? Prevent another us?’ Femi was at a loss with responding but, they both eventually chuckled at it. ‘That is a first; you couldn’t give an answer!’
‘I wasn’t sure if it was entirely the intention. But you see, that experience changed me. The threat of hell by a girl who also forced me to share my meal and make a good friend. And I didn’t find her nor her family afterwards to thank. The feeling was good and different from the stiffness I used to feel with my own upbringing of the rich not mingling with the poor – not that you were poor …’
‘But not rich.’ Uche chipped in.
‘Whatever! But I loved the change and continued in the new path: of loving and sharing and being happy in spirit and soul. It is an ethereal feeling I didn’t and don’t want to let go of. The more I share the happier I am to see the joy in the receivers; and now to see to the country’s wellbeing… The desire to share just keeps growing bigger and bigger, and I, a happier soul. Not that I’m boasting … Okay, I’m boasting. It feels like a good thing to boast about, right?’
Uche nodded thoughtfully. ‘And I… nursed the desire to get rich someday and play the god over the poor, just like you did to me then, before you embraced good conscience.’
Femi regretted, ‘Then I guess this is not a good time to boast.’
‘Don’t mind me.’ Uche chuckled slightly to pacify Femi, ‘You know something? Your admonitions… and my mother’s … my siblings’ and my wife’s, all kept recalling in my head during those miserable years with those corrupt and depraved political parties.’
‘Why didn’t you just get out of it then!’ Femi pressed unbelievingly.
He sighed, resting his back again on the back rest, ‘I wanted to leave the party when I discovered their practices were more than I could handle, but one of the members advised I wouldn’t be let out easily; that I could lose my life. So, I remained but protested going against certain principles I hold dearly.’
‘You realized they were occultic?’ Femi stated more than asked.
Uche nodded. ‘Since I couldn’t leave, I had to comply with certain things to at least achieve my own aim… How are Mirabel and our kids?’
‘Those ones are grown up now. Imagine my surprise when I saw them again. … They asked to see you. … Mirabel is quite worried too.’ Femi was always quick at being excited, Uche remembered. ‘We are all glad for your warnings and protections. You saved all our lives.’
‘I’m glad they are unharmed. I would have killed myself had …’ Uche began to cry again, but this time, let Femi hold his hands in an assuring grip.
‘We are all alive today, my family, yours, my friends and their families, because you risked everything: The Presidency, your life and freedom!’ Femi encouraged him, ‘Do not think this will pass as nothing.’
Uche released his hands from the grip, ‘I lost interest in the position when mother said I would not be President… I couldn’t be interested anymore… I saw her disappointment and pain at my neglect of her, of my families and at my betrayal. It was why I had avoided her but couldn’t do so when she was in the hospital. The world expected that I visited her. Then she ended it all with the curse. I felt more depressed at the vanity of my ways… But they would not hear of it… not after all they had invested in me… Then the threat you posed because of the support you were getting from the people… It was either you pulled out of your own volition at the death of your loved ones, or you be killed… I couldn’t let that happen… This was why I had to find a way to warn you of the various plots on your lives and created confusion among the major parties to suspect each other of the failed plots. But they were no fools for long when they figured out I was probably the one working against them… I had to survive and keep my families safe too… Thank you for keeping them all safe.’
‘You deserve the thanking, man.’ Femi insisted.
Uche could not help but chuckle a bit. ‘So, I fought back, hence the bloody chaos. I caused it.’
‘And saved the country too from the criminal politicians. All we need to know are the wrongs perpetrated by these parties’ members and the citizens will be singing your praise instead. And your sentence might not be much when the court hears your side of the story.’ Femi enthused in hope.
Uche sniffled a chuckle again, ‘Yeah, let’s hope so.’
‘I’ll do all in my power to see to it.’
‘Thanks man… My siblings had been here a couple of times. They praised my mother’s endless prayers for me as my saving grace today. I believe it is too.’
‘Your family members are always your best friends.’ Femi smiled thoughtfully.
‘And honest people like you.’ Uche added. ‘But I’ve got blood on my hands and I’ll like to pay for my mistakes.’ Uche stood up.
Femi stood too, ‘Don’t be too hard on yourself, Uche. I’m sure your mother forgave you before she passed on. Her words on her death bed were not to curse you. Remember how she loved you and how highly she upheld her Christian principles.’
‘You’re right; it was not a curse. I know now because I couldn’t have made a good President with those criminals prowling around me for the nation’s wealth and the people’s sweat. They couldn’t wait to continue squandering and sucking the country dry… I thought at the time it would be nice to have a piece of the national cake too, but such thinking was not the service required for the office. We should desire, like you, to serve our people and country when we aspire for public office; not to steal to enrich ourselves… The stealing doesn’t stop; it is maddening and blinding to the consequences on the people and the country… You’d warned me then but I was stubborn and stupid. I had been living in regrets of my decision for quite long now.’
‘Like I said, don’t be too hard on yourself. With a good lawyer majority will see justice in your actions to save your life and those of your loved ones.’
They held each other’s hands in a final shake, ‘I’m glad that pushing you away twenty years ago eventually got you this great fortune of the President of this great country of relentless hardworking citizens. I know you’ll restore her glory in new dimensions and our citizens will begin to enjoy the great wealth God bestowed on the country due to your sincerity to serve and lead them aright. Congratulations.’
‘I’ll do my best possible with all hands-on deck to see to that. And don’t you lose hope on me now. I promise, I won’t let you suffer for saving our lives.’ Femi shook Uche’s hand, again assuring him. Then he knocked three times on the desk as signal for the guards to come in. They did; Uche’s took him away after a final exchange of gaze with his friend. The door was left open and Femi watched him taken away along the hall isle.
Written by IfeanyiChukwu Oluwafemi Chukwudi – 9/9/2017
Images by Unsplash: Bailey Torres; and by Pixabay