What a beautiful evening it was near Lawrenceville in Georgia that night.It was a day for storytelling and merry-making.
Everybody told his childhood story. I was not left out. Some joke had led to it, and everybody started recalling parental care in our childhood.
My father had been killed in the northern part of Nigeria during the pogrom that escalated into the civil war. He was killed while trying to escape to the east. He had worked in the Railway Corporation, and we lived in Kano at the time the crisis broke out. We would have probably been all consumed if he hadn’t brought us to Enugu to spend his accumulated leave. He had returned to Kano to sort out some official matters when the crisis started. He never made it back as the killing of the Igbo started in the north.
Bringing us up fell on my mother and what a pretty good job she did as a disciplinarian. A friend of my father had arrived Enugu from the UK after the war. He heard what happened and began to search for us. He visited with his family and tried to spoil us with gifts. Without the consent of my mother, I bought Stiletto shoe with my share of the money he gave to me and my siblings. Stiletto shoes were in vogue then, and only the big guys wore them.
This was at a time my mother was struggling to feed us and send us to school. What a stupid thing I had done. Rather than return the money to my mum as others did, I went shopping for the latest shoe in town. I will never forget the beating I received for my seeming naivety. It was the beating of my life. I told the gathering my story and a friend of our host took off from there. He had arrived with his family – his American wife and children. Children were having their own fun in the two sections of the sitting room while we were at the bar in the basement.
Our host, Charles Okebulama, an Abia born chief, served all we needed to have a grand Thanksgiving celebration. Dan Ikpechukwu did not cease commending his culinary expertise as we devoured some of the delicacies he offered while telling our different stories.
Chief Okebulama is a nice gentleman whose passion for good wine is legendary. The sumptuous six-course meal Chief Okebulama’s wife served, the special turkey the chief prepared himself, served with the different bottles of red wine meant more story telling. It was with candour; the spirit got higher as the evening stretched.
Dan Ikpechukwu made comments from time to time and appeared to be moderating the conversation. He was a fine sports journalist in Nigeria and was once chairman of Sports Writers Association in Enugu. Former Enugu Rangers captain, Ikechukwu Ofoje joined the party, and it turned into a jam.
We told stories of our soccer days in Enugu and excited all with the coaching vocabulary of one coach Makasi who can rightly be credited with helping many players from Enugu in our time. Sometimes he spoke deep vernacular while coaching, attracting jokes often. Football stories always thrill, and we all enjoyed the jokes.
Ofoje’s wife is American. She is the daughter of a professor in his college. How they met was an interesting story, but it was interesting to note that while the professor was drilling Ofoje in class, the footballer was doing same to his daughter outside the campus. It all ended up well, and Ofoje is always thankful for the wife God blessed him with.
The man that stole the show was Okebulama’s friend whose name I can’t remember. He took off from where I stopped and painted how he was mischievous. Like I did, he had bought an expensive trouser while in secondary school. When his father asked him how he got such a stuff he boldly asked his father nke gi ene-efu, meaning “is your own missing?” His father went for his jugular, and he jumped the fence and ran to his granny’s in another village.
And that’s how he was brought up by his grandmother. He never returned to his father’s house. The laughter his story drew was hilarious. We wondered how he had the guts to challenge his father in that manner. He ended up in the seminary, became a priest, but today he questions Christianity. Why?
“White men brought Christianity to us, but the racism I experienced here in their hands changed my religious beliefs.” He could not convince us that racism made him turn his mind away from Christianity. He is now a free thinker. The man who challenged his dad in the manner that he did could be a free thinker, we all thought, allowing the gist to go on.
Our host, Chief Okebulama recalled the challenges he faced when he just arrived America and that it was in his first work place it dawned on him why the toilet is referred to as Rest Room. “We worked all through standing, and the only place you could sit or rest was in the toilet,” he said, adding “It was then I realised why they call toilet a rest room.” We laughed.
Okebulama was among those who worked as students. He changed the topic to politics. He monitors events at home, and he was almost swearing that Nigerians would suffer for electing Mohammadu Buhari President. It turned a heated debate between us as I tried to educate him on the rot that swayed the votes in favour of Buhari in the 2015 elections. He would not agree with me. I argued that Buhari had good intentions and was determined to change Nigeria for good.
Okebulama gave reasons he felt Buhari would leave Nigeria worse than he met it. He downplayed all the factors that led to the fall of Goodluck Jonathan and maintained that Buhari was not the right man for the job. He didn’t see anything bad in Jonathan’s administration, and I took him for a Jonathan apologist. I neither supported Jonathan nor Buhari but maintained that the situation at home at the time agitated the minds of Nigerians who clamoured for change and Buhari, being the only other credible option, benefited from the wind of change.
Two and half years down the line of this administration and one year after that gathering in Atlanta, while I still frown at the circumstances and still have my reservations about the Jonathan administration I doubt if, today, I would defend the Buhari administration the way I did that night in Atlanta.
The memory of that 2016 night flashed through my mind when I was sending Thanksgiving Day messages to my friends in the US yesterday, and I quickly thought I should share those jokes with you after another Thanksgiving Day greetings with Dan Ikpechukwu, my beloved friend, and brother. This time, it was a long telephone conversation and no turkey or wine to mark it.