April of 2016 rolled in and it was looking like the rainy season would never arrive since the heat was still as blistering as it’d been in January.
The JAMB results had been released and the boys had made the cut off points for their different courses. It seemed though the result and the efforts of passing it had been wasted on Ekanem as he had fully joined grass-root politics and didn’t see why he should waste time in school when he could be making money.
So, he was the only one not worried about the fact that the WAEC results for their secondary school had been withheld by the Ministry of Education because of discrepancies in the number of registered candidates. The principal had asked Alex, Uko and Jojo not to worry as everything will be sorted out and they would be able to start looking for admissions in the University of their choice.
With a very vague financial settlement gotten for a vague job he had done for a vague big shot politician, Ekanem was able to open his own games betting shop in Ikot Ukap, affording the village people the convenience of betting in the village instead of trekking or paying fifty naira to get to Mbiaso to bet.
Ekanem’s business boomed. His political career boomed too and he had to employ someone at his shop to allow him travel regularly to Ikonombo for vague political meetings.
Alex was inundated with guilt because he had not been able to visit his friend’s shop since the opening because of Effiong’s accusations. It had been three weeks since his visit and he’d been forced to respect his granddad’s wish of not leaving the house.
His friends had to come to him but that got old really fast, especially as Ekanem was never around. Additionally, as Ekanem’s friends, they were treated like VIPs at his shop which always had electricity and there were instant games to bet and win, but Alex could never go.
So, after the first week, Uko and Jojo visited only once a day and it was at night when they returned from Ekanem’s shop to regale him of their exciting experiences of the day.
With nothing to do after his morning chores, Alex went into his grandfather’s store, where all his parents’ books had been packed and began reading anything that interested him for the day. As auditors, his parents’ books were basically accounting, audits and business books, he read them all.
Some days, the books would bore him and he would terribly miss his friends and wish he could go out with them. Other days, he couldn’t stop thinking of Nse and wondering where she was and what she was doing. He would imagine what it would have felt like if they’d become more than friends and then he would get angry with himself as he knew Nse would never settle for someone like him.
“Guy, you need to leave the house o, or you will turn to Wole Soyinka in your grandfather’s store,” Jojo joked as he approached the store at the back of the house.
“Sshh, lower your voice, they are sleeping,” Alex warned.
“Perfect. You can sneak out for thirty minutes and be back without their knowledge,” Jojo whispered as Uko arrived.
“I like this plan,” Uko quickly said.
Alex sighed, his heart pumping with excitement and dread, “But the issue with Effiong has not been settled yet,” he worried, “Plus, this sun is too hot o,” he grumbled.
“Our outing is solution for the heat; we are going to the river. Since our girlfriends have decided to migrate to the city, I think it’s time to pluck a new apple,” Jojo said, wiggling his eyes brows comically.
“I hear good things about the river. I hear girls are always there,’Uko stated excitedly.
Alex sighed as he felt his resolve crumble, he really wanted to leave the house for a little while, “Okay, but just thirty minutes,” he admonished.
His friends nodded enthusiastically, they too had missed their friend terribly.
Alex snuck out. The river was fun, they ended up not even bothering about the girls but they did a bit of ogling and time sped by until the sun begun setting.
Nothing could possibly happen, he had just gone to the river to swim. But a lot had happened.
Alex heard the rampage before he reached his house and realised that Effiong was the cause of all the noise and terrifyingly, the keening sound of machete being scraped on cement.
He wasn’t alone and he was insisting that Alex was the culprit sleeping with his wife and that he had to swear by the local gods to prove his innocence.
Jojo’s parents delivered a message to Alex who stood shivering at the back of Jojo’s room. He was asked to run and hide far away from the vicinity until everything died down.
Alex was angry and declared that he would swear to whatever as he believed he was innocent but Jojo’s father shook his head sadly.
“Son, swearing to local gods is risky. These men can’t be trusted, especially, Effiong and his group. To prove a point, they might have bribed the native doctor and he would manipulate the process and make you guilty in front of the whole village and the punishment will be dire. Spiritually, they can destroy your destiny and your grandmother does not want that. So, where can you hide for a few days?”
In shock, Alex couldn’t answer, he couldn’t believe his life was turning upside down.
“He can stay at Ekanem’s new house; he left his father’s house to rent a place close to his shop, so that he can stay as late as possible without offending his father,” Jojo supplied.
“Good, use the bush track to leave this vicinity,” Jojo’s father said urgently, “Effiong has used his money to convince some unscrupulous individuals to join his campaign against you. I am afraid if they catch you, you will be seriously maimed,” he declared and that jerked Alex into action.
Jojo and Uko escorted him, using bush tracks that led them into the next street and from there, they hustled, walking and running as they led Alex to Ekanem’s new house.
Fortunately, Ekanem was in town and he happily agreed for Alex to hide out at his home for some days, having heard the accusations on Alex and also recalling that he had seen Abel, Effiong’s friend at that hotel, few minutes after he had seen his wife leaving.
Ekanem thought it was a huge set up but didn’t know why.
After a week, the commotion didn’t seem to be dying down. Alex felt like dying from guilt since he was regretting the stress his grannies were going through because of him. It was made worse, since it was for something he hadn’t even down. Maybe he was getting punished for the ones he’d been doing; he just wished he could have saved his grannies from this embarrassment.
Jojo and Uko reported the situation everyday to him. His grannies had to go to the clan head’s palace everyday for the local court, to trash out the issue but Effiong remained adamant.
When they realised that Effiong just wanted a scapegoat and Alex was a convenient one, his grannies came to Ekanem’s house in the night, in tow with Jojo’s parents and his bag of cloths. Before they even spoke, their grim expressions told the story and it wasn’t a happy ending.
Jojo’s parents spoke of their first son, Jojo’s elder brother, Isaac, at Uyo, who owned a laundry shop and stated that he would have to sneak out of the village to stay with Isaac for a while.
His grandparents were so sad it made his heart heavy and his eyes ready to burst in tears. They gave him the little money they had, his bag of cloths and then Ekanem had one of his new political friends drive him out of the village in a Keke, at a few minutes past eleven pm.
Alex spent the night at Ekanem’s political friend’s house at Mbiaso, by morning, the stone faced guy, a bit older than him, drove him to Uyo, while picking up passengers on the road. When he dropped him at Isaac’s address, he drove away without a word.
ALEX OF IKOT UKAP ADVENTURES continues
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