Paul Chuks – Onochie

Before Onochie died, he and his wife had struggled to bring a child into this world after numerous attempts. They had visited miracle centres and medical practitioners, all to no avail.

Onochie understood the society he lived. He knew that be asked questions about her childlessness, as if she could impregnate herself, but was unwilling to. Because of this, he minimised their social outing and restricted people who visited them. He’d go to church only on Sundays, avoiding random members and evading pocket meetings of associations he belonged.

He’d only accept the educated family members because he believed it would be with the utmost care, bereft of every shrill of guilt even if they asked.

In all of his anger, Onochie was most angry at the church for how they treated single mothers and couples who were yet to have kids. Single mothers are not called to take pictures with the pair during weddings. Instead, there were special programs for women who had yet to find a partner, with a male instructor showing them the rubrics of getting a man and holding him spellbound. Sometimes, it turned into a vigorous prayer session.

The women without kids were often asked to stay behind after service, and their husbands had to camp in their cars or trek home. Often, Onochie would wonder why men are never asked to wait. Why were the women always burdened with the proof of conception? He hated that the church was instrumental in exacting patriarchy on society.

After a series of medical examinations, they had resigned from yearning for a child without spotting any flaw. “You’re both healthy and sound for a baby; the test results didn’t spot anything,” the doctors would say. “Eat Apples, Avocados, and Bananas to help facilitate your childbearing,” another doctor said to Onochie. “Tell God. Fast and pray. Join voluntary church units. Give your tithes.” Their pastors often said to the couples.

**
Onochie and Olaedo adhered to these nuggets. They felt that listening to the marriage veterans would help them reach their goals. Onochie joined the sanitation department while Olaedo sang in the choir. Her voice, when she sang, sounded like a voice enhanced by studio engineers who were looking to please their listeners with excessive soprano. They were diligent Christians who carried out their respective duties as if a promise of fertility was attached.

Onochie was an earnest man who loved his wife unapologetically. He could steal if she wanted him to and sacrifice his kidney if need be. Before they became an item, he’d often written in his poems that he loved her the way Jesus Christ loved humans and would love to be her husband in heaven if they met again. She would often smile and marvel at his lyrical dexterity. However, she pretended like his words didn’t move her in his presence. They were unphased by their situation. After all, the bible taught them to remain steadfast in love, not allowing even their children— and its lack, cause asunder.

They initially floated a business that involved the selling of automobile spare parts. But later annexed his shop where she began a mini-supermarket and sold beverages, wines, cookies, and perfumes. She made enough money that fed her ageing mother in the village and gave to charity. She accepted her role as a financial helper in many of her relationships. She would sponsor her friend’s children in school and sometimes reimburse church members who had already spent a nation’s budget on their children. She enjoyed giving.

Perhaps her barrenness was meant to be, so she could help others, just as Jesus had to be crucified for our sins so we’d enter heaven, she thought.

At family meetings, Onochie would rather discuss the political situation of Nigeria with his professor’s father. He’d call Nigeria “a geographical abomination crafted from the appetite of colonial merchants.” He would talk about America’s foreign policy and how imperialist they tend to be. But he enjoyed their literature, especially the works of John Grisham and Dan Brown. He would argue in favour of communism so passionately that one would think Karl Marx was his God.

Every time the conversation geared towards childbirth, he raged as if they had inserted a baton of fire into his asshole. He walked out of his Umunna one time because they had suggested adoption for him.

Look, Oni, you will have to adopt a boy o.

Time is going; you are turning 40 very soon, a member of Umunna once said. He stormed off the way Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife came tempting. He changed his phone number and kept it a secret for three months. After that, the Umunna learned to respect his decision and never spoke of childbirth to him again. They feared losing him, especially because he spent like a seventh-century aristocrat on them.

Olaedo loved children. She understood the statement one doesn’t value something until there’s a lack of it thereof. She thought of how much of a genius the person who made the statement would have been and wondered what the person was befuddled with.

She allowed her friends’ children to spend some weekends and mid-term breaks with her while she taught them phonetics and took them shopping. She treated them with utmost care and attention. The children would care deeply for her. They would cry louder than a mourning wife anytime their parents returned to fetch them. They would show their friends the new shoe their aunty Olaedo got them, the huge size of Milo and Peak milk she packaged for them as they left for school.

She occasionally yearned for kids; even though she had gotten out of the yoke of expectancy, she accepted her fate as a helper. She would dream of having a chubby son with fat cheeks, thick hair, and a wonderful smile —the type that would plague her body with goosebumps. She would dream of him disrupting her night with his cry like a siren, and she shut him up with her breast in his mouth.

She would jerk up from sleep as if someone tickled her, and Onochie would wake up. He would predict the reason for her sudden wake and say nwuynem; it is well. I know the feeling; sometimes, I wish I had children running to hug me anytime I returned from the shop. We’ll be fine. They would kiss as if they wanted to enter each other’s face and have vigorous, toe-curling sex as if that would grant her fruitful pregnancy.

**

One day, she threw up. She was confined at home, alone. After flushing her puke, she stared hard through the kitchen window at a mango tree with a yellow mango glowing in the middle of green leaves that swayed. A bird perched on a branch close to the glowing mango and took a swig. She snapped back to her reality and started wondering why she threw up. She had chewed a slice of pizza earlier on and saw its soggy form as she looked to the sink. She flushed. And flushed again and the stubborn puke that refused to leave went with the water as if something was underneath, pulling it.

Olaedo carefully walked back to the sofa with the thoughts in her head. She wondered why she vomited without prior sickness. She picked up her phone and left a WhatsApp message for Onochie, asking him when he’d return. He had travelled to China to purchase goods for his business. He promised to not be away for long and to give her some Chinese goodies. She vomited again; this time, it became intermittent. She looked at the ceiling like a physicist staring at a standard model equation throughout the night. Her head shared features with the mathematics textbook — too many questions about why she was throwing up. She didn’t want to be pregnant again because she was tired of the betrayal that came with it. She understood betrayal as the result of hoping—the betrayal of losing her child six months into the pregnancy. People were already asking why the seeds of her stomach never seemed to germinate.

Remembering her last pregnancy — the one she miscarried, plunged her into a fever of solemnity. She cried, remembering the pangs she had tolerated, the faces that glowed from seeing her swollen, the laughter, loud claps in church during the announcement, the congratulations from people’s mouths, and Onochie’s joyous celebrations. They’ll often argue who the child will replicate facially, and Onochie would tell her that Charles Darwin, in his theory of evolution, already postulated that firstborns would take after their fathers. She would laugh and rub her stomach. Finally, she dropped from the sofa to the floor. She hoped she was not pregnant in a moment, then wished she was, the next moment, knowing her dreams would materialise.

Olaedo, where are you? Your husband is at the hospital, a voice said through her phone.
Where? What hospital? Who told you? She shot back
Baptist hospital, Baptist.

She hurried off to the bathroom, splashed water on her body, absorbed it of its wetness, flung a long gown over her body, and kick-started her Lexus 350. She skirted into the city at a speed that attempted to defy the laws of physics.
At the hospital, she saw drops of blood on the floor and questioned the auxiliary nurse about the whereabouts of a man who was just rushed in.

Room 35. Just go forward a little bit, turn left, and you will see him there.
Okay!

She followed the description. On getting there, she saw doctors in white coats crammed around a man already bandaged all over his body. She flung into the room with her heart beating profusely that it left her in a little pain.

What happened to him, doctor? What happened! She queried solemnly.
He was rushed in here some moments ago. A Good Samaritan dropped him off, claiming that he had an accident in a taxi coming from Sabo market.

It was a hit and run, the doctor replied.

She sunk into an empty armchair adjacent to the doctor, where she viewed his head. He was wrapped with bandages all around. She sat quietly and cried. The doctors instructed her not to disturb him as they had just operated on him. Just because of this, she sat numb with her sullied eyes, swollen face, and messy hair staring into the blank.

Olaedo began to feel pregnancy symptoms.

First, she threw up. Now, it was pangs straddling her lower abdomen. She left the ward and went to the pharmacy to purchase a Test strip. She entered the toilet and ran the test. It came out positive. She was torn between happiness and sorrow. Her husband, with whom she would have shared the news, was fighting for his life. She took the Test Strip, exited the toilet, and left it on a green locker.

She sat at the bedside and looked into Onochie’s wounded face. He was still.
She kissed him and went back to her seat. She looked at him wondering who the caller was, how she still didn’t have tangible information about the accident. She called the number again, but it was constantly unreachable.

A doctor came to the ward for his routine check-up. She probed him for more information about Onochie, but he seemed clueless as a day-old child in front of a quadratic equation.
I happened to see the car in which he came in. It was a yellow taxi, and the man had tribal marks. He also spoke bad English, the doctor muttered as he studied Onochie.

Olaedo tried to fix the doctor’s description of the man with the caller. But the person who called her seemed rather educated and got the right pronunciation of her name. Others, especially the Yoruba’s, called her Olido or Olodo. She was sure the caller wasn’t the taxi driver. She was left with a fever of self-quiz. She called her relatives, his relatives, and close friends to inform them of the predicament, and most of them erupted on the phone. Ezioku!? When did this happen? I’m on my way; his mother muttered, frightened.

*

The ward was clogged with relatives who came to sympathise with her. She explained what she knew, what the doctors told her, and what she thought.
Does he have any competitors in the market? Did he owe anybody? A voice among the confused relatives enquired.
He will have competitors, but I don’t know about his debt, Olaedo replied. I don’t think my husband is a debtor.
She began to nurse the notion that it was a planned work by someone close to them. She could bargain any amount to unravel the caller’s identity.

*

Onochie opened his eyes after two days. Olaedo was happy with the new development. But he couldn’t talk.
He remained still like a dead body. He gazed around the room, his eyes rotating 360 degrees as if to say where am I? what am I doing here?
Oni, I’m here for you. Look at me, your wife, Olaedo said to him, smiling. But his eyes kept darting across the room.

She went to inform the doctor about the new development. Instead, a dark, well-tended man with grey hair and a gruff voice followed her as they walked back to the ward.

We had to suture his legs immediately when he was rushed in here. It was a nasty accident. He bled and was unconscious all this while. We thank God he’s alive now.

Okay, doctor, but when will I have my husband back to myself? Olaedo queried.
He will be here for five weeks at least. And we are not done examining him, the doctor replied.
He can’t talk, nor has he eaten. What is the problem? Olaedo questioned.
We sent fluid down his body that should sustain him for a little while. So don’t be too scared. He’ll be fine at the end; the doctor replied assuredly.

Olaedo contacted Onochie’s mother to stay with him for the time she went home to change her clothes and prepare meals for them. She agreed and arrived promptly.
While Olaedo was away, the doctor conducted tests to probe his injuries further.

Please, doctor, I hope my son will be fine? This one that he has just been looking at me without saying anything, Onochie’s mother questioned, worried.
He’ll be fine. I promise, the doctor said.

She nodded her head derisively, knowing that doctors were better liars than lawyers and politicians. She would remember when a doctor told her that the syringe wouldn’t hurt her because it was too tiny to cause any pain, and the opposite happened when it came in contact with her body.

She watched the doctor leave the room with his white coat. She gazed at the locker and saw Olaedo’s test strip laying bare, showing a positive sign. She figured Olaedo was pregnant and stared wide-eyed, smiling profusely. She prayed she didn’t miscarry this time. She also prayed for Onochie’s survival.

**

Madam, we’ll have to do a major surgery tomorrow. We need to adjust his rib dislocation, a Nurse informed Onochie’s mother, the following day.

Her face went sore like it does when she tastes something salty. She feared for her son. She feared for Olaedo and the child in her womb.

She left a WhatsApp message for Olaedo; “Olaedo, don’t bother coming today. Just come tomorrow afternoon. I know you’re pregnant, and I don’t want you to stress.”

Olaedo read the message, shocked. She searched her bag for the test strip but couldn’t find it. Then, finally, she remembered where she left it, bit her lips, and kicked the air. She didn’t suspect Onochie’s mother was hiding something delicate from her.

Ok, Ma. Has he started talking? She replied, hoping she would get a swift response from Onochie’s mother.

On the verge of replying to Olaedo, a couple of doctors walked in. Onochie’s mother decided to seize the opportunity to ask him questions about her son’s health.
She asked the doctor leading the party;

Doctor, Will my son be alright after the surgery? How long will the surgery take?
The Doctor, unsure, looked away. One of his colleagues quickly responded;
Madam, I need you to pray and supplicate. But, unfortunately, people rarely survive this surgery, and your son’s chances of survival are slim, one of the doctors said to her.
Onochie’s mother was alarmed and responded swiftly;
He will survive it in Jesus’ name!

At the hospital, Olaedo glowed. Everyone in the foyer stuck their gaze on her as she walked by. She was light-skinned with pink lips. Her hair was jet-black, parked backwards like a young schoolgirl, and her teeth were blinding white. She entered the ward, and on seeing Onochie, she knew something was off. She noticed that his robe was whiter than she knew it.

The bandages were neat, and his eyes were now shut. She greeted his mother after studying him. They had a warm conversation about the room’s ventilation, how the breeze at night reminded her of winter the last time she visited the US.
Onochie’s mother knowing that only the truth about her son’s condition will pacify Olaedo, she cut in;

They just finished operating on him a few hours ago. I prayed for its success. He came out alive. I have touched his chest five times now to confirm.
No wonder he looked anew, Olaedo replied.
You are pregnant, Ola, and you never mentioned it. Why? And now you are stressing badly, don’t you know it will affect the child? Onochie’s mother said.
I’m sorry, mommy. I didn’t even know I was pregnant until Onochie was admitted; Olaedo responded
It is well. It shall be fruitful this time. Onochie’s mother prayed, heaving a sigh.
Amen. Olaedo replied with a sigh.

Onochie in English means The return of an older one. It is a poetic interpretation of the word reincarnation. In the Igbo language, names are poetic and hold a metaphysical significance. Onochie would mean that a child is born to replace he who had just faced death.

Male children are often christened the name after the death of a paternal figure.
Onochie died at the hospital of severe internal injuries that the doctors couldn’t spot in time. Olaedo was in her ninth month when the news came in. Nothing seemed to console her. Not her coming child. Not her family rallying around her to cushion the weight of grief.

Olaedo was pessimistic about her newborn. He was light-skinned just like her but had the tenderness of Onochie. He smiled at her as if God was telling him a joke about her. His voice was tiny and piercing. He often sucked his thumb and slept for long hours. Olaedo never smiled back at him. Her eyes were red and swollen. Her dreams were about Onochie, cradling his son, singing lullabies and saying “Shebi, I told you that firstborns looked like their fathers?

Her mother-in-law understood her situation.

She tended the baby while Olaedo spent her days stalking grief. He looked just like his father when he was this age. The only difference was in their skin colours.


About the Author:

Paul Chuks is a songwriter, an emerging poet and storyteller. He is of Igbo descent and resides in Nigeria. His works have appeared or are forthcoming in Brittlepaper, Epoch press, Streetcake magazine, Glass poetry & elsewhere. He’s a reader at Palette Poetry & Forge literary magazine. When he’s not reading or writing, he’s analysing hip-hop verses or moving his body rhythmically to whatever song raving his roof.

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