The hiking was brief, about an hour. He was a little scared when they walked through the fat barks of the bushes, scaled the twigs and under-brush and his feet alternated between hard soil and carpets of wood chips. He heard the birds. But what struck him were the leaves. They were in their last stand without the will of colour. They had lost their tone and flourish. They were turning pale yellow and sagging and wrinkly. The air had lost its robust, summer tint; a certain pallor and hints of shadows now rent the view of things.
He tried to compare the place with the years in Orogun, he knew the boldness and wiles of the world. He knew how to plumb the depths of its bushes. He knew the animals, smelled their augury, he knew how to anticipate their menace and how to tackle them. Even at that, there was no guarantee of safety. He knew how to confront the audacity of reptiles like green snakes, or the pythons, or the alligators. He also knew about wild pigs. But he had no idea how to deal with a bear or a mountain lion. These animals often came on the news. They had wasted a few people in the past few months. He read in the Rocky Mountain News, a month earlier, about a boy mauled to death by a lion. The parents were about a quarter of mile away from him when the beast attacked.
But Itse concealed his fear. He also steeled himself, believing he would deploy his residual skill, his resilience as a fighter in the wilds of Orogun.
He never expected to have a white girlfriend. He had heard stories of interracial relationships and how blacks had been lynched in the past. He knew that did not happen nowadays but did some white people still carry the prejudice and could they still do him harm in secret? Could the boys, who laughed with him in their uproarious parties, not catch him in a furtive hour one night and dispatch him? Maybe that was why he hesitated. But he knew he never consciously contemplated that. Maybe that was what Cindy meant by that phrase that he said yes but he didn’t know. She saw the yes coming but she forced the spring.
Cindy and his other friend, Abe, opened him to the world of the rich and also the world of play in America. He was not only going to be a bookworm. He wanted to understand the American way, the beer and baseball, the bars and girls, the giddy nights and sober churches, soap box and box scores. For all the years he spent there, he had his thumb on all the pulse. He made many friends and, in time, he made quite a few Nigerian friends, close ones, too. But Cindy gave him the best window on America.
He was studying software, and dreamed of one day developing a patent that would vault him to wealth. After graduation, he was lucky. He landed a job with Bridge Software as a software engineer. At that time, he had already decided that he was not going to work for any company for too long. He wanted to be on his own, to go on a tear of entrepreneurial daring. He hoped to introduce leading-edge products to virgin Africa, beginning from Nigeria. But he had to make money first, save enough. He would not return full-time to Nigeria, but he would have a base in both countries. He also hoped that he could become a link between the technology giants and markets in Africa.
He never succeeded in the search for patents, but he would not despair. Great ideas come when one is not looking, he told himself.
He had actually started his business before he met Tim Forester. He had made such trips for over three years. The gains were modest so far, but infinitely more fulfilling than working eight-hour shifts five or six days a week. He earned less on his business trips than he would have on a salary as a highly needed software engineer, especially for a person who topped his class. But he said he was in his seed season. He dreamed that, in time, he would be the big name in African technology.
He succeeded with his modest earnings to build himself a small bungalow in Lagos and the village home. Each time he went back, he spent a week in Orogun. The Orogunians thought he was in Lagos when he was not in the village. They thought he was buried in work in the city and amassing wealth. He let the lie fester.
It was true, at times, when he brought his software engagements to Africa. But that ran onto a bump with Tim’s project. After an initial reluctance, he devoted himself to the project almost as though he had abandoned his obligation to himself and his future.