For some seconds, you shut your eyes and then open them, but he is still there, that man you learnt to dread with all our life. A man you learnt to despise, the man who robbed you of those long ago childish care.
‘O god, oh my god, o god,’ you gasp.
All the while you’re wishing it was one of those dreams whose details you forget almost as soon as you awoke. Your mouth is dry, your lips are limp, you try to scream, but all you can feel is stiffness around your throat. A long limp sound escapes you and just then Chief moves a little, but does not rouse. The tears take form and travel down your face. The memories start to come, those memories you have sealed in the closet of history. You are shaking. You are sobbing. You are weakened by your past. You find your clothing, hastily put them on. Chief is still sprawled out like a small child on the expansive bed when you dash out of the room.
It all started when you were only twelve. That was ten years ago. Like a newly sprouted leaf in the raining season, the details are again fresh in your mind.
You were the apple of your parent’s eye, an only child. Your father called you Angel and nurtured your dream of becoming a world acclaimed singer. He always told you that you had a voice that could move mountains and encouraged you to join the church’s choir. Every Christmas, he watched you rehearse for Christmas carol, and eventually perform at the children Christmas carol. Every Christmas until that cursed Christmas.
The harmattan gale was fiercest that year, and the house seemed mirthless without Papa’s voice. He had left on a business trip but promised to return to watch you sing. He never returned. You never sang. Papa died in a plane crash, and the next week after his demise, Mama received a call from the village. She said it had to do with tradition. She assured you it was going to be alright and you both went to your country-home to perform Papa’s burial rite.
Things took a different shape when you got to the village. Your relatives seemed to have grown hostile over-night. They had occupied your country-home, and would not let you or Mama into the house. You were taken to your paternal granny’s house, which was on the next street. She did not smile up at you as she usually did, and when you asked her why, she gave you a stern look, and called you the daughter of a witch who had succeeded in killing her only son with voodoo. She swore that Mama must undergo some ‘omenala’, customary practices to proof her claim of innocence.
Your mother’s hair was shaved to the scalp so that you could hardly recognize her. A bevy of old women gathered around spiting and mocking and accusing her, while she cried in agony. The next day, you saw the same women leading her out of the garage that had become her room, and you thought it was all over. But it was not.
They made her kneel, repeat some words that you did not hear, and forced her to drink the content of a small wooden calabash. She was hesitant, but the women slapped her face and forced the content of the ugly calabash down her throat. Granny later told you that it contained the bath water of your father’s corpse. You threw up and refused to eat all day long. You missed your home at the city and the near perfect life you had with your parents. You wished Mama’s travail would come to an abrupt end, so you can return home with Mama, and with considered effort, put your lives back together. But the women had different thoughts. Mama, they said, must remain in the garage, stripped of all her raiment for a month. She must come out only once a day, when she heard the first cock crow at dawn, and whether she liked it or not, she must wail to the hearing of the entire neighbourhood.
Mama’s mother came to see Mama and in your innocent confusion, you asked her why life has taken a new turn. She told you that it is a path that all widows must thread. You pressed on, and enquired why Uncle Ofodili, Papa’s cousin and his family have taken over your country home. She cast you a sad look which lingered for some seconds, and said, ‘you should have been a boy you know’.
Her voice seemed distant and accusatorial as she continued, ‘girls are such vain treasures. They come and go, but the man stays, and must be succeeded by another man. Ofodili is the new man!’
Mama died on the second week of her mourning, and the villagers shouted hosanna.
…to be continued next week
By Uche Anichebe