By Osa Amadi
When I arrived Lagos, I went to stay at No 9 Awofodu Street, Palmgroove, Lagos. It was a one-room apartment belonging to our townsman, a carpenter, Mr. Sylvester Nnodim Ebomuche (popularly called Ochiri – Ochiriozuo, which somewhat means a philanthropist).
We were up to six squatting in the room and more people kept coming from time to time to join us. I am still amazed that for more than two years I lived there I did not for once observe anything in Ochiri’s countenance that suggested he was not happy that so many people were squatting in his one-room apartment.
Among us was my friend, Ochiri’s cousin, Collins Ebomuche, who died early this year, 2018. Collins was a graduate of English and Literary Studies from University of Calabar. By virtue of his training, he was a budding poet, or at least claimed to be one. He had a teaching job as English and Literature teacher at Bishop Aggrey Memorial College.
In those days in 1995, Collins and I would spread out thousands of sheets of papers and books on the floor of the one-room apartment in a prose and poetic fabrication endeavour. I was never a poet, but whenever I had a flash of inspiration to write a few poetic lines, Collins would pick up the paper on which I had written the lines and perused it as a goldsmith does to a piece of jewellery to determine whether it is pure gold or fake. Then he would say: “Do you know you can enter into a poetry competition with just this piece and win?”
However, I concentrated on prose, my object of obsession. I had no job, so I spent a great deal of my time editing the BURN AGAIN manuscript. I was also copying the story from reams of my father’s letter headed papers where I had originally written it in 1993, into about six higher education notebooks.
Since I wrote BURN AGAIN, no other person had read it apart from me. When I started looking for someone to help me proof-read it, Ndidi, Collins’ girlfriend turned up. She had a masters degree in English and was the head of a reputable private school in Gbagada Estate. The day I begged her to help me proof-read the manuscript she complained about time, and truly, she was a very busy lady. Apart from her school work, she was pursuing some other academic programs coupled with her feminism activities. But I was able to persuade her and she took took home the first higher education notebook containing Chapter One of BURN AGAIN written in my neat handwriting. She said I should expect the notebook back in a month’s time. I said “no problem.”
I was surprised to see Ndidi two days later. She had come for another chapter of BURN AGAIN!
“But you have not finished reading the one you took away,” I said to her with my mouth agape.
“I have finished reading this one. Give me Chapter Two,” she said, handing me the notebook containing Chapter One. When I opened the notebook and saw only few minor corrections she had made with a pencil I knew immediately that she had been carried away by the story.
Nevertheless, I was glad I had been working day and night. I gave her two other notebooks containing Chapter 2 and 3 which were more voluminous than chapter one.
Ndidi had a cousin called ChiChi who lived with her. ChiChi just got admission to read medicine in the university. Few days after Ndidi took away Chapters 2 & 3 of BURN AGAIN, ChiChi came to our house at 9 Awofodu with the notebooks and told me that her aunty, Ndidi, had sent her to come and bring Chapters 4 & 5. Unfortunately, I had started going out to hunt for a job, and so had not had enough time to copy out Chapter 4. I told ChiChi to help me apologize to her aunty that I have not been able to copy out another chapter from the original manuscript.
That evening, Ndidi came to visit Collins her boyfriend and I asked her whether ChiChi had delivered my apology to her.
“What apology? Where did you see ChiChi?” Ndidi asked, perplexed.
“ChiChi came here in the morning. She said you sent her to come and collect Chapter 4 & 5,” I explained.
“Don’t mind her. I did not send her. ChiChi is addicted to BURN AGAIN. She cannot wait to read the next chapter,” Ndidi said shrieking with laughter.
That was how the BURN AGAIN cat was let out of the bag. Everyone wanted to read it except Collins who started feeling jealous about the fuss over the manuscript. Even Ochiri, owner of the room, who could not read well wanted to know what was contained in those notebooks. Soon, Amadi (not me), a friend of Ochiri who worked as a typist at the Federal Ministry of information, offered to type the whole manuscript. He did and said he enjoyed ‘typing’ the story.
Praises for the manuscript of BURN AGAIN did not translate to food. I was hungry and could not continue to depend on others for my daily bread. I had decided it would be better for me, a university graduate, to die than to depend on any one else, or on members of my family, for food.
For weeks, on foot, I scouted all the firms, businesses and schools around Palmgroove and Gbagada in search of a job but could not find one. One day I walked into the office of the headmaster of a private primary school inside Baptist Academy, Obanikoro, and told him I wanted a job. He asked me my academic qualification and I told him I studied music in the university.
“But this is a primary school. The only vacancy here is in Primary One.”
“I will take it,” I said.
Although the headmaster looked alarmed and surprised, he gave me the class to teach for a salary of N800 a month.
“Sir I want to make a request,” I said.
“Yes, what is it?”
“I want to be paid weekly. I want you to be giving me N200 every Friday. I need the money to feed and pay for my transport to this place everyday.”
The headmaster agreed. So every Friday I collected N200 from him. By month end I had no salary. It was probably the most trying period of my life. But I was happy I could feed myself.