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

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 maids.” 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 . . .” She paused.

“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 the kitchen.

“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 asked.

“Girls will be wanting you everyday,” Adizua continued. “They will be fucking you, didi.”

“Oh, no,” Chukwuma mumbled. “I don’t like girls and I don’t want to have anything to do with them.”

“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 penis?” 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 existed. 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 out.

“What for?” ”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 heart.” 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 it.     Onyeka Nwelue is a Nigerian writer. You can read more from him at

posted 4 July 2008 

update 5 July 2012