A Newspack Sunday Story Series (ANSSS)
“Life is littered with paths and puzzles. Like the wind, no one knows where they come from or where they lead to. Today, we serve you the story of a family, the Okonofuas, from the Edo State town of Ekpoma”
Paths and Puzzles- Part 1.
It was about 4am when a deafening scream shot out from Mr Okonofua’s Place in Ekpoma. The Onojie and biggest water merchant in the land had passed on from a heart attack.
Mr Okonofua was the first person who trucked potable water around town in an old Land Rover pickup van. While he drove, Itohan, his wife, would dispense water to buyers from a fabricated water tank at the back of the van and collect cash. They would be on it all day till late in the evening.
From that little beginning, the business exploded when Ambrose Alli, a former Governor of the then Bendel State who hailed from Ekpoma established a University there and constructed a network of roads in the town.
Itohan sold water to students at a discounted rate and whenever anyone complained about not having money to buy, she gave them water for free or on credit and collected payments at their convenience.
Most of the time, she would let go of old debts. But her kind hearted gesture became her unique selling point. As soon as Ekpoma people hear the signature broadcast from Okonofua’s Land Rover, they would line his route with all kinds of containers to buy water.
Itohan, was inconsolable over her husband’s death. Many feared she might not live much longer because the loss would be too much for her to bear.
She became the restless Chief Executive Officer of the family’s water business when her husband was crowned an Onojie (king) of Ekopma For over 30 years she grew the business from that single Land Rover van to a fleet of water tankers. She never took a day off except when very sick.
Just three days after the monumental tragedy and burial talks were still in the early stage, Okonofua’s relations showed up to demand for all landed property papers and details of all bank accounts owned by their late brother.
Itohan wailed loudly and bitterly, this time not for her husband but for herself. She did not have any children until after fifteen years of her marriage. Okonofua’s siblings wanted her thrown out of the marriage. But Okonofua both refused to do so or marry a second wife. Itohan was his soulmate he often told his persecuting siblings.
But his four brothers thought otherwise. They claimed Itohan was a witch. Not only did she not have a child, Okonofua’s economic life initially plunged and remained poor for a prolonged period of time after marrying Itohan while his brothers prospered.
Eventually, Itohan gave birth to an only daughter. She named her Osemudiamen (God stands for me). But Okonofua named the daughter, Omozoya ( A child helps in time of need). However, everyone called her Ose.
Ose was 18 and in SSS 3 when her father died. She recalled how the parents struggled with their lives and water business without any help from family members. Though young, she was a very deep person. She had always been so from childhood.
As she watched her mother in distress, she recalled how these same people sitting in her father’s grand palace were the biggest beneficiary of her parents’ wealth but were never appreciative. The more they received, the more they demanded. It was like, Okonofua was under their spell even though he was just a kind hearted man not only to his own brothers but to all that came his way.
Itohan was ready to yield to her husband’s family pressure so that she can live for whatever was left of her life in peace. But on this day, she was in no mood to respond to the senseless talk of Okonofua’s brothers.
At about midnight that day, a storm struck Ekpoma. It rained so hard you would think that the sky would collapse. There was commotion in town as people struggled to fill every container in their homes with free rain water which they had not had for a long while due to a drought.
At the Okonofuas, Itohan and her many sympathizers slept soundly for the first time since tragedy struck. But Ose was awake, mulling a plan that would turn Ekpoma upside down and tear it apart.