By Bayo Ogunmupe
WHAT does it mean to plot the worst evil, cold blooded murder for ritual purpose for a person who has just shared your bed? And what does it mean to have a rapist as father or stepfather? Every day stories of gruesome killings for ritual purposes dominate the headlines. If such killings are supposedly not for money-making rituals, it’s for political or business ascendancy or purely to expiate some ancestral curses. Either way, lives are needlessly wasted. And rape of minors and adults women alike by those they should trust are on the increase. Like its ritual murder counterpart, some of these rape cases are supposedly for reasons other than carnal pleasure. There are sinister purposes to some of them depending on who is perpetrating the evil act.
These are the two main concerns in Michael Afenfia’s third novel Rain Can Never Know (Paperworth Books Ltd, Lagos; 2021) in his apt exploration of a weird aspect of Africa’s traditional practice that has survived till modern times. Don’t Die on Wednesday and The Mechanics of Yenagoa are other novels by Afenfia.
As the name implies, there’s quite plenty of troubling rain in the life of the main character, Rain, to last a lifetime, but none approximates the near-death experience she unknowingly comes so close to in the hands of a man she impresses with her market economics analytical skills, and who then employs her. Her benefactor and billionaire business mogul Chief Rowland Edozie is the owner of construction giant Edozie Express (EE).
But like everyone else, big men and women inclusive, he has a dark family secret: every male child in his family dies before their 55th birthday! The 54th birthday is almost upon Chief Edozie, and he’s in a race against time in his desperate quest for a cure to break this family curse that took the lives of his father, his brother and those before them. If he does not break the jinx, his three sons will also not make it beyond their 55th birthday. Why should he leave his vast wealth at just 55 when he’s just starting to enjoy it? With so much money to spare, Chief Edozie and his wife Ohita embark on several journeys to unravel this family curse. But while Ohita favours going to churches and men of God for prayers, Chief Edozie looks in the direction of his ancestral African religion from where the curse emanates in the first place.
Meanwhile, his business is at crossroads. Monies are being taken from it in large chunks and he’s at a loss how or who. Rain has initial frustrations when she joined the company, soon enough things begin to improve when she is given a new portfolio in the finance department to work closely with Mr. Donald Wakama. Beyond her brief to work in finance, Chief Edozie gives her a secret brief; he suspects that Wakama is somehow involved in the bleeding his company is going through. What Chief Edozie does not know is that his own wife Ohita is also involved in this theft using Wakama. Like most woman who are in relationships for the money, Ohita has sensed that her husband may not live beyond his 54th birthday, and since he has three older children from his first wife, she and her children may not get enough in her husband’s will. She reasons that she needs to secure her future and that of her children, and the only way to do it is to steal from him while he’s alive.
Rain makes her findings that indict Wakama as the culprit. But before Chief Edozie initiates any action, Wakama winds up dead, killed on the streets of Yenagoa where the novel is set. Meanwhile, Rain is having her own issues. She ran away from home at 15 to avoid being repeatedly raped by her own stepfather. Sheltering in her uncle’s place till she finished from Federal University, Utuoke, she starts cohabiting with her boyfriend, David Spiff III (or D3). When she accompanies him to claim his haircut prize, she unknowingly meets Chief Edozie after impressing him with her analytical skills; he employs her after remaining unemployed for two years. But Rain and David are having a turbulent time in their relationship with trust issues; her best friend Annabel is not helping matters when she sleeps with David and wants him for herself as husband.
However, beyond Rain being in her boss’s good books, he wants her as his concubine, a proposition she does not like, since David has proposed to marry her. But overcome with emotions at her internal struggles, she does not resist Chief Edozie when he makes his moves and sleeps with her, something Rain regrets.
As with most rape cases of under-aged girls where society tends to turn a blind eye, Rain’s mother sides with her husband, but is beginning to repent of her action when she discloses her paternity to Rain that she is a child borne out of rape. Reconciliation with the man who raped her is out of the question; he still does not own up to the crime when her stepfather and Rain’s mother come to make peace in Rain’s office. But that visit becomes momentous both for Rain and Chief Edozie whose quest for a cure for his family curse has taken a dramatic, bizarre turn. Chief Edozie overhears this important family conversation and springs into action.
Through his sister, Chief Edozie is consulting a juju man to save him from the curse. As with all such men, his recommendations for a cure border on the insane: his must eat the excreta of a cripple, make love to a girl raped by her father, then kill her and use her blood for the last rite; he must also make love to a virgin. Torn between the need to live long enough to enjoy his wealth and morality, Chief Edozie, like all greedy men and women in his shoes, opts to satisfy all the recommendations. But the juju man, Baba Iperu discovers too late that he misread the lips of the gods. What becomes of Rain and Chief Edozie’s sinister plans for her? This is at the heart of Rain Can Never Know.
In Rain Can Never Know, Afenfia continues his thriller tradition where characters and situations collide and connive in dangerous bends and twists and turns to yield near-cinematic pace to the pleasure of his readers. Crime and love, trust and betrayal, family and foe all combine to enliven the cinematic pace of Afenfia’s offering. This is a gripping story woven in the intricate web of love and crime as the two intertwine to a dizzying end. This novel will keep readers glued to the very end. Rape and murder are the major planks on which the novel is woven, and Afenfia has done a marvellous job of bringing to the two major plagues tormenting the soul of Nigeria, as the country continues to drift rudderless without any sign that anyone is at the helms of affairs.
However, Rain Can Never Know could have benefited from better editing to tie some loose narrative ends. But this lapse does not detract from the wholesome, thrilling enjoyment that the novel delivers.