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331 readings


Community Selection

Winter heightens my sense of loneliness. Sometimes, I just take a bus ride from the Cleveland Heights area where I live to downtown Cleveland to see faces and places I may not have seen closely. I have been here at Cleveland University, Ohio, for almost two years as a graduate student. Even though I arrived from Nigeria in June, what my Indian roommate Madhavi calls “the peak of summer,” I was shivering under an 80 degree temperature. It was too cold. The winter gloom blankets the city. The streets are stripped of life; the trees are shaved of their leaves, stunted often, with what looked like icicles circling their tips. And it is always a sight to behold homeless people huddled over large lids of heat pipes, usually always in down town. The steam escaping from the heat lids often shrouds them, and for few moments, their silhouettes look like frozen bundles in the Antarctic.
I had hoped to make new friends, but everybody seems too busy to stop and chat. My Indian roommate does not talk much and I cannot say we are great buddies. She is either in school or sitting in front of her computer. She is a good roommate except that the aroma of curry hangs permanently in our self-contained room. So besides school, working a few hours a week in the school library and sleep, I don’t do much. I often talk to my mother on the phone about how alienated I feel in America, but she tells me to create a social life: join reading clubs, go to school parties, school games, church. I had whined so much, one day about wanting to abandon graduate school and returning to Nigeria. She paused, and told me to hold on. When she returned to the phone, she had a name an address of what she called an African church on the West side of Cleveland. I was surprised. She assured me that I would meet and see lots of Africans like me there. I asked Madhavi to help me do a search for Map Quest directions to the Church. But we realized that most of the buses from downtown do not go into the Euclid Heights area where the church is located. So, she said I could use her car. I had to, however, get back early in time for her to make it to her Hindu shrine.
I am happy to arrive at the church. Close to the entrance door was Church of Abyssinia emblazoned with black ink on a white washed wall. It is a tall, massive building; it looks like a medieval church. A huge cross towers into the sky from the top. The parking lot is full of cars; I had to drive around a couple of times to find a spot. Like my mother said, they are mostly blacks, Nigerians, I think. I stand beside a bulky middle aged woman who shifts with a sigh to make space for me and then she wipes the space with a piece of red cloth. She smiles at me, and taps on the space for me to sit. I can hear her wheezy breathing. From her “nice to meet you” I can tell she is African American.
The Pastor is a tall, lanky, bald headed man. His eyes are large; they look like they will pop out whenever he talks. He has an accent, an unfamiliar accent. Perhaps, he is from Jamaica. At the end of his sermon, he asks new members to stand up. I do not stand. Most of the people sitting and new members standing are either old or middle age. As the service ends, I stand for a while watching people exchange greetings. I expect maybe that somebody from Nigeria will walk up to me and hug me. Nothing happens. I swallow a lump of saliva and step out. I slam hard at the car door, to close it. A few miles away from the Church, I notice an old lady, bending over an enormous suitcase on a side walk. She lifts it, and wobbles her way through mounds of snow. I wonder what she is doing walking outside in such a cold weather. So I stop and walk up to her. “Do you need a ride?”
“Yes,” she says and grinds her toothless gum.
“Where are you going?”
“To my brother’s house.”
I help her to the front seat, and then put her suitcase in the trunk. Then I pull away from the curve.
“Where does your brother live?”
“I don’t know.”
“Ok....? So where are you going?”
“Down the road, to my brother’s house.”
“What is your name?”
“Heather Brent.”
I drive a few miles down the road, and there are mostly houses that are being constructed. The area is not yet a residential area. “Are you sure he lives down the road?” I am beginning to get worried. “So, what is the name of your brother?”
“Mikeh Brent. I think he lives on the other side of this road,” she says peering through the misty window. I drive to the next street. There are several brick houses. I tell her to tell me which one belongs to her brother. After about ten minutes of driving, she taps my leg and points at a house with a red roof.
I stop and get out of the car, but she will not come out of the car. I wait for her, but she does not budge. I knock at the door; nobody responds. I stare at the door for a long while, and then it opens. There is a tall white man standing and frowning at me. He seemed startled. I tell him the name I am looking for. He slams the door on my face without saying a word. “Sorry, nobody like that here.” I hear him yell. I wondered about his hostile. Was I scary looking? Or did he mistake me for a criminal? I walk back to the car. But she says she thinks it’s on the other side. I am trying so hard to hold back the tears. It is welling up faster than I can think. What do I do with this old lady? Do I take her back to where I got her?” I look at her, but she is looking into the distance grinding her gum even harder. I decide to call directory assistant and ask for Mikeh Brent’s residential address. It happens that Mr. Brent died two years ago. I request for his address. It is the other side of town. I need to take the free way to get there faster. The speed limit says 70 miles per hour. I don’t realize that I am driving at 90 miles per hour until I hear the blaring siren of a police car behind me. I pull over to the shoulder of the free-way. “Damn! The old lady curses, and opens the door before I can even stop fully. I step hard on the breaks. The tires screech on the impact, and then I sudden jolt. I hold out my hand to stop her from bumping her head on the glob compartment or even on the screen glass. Her seat belt is already off. What is she thinking? Is she trying to run away from the cop? Is she on the run: flurries of questions run through my mind. The police is the least of my problem now. We, especially the old lady would need to meet him unhurt. But she grabs my hand and pushes it away.
“I can take care of myself. Stop treating me like a handicap!” Before I say anything, she is already out and breaks into a run. The police chase after her, pulling out his baton. Something tells me to reverse and speed away, as fast as I can. Another voice says: wait, you are innocent. I watch him scuttle the old lady. He handcuffs her and leads her back to his car. I say hello to him; he responds with a grunt. I tell him to remove the hand cuff the old lady that she means no harm.
My hands become moist; I feel drops of sweat creep down my chin, but I take a deep breath and step confidently to the trunk. He tries to calm her down while I open the trunk. As soon as I pop her suitcase open, she squeals and begin to struggle with him. He holds her firm, and attempts to call for a back-up. I hold her hands, and tell the police there is no need. He pours the content of the suitcase on the coal tarred road, then scatters all the clothing with his baton. He rummages through every pocket and holes in the clothes. His belly swayed back and forth as he picks each item to check them a thousand times. When he finds nothing, he leaves. Hurriedly, I stuff all the clothes back into the suitcase.
We are at the police station. There was a missing person report, and her family was waiting for her.


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Image of Temitayo Amogunla
Temitayo Amogunla · ago
Well done Unoma.
Image of Luvo Kasa
Luvo Kasa · ago
Very beautifully written story. I like it
Image of maya
maya · ago
This story is deceptively simple yet very nuanced.
I do like it very much.

Image of David Ishaya Osu
David Ishaya Osu · ago
Simple, suspense-filled and beautiful. Unoma remains one of my best prose writers from Africa.
Image of Jay
Jay · ago
Had my mind engaged from the first word to the end. It was easy to picture everything. Thank you!
Image of Mel Nathan
Mel Nathan · ago
Wowa Love it! Your writing is stunning.
Image of Laura Christensen
Laura Christensen · ago
Great Story!
Image of Obianuju Opuriche
Obianuju Opuriche · ago
Good job my dear prof and good luck to you as well.
Image of Daniel Fiaveh
Daniel Fiaveh · ago
Superb! Hai!! This one don make lucky oo. Obodoyebo. Hei! Unor!
Image of Friday-John Abba
Friday-John Abba · ago
Beautiful story. I didn't expect anything less. Quintessential Unoma.