ALSO BY CHUKS I.
AND OTHER RETAILERS
Dismay to Hope and Failure to Success
© 2016 Chuks
of Congress Control Number: 2016916462
Imprint Name: City and
State (If applicable)
To everybody who has achieved success and suddenly lost everything
owing to scam and fraud.
It had been one year since I was appointed the vice principal of
Ahiara Trade Center, Mbaise. I was twenty-two at the time, six years
out of technical college, married four days before, and anxious to
start a new life in the United States. I arrived at the Lagos
International Airport with my newlywed wife, amazed at the rapid
movement of people and vehicles around the terminal. The terminal was
filled with passengers and people who came to see them off. After
checking in my luggage, my wife and I walked around the terminal
checking the arrival and departure monitors. And then we sat at the
boarding gate for a while. After the announcement of my boarding, I
hugged my wife at the departure gate and proceeded to board the
I boarded the plane, blown away by the magnificence of the KLM 747.
Then few minutes after that, a gentleman took his seat beside me. We
introduced ourselves; his name was Dr. Ekpo Ekong. He wanted to know
if I was traveling for the first time and if anybody was waiting for
me at my arrival in the United States. I wasn’t sure. So I gave him
my college admission letter. After reading the letter, he assured me
that he’d take care of me until I started school.
I realized that I had taken a long and hard path to get to that day
and time from the day I received my admission letter from Honeywell
Institute of Computer Science in Burlington, Massachusetts. Most
people go straight to the American Embassy for F1 visa, often with
mixed results. My best friend, Gabriel Maduka, did, and his F1 visa
application was denied. But I had applied for F1 visa through the
Ministry of Education of the Eastern Region of Nigeria, confident
that recommendation by the ministry would make my interview at the
American Embassy easy. It turned out well for me because I did not
have any problem obtaining my visa.
Arriving at the United States, I lived with Dr. Ekong until I started
school at Honeywell Institute of Computer Science. And then the
school arranged for me to live with Mrs. Terry Zdanauk.
In 1975, I transferred to Northeastern University—computer science
was combined into one major with electrical engineering. By all
accounts, my choice of school seemed to be an excellent one.
Northeastern operated a cooperative system of education similar to
the one at the college I attended in Nigeria. After the first
academic year, students alternated between classroom and a work-study
program on a quarterly basis till their junior year. I worked full
time when I wasn’t on work-study and went to school full time.
Those years of work-study proved to be an invaluable part of my
college education, I suppose, for each successive year made me more
intimately familiar with the bright and blind spots of the high-tech
I graduated from Northeastern University in 1980 with advanced
expertise in computer and electrical engineering.
Two years later, I went back to school for my graduate studies in
computer science, while working part time at Codex Corporation, in
In 1985, I completed a telephone-interface design that enabled Codex
to get their modems approved in the United Kingdom and Germany.
In 1987, I joined Microcom after the company had committed to filing
an immigrant-visa application for me. Six months later, I implemented
a version of the telephone-interface DAA, direct-access arrangement,
which launched telephone caller ID.
I joined USRobotics, a company in Skokie, Illinois, in 1991, in the
position of manager of the international research-and-development
department. I got the company’s products approved in Europe.
In 1996, I joined ADC Telecommunications in Minnetonka, Minnesota,
and in 1998 received a Key Contributor Award before joining Lucent
Technologies, in New Providence, New Jersey.
I arrived in New Jersey in the summer 1998, and I worked in the
circuit-pack department of the PathStar division, designing Internet
gateways. In 1999, the manager of the department resigned, and I was
promoted to take over.
In 2000, the stock market collapsed and took the economy along with
it. Lucent laid off over forty thousand workers, and I was one of
them. The executive staff did not want to let me go, so they
transferred me to Bell Labs. But finally in 2001 the situation had
become dire; I got laid off.
In my first book, Resonant Desire, I recall the dream I had
one summer night in 1970. This narrative tells of the second and
final installment of that amazing dream—my adulthood memories. And
the title, Divine Rapid Response, grows directly from the
events of that night, the morning after, and the years that followed.
It describes in great detail how God turned my dismay to hope and my
failure to success.
On the most important day of my life, December 9, 1972, I hugged my
wife and boarded a plane around eight o’clock at night. This tall,
handsome black man carrying a garment bag walked to my seat, put his
luggage in the overhead bin, and sat next to me. The weather was hot
and the sky blue. A gentle breeze blew over Lagos, and the tarmac
looked serene. After a short wait, the plane taxied majestically
along the tarmac to the takeoff spot. “Ready for takeoff. Fasten
your seat belts,” the pilot announced.
The plane took off with a very loud noise. I could see the front end
of the plane as it tilted upward and climbed into the sky. Through
the window, I saw the entire city of Lagos outlined by electric
lights. It diminished in size until it went out of view. Suddenly,
another announcement came over the sound system: “Ladies and
gentlemen, we are cruising at thirty-four-thousand feet altitude. The
Fasten Seat Belt sign is off. You are free to walk around.”
The gentleman sitting next to me looked like my brother; it was easy
to like him. Soon it began to get very cold, and he asked for two
blankets. He gave me one and covered himself with the other.
“My name is Ekpo Ekong,” he said.
“My name is Ogbuleke Ikebie Ndukwe.”
“Where are you traveling to?”
“Boston, United States.”
“Which part of Boston?”
“Are you going there to attend school?”
“Honeywell Institute of Computer Science.”
“Does the school know that you are coming today?”
“I am not sure, but they sent me this letter.” I handed my
admission letter to him.
“I am glad to meet you,” he said. “You’ll stay with me till
you start school.”
He showed me where to go in case I needed to use the toilet.
When the hostesses came around for service, he ordered two of
everything. “I am a doctor in Boston, and my wife is a nursing
manager. She and I work at Boston General Hospital,” he said. “I
came home to visit my family members who survived the war. How did
you survive the war?”
“I was an electrical supervisor at the Nigerian refinery at Eleme,
Port Harcourt, before the war, and I built electrical systems for
Biafran Refineries, so I was well protected, but I lost my mother and
“Where did you train to be that good in electrical engineering?”
“I attended UAC Technical College in Sapele.”
“My cousin attended that college, and he is a manager at the port
authority in Calabar,” he said. “You could take over the
management of the refinery if you stayed in Nigeria.”
“The federal government would not allow me back at the refineries
after the war.”
“Fasten your seat belts,” the pilot announced. The plane moved as
if it were going over bumps on the road. After a few more hours, I
saw the sun coming out.
The plane descended with jerky over-the-bump movements, and it
steadied again. It kept doing that until another announcement
sounded: “Prepare for landing.”
The hostesses walked around, making sure everybody had on his or her
seat belt and that the seats were in their upright positions. The
plane dived and hit the ground with a little jolt. It taxied until it
“Welcome to Schiphol Airport, Amsterdam,” the pilot announced,
directing passengers to their connecting flights. Dr. Ekong and I
transferred to the plane that would take us to JFK International
Airport in New York. When we arrived at JFK, Dr. Ekong directed me to
immigration services, where they processed my F1 visa. We took
another plane to Logan Airport in Boston. Upon our arrival at Logan,
Mrs. Andrea Ekong was waiting for her husband.
“Welcome back. I missed you,” she said.
“I missed you too,” he replied. “This is Ogbuleke Ikebie
Ndukwe. He is on his way to Honeywell Computer School in Burlington.
We met on the plane, and he doesn’t know anybody in the United
States. So he will stay with us until he finds a place to live, if it
is OK with you. He turned to me. “This is my wife, Andrea.”
“I am glad to meet you,” she said.
“I am glad to meet you too,” I replied.
Outside the terminal, powdery white particles were falling like rain,
covering my entire body. It was an unwelcome combination of surprise
and culture shock; it was awful.
Mrs. Ekong let me in the car. I got in fast and sat down. She put our
luggage in the trunk and started the car. A few minutes later the car
“Take us to the mall,” Dr. Ekong said.
Cars were everywhere in the mall, but Mrs. Ekong found a space to
park. We made our way inside the mall, a galactic arrangement of
stores displaying different merchandise. We weaved around the upper
level, then the lower level, to Burlington Coat Factory, where Mrs.
Ekong picked out a few coats, and I tried a few on, but none fitted.
Finally Dr. Ekong picked out a few more; I tried them on, and the
heaviest coat fitted, and he bought the coat—and hats, gloves, and
a pair of sweaters to go with it.
“These will last you through the winter,” Mrs. Ekong said.
I slept in the car till we arrived in Newton, Massachusetts, where
Dr. and Mrs. Ekong lived. It was so cold in that colonial house that
my sweater did not help to keep me warm. I curled up in bed and
covered myself with sheets and blankets. I would not come out of the
sheets to eat dinner; the maid tried to get me out but failed.
In the morning the maid tried again to get me out to eat breakfast,
but I was too cold to oblige. After Dr. and Mrs. Ekong had gone to
church, I felt wet, and I smelled pee; I realized that I had peed in
the bed. I told the maid when she came around again. “It’s OK. I
will give you another set,” she said, collecting the wet bedding.
“Can you wash my clothes too?” I asked.
She collected my clothes and left the room. She came back and wiped
the mattress off with cleaning fluid.
“Don’t lie on the bed until I put the sheets on the mattress,”
she said. “You should come out and eat breakfast.”
I sat down and ate breakfast. I watched TV until she made the bed up
again; then I lay back in bed. I had warmed up enough to get out and
eat lunch, two slices of bread with meat in between. A sandwich, she
On Monday, Dr. Ekong took me to Honeywell Institute of Computer
Science in Burlington. He spoke to the dean of admissions and told me
that Mrs. Ekong would pick me up on her way home from work. Classes
ended at three thirty, and Mrs. Ekong picked me up. I attended school
from Dr. Ekong’s house for one week.
On December 15, the school arranged for me to live with Mrs. Terry
Zdanauk at 11 College Road in Burlington. I arrived at her house at
four o’clock in the afternoon. She called her children.
“Hey, guys, we have company,” she said. “I can’t pronounce
his name.” She introduced me to her children: Dan, Andy, Renee, and
“Where did you get that funny name?” Dan asked.
“Where are you from?” Andy asked.
“Nigeria,” I replied.
“He’ll be attending Honeywell School down in the mall area,”
Terry said. “He will be living here with us, so be nice to him.”
“How do you pronounce your name?” Renee asked.
I tried to help them pronounce my name. Thank God they gave up before
Terry gave me a ride back and forth to school for one week. When I
came home, the first thing I wanted to do was get some sleep, but
Billy would knock on my door, and I would open it. I would be
half-dressed and about to go to sleep. Instead of sitting down, he
would take my hand and walk out to the living room.
Billy would bring out a bunch of noisy toys for us to play with. I
played with him. I can tell you I’m not somebody who feels bothered
by a kid wanting to play, but after school, all I wanted to do was
sleep. We would roll the toy back and forth. After a while Terry
would pick Billy up.
“Let him get some rest,” she would say to him.
I would go back to bed and sleep till dinnertime.
On Friday, I approached one of my classmates, Lydia Mayir.
“Lydia, how far out of your way is College Road?” I asked.
“Actually, I pass College Road every day to and from school.”
“Can I ride with you?” I asked.
She spoke to her friend who also passed College Road every day,
“Halina, Ogbuleke needs a ride daily. I figure we can alternate on
a weekly basis,” Lydia said.
“OK, I have no problem with that. It’s not like we’re going out
of our way, right?” Halina asked.
“You are right.” Lydia said.
I let Terry know that I would be riding with Lydia and Halina back
and forth to school.
We enjoyed going to school together; we talked about Boolean algebra,
logic equations, and even numbering systems. We studied together in
the library; some days we would stay late to do our programming
assignments together. By the end of the first semester, we had begun
to have fun; all the craziness about programs not running right
became a source of interaction between us.
On Sundays, I attended church with Terry and her children. After
church, Dr. and Mrs. Ekong would pick me up, I would spend Sunday
with them, and they would bring me back to Burlington late in the
evening. One day, we arrived at the Episcopal church and took our
seats in the pew. A few members who were sitting in the pew got up
and changed pews. That dramatic change of seats continued until Terry
asked me about it.
“Obulik, do you feel bad about what’s been happening in the
church?” she asked, pronouncing my name wrong.
“No, what do you mean?” I asked.
“I am glad you don’t notice.”
“Don’t you notice members changing pews when we arrive at
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing. I’m glad you don’t feel bad,” she said. She went on
to tell me that when people arrive in America, they don’t know how
complex this country is; in their own countries, people probably live
and worship together. But in America some people are bigoted; they
are afraid of associating with other races. “People change their
seats in the church because you’re a black man,” she said. “And
they don’t want to sit with a black person.”
I recognized how uncomfortable going to church with me must have been
for her, so I stopped attending church. After all, I didn’t need to
go to church to preserve my relationship with God.
Billy was clinging to me like iron dust to a magnet. He would not go
to sleep unless I tucked him in, and he would not eat his cereal
unless I fixed it. Every night, Billy would sneak in my room and curl
up in my bed.
“This boy hasn’t liked anybody since his father died,” Terry
would say. “I can’t believe how he’s attached to Obulik. I’m
Every time I went out to go to work or school, dogs all over the
neighborhood would bark and chase after me. One afternoon, when I was
returning from work and the dogs were barking and running after me, a
lady called out to me. She lived across the street from Terry’s
“Son, come here,” she said.
I went over to her, thinking she wanted me to do something for her.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said.
“I see the dogs barking at you every time you come out of Terry’s
house, and I feel terrible for you. Do you know how to drive?”
“No, ma’am, I do not.”
“Go and learn how to drive,” she said. “I have a car for you so
those dogs will stop chasing after you.”
I went home and told Terry.
“Are you serious?” Terry asked.
“Yes, I am. She said that she feels sorry to see dogs chasing after
“Hold on,” Terry said. “I will be right back. Let me talk to
Terry went over to Miss Wendy’s house and came back with a Toyota
Corolla and the title.
“Go and thank Miss Wendy,” Terry said.
I ran over to Miss Wendy’s house and thanked her for the car.
Terry parked the car in her driveway and made an appointment for my
driving lessons. After four lessons I got my driver’s license.
One day, I received a wedding invitation from my niece Comfort
Abamgowe. She was getting married to her longtime boyfriend, Chike
Abangowe. I was happy and excited. I imagined seeing her walk down
the long aisle.
I drove to the Bronx, New York, on the eve of her wedding. I arrived
at her apartment late in the evening, and her friends were having a
party on the first floor. I heard up in her apartment that the hall
at Columbia University had not been decorated for the reception. I
wanted to go right away and take care of it, but it was too late at
night. I went to the hall the following morning with a few people and
decorated it. So I did not see my niece marry in the church. During
the reception, the hall was filled with guests, but the food and
everything needed to entertain them was back in the Bronx. I drove
back to her apartment, loaded my trunk, drove to Manhattan, and
dropped off the load. I made several trips with nobody helping me.
For the better part of the wedding, I did nothing but work. I missed
my niece’s wedding and her reception. The reception was still in
progress when I left New York and returned to Boston. “No wonder
Mama Anyanwu and Auntie Lucy always wanted Comfort and me to be
close. Maybe they saw this day coming,” I reflected. My niece would
have been shocked if I hadn’t been present at the wedding.
A few weeks later, I transferred to Northeastern University in
Boston, and I moved to Boston.
My Dream City
My first familiarity with American people came when I was in high
school, attending social events at the American Consulate in Enugu,
in eastern Nigeria. My love for America, especially for the city of
Boston, is deeply rooted in that experience and what I read in the
Boston Globe at that time. For me, the mystique of Boston lies
in the sentiment I had after reading about MIT, Harvard University,
and other universities in the city and feeling convinced that it was
the education capital of the world.
I moved to Boston convinced that I’d finally arrived at the place
I’d dreamed about. I worked at a McDonald’s restaurant and for a
cleaning company. I joined a workers union and got health insurance.
My left eye had been damaged when it was hit with sharp object—I
was a young boy playing in the village square with my mates.
Sometimes I suspected that my cockeye was making me less attractive
to girls, but there was no evidence of that. I visited Dr. and Mrs.
Ekong and showed them my insurance card.
“I want to use my health insurance for eye surgery,” I told Dr.
“OK, let’s do it before you start school,” he said. “How many
more weeks do you have left before school starts?”
“I will make arrangements for your surgery. How about the coming
Friday?” he said. “You need two weeks off from work.”
I took two weeks off and let Dr. Ekong know that I was ready for
“I will pick you up at eight o’clock and take you to Mass
General,” he said. “That’s where the procedure will take place,
and I will be there during the operation.”
Dr. Ekong picked me up on Friday. We arrived at the hospital; he did
all the paperwork and took part in the preliminary evaluation.
“The muscle behind the retina is damaged,” the operating doctor
said. “It has to be straightened out.”
Dr. Ekong wheeled me to the operation room and asked for local
The nurse stuck that needle in me and pumped the fluid. I was awake
during the operation, and I could feel the cuts and stitches like
gentle scratches—not strong enough to make me jump up or scream. I
lay in the recovery room and waited for the nurse. Instead Dr. Ekong
walked in with a black pad in his hand.
“The procedure went very well,” he said. “I will take you home.
But you have to cover your left eye until you come back for a
Mrs. Ekong brought me cold cuts, salad, and vegetables the next day.
She prepared sandwiches for me before she left. I started school
before my checkup appointment; luckily, it was on a Saturday. The
nurse removed my pad, and the doctor put me through a series of eye
“You can stop wearing the eye patch,” he said. “Your eye is OK
I went to visit Dr. and Mrs. Ekong the following day after church.
“They did a good job,” Mrs. Ekong said.
“I want to thank you.”
“You don’t need to. It’s our pleasure. It gives us a good
feeling watching after you,” Mrs. Ekong said. “Don’t allow your
peers to change you.”
“I will start work on Monday,” I said.
“Be careful. Stay away from dust, and cover that eye under bright
light,” Dr. Ekong said.
My best friend back in Nigeria, Gabriel Maduka, had arrived in the
United States and was living with his brother-in-law in Cambridge,
Massachusetts. He had registered for mechanical engineering at
Northeastern University too. We found a two-bedroom apartment on the
second floor at 72 Symphony Road, a block from the school. We moved
in one week after school started, with nothing but a couch in the
living room, study tables, and TV sets in our bedrooms. I changed my
work schedule at McDonald’s to Saturday and Sunday from eleven at
night to seven in the morning; my classes were between nine o’clock
and three o’clock. I met two Nigerian students who lived across the
street from me, Rex and Shegu. They were on Nigerian federal
scholarships, and later we would become good friends.
One Saturday afternoon, I was sitting on the bench outside my
apartment building, reading the Boston Globe, when I noticed
two ladies come out of the building with strollers and two boys. They
looked sexy, and I couldn’t help chatting and walking with them.
“Where are you two going?” I asked.
“Columbus Avenue,” one of them said.
“Why do you want to know?” the other lady asked.
“To help you with the stroller.”
“OK, take one stroller,” she said.
We walked to the store on Columbus Avenue. They bought what they
wanted, and then we walked back to our building.
“My name is Ogbuleke Ikebie Ndukwe, and I am from Nigeria,” I
“I am Jody Marshall,” one lady said. “I am from Barbados.”
“I am Rosey Davies,” the other lady said. “And I am from
Suddenly, a man of average height with broad shoulders unlocked the
first-floor apartment door and walked in.
“Daddy, Daddy,” the children yelled and grabbed him.
“Larry, this is a neighbor on the second floor,” Rosey said.
“They moved in two weeks ago. This is Larry, my husband.”
“I am glad to meet you,” I said and shook his hand.
The ladies changed the topic to the upcoming carnival.
“I am going to take part in the carnival,” Rosey said.
“Who’s going to watch Pepe and his brother?” Jody asked.
“Larry,” Rosey said.
I confessed ignorance of the existence of the carnival but was eager
to participate as long as Jody and Rosey were in the crowd.
The carnival came around, and Jody and Rosey had their hair and nails
done. At noon, Jody buzzed me and came to my apartment. She had come
deliberately to tease me because she was looking juicy and sexy.
“I want to use your mirror. Rosey is monopolizing hers,” she
I pointed to the bathroom and went back to bed.
“Chuks, come and help me with my necklace,” she called.
I had changed my first name from Ogbuleke to Chuks—my baptismal
name—so employers could pronounce it with less difficulty. I
entered the bathroom; her panties were down around her ankles, and
she was facing the mirror.
“Excuse me, I didn’t see you coming,” she said and pulled her
I tried to get the necklace around her neck. She stretched her hands
backward and pulled me close to her, real close. Then she moved her
rear backward and pressed it against my front waistline.
“We will show you how to party tonight,” she said.
She turned around to leave. Then she paused and slapped me on my
“Get ready. We are leaving at two o’clock,” she said.
We arrived at Dudley train station on Dorchester Avenue and were
immersed in a mosaic of colorful people enjoying the musical
extravaganza. Later the music dominated the air; a countless number
of trucks and trailers with different types of musical instruments
mounted on them moved in a line, playing different ethnic music. We
joined the line, nodding and shaking to the rhythm and beat of the
Rosey and Jody looked so sexy; they looked different from the ladies
pushing strollers I had been walking around the city with. There was
a postcarnival party all night; they set me on fire with their erotic
dancing. “It’s all in good fun,” Rosey said. “That’s what
the carnival is about.”
I made lots of friends at the McDonald’s in Boston. I worked the
closing shift, and every employee worked the closing shift in
rotation with me. There were four girls that I’ll never forget. The
first was Watisha Summers, the second was Eleanor Campbell, the third
was Lynette Brown, and the fourth was Jeanette Jack. Watisha was sexy
and provocative, and she loved to flirt and tease; she knew that she
had it. One day, I was giving her a ride home from work when she
wanted to know where I lived, so we stopped by my apartment. She sat
on my study chair, she got up and sat on my study desk, and finally
she lay on my bed.
“What’s this bed for?” she asked.
“All by yourself?”
“With you in my dreams.”
“Yeah, you wish,” she said.
Summer was winding down, and students were preparing to return to
school. One evening, Watisha walked in the store. “I’m leaving
for college on Saturday,” she said and hugged workers in the store.
Then she left for good.
Lynette was very friendly. We worked well together. After closing on
Saturdays, she went out to the clubs, and I gave her a ride home when
the clubs closed—nothing physical.
Eleanor was an Irish girl with blue eyes and blond hair. When I’d
be studying in the break room, she would sit by me and ask questions
about computers and math and sometimes about Africa. I gave her a
ride home when she closed on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. She
became my girlfriend before I realized it. One day, she came to work
and announced that she was quitting to go to Framingham to attend the
“I’ll come back and work during holidays,” she said. Then she
hugged me and walked away proudly.
Jeanette and I had become good friends out of a near-tragic event.
One Saturday morning, she was supposed to open the store, and I’d
been waiting for her to arrive before I left. I’d just had a very
intense allergy attack; my whole body was covered with hives, and I
was scratching like crazy, tearing my skin apart.
I managed to drive home. When she got out of work, she called and
took a cab to my apartment. Then she took me to the hospital. The
doctor prescribed allergy medicine for me. I can’t remember its
name. Thirty minutes after taking the black pill, I passed out,
unable to respond to questions. She stayed with me till the effect of
the pill had worn off. From that day, anytime she called my apartment
and I sounded incoherent, she would get in a cab and come over, and
she took me to the hospital if necessary.
I remember once calling the regional manager of the McDonald’s
restaurant, Mr. Woody. The store manager had left the safe full of
dollar bills open and gone out to the clubs.
“Sir, you’ve got to come to the store right now,” I said. “John
is not answering my call.”
“Did anybody get shot?”
“Are you hurt?”
“What is it then?”
“I can’t tell you on the phone.”
“I am in bed with my wife for crying out loud,” he said. “Don’t
call me back. OK?”
“I am sorry, sir,” I apologized.
I sat in the office till Woody showed up in the morning, the safe was
open and filled with dollar bills.
One summer day, I was playing soccer with some Nigerian students on
the short street of Symphony Road. Suddenly two ladies parked their
car on Hemmingway Street and turned onto Symphony Road. I was keeping
goal at the far end.
All six players rushed to talk to these ladies they had never met
before. One pushed the guys aside and beckoned me to come to her.
“Are you too good to say hi to me?” she asked.
“I don’t rush to say hi to people I don’t know.”
“Could you find us the superintendent of this apartment building?”
Realizing that I had won her admiration, I went around the corner and
called Mr. Brooks. She introduced herself and her sister to me. “I
am Melba, and this is my sister, Delsey.” Seven days later I helped
Melba and her sister move into their third-floor apartment.
“Come back for dinner,” she said.
At first, I tried to stay away from my newfound friend because we’d
just met and I did not feel comfortable going back for dinner. At
that time I was looking for part-time job because I’ve been dozing
off in class for lack of a full night’s sleep as I was working full
time from eleven o’clock in the night to seven o’clock in the
morning and starting class at nine o’clock; my notes were straight
lines up and down and sideways. I found an advertisement in the
Boston Globe: UPS: WANTED, PEOPLE TO WORK FOUR TO EIGHT IN THE
EVENING. “Ah! That would be the ideal job for me,” I thought. I
drove to Waltham, Massachusetts, and applied. After a short
interview, I was rejected, and the manager would not give me any
reason for rejecting me.
I came home disappointed and upset beyond belief. Melba came over and
asked why I looked depressed. I explained what had happened.
“Put your clothes on. We are going back,” she said.
“What’s the matter with you?” I asked. “Are you crazy? The
man turned me down.”
We drove back to UPS.
“I want to see the manager,” she said. The same man who had
turned me down about two hours before came out of the office.
“Yes, I am the manager. Can I help you?” he asked.
“This man works two jobs, and he goes to school full time at the
same time,” Melba said. “And he came here looking for a job that
will enable him to sleep well and go to school without sleeping in
the lecture room. I don’t think that you will hire anybody more
hardworking than him. I am convinced that you will like him if you
give him the job.”
“What is he to you?” he asked.
“He is my friend.”
“And who are you?”
“My name is Melba, from Jamaica, and I am spending my vacation
“OK, I will hire him if he is like what you said. He deserves to go
to school without feeling sleepy.”
The clerk gave me forms to fill out, including a W-9 form.
“You can start on Monday,” he said.
We thanked him and went home. Every time Melba and I were together,
sparks would fly around like bursting fireworks; we became really
One week later, Melba came to my apartment. I was coming out of the
bathroom with my towel around my waist.
“I am leaving tomorrow. I really don’t want to go back, but I am
on vacation on a visitor visa, so I can’t stay,” she said. “I
will write you when I get home.”
“You should have told me earlier so I could have bought you some
“You have given me better gifts than anything money could buy.”
“OK, I will take you to the airport tomorrow.”
“No, it will be hard. I don’t want to cry in public. Bye-bye.”
“Bye,” I replied.
I escorted her to the door and watched her climb the stairs until she
vanished behind the third-floor apartment door.
Lectures and Work-Study
Northeastern University runs a unique system of education, a
cooperative system. Students spend twelve months of their freshman
and senior years in school—no summer holidays, no messing around.
The three years in between are split between the classroom and
work-study. When I finished my freshman year and three months of my
sophomore year, I was ready for work-study. Students were being sent
out for interviews.
Sometimes I imagined my studies at Northeastern University to be no
different from my studies at UAC Technical College in Nigeria—a
perfect balance between theory and practice and the application
thereof. But what I appreciated most about Northeastern University
and the work-study program was how empowering it could be in the
lives of students who dared to apply themselves appropriately.
On a chilly Christmas Eve, my roommate, Gabriel, had gone to
Cambridge to spend Christmas with his sister and brother-in-law at
MIT. Suddenly I received a phone call from Mrs. Ekong.
“We are expecting you,” she said.
“I wasn’t sure you’d come home yet.”
“Doctor is on call, but I don’t have to go to work until Monday
of next week,” she said. “Get in the car and come over. We are
having light entertainment by the fireplace.”
I got in my car and drove to Newton. They were playing light music
and helping themselves to all kinds of drinks. I woke up very early
on Christmas Day and helped the maid with house chores. I wanted to
go to church with Dr. and Mrs. Ekong, but something happened: after a
shower, I put my clothes on and went to the bathroom to comb my hair,
and I smelled myself for the first time ever. I was ashamed to tell
the maid, so I went to the guest room and stayed there. Then Dr.
Ekong came to the guest room to see whether I was ready.
“We are waiting for you,” he said.
“I can’t go with you.”
“What happened to you?”
“I smelled myself.” I couldn’t believe that I had said those
words aloud in the presence of Dr. Ekong.
“Did you put on deodorant after your shower?”
“No, I forgot to.”
“That’s why deodorant is the most popular item in the market
today,” he said. “Everybody smells if they don’t put it on. Put
it on and let’s go.”
I put deodorant on and went to church sniffing my armpits all day to
check whether the odor had come back; I had never been so insecure.
After we came home, I went straight to the bathroom and put some more
deodorant on my armpits, fearing the bad odor could come back.
We had a very joyful Christmas. We watched Christmas specials on TV
and drank eggnog.
School started on Monday, and I was invited to interview with Arthur
D. Little, a software company in Cambridge. I had some experience in
programming languages like FORTRAN, Pascal, and Assembly. I arrived
for the interview and filled out the forms and got ready.
The chief engineer, Mr. Ben Gordon, walked in, went to his office,
and came back to the lobby.
“Are you…from Northeastern?” he asked, unable to say my name.
“Yes, sir, my name is Ogbuleke,” I said.
“Follow me, please,” he said.
I followed him to his office.
“Have a seat,” he said. “Have you taken FORTRAN?”
“Yes, I have, sir.”
“OK, how would you code this simple problem in FORTRAN?”
He gave me the question paper, a pen, and a blank sheet. After I
coded the program, he went to the computer room and compiled the
code. He looked at me over the top of his eyeglasses.
“Well, it is a good start. Let’s see what the output looks like,”
he said and went back to the computer room. “It looks like you did
the job,” he said. “The code worked.”
Ben gave me a brief overview of what the company did.
“Hold on,” he said. “I’ll be right back.” He went to the
secretary’s office, and I followed to go to the men’s room. Then
I heard him say to the secretary, “I’d like to hire this guy, but
I can’t pronounce his name.”
I went back to his office and called the International Students
Office at Northeastern University immediately.
“Good morning, sir. My name is Ogbuleke Ikebie Ndukwe, and I’m
about to get an offer for a co-op job,” I said. “But my name is a
problem. I would like to change my first name right now, sir.”
“What would you like your alias to be?” he asked.
“Chuks, sir. C-h-u-k-s,” I said and spelled it slowly.
“Consider it done,” he said.
When Ben came back to his office, I told him I had changed my first
name while he was in the secretary’s office.
“What did you change it to?” he asked.
“I changed it to Chuks so you won’t have any problem pronouncing
“How do you pronounce it?”
“You can pronounce it as Chucks or Chooks.”
“How did you come up with that name so fast?”
“It’s my baptismal name.”
“Splendid, you can think fast on your feet,” he said. “You
have a logical mind.”
The secretary gave me a tax form to fill out.
“We have large database of FORTRAN code that needs to be modified,”
Ben said. “You’ll be working with me during your co-op period.
You can start on Monday. Congratulations!”
I reported to the dean’s office the next day to make sure my name
change was done.
“Good morning, sir. My name is Ogbuleke Ikebie Ndukwe,” I said.
“I called you yesterday from Arthur D. Little in Cambridge when I
was close to losing the opportunity to be hired for my co-op job.”
“Yes, we made the necessary changes yesterday,” he said. “But
at some point you will have to execute an affidavit of change of name
with a federal judge. For now you can use the new name as an alias.”
Realizing the possibility of screwing up, I drove to work on Monday
feeling insecure. I assisted Ben in modifying routines of existing
libraries of FORTRAN code. I compiled and ran each modified piece of
code and attached the output to the code. I could no longer work at
both UPS and Arthur D. Little, so I quit the UPS job.
I followed Ben around the office and assisted him with everything he
had to do in the computer room. One day, he checked the code I had
just run before filing it away.
“How do you like Professor Swab?” he asked.
“Terrorizing. I pray every day before going to his class,” I
“Yeah, the man never changes, but he knows his stuff,” he said.
Ben told me stories about Professor Swab from when he was a student
at Northeastern University. Professor Swab did complex
characterization of transistor structures, and nobody could follow
what he was saying. It could be said that every student who had taken
his course hated him. But those who studied his textbooks were doing
extremely well in the industry.
“How about Professor Goldman?” he asked.
“I enjoy his class, but he moves too fast for me to take notes,”
“He moves fast so he can get to his second job on time,” he said.
I realized after our brief chat that he was alumnus of Northeastern
University. Knowing that he understood the essence of my work-study
in his office, I relaxed and enjoyed my work. At the end of the chat,
he told me to put my stack of codes away.
“Let’s go to lunch,” he said.
“It is not time for lunch, sir.”
“Don’t worry. Let’s go,” he ordered.
We arrived at a small Irish restaurant not far from the office. Ben
ordered rib eye and mashed potatoes.
“What is your pleasure?” he asked.
“Hamburger and french fries,” I said.
“We don’t serve hamburgers here,” the cook said.
“They serve good food here. Check the menu and make your choice,”
“OK, give me corned beef and mashed potatoes,” I said.
“There you go,” Ben said.
The cook came back with Pepsi-Colas as if he knew what we wanted.
“I’ve come here every day for six years,” Ben said. “I can
sit here and have my food on the table without a word.”
My work-study came to an end, and I had a meeting with Ben in his
“You are a good kid. I’ve enjoyed working with you. I will
transmit my official appraisal of your performance to the university,
and I have to tell you what will not be in that official document,”
he said. “Every manager loves an employee who is dependable,
helpful, and diligent, and you have all those qualities. I will ask
for you to come back during your next work-study period.”
I went back to school the following Monday and registered for my
courses. Gab and I went to school together but split to different
halls; he was one year ahead of me. Some days I took a detour to the
cafeteria to check out the special for the day. School was going
well; I wasn’t dozing off during lectures anymore, and my notes
look solid—an improvement I could credit to a full night’s sleep.
Three months passed by quickly, and I was back at work-study at
Arthur D. Little. Ben had taken on program simulation to determine
the logical results of the code we’d been compiling given the
appropriate inputs. I continued the work I was doing previously.
Mostly though, I just watched Ben and wondered at the contrast
between the work I did as an electrical supervisor and the work of
software engineer. I reveled in the office culture but was very
conscious that I had a long way to go before I was competent enough
to do what Ben was doing.
“Do you plan on going back to Africa after your graduation?” Ben
“Can you find a job as a computer scientist when you go back?”
“There might be opportunities by that time.”
“If you can’t find a job there, you can come back and work for
“Thank you, sir.”
“If you keep on at this rate, you will do fine in this profession,”
One Wednesday afternoon, the office had a meeting, and Ben addressed
“Arthur D. Little will not be here in three months,” he said.
“However, we’ve won another contract with another company in
According to Ben, Mansfield was about a one-hour drive from
Cambridge. I had hoped to do all of my work-study at Arthur D.
Little, but that hope was dashed in the meeting. My work-study ended
on Friday, and Ben and I had lunch at his favorite Irish restaurant.
“Today is your last day with us,” he said. “I will transmit
your appraisal to the university as usual. I cannot be certain about
our existence here in future, because our contract is expiring. I’ve
enjoyed working with you and learning a little bit about Nigeria.
It’s only three o’clock; you can leave anytime you choose.”
I left the office around three o’clock and drove along the Charles
River just to watch the seagulls float and dive in the water. I got
home and went straight to Rosey’s house.
“What happened? Didn’t you get some from that tramp I saw coming
to your apartment?” she asked.
“What tramp? I’m just getting home from work.”
“Looks like you played hooky to be with that tramp with blue eyes
and blond hair.”
“That tramp happens to be my girlfriend, you know,” I said. “You
must stop calling her a tramp.”
Jody had come over and was preparing hamburgers and french fries.
Rosey’s kids woke up and were excited to see me. I played with them
until the food was served. Surprisingly, I felt better after eating
and wrestling with Pepe and Damian.
“Bring out that deck of cards your Irish girlfriend gave you,”
I brought out the cards and pulled up my chair. I was ignorant of
card games; I could shuffle, but that’s about it, so they beat me
as many times as we played.
“You’re a sorry-ass player,” Jody said. Then they left.
Now Gab came home, and he did not have better news either. He wasn’t
sure that he would be going back to his work-study employer. So both
of us were in a funk that evening.
On Christmas Eve, Dr. and Mrs. Ekong attended a concert at the Boston
Symphony Hall, one block from my apartment. They stopped by to let me
know that they were expecting me. Gab went to MIT in Cambridge that
evening, and I drove to Newton to spend Christmas with Dr. and Mrs.
Conscious of the moment I smelled myself the previous Christmas, I
made sure I had my deodorant with me. Dr. Ekong’s daughter,
Margaret, was home from London on holiday. We attended church
together. In the evening, Dr. and Mrs. Ekong had guests. I did the
bartending, and Margaret and the maid served food.
“I have changed my first name to Chuks,” I announced after the
guests had left.
“That was smart, because your name is hard to pronounce,” Mrs.
“That was my reason,” I said.
I went back to school on Monday, feeling less confident about the
possibility of finding another software company for my next
work-study. I registered for my courses for the quarter, mostly
computer programming courses; I was eager to go back to work and
sharpen my skills in an actual work environment.
The quarter was ending, and students were attending interviews for
work-study. One day, I got a note to attend an interview at TeleAudit
in Bedford, Massachusetts. I attended the interview and was hired.
Gab came home in the evening happy.
“I’m going back to my job,” he said.
The quarter came to an end, and we left the campus ready for our next
One of the first things I noticed upon my arrival at TeleAudit
for the interview was the large laboratory and different people all
absorbed in their work. But Bedford was not close to Boston by my
estimation, and my car, I guessed, would not endure the stress of
Recognizing that my car, Toyota Corolla had been a gift, I did
not want to sell it for money or even use it for a down payment on
another car. I attempted to give it to my friend, Rex Kanu. But Rex
did not have a driver’s license, and he was on scholarship and
didn’t have any need to go anywhere—only school, which was two
blocks away from his apartment building.
Finally I gave the car to an auto mechanic and bought another car, a
Dodge Charger. I arrived at TeleAudit on my first day of work; the
office was locked, so I waited until the secretary, Miss MaryAnn,
arrived. We had breakfast in the cafeteria—tea and toast—before
the other workers arrived, and this would become our daily ritual
throughout the entire time I would work there.
Mr. Jack Brown arrived and introduced me to his engineers: John,
Glen, and Pat. One hour later, two gentlemen in suits arrived: Mr.
Jimmy Olsen and Tim McNeil—consulting engineers.
The differences in culture between Arthur D. Little and TeleAudit
would become obvious quickly.
“John, let Shoots play with the test fixture until I decide what he
will be doing for his work-study,” Mr. Jack said, butchering my
I got the test fixture from John and played with it for a while—till
lunchtime, to be exact. After lunch, I asked for the schematics and
test procedure and studied them till closing. The following day, I
connected the fixture to a printed circuit board and began to test
the board. I turned switches on and off one at a time and recorded
the light pattern in my notebook.
After lunch, Mr. Jack came by to check on my progress.
“John, take a look at what Shoots is doing,” Mr. Jack said.
“Sir, you got my name wrong,” I said. “You can pronounce it as
John came around and checked my notebook.
“I was getting ready to give him a tutorial on the test fixture and
test procedure,” John said.
“Looks like you’ve found a technician to assist Pat,” Mr. Jack
said. “Well, Chuks, congratulations. You’ve found yourself a
permanent position for your work-study.”
From that moment, I worked with the engineers for three months,
checking, testing, and assembling printed circuit boards.
One day, Mr. Jack invited me to his office just before lunch. I did
not realize that it was the end of my work-study.
“Mr. Chuks, this is the last day of your work with us,” he said.
“We’ve enjoyed working with you. It’s hard to believe that
you’ve been here for only three months. It feels like you have been
working here forever. My engineers like your work ethic. In fact they
would like you to stay, and I feel the same way. I hope that you have
enjoyed yourself enough to want to come back in three months.”
“Sir, I would love to come back. I am excited by the prospect of
coming back,” I said.
At the end of the day, MaryAnn gave me a coffee mug as a souvenir.
“You would not believe how much the engineers like you,” she
said. “We’ve had quite a few students from your school, and the
engineers never liked any of them, but this time they can’t stop
talking about how you came in and grabbed the bull by the horns. I
will miss having early-morning tea with you. Good luck in school.”
On Saturday, on an early-spring afternoon, I was tired with no
intention of going out. The weather was not particularly pleasant,
and I had forgotten that Melba had arrived in Boston the previous
day. My bell rang, and I buzzed the visitor in. I opened the door and
saw Melba walking up the stairs. I ran forward to meet her, and I
locked us out. She laughed and laughed.
“Serves you right,” Melba said.
“What do you mean by that?” I asked.
“The first time we met, your friends rushed to greet me, and you
kept cool like a tough guy,” she said. “To watch you rush to
greet me and lock yourself out of your apartment is fitting payback.
Let’s go to my sister’s house.”
“Who brought you here?”
“My sister is waiting downstairs to make sure you are home before
she takes off.”
“I can’t go out in my pajamas.”
“You still got your car, right?”
“Yes, I do.”
“OK, we will be in a car, so nobody will see you in pajamas.”
“My car key is inside,” I said.
Gab arrived and unlocked the door. Melba let her sister know that I
“Come on, take me for a ride in that car,” she said. “I know
you bought it to impress your girl.”
We drove down Columbus Avenue to Route 93 through Route 128 and Route
9 and back to her sister’s house.
“I love that car,” she said before I turned around to leave.
On Monday Gab and I went back to school. One day I was on the
computer trying to type in my code; it seemed like endless work. I
had not learned how to use the keyboard. In fact, typewriters did not
exist when I was in high school, so I had registered for typing
classes. I entered the hall on the first day of class; there was
nothing but girls everywhere in the class, chatting loudly, so I
turned around and walked out. There had been many moments, though,
after that morning when I had sat in front of the computer and
regretted my actions.
Ashamed of my inability to operate the keyboard efficiently, I came
up with a scheme to hide it. Every night, when no student was around,
I pecked on the keyboard to type in my code, to avoid being laughed
at. During school hours I joined my classmates in the computer room
to debug my code without exposing myself to ridicule.
One Monday, the professor gave the class a computer programming
assignment due on Friday. I went home and wrote the algorithm and did
the coding the following day. On Wednesday after classes, I went to
the computer room at night, when not many students were around, and
pecked in my code. On Thursday afternoon, I began to debug the code.
By pecking in my code at night, I proudly worked on the computer
during the day like students who did not have typing inabilities. I
finished debugging and compiling the code. But when I ran it, the
result did not come out perfectly correct. Then I began to look for
the cause of the incorrect result. “Poor logic in my code?”
I went to the printer to get my printout. I came back to my seat—and
discovered that all my code had been deleted and the screen was
Now I was in a dilemma—a serious one, at that. I could hand in my
assignment and get partial credit for error-free code. But how much
I’d be penalized for incorrect result—output, I could not guess.
So I had to reenter the code. God knows it was the last thing I would
do in front of other students. So I took the printout home to figure
out why the output was not correct before reentering the code. I did
a manual run on the computational loop and discovered that the loop
was not properly initialized. Late that evening, after I had eaten my
dinner and had some rest, I went back to the computer room to peck in
I arrived at the computer room and sat down in front of the computer
and looked both ways to make sure nobody was looking. I began to peck
at the keyboard. Shame or no shame, I couldn’t have cared less. I
looked to my right, and a girl was pointing at me, laughing. I guess
she found my typing inability amusing.
“Hey, I haven’t taken typing courses yet,” I said. “If you
help me with my code entry, I will help you debug your code.”
“Are you sure?”
“A hundred percent sure,” I said.
She came over, and within minutes she finished typing in my code.
“There you go,” she said.
She brought her printout over to my desk, and her algorithm was
nothing like mine.
“Why don’t we compile my code first?” I said. “If it compiles
error-free, then you can replace your original code with mine.”
We did a manual run on the code while I recorded the data we expected
to get from the output. We finished the exercise and got the correct
“You are really good at this stuff,” Erika said. “I didn’t
even know what I was doing.”
“Let’s run it before you shower me with compliments,” I said.
We ran the code and got the correct output. Then we ran the code
again and got the same output.
“Why don’t you enter your code so we can run it as well?” I