Evolution – Winner, Loretta Ogboro-Okor Prize for Short Story Fiction
“Hi, my name is Adenike Oyelari, and this is my evolutionary story. It might not be what you expected, but I promise you, it is worth it.” I typed the first line of my autobiography and sighed audibly. Who knew writing could be so difficult?
The weather in Asaba that late December afternoon was very unforgivable, because I was sweating, even though I was only clad in my underwear. As usual, NEPA had ceased the light, so there was no way I could power the AC or Standing fan in my room. Because of the heat, I was very restless and was not in the mood to continue to writing my autobiography; apparently it was going to be a bestseller.
I walked out of the double entry doors leading to my personal balcony, just to get a bit of fresh air. I was so not ready to be toast. My balcony gave me a view of the orchard and placed me strategically in the direction of the cool breeze being blown by all the fruiting trees in the orchard. Why not just go to the orchard for air? My subconscious asked me. I knew why. I wanted to be alone, and staying locked up in my room was the only way to assure that continuity of that state. Looking at the chap chap tree in the orchard, I slowly started drifting off in my thoughts; very strange ones actually.
I chuckled to myself when I remembered my friends in Los Angeles would laugh if I told them we called the Sour Sop tree chap chap. Ha!! LA. I sighed to myself. Who knew I would ever leave the US to become a full-fledged patriotic Nigerian with a knack for social media influencing. I looked at the grazing goats and chickens all resting underneath the shade of the orchard. They were feeling the intense heat too. One of the younger female goat was gnawing at the bark of the red hibiscus tree, while the castrated male was trying to mount her and mate with her. I shook my head and smiled, after having enough of standing.
I walked back into the room, leaving the double entry doors wide open; I needed the air. I plopped myself on the bed lazily and slowly reminisced on the past six months of my life and how much I have grown. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board the train of my thoughts. I suggest you fasten your seat belts because it is going to be a bumpy ride.
“Nikki darling, are you ready? Your cab is waiting for you outside.” My Mum called from downstairs and I hunched my shoulders in defeat.
“Just a second mum.” I shouted in return.
It was that time of the year again; summer break. The average American student would flip and rejoice at the mention of that phrase, not I. All the hours I should spend at summer beach parties, and hanging out with some of the cool kids from college were always spent in Nigeria, with my father.
Remembering Nigeria and my father always left a bad taste in my mouth each time, and itmade me angry. Now was not the time to remember though, I had to get my reluctant butt downstairs, before I missed my flight; though I would be happy, but due to past experiences, I knew it would not stop my mum from booking another flight for me.
I looked around my room, and tears pooled in my eyes. Looking back on that moment now, I wondered if my subconscious knew that would be the last time I would be seeing that room. I was 22 years old, a sophomore at UCLA, and majoring in political science and government, yet I was still a baby at heart. I dragged my suitcase downstairs, and tried to force a cheerful expression on my face for my mum. She switched off the vacuum cleaner, dropped the machine, and quickly made her way towards me. My mum knew how to smother me with hugs, each time I had to make my yearly trip to my father.
“I’ll miss you Nikki. Please take care of yourself and be good all through.”
“Mum, I’m not a kid anymore, neither is this my first rodeo. I’ll call you immediately I land in Lagos, right before I take my flight to Asaba. Then I’ll call you when I touchdown at Asaba, and I know I’m also supposed to call you once I finally get to Dad’s place. Happy?”
“I’ll miss you too mum. Please go on that date with Brian, he’s so into you.”
My mum laughed and helped me wheel my suitcase to our porch, where the cab driver was waiting a tad impatiently for me. We hugged once more at the door and I quickly made my way to the backseat of the car before she sees the tears gathering in my eyes. I hated summer. My ride to the airport was silent, just the way I liked it. I started making mental plans of my miserable two-month stay in Asaba. I had no friends over there, and I wondered what I was going to do that year to pass the time. I wasn’t born or raised in America, but circumstances made us immigrants, then citizens by naturalization when I finally clocked 18. I was 13 when we left Nigeria suddenly, even though I barely understood what was happening.
Growing up, I finally understood that my paternal grandmother and aunties secretly married another wife for my father because my mum had no son or other children except me for 13 years. They didn’t want to understand that my mum suffered from serious PCOS, and it limited her chances of getting pregnant. By the time I was 13, grandma brought the woman and her twin boys to the house as the rightful wife and kids. The boys were five years old already. My mum was devastated that my father could keep such a secret from her for five years, but dad defended himself by saying it was their culture and there was nothing mum could do about it. Two weeks after that day, she came to pick me from school and we never returned to my Dad’s house. We spent a few months in Ibadan with my maternal grandparents, and my mum did the official change of name for me. I was no longer Adenike Nwankwo, I became Nikki Oyelari. Oyelari was mum’s maiden name. I don’t know how my dad managed to win her forgiveness but she started taking me back to Asaba after I clocked 15 every summer break. Usually, she would return to Lagos after she saw me safely to Asaba, but since I clocked 18, I was finally allowed to make the trip to Nigeria on my own. If only I didn’t hate the country and its culture so much, I would probably enjoy the break each year. Nigeria ruined my childhood and my parents’ marriage, it made my classmates in LA mock me because I was from the country known for fraud. They mocked my accent, and they laughed at my expression each time the News carried a story of terrorist attacks in Nigeria. They would tag me to social media posts about the gross incompetency of the governors and senators of the country, just to make fun of me.
In school, though my documents had Nikki Oyelari, I went by Nikki Larry. I cut off every tie I had with that nation including my accent and hair. I couldn’t change my color, so I opted to be recognized as a black American.
All in all, that country gave me nothing, but took everything from me. If I can help it, this trip would be my last to that God forsaken land.
My Dad was waiting for me at Asaba airport with an ever ready smile, but as usual, I didn’t return it. I called my mum to let her know I was in Asaba, and I was extremely jet-lagged after an 18-hour trip. I wasn’t ready to make small talk with my father, all I wanted was sleep.
“Nike, how are you doing? You have grown so much since last year. How was your trip?
How is school? And how’s your mother? Let me help you with your bag.” His voice and expression showed pure excitement.
I moved my suitcase to my other hand and rebuffed his help. “Everything is fine, thanks.”
He sighed and held my shoulder firmly. “I know your mother didn’t raise you to be disrespectful. In this country, we greet our elders, and I demand that you greet me the way you should have.”
“And if I don’t? Will you do me the favor of sending me back? You think I want to be
We were creating a scene and he knew it. He relented and led the way to his car while I followed. After making our way out of the airport, he resumed his tirade.
“Year after year, I have tried my best to make you feel welcome. I know the amenities here cannot be compared to what you have over there in the States, but I’m trying. Nike, I am trying.”
“First, my name is Nikki, stop calling me Nike.”
“I named you Nike, after your mum’s mother. I am not going to stop calling you what I named you.”
“Second, don’t act like you want me here. You never wanted me as a child, so why should I believe you would want me now?” My voice was breaking and I hated it.
He suddenly stopped driving and he parked the car by the side of the road. He turned to look at me, while I was trying to keep my tears at bay.
“Why would you think such a thing?” He asked softly.
I gave a bitter laugh. “Oh please. You cheated on my mum just because you wanted boys, since I wasn’t enough as a child for you. Instead of you to apologize, you let grandma insult her and call her barren, and you justified your misdeeds with the archaic culture you practice in this godforsaken land.”
“Nike, I swear to God, I loved you and your mother, but I let the fear of ‘what would people say?’ push me into hurting you both. I will spend the rest of my life making it up to you, but believe me, I want you here and I can’t wait to let you see how much I love you.”
The tears ended up falling and I groaned. I could be such a softie sometimes. I didn’t forgive him, not really, but I no longer hated him either. When he finally realized I wasn’t going to say anything anymore, he sighed and started the
car. Halfway to the house, I noticed a bunch of posters and billboards; ever the political scientist, they caught my attention.
“The Delta State Governorship election is next month.” Dad told me when he caught me staring at a particular billboard.
I was silent at first, I wanted to ignore him, but my curiosity and interests wouldn’t let me.
“Who is the young candidate?”
“That’s Peter Irivwotu for the CPC party. He’s a good man, but he’s not going to win. He
doesn’t even have a chance.”
“He’s competing against the likes of Chief Ikenna and the current Governor.”
“So, people would rather vote for chief Ikenna, someone who has served them for eight years in the senate with nothing to show for it, or reinstate a governor that has spent the past four years squandering their resources?” I was irritated at that moment.
He chuckled silently. “That’s the power of money my dear.”
“I’m sure the people will eat that 5000 naira for the next four years then.”
“You can’t blame them. They are poor and that 5000 naira is a lot to them. Those that know better know their votes won’t count so they don’t bother voting.”
“You mean people like you?” I asked him.
“I thought you hated Nigeria. Why are you suddenly so interested in our welfare and
He got me there! I scowled, folded my hands on my chest, and pouted like a child. We were silent through the rest of the drive to his place. When we drove into his compound, my eyes immediately went to the orchard. It was my
favourite place in the compound while growing up, and it was still my favorite place each summer. No matter the season, there was always a tree with fruit in there. While I was getting my suitcase out of the backseat, dad went to close the gate. I turned to look at my home for the next two months, and I sighed. My Dad’s house was actually pretty big; when I was a child, I used to think I lived in a castle. It was a turquoise storey building with two guest rooms downstairs and three bedrooms upstairs. Overtime, the décor and appliances inside the house changed to accommodate the ever changing trends.
I wheeled my suitcase inside after him. The living room was quiet and it felt devoid of life. I looked around me, feeling out of place, even though it was my dad’s house, it wasn’t my own home.
“You know your summer breaks come faster than that of Nigerians. The boys are still in boarding school and will not be home until next month. Amaka should be in the kitchen making something for you.”
Speak of the devil! Amaka came into the living room with a smile for me. I had come to like her over the years, though I wouldn’t let her know, when I realized she was also a victim of Africanization. She was manipulated by her parents into dating and marrying my dad traditionally, without telling her he had a wife and kid in Asaba.
“Nikki my dear. See how big you’ve grown. How are you doing and how was your trip?” She actually hugged me.
“My trip was fine, thank you. I am jetlagged and will actually love to rest.”
“Not without eating first. Tell me, how is your mother doing?”
“She’s really good. She’s seriously dating Brian, our handsome and hunky black neighbour and they are so happy and in love.”
“Oh!” This came from my dad.
Everyone was suddenly quiet because he didn’t hide the look of hurt and jealousy on his face well enough. I was suddenly happy and giddy inside because I made him feel one of the things his betrayal did to me.
“I’ll just go upstairs and shower, then I’ll come back down to eat. Is that okay with you?”
They both nodded, so I made my way upstairs, reveling in my victory while they stayed in an awkward silence. Someone will not be getting laid that night.
About two weeks since my arrival in Asaba, and I was ready to shoot myself in the head from boredom. Apart from morning Masses and a few minutes of scintillating conversation with the cute priest I had a crush on, I had nothing else taking my time. I read, perused social media apps, and slept like a log of wood each day. I longed and ached for a change in my boring routine. It was June and the rain fell with vengeance almost every day, which prevented me from going to the cinema or Abraka town.
My phone suddenly pinged, and I rushed to check the new message, but was disappointed at discovering it was a Whatsapp message from my dad. I dropped the phone at first, but curiosity and lack of something to do, pushed me to pick it up again. I opened the message to see an address and an invitation to witness Chief Ikenna’s private campaign to the outskirts of Asaba. I smiled involuntarily at the sweet gesture. Usually, fathers bribed their daughters with chocolates or clothes, mine bribed me with an invite to a private political rally.
I quickly pulled on jean and a sweatshirt, in case it rained. I made my way downstairs, no one was home, and let myself out of the house. Everyone had a copy of the house key, so there was no need to keep the keys somewhere.
My trip to the location took longer than usual because the roads were even worse than the norm because of the weather. Water and mud made the short commute unbearable. My shoes were a sorry sight by the time I got to the building for the private campaign. The building was nothing fancy, and it was so inconspicuous that one could easily miss it. Well, time to see what a private campaign is all about.
My steps while walking back home that evening were slow and measured, seeing as I was lost in thoughts. I suddenly felt for the people of Delta state. Their constituency and social leaders were just greedy and culpable, with no remorse for their past misdeeds. No one deserved the kind of pain Nigerians were going through, no matter the kind of prejudice I felt towards them.
Something hit my leg and brought me out of my reverie. It was a soccer ball, being chased by a group of half-naked kids. Their feet were spattered with mud but the happiness and innocence on their faces was what caught my attention. The oldest one among them quickly rushed towards me to get the ball.
“Sorry aunty, sorry oh. No be say we see you oh. Abeg no vex.”
“I am not angry, but are you guys not cold?”
They all shook their heads.
“We are used to it actually.” One of the younger ones answered in perfect English. I simply stood there staring at them like an idiot before I finally got an idea. I signaled for them to come closer to me and they were wary. Such suspicion! It broke my heart.
I raised my phone for them to see. “I want to take a picture with you guys.”
They started coming forward slowly until they realized I wasn’t going to bite them. I raised the phone and took a selfie with them. I thanked them for the honor and they laughed and went back to their game. I decided to post the picture on Twitter with the caption ‘The Nigerian leaders of tomorrow.Great kids. #DeltaStateElections’
After that, I put my phone back in my pocket and quickly made my way home.
“Mama will be coming tomorrow. She’s coming to Asaba for a thanksgiving party, so she wants to use the opportunity to see her granddaughter.” Dad started at dinner that night. I looked up at him in the middle of swallowing my bolus of Akpu and Egusi soup. “Oh, you mean your sister’s daughter? That’s nice.”
Dad sighed audibly while Amaka was trying to stifle her giggles. I was acting dense on purpose, but in my defense, I had no reason to believe my grandmother would want to see me.
“I meant you Nike.”
“Why? Because you’re her granddaughter, that’s why.”
“Now, she thinks I’m her granddaughter? She didn’t think so when she called my mother barren and said I wasn’t child enough for her and for you.” I suddenly lost my appetite.
Dad didn’t have a response for that, so I thanked them for dinner, packed my plates, and left the dining table.
I went upstairs to my room and decided to take my mind off the unpleasant situation by scrolling through the feedback on the picture I posted that evening. If I thought my evening was ruined, I had something else in stock for me.
Some of my old high school classmates and current college classmates were all over the comment section with horrible comments. “Let’s hope they don’t get bombed to pieces before
growing up.” “Oh my God, Africa has internet?” “Wow, look at the state of the roads, so despicable like the people in the picture.” “Hey Nikki, you’re now an advocate for that shit hole country?” “Why don’t you do us a favor and stay back there. We’ve had enough of you Nigerians coming to take over things in our country.” And those were the nicest comments there.
I wiped the tears that made their way out of my eyes and switched off my phone for the night. I decided to just listen to music and go to bed. I felt pathetic because I could not even fight back; they were too many for me to handle on my own.
I wasn’t very keen on going back online the next day but I knew I had to, although what I saw baffled me. My post was trending on Twitter with the hashtag #NaijaVsBullies.
A ton of Nigerian twitter users were defending me, the kids, and their country with a bunch of hilarious memes, deep comments, and sassy comebacks. My private message was full of random Nigerians asking me if I was okay, and wondering if I let the bullies get back to me. A bunch of the hateful comments from the previous night were no longer there, because their owners already deleted them. I whooped and started jumping like a maniac alone in my room.
They didn’t know me, but they knew I was Nigerian like them, and they supported me.
My 7k followers were now 12k. Yay!! Influencer in the making. I was even more overwhelmed because all ethnicities were involved in the trend. They set aside their differences, to push back the bullies. It made me wonder; can the Delta State indigenes set aside their differences and push back the political bullies like Chief Ikenna and the governor?
I typed out my thoughts and made a thread story on what I saw and heard at the private campaign between Chief Ikenna and all the societal leaders of Asaba. I left my phone upstairs and went down for breakfast. Amaka and Dad had already gone to work, so I had the house to myself again.
By the time I came back upstairs from breakfast, my follower count was now 16k, and I didn’t even know how that happened. The engagement on the thread was mind-blowing, with people sharing their grievances about the failed administration of their governors and the president.
My phone started ringing, but it was my Dad calling. I was in a glorious mood so I picked the call.
“Nike, what did you do? Ehn?”
“I don’t understand.”
“You’re trending on social media because you made yourself an enemy of chief Ikenna. How can you reveal the details of his private campaign? I only got you that invitation to help you learn, not for you to cause trouble.”
“Seriously? The people deserve to know the truth Dad. The man is promising those leaders a share of the state cake if they can get their people to vote for him.”
“It is not a new thing, and you can’t change it. This is not America and only you can’t do it.”
“Who said I planned to do it alone?”
I ended the call after a little more back and forth argument with him. I wasn’t going to abandon a set of people that defended me to the mercy of these tyrants. Those innocent kids and their ugly soccer ball deserved better.
I grumbled silently after Dad dropped grandma and me at the stadium 10 days later. She wanted to see someone near the stadium, while dad thought it would be good for me to stay off social media for a few hours. I wasn’t a fan of my grandmother and she didn’t think she should apologize for what she did. An elder is never wrong she said. She said the little hole in my right ear was the reason I was so stubborn and refusing to be friendly with her. She even suggested taking me for spiritual cleansing, because she was sure I had a spirit following me. I chose not to follow her, so I entered the stadium instead. I saw the youths and kids all had different small football pitches on the large field. Most of the girls were either running on the tracks or laughing with one another on the bleachers. It was a refreshing sight.
I was fascinated with the running girls that I didn’t see the group of people walking towards
me. They were close enough, before I realized they were coming to talk to me. A young guy, around my age stepped forward and offered me a handshake. “We thought it was you. Ejiro had to bring out your picture on Instagram for us to confirm. Hi, my name is Steven.”
I returned his handshake and waved at the other people in the group.
“We are sure you must have gotten a lot of gratitude online, but we wanted to deliver a personal one to you.”
“Gratitude for what exactly?”
“Your campaign and passion for making us believe we actually have a say in what happens to our country.” One of the girls responded.
“No, you all had the passion before, I just nudged it out.”
“Honestly, before you campaign started, I believed my vote wouldn’t matter, so there was no point trying. But when I saw a bunch of youths like myself coming out with you to help campaign for Dr. Irivwotu, I knew we had a chance at saving this country after all.” Steven gave me a really impressive speech.
I suddenly became shy and bashful, because the praises being heaped on me felt undeserved. I wish they knew how much I despised my heritage before all these, maybe they wouldn’t be so grateful and enamored with me.
A plump girl came forward and engulfed me in a hug. She smelled of sweat, but felt comforting.
“I’m Ejiro, and I’m sorry about the recent attack on your life.”
“Thank You Ejiro. I’m happy their plans were foiled.”
Yes, I was attacked by a bunch of hooligans one evening after campaigns, but the area vigilantes and some young men in the area chased them off and caught one of them. He was handed over to the police, and nothing came of it till that moment. I wasn’t stupid, I knew my sudden physical and virtual campaigns would garner me a few enemies.
“Well, it’s us against them. We might not win but the past two weeks have gotten Dr. Irivwotu more supporters than the entirety of his campaign. Youths are no longer keyboard warriors, but active political participants.” Steven smiled and told me. “We have a news for you though.”
“Oh, what is it?”
“One of us is related to Dr. Irivwotu, and we would like you to meet him. He has heard about you and he has seen all your efforts. We can rrange a meeting between you two and send a stronger message to the supporters and opposition.” He concluded.
I was dumbfounded and happy. I rushed out a bunch of yes while laughing at the same time.
“Come, join us on the field.”
“Oh no! I’m terrible with sports.”
“And so is Ejiro, but we let her play anyway.”
“Hey watch it.” Ejiro scolded him good naturedly.
“Alright I’ll join you. But don’t blame me if you lose, I warned you ahead of time.”
The reception at Dr. Irivwotu’s office was so beautiful and comfortable. My feet sank into the plush rug and the AC hit my brain in the right spots. Steven, Ejiro, and Kevwe; the guy related to Dr. Irivwotu, all sighed in contentment as they sipped their drinks beside me.
“Why did you choose to motivate the youths out of their political apathy?” Ejiro asked me quietly.
“Honestly, I think it all started at the private campaign. Then the strangers that came to my defense, the hardworking nature of Nigerians, the unparalleled sense of humor, and a knack for being resilient. I felt it was time for us to stop complaining online and make things physical.”
“A ton of the masses would still sell their votes though. Doesn’t that bother you? All your hardwork might be for nothing.”
“We don’t have to win, but I want them to realize that the power of evolution is in their hands, only if they wield it. The likes of Chief Ikenna will continue to win elections unless we come out of the virtual world and fight in the physical.”
“Chief Ikenna has got the votes of the older Delta-Ibos though.”
“Don’t worry. The next phase of our campaign is to show them that even one’s kinsman can betray one. Trust me, I have a personal story on that account.”
“Well, let’s hope they listen.”
“It’s simple. Sufferhead no dey tire una?”
She laughed and nodded her head. “That’s an impressive slogan. Why didn’t I think of that?”
We were silent for a while and then she tapped me again. “You know, the best thing about Nigeria isn’t the land or weather or riches. It is the people. Nigerians are what makes the country worth uniting and fighting for.”
“Of course, the people are any Nation’s greatest resource.”
Before we could continue the conversation though, Dr. Irivwotu came out of his office with a mini entourage and we quickly scrambled to our feet, Steven spilled his coke in the process.
“Uncle, this is the girl you have wanted to meet. Nikki, this is the man of the youth himself. So, meet Nikki Larry.”
He extended a hand to me and I shook it. His hands were rough and calloused, a reminder of his humble beginnings. I might be prejudiced, but there was kindness in his eyes and no hint of shrewdness.
“Hi, I’m Adenike Oyelari.” And I am a Nigerian, I added silently.