Isaac Othuke: Of ghosts and saints [Nigerian Voices]

by Isaac Othuke

(The first passage)

The lady at the busy business Centre slowly and with a big smile handed me the wrapped package. It was quite heavy but the joy that was erupting from my heart was inexpressible. I paid her for the job, thanked her and left for Dr. M’s office. I took the stairs leading to his office majestically like a soldier bringing news of victory from the battle ground to his superiors. Maybe I was a soldier I thought within me as I took more steps. Apparently not with enough medals yet but I have definitely fought some wars.

About 9 years ago my poor mother and I stood on the lonely road of Ogadebeh some miles away from my village of Olomoro. The sun was very high up in the sky like a proud eagle. Her stare on the two poor fellows standing on the recently tarred road with two bags of peeled cassavas in front of them was ruthless and harsh. I looked at my mother’s face and saw the heavy beads of sweats dripping down from her forehead to her delicate chin. Even in this uncomfortable situation I have never seen a woman more beautiful. Her eyes, a brilliant deep yellow colour reminded me of the beautiful mammy water woman story grandma told me a couple of weeks ago. She was tall and elegant like one of those models in the foreign magazines that I have seen in teacher Egboh’s office. I can go on and on about how pretty she looks but from those same eyes I also see a strong and magnificent woman who is always ready to sacrifice everything for the success of her children.

We have been standing on the side of the road for about an hour now, waiting and waving at different cars. They zoomed by without stopping to look at what we were selling.

“Othuke, do you know why we have to sell these bags of cassava?” she asked me.

“Yes, mother.”


“You want to sell them because you need money to buy and sew a new school uniform for me.”

“Good. Now listen to me. Three weeks from now you will start an incredible journey. You will start your junior secondary school in one of the best secondary schools in the whole of Isoko South. My advice to you is that you set your priorities right. Your father and I will not always be around to advice you…you are a man now and we want you to go out there and make us proud. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, mother” I said.

Those words, uttered in the sunniest of seasons have become the air that I breathe till this day. She wiped the sweat from her face with the back of her hand and turned her face away quickly but not quick enough to hide them from me: she will never cry in front of her children. Sometimes in the middle of some grim nights when my drunken father would beat her I always thought he was the most foolish person on planet earth. I summoned courage one such night and went to the door of their room. Gently, like a thief, I walked passed my sleeping siblings lying sprawled on the floor. Efe had wet the bed again, I thought, as I stepped on some liquid on the floor. When I got to the front of the door the noise became louder. I could hear my mother pleading with him to stop. I wanted to rush in there and protect her from him but my young heart was afraid. Then I thought of something. I went to the sitting room and took a long stick from the corner of the room and went straight to the window side and broke one of the louvres with it. I ran back to our room as fast as my little feet could carry me and lay on the hard floor with my heart thumping heavily. The noise from their room stopped instantly. I saw my father come out with only a tied wrapper round his waist and a cutlass in his right hand. They thought a thief was trying to break into the house. Seconds later he took a security position in his old chair at the corner of the room, watching and waiting for the thief to come. My mother joined him and few minutes later they were laughing happily over a joke from their past. In those split seconds they transformed into the perfect couple. My distraction had worked. That night I dreamt of beautiful skies and rivers surrounded by unicorns.

“Listen to me, Othuke!” My elder brother bellowed. “This is Ibadan and not some damned village. I have lived in this city for more than 10 years,” he continued furiously. “I have seen the good, the bad and the ugly and I can tell you categorically that studying Law at the Premier University is the best option that you have got!”

“Big brother, I understand your concern but this is my future on the line here. I have told you that Theatre Arts is what I want to study and not Law,” I replied him. He was drunk from the foul smell of beer that was oozing from his mouth and his unsteady movements. About a year before we lost our father to a ghastly car accident, he had come to the village and convinced our old man that I should follow him to the ancient city of Ibadan to complete my secondary school education.

”You want to be some stupid writer, huh? Writers are poor fellows in this country and everywhere in the world! Lawyers and doctors rule this country not some damned theatre fellows,” he shouted at me.

“I am sorry to disappoint you but this is my decision,” I said to him. Then he slapped me hard across the face. It was so quick that I did not see it coming. I said nothing and I did nothing.

“Since you cannot obey my instructions…you cannot stay in this house with me. Pack your things and get out.  And good luck with the funding of your university education!”

By now a small crowd had gathered. The old Yoruba woman who could barely speak good English pleaded with him to retract his statement but he insisted on his words. When I did not move an inch he hurriedly gathered my things and threw them out the door. I did not want to disturb my poor mother by reporting his actions to her (God knows she has enough worries on her plate) so I gathered my scattered clothes and books and moved in with my friend Benjamin.

All of this drama had happened some years ago. I stayed with Benjamin for some couple of weeks thinking about how I was going to finance my university education. When I thought all hope was lost I got a text informing me that the Board of Directors’ of my church’s scholarship scheme had approved the application I submitted some months ago.

By now I was standing directly in front of Dr. M’s office. I tore open the package and out came the shining hard covered copies of my final year thesis. I took one long deep breath and knocked on the door. A deep voiced asked me to come inside. Dr. M’s office looks scanty for a senior lecturer like him. There is a small shelve to the left where works by Bernard Shaw, Soyinka and Shakespeare are neatly arranged. His table has an old typewriter sitting on it. Why doesn’t he just buy a laptop instead of straining his eyes to type on that old thing I thought within me?

“Mr. Othuke, may I have the copies,” he asked gently.

I handed all four copies to him. He flipped through the pages with a somewhat cursory look as I busied myself with the framed picture of a younger version of Soyinka hanging from the wall. Dr. M coughed and adjusted his thick glasses.

“This is a great work: the kind of long essays that should grace all modern libraries.”

“Thank you, sir.” I replied.

“Congratulations,” he said. I knew that was my cue to leave so I turned and left the office. Outside a very big smile had spread across my face. Birds on the huge almond tree in front of Dr. M’s office were chirping and I stood for a split second to admire their total freedom. My brother rarely talks to me since the day I left the house but somewhere deep within me I know that he will come around. I don’t know what the future has in store for me but come ghosts or saints, I have those profound words uttered by the most cherished woman in my life  to see me through at all times.

Isaac Othuke

This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by

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