The Land of Saints
Short Story by Onyeka Nwelue
A fire was burning
in the mountain yards away from the Ossai Residence. It
was summer. There was hotness around Oguta. Adizua, the
cook had been asked to prepare different Igbo dishes,
for Chukwuma, the eldest Ossai son, who was returning
from Oxford. In his mind, he conjured up colourful
images of nfu nkaose, nni akpu, utara uka, ipa, ofe
nsala, nni jii, alibo, mgbanoku, ofe ikere and nni mbazi.
He stood in the white-walled kitchen, humming an Igbo
song, with the sleeves of his dirty-looking shirt folded
to his elbows; his apron placed loosely on a backchair,
on which Mrs Ossai almost always sat when she felt her
waist pained her. She would scream, “Oh sonofabitch, get
me that chair!” And Adizua, sonofabitch, would push the
chair to her, thinking of her as the motherofabitch.
And now . . .
He washed the
dishes in the sink, thinking of the fire burning up
ahead in the mountain.
The door creaked. He turned and it was Mrs. Ossai, large
and firmly built, standing by the door. Adizua wasn’t
sure who married who among the couple. Was it Mr. Ossai
that married Mrs Ossai? He couldn’t tell, because Mr.
Ossai was the nodding-husband, always nodding anytime
his wife said anything.
“Oh, honey nke m,”
Mrs Ossai would say, “this summer, we’d bring in three
He would nod, shaking his legs, as he buried his head in
a newspaper, either The Sun or the Guardian.
Or . . .
“Oh, sweetheart nke m,” she’d continue, almost perplexed
that her husband didn’t say anything, “we’ll ask
Chukwuma to visit us this summer from Oxford.”
He would nod, thinking of the “sports section” of the
newspaper, which he’d not read yet. Or thinking of
politics in Abuja, when his wife would bubble like a
child and resume her rants.
“Oh, master nke m,”
she would glare, the uli linens round her eyes, shining
like those of the eyes of an Abyssinian cat, “Chukwuka
will not go to Lagos this harmattan.”
And Mr. Ossai would nod and say, “No problem no problem,
honey nke m,” trying so hard to concentrate on the
“Foreign News” section of the The Sun, and
seeping from his cup of Oguta rice-tea. All he thought
of was Oguta. Oguta Lake Oguta rice tea Oguta woman
Oguta children Oguta weather Oguta festivals Oguta food,
although as a biology teacher at Oguta Girls High
School, he thought a bit about “life,” how he came into
existence and how God had created the first man. He
thought the story of Adam and Eve was just the origin of
the Israelis. Not that of Igbo people.
Adizua saw Mrs Ossai as a housewife, although she was
rarely seen in the kitchen. She said that if she and her
husband, could afford to send their son, Chukwuma to
Oxford, then, they could afford to bring in some osu
people as maids and cleaners and get a decent cook.
Adizua was the cook, albeit she felt he wasn’t decent.
“I hope he won’t be licking the cooking utensils with
his tongue, honey nke m,” she’d complained to her
husband and he nodded.
Mrs Ossai walked into the kitchen, almost unnoticed by
Adizua, who had hung his apron, by the chair.
Previously, she had warned him not to stand in that
kitchen without his apron on and there he was, apronless.
She didn’t notice the apronless Adizua, because she was
overly excited about seeing her son return from Oxford.
Even though she fanaticized about her sons, she still
agreed that she had her fears of the two of them. “They
make me cringe like Ajie Nwaokwokomoshi, honey nke m,”
she would say to Mr. Ossai, who’d nod and nod, never to
ask who Ajie Nwaokwokomoshi was, even as he didn’t know
what she was saying. She told him that if Chukwuma
returned from Oxford, he’d marry a very beautiful
educated Oguta girl and contest for the Senate. He
nodded, yes, yes, and yes.
She said that if a
selfish bachelor, like Francis Arthur Nzeribe, could
become Senator, that nothing would stop Chukwuma Ossai
from being the “Real Man” in Abuja. She said if her son
became Senator, that she, herself, as the mother, would
be appearing on TV shows, in front of magazines and
newspapers everyday. Mr. Ossai hummed some things in
Igbo, almost irritating her, because she felt he was
really, irritating. Not only about Chukwuma, Mrs Ossai
said her younger son, Chukwuka would, in no distant
time, become the greatest librettist in the world, if he
moved to England. But Chukwuka said she didn’t know
anything. That moving to England didn't make librettist
great, but privileged.
”Adizua,” she said, smiling like a child at an
extravagant birthday party. “My friends are coming now
with their daughters. Get the kitchen tidied up, the
floor scrubbed, the fridge cleaned, the pots washed and
the doors closed . . .”
“No, don’t close
the doors.” Quickly, like a floating balloon, she ran
out of the kitchen and returned immediately, stepping
aside, as though she had forgotten something and then
stepped out as fast as faster.
“Crazy!” Adizua muttered to himself, smiling.
* * * * *
Adizua was watching from the window of the kitchen, when
a chauffeured Peugeot halted in front of their house. He
knew exactly who. And it was Chukwuma. He quickly left
the kitchen, thinking that if Mrs Ossai realised that he
was in the kitchen when her son returned, that she would
screw his arse. On getting outside, he saw Chukwuma
almost hugging the shit out of his brother. Adizua ran
to get the trolley bags from the boot. He prostrated to
Chukwuma, but Chukwuma, thinking he was no Yoruba, not
wanting to have anything to do with bowing-and-greeting,
hurriedly pushed him away. “Mbona,” he said to Chukwuma,
because he couldn’t have said that in English, because
the only English words Adizua knew were “yes” and “no.”
Those are no English words, Chukwuka had said.
As Adizua passed the verandah, he saw Mr. Ossai and Mrs
Ossai smiling, as they stood like Nigerian soldiers,
trying to invade Oguta from the lake; Mrs Ossai’s
friends stood there as well, waiting to inhale his
Oxford cologne; the daughters of Mrs Ossai’s friends
waiting in anxiety for Chukwuma to propose and their
impatience to accept his Oxford proposal. As Adizua
walked pass them, carrying the trolley as though it was
too heavy, which it was, really, he murmured things to
himself. He thought that it was silly for all those
girls to be waiting for Chukwuma to propose.
Adizua had been with the Ossai family for as long as he
could remember. He had been in the house, before
Chukwuma left for Oxford three years ago. And he knew
when Chukwuma was growing up. He could remember some few
things about him, things they shared within secrets.
Things they never wanted anyone to know. And right then,
he thought of those things. But as he carried the
trolley into the house, he paused to remember what had
happened between him them on Ogene festival that took
place three years, just before he left for Oxford, while
Mr. and Mrs Ossai were out in their Toyota Corona car,
to visit the Principal of Oguta Girls High School, whose
son was celebrating his 23rd birthday party.
And Adizua had offered Chukwuma a wrap of mkpurusu in
“You look very sweet, didi,” Adizua
had told him.
“Really?” Chukwuma, who sat on a
long table in the kitchen, overlooking the great views
of blue birds flying around the Ossai Residence had
“Girls will be wanting you
everyday,” Adizua continued. “They will be fucking you,
“Oh, no,” Chukwuma mumbled. “I
don’t like girls and I don’t want to have anything to do
“Not good for handsome boy like
you, didi,” he said and came around, wiping his hands
with the pink towel he had picked from the sink.
“Didi m Adizua,” Chukwuma called.
“Do you think I’m handsome?”
“Yes, didi, you are handsome.”
“How do I know?”
“You not know when you see your
Chukwuma smiled. That was all he could do. And it didn’t
take time everything occurred to him that Adizua was
luring him into a sexual warfare. He smelled it,
although it came like a boom. All of a sudden, he felt
Adizua fumbling his knicker as he sat on the table, and
trying to locate his penis.
Adizua felt the penis.
Warm. Cold. And dead.
Like a frozen fish.
Chukwuma puzzled, when he felt touched. He felt
something trickling him in the ribs and reverberated.
All he could think of then was sex. Adizua was Ogbuide,
he was Urashi, he thought. And he could do nothing. He
sat trapped on the table, the wrap of the mkpurusu in
his hands almost falling away.
“Your penis beautiful,” Adizua
said. “You like man, didi?”
And that Chukwuma was sure he did.
So, now that Chukwuma came back, the memories still
As he walked up to the verandah Chukwuma embraced his
father, who nodded. Through the door of the sitting
room, Adizua peeped through to see Chukwuma. He felt
Chukwuma had ripened and more handsome now. Utttermostly,
he felt cavorted looking at him, but his feeling
cavorted subsided when he got a glimpse of Mrs Ossai
walking up to Chukwuma, saying, “Embrace me,” and then
landed in his arms, almost never letting him off. When
he got off her, while everybody giggled and laughed for
no apparent reason, and walked into the living room,
Chukwuma grabbed his mother by the hand and swung into
the corridor, stacked with books, newspapers and
flowerpots. And Adizua peeped through the door, trying
to understand what was happening. Immediately, he ran
through the short-cut into the kitchen, where he was
eventually when Chukwuma dragged his mother into it.
“What's the fuss about everyone
here?” he asked.
“These are my friends and their
daughters,” she said, smiling, with her dimples bulging
”Ha, ha,” she laughed. “Some of the girls are
marriageable and that is why I brought them here. You
choose, Chukwuma, and you marry the one, immediately.”
Adizua looked up to Mrs Ossai. She was speaking in Igbo
and this he heard. It was revealing what Chukwuma was
going to say. He buried his head in the sink, trying to
see if he could wash anything. But really, there was
nothing to wash. He shivered and his hands, as though
weathered, began to tremble.
”Mamma,” Chukwuma paused and as though he was lost, he
said, “I'm gay. I'm a homosexual. I'm attracted to my
fellow men. I can't marry a woman.”
But this escaped Adizua, because it was said in English.
In the absence of understanding, Adizua fixed his eyes
on Mrs Ossai. She held her heart in her hands as it
bumped. It was impossible, she thought. How could you?
She almost asked, and all of a sudden, she raised her
hand in the air and warped a horrendous slap across
Chukwuma's face. This slap Adizua felt and knew
immediately that something was wrong. But he couldn’t
tell what wrong it was. Fear cuddled him. His feet
became one with the floor of the kitchen. Never to move.
”How dare you tell me that to my face?” she screamed.
And lowering to her feet, she said, “Look at what
Britain has done to my son. Oguta is the land of saints.
We don't have homosexuals, Chukwuma. You have broken my
Adizua quivered. What had happened, he didn't know,
because he was not supposed to know when he couldn't
hear anything they said.
Chukwuma gently stepped out of the kitchen. And there,
Adizua thought of the dream he had, where he had gone to
Oguta Lake, standing there with a cane basket, watching
the canoes paddle themselves seamlessly through, albeit
countless osu women had been swimming in it, a log of
wood rolled through the waters and a river ran through
Onyeka Nwelue is a Nigerian
writer. You can read more from him at
posted 4 July 2008
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