OKPARA I. EMEKA: HIDDEN HALOES, a novel.
Word count: 62,400
Language: English (predominantly), Pidgin English, French, Ogoni.
BARILE is the one who stops school after primary six to join his mother, ROSEMARY, in her banana business at Garrison junction in Port Harcourt; he has to participate in breadwinning now that his father, TOSAN, has eloped with a strange woman to God-knows-where. However, JOHN his younger brother, the egghead of the family, is the one who gets caught one early morning carrying his mother’s wares to Garrison junction to secure a choice space for her. The overzealous taskforce of the state government’s Free and Compulsory Education Program (FCEP) catches him, and hauls him alongside other children into a campus of the Special School Program (SSP) designed by the new state government to take destitute children off the streets.
Their life has changed again. This time, Barile has to impersonate as a student using his brother’s school uniforms to meander through the streets selling plantain to housewives, his trusted accomplices who nicknames him ‘Plantain Scholar’. He carries it a little too far by attempting to get a job at a nearby plastic factory whose CEO, Mr JOHNSON is known to be a strong supporter of the FCEP.
Surprisingly, Mr Johnson agrees to employ to keep track of his workers’ activities at the factory on the condition that he behaves well so that he gets a chance to attend afternoon classes at the CEO’s expense. It turns out Mr Johnson’s only daughter, ADA, pretty and precocious, also loves Barile a little above normal.
An appeal court ruling changes the face of government and the FCEP dies a natural death, and so does the much publicised governor’s scholarship John received after he makes history as the first student of the SSP to win the National Cowbell Mathematics Competition in junior secondary category. John returns to the house with an uncertain future, amidst his mother’s failing health, and depression.
Tosan realises the visa that brought he and his new found love, BUKOLA, into South Africa is a contingent visa for a world football event. He gets into trouble now and again with the authorities but his lover pulls a strange fast one that always gets him out, but strains their relationship. They relocate to Johannesburg near the University of Witwatersrand, where he comes one afternoon after a driving lesson to learn about Mr HUGHES, a medical doctor and university don who literally pries Bukola’s love from his hands. Bukola tells him of her grand plan to dupe Mr Hughes and get them both a better life; how instrumental he can be by playing the patient dog, but with the coming years all he sees between Bukola and the Briton is a fledgling romance.
Meanwhile, John gets sympathy scholarship from the makers of cowbell milk to study medicine in South Africa. There he meets with Mr Hughes and they become fast friends. In his attempts to reach down and talk to Tosan, Mr Hughes mentions John every once in a while as he, being an ardent follower of Nigerian news and politics, knows that both Tosan and the bright medical student, John, are from the volatile oil rich Ogoniland in the Niger Delta area of Nigeria. However, Tosan never shows any interest in the discussions.
Barile starts afternoon school as planned, and his service at Japour Plastics earns him the nickname, ‘Checkerboy’. His efforts at checkmating the excesses of the staff of Japour alongside Mr Johnson’s managerial efforts become evident in the improved fortunes of the company. His bond with the Johnson family in general, and their only daughter in particular deepens. When he meets the scantily dressed daughter of the factory’s security man, ELVIS, one hot afternoon and gets infatuated with her, he walks into the factory security man’s snare. What follows is a blackmail that seriously threatens his relationship with the Johnsons. Elvis’ father, KWERI, is an unhappy man who hates Barile at first sight; even though he doesn’t know the wife he’s been looking for all these years eloped with Barile’s father. He blackmails Barile to the extent of having him work nights at the gate! Everybody thinks he is being nice to the security man who often feigns sick.
Barile gains admission into the university at about the time he made up his mind to report his sins to Mr Johnson and wriggle out of Kweri’s blackmail. At that time, Mr Johnson is too excited about his daughter’s admission into the university to listen to his confession. He offers to relocate Barile’s ailing mother into his family house while Barile goes to school to pursue a course in engineering.
Rosemary’s lungs experiences fresh air again as she receives specialist care for her diabetes at Mr Johnson’s family clinic. She’s poised to live again, and returns to her first love, fashion designing. However, she pushes her luck too far when she takes an herbal concoction that claims to have a cure for diabetes. He slumps into coma from hypoglycaemia and dies of head injury she sustains alongside. Her mysterious death pitches her only surviving brother, MIKE, who believes she’s used for blood money, against the Johnsons. He opposes arrangements for her burial. The issue blows out of proportion when the notoriously rich Chief Martin, Mike’s kinsman, gets his ego involved and arranges the kidnap of Ada to punish Mr Johnson for talking back at him. Ada’s disappearance for days tumbles the Johnsons’ family, turning Mr Johnson against his wife, JOY.
It takes John to draw on a chance relationship he had with a policeman way back during the celebrations of his emergence as winner of National Cowbell Mathematics Competition at Rivers state government house to secure Ada’s release. The current Inspector General of police is that policeman, and he takes the fight against kidnapping personal. Rosemary gets buried at about the same time Chief Martins confesses Ada’s whereabouts…
After his studies abroad, John returns to Lagos to live with Mr Hughes and work at the lofty private clinic the Briton built soon after her switched his services from University of Witwatersrand to University of Lagos. For no particular reasons he singles out Tosan, his father, for a coldness that borders on hatred. The coldness was mutual. Tosan has long realised there was no grand plan anywhere to dupe Mr Hughes; guilt and depression have however effectively forced him to remain with Bukola and Mr Hughes as their driver. The presence of Dr John, whom he sees as a spoilt rich kid basking probably on the fortunes of stolen Niger Delta oil money, doesn’t make matters any better for him.
On the day Ada weds Barile, Tosan drives Dr John in the front seat of a Prado jeep all the way down to the Sandfill area Port Harcourt while Mr Hughes and Bukola sit at the back. From reading the invitation card of the wedding repeatedly, Tosan sees a lot of coincidences that almost stop his heartbeat. He strongly itches to ask Dr John some questions, but his liver fails him. As drives into the venue of the wedding he hopes all the names and relationships in the I.V were truly coincidences, because this is not the way he plans to return to his family. Not like he has any plans at all...
While the wedding program moves smoothly, Tosan confirms his fears. The family he left years ago is going to make the worst mistake of their lives. Barile is related to Ada by blood, and somebody has to tell them. He stands up when the pastor asked for any objections to the marriage. The church auditorium explodes with confusion. He tries to explain, but he is not thinking straight. Among the guests is Mike, barile’s maternal uncle, who was to stand for Barile’s father in spite of himself. It turns out that even though Tosan calls his step-mother ‘mother’, Mike knows the difference. He knows that the Ogadimma that raised Tosan, who’s incidentally Ada’s grand aunt, was Tosan’s step-mother, not his mother. The wedding goes on even as Dr John now realises exactly why he hates Tosan effortlessly.
Meanwhile, in that same church auditorium, Kweri meets the wife that abandoned their only daughter with him and ran away. He creeps up behind Bukola and introduces himself in his usual way, but Bukola is not surprised, neither is her friend, Mr Hughes, who’s already used to intrigues. She quickly reminds him that they were never married, and that Elvis is his responsibility. When Kweri wouldn’t let them be, Mr Hughes gives him an amount of money he can’t believe to the consternation of Bukola. He calms down the way he did when Mr Johnson paid him years ago for the plots of land on which Japour Plastics currently seats.
Mr Hughes and Bukola return to Lagos by flight, leaving the Prado with Dr John to return with as they no longer have a driver; while Barile and Ada retreat to hotel presidential for their first night as husband and wife.