“Nzogbu Nzogbu, Enyimba Enyi!” chanted the young men as they escorted the masquerade. The older men who accompanied it chanted some kind of mystical gibberish that sent the masquerade into frenzy. It was hard to guess who carried the masquerade each year. We grew up believing the masquerade was a spirit and not human. I stopped believing that when I was 10. I had followed papa one day, it was the gathering, the one where a fellow was to put on the costume and play the masquerade for that festival. I stopped at a distance, but I had a clear view. I saw dee Nebo take a few shots of kai-kai to be in high spirits, and then he put on the costume and began to dance. Women weren’t allowed to see the masquerade at close range, it was considered a taboo. Well, a lot of things were considered to be taboo in my village, even a woman eating the anus of a chicken.
It was the festive season, most of the sons of Ibom in diaspora had returned. The prestige and respect accorded to any of the returnees depended on where they had returned from. Those who were from Europe and America seemed to be more respected than those who had returned from Asia or other African Countries. Not only because they had a unique accent, also because they seemed to be more generous.
Our house is the first house on the left, beside the famous Uduma tree, just close to the village square. This famous tree was both the hallmark and landmark of our community. As long as the tree was standing, the elders believed our people would remain indivisible and undefeatable. It was tall tree; one that strove to get to the heavens, and had its big branches spread out in every direction. It wouldn’t be misplaced to say it looked like a hybrid of Iroko and oak tree species. It produced a round smooth juicy fruit about the size of a cashew nut. The fruit often fell on its own in due season.
As a little child, I played a lot around this tree, as well all the neighboring compounds. They nicknamed me eze ndi egwuregwu. My house was a decent looking house. It was built from fired clay bricks, and had zinc roofing that had turned brown over the years. Beside our house was a little farm. My mom named it the Garden of Eden, because she grew every vegetable you could buy in the market. There were a few fruit trees scattered around the farm. My favorite fruit was |Ube, the African pear. Ube and Maize made as much sense as bread did with Akara. Mama tied little pieces of red yellow and green cloths around the trees in her garden. She wasn’t fetish, but trees with such adorning were usually a no go area for kids, and hungry men who went about frivolously plucking fruits from peoples farm. It was assumed that if a fruit from such trees were eaten, they could cause bloating of the intestines or ukwu aba shoe, the latter being a condition where ones foot becomes too big to fit into any shoe made by a human being.
My papa was a respected elder in the community. He was a revered retired wrestler, one who had dominated that sport for decades, before taking a bow when he couldn’t move as fast as he needed to again. His favorite fight was the one in which he won mama as the grand prize. He never ceased to remind mama of how she was his prize, and how he could sell her when he wanted to, for a plate of new yam with Ofe Nsala soup. Of course, he was joking. He wouldn’t have traded mama for the entire world.
Papa was quiet and had a mean demeanor, one that he had cultivated over the years; it boosted his status as Obi Dimkpa of Ibom. Mama was different o. Kai! She was always in high spirits, and couldn’t mask her emotions. It was embarrassing being around her at a funeral. She would cry so hard while singing at the same time. She would seem more bereaved than the mourning family. Or talk about mama in church on Christmas Sunday? Ah! I will tell you about that.
Our parlor was oddly circularly shaped. There were four wooden chairs in it, all facing a small brown locked cupboard. Papa kept his satellite radio in that cupboard. He brought it out on special days; like days when he hosted the Christian men’s Association of our church, or when a special visitor came around. Our parlor had two exits. The first led to papa’s room, which was opposite mama’s room, and the second led to the corridor, where my room was. It was my room, but I shared it with Ebube, Chinedu and Ngozi. But it was still my room sha. Papa’s door always had a padlock on it when he wasn’t around. It was heavily guarded like Dodan barracks. You would think that door was the pearly gate that ushered you straight into heaven. Mama’s room was filled with boxes. She had separated and kept these boxes carefully for many years. One had trinkets, another, wrappers, beads, bags, shoes etc. etc. She had been saving all these things for the day Ebube and Ngozi would get married. “My daughters must have the best in life.” Mama would say often. I often wondered why papa could not learn from his wife’s exemplary character and have boxes with Isi agwu tops, red caps and fine Italian shoes, kept for Chinedu and myself.
“Ebube bia eba.” “Ngozi, if I slap you ehn, you will leave that fried meat alone.” Mama was already getting worked up. “You children will not kill me o.” It was Christmas morning. I told you earlier that I would tell you about this. “Nnanna,” Mama screamed my name. “Mama, ana ma bia o!” I answered, and quickly rushed to the kitchen. “Make sure you and Chinedu get ready to follow your father to church. As soon as I’m done cooking, I will come with Ebube and Ngozi. Festive periods were crazy periods in our house. On Christmas and New Year day, mama was up by 3am, and made sure everyone was awake too. She had to cook for the world. Mama believed that no one should come to her house on such a day, and leave without being fed. Mama cooked to accommodate every kind of visitor. So, she would cook okra and okazi soup for the middle aged visitors and then ofe nsala for papa’s friends. For the younger visitors, she would cook jollof rice. It was usually sweet mehn! Papa would have ordered his bush meat, and had fresh palm wine delivered the night to Christmas day.
*Christmas Sunday service*
The church building was unusually full by 8:00am. All those who hadn’t been to church that year showed up in style. Papa had a special corner; it was close to the vestry. He, Mazi Eleke, and High Chief Nebo sat on the first bench of that row. (Remember Chief Nebo? He was the one took the shots of kai kai, and then played the masquerade. He was a changed man now.). The bench must have synchronized so well with their gluteus maximus, so that no one else felt comfortable sitting on that bench. It was easy to know when papa and his clique were not in church; that bench would be empty. Immediately Papa walked into church, he made his way to his corner, while I and Ebube chose to sit close to the choir stand. Papa kept his Igbo bible (Akwukwo Nso) and Hymnal beside him, and then he quickly exchanged pleasantries with Mazi Eleke, while looking out for Chief Nebo. The priest, choir members and lay readers were already outside, having a word of prayer before the procession. Ebube and I had barely settled down before I felt someone’s fingers pinch me on the lobule of my ear. I hurriedly turned back to retaliate, and then noticed it was agu nwanyi, mama’s best friend.
“Aunty, Adim nma.” I replied, wearing a panam smile to mask my displeasure.
It was now 10 minutes past 8am, and everyone was standing, the procession was on. The priest was adorned in a white cassock, academic hood and an English-style surplice. It was uncommon to see the priest fully-kitted except on ceremonial Sundays when the Bishop would visit the parish. The choir members were all looking lovely, decked in cream and maroon colored robes. “Mma mma diri gi Chineke, mma mma diri gi onye oma.” The priest sang, leading the procession, being melodiously supported by the choir and entire church. The service kicked off with the lord’s prayer/collect for purity. After that, it was time for that exhilarating praise and worship session.
Praise on such Sundays was led by dee Alvan, he was the choir master, a likeable and lively bloke. In the middle of the praise and worship session, mama hurriedly walked into church, holding Ebube and Ngozi by the hand. She quickly located Agu Nwanyi who had reserved a sit for her. Mama was quick to make her presence felt with her elaborate dance steps. The praise was just getting to climax when the priest tried to bring it to an end, so he could preach the Christmas message. “Umu Chineke eh!” mama quickly shouted… the reply was so loud it drowned the priests voice. Papa turned to look at his wife as she switched from one dance style to another. He just shook his head in amazement and turned his neck away. Papa wasn’t one known for much dancing or even singing. The priest was able to bring the praise and worship to an end 15 minutes later. Mama was satisfied and didn’t resist again.
The priest took his text from the book of Luke chapter two, verse one to seven. He hadn’t gotten more than a dozen words out of his mouth when mama began to sleep. It was as if mama had a pact with Agu Nwanyi, one of them had to be asleep during the sermon. Today, it was mama’s turn. Mama would wake up to the shouts of hallelujah and shout the loudest, without even knowing why the church was shouting hallelujah. Then she would scream…. “Jesus igwe,” and then everyone would respond “igweeeee.” Then she would go back to sleep.
“Ka anyi na-enye Chineke anyi onyinye.” The priest said, before reaching out for his wallet for some clean bill folds. It was another opportunity for mama to dance. She was fully awake. The children usually gave first, then the youths, the women and lastly the men. Chinedu Oti, Georgina Dike, Kelechi Ekeghe, Iyke Igwe, Chiemena Egbule, Udy Okemiri, Blessing Onwukah, Chinelo Nnadi, Joy Orie, Chibuzor Ukaegbu, Onyinye Onoh, etc. etc. The line was so long. I was in the middle of the line and had determined not to dance so much, but when I saw that my best friend Chisom was in the mood, we suddenly began to dig it out. Kimon! “Our women, it’s your turn now o,” the priest said with a smile. Mama and Agu Nwanyi had taken their positions on the line. They were first and second respectively. “Agam e buru aleluya e buru, para Aleluya para.” Mama didn’t waste time to protest dee Alvan’s choice of song.
“Dee, biko, na-abu abu ozo.” Mama shouted out, being seconded by Agu Nwanyi and a few other disciples. Dee Alvan responded appropriately, and the place went wild with shouts of praises. Mama was in the mood. Ahhhh! It was from one move to another. The priest had to secretly beg papa, requesting he pleads with mama to drop her offering so that the men could give and then the service could come to a close. It was a straight line moving across a narrow thin path, so, as long as mama was in front, those at the back could not give. The line went at her pace. When she was satisfied, she gave her offering and allowed the others to give too. She then took the microphone from dee Alvan without permission and officially invited the entire church for lunch at our house. Papa’s eyes got as big as saucers when mama made the announcement. But after 16 years of marriage, nothing mama did could surprise him again. Mama has always been a rock star.
The rockiest of rock stars.
“Anyi no ebe a, anyi n’eche gi. Ok, bye!” mama said to Aunty Joan, her Favorite sister in-law. Aunty Joan was papa’s younger sister, the last child of his mother. I didn’t like her so much because whenever she was around, she would send me round the world on endless errands. And to make it worse, Aunty Joan would never let go of her change, even if it was five naira. She was working with FRCN Enugu and wasn’t married yet. I couldn’t wait for a man to come take her away forever, so she could come around less often. But mama liked Aunty Joan for all of the wrong reasons; she never took sides with papa against mama, they crashed church services, weddings and funerals together, and lastly, they rocked the dance floors together. I assure you, the only reason we were able to end the
Christmas Sunday service by 12:30pm, was because Aunty Joan wasn’t around; she and mama were a more deadly combo than mama and Agu Nwanyi. Papa had returned from church, but had refused taking off his “Christmas clothes.” Papa believed in buying Christmas clothes, and he taught us to expect it every season. Well, we were also taught not to expect it, except it was on Christmas or your birthday – papa had more important things to do with money. The satellite radio was set up on the brown cupboard in the living room. That was the third time all year that papa had brought out his special radio. That radio had given papa bragging rights. He kept tuning the frequency, in search of something soothing – he found nothing he liked. Entering his room, he began to search for his Boney M and Onyeka Onwenu cassettes.
“Nnanna!” Papa shouted. Papa never called anyone’s name more than once. If he had to call you a second time, he would do so with a cane. I was just about to kindle a fire when I heard papa’s voice. I quickly left the firewood, kerosene and match box and dashed toward his room.
“Papa, did you call me?” I asked him, perspiring like I had just competed with Hussein Bolts for a gold medal.
“Kedu ebe idosere cassette m?” Papa asked me back, not answering my silly question – because if he didn’t call me, what was I doing in his room? I began wondering how that question came about. I hadn’t entered papa’s room since April of that year. I was still surprised that he even allowed me to go past the pearly gates into his heavenly abode. Papa usually asked you to stop at the door while he quizzed you from inside. Papa hasn’t changed anything in this room for 8 months now. When will he invest some more money to buy extra property for his room? At least, that would give me something more to inherit. I was thinking to myself, looking around the room, and I hadn’t answered papa’s question yet. Papa landed a sound knock on my head – the kind the English man calls a conk. It sent a shock through my spine and nervous system at the same time. I felt paralyzed for almost a minute.
“Owughi gi kam na aju?” Papa said, looking very angry.
“Papa, I haven’t entered your room since April. The last time you played Boney M was during Christmas last year, and you haven’t played Aunty Onyeka’s music since May, when you hosted Christian Men’s Association.” I replied, trying so hard to hold back the tears.
“O bu mu ka ina asuru bekee?” Papa replied, looking like Floyd Mayweather did when he was about to land the killer punch.
“Papa ndo!” I replied.
“si eba puo osiso.” I quickly ran away from papa’s room, before he did more damage to me. But I knew how to get my pound of flesh back. It was just a matter of time – trust me.
Imeee imela Imela – Jehovah Imela Anyi n’ ekele gi nasi imela Imela – Jehovah imela. Mama sang and whistled as she walked toward the kitchen, still holding her bible, hymn and a small red purse she called – Diamond bank.
“Nna nda?” mama asked, smiling at me. To mama, I was the best behaved boy in the entire village. Which of the other boys would be in the kitchen trying to assist his mom on Christmas day?
“Nnem o, odinma.” I replied and hugged her.
“Go and bring the pot of ofe nsala, your dad must be hungry.” While papa’s soup was still heating up, Dee Alvan, Mazi Eleke, and Chief Nebo had walked into the parlor and settled in. I told mama they were around and she started complaining.
“Can’t these people stay in their houses? Or didn’t their wives cook?” Was it not you that invited the entire church to lunch? I said to myself paying no attention to mama’s groaning.
“My husbands you are all welcome, let me tell your friend you are around.” Mama said to the sitting visitors who were already having a nice time chatting amongst themselves.
“Dim oma.” Mama whispered, tapping gently on papa’s pearly gate. “Honey’m” mama said this time, raising her voice a little louder above a whisper.
“O mu. Ndi enyi gi no kwa eba.”
“Ana ma bia!” papa replied in a sleepy voice. He had slept off in his Christmas attire, shortly after finding his cassettes. By the time mama got into the parlor again, the number of visitors had doubled. This time it was four middle aged visitors; two choir members and two ushers.
“Chinedu! Chinedu!!” mama called out to my little brother. Chinedu was three years younger than I was, but he was as very much responsible, almost as responsible as I was. Immediately Chinedu ran into the parlor, he didn’t need mama to say a word; he knew he needed to set up benches outside the house, under the mango trees, for the visitors who were around and those who would be trooping in shortly. “Nnukwu mmadu – ndewo!” papa said to his friends, holding his walking stick up, it was slanted forward a little, so that his friends could stretch theirs out and tap his gently. It was a revered way of greeting amongst the men. Papa didn’t waste time to slot in Onyeka Onwenu’s cassette. Her songs; Ekwe, Iyogogo and one love seemed to always set the mood for papa’s celebrations.
The people just kept coming. Mama made sure everyone except papa’s friends sat outside, under the tree – papa needed his privacy. Ebube, Chinedu and Ngozi were busy, serving the guest outside, while mama charged me with looking after papa’s guest. While serving, Ngozi rushed to the kitchen to inform me that a few of my friends were around. Iyke Igwe, Kelechi ‘Kelenus’ Ekeghe and his cousin Love Otuekere, and also Chisomistic Chisom were around. I convinced mama to add an extra piece of meat to their plates of rice, and then took a few minutes off to serve them.
“My husbands, are you enjoying the meal?” Mama asked papa’s friends. “Our wife, this is a marvelous dish. It is simply fantastic.” Mazi Eleke replied. He was one given to food and his protruding belly was a testament to that. “Come and eat with us.” Chief Nebo insisted. Mama declined the offer, but he doubled up on it, requesting mama take his meat if she wouldn’t eat with them. Mama just walked to the stool in front of him and picked out the meat from his soup and thanked him, and then she walked away. Chief Nebo looked dazed, as if someone had slapped him with a wet dish rag. The others sited tried so hard to hold back the laughter. But as soon as mama was out of the parlor, it bursted out.
“Don’t ever say what you do not mean to my wife.” Papa said to his friend Chief Nebo, who still looked a little astonished. Mama wasn’t one you played with like that – if he only knew her.
“Don’t worry the bush meat and palm wine will be coming shortly.” Papa said, bringing relief to his friend.
*Aunty Joan Arrives*
Peem Peem! Peem Peem!!
It was a car outside, trying to get the attention of those inside the house. At this time, most of the visitors outside had gone. There were just a few serial eaters remaining – some were feasting on the third plate of rice or fourth wrap of fufu. I rushed through the parlor to get outside, walking hastily toward the car to see who had come. Papa and his friends were just about to start feasting on the bush meat and fresh palm wine.
“Nnanna m ooo”
“Aunty Joan’m ooo” I responded. I didn’t like her a lot as I said earlier, but I missed her a little though.
“Nna Daalu!” she replied.
“Mma gi kwanu?”
“Ono n’ime ulo.” Ebube and Joan peeping through the window of our room had seen me bringing out a bag from the boot. They immediately started screaming – Aunty Joan! Aunty Joan!! Mama left what she was doing and quickly rushed outside o. Right then and there, their gist began. Aunty Joan wanted to catch up on what she had missed, while mama was eager to tell her the events that were still ahead – igbankwus, burials and the church’s watch night service.
Mama and Aunty Joan’s gist would seem like forever, even if it was just 5 minutes. But there’s no better time to get my pound of flesh from papa than now I thought. So, I started to spit on the floor. I made sure I was close enough for mama and Aunty Joan to see me. Mama was caught up in her gist and pretended not to see me. I stepped up my game too. I began to drool like an infant and screamed “isi m ooo.” That did the magic. Mama and Aunty Joan quit talking, and both rushed to hold me, trying to steady me, because I looked and acted like someone who was about to faint.
“Nna Ogini?” mama asked me, looking very desperate. I took my time to explain to mama how papa knocked me on the head and how I felt a twist in my spine when he did. I knew that to turn mama on, I had to even step my game up more. So I looked at Aunty Joan and asked mama who it was. Mama replied me, asking me what kind of foolish question that was. I told her I was sorry, and that I forgot that it was Aunty Diana, the church chief usher.
“Onye bu Diana?” Aunty Joan promptly responded, removing her head tie, and tying it across her waist. I knew it was a done deal. Mama was the fire and Aunty Joan was going to be the fuel to assist the explosion. Mama didn’t waste time. She grabbed my left hand, Aunty Joan held the right and both rushed with me to towards the parlor where papa was still having a feast and telling tales of his days as a warrior.
“Warrior” Mama was already shouting from outside as she was storming to crash papa’s feast with his friends. Papa knew that when mama called him warrior – it was trouble coming. “How will you knock my son with your wrestler hand? He is just 15 years old. Do you want to kill him for me?”
Papa was still trying to calm mama down, explaining that he didn’t mean to knock me and that the knock was not the type that could black me out. I knew I had papa in a tight angle and it was time for a knock-out. I continued spitting, and then I looked at Chief Nebo and greeted him – “Dee Maximus, ndewo sir!” Everyone was shocked and afraid. But that made mama hysterical, and she began to scream and cry, the next thing she started singing the hymn – Rock of Ages. It wasn’t easy not to give my scheme and just have a good laugh at the on-going drama.
“Onye bu onye a?” Mama asked me, pointing to my father.
“O uko-Chukwu” I replied. Everyone shouted, and then mama flipped.
“Warrior, you are here smiling, eating bush meat, drinking palm wine, and my son cannot differentiate between the priest and his father because you miss your days as a fighter and decided to practice with him.” Mama got angry and packed the entire bowl of bush meat and took the keg of palm wine also with her.
“Nnam o, come and rest and eat some bush meat, you will be fine.” Mama said, as she dragged me away from the parlor. As we walked away, I turned, and my eyes caught the eyes of papa, and then I winked at him. Papa started to laugh. He knew I had played a fast one on him. But there was nothing he could do – because – Mama was a rock star, The rockiest of rock stars.
*Boxing Day Morning Devotion*
It’s 2:00 am, I felt a hand tap me on the shoulder, then a voice accompanied it, it said “stand up”’. At first, I thought it was a bad dream, and the hand must have been that of Chinedu, being one of his many body movements while he slept. The hand tapped me again, and then, I opened my eyes. Behold, it was papa.
“Papa, ogini?” I said softly, my eyes were very heavy with sleep. It had been a busy Christmas day filled with fun and activities, and I had just begun sleeping by 12:00 am.
“Soro m.” Papa said quietly, but sternly.
I stood up from the bed which was just beside the open door. “Aunty Joan! Aunty Joan!!” I whispered, trying to get her attention, so that at least, someone would know that papa was asking me to follow him at such an odd hour.
“Nnanna, Ogini? Aunty Joan asked in hushed tones.
I quickly explained to her that papa had asked me to follow him, and I wasn’t sure what he wanted to do to me.
“O, a gam agwa nne gi.” Aunty Joan replied and then continued snoring.
“I’m finished o” I said to myself as I walked to the parlour. There was no one else, just papa and the kerosene lantern, placed in the middle of the sitting room. I sat down on the wooden seat farthest away from papa.
“Nna, ibu Cain? Gini ka iji agbara oso?” Papa asked me.
“Papa, onweghi.” I replied him.
“Onye bu papa? You remember me now? Abum uko-chukwu o. Chineke si train up a child in the way he should go. Ibu nwa pastor, therefore, ibu pastor nke gi. Achorom ka mu na gi we data mmuonso na onyinye na ututu a.” Papa said, having a smile on his face.
“Papa, na ututu a?”
I knew in my heart, this was sheer revenge from papa for the previous day. I knew that the stunt I had pulled with the help of mama was going to get me punished, but I didn’t know papa would go this far.
“Guo Psalm 5:3” Papa requested. That verse was supposed to be the answer to my question.
I quickly reached for my bible which was on the wooden cupboard that housed papa’s satellite radio. After reading it out loud, papa laughed and said “Nwam nwoke, guorom egwu onyinye.”
I was angry and didn’t feel like singing any song of praise, not at this time when I should be switching gears in my sleep. So I decided to give papa a little fight too.
“Never mind them, onu kwuru njo ga ekwu nma. Aghala ha nti na ha ge ekwuokwu kwugide onwe ha.” I sang and clapped. As I was about to begin the second stanza, papa stopped me abruptly.
“Taa! Mechie onu gi. Is this a traditional gathering? My friend, will you sing praises to God.”
Without thinking, I suddenly began to sing Chineke Idi mma. I kept up the praises, papa joined in with bass and we both began to enjoy it. I started to believe that papa actually wanted to draw His presence down. But his next move changed that thought.
“I ga agu akwukwo nso Psalms. You will read the entire book out loud, and I will say amen as you read.” Papa said, not smiling at all.
“Papa isi gini?” I asked, looking mystified.
“To be a pastor’s son is not easy. Start from chapter 1.” Papa replied.
This one that papa was speaking more of English this morning. I was starting to get afraid as to how this was going to end. I was also wondering if something had been done to everyone to keep them sleeping. Why will mama be sleeping this kind of deep sleep while papa was giving me a technical knock-out?
It was now 6:00 am, I had read almost the entire book, and it was just a chapter left. As soon as papa heard mama’s footsteps, he stopped me from reading. Mama walked into the parlour, and then papa quickly raised his voice and asked me to read Psalm 150, stating that that was our lesson for the day. So now, in mama’s mind, we just began the morning devotion. Papa was good, I had just confirmed it. The man had Mayweathered me. As I began to read Psalm 150, papa stopped me and asked me why my siblings didn’t come out with me. “You shouldn’t be selfish, how do you come out for devotion and leave others behind?” Papa asked me, and then he turned to mama and they both greeted. I was sure that papa was having the time of his life. Tears had built up in my eyes, all that was remaining to provoke a free-flow was a little more pressure.
I went into the room, woke everyone and went back to the parlour. Ebube, my little sister, walked out and simply asked me to shift a little so she could sit, and that was it. The flood gates opened up and I began to cry profusely.
“Nna Ogini?” Mama asked.
I tried to explain, but the pain was so much, I was stammering and wasn’t articulate.
“Hapu ya. He’s experiencing revival.” Papa said.
Papa’s words made me cry even more.
“Chukwu, thank you sir!” Mama said, seemingly happy for me. Mama put her arms around me, and soon as they touched me, I fell on the floor, crying.
“It’s the anointing.” Papa said to everyone.
My siblings were laughing and papa was in a state of ecstasy. The devotion ended by 7:00 am. I had been awake for five hours now, sang countless songs and read the entire book of psalms out loud. But it seemed papa wasn’t satisfied. I now wished I could turn back the hands of time, just so I could return the bush meat.
“Nnanna, you will be weeding your mother’s garden this morning.” Papa said. Mama was quick to support him because it involved her precious Garden of Eden. So, I picked up my cutlass and hoe, and went straight to business.
I don’t know about your village, but in my village, Boxing Day was usually fun. The spirit of Christmas was still very present, and there seemed to be much Joy and Love in the air. It was the day kids my age went around visiting and feasting from house to house. I had already scheduled my visit to the houses of Chisomistic Chisom, Georgina Dike, lolo Blessyn Onwuka, Ichie Kelechi Ekeghe, Iyke Igwe Kalu, Kelechi Oruada and Chiemena Egbule Doris in respective order. This was going to take a few hours to do. I was done weeding the farm by 9:22am, and I was still on track to make the scheduled visits.
“Nnanna, bia eba.” Papa called out.
I quickly ran to the parlor to meet him. He handed me N1500 and asked me to go to Mazi Ndu’s place, to book palm wine and bush meat for the New Year. Papa was happily ruining my day. I returned by 10:55am, I was still on course to make the visits. Papa called me to the parlour once more. This time, he was dressed up and ready to leave the house. He pointed to the corner near the door leading to his room. He had heaped all his brocade outfits that were dirty, and I was to do the needful. It was unfair. Everyone else had left the house. My siblings had begun their own scheduled visit, mama had left the house earlier with Aunty Joan, and now, the warrior was leaving the house too.
“When you are done, you can go to wherever you want.” Papa said as he walked away.
I hadn’t eaten all morning.
I hadn’t rested since 2:00am.
I hadn’t had my bath yet.
I hadn’t visited anyone yet.
It was the saddest Boxing Day I had had all my life. I finished washing by 1:15pm, had my bath, dressed up and then left the house. I went to Agu Nwanyi’s place, mama and Aunty Joan had been there. It was Vero’s (Agu Nwanyi’s little sister) Igba nkwu. Papa had also gone to Agu Nwanyi’s place after he had visited Chief Nebo.
*Agu Nwayi’s Residence*
Mama was in high spirits already, and rocking the dance floor, as was her trademark. Papa was with Dee Alvan and Chief Okosisi, they were all eating pepper soup and laughing. I really just wanted to wipe that smile from papa’s face. I wasn’t in a good mood; hence, I wasn’t feeling the traditional marriage at all. I decided it was best to go visit mama-ukwu (my granny).
“Mama-ukwu! Mama-ukwu o!!” I called out as I approached the veranda of her house.
“Onye?” Mama-ukwu replied from inside the parlour.
“O nwa Lovina.” I replied.
“Ewoo! Ewoo!! Nwam oo.” Mama-ukwu kept calling from inside the house. I walked into the parlour, ushered by the loving voice of my grand ma. She quickly gave me a big hug and planted a kiss of life on my right eye .Who in the world kisses someone on the eye, I thought to myself. I realized my mother was a chip of the old block; she and mama-ukwu were unconventional.
“O no n’ime ulo” mama-ukwu replied.
“kam ga kele ya.” I said, turning towards his room.
“O na ehi ura. He is sleeping” Mama-ukwu said, looking a little sad. And then, she sat me down and began to explain to me that papa-ukwu was suffering from insomnia, a condition where one was restless and unable to sleep. But his was a little more complex, because he could sleep most of the day, but as soon as it is 1:00am, he will begin to talk to himself and anyone around him, and he would keep talking till morning, nothing and no one could keep him quiet.
“Mama-ukwu, isi gini?” I said, almost wanting to smile, but I had to look sad for that moment. Ideas were suddenly coming to me, faster than I could imagine. Wow!
“Nne na nnam omakwala maka ihe a?” I asked mama-ukwu.
“Mba. I haven’t told them. O soso Nenye ma Afam mara.” She replied.
Aunty Nenye and Uncle Afam were my mother’s siblings who lived in Abuja and Lagos respectively.
My idea was born. But I knew I would need mama to facilitate the plan. I quickly helped granny fetch some water and fire wood, clean the house and washed her and papa-ukwu’s dirty clothes.
“Mama-ukwu, ana ma bia.” I said and ran off; going back to Agu Nwanyi’s house, hoping mama would still be at the Igba nkwu. The best time to ask mama for special favours was when she was in high spirits – the timing was perfect.
“Nnemoma. Nnem mara mma. I bu omalicha.” I told my mother, holding her hand. I asked her how the traditional marriage had been, asked her about papa and a few other things, and then I made my request.
“Mama, achorom ka mama-ukwu na papa-ukwu spend some days with us.”
“Mba Mba Mba.” Mama repeated, not liking the idea at all.
“Mama biko!” I said, explaining to her that I had visited them and that they were alone and lonely, and that if they spent a few days with us, it could make a lot of difference in their lives.
“Where will they sleep?” Mama asked.
Mama-ukwu will sleep on my bed, while papa-ukwu will sleep in papa’s room. I will sleep in the room with you mama. Mama thought about it for a minute. As long as neither mama-ukwu nor papa-ukwu was sleeping in her room, it was fine, mama didn’t like stress.
“It’s a good idea. Wait a little; we will go over to pick them together.” Mama said to me.
“A huru m gi n’anya” I replied mama and hugged her.
I took a look at papa, he was still all smiles. At this time he was having a good conversation with Mazi Princewill and Mazi Eleke. I was so happy he was enjoying himself.
It was 4:00pm, the traditional marriage was over, but the eating and dancing hadn’t stopped. Mama took her leave so we could go over to Mama-ukwu’s place.
“Nnem o.” Mama greeted as she stepped into the parlour.
“Lovina nwam.” The happy mama-ukwu replied.
“O soso gi na papa nokwa eba?” Mama asked. “Mba, o dighi mma”
You see, that’s why I love my mother a lot. When she buys into an idea, it becomes hers. Mama quickly began to pick a few clothes mama-ukwu could use for the next few days, while mama-ukwu was sorting out what papa-ukwu would wear. Mama then put a call through to Aunty Joan, asking her to tell Aunty Faustina (Mama’s cousin) to branch mama-ukwu’s place with her car. Aunty Faustina arrived in twenty minutes, and we were all out of there in a jiffy.
*Papa Returns Home*
Papa had left the door to his room open, because he had instructed that I fold his brocade outfits and place on his bed once they were dry.
It was 8:00pm when papa returned home. Mama, Aunty Joan and mama-ukwu were in the kitchen gisting, cooking and having a ladies time out. Papa-ukwu was alone in papa’s room. I had taken him into the room and asked him to rest on papa’s bed.
Papa walked into the parlour, whistling Aunty Onyeka and Uncle Sunny Ade’s classic; wait for me. I greeted him with a smile as soon as I saw him. He was surprised.
“nwa uko-chukwu!” He said to me, rubbing my head.
“Onye na-eweta n’iru mmunso Chineke.” I replied.
Papa picked the lantern from the parlour and made way for his room.
“Onye?” Papa shouted as he entered his room, seeing a figure on his bed.
“Nwam, o mu.” Papa ukwu replied.
Papa walked closer to get a full view of the person lying on the bed, and then he realized it was papa-ukwu.
“Papa, ndewo sir!” My father quickly greeted his father-in-law, “o di mma ihu gi.”
I was eaves dropping on the conversation and laughing. I knew papa was every other thing but happy to see papa-ukwu lying on his bed.
“Lovina! Lovina!! Lovina!!!” Papa shouted as he furiously made way for the kitchen, on a mission to find out what his father in-law was doing in his room and on his bed. As soon as he got to the kitchen, he saw mama-ukwu, and then, he couldn’t ask the question nor say what he wanted to again, so he mellowed down.
“Mama, ndewo!” Papa said, smiling at her.
“Nwam, nda aga imere?” Mama-ukwu replied.
“M nnoo mma.” Papa replied.
It was 12:30 am; the moment I was waiting for was drawing near. Mama-ukwu had been telling my siblings and me folktales, something she was very good at. Mama and Aunty Joan had been gisitng in the parlour, and papa was outside, listening to Voice of America on his satellite radio. Everyone began to walk towards their room for a well-earned repose, after a tiring day. I was most tired, but I couldn’t sleep for the joy ahead. As soon as papa walked into his room and shut the door behind me, I tip-toed out of bed, mama was sleepy and didn’t ask where I was going. I picked the padlock mama used to lock her door whenever she was travelling, and used it to clip papa’s door from outside, so that he couldn’t leave his room if he wanted to, except someone opened it for him.
*It’s 1:00 am*
“In-law’m.” Papa-ukwu called out several times.
“Kedu ka I’mere?” Papa-ukwu asked.
Kedu ka I’mere by 1:00 am papa thought to himself, however, he answered his father in-law.
The next second, papa-ukwu asked him another question:
“Mma na mpa gi kwanu?”
“Papa, they died in the civil war.” My father replied.
“So you are an orphan?”
“Eh!” Papa replied.
“Ndo nwam. How did you survive then, since your parents died?” Papa-ukwu asked.
Papa went through the laborious motion of explaining how he and his brother trekked for days to get to Calabar and finally were able to move to Cameroon.
Papa-ukwu was quiet for 5 seconds, and then he started again.
“Nwam, I gara crusade Rev. Uma Ukpai?”
“Papa ogini, biko ogini?” My weary father replied.
I was really having the time of my life at this point.
“Agaghi m crusade Rev. Uma Ukpai.”
“Papa, I had some things to do.”
“That’s not an excuse. Nothing else should be more important. You should remember the creator in the days of your youth.” Papa-ukwu replied.
“Papa, abum nwata kiri?”
“Afo ole kai di?” Papa-ukwu replied my father.
Papa kept quiet and chose not to go back and forth with papa-ukwu, but papa-ukwu was just starting. A minute later, he continued.
“Nwam nwoke, I na anu anwuru?”
“Papa, gini ajuju wu ihe a? Papa, ogini?” My father asked, sounding frustrated and tired.
“I asked a simple question, I na anu anwuru?”
“Papa, abum an elder in church.”
“You didn’t answer my question, enyi’m I na-anu anwuru?”
“Papa, I don’t take snuff, I will never take it.” Papa replied, almost shouting at his father in-law.
This was much fun; I was enjoying every minute of it. Papa-ukwu seemed to be quiet for ten minutes, and just when papa was about to doze off, papa-ukwu was at it again.
“My in-law, gini bu cosmic effect?”
“Mba! Ah! Ah!! Papa exclaimed and jumped out of the bed and ran for the door, he tried to open it, so he could leave the room, but it wouldn’t open.
“Papa, I guola Galatians 6:7?” I said to him from mama’s room.
I put my hands around my mother and held her tight. It felt so good to be the son of a rock star.
The ROCKIEST of rock stars.
Written by Richard Oti.
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Image: courtesy – Yusamur SZ