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 in which lived. He understood that questions about
childlessness would be slung at his wife—as if she could impregnate herself—and was unwilling to. He minimised their social outing and restricted just anybody from visiting them. He’d go to church only on Sundays—avoiding random members and evading pocket meetings of associations he belonged to.
He’d only accept visitation from family and friends who he believed wouldn’t be reckless about their questions.
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 were not included in pictures with the pair during weddings. Instead, there were special programs for women who were barren and 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.
Often, Onochie would wonder why men were never asked to wait. Why the women were always only burdened with conception? He hated that the church was instrumental in exacting patriarchy on society.
After a series of medical examinations—without spotting any problem—they resigned from wanting children. “You’re both healthy and sound to have a baby; the test results didn’t spot anything wrong,” One Doctor said. “Eat Apples, Avocados, and Bananas to help facilitate your childbearing,” another doctor suggested.
“Tell God. Fast and pray. Join voluntary church units. Be faithful with your tithes.” Their pastors would say.
Onochie and Olaedo adhered to these nuggets. They felt that listening to the marriage veterans would help them achieve their goals. Onochie joined the sanitation department in church, while Olaedo sang in the choir. Her voice—when she sang—sounded enhanced by studio engineers looking to please their listeners with excessive soprano. They performed their duties as though fertility was promised.
Onochie loved his wife. He could steal if she ordered 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 Christians and would love to be her husband in heaven if they met again. She would often smile and marvel at his lyrical dexterity—pretended like his words didn’t tickle her, whenever they met. They grew unphased by their situation. After all, the bible taught them to prioritize their marriage over anything else—even children.
They initially sold spare parts together in a big shop, almost the size of a city. Then Onochie
annexed it and she sold beverages and wine in a mini-supermarket. She made enough money to feed her ageing mother and give to charity. She accepted her role as a giver in her many relationships. She would sponsor her friend’s children in school and sometimes give to church members who need money.
At family meetings, Onochie would rather discuss the political situation of Nigeria with his Dad who was a professor. He’d call Nigeria “a geographical abomination crafted by 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 Socialism so passionately like a Karl Marx disciple.
Every time the conversation geared towards childbirth, he raged as if a baton of fire had been inserted into his asshole.
Once, he walked out of his Umunna meeting after they had suggested he adopted a child.
Look, Oni, you will have to adopt a boy o.
Time is going; you are turning 40 very soon, a member of Umunna said. He stormed off
immediately, changed his phone number and kept it a secret for months. The Umunna learned to respect his decision and never spoke of childbirth to him again. They feared losing him because he spent on them like a seventh-century aristocrat.
Olaedo loved children. She allowed her friends’ children to spend some weekends and mid-term breaks with her while she taught them phonetics and took them shopping. The children would care deeply for her. They would cry louder than a mourning wife when their parents returned to fetch them. They would show their friends the new shoe 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 broken 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 to 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 though someone had tickled her—and Onochie would wake up. He would know the reason for her sudden jerk and pat her back. They would kiss as if they wanted to enter each other’s face and have fuck toe-curlingly.
One day, she threw up. She was confined at home, alone. After flushing her puke, she looked outside the kitchen window. A mango stood tall, with its branches dressed in green leaves. A ripe mango popped out glowingly, identifying itself among other unripe ones. A bird perched on a branch close to the glowing mango and took a swig. She snapped back to reality and started pondering on what made her throw up. She had chewed a slice of pizza earlier on and saw it lay soggy inside the sink. She flushed. And flushed again until the sink was clean.
Olaedo carefully walked back to the sofa with different thoughts in her head. She wondered why she vomited without prior sickness. She opened 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 promised her some Chinese goodies as well. She vomited again; this time, it became intermittent. She spent her night looking at the ceiling like a physicist staring at a standard model equation. Her head shared features with a mathematics textbook — too many questions asking why?. She scrunched her face at the thought of pregnancy. She was tired of the betrayal that came with it.
Remembering her last pregnancy — the one she last miscarried—plunged her into a fever of anxiety. She cried, remembering the pangs she had tolerated, the faces that glowed at seeing her swollen, the laughter, loud claps at church during announcements, the congratulations, and Onochie’s joyous celebrations.
They’ll often argue about who the child would look like, and Onochie would tell her that Charles Darwin—in his theory of evolution—postulated that firstborns resembled their fathers. She would laugh and rub her stomach. She finally dropped from the sofa to the floor, hoping that she was not pregnant.
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. the voice replied.
She hurried off to the bathroom, splashed water on her body, towelled herself, flung a long gown over her body, and kick-started her Lexus. She skirted into town at a speed enough to outrun light.
At the hospital, she saw drops of blood on the floor, and she was scared, she didn’t want to believe it was her husband’s. She then asked the nurse in the foyer about a man rushed in for an emergency.
Go to the emergency ward ma. Just move forward a little, turn left, and you will see him there.
Okay!, She replied as she rushed down.
She followed the description. On getting there, she saw doctors in white coats crammed around a man bandaged all over his body. She flung into the room with her heart beating profusely, and it almost broke her chest open.
What happened to him, doctor? What happened? She queried.
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, a nurse replied.
She sunk into an empty armchair adjacent to where the doctor stood, where she could see
Onochie. He was wrapped with bandages all around. She sat quietly and bawled. The doctors instructed her against disturbing him as they had just finished operating on him. She sat numb, eyes sullied, swollen face, and messy hair—staring into the blank.
Olaedo began to feel pregnancy symptoms.
First, she threw up. Now, pangs straddled 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 confirmed her pregnancy. 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 placed it in a green locker nearby.
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, and how she still didn’t have tangible information about the accident. She called the number again, but it didn’t go through.
A doctor came to the ward for his routine check-up. She probed him for more information, but he too seemed clueless.
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 fixing 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 spiralled into 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 them. Olaedo explained what she knew, what the doctors told her, and what she thought happened.
Does he have any competitors in the market? Did he owe anybody? A voice in the small crowd asked.
He definitely has competitors, but I don’t know about debt, Olaedo replied. I don’t think my husband is a debtor, she continued.
She began thinking 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 leapt for joy. She swung her waist left and right, and jumped as she looked at him.
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 called for the doctor. A dark, well-tended man with grey hair and gruff voice followed her as they walked back to the ward.
We had to suture his legs immediately he was rushed in. It was a nasty accident. He bled and fell unconscious straight away. We thank God he’s alive now, he said to Olaedo.
Okay, doctor, but when will I have my husband back? Olaedo questioned.
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. Don’t be too scared. He’ll be fine, the doctor replied assuredly.
Olaedo asked Onochie’s mother to stay behind while she went home to change and prepare meals for them. She agreed and arrived promptly.
While Olaedo was away, the doctor conducted tests to probe for further injuries.
Please, doctor, I hope my son will be fine. This one that he has just been looking at me without saying anything, she asked dryly.
He’ll be fine. I promise, the doctor said.
She nodded her head derisively, knowing doctors were more perfect 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 bum.
She watched the doctor leave the room with his white coat. Then took her gaze down the locker and saw Olaedo’s test strip laying bare, showing the positive sign. She figured Olaedo was
pregnant and stared wide-eyed, smiling profusely. She prayed that this one wasn’t miscarried this time.
Madam, we’ll have to do an important surgery tomorrow. We need to adjust his rib dislocation, The nurse informed Onochie’s mother, the following day.
Her face went sore like she tasted 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 and couldn’t find it.
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.
On the verge of replying to Olaedo, a couple of doctors walked in. Onochie’s mother decided to seize the opportunity to ask them critical questions about her son’s health.
Doctor, Will my son be alright after the surgery? How long will the surgery take?
Madam, I need you to pray and supplicate. But, unfortunately, people rarely survive this surgery, and your son’s chances of surviving are slim, one of the doctors said
He will survive it in Jesus’ name! She replied alarmingly.
At the hospital, Olaedo glowed. Everyone in the foyer stared at her as she walked by. She was light-skinned. Her hair, jet-black, parked backwards in a tight rubber band, and her teeth were blinding white. She walked into the ward. When she saw Onochie, she knew something was off.
She noticed that his robe was whiter than when she was around.
The bandages were neat, and his eyes were now shut. She greeted his mother. They had a
warm conversation about the room’s ventilation, and how the breeze at night reminded her of winter in the US.
Onochie’s mother tells Olaedo about the surgery, after her skeptical glances at him.
They just finished operating on him a few hours ago. I prayed for success. He came out alive.
No wonder he looked anew when I entered the room, 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
It is well. It shall be fruitful this time.
Onochie in English means The return of an older one. It is a poetic interpretation of
reincarnation. In the Igbo language, names are poetic and with metaphysical heft. 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 had overlooked. Olaedo was in her seventh 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 to the baby while Olaedo spent her days grieving. He was named Onochie junior and looked like Onochie.
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.
2 thoughts on “Paul Chuks – Onochie”
Brilliantly tragic, this piece.
This is beautiful.