“Yes,” said Samuel. “Lagos. Second-to-London. I have not been to Lagos. But I know Asaba which is poor- man’s Lagos.”

His companions laughed. Samuel sometimes talked like a grown man; this was one of the reasons why he was so popular with his companions.

Chike’s mind was far away-in Midwestern Nigeria. He liked such flowing phrases. Midwestern Nigeria, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Isle of Man.

3 Chike on the Banks of the River

Chike’s uncle was a very strict man. He rarely spoke and never laughed except when he drank cold beer or palm wine with his neighbor, Mr. Nwaba, or with one of his few friends. He did not like to see Chike playing with other children. He called it a waste of time. In his opinion children should spend their time reading and doing sums. His neighbor, Mr. Nwaba, agreed with him. His children played only when he was not around.

Chike had a different opinion. According to his teacher: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Chike agreed completely with this saying. He wanted to tell his uncle about it but lacked the courage.

One Saturday morning Chike felt very brave. He stood behind his uncle and asked for a shilling. His uncle, who was shaving, turned round. He had a small mirror in his left hand and razor in his right. His lower face was all covered in white soapsuds.

“What do you want a shilling for?” he asked.

“I want to go on the ferry to Asaba before they build the bridge,” replied Chike, fearlessly.

“Have you gone off your mind?” asked his uncle in great annoyance. “Run away from here before I count to three. One! Two!…”

Chike fled from him. For the first time in many months tears filled his eyes.

“I will write a letter to my mother to send me the money,” he said to himself. But then he remembered that his mother had warned him not to go near the river. So he became very sad.

Later that day his uncle told Mr. Nwaba about Chike’s request. Mr. Nwaba put down his glass of palm wine and laughed. Then he said: “Asaba is too near. Why does he not want to go to Lagos?”

Chike’s uncle was as yet unmarried. His servant, Michael, was a very big boy and he did all the difficult work in the house. He split firewood, went to the market, cooked, washed clothes and ironed them. Chike washed the plates after meals and sometimes swept the rooms.

They lived in two rooms. His uncle slept in one of them and kept all his boxes there. The soup-pot and other cooking vessels were hidden away under his huge iron bed. The other room had chairs, a round table in the center, framed photographs on the walls, a radio on the wooden pedestal in one of the four corners, a bookcase against the wall, and many other things. It was here that Michael and Chike slept. At night they moved the round table aside and spread their mat on the floor.

Chike did not like sleeping on the floor and he longed for the bamboo bed in his mother’s hut. There were other things he did not like. For example there were bedbugs on their mat. Sometimes Michael sprinkled kerosene on the mat to kill them off. But after a few days they were there again. Another thing Chike did not like was the large crowd of other tenants living in the same house. There were ten rooms in the house and more than fifty men, women, and children living in them. Many families lived in one room. Because there were so many strangers living together they were always quarreling about firewood and about sweeping the yard or scrubbing the bathroom and the latrines.

There were only two latrines in the yard for the fifty people. One was for adults and the other for children. Both were filthy but the children’s was worse. It swarmed with flies bigger than any Chike had ever seen at Umuofia. They revolted him. And so he learnt that a big town was not always better than a village. But there were things he liked in Onitsha.

Every Saturday Michael went to the big market to buy provisions. Sometimes when he had many things to buy he took Chike with him. Chike did not help in the buying but in carrying some of the things home. He did not mind this at all. In fact he liked it. While Michael bargained with the traders Chike stood aside watching the great river as it flowed peacefully down to the sea. He watched the fishermen in their canoes coming down the river or struggling up against it. Some of the canoes were houseboats; they had roofs of thatch over them. Chike was told that the fishermen lived for weeks or months in these boats.

But what Chike liked most was to watch the big ferryboats. They looked enormous to him. He wondered what big ships would look like. His class teacher had told them that big ships could only be seen at Lagos, Port Harcourt, or Burutu. But surely these ferryboats at Onitsha were big enough. What did anyone want bigger boats for? Even the canoes were big enough for some people to live in.

The more Chike saw the ferryboats the more he wanted to make the trip to Asaba. But where would he get the money? He did not know. Still, he hoped.

“One day is one day,” he said, meaning that one day he would make the journey, come what may.

4 Ezekiel, the Spoilt Child

Chike was so anxious to find the money for his trip across the river that he very nearly went into bad ways.

One of his friends called Ezekiel was a very bad boy. Like Chike, Ezekiel was his mother’s only son. He had four sisters. Ezekiel’s mother was a well-to-do trader who sold cloth in the Onitsha market and made much profit. But she was not a wise mother. She allowed Ezekiel to do whatever he liked. So he became a spoilt child. His mother had three servants who did all the housework. Sometimes Ezekiel’s sisters were asked to wash plates or draw water from the public tap. But he never did any work. His mother said that housework was only for servants and for girls. So Ezekiel was developing into a lawless little imp. He would sneak quietly to the soup-pot at night and search with his fingers for pieces of fish and meat. By morning the soup would go sour and Ezekiel’s mother would punish the servants. One day one of his sisters caught him red-handed. His fingers were covered with egusi soup. But Ezekiel denied it all, and his mother believed him.

When Ezekiel grew bigger he began to steal little sums of money from his mother. With this he bought akara, mai-mai, and groundnuts at break. Sometimes he was even able to buy whole packets of sweet biscuits or a tin of corned beef and a shilling loaf of bread.

Needless to say he was very popular at school. He was called Tough Boy and his friends thought the world of him. Of course they had no idea that he stole from his mother.

Then one day Ezekiel did something really awful. When he told his friends about it they thought it was very clever until their headmaster told them how wrong it was.

Ezekiel had somehow got hold of the names of three boys in England who wanted Nigerian pen-friends. He wrote to them asking one to send him money, another to send him a camera, and the third to send him a pair of shoes. He drew a pattern of his right foot on a piece of paper and sent it along. He promised each of the boys a leopard skin in return. Of course he had no intention of fulfilling the promise. For one thing he had never seen a leopard skin in his life.

After a month he received a ten-shilling postal order from one of the boys. He showed it to his mother and she called him Clever Boy, which was one of the many fond names she had given him. Then she took him to the post office to cash the postal order.

Ezekiel told his friends at school about his exploits and they were all highly impressed. “Tough Boy! Tough Boy!” was shouted on all sides.

The same day many other boys rushed off letters to England. Chike obtained two addresses but could not write

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