Frog In My Throat🐸🐸🐸🐸🐸🐸

My mum was in the room like a flash of lightning, while Ncheta was hovering at the door, rubbing the sleep from her eyes, asking over and over again, “What’s wrong, what’s wrong?”

Honestly, Ncheta is a pure and applied blithering idiot! With all the love I have for her, as a sibling I never had, she can still be a blithering idiot! I mean, what wasn’t wrong? Couldn’t she see that I couldn’t speak, that I was shivering with fear, like a person suffering from iba, fever?

Until I realised the screaming was coming from me.

In between gasping for air and my mum gently rubbing my back in small, circular motions, I told my dream. The old woman guide of Ogbunike cave stood at the foot of my bed and wagged a bony finger in my face; a finger that seemed to stretch all the way from where she stood to the tip of my nose.

“You shouldn’t have come in with your possession.”

“What possession? I had no possessions,” I replied, nonplussed.

“A book is a possession.”

“And with that, her finger became a long claw that grew and grew and grew till I could feel it about to rest on the tip of my nose when I woke up”. I finished off, wiping the sweat from my brow.

“Did you take a book with you into the cave?” My mum probed gently.

I was about to shake my head in denial but a clearing of throat by Ncheta stopped me. I nodded instead.

“Then it’s just a dream,” my mother concluded. “Just your mind catching up with all that has happened over the weekend. I wouldn’t be surprised if you have another dream about Nkechi throwing a book at you,” she finished off with a cheeky grin, trying to lighten the atmosphere.

“Ncheta.”

“Yes, Auntie?”

“Get her a fresh nightgown and change her bed sheet and cover cloth; they are damp with sweat.”

“Yes, Auntie.”

My mum turned to me, “Let Ncheta stay with you tonight o? It will be alright, inugo, you hear?

“Yes, mummy, anugom, I’ve heard.” I must have been really terrified; I haven’t called my mum ‘mummy’ in a long time.

Sheets and nightgown changed, I went back to bed with Ncheta watching over me, seated on my rattan chair. I knew she was waiting for me to drop off so she could return to her room; she knew how much I hated sharing my bed with anyone.

Not that it helped.

I dreamt again, this time I sat somewhere, doing nothing and the devil became bolstered. It made so much sense in the dream in the way that most dreams do but when I awoke again in another cold sweat, no scream this time, I couldn’t make head or tail out of it.

It didn’t end there.

I went into the bathroom, washed my face, drew back the curtains; it wasn’t daybreak yet. Ncheta had gone back to her room. So I picked up my geography book and tried to go over my homework but nothing I read seemed to register. I sat on my bed, my back against the headboard, determined to stay awake until the first cockcrow. Next thing I knew, I was standing outside an empty house, warning Tom and Dick not to move in as their neighbour was a barrel of gunpowder! I knew I was dreaming and tried to jerk myself awake but I couldn’t because I heard someone call my name from the empty house and I walked over to eavesdrop and it was about me but nothing good was being said.

“Blessing! Blé-Blé! Wake up! You’re going to be late for school!” It was Ncheta shaking me awake. There was no time to ponder on the series of dreams I had. I was in and out of the bathroom before Ncheta returned with my ironed uniform. Grabbed my sandwich from the kitchen counter and ran to the car where my mum was waiting impatiently.

“Sorry, mum,” I mumbled through a mouthful of bread and corned beef.

“Did you sleep well?” my mum peered into my face as she negotiated a turn unto the main road. “You have shadows under your eyes.”

“I’m fine mum, I just slept late, that’s all.”

She didn’t look convinced but she didn’t press the issue either. There was no time anyway, we were approaching the school gate.

“Have a good day!”

“You too, mum.”

I almost ran past Amazie in my hurry to get to class before the school bell.

“What happened, Blessing? I had to hitch a ride with Manny. My mum thought you had returned to the village to see Auntie Beatrice.

“Sorry, I slept late.” Let’s talk later; you know how I hate talking and running at the same time.”

We got to the classroom area before the first bell and to Dr Jayah’s lesson before the second. Thankfully, he was late too.

 

“So, tell me,” Amazie spread the inside of her cardigan on the low wall that separated the classroom area and the administrative block, “What on earth made the almighty, ever-ready Blessing sleep late!” she mimicked a shouting gesture on the last word as she sat on her cardigan.

“You wouldn’t believe me.”

“Try me.”

“Alright, let’s go somewhere else, the walls have ears.”

“Blessing, there’s no one here; at least none that can hear us! Everyone’s over at the tuck shop. Blessing? Blessing!” Amazie shook me hard.

I didn’t hear her. I was looking over at the walls of the administrative block. They had suddenly sprouted a giant pair of ears. I rubbed my eyes and looked again. No, I wasn’t dreaming.

“Can you see that?” I pulled at the sleeve of Amazie’s blouse, pointing at the wall.

“See what?”

“So you can’t see that?”

“See what nau? What? What are you seeing?”

“Come, come with me. I drew her to the girls’ toilet but there was a queue. We tried the back of the science lab but there were some senior students there, smoking. In desperation, I practically dragged her to the back of the teachers’ common room.

“Blessing,” Amazie shook my hand off, “You know we shouldn’t be here. If we’re caught…” She pulled her lower earlobe down in warning.

“Amazie, just listen!”

And I told her.

Everything.

My anger, the trip to Ogidi, my grandmother’s whispering in my ear about letting the anger go before it invites its kinsmen and wrecks everything, the book, my dreams, everything.

Before she could respond, the bell went, signifying the end of break-time and we had to return to lesson.

I’m not sure if the teachers were having meetings before each lesson because Miss Obed was also late to lesson as well…almost ten minutes late.

Toady Simon-Peter Njoku, after a few minutes of waiting, wrote the date on the board and suggested we go over past lessons. I gave him a cutting look, hissed and turned away. ‘Past lessons’, my foot! Why would I want to revise those boring chants? Some students agreed with him, some brought out their books and went over homework or unfinished notes, while others simply read.

“Blessing, can I talk to you?” Wonder of all wonders, it was Nkechi ‘Big-Mouth’ Mgb’orie. Luckily, I had my hard-back English exercise book to hand. If she tried anything, it will be her head that will be cut open this time. I didn’t even open my mouth to respond, I just stared at her.

“I’m sorry I brought your mother into the quarrel. I know you wouldn’t have thrown your book at me if I hadn’t.”

“Save it, Nkechi. The leopard never changes its spots! Isn’t it the same thing you did to Amazie the last time? Have you apologised to her? Or is it because she’s quiet and will not throw something at you?” I hissed at her and turned away. I wasn’t going to accept that cheap apology. At least not yet.

Luckily for her or whatever, Limp Lettuce Obed came in, apologising for her tardiness and thanking Toady Simon-Peter for stepping into her shoes. I looked down at Limp Lettuce’s shoes and a mischievous thought took hold. What if he actually found his size ten feet in her size six shoes? An evil chuckle escaped my throat; that will serve the smarmy snake right! Religious deceivers, the worst kind of vermin! At least that’s what the book of wise sayings said.

As Limp Lettuce turned her back to the class to write the day’s topic on the board,  a mighty shriek came from two desks behind. It was Nkechi Mgb’orie. She had turned dark with spots! It wasn’t just her face, it was her arms, her legs and as she lifted her school blouse, it was her torso as well! Her whole body had become a mass of spots; spots shaped like that of a leopard’s!

Class was hurriedly dismissed while Miss Obed took her to the dispensary. The rest of us milled around the Form Four corridor. Amazie came up to me, eyes wide.

“Is that…”

I nodded in response. There was no time to let her know what I told Nkechi as another shout went up! It was coming from the direction of the boys; they had gathered in a group round Simon-Peter, all staring at his feet. His feet that weren’t his feet but Miss Obed’s feet with her black, slightly scuffed, three-inch heeled, court shoes.

Marshall ‘Blockhead’ Dike took off, who he was going to summon, no one knew. By now, Simon-Peter was crying his eyes out, pulling and yanking at the shoes on ‘his’ feet to no avail. There was pandemonium everywhere. Girls screaming, boys wailing, everyone beating their heads in confusion; except Amazie and I.

“We have to leave this place before anyone notices that neither you nor I are crying.”

“Why? I countered. ‘”It’s not like anyone of these slowpokes can link us, well, me to what’s going on. I’m usually indifferent to their issues anyway so how’s this any different?”

“Blessing, surely, you can’t be that mean?”

“Amazie, please spare me! Who’s being mean here? Swear that, deep down inside, you’re not happy that those two got their comeuppance? Swear that you’re not!”

Amazie didn’t reply.

I knew somewhere inside of her she was happy. Being my friend had its pitfalls and those two were chief amongst those who never let her forget.

“You’re right, she admitted grudgingly, “But Blessing, you need to be very careful. What do you know about this thing anyway? Can you reverse it? What if you harm someone close to you? Me, for instance.” A note of fear crept into her voice.

“So long as you don’t annoy me.” I jabbed her playfully.

“What?” she squeaked, her fear palpable.

“I’m only joking Amazie! I would never do anything to harm you. It’s not like you annoy me or are nasty to me like those two.”

“I know but…”

“No buts. Let’s forget it. I have some money from my weekly allowance. Let’s go to the tuck shop.”

“Bu…but it’s still lesson time…”

“…with no teacher in sight. Come on!”

We spent the rest of the English lesson at the tuck shop. When the bell rang and we went to our next lesson, the situation was almost the same – no teachers…students loitering about on the corridor, still looking confused, befuddled and bemused. It was obvious there were to be no lessons for the rest of the day.

The bell rang again, this time, four times in quick succession, indicating an emergency assembly. By now, the whole school must have heard what happened to Nkechi and Simon-Peter; I doubt that Miss Obed, or indeed Mr Kalu, would have succeeded in keeping any of it a secret.

“There has been an…incident,” The usually articulate Mrs Greenford was stumbling over what to say; how to describe the recent events. “For this reason, we will be dismissing the school early. Some of your parents have been notified and are on their way to collect you. Mrs Lomaji will call out your names and you are to follow her to the school library to wait there for your parents. Everyone else is to proceed to the main hall, while we sort out travel arrangements.”

There was no confusion here.

Everything was done with military precision. It was as if the teachers, having recovered from their initial shock, were back to business as usual. Mrs Lomaji shepherded some of us to the library, while Mr Kalu, Limp Lettuce Obed and a few other teachers herded the rest into the main hall. The excitement and glee that usually followed a shorter school day was visibly absent. Most students looked curious, not quite sure what to make of the rumours flying around;  some of which had grown to become ‘a boy in Form Four had sprouted cloven feet’ and ‘ a senior student had turned into an ostrich!’ Others, particularly those in our English class, who had witnessed both transformations, looked petrified, sick and disgusted all in various measures.

“Blessing…” Amazie began.

“Don’t say anything. The walls have…I mean you don’t know who’s listening. My mum will soon be here anyway. I’ll ask her to drop me off at yours then we can talk, okay?”

“Okay.” She nodded frantically, clamping both lips tightly shut.

“Blessing Mark-Tambo,” Mrs Lomaji called out my name after conferring with someone by the library desk; I couldn’t quite make out whom.

“Yes, Miss?”

“Your mother is waiting for you by the school entrance. You may go.”

“Miss, what of Amazie Ug’oji?”

“What of her?” Mrs Lomaji looked a bit irritated.

“She comes home with me, Miss.”

“Amazie?” Mrs Lomaji quizzed, eyebrows raised in Amazie’s direction.

“Yes, Miss. I’ve been going home with Blessing since Form Three; the school office knows.”

“Hmm…I’m not sure…I need to confirm with…”

“But Miss,” I butted in, “Who will be in charge of the rest of the students if you go off to confirm?” I tried not to let the sarcasm I felt show in my voice…tried hard not to think of any idiom that would describe Mrs Lomaji’s actions even though I was sorely tempted to. The woman was such a stickler for rules; it was unbelievable! Apparently, the metal ruler she always had in her hand wasn’t for rapping the knuckles of ‘miscreants’, it was for measuring the length of girls’ skirts and sleeves of boys shirts! Too short and you were sent home to go and change!

“It’s true Miss. At other times, she goes home with me, if she has any extra-curricular activities after school, that is.” It was Manny to the rescue. Amazie and I didn’t even notice he was there.

“Are you going home with them then?” Mrs Lomaji inquired trying to make things clearer in her head.

“No,” Manny replied. “I’ll wait for my older brother, to avoid any confusion.”

Mrs Lomaji nodded in approval while I turned to look at Manny, I mean, really look at him; something I never bothered to do with stupid people. He didn’t have Marshal ‘Blockhead’ Dike’s stupid look. I assumed that he’d be just as stupid because Amazie often complained, albeit, good-naturedly, that Manny was always asking her for help with school work even though he is a year ahead of us. I suppose he’s smart but not intelligent, at least not when it comes to school stuff, I thought to myself.

By the time Amazie and I had made our way to the school’s main gate, my mum was bathed in a film of sweat and impatience.

“Auntie Mark-Tambo,” Amazie beamed a great, big, sunny smile in my mum’s direction, “We are terribly sorry for taking so long. As you can imagine, the teachers, in the middle of a school day, had to contact as many parents as possible, organise us all into groups and also ensure everyone gets home safely.

That deflated my mother with immediate effect. I could almost hear the hiss of the air of irritation as it escaped her and merged with the slight breeze that began wafting from nowhere after Amazie’s speech.

“I’ll have to take you to ours.” My mum looked at Amazie, “Except of course you’d…”

“…actually Auntie, ” It seemed to be a day of butting in and interrupting adults, “Since you still have to return to work, why don’t you take us all to my house? You can come and pick Blessing up later or better still, Ncheta can take a taxi and collect her.”

The cocking of head to the side and eyes off into the distance indicated my mum was ruminating, like a cow…I squashed the thought swiftly before it could take root. I know by saying it, I could make it happen but I still wasn’t sure if by thinking it, it would come to pass.

“Let me pick Ncheta up first and then take all three of you to your house,” My mum replied, glancing at her watch. “It will be lonely for her, to be left all alone at home.”

I am not sure why, but my mum didn’t ask us anything about what went on in school on the drive to pick up Ncheta who was excited about going to Amazie’s instead of straight home and as thrilling as it all sounded – missing school, hanging out with Amazie and Ncheta, my two favourite people – I didn’t really want to go to Amazie’s. I mean, Amazie is the next best thing to a sibling after Ncheta but she lives in a flat! A ground floor flat for that matter!

I hate flats!

Urgh!

They’re usually poky little things with a shared backyard, shared staircase, shared central well or tap, as the case may be and a shared entrance to the staircase. Maybe not in Amazie’s case; her flat had a balcony of some sorts and the entrance faced the front yard not the staircase, as was the case in most of the block of flats dotted around the city.

Still…

A flat was a flat was a flat!

I hadn’t been in Amazie’s in a long while (I always found a compelling reason why we should go to my house instead) and so I was pleasantly surprised at how bright and cheerful it was. Her mum was obviously green-fingered, seeing the rows of potted plants in the balcony, luxuriant indoor plants in the sitting-room, a vase of red and white roses on their mantelpiece alongside various graduation pictures and small pots of lemon-grass lining the short hallway that led to Amazie’s room.

“My mum doesn’t believe in mosquito coils or insecticides; she says they’re harmful to humans as well so, we use lemon grass to ward off mosquitoes.”

“Your house is lovely,” Ncheta gushed, eyes darting this way and that.

“Flat, Ncheta, flat not house!”

Amazie looked at me askance.

“And yes, Amazie, it is lovely and it smells really wonderful.” I meant it. I wasn’t trying to redeem myself, or anything, it really did smell wonderful.

“Hmph!” was all she gave me in return.

“Thank you, Ncheta.” She bestowed another sunny smile, like the grand old owl she was turning out to be as she led us to her room. My projections were confirmed. Amazie’s was indeed an owl and her room, her nest. Stuffed, not with dried twigs and leaves but books. Books, books everywhere. Books on the bedside table, window-sill, inside the floor of her wardrobe, overflowing from the twin medium-sized bookcases, her reading table – there were her school books, the whole Pacesetter series (all one hundred and thirty of them!), a row on one of the bookshelves, dedicated to annuals – ‘Whizzer & Chips’ ‘Beano’, ‘Judy’, even ‘Commando’! The rest of that same bookcase was taken up by African Writers Series, the ever-present Heinemann upside-down fish-like logo, staring us in the face with a few dog-eared copies of Drum magazine and cartoon sketches of Benbella and Lulu from old copies of the Daily Times, keeping them company. The other bookcase held her ‘baby’ books, ranging from ‘Obi’s Big Shoe’, to ‘How The Leopard Got Its Claws’; from ‘Mallory Towers’ to ‘Chike And The River’. Then there was a whole shelf devoted Encyclopaedia Britannica with the Children’s Illustrated Bible, bringing up the end.

Ncheta looked like she had died and gone to book heaven, particularly when she sighted the annuals and illustrated books. She always complained that my books were too thick and had barely any pictures or none at all. How was it my fault that she didn’t enjoy ‘Weep Not, Child’ or ‘Arrow of God’? I wasn’t about to stock those silly fairy tales in my bookcase for her sake! She was quite welcome to my old ones!

“Help yourself,” Amazie nodded in the direction of books Ncheta was drooling over. ‘I’ll go see if there’s anything for us to eat, if not, I might have to go to the nearest kiosk and get some snacks for us.”

It wasn’t up to ten minutes when Amazie hop-skipped back into her room excitedly and just as I was about to exclaim, ‘that was quick!’, she announced cheerfully, “Look who I came back with!” I sighted Manny and Marshal ‘Blockhead’ Dike. ‘Marshal ‘Blockhead’ Dike’! I shook my head, rubbing my eyes to be sure I wasn’t dreaming or projecting to life, the book I was reading. I looked down at my hands – it wasn’t a book; it was Drum magazine and I had been reading an article about a man who returned to civilisation three years after the Biafra war ended, refusing to believe it was over. So no, no projection there. Then what on earth was Amazie thinking, coming back with those two? Manny, I could understand; he lived in one of the flats above but ‘Blockhead’? Mbanu!

I didn’t realise I was glaring until I saw my expression mirrored in Marshal Dike’s own.

He jumped in before I could.

“It was you!” he shouted, pointing his thick forefinger in my direction. “That thing that happened today, it was you!”

“It was me what?” I didn’t even bat an eyelid just returned the Drum magazine in my hands to the shelf, folded my arms calmly and carried on glaring at him.

That threw him.

Perhaps he was expecting an outright denial so he could counter it or a nervous admission so he could be vindicated by it but I gave him none and for that reason, he didn’t know what to do next. He was truly a blockhead!

“Blessing, is it true?” Manny stepped in.

“It is! It is! I’m in her class nau and I saw Nkechi talking to her before her skin changed!” ‘Blockhead’ carried on.

That’s another thing that’s always puzzled me, how this slowpoke of a person ended up in my class; a class meant for high-achievers. Anyway, it wasn’t a thought I could process fully because by now, all four pairs of eyes were resting on me. Waiting, it appeared, for an acknowledgement from me.

A slow, boiling cauldron of anger began to rise from the pit of my stomach. Who does Marshal think he is that he can come between Amazie, Ncheta and I? And Manny? Manny that needs Amazie to explain the basics of interpreting literary texts! Manny, a year above, yet still requires support from someone supposedly academically below! What does he know? He still struggles to distinguish between ‘simile’ and ‘metaphor’ and can barely identify figures of speech when studying any of the prescribed ‘O’ Level texts. How dare he question me?

“Blessing…I mean, Manny”, Amazie must have seen the red mist in my eyes and so turned to her neighbour, “Why don’t we talk about this later ehn? I was on my way to getting something for Blessing, Ncheta and I to eat when I bumped into you guys so I’m going to go back to the kiosk to buy the snacks while you take Marshal to your house; I will come up to see you later.” She didn’t wait for an acquiescence, just shepherded the boys out of her room towards the front door. Ncheta and I didn’t hear the rest of their low-voiced conversation but the atmosphere in Amazie’s room had changed. Even Ncheta felt it. She’d lost the look of bliss at being surrounded by so many accessible books that she shuffled around looking, in that way she does when she’s finished her chores and hasn’t been told what to do next. I just wanted to go home before I threw something at someone but it seemed like that wasn’t going to happen because rather than take the hint and make his way upstairs with his friend, Marshal, like the blockhead he truly was, came thundering back inside Ncheta’s room, shoving Manny and my dear friend aside.

“Marshal, listen to me,” An arm outstretched, Amazie didn’t break her stride as she reached for him. Ncheta had stopped shuffling. She stood wringing her hands helplessly. Not so me. I was ready for that blundering idiot. What did he think he could to do me? Mispronounce my name like he did ‘rhyme’ and ‘rhythm’, in a fit of anger?

Mschew! I hissed at the thought.

“You!” He had succeeded in eluding Amazie’s grasp. Thick forefinger back in my face.

“It was you who…who…” he spluttered to a stop like the dying engine of an ancient mammy wagon.

“Marshal Dike! It was me who what?” I yelled into that stupid face. I was tired of letting this slowpoke who could barely read to save his life, point his unintelligent forefinger in my face. “It was me who what? Go on! Say it! Blockhead! Numskull! You never listen do you? And when you do, you hear nothing!”

I was too far gone in my anger to hear Amazie’s frantic pleas or sense the increased tempo of Ncheta’s hand wringing.

“Didn’t Amazie and your other slow friend over there ask you to go upstairs? Didn’t they? None so deaf as those who will not hear! Idiot!”

His forefinger fell away from my face and he stood there staring at me blankly as if trying to make sense of what I just said to him. I shook my head in exasperation. What a waste of time, telling him off. I bet he understood nothing of what I just said! But, it must have been more than that because in a space of a heartbeat, his facial expression permuted from blankness to anger to perplexity and finally, to panic. He shook his head vigorously from side to side, slapped both ears with open palms; first the left, then the right; shook his head again, poked a finger in one ear, wiggled it about then did the same to the other ear.

The look on his face told of his findings.

He let out a shout; confused at first, then a long, sustained sound of sheer helplessness. With tears running down his face, a face that still looked stupid and by extension pathetic, he placed both palms together in supplication and offered them to me. Not sure what he expected me to do with those fat, sausage fingers of his, I walked backwards keeping him in sight, reached behind, feeling for the strap of my school satchel. Once I had it, I grabbed it and headed out. I didn’t even want to be there in the first place.

“Ncheta, let’s go.”

She turned wide-eyed to Amazie instead, hands almost wrung out of their sockets.

“Blessing,” Amazie stood just outside her bedroom door, “Blessing, you can’t go, you can’t …” she whispered the rest, “…leave him in this condition.”

Ncheta nodded frantically in agreement. I wanted to slap them both like ‘Blockhead’ had slapped his own ears! Where were they when he was pointing his carrot-sized fingers in my face? When he was shouting, ‘it was you’, ‘it was you’? Why didn’t they stop him before he opened that foolish mouth of his? Why didn’t Amazie? This condition indeed! I hoped Amazie had no plans of standing in my way because she was my friend and I didn’t want her hurt on purpose or by accident. I needed to leave her room, her flat…I needed to leave at that exact moment or I won’t be responsible for what happens next!

Words were swirling round furiously in my head –

  • Least said, soonest mended!
  • Anger resides in the bosom of fools!
  • A wise man never argues with a mad dog!
  • Do not grab the tiger by the tail!

and so many more. I couldn’t control them; couldn’t stop them. It seemed my fury towards Marshal had opened up a dam and words were threatening to burst out! I had to leave before I opened my mouth and let out a deluge that could drown my friend, my cousin and myself.

My school satchel firmly in my grasp, I bowed my head to hide the hurt in my eyes and the pain I knew I would see in Amazie’s as I shoved her out of the way. I ran down the lemongrass lined hallway into the living-room, almost tripping over some empty flower pots that someone had left by an alcove beside the front door. I dashed out unto the balcony, down the wide steps – three of them – straight into the first droplets of rain.

The clouds must have been lowering while we were indoors because there wasn’t any sign of rain earlier on and we, well, I, was too busy being angry to notice. That, nor the distance I had to walk, stopped me. Head down, I followed the major road, keeping to the grassy pavement. I knew there was a short-cut; Ncheta spoke of it from time to time but I didn’t know it and wasn’t about to chance it and risk getting lost in the process. Thinking of Ncheta, I wondered if she was standing beside Amazie’s bookcase of ‘baby’ books, wringing her hands still. Not that it mattered…well, it did, but I could not turn back. My head was a boiling mass of idioms, proverbs and wise sayings. I needed to get away, be away from everyone, anyone…three people were changed…transformed, because of me. Not that I didn’t think they deserved it but to involve people I cared about? My anger didn’t stretch that far. Walking home in the rain was little sacrifice compared to what could have happened had I stayed.

It took me over half an hour. Something that was usually less than ten minutes by car. It took me that long because not only did I take the major road, I had to avoid bumping into people in the danger that I might blurt something out.

I arrived home soaked to skin as expected. Hyginus didn’t seemed too surprised to see me, which was strange, till I spotted Ncheta coming out of the house with an umbrella – a massive black dome given to us by Auntie Beatrice during one of our visits to Ogidi. She must have taken that shortcut but an umbrella! An umbrella for goodness’ sake! For someone already soaked to the skin, it was like closing the stable d… No! I wasn’t going to think that! I wasn’t! I wasn’t! I forced myself to nod in gratitude and took the shelter she offered.

“You need to take a hot shower, Blé so you don’t catch a cold. Let me heat up some of the left-over goat-meat pepper soup for you.”

I nodded my thanks again, too apprehensive to speak lest the dam burst forth. Dripping wet all over the living-room floor, I rushed straight to my room and into the bathroom. Ncheta had run a bath but it was cooling so I turned on the shower, fully clothed and stood under its blast for what seemed like half and hour until I heard Ncheta call me that the pepper soup was re-heated and ready to be eaten. I wasn’t sure I wanted to eat anything, wasn’t sure that anything could pass through my food pipe. It felt like an obstruction of words had lodged itself there; words, words, everywhere! In my head, my heart, my mouth…I tried not to speak, tried not to think. Sitting down to eat with Ncheta was out of the question so was staying up and waiting for my mum. I would have to speak, to say something, explain things and I wasn’t sure what would come out of my mouth so I did the one thing none of them would expect me to do…I took the easy way out. Changing out of my wet clothes, I dried myself with my big, pink, fluffy towel, put on a pair of pyjamas and socks instead of my usual hand-sown nightgown, buried myself under my cover cloth and closed my eyes. I don’t know how, but it worked. I feel asleep, instantly.

The cave guide appeared again.

This time, she sat on my rattan chair, her long, bony finger wagging in my face.

At first, she spoke with the voice of my great aunt Beatrice, “What did I say to you about anger and his kinsmen?” While I was trying to make sense of that, her voice changed to what it sounded like, the day we visited Ogbunike cave, “ You shouldn’t have taken your possession into the cave…your possession…your possession… your possession…the phrase felt more like a missile tracking me than an echo. I couldn’t seem to shake it off as I ran zig-zag into what appeared to be a swamp inside my room which was not really my room, but a cave. My head grew hot and my feet felt heavy and cold as if encased in a bucket of ice blocks. I kept trying to out-run the echo/missile but I couldn’t. I felt weighed down by my hot head and icy cold feet. As if things couldn’t get any worse, the ground beneath me began to growl, shake and tremble like there was a giant underneath ready to awaken from a great slumber.

“Blessing!” The shaking continued.

“Blessing!” The shaking got stronger.

“Ngozichukwuka!”

I woke up with a start. It was no giant. It was my mum shaking me awake with Ncheta in the corner of my room, wringing her hands, as usual, in despair or whatever emotion it was etched on her face.

“Blessing, you were thrashing around madly in your sleep, what’s wrong?”

“Mum”, I tried to answer her but it came out sounding like a croak.

“Mum”, I tried again.

Nope.

It wasn’t happening.

All I was doing was emitting croaks.

That walk in the rain, no doubt had done it; the hot shower afterwards had no effect. Perhaps I should have taken Ncheta up on her offer of the pepper soup, I tried to convince myself.

“Blessing”, my mum shook me again, “What’s wrong? You were saying something about ‘least said, soonest mended’. What is it that you shouldn’t say?”

I opened my mouth to speak, to explain, to say something to her but the words that I was so keen to stop from gushing out, refused to emerge.

“Mum”, I attempted one more time, then, I stopped.

It was no use. I knew what was happening if I was being honest. It was the cave or the gatekeeper or both.

Did Mrs Greenford know, I wondered? Or did my great aunt Beatrice have an inkling? My mum? She didn’t seem too curious about things; never asked me why I threw a book at Nkechi or why we had to leave school so hurriedly the other day. Or did Ncheta tell her? What did Ncheta know or not know? All these questions ran through my mind just as quickly as I blinked back the tears forming. There was no point crying. It wasn’t going to change anything. There was something in my throat, something causing me to croak instead of speak. It wasn’t phlegm; it couldn’t be phlegm. If it was phlegm, I should be able to hawk, bring the mucus up and spit it out but that wasn’t happening. It was some kind of impediment; an obstruction…I gestured to my mum, pointing at my throat and pointing to the mirror.

“Let me see.”

I shook my head.

I wanted to see it first, see what it was that was causing croaks to emanate from my mouth instead of speech.

But my mum would not be dissuaded. She turned my face towards the bedside lamp, gestured to Ncheta to come over, pried my mouth open and peered down my throat.

“Mhmm” was all I heard in reaction.

I looked to Ncheta for verification.

She had stopped wringing her hands. She reached over to my bedside drawer, drew out a hand mirror and passed it over to me. I hesitated for a moment then squared my shoulders. What was the point of being afraid? What has happened has happened; ignoring it won’t make it go away. So I looked, to see what my mum saw but remained noncommittal; what Ncheta saw that caused her to cease that infernal hand-wringing of hers and do something without trepidation – it was a frog, a literal frog in my throat.

It was a yellowy-browny colour, with lime-green spots.

It was supposed to be the cold I should have caught from walking in the rain, from refusing hot goat-meat pepper soup whose spices might have soothed my raw throat and made it uncomfortable for the frog but no, as always, I thought I knew best, I thought that my intelligence made me smarter than everyone else. So now, instead of having the proverbial frog in my throat from a cold, I have a frog, a real frog in my throat.

I will have to learn how to express myself; to speak around it and make myself understood.

No more anger and throwing words like weapons.

No more shouting at blockheads, slowpokes or numskulls.

No more.

Just croaks.

 

 

(The End…for now)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Frog In My Throat🐸🐸🐸🐸🐸

It was a chanting lesson – ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘best’; ‘lazy’, ‘lazier’, ‘laziest’; ‘costly’, ‘costlier’, ‘costliest’ and all other forms of ‘ers’ and ‘ests’ over and over again. Of course, Marshall ‘Blockhead’ Dike’s mouth was opening and closing like that of a dying tortoise. The whole thing was a joke! I mean, how difficult was it to see the link? That some words would have ‘more’ and ‘most’ as qualifiers and others would not? I couldn’t be bothered to join in but walking out of lesson was not an option so I rummaged in my desk locker for something to do or read; there was nothing. I had forgotten that I stopped leaving anything in there after it got broken into, ransacked and my books and stationary left strewn all over the classroom floor. I checked my school satchel instead and there was the geography textbook, (which I still wasn’t going to read), and the ‘wise sayings’ book.

Thank God!

At least I had a good excuse not to join in or I would be tempted to tape someone’s chanting mouth shut!

‘Good’, ‘better’, ‘best’, indeed!

All English teaching rooms had reading spaces at the back. Ours was no exception, thankfully. It had the ubiquitous raffia mats and beanbag but Limp Lettuce Obed had added a personal touch – a slightly, wilted bunch of hibiscus flowers in a clay vase, and an akwete cloth thrown over a rattan chair. I knew she wouldn’t object if leaving my desk meant sitting quietly at the back and reading book in hand. After all said and done, I was meant to read it, wasn’t I? Then summarise and write a report for our beloved Head teacher.

Ignoring the curious stares, I went to the back of the room, sprawled out on the akwete-covered rattan chair and was transported into a world where the syntax of the words seemed so incongruous yet made absolute sense…

‘Honesty is the best policy’,

‘Times were never good for lazy prodigals’; a world of

‘ A rolling stone gathers no moss’ and ‘Hasty climbers have sudden falls.’

…the chanting faded into the background.

For the first time in a long time, I didn’t hear the ringing of the bell, signalling the end of a lesson. A gentle kick by Amazie brought me back.

“Are you alright, Blessing?” She squatted down, her face looking into mine with deep concern.

“Mmhmm,” I nodded and carried reading.

“The first bell has gone, Blessing. We have Geography next and Mrs Greenford will be teaching that lesson. Did you bring a rock sample?” She was pulling me up and hitching her school satchel up on her shoulder at the same time. I almost snapped at her for interrupting my journey into this world of weird and marvellous vocabulary but I stopped myself in time. It was Amazie after all not Nkechi ‘Big-Mouth’ Mgb’orie. Speaking of Nkechi, I sought her out but she had left at the first bell. I wondered if she expected an apology from me.

Absent-mindedly, I reached into my school satchel and came up with nothing. Amazie shook her wise owl head; she probably knew I didn’t have it but just wanted to be sure.

“Don’t worry, I have two. What are friends for, ehn?”

I gave her a quick hug. She looked startled. I wasn’t given to displays of affection or emotion except anger or resentment.

The hours sped by and the final bell went. Still no sign of Nkechi, as we headed to the school gate.

“Blessing! I’ve only just remembered! I have a Literary and Debating Society club meeting today!”

We said our goodbyes as I made a beeline for my mother’s car.

“How will you get home?” I called back at her.

“Manny’s older brother!” She shouted as she ran back to the classroom area.

Manny was her foolish neighbour; a year ahead of us but academically slower.

“Good afternoon, mum, Amazie has a club meeting today.” I slid into the passenger’s seat.

“Blé-Blé” An excited voice called from the backseat before my mum could respond.

“Ah-ah, Ncheta, you came with mum today.”

“Yes, Auntie and I had a few errands to run in town.” She kept the chatter flowing all the way home. I didn’t mind. I was pre-occupied with the book of wise sayings, the geography homework that Mrs Greenford gave us, and Nkechi ‘Big-Mouth’ Mgb’orie’s unusual lack of reaction.

My mum had barely pulled on the handbrake when I swung the car door open, jumped out and made for the front door.

“Aren’t you going to help Ncheta and I with the purchases?”

I halted, my body facing the door and my head turned back. The expression on my mum’s face was a sight to behold! She actually looked bewildered!

Bewildered!? My mum?

A woman that is never in two minds about anything?

I wanted to savour the moment, to make her pay for all that she’d put me through. Perplexity wasn’t a feeling associated with the woman but something made me stop.

This wasn’t the time.

I walked back to the car. In the boot was chicken feed and grass for the goats; there was also a bunch of semi-ripe plantains as well as a few tubers of yam, the peels of which would end up as food for the goats. I grabbed the bunch of plantains by its thick stalk and left the rest for Ncheta and my mum. Straight to the kitchen with the plantains, I dumped them in the pantry so they wouldn’t ripen too quickly, washed my hands, drank a glass of water from the tap and dashed into my room.

“Blessing, can you come to the table, please? The food is ready.”

I didn’t hear that.

I didn’t hear it the second or third time.

It was when my mum popped her head into my room to ask if everything was alright that I heard something – the rumbling of my empty tummy.

I looked up to see her staring at the book in my hand.

“Let me see that.”

I handed it over to her very, very reluctantly.

“I remember this book!” her voice deepened with nostalgia. My mother used to read it while she waited for us to get our hair plaited at the market. My goodness!” Her eyes took on a faraway look. By us, I presumed she meant herself and her numerous female relatives.

“I have an idea.” Her eyes snapped back to the present. She pulled me to her room, those eyes now twinkling with excitement. “Here, take this.” She thrust another book , form her bookshelf, into my hands.

FIRST AID IN ENGLISH by Angus Maciver.

First, she interrupts my reading; then, she gives me a book that I already have.

“Mum,” I struggled to keep the exasperation out of my voice, “I already have this book. You bought it for me remember? It was on our list of books for English, although mine is THE NEW FIRST AID IN ENGLISH.”

“I know, I know…”

“…and,” I cut her off, not caring how rude it was, “This is a textbook we’re studying at the moment – Comparatives and Super…”

She cut me off right back.

“…I know, Blessing, I know, but check page 108, it also has proverbs and wise sayings. In the meantime, you need to eat. You’ve been stuck in that room for hours.”

Anything to get her off my back so I could get back to my room and shut the world out.

After two helpings of jollof rice, fried goat meat and plantain, I returned to my room. On this rare occasion, my mum allowed me a bottle of Fanta; she even let me take it into my room to drink while reading ‘the book she gave me.’

“Just don’t forget to brush your teeth before you go to bed.”

As if I ever do.

The book she gave me’ only had ninety-one proverbs in comparison to the one the Head Teacher gave me. That one had over three hundred. I read all ninety-one in a matter of minutes; some featured in the other book, some did not. Unlike the wise sayings book, the proverbs in FIRST AID IN ENGLISH contained an average of six words per proverb…

– ‘Birds of the same feather flock together’.

– ‘Eavesdroppers hear no good of themselves.’

…not as intriguing as proverbs in the book of wise sayings laden with –

  • ‘It is easier by paying debts out of an empty pocket than shaving an egg or pulling hairs out of a bald pate.’
  • ‘Neither Tom nor Dick should like to be neighbours to a barrel of gunpowder.’

I felt myself dropping off a few times so I placed a book mark between the pages I was reading, went into the bathroom, brushed my teeth, changed into my nightgown and went back to my reading.

What felt like moments later, a blood-curdling scream woke me up.

It went on and on and on. It wouldn’t stop.

Frog In My Throat🐸🐸🐸🐸

Monday morning and I was up at 6am. I don’t really know what woke me that early – the clucking of the chickens or bleating of the goats but I didn’t roll over and try and grab some extra minutes of sleep. I got straight up, went into my bathroom, brushed my teeth, showered and got dressed in my school uniform. Looked around for my school satchel and its offending contents, there was nought; Ncheta had picked them all up and put them back in.

It was 6.30 by the time I was done; my tummy rumbling like Mount Cameroon. I went into the kitchen to rustle up something to eat, as I couldn’t wait for Ncheta to make breakfast for the house. To my surprise, my mum was making sandwiches at the kitchen counter, a tub of butter and two tins of sardine, resting by the sink.

“Blessing, can you dilute the orange squash and put it in the other flask,” she said to me pointing in the direction of the flasks before I could get a ‘good morning’ out.

I did as she asked.

Ncheta came in with a bag of fruits – mangoes, tangelos and one soursop.

“Good morning mum”, I looked around in confusion.

My mum came to my rescue.

“I received a phone call from Ogidi, late last night. Auntie Beatrice was taken ill, suddenly. Uncle Felix wasn’t even sure she would survive the night.”

That was all the explanation I needed.

Auntie Beatrice was my great aunt. She raised my mum as her own. My grandmother died at childbirth and left her infant daughter in the hands of her childless, older sister.

It was then I noticed that my mother’s eyes had a reddish tinge to them.

Silently, I made and ate a bread and butter sandwich while I helped pack the drinks and fruits that will serve as lunch for the journey to Auntie Beatrice’s.

“You’re coming with us,” my mother threw over her shoulder as I walked over to the phone extension to call Amazie and ask if I could hitch a ride with her to school. Dropping the receiver in its cradle, I swung round to my mum in disbelief. I don’t miss school, ever! And I still had some unfinished business with that tittle-tattle, Limp Obed and Nkechi ‘Big-Mouth’ Mgb’orie.

“Mum!” I raised my voice in protest.

“Get a cardigan and bring your school satchel along. We might return in time for you to meet the last lesson and I can drive you straight to school.”

She was just trying to mollify me. If my great Aunt Beatrice was as ill as Uncle Felix claimed, there was no way we will be returning today. My mum will take a week off, if she had to, stay back and nurse her mum back to health.

The bubble of rage returned in full force.

We left the house at 7 O’clock sharp.

Hyginus’ face resembled crumpled wrapping paper as he held the gate open for us to drive through.

“Hygi, I will bring back aki n’ukwa for you o?” my mum promised. He smiled tremulously and some of the creases disappeared.

“I wish he could come with us,” Ncheta said from the backseat, twisting her neck to give one last look and wave goodbye. Ncheta and Hyginus were among the many relatives that passed through Auntie Beatrice’s care and tutelage. She was much loved by many.

“Well, he can’t!” I snapped in return. “Someone has to stay back, watch the house and feed the goats and chickens!”

“Blé-Blé, softly nau. I know he can’t come, I just said, ‘I wish’ ” Ncheta also looked hurt.

“Why wish then, when you know there’s no point!” I wasn’t going to make it easy for them.

My mum halted the car, gave me a cold look. It was my cue to be quiet. Fine! I wasn’t going to speak but she couldn’t stop me from being angry.

It was another quiet journey but obviously for different reasons. We didn’t even stop along the way to buy anything from the roadside stalls. The journey usually took roughly about an hour; we arrived in fifty minutes, driving straight into the family compound.

It was my great aunt herself who came out to greet us at the sound of my mother’s tyres crunching the gravel. I love my Aunt Beatrice dearly; like my mother, she is an amazon of a woman, but this? I missed out on a whole day of school for this? A day I had planned carefully and extensively in my head; a day that will… I didn’t finish the thought. I was enveloped in a bear hug and lifted up my feet.

“Ngozichukwuka!” My great aunt always called me by the Igbo version of my name, the full Igbo version – God’s blessing is supreme.

It transpired that Auntie Beatrice wasn’t dying after all. It wasn’t a heart attack, stroke or any other of the deadly sicknesses that strike people of her age.

“It was just gas!” Uncle Felix explained to my mum, laughing out loud, in nervous relief. “You know how your mother loves her boiled groundnuts, particularly the ones boiled in their shells? Well, she ate just a little too much and it kept her awake almost all night!”

“I told him it was nothing,” Auntie Beatrice looked fondly at her husband, holding his hand, “But you know your father likes to panic!”

My mum didn’t say anything; she just shook her head and hugged them both tightly. “Thank God we didn’t stop and buy anymore groundnuts for you then!” All three laughed aloud in relief with Ncheta giggling in the background as she pottered about, waiting, as usual, to be told what to do. Auntie Beatrice put her out of her confusion.

“Ncheta, you can go and see your cousins. You too, Ngozichukwuka,” She nodded in my direction, “We will talk later.”

The excitement on Ncheta’s face was enough to take the edge off the anger that had been brewing inside of me; something that seeing my great auntie hadn’t succeeded in doing. Ncheta could be a blithering idiot sometimes but she was the only thing I had closest to a sibling and sometimes, I forget how lonely it can get for her when I’m at school and my mum is at work. I know she attends this commercial school, a few hours a day, where she learns secretarial skills, but she’s still mostly home alone. For her sake, I tucked the anger away and raced her to the extended family compound. Everyone had heard that we were coming and coupled with Auntie Beatrice’s hospitalisation, no one went into school. It was a mini-carnival!

I didn’t even realise how long we’d been out playing and catching up until someone shouted something about these children coming in to eat.

I checked my wristwatch; it was way past mid-day.

Ncheta and I ran back to the house for lunch. Auntie Beatrice had prepared a family-sized feast – fried yam and plantain, spicy tomato stew, a side dish of peppery black-eyed beans and spinach and a fruit salad made with some of the left-over fruit we came with and some from her backyard.

“So, mum, what time are we leaving for Enugu?” I inquired, between mouthfuls.

All three adults exchanged looks and I got my answer.

I knew it! There was no way we were going back today! I sat there, forcing myself to finish my meal then excused myself and went to have a wash and change out of my school uniform.

“Let me wash it for you,” Ncheta picked it up from the floor where I’d dropped it. “You can’t wear it like this tomorrow.”

I nodded in reply. I didn’t trust myself to speak. She returned about half an hour later and sat beside me quietly. We must have dozed off after all that playing and heavy meal; a light tapping on the door woke us up.

Obinna, one of the many ‘cousins’, asked if we wanted to join the story-telling session as Uncle something-or-the-other was around. Apparently, he was very good; a descendant from a long line of story-tellers.

And he was.

As we sat there on woven raffia mats, yellow corn and African pear roasting in the background over hot coals, he told the story of why the tortoise has a cracked shell; a story we had heard more times than we could remember. But this Uncle, I couldn’t remember his name now, told it with such flair and vitality that we could almost see the tortoise as he fell from the sky, landing on the hard earth, bits of shell flying everywhere.

“Obinna!”

“Chinasa!”

“Pauline!”

The sun had set. Mothers were gathering their brood. It was time to go in.

We grabbed the last of the roasted corn and African pear, sought our cousins out, hugged them goodnight and goodbye, knowing that we might not have the time the next morning.

I was up at 6am again but Ncheta was already washed and dressed, my school uniform pressed and folded on the dressing table stool.

“Blé, your mother wants us to leave at 6.30 sharp so be quick o?”

As if I was anything but.

This time I was determined to get to school even if it was only for the last lesson of the day.

I don’t know why but I didn’t put on my school uniform for the journey home. Instead, I put on an outfit I’d left behind on our last visit – a white and black polka dot blouse and a black skirt with an elasticated waistband. Shrugging my cardigan on, I headed for my great auntie’s room to say my farewell but there was no need. She was already up and putting together food for us to eat on the journey home. She hugged me tightly and whispered softly in my ear. I rolled my eyes in reply. She gave a cryptic smile and let me go so that my Uncle Felix could hug me too.

“Safe journey.” They called from the doorway as my mum reversed out of the compound.

“Ncheta, check that we’re not forgetting anything. Did you go and greet Hyginus’ mother as I asked you to?”

Ncheta nodded twice in response. She had also put my folded school uniform in a flat carton and placed it beside her.

“Did you purchase the aki n’ukwa…”

“…I didn’t need to,” Ncheta didn’t let my mum finish, “His mother gave me a big bag!”

My mum smiled at her through the rear-view mirror.

“Here,” Ncheta handed me my school satchel.

“Thank you.”

As we exited the compound, my mum pressed the car horn twice. Some cousins ran out and ran alongside the car, waving frantically. Ncheta and I waved back until they were out of sight.

“I know you don’t want to miss another day of school,” my mum turned briefly to me before we hit the main expressway, “but I thought we should do a little sight-seeing while we are in the area.”

If she thought that that would appease me, she was mistaken. I just wanted to get back to school. Saying nothing, I nodded, barely.

She turned on the radio, fiddling with the knob, trying to find a music station. I turned to Ncheta to ask for my school satchel when I remembered that she had already handed it to me as we left Ogidi. I rummaged through the satchel for something to read, there was that blasted book again. I had no choice really, except I wanted to read my Geography textbook on rocks – Igneous, Sedimentary and Metamorphic.

That wasn’t happening. I had had enough of it in Miss Bature’s Geography class, chanting ‘phacolith’ and ‘laccolith’!

I flicked the blasted book open. Another long list of those ‘wise sayings’ and idioms –

‘An empty sack never stands upright.’

‘Religious deceivers are the worst of vermin.’

‘He needs have a long spoon who would eat, of the same dish with Satan.’

Lost once again in the unfamiliar, It was Ncheta’s nudge that alerted me to the fact that we had arrived at our destination – the mystical Ogbunike cave – a fifteen-minute drive from our ancestral village. She gestured towards the car window. I looked out. It was just as I feared…a long, steep and winding trail down to the cave’s entrance!

I would have enjoyed the trip on any other day, but not today. Ogbunike cave might be fifteen minutes away but that winding trail was another fifteen minutes, then exploring the cave, then coming back out, climbing the trail back to the main expressway, then back to Enugu. An extra two or three hours added to our journey!

I was incensed with my mum and the world in general.

Did I ask for this stupid visit to Ogidi to see Aunt Beatrice who wasn’t dying anyway?

Did I ask for this stupid sightseeing?

Why couldn’t we just drive back to Enugu and my mum take me straight to school?

“Mum,” my tone was as polite as I could make it, given the molten lava roiling in my stomach, “Is it alright if I stayed in the car and read my book? You and Ncheta can go on.”

“No, it’s not alright.” My mum replied, her own tone as icy as hailstones.

There was no arguing with her; there never was anyway. My mother’s word was law.

Full stop.

The guide at the entrance of the cave looked as old as the cave itself. She leaned on a walking staff that had a round knob worn smooth by the rubbing motion of her hands. Her voice on the other hand was strong and stentorious like the ogene of the town-crier. It rang loud and clear, carrying into the belly of the cave.

“May all who seek to enter, leave all possessions behind!”

That, was for old, wrinkly and gullible people. I didn’t have ‘possessions’ as she put it, so that ‘proclamation’, didn’t apply to me.

Then she pointed in the direction of a board that had been mounted outside the cave, with the title – ‘Rules of the Cave’. It listed about nine or ten rules which I didn’t bother reading. I just wanted to get the whole thing over and done with.

Ncheta nudged me again and pointed to my feet. I looked at her quizzically. She had taken off her shoes and so had my mum. In fact, there were a few other people around; people I hadn’t noticed in my anger. They were all barefoot, dressed, from head to toe, in white, carrying empty bottles.

I took my school shoes off. She pointed to my hand. I hadn’t realised that I was still holding on to the book of 49 Wise Sayings e.t.c. It must have been my own form of defiance against my mum. Well, there was nothing for it. I wasn’t dropping it out here, on the ground, with people’s possessions and shoes. It was coming with me! So, in full glare of Ncheta’s disapproving look, I stuffed it down the back of my elasticated skirt and pulled down my black and white polka-dot blouse over it.

What time we spent in the cave seemed like hours but in reality, only forty-five minutes had passed when we returned to the cave’s entrance, put our shoes back on, returned to the car and continued on our journey home.

Ncheta was chattering excitedly about the magnificence of the cave, the bats, the streams that ran through the tunnels in the caves, that supposedly have healing powers; which was why those people in white had empty bottles. I later found out that they were from White-Garment churches and got their ‘holy’ water from the cave.

All I could recollect was getting angrier by the minute especially having to crawl on my hands and knees through certain parts of the cave. Thank God, I didn’t wear my school uniform!

My mother managed to keep her word and I got to school in time for lesson three – Limp Lettuce’s lesson on Comparatives and Superlatives.

I should have gone home with Ncheta.

Frog In My Throat🐸🐸🐸

My mum still didn’t say a word to me. She got out of the car, called for Ncheta, my cousin of some sorts, who ran out of the house, drying her hands on a discoloured apron.

“Auntie, welcome,” she genuflected, dipping her knees.

“Blessing, welcome,” Ncheta turned to take my school satchel when my mum asked her if that was what she called her out from the house to do? Carry school bags?

“But Auntie, òkwa I always carry Blé-Blé’s school bag into the house?”

I hated that Ncheta still called me Blé-Blé like she was prepping her oesophagus for a vomit.

My mum didn’t deign to reply.

She turned to our gateman, Hyginus, another distant relative, gestured to him, pointing to the boot of the car.

Meekly, Ncheta returned my satchel to me and walked over to the boot to help Hyginus take in whatever it was that my mum had purchased. There was no point going to help; with my mum in that mood, it was best I kept out of the way.

I went into the house, not bothering to hold the door open for them. Slamming it shut behind me, I stomped angrily to my bedroom, threw my satchel on my bed and slumped into my rattan chair, gnashing my teeth in deep frustration. Who did Nkechi Mgb’orie think she was anyway? She wasn’t even as clever as me! The conjugated antelope! Her writing looked like chicken scrawl and she couldn’t even recite her twelve times table! Semi-blockhead like her! I ground my teeth even deeper.

“Let Ncheta take him to the back and tie him up.” I heard my mum say to someone, presumably Hyginus, from my bedroom window that faced the side of the house that led to our backyard. It was probably the he-goat she’d been promising to buy that needed tying up. He-goats were notoriously stubborn creatures more so towards men. Traditionally, women took he-goats to the market for sale or brought them home from a sale, as they were more amenable to females; bovidae and human alike.

Grrr!

That was my job!

I knew what my mum was doing; taking away all my ‘privileges’ as she called them. She knew how much I loved anything to do with taking household purchases from the car boot to the kitchen or backyard, as the case may be, raking the backyard of leaves and feeding the chickens and goats, (We owned a small-sized poultry and bred goats for sale).

At this very moment, I hated her, hated Ncheta and Hyginus! I hated everyone! Stupid people with their stupid minds! I wished I could turn them into bush rats, like princes got turned into frogs in those stupid fairy tales Ncheta loved to read. Not only turn them but cage them as well!

I paced up and down my room, imagining all sorts of ways I could get back at all of them, including Nkechi, Limp Obed and that sanctimonious agama lizard, Simon-Peter.

Nothing.

Then, I looked around the room for something to do. I knew better than to throw anything in my anger. My mum, with her bat-like hearing, will appear in a flash and I didn’t care to think of what her reaction would be. I was already in too much trouble as it were.

Nothing either.

Nothing to do; nothing to throw.

I gnashed my teeth further in frustration and flung myself on my bed.

There was that stupid book, the book that not-so-limp Obed gave me from her ‘beloved’ Head Teacher!

I pulled it from under me; that was part of what was annoying me!

First of all, I couldn’t, for the life of me, understand why she had to put those old-fashioned adjectives before Head Teacher…and she called my mum, ‘virtuous’.

Ha!

She obviously doesn’t know my mum very well!

Secondly, why didn’t the Head Teacher just reprimand me? It would have been over and done with by now. Well, almost. I would have had to write 500 lines, promising not to hit my classmate with a book, (that I could do in a matter of hours), and after that, apologise publicly to Nkechi. As if that was any skin off my nose!

Hmph!

I wasn’t reading that stupid book!

I flung it away, aiming for the door, but somehow, it landed at the foot of my bed.

It was probably full of some religious dos and don’ts – ‘love thy neighbour’, ‘turn the other cheek’, blah…blah…blah. Mrs Greenford, our Head, loved all that type of stuff… Moral Instruction, Religious Knowledge, and all what not. Meanwhile, for the rest of the contents of my satchel that had spilled on my bed, I swept them to the floor with an angry hand. I lay there, staring at the ceiling, my top and bottom molars grinding in continued frustration.

The sun began to make its descent towards the horizon; the shadows in my room grew longer. Bored with all the anger and frustration, I reached for the book again.

I could barely make out the title –

49 WISE SAYINGS, 72 IDIOMS, 44 QUESTI…

the rest had faded with time or much use.

I switched on my bedside lamp and drew my curtains shut.

The foreword spoke about the importance of proverbs blah, blah, blah, something or the other about ‘your fellow man’. Well, I wasn’t a man, so it didn’t apply to me. I carried on reading regardless, after all, I had nothing to do.

It had sayings like –

  • Idleness is the devil’s bolster.
  • Diligence is the Mother of Good Luck.
  • No sweat, no sweet.
  • From bad to worse is poor improvement.

and so on and so forth.

I wasn’t even in the mood for this! What is the devil’s bolster anyway?

Hmph!

I must have fallen asleep because the next thing I knew was Ncheta shaking me awake, asking if I was hungry. I shook her off, dragged myself to my bathroom, brushed my teeth, changed out of my uniform into my hand-sown nightgown and went straight back to bed.

That weekend continued in an angry blur with only one clear incident; a phone call from Nkechi’s parents. My mum marched me into the living-room by my ear, pushed me down into the single-seater sofa by the coffee table and held the receiver to my other ear.

“Apologise”, she hissed, her eyes ablaze. One of the few words she spoke to me that weekend.

“Hello, is this Nkechi?”

“Hello, my dear. No, this is Nkechi’s mother. Blessing, what happened? I thought you and Nkechi were friends?”

Truly, Nkechi and I used to be friends in primary school but when we got into secondary school and I was put in a higher class for all my subjects and she wasn’t except for English, our friendship suffered.

“I’m sorry, Auntie, I don’t know what came over me,” I said in the solemnest of tones that I could muster. “Is Nkechi there? I need to apologise to her.” I carried on, pre-empting any further telling off by my mother. She was still pulling my ear, albeit, not as viciously as when she pulled me from my room.

“Hello? Hello?” I looked up quizzically at my mum, indicating that there was silence at the other end. She didn’t budge, just fixed her blazing eyes on me and yanked on my ear a little bit more.

“Hello?” A voice came on at last but it wasn’t Nkechi’s or Mrs Mgb’orie’s, it was Mr Mgb’orie’s, Nkechi’s father. In exasperation, I rolled my eyes but not that my mum could see. Nkechi’s father spoke with a lisp and not just any old lisp; he spoke as if his tongue was too thick for his teeth. He sounded like a fat, flapping seal. I hate lisps. Once again, I wished I could shut him up or make him gasp like a dehydrated catfish.

“Blé-Blé,” another gag reflex in place of my name. “I thought you and Nké were friends, what happened?”

A second slow brain. Didn’t his wife just ask me the same thing? Did I give her an answer?

A mental eye-roll. I wasn’t taking any chances. My mum would twist my ear into a knot if she as much as glimpsed a hint of a contemptuous countenance.

“I’m so sorry sir,” I could put any penitent to shame. “I don’t know what came over me but I promise you it would never happen again.”

“That’s my girl,” he gurgled. At least that’s what he tried to say ‘cuz what I heard was ‘das mai gui.’

My mum let go of my ear.

It was finished.

Frog In My Throat🐸🐸

I was top of my class in English, you see, and got bored very easily in lesson; in all my lessons as a matter of fact but it was only in my English class, that I could get away with being unruly.

With some members of the class being too slow to figure things out, I would shout out the answers without being asked; I was particularly worse during ‘Figures of Speech’ lessons. ‘Figures of Speech’ lessons were the most boring lessons and slowcoaches like Marshal Dike – the Blockhead – could never tell the difference between ‘rhyme’ and ‘rhythm’. To make matters worse, he pronounced them as ‘rihime’ and ‘rihithim.’

“It’s rhyme! R…ai…m! The ‘h’ and the ‘e’ are silent!” I would yell into his stupid-looking face.

“Blessing, please be quiet and let him work it out,” my hapless English teacher, Miss Obed would plead with me.

“Blessing, just keep that your big mouth shut!”

“ITK! I Too Know!”

“Your name shouldn’t be ‘Blessing’; you’re anything but…”

From their babbling and baying, it was evident that most of my classmates didn’t like me but I didn’t care. If they chose to waste their parent or parents’ money, being stupid in lesson, I did not. My mother worked very hard to ensure that I had a good education. I wasn’t going to let some do-gooders and their slow, bumbling blockhead friends stop me from getting one.

The ‘Figures of Speech’ lessons were so elementary anyway. I mean, how difficult was it to tell the difference between ‘similes’ and ‘metaphors’, ‘rhyme’ and ‘rhythm’, ‘alliteration’ and ‘assonance’?

I ignored Miss Obed, the Limp Lettuce, turned back to my classmates and shouted them down.

“You don’t pay my school fees, so you shut up!”

“No, you shut up!” It was Nkechi Mgb’orie, my former good friend and the only one in the class bold enough to stand up to me and say what needs to be said, to my face. “Whoever named you ‘Blessing’ must have been half drunk or half asleep ‘cuz you’re no blessing, more a ‘Cursing’!”

It was the ‘whoever named you’ that did it. Say what you like to me, do what you like, I couldn’t care less but mention or even hint at my parentage, particularly my mother, in any negative way, shape or form and you’re dead meat!

Sitting two desks away from mine, on the same row, was Nkechi Mgb’orie’s desk but that proved no hindrance, I twisted round and threw my hard-back English exercise book at her and it caught her neatly above her eyebrow, the left one.

The whole class erupted!

Amazie, my only friend in the class, and in our whole year group for that matter, ran to my side. She always stuck up for me in public and reprimanded me later in private.

Following closely behind her, was another stupid classmate, Simon-Peter Njoku. He marched purposefully towards my desk; whatever his purpose was, only God knew. Perhaps he thought being named after the first Apostle, old name and new, gave him some insight into divine acts of justice and retribution. I didn’t wait to find out. I remained unmoving till the obsequious toad got close enough, then I stuck my foot out. In his over-zealous, righteous indignation, he didn’t expect any underhandedness. He tripped and fell flat on his face – from grace to, well… a concrete floor.

This time the uproar was felt across the whole Form Four corridor!

In my peripheral vision, I saw Miss Obed gesturing to Marshall ‘Blockhead’ Dike, who dashed out of the class; I had no idea he could move so fast, considering how slowly the wheels of his brain usually turned. In minutes, he was back with Mr Kalu, the head of PE, a hulking brute of a man. Mr James Kalu towered above all the members of staff in the school and was called in when students needed to be physically restrained. I expected a meaty paw to clamp round my upper arm and drag me to the Head’s office ‘cuz that was what he would have to do – drag me. I wasn’t going to go down without a fight.

There was none of that.

Instead it was Limp Lettuce Obed putting out her hand like some kind of stop signal; none of the usual stepping back timidly and letting the man take over.

“Mr Kalu, please keep an eye on my class,” she said rather sharply, “I’ll be right back.”

Not waiting to see his response or reaction, she turned to me, “Right! Miss Blessing Mark-Tambo, to the Head, NOW!”

Because it was so unexpected, coming from Limp Lettuce Obed, I found myself obeying without the usual contentions, arguments or ‘assertions’ as I termed them.

She sat me outside the Head’s office, on one of those cold, metal, uncomfortable chairs meant for the ‘worst offenders’, as she went into the outer office that housed the Head’s personal staff. With the door ajar, I saw the Head’s secretary-cum-personal assistant nodding and signalling that she could go in while the two copy typists turned to look at me through the opened door, giving me pitying looks, the kind adults gave to children who they considered past redemption. I gave them filthy looks in return; I was already in trouble anyway, what more could they do?

Miss Obed came out of the office, unaccompanied by the Head, another surprise. With the ramifications of my actions, you would have thought that I would get a stiff talking to from the Head or even a phone call to my mum’s office but there was none of that. Instead, it was a book in her hand and a resolute expression on her face that Limp Lettuce Obed, who was looking, not so limp anymore, came out with.

“Thank your stars that your virtuous mother is a former classmate of our beloved Head teacher.” She said without preamble. “She has promised to give Nkechi’s mother a call and speak to her personally; soothe ruffled feathers, as it were. This could have gone really badly for you Blessing Mark-Tambo, really badly.”

Carefully schooling my expression into a bland, featureless façade, I looked up from the uncomfortable chair she made me sit on, and stared at her, ready to tune her out if she began one of those long, boring speeches teachers were wont to give about your future and how it is going to be bleaker that the ruins of the Ancient Benin Empire, after the British invasion, if you don’t do so and so, blah, blah, blah…but I guess not-so-limp Obed knew me better than I gave her credit for because she didn’t.

No speech, no lecture, no harangue.

She just thrust this dog-eared book into my hands and said “Here, our beloved Head teacher has asked that you read this and return it to her with a summary of what you’ve learnt, when you finish it.” With that and a swish of her long skirt, she went back to her ‘Figures of Speech’ lesson.

Beloved Head Teacher my foot! How is she beloved anyway, I thought angrily to myself. I didn’t know whether or not to follow her so I sat there scowling darkly, until the next bell went. When no one came to fetch me and the Head’s office staff didn’t as much as look my way after the cutting looks I gave them, I got up and headed back to class. Thankfully, Amazie met me halfway with the instrument of the bodily harm I meted out to Nkechi and my school satchel.

“We have Mathematics next and I do not want to be late for Dr Jayah’s lesson – BODMAS,” she said gloomily.

I’m not sure Amazie noticed that I hadn’t spoken a word to her since she handed me my satchel and English exercise book. I really didn’t have anything to say anyway; I was still trying to figure out where the backbone, Limp Lettuce Obed grew in the last twenty or so minutes, came from.

The daze remained throughout Dr Jayah’s lesson. Thankfully, I was just as good with numbers as I was with words, so he didn’t notice that anything was amiss as I answered all questions effortlessly and completed all tasks within the lesson.

“I wish I was like you,” Amazie muttered wistfully, as the final bell went and she returned her pencil and eraser to her Oxford Maths set, “You’re good in every subject…”

“…but not good with people,” I reminded her, cutting off her rose-spectacled view of me.

“That’s because everything comes so easily to you so you don’t understand how others struggle and it makes you impatient with them.”

I smiled at my friend.

Amazie should have been a wise, old owl, sitting on a giant Iroko or Udala tree, dishing out words of wisdom and prudence. She did look a little owlish with her horn-rimmed glasses and her hair tied in two Afro puffs.

The smile departed swiftly from my face, when I thought of how my mum would react when she learnt that I threw a book at a classmate. I wasn’t looking forward to her picking us up after school.

“Blessing, are you alright?” Amazie finally noticed. “You’re usually back to your old self after a fi…a quarrel.” My smile returned at her clumsy attempt to paint today’s event in a favourable light. My old self wasn’t any more favourable than my ‘this’ self. Slow, unintelligent people still annoyed me. People who couldn’t spell, catch on quick or do simple arithmetic, still made me feel like ripping my hair out and stuffing down their slow throats, and I still told them off for it, in no uncertain terms.

Our conversation, well, her observations and my musings took us to the school gate where my mother was waiting at her usual spot, parked under a mango tree laden with green, unripe mangoes.

“Good afternoon Auntie Mark-Tambo.”

“Good afternoon Amazie.”

I muttered my own greetings and received a curt nod in response.

The Head Teacher had phoned her at work then. I bit down my pointless rage, Had I not let this same rage and impatience get the better of me, I would have cut Nkechi open with words and not the edge of my hard-back English exercise book.

It was a quiet drive home – first to Amazie’s, then ours. Even the radio presenter on my mum’s favourite station sounded subdued as if she knew and shared in my mother’s disappointment of my actions.

The traffic on Kingsway road was light. We arrived home in no time.

It was worse than I feared.

Frog In My Throat🐸

I have a frog in my throat.

No, it’s not the idiom.

I do…literally…have a frog in my throat. It’s a disgusting yellowy-browny colour with lime-green spots.

I wake up every morning echoing its croaks and go to bed at night, doing the same. Then throughout the day, I emit more croaks; little ones, big ones and not-so-little ones.

People ask, “Are you alright?”

I reply, “Yeah, I just have this frog in my throat.”

They laugh politely in return ‘cuz they think I’m being metaphorical, figurative, idiomatic…if only they knew…

(For AdaDaddii so that she ceases to worry🙂)