Picture Perfect 

Picture Perfect. 

The more he tried not to think about her, the more he did. 

Goddamn Cupid, he sighed. 

Every time he saw her, his heart, that Judas of a vital organ, skipped one beat. Although a lifetime of missed beats had passed since that first one he was yet to figure out what it was about her that made his heart stutter. 

  She looked nothing like the girls he usually found attractive. He had been around the block more than a few times so he was something of an expert. Light brown hair which streamed down both sides of her face, like liquid chocolate, and pooled on her shoulders reminded him of the clouds of dust kicked by the herd of wildebeest startled by the tour bus during the safari in Kenya.

 The last girl he had been with, Imelda, a leggy blonde with really full lips and a pointy nose, which he joked was evidence that she must have told a lot of lies as a child, had had on what he could swear was at least six inches of makeup. On the  first and last night they spent together, he had had a mini-heart attack when she emerged from the bathroom looking like she had swapped bodies with her hundred year old evil twin. The blonde hair was gone, same for the supple bum he had eyed expectantly at dinner, the lush eyebrows and eyelashes had passed away too. Even the lips had lost a bit of their plumpness. To make matters worse, she had two red-tipped pimples, one on each side of her face which gifted her the looks of an imp. He had stuck to his side of the bed throughout the night, kept wide awake by her snores.

The loud chiming of the clock in the hallway brought him back to the present. He glanced at the ever present watch on his left wrist. Eleven o’clock. It was time. As he rose from his seat, several winged creatures took flight in his belly and an army of goosebumps scurried across his skin. He hurried past several empty offices and barely visible paintings. A leaden blanket of silence had fallen on the museum complex, a silence which was punctured only by the shuffling feet of a sleepy eyed night guard making his rounds in the distance. 

He found her leaning against a wall at her usual spot, the hallway to the right of the Venus De Milo. She had on a coffee brown dress which was gathered at the breasts, the same one she wore the first time he saw her. Right on cue, his heart skipped one beat. Who could blame it? She was picture perfect. 

He gave a mock bow, twirling his wrists dramatically, not unlike a nobleman with severe Parkinson’s. Moves she greeted with a wry smile complete with a dimple which punctuated her left cheek. 

 As they made their way down dimly lit hallways, he slid one hand across her slender frame. She did not shrink away or resist his moves. 

  He helped her into the front seat of his beat down Saab and could have sworn he heard her chuckle when he wiped a speck of dust from her chin. In order not to be seen by her when he leaned against the trunk and punched the air several times, he opted for the longer route to the driver’s seat.  He was beside himself with excitement. This really was happening. 

 As the car sped past streets littered with  excitedly pointing tourists, he imagined the headlines. No one loved a scandal more than the French Press and a legion of frenzied journalists would fall over each other to break the news of their outing. 

He wished his friends could see him now. He would give anything to see the looks on their faces when they saw his face , plastered on the front page of tomorrow’s papers, just beneath headlines which would read ‘Museum Worker Fingered in Mona Lisa Theft’. 

Father’s Killer. 

​Like a woman with all the time in the world, death wrapped it’s coils slowly around my father. As if someone had poured bleach into their sockets, his eyes turned fluorescent white. An ocean of crimson oozed from his chest and lazily spread its liquid tentacles to the farthest corners of the room. 

He died five minutes before the ambulance arrived. The droopy eyed police men, who arrived shortly after, said the murder was  the work of a professional. The stab wound had been too cleanly executed. 

Bad news travels fast. The morning after the night before was evidence of this. The first signs of daylight were barely visible when the first visitors, a motley crowd of pastors and elders of the church, their faces and mouths unwashed, stopped by the house. They did a bad job of hiding their rabid curiosity. I told them of the loud scuffle at midnight, father’s anguished cry for help and the late arrival of the ambulance. 

I showed them the cordoned off room where the body had lain and the window through which the killer had made his entry and exit. Each hour saw the arrival of a new set of wide eyed callers. By the time the Married Women Association of the church arrived at midday, attired in their uniform adorned with pictures of father and howling like lost wolves, I had told the story for the umpteenth time and was in no mood to go over the gory details. 

Thankfully, Pastor Vincent Okafor, not one to pass up the opportunity to stake a claim for father’s now vacant seat as the head of the church, satisfied the women, each of whom after a fresh bout of melodramatic tears treated me to a buffet of bear hugs featuring breasts with varying degrees of softness and camphor scented clothes. 

 By the time talk drifted from the brazen daredevilry of the killer who had touched God’s anointed to the insensitivity of the government of the day, the throng had begun to thin out. The women had hungry mouths to feed with new gossip. 

 The sun had begun to set when pastor Vincent Okafor cleared his throat a little too loudly and asked those left to hold hands in a prayer circle. He motioned me to the center of said circle and enjoined those present to pray that father’s killer know no peace and that all lines would fall in pleasant places for me. 

 As the gathering exploded into prayers and showered me with flecks of oozing spittle, I wondered if they would ever realize both prayers had the same subject. 

The Homecoming 

The long limbs of twilight played a slow game of police catch thief with the last signs of daylight. The sun had not risen when he left Lagos.  A medley of bad roads which were a fixture of bloated government budgets, and needless countless checkpoints, manned by hungry looking policemen more concerned with lining their pockets with the contents of his wallet than national security, ensured that sixteen hours after he drove past the Agba Meta he was only just approaching the Ringroad axis of Benin City. 

His arms were beginning to ache. He had never driven over such a long distance  before. He had no complaints though. He was behind the steering wheel of a car which had papers bearing his name and passport. Mama would be proud. 

He had arrived Lagos with a rucksack of clothes several sizes too small , mama’s blessings and two crumpled one thousand naira  notes slightly discolored from their long vacation in a knot of mama’s wrapper. 

Life had been good to him but Lagos had first been cruel to him and had shoveled king-sized servings of misfortune down his throat with reckless abandon.  He had spent his first night under a bridge at Ojuelegba, kept wide awake by a zealous orchestra of mosquitoes and the stench of marijuana and piss. In the morning he discovered the money he had hidden in a sock at the bottom of his bag was missing. The sock had been emptied and replaced. Lagos 1- 0 Osayuki.  ‘Lagos na wa’ , he sighed. All was not lost. The previous night, he had come up with the idea of splitting the cash and the surviving one thousand naira was stashed safely in his underpants. 

A lot of water had passed under the bridge of his life since that sleepless night. He had wandered the streets of Lagos in search of a job suited to his meager qualifications during the day and washed grimy Danfo buses at night. He would never forget the plate number  of the first yellow bus he washed.  AG904IKJ. The bus driver was a burly Yoruba man, with hairy armpits and a hairless head, who reeked of dry gin and paid him two badly faded fifty naira notes. He had not lacked places to rest his head because if there was one thing Lagos had in abundance, it was bridges. Bridges sprouted from the ground like ripe boils and he rested under a different bridge every night. The sound of rotating tires and tooting horns overhead made sure he never had a good night’s rest. 

By his second week in Lagos, his cash reserves began to run low . He took his breakfast of bread and Pepsi off the menu. Unripe boli and groundnut washed down with two sachets of water at five o’clock had to suffice. Driven by hunger and the determination to get some form of employment, however menial,  he set out earlier and walked longer distances in his search for a job. His tired feet took him to Ladipo market where he found employment as a sales boy at a spare parts shop. The years of listening to mama haggle the price of pepper, fresh tomatoes and second hand clothes came in handy . He had an eye for a bargain and his knowledge of business studies helped him balance the books. For the first time in six years the Ladipo market branch of Chimezie Ventures had tidy books and even turned a small profit. The change in fortunes did not go unnoticed. By the next year he was transferred to the head office. Everything he touched turned to gold and lots of profit. 

He whistled Victor Uwaifo’s Mammy Water  to drive away the tedium and take his mind off the pain building in his arms. 

He had been away for  too long. Eight years. He hadn’t seen mama for eight years. Hadn’t heard from her for the last three. The chaos of work and overseas travel had  prevented his return home. This trip was long overdue. He had planned to make it last Christmas but end of year stock taking and last minute trouble at the ports held him back in Lagos. 

His life had been an adventure and the memories of the years gone by were preserved in the  album with the white leather cover resting on the front seat. He had formed the habit of taking pictures. There were pictures from his first trip to England. He recalled his futile struggle to grasp the words which flew out of the client’s mouth at lightning speed. There were pictures from voyages to Japan , China, Australia and New York. He never left a city without getting a souvenir for mama. Lace from England. Shoes from Milan . Perfume from Turkey. Indian spices. Moroccan headgear. Leather bags from Kano. He felt a lot like Sinbad the sailor. 

Traffic slowed to a crawl  at Mission Road. Christmas was in the air. Carols blared from speakers and packs of mothers, children in tow, bustled from shop to shop in a frenzied search for the best prices. After what seemed like an eternity, he finally eased out of Ringroad and got on the homeward stretch. Airport Road went past in a blur of bright lights, ritzy hotels, loud bars and commuters. 

 For a place he had spent the greater part of his life in, Oko felt  unfamiliar. The cratered red roads he once roamed on barefoot had been tarred . Civilization had found it’s way here and had snuffed  life out of the rustic scenery. Farmlands had been replaced by buildings which oozed refinement and new money. 

At the entrance to his street a garish signboard announced the presence of a hotel. As he made his way down the street the raucous voices of men sitting at a table lined with green and brown bottles of beer welcomed him home. A weary looking man with several gourds of palmwine dangling from the handlebars of his bicycle almost lost his balance as he gawked at the vehicle and peered intensely to see if he could recognize the occupant of the big car with tinted windows.

His heart beat a little faster. He could smell home. He saw mama in his mind’s eye. He wondered how she would react to his arrival. Would she shed tears of joy, break into dance or throw a tantrum for his failure to show up or at least send a message of some sort? 

He tooted his horn at the gate he had last seen when he was little more than a teenager with no idea where his life was headed. The gates were cranked open by a boy in a dirty shirt riddled with holes. He couldn’t be more than seven. Osas guessed he was the son of the neighbours. He recalled Mrs Ehondor being pregnant when he  left for Lagos. 

He could not care less about the run down look of the house. He was taking mama with him to Lagos so he could afford to   be indifferent. 

The glare of his headlights caused a woman seating on the verandah to shield her eyes with a palm. The figure squinted at first and then let out a squeal of delight when he came down. ‘Osas, ó ré nè o’  she shouted. A dog barked in the distance. She held him in a warm embrace, her flabby breasts pressed into his chest. His response was less enthusiastic. She was an unwelcome distraction. He really wanted to see his mother . She was probably asleep. Mrs Ehondor fussed over him, ran five curious fingers through his hair and pinched both cheeks,all the while making sounds better associated with the arrival of a baby than a thirty year old man. The boy in the dirty shirt and shorts gazed on, wondering why his mother paid so much attention to the stranger with the big car. 

She asked how Lagos was and then rebuked him for not remembering them. He begged her forgiveness and promised to settle her soon as he was done with mama. ‘Is mama in?’ He asked. The question brought a stop to her rabid movements . ‘Ehn, yes and no’ she replied, her voice lacked the excitement it had buzzed with a minute ago.

 ‘Yes and no?’ He was at sea, his forehead was furrowed with confusion. 

‘Sorry, yes, she dey but she no dey inside  house, she dey back’. 

‘Thank you’. 

He made his way to the backyard where mama maintained a small garden. He swept the garden with his eyes but mama was nowhere to be found. Mrs Ehondor must have lost her damn mind in the time he was away. He had made up his mind to give her a severe talking to when he saw it. A wooden cross standing atop a mound of red earth. He would never see his mother again. 


Agba Meta – the statue of three elders at the entrance of Lagos. 

Boli- roasted plantain. 

Ó ré nè- bini greeting acknowledging arrival of a person. 


I loathed secondary school for more reasons than I have fingers and toes . I hated the buildings for their colours. The school management had definitely recruited a crew of acutely colour blind painters. The buildings had the looks of a bar where all the colours known to man had had a gory fight to the death. I hated most of the people in the buildings- the girls never gave me light of day and the boys always reported me to the teachers. The teachers hated my mischievous guts and disinterest in my academics so I  returned the favour. No hard feelings. 

The concepts taught in the classroom weren’t spared either. I  really sucked at Fine Art . My drawings were neither fine nor were they art. Integrated Science was no better. I believed Mr. Niger D was an activist who stood for way too many things and the sooner he took several seats the better for everyone. 

One person who definitely needed several seats was Mrs. Akpan the Christian Religious Studies and French teacher. I often wondered how many times she had been married . You see, Mrs Akpan was,if her size was anything to go by, definitely a serial divorcee who owed the larger chunk of her size to several stints in the fattening room.Mrs Akpan was a walking joke with the belly of a corrupt politician and the head of a kwashiokor ravaged child. Mrs Akpan had the looks of an art project undertaken by an eager to impress angel. From her neck downwards her skin had the sickly orange – red hue of badly bleached palm oil, her face was a genuine cause for concern – half of the full moon that rested upon her stumpy neck was  the shade of brightness I desired for my future , the other half looked like a thousand cigarettes had been violently stomped out on it. I often had to suppress the urge to sing a Tuface song each time she stopped at my desk to peer at my notes . I had a mini heart attack when I found out her middle name was Theodora and not Innocent Idibia. 

One thing I knew about Mrs Akpan was the fact that she was insecure about her size. Her fashion choices ranged from tight miniskirts which exposed her cellulite riddled calves to ill-fitting blouses which made her look like an overstuffed teddy bear. On such days, I joked to myself that she had the look of badly wrapped moi-moi. 

 Mrs Akpan hated me to no end. Her hatred for me came alive the day she discovered the rotund bellied caricature I scribbled at the back of my note with an accompanying word bubble saying

  ‘I am  Mrs Akpan. I eat baby elephants for breakfast and take fashion tips from badly wrapped moi-moi. My husband  is married to just me but thanks to my size he is a polygamist . Be smart, don’t be me’ 

 and had grown in leaps and bounds since then. 

I spent the greater part of the term out of class when after several moments of silence and no thinking at all I said ‘Nwankwo Kanu’  was the English substitute for the French word ‘Papilons’. That was definitely a no brainer.. On my first day back in  class I was asked to conjugate any French verb. I swiftly said ‘Tu es malade’ (You are sick). Out I went again.  I couldn’t stay in French class if my life depended on it. CRS lessons were no better. Mrs Akpan showed me none of the mercy she taught about. She  flogged me with the gusto of a Roman Soldier when I said the reason why I knew none of the fruits of the spirit was because I couldn’t remember what I ate in my dream the previous night. 

Mrs Akpan was determined to make my life as much a disaster as her face was . She  convinced the sports master to  remove me from the football team. Football was the one thing I loved. The idea of returning home to a game of football with the neighbors was the one thing that kept me going. And to make things worse, after the last Parents and Teachers Association meeting, father had banned me from playing football. I am dead sure Mrs Akpan wasn’t innocent. Now the surest way to get a  beating from  father was to be caught playing football with anybody let alone the children of the tenants. The very same tenants who hadn’t paid rent on their squalid one room apartment for the last six months. The same tenants who were five mouths short of a football team . Father was a disciplinarian to the core and the savagery of an angry Lagos mob was nothing compared to his beatings. He  did not punish you for the offence alone, he also punished you for thinking it up, daring to carry it out as well as being dumb enough to get caught. 

I knew I had to find a way around the ban. If playing football with Ekene, Chisom, Ebuka, Chinedu, Nosike and Ebube was a sin, I was an unrepentant heathen with a frontrow seat in Hell. 

Where there’s a will (to play football) there’s a way . I spent an entire weekend thinking of a way around the dilemma. By Sunday evening I had come up with the perfect plan. Ironically enough, father had a major role to play in my plan. Since he had  a habit of honking thrice at the gate, all I had to do was listen attentively and I’d be fine. I positioned a stack of my largest textbooks- I had no intention of reading them in this lifetime or the next – on the dining table, left the pages of a couple of notes open just by the side , littered the table with the contents of my Math Set a protractor here, a compass there- the perfect ruse of academic seriousness. I let my teammates in on the plan too, they had the duty of opening gate for dad while I made the perfect getaway to cut the picture of diligence behind my mountain of books. 

 Father was impressed beyond measure, he applauded my new found love of my books and even promised to buy me a BMX bicycle. Wawu.  I was living a charmed life. I had outwitted my father and gotten one over Mrs Akpan.  What could possibly go wrong? 

One month after my plans saw the light of day, father traveled to Ibadan for some summit . My life was lit. I skipped school for two days. School that will not let you be great is that one school? We hosted a mini World Cup. One match each day with the final to be played on Friday. 

Friday soon came along.  I skipped school on Friday too. I had to be mentally and physically fit. I wasn’t about to let Mrs Akpan’s face cramp my style few hours to my biggest game . The god of soccer was on my side. Every move I made was top notch, Lionel Messi had nothing on me, Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t shit. I emptied my bag of tricks. Five minutes to the end of the first half, I cut through the defense of the opposing side like they were doing the Mannequin Challenge,soon as I opened up  to strike the ball with the fury of a Biafran agitator I heard the sound of impending doom, the sound of the trumpet, the sound of father’s horn. My heart stopped but not long enough for it to prevent me from making a run for it. 

I was covered in sweat and dirt. I looked more like a swine than a human being.  I ran to my room, grabbed a clean shirt and wore same over my grime covered singlet. I used the hanging edges of the tablecloth to wipe the sweat on my face. Hygiene was the least of my immediate problems. ‘Welcum sah, welcum sah’ I heard the chorus of greetings heralding father’s return, as expected, they were unreplied. The Killjoy was back and in full stride too. By the time he showed up, all was well. I thanked my stars and made a mental note to give myself a tap on the back when this was over. 

I never got to give myself that tap on the back. Fifteen minutes after dad walked in, we had an August visitor. The excitement of the last one week had obviously gotten into Ebuka’s head. He walked into our sitting without a care in the world, like he owned the place. Father,  without any hesitation at all,  asked him in a voice bristling with unmasked disgust what his mission was he replied ‘Sir, I’m here to call Daniel. We want to start the second half. He’s our best player’ 



Everyone called him Nine. It wasn’t his nickname. His immediate elder sister was Eight. His parents couldn’t be bothered to come up with unique names, not when their favourite Bible verse was Genesis 1:28:

‘…be fruitful and multiply the earth… ‘

Soon as a new child was born, they were on to the next one. Mealtimes doubled as prayer times as they drew lots to determine who ate the only meal of the day and whose turn it was to eat in the dream. 

 Many years after death had prevented his parents from birthing as many children as Solomon had concubines, Mr. Nine was involved in a ghastly motor accident. Blood everywhere. He was rushed to a hospital. The only doctor on duty, Dr. Stitch had gone to the Bank to provide help for his MMM account . 

  Dr. Stitch finally showed up four hours later. He asked the nurse on duty what his pulse was. ‘Weaker than the naira, Sir’ she replied. 

  Doctor Stitch looked at Mr. Nine with resignation etched all over his face ‘Sir, there’s nothing I can do to help you.’ 

‘Doctor pls epp me. ” 

‘Mr. Nine, sorry I can’t epp you. It’s too late for that.’


‘Because only a Stitch in time saves Nine ‘


Cold chill  racing down her spine. Check. Skin riddled with goosebumps. Check. Heart rattling in its cage. Check. 

 Before he walked in five minutes ago, no one had made Bisi feel this way. He was sculpted in the image and likeness of her dream man. Tall, charcoal black, devilishly handsome, perfectly chiseled abs. He ticked every box, even the ones she never knew existed. 

 Every step he took oozed confidence. The cashiers at the deposit desk  pandered and kowtowed to  every demand issued in a voice rich enough to make Barry White turn greener than fresh vegetables. The effect the baritone voice had on her belonged on the pages of an EL James bestseller. 

‘Let this cup pass over me’she prayed for the first time in forever. She has always had bad luck with men. 

  He lingered still, eyes gleaming with purpose flitted around the hall. Her heart skipped two beats when those eyes settled on her often forgotten corner of the office as he made a beeline for her. 

 Although she heard him the first time, her body language said otherwise, so he calmly repeated, in a voice dripping with intent, the five magic words no man  had told her before ‘Your money or your life.