Uju was the first to notice the signs. The little trembling of her mother’s hands as she set Papa’s food on the table. The way her hands shook as she downed a cup of water. As her sickness progressed, the signs became more evident to all. She would forget what way her room was and repeatedly ask what day it was. They then took her to the town hospital where the old doctor said her mother had something growing in her brain, a benign brain tumor, he had said, the type of cancer that didn’t kill.
Uju was angry with the doctor’s report. She was angry because cancer was the rich man’s disease. People like her semi-literate mother-who sold second-hand brassieres and underwear for a living- did not have cancer. Cancer was for people who worked in air-conditioned offices and lived in mansions, for people who had drivers take them everywhere they went. Cancer wasn’t for people like her mother, people who couldn’t afford the treatment.
There had been almost no hope of raising money for the treatment until the day Mrs. Richard visited her father, telling him that she had a job offer for Uju’s brother, Uche. She said a friend of hers, a wealthy woman in Abuja, the nation’s capital city, whose husband was out of the country for a long while, was in need of a friend. Or a companion to offer her some services, she called it. She said the job came with benefit packages that would be enough for Uju mother’s treatment.
But Uju knew this it was no ordinary job offer. She had heard the stories; stories of rich older women with busy, absentee husbands, who hired young boys, fresh blood to keep their beds warm. Days before Uche was to leave for Abuja, he asked her what she thought of him leaving. “You’ll be sleeping with a married woman who is old enough to give birth to you. She’s old enough to give birth to you Uche”, she answered.
Weeks passed and the Abuja woman sent the ‘benefit packages’ as agreed. Uju’s mother’s surgery went well and soon enough she started to regain control of her cognitive functions. Occasionally, Uju would ask her father with an unbecoming sharpness, “How is Uche? When is he coming home?” Her father would avert his gaze guiltily and give the monotonous answer she knew was a lie, “Uche is fine. He said I should greet you”.
When Uche would come home visiting months later, what met Uju at the door was a full bodied yet hollow shell of a man that used to be her brother. She looked at his eyes and saw that were now the eyes of one who had learnt to disconnect from his surroundings, eyes that stared without seeing. Uju knew if she looked into the seemingly endless tunnels that were Uche’s eyes long enough, she would see the dark and hidden stories etched into them.
She would see the days when he had first arrived, the days of innocence.
She would see the days he worked in his innocence to satisfy his employer’s fantasies.
Uju would see him in the days he had become bolder, in the days of acceptance, nuzzling the woman’s neck before kissing her, his hands stroking and kneading her mounds, sliding down her stomach to caress between her thighs during their acts of coupling.
She would see how he had been snatched from the hands of naiveté and innocence and thrust into the arms of sophistication and awareness. She would see in Uche’s eyes how he had been scarred into maturity.
Uju looked away.
About the Author
Modupe is from Ekiti State, Nigeria, where she currently studies Medicine and Surgery at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. She is a lover of ice cream, football, culture and literature, in no particular order. She is on a quest to experience the amazing things life has to offer; her blog: accordingtodupe.wordpress.com documents her experience during this chase.
About the Illustrator-
Mawia Hunter is trying to reflect the art and beauty of Africa and rebuild his past and Roots of Sudan.
Uche’s Eyes is one of the many amazing pieces of fiction from the upcoming edition of the literary collection The Machinery.
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