Fiction

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [V]

The group my mother joined called themselves ‘The Salvation of The Seven-Towns-Bound-By-One-Blood.’

I’m not sure I knew what it was they were salvaging; my mother said they weren’t salvagers but savers. Either way, it made no sense to me. What exactly did they want to save or salvage of the Seven Towns? What I did know and was sure of was that I hated that group. I hated all the times my mother dragged me to their many meetings where people were constantly putting hands on my head, mumbling or in some cases, shouting incomprehensible chants. When they weren’t shouting on people’s heads, they were going around the Seven Towns, beating their metal drums fashioned out of metal discarded by ọku,  the head metal worker, ( they claimed wooden drums were of the devil) denouncing everything and anything.

If you wore beads in your hair, it was of the devil.

If you wore them on your waist, it was of the devil.

If you painted designs on your skin with uli, it was of the devil.

All the rituals and preparations preceding the Week of the Remembrance were of the devil. Every established precept and principle of the Seven Towns were of the devil; even the name – Seven-Towns-Bound-By-One-Blood – was of the devil!

“Who is this devil, they speak of, Nnem, and why is everything of him?” I inquired of my mother on one of the mornings when she was getting us ready to go to one of their many dreaded meetings.

My mother muttered something under her breath that sounded like ‘etish’ and ‘delvish’.

I didn’t ask again.

Not because her face had closed up tight like my father’s fist when he gets angry but because I didn’t really care to know, if my own mother wasn’t willing to tell me.

From the day my mother joined that group till my seventh year, I wasn’t allowed to go out unaccompanied. Even when I wanted to go out and play with Udoka, Afam and my fellow age-graders, my mother will insist that Ekejiuba, the errand boy accompany me.

“Uwam, leave this child alone to run free like her mates; nothing will happen to her.”

My mother pursed her lips at my father’s admonishings and made no reply. She never made any reply when it came to the issue of my ‘safety’. What she was afraid of, only she knew. As for harm befalling children, in any of the Seven Towns, it was almost unheard of. Falls from trees, scraped knees and elbows, soldier ant bites and bee stings? Yes, but harm from another human?  Very, very, rare.

Continue reading “Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [V]”

Fiction

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [IV]

We left the house and the compound. Somehow, my mother had contrived to ensure that our departure did not clash with the arrival of my grandmother and seven aunties.

My mother did not hurry me but, in some way, I sensed she didn’t want me dawdling. I got the feeling that today was not one of those days I was allowed to inspect lizards sunning themselves on a rock, kick at oddly-shaped pebbles, or follow the trail of the vicious, red soldier ants. No. Somehow, I sensed that my mother needed me to keep her pace as much as my chubby little legs could carry me. However, my mother also knew that this journey, arduous enough for an adult, would be a killer for a child so she brought her cart along. It wasn’t a regular cart like the ones you saw drawn by the villagers who preferred them to wheel barrows, it was a labour of love…

Continue reading “Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [IV]”

Fiction

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [III]

The first incident took place when I was three years old.

My grandmother and seven aunties wanted to prepare a feast to mark my third year on earth.

My mother refused, bluntly.

You must understand that this is unlike my mother. With her mother-in-law and seven sisters-in-law, she had always chosen her battles carefully. All those childless years of cruel teasing, taunting and torments… she scraped, she smiled, she bowed; in short, she stooped to conquer, as it were.

For the quiet.

Because she loved my father and was able to deal with their noise more than he could. She allowed them the first year to gloat, to joy, to make merry while she and my father sat with quiet smiles at the feasting table.

The second year, the same.

But, not this year.

No more.

Continue reading “Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [III]”

Fiction

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [II]

I haven’t forgotten how I began my tale – don’t worry.

My mother didn’t start leaving her appointed path until later.

I will tell you about it, but for now, I have just arrived.

Let me rest, awaken and adjust to my new surroundings…

+++

My arrival was accompanied by fire in my mother’s upper back, her lower belly then her lower waist. My father heated some ude-aki in a small, clay pot and applied it to the small of her back, rubbing it in slowly, in a circular motion.

Terror and confusion filled his quiet eyes. Who could blame him? For all the time they had been together, during their time of first sighting, stolen embraces, sweet breaths, courtship and marriage, my father had never seen my mother in so much pain!

She could see in his eyes how he wanted to rip me out of her belly! To shape a piece of wood that would fit through her passage and wrench me out of her child-bag so that she could have some reprieve. My mother took hold of his upper arm and held him strong.

“It …doesn’t… work… that… way, Ugom,” She gasped with every word, trying her hardest to hide the searing heat which was tearing her waist with every cramp that signalled my coming. “Nwadiutọ has to battle her way into this world like every other child. That’s what this pain is for; her fight to push her way through my passage into this life in preparation for all the earthly struggles she may have to endure.”

“Nwadiutọ, ehn?” My father raised one eyebrow at his sweating, pain-filled wife.

“Yes, Ugom, ‘Child is sweet’”

“She had better sweeten our lives after all this,” my father grunted, holding his wife close to his chest as if to absorb some of the fire.

“Uwam”, he spoke into my mum’s not-so-coiffed hair, his voice a rumble in his chest, “let me call the mid-wife now please. I can no longer bear this pain!”

My mother laughed. A strange sound infused with the strain of bearing blazing fire and water.

“Ugom”, she attempted to inject a teasing note into her agony-laced voice, “Call the midwife if you desire relief but Nwadiutọ will not bide her time any longer”.

She grabbed the sides of the bamboo bed my father had lovingly fashioned for her in the final days of her confinement. He had shaped it with those hands of his; hands that could command wood to bend at his will. The bed had pulleys and levers that could raise it at the foot or at the head if one so wished.

The midwife, Nwa-Amaka, was already awaiting summons right outside our door, when my father came for her. She had birthed my mother, watched her grow and knew how stubborn my mother could be when the fancy took her. She knew that my mother did not want to give people, particularly my grandmother and seven aunties the satisfaction of seeing her pain; that she might decide to birth me with no one in attendance except my father, so she came prepared; her birthing basket filled with the necessary paraphernalia.  One look and she saw that I had dropped to my mother’s lower belly and that my mother was ready but before my mother could bear down, Nwa-Amaka took her place between my mother’s legs, hands washed, birthing blade purified.

Nary a sound was heard from my mother. As Nwa-Amaka suspected, my mother wanted me to arrive in quiet, the way they had lived their lives. She also wanted to spare her husband the pain that only she could bear. She hissed and gasped at the shooting pains, the throbbing, the spasms but my father was not fooled.

Thankfully, I wasn’t a child who wanted to cause the fire to torment my mother any longer than required, by refusing to be detached from my bag. As soon as she bore down, I came out, head first, and slid into the midwife’s waiting hands.

She wrapped me expertly with three strips of washed, non-dyed cotton cloth, cut the cord that attached me to my mother and handed me over to my father, who had been wearing a hole in the floor, pacing and wringing one helpless hand after the other.

My father carried me with a gasp of awe, gazing into my wrinkly, red face with tears brimming in his quiet eyes.

The birthing wasn’t over. Nwa-Amaka reached over for the still-warm ude-aki, rubbed it between both hands and massaged my mother’s stomach for the afterbirth to make its way out. It slithered through my mother’s passage and out onto the Ede leaves, on the floor, at the foot of the bed. Nwa-Amaka wrapped it up, cleaned my mother and left a packet of herbs to be brewed for the recovery of strength. After which she packed her all birthing implements into the basket, gave me one last look and left.

She did not ask my parents for payment; only the joy of birthing a child of her ‘child’.

“Bring her,” my mother’s words could barely be heard for the lack of their strength but my father didn’t need to hear; he sensed it was time for her arms to hold me. “Nwadiutọ”, she blew the name on the crown of my head and handed me back to my father.

With the gentlest of hands, he unwrapped the strips of cloth I had been swaddled in and cleaned me free of all that I came out with from my mother’s child-bag.

“Nwadiutọ,” he also whispered unto my crown and blew softly in my face, thrice.

Just like the morning breeze.

There was a small jar of water that my mother had brought back from her trip during the Week of the Remembrance when I was conceived; it had been kept for such a time as this. My father trickled it on my forehead and I let out a lusty cry. He smiled, placed me in the neat, little crib that he carved specially for me, rocked me back and forth until I felt enclosed in tranquillity.

He lay beside his wife, wrapped himself round her and gave in to the quiet but it was the quiet that precedes a storm. Not a storm of destruction in this case, no, just a storm that comes to water dry ground, blow through the land, clearing all rubbish and dead things, bringing freshness and new life…like me.

Fiction

Mami-Wọta Made My Hair [I]

My mother is funny; she thinks she can out-run her destiny.

She has joined this group and forgotten where she came from; where her journey began.

She is refusing to acknowledge how it all began, how I came about…as if that can be forgotten! Tucked away in an old basket and buried in the Forbidden forest!  She is funny, my mother is, not funny humorous… funny, silly and suddenly short-sighted.

My mother could not have children.

They said the bag inside her for carrying children was too hot, too dry. They said any time my father planted a seed in it, it shrivelled up and died. My father didn’t particularly care whether his seed bore fruit or not, he was happy being married to my mother. She was quiet like him and could read his thoughts from his eyes. My father liked that; he liked quiet. He liked to be left alone to get on with the shaping of wood with his hands. But, he was the only surviving male child of his mother. For that reason, his mother, her seven daughters, (his sisters), and all their minions, great and small, had no intention of leaving him alone in his state of childless peace. They wanted to make him fruitful by all means. So they laid the burden, the weight of a childless marriage, on my mother until it threatened to crush her.

Oh, they were clever, very clever, my seven aunties and grandmother were; they laid the weight with smiles and guile. If my father was any the wiser, he gave no heed. Perhaps he placed the quiet above the noise of the weight that his sisters and mother placed on my mother.

My mother was going to have me; she just didn’t know it. I was waiting, waiting patiently for her to come and ask for me so that I will be given.

Eventually, she did.

After seven years of crushing, (one year for each of my father’s sisters; that’s what I think anyway; my mother thinks differently), she believed the noise of the crushing finally got to my father. She said she saw it in his eyes. One night, as she lay with him, she saw he couldn’t take it any more. It racked him like the dreaded fever, Iba.

“Shh”, she rubbed his fevered brow with the back of her hand, “the quiet will return. Permit me to go and fetch it from where it has been waiting patiently.”

My father’s eyes acceded to her request, his brow cooled in response and the fever that had laid hold of him, took flight almost immediately. My mother sent Ekejiuba, the errand boy, to fetch Nlota, my father’s kinsman, to keep my father company.

She packed a spare strip of cloth, a small tripod and cooking pot, a knife, some herbs, salt and a small tuber of yam. She tied them up in a bundle, put it in a tightly-woven basket, balanced it on her head and left the village at first light. Her day of leaving coincided with the first day of preparations for the Week of the Remembrance. The noise from the preparations, prevented the absence of her quiet from being noticed.

The Seven-Towns-Bound-By-One-Blood, of which my parents belonged to, spent a week preparing for the Week of the Remembrance. The Week of the Remembrance was a time of story-telling and great feasting; a time when all is forgiven, no grudges are held and all sin is purged.

So done, to remind all, that peace is better than war.

My mother returned in the midst of the celebration and joined in straight away. Everyone was making merry and no one noticed that her feet were dry, her lips cracked and her hair was the colour of dust, different from that of our town. My father, who had been waiting at the edge of town, quietly but anxiously,  enveloped her in the midst of all the merriment and like a silent, swooping eagle, whisked her away before sharp eyes and sharper tongues could ask questions that he had yet himself to ask.

My mother shivered as my father washed her himself, ridding her of the travel woes and dust. So as not to draw attention to the activity in his home, by the smoke of the fire, my father did not boil the bathing water. He dried her with his top cloth and massaged the oil of the sweet nut all over her body and applied the rest of it to her scalp and hair. She shone like a polished, precious coral bead.

“Did you?” My father’s voice rose enough only for my mother’s ears to hear.

“I did. But you must lay with me before the night is over or the cooling water that I carry in my child-bag will be drained away”. Her mouth was close to his ear, her breath sweet, like the after taste of icheku.

My father needed no further telling. He had felt my mother’s absence keenly; more keenly than he cared to admit. He pulled her into the coolness of their inner room, spread his wrapper on the floor and covered her.

I came exactly nine months later.

Fiction

Taken II

There was no time to follow their carefully crafted plan. They had to leave! This instant!

They had no idea how the Takers arrived so stealthily or how they took people; they just knew that once the Takers arrived, people disappeared.

Right now though, none of that mattered. They needed to adjust their plans on the go. Lamman’s tri-bike was out of the question, so also was the so-called ‘anti-Takers’ route rumoured to have been used by some in the town, who were wise enough to have fled when rumours of the first taking began.

“Jay, Grei”, Lamman whispered furiously, “Did you oil the hinges of the trap-door like I told you to, three weeks ago”?

Grei nodded furiously in return.

The three hurried to the back room that Jay and Grei used as a store room.  There was a pine storage chest for blankets and other beddings, in the middle of the room, with a couple of ratty-looking pillows tossed carelessly on top of it.

“All hands on deck,” Lamman proclaimed and flexed his muscles dramatically which would have had Jay in stitches had the situation not been so dire. All three bent at the knee and shoved the chest out of the way, revealing the trap-door underneath. It wasn’t really that heavy that it need three people to move it, but it made them feel like they were doing something productive; something that will save their lives.

Grei had been oiling the trap-door as per Lamman’s instructions so a gentle tug was all it needed. For Lamman, there was no going back, no dropping off at the rendezvous or pick-up point, nothing. He had to go with them. If he got caught, the Takers wouldn’t distinguish between ‘fleer’ and ‘returner’; both will disappear.

“Quick, down the stairs, through the cellar to the dark, green door!”

“Dark, green door? What dark, green door?”, Jay quizzed Lamman, a trace of irritation laced with trepidation, in her voice.

“To your left, as you get to the bottom of the stairs.”

“But that’s not a door, it’s part of the cellar wall with a hanging frame!” Grei burst out. His face was twisted in perplexity and consternation. “Lamman, what the…”

Jay put a restraining hand on Grei.

“Lamman, what is it you know that we don’t?”

“Jay, this is not the time! Just do as I say! That front room door will be broken down in the next few minutes; if we’re not out of here by then, we will be taken too! ”

Grei looked at Jay; she could read the questions in his eyes, questions she herself also had for Lamman but like he said, ‘this was not the time.’

As though receiving a silent signal, Jay and Grei reached for the hanging frame at the same time and pulled it off the ‘wall’. It came off easily as well as the painted canvas it was attached to; the one used in disguising the ‘dark, green door’. Both gasped in shock and turned to Lamman who raised his hand in the universal sign of ‘not now.’ He pulled the bolt and it slid back easily, noiselessly. He motioned the two to follow him through the door; the open door that spoke of freedom and liberty when, without warning, he fell like a disagreeable sack of giant-sized potatoes.

For a moment in time, Jay and Grei, froze in confusion and stupefaction.

“Lamman? Lamman! Get up! Get the heck up!!!” Grei screamed. He tried to rush to Lamman’s aid but Jay held onto him, pulling him back into the room. As always, she was already thinking two steps ahead – picturing the enemy out there, her shutting and bolting that blasted ‘dark, green door’ against their adversaries and looking for another escape route.

In the past, Grei would have joined her, done what needed to be done, then demanded answers later. This time, he didn’t respond to Jay’s instinctive ‘thinking-two-steps-ahead’ actions, he reacted without thinking. Shaking her restraining arm off, he let out a blood-curdling war cry, rushed towards the offending dark, green door, arms raised, fists clenched like hammers waiting to come down hard on its enemies, when he fell like a jute sack of unprocessed, ground cassava – improperly stacked at the back of a moving truck – face down, legs half in the cellar and torso half out.

Jay didn’t hesitate, didn’t wait for the awareness, the understanding, the how and why her Grei; all six foot four of him and solid muscle could be felled like an Iroko tree before an electric chainsaw. She jumped over Lamman’s prone body, already forming a picture in her head of how she would drag the love of her life, all 117kg of him back into the cellar and secure that blasted dark, green door against whatever was out there, spiritual or temporal. But all of that, remained just as it was – a picture in her head. Before she could get to Grei, to his size 12 feet at least, she saw something or someone or what the heck??? Her brain couldn’t compute what her eyes were seeing…that couldn’t be or could it? Was it? No, it…her brain, ordinarily as fast as lightning, had metamorphosed into snail slime.

Fine particles of what seemed like white sand blew into her face, she staggered back; the distance between her and Grei’s inert body yawning as wide as an abyss. Her body felt like her spine had been pulled out of its back. She put out her hand to find something to steady her, to right herself. She shook her head fiercely to clear it and took a shaky step forward, determined to get to Grei at all costs, but the ground, the same traitorous ground that took her best friend and the lover of her life, rose up, like a dark, gray wave, to meet her.

Fiction

And She Did.

“Mum! Mum! I’m back! It was absolutely amazing! There were lots of people from my old school! Can you believe it? I didn’t think anyone of them could be bothered to travel from that dump all the way to Central London for a University Fair! I suppose the offer of scholarships and cheaper tuition will draw even the most…” Her voice faded as she went into the downstairs toilet to relieve herself.

“…an eye-opener!” The sound of flushing drowned out part of her previous statement. “I mean when you suggested going to Uni somewhere in Europe, I thought you were out of your mind, as usual,” she chuckled to herself at this last statement , “But if others come to Britain to study, then why can’t we go to …Mum?” She halted the flow and cocked her head to one side.

“She’s probably not at home and I’ve just been yabbering on to myself,” she laughed nervously, wiping her dripping hands on the back of the sofa defiantly, as she pictured he mum yelling exasperatedly.

There’s a perfectly clean and dry hand towel in that toilet, Kayleigh!”

Oh well, her mum couldn’t see her now, so what did it…

…She thought she heard the closing of a window upstairs.

“Mum, I’ve been calling you for ages! Why didn’t you answer or say something. I’ve just been blathering to myself like my old Physics teacher, Mr Leman; you know the one that went on and on…” She bounded up the stairs in twos, straight into her parent’s room.

It was empty.

The window to the left was pushed wide open to catch the prevailing breeze while the curtain was making a light, smacking sound against her mother’s dressing table.

Humph, Kayleigh thought to herself, I took that for the sound of a closing window. Where on earth can this woman be?

“Mum! Mother! Kayleigh ran downstairs; two steps at a time. Her mother’s voice again – ‘Walk! Don’t run!’ – Humph!  As if she was back in primary school!

The kitchen door was shut which was a first. Her mum never shut the kitchen door; she wanted to keep an eye on the ‘goings-on’. Yeah, right! As if!

Kayleigh pushed the kitchen door open with force and it banged against the small, trestle table where her mum usually leaves her crossword puzzles, magazines, recipe books and other odds and ends. There was no corresponding shout from her mother; no ‘Pack it in, young lady! That door’s not your enemy!’

Nothing.

The kitchen was as silent as a mausoleum, save the running of the tap.  Kayleigh walked over to the tap to turn it off and inside the sink, an old-fashioned, sunken ceramic type, (even when they did up the kitchen recently, her mum refused to change it), was a colander with carrots, leeks, half a turnip, some parsnips, a handful of new potatoes and a potato peeler resting on top.

“Mum?” She spun around. There was no one there.

“Mum??” She poked her head into the laundry room. Empty.

“Mum!!???” She ran into the conservatory, through to the back garden; by this time, she was frantic. “Muuuuummmm!!!”

She ran back in, stood for a minute inside the conservatory, and heard her mum’s voice again, ‘Now, Kayleigh, take deep breaths, breathe…breathe…’ 

“You can’t just speak in my head,” Kayleigh lifted her head and screamed to the ceiling. “Where are you???” She ended on a half-whispered sob. Dashing a lone tear that had made its way down her cheek, she walked slowly through the house a second time;  going through each door – closed or open, sweeping with her eyes, every nook and cranny.

Her mum was nowhere to be found. In fact it appeared as if she had left in a hurry – tap running, vegetables half-washed, potatoes half-peeled, handbag (the leather one with faux-wooden clasps) half-spilled on the table and her car keys…her car keys? Her mum never went anywhere without her car even when they ran out of essentials – a bottle of milk, cheese or butter or whatever the essential was – she would drive to the corner shop; a walking distance of about five minutes…the corner shop…Kayleigh almost flew back to the living room window, ripping the curtain aside; her mum’s car was parked in the driveway.  So where on earth was she??? She let her body sag and drop into the nearest sofa, head in hand.

The sound of keys being turned shook her out of her gloomy despair.

“Mum?” She didn’t quite shout it out this time; more like a nervous whisper

“Kayleigh? Jennifer? Anybody home?”

“Dad!” Kayleigh almost knocked her father down as she careened into his arms. “I can’t find mum!” She let out a strangled sob.

“What do you mean you can’t find mum?” He gave her a fatherly smile. “Her car is in the driveway so she should be somewhere in this house.” He placed his laptop case down on a side table by the sofa that Kayleigh had just vacated.

“Dad, I’ve looked everywhere! She isn’t!!!”

“Now, now Kayleigh, there’s no need to yell at me. Here, love, why don’t you sit down and I’ll make us a nice cup of tea and you can tell me about it.” He walked over to the three-seater, gently sat her down and went over to the kitchen. A quick glance over his shoulder and a small trickle of dread crawled up his back. His daughter never looked this defeated at anything.

Never.

He returned with two mugs of tea, one sweetened with three sugars for his daughter and a black one for him.

“Now, tell me. What happened?”

And she told him.

– The argument about her outfit and how inappropriate it was for a university fair.

– Her hair…the style…shaved left side; the colour – pink.

– Her diet…grapefruit segments and chocolate-covered raisins for breakfast.

“She was going on and on, dad, moaning about everything I did, said, wore, ate, everything so I yelled back at her.”

“And what did you yell at her, exactly?”

She took a sip of her sweetened tea and placed it down, shakily, on the coaster on the small, glass-topped coffee table. She looked straight into her dad’s face, her eyes filling with tears and then her whole body began to shake like someone caught in a snowstorm without a warm jacket.

John grew as cold as his untouched tea.

“Kayleigh, darling, just tell dad, tell me what you said to her. Try and remember your exact words.”

She clasped and unclasped her shaky hands, tried to wrap her arms round herself in a bid to still her shaking. She opened her mouth to speak but a loud cry came out instead.

Her dad rose to come over, his hands outstretched to hug her. She stuck her right hand out, palm facing outward to halt him.

“I…” she gulped, paused then started again.

“I…I said that I wished she would just stop moaning and disappear!”

John gasped.

Time froze.

The air stilled and silence shrouded father and daughter.

After what seemed like an age, John turned to his daughter “You said you wished she would disappear?” It was more a question than a statement.

Kayleigh nodded.

“And she did.”

“And she did, indeed.”

Fiction

Flashing Lights And A Bottle of Schnapps.

The blows started a week after Kaka’s second bride-price was paid.

Everyone called her Kaka, short for carpenter, even though she was a carver, a sculptor and wood was her clay.

At first she hid the bumps, the bruises, claiming it was a tool from her workshop or a fall on the way to replenish supplies or climbing down a ladder, while doing small, repair jobs for people.

But she couldn’t silence the night screams that escaped her once joyous lips. Odera stuffed the edges of his cover cloth in his ears. Village Boy paced the room, from one end to another; like a wounded hyena, feeling impotent, helpless and useless.

The first time he and his brother rushed to their mother’s aid was the last. Mr Ba’affi, (they could never call him dad), knocked Odera out with one blow, while their mother stood by the doorway wringing her hands. Hands that created the most beautiful wooden sculptures and carvings in all the seven villages bound by one blood.

***

“Mama, they don’t call me Village Boy for nothing. Everyone knows me in the seven villages bound by one blood and beyond. I work hard; I earn an honest wage and with your wood carvings, we will be fine.”

“A woman’s pride is her husband…we need a man in the house.” Kaka sounded like Tito, Kainene’s parrot, who chanted anything and everything that was said to his hearing.

“And you have me, Village Boy International!” he thumped his chest in that way she said always reminded her of her first husband; their late father. Today, that gesture didn’t move her. Uncle Benji had collected her second bride-price. No one knew the family. He said it was a ‘business associate’. Uncle Benji was the ‘head’ of the extended family so that was that.

***

“So run the whole thing by me again,” Officer Umaru hitched his regulation trousers up for the umpteenth time. He had practised that line countless times, back at the main town’s police station; the only one for miles, in front of the cracked, patinated mirror in the men’s toilet.

He wished he had a more fitting pair of trousers but his bosses were more interested in sinking money into a brand new ‘Rapid Response’ police vehicle with a deafening siren and blinding flashing lights, than outfitting their officers properly.  As if anything worthy of flashing lights ever happened in any of the seven villages bound by one blood.

“Officer Umaru,” Village Boy took a sip of cold water from the wooden mug his mother handed him, “Uncle Benji and Mr Ba’affi ate from the same plate – ọra soup and pounded yam – washed their hands in the same bowl and drank from the same keg of palm wine that Mr Ba’affi himself procured from ọtenkwu Okorie.”

“But Mr Benji is alive and well, while Mr Ba’affi lies cold and hard on a stone slab at the Main town mortuary! How is that even possible?” He whispered the last five words to himself.

“Maybe the gods heard our prayers,” Odera whispered to his brother.

“Maybe the gods will twist your mouth shut if you don’t close it now!” VeeBee whispered furiously back.

“Well, if you think of anything else, anything at all, anywhere else he could have gone or eaten before coming home, please don’t hesitate to call me.” Officer Umaru hitched up his trousers one last time as he handed his card to Kaka.

“Thank you for all your help, Officer, we will. Goodbye”.

Officer Umaru left as puzzled as he was when he arrived an hour ago and when he came, siren blaring, lights flashing, two days earlier when Ba’affi choked to death on his own vomit.

“Mum…mum, are you alright?” Odera and Village Boy turned to their mother.

“Yes my sons, I’m fine. In fact, I’ve never felt better, she smiled through her still-swollen lips; her face suddenly full of light and laughter. “Have any of you seen my DCM about. I poured it into a Schnapps bottle when I lost the cap of the original bottle. I have some work I need to do for Madam One-Pot”

“DCM? What is…oh! Mentholated Chlorine…”

“…VeeBee!” Odera threw his head back in a rare outburst of mirth, “It’s Methylene Chloride; mum uses it for stripping paint.”

“Humph!”, his brother snorted good-naturedly. Woodwork and Carving were the preserve of his brother and mother; give him designs and drawing any day.

“Schnapps bottle? Odera asked, cocking his head to one side, as if to remember. “I’m not sure if that’s the one you mean, but I gave one to O’Botros, the bottle collector, two days ago. It was empty; Mr Ba’affi had quaffed it down as usual”.

“Oh? Had he?” Kaka turned back to her workshop table, “Pity.”

Fiction

Before My Turkish Delight…way before.

Hugo’s was packed to the rafters. I don’t really care for bars; restaurants are more my thing but Beth and Lizzie swore by them.

“The best place for meeting someone,” I could hear their voices in my head.

I missed my girls something terrible. Married within a month of each other, both couples had emigrated – Lizzie and Mark to Australia and Beth and Sean to Thailand, to teach English as a Foreign Language.

That didn’t change anything though. They carried on trying to set me up with blind dates still. I mean who could blame them? It worked for them right? It was sure to work for me.

So here I was at Hugo’s bar, waiting for my blind date, set up by my newly-wedded ‘friend-in-law’, Sean. He had a cousin who was, ‘searching’ so he thought it might be worth ‘hooking us up’

“Jehlani?”

I looked up from my drink; a cocktail of some kind with an impossible name – ‘Sneaky Susan’ or something or the other. Not that I cared. I wasn’t much of a drinker anyway, only when I’m out with friends or waiting, like I was, for a date, blind or otherwise, to turn up.

“Yeah, I’m Jehlani.”

“Hi, I’m Linford, Sean’s cousin”.

We shook hands rather awkwardly and I sat back down as he pulled up a miraculously, free bar stool.

He was gorgeous. I know, I know, looks can be deceiving but he was. He was a dead ringer for the actor, Michael Ealy, only taller, darker but with the same piercing, blue eyes.

“My dad and Sean’s dad are brothers”, he smiled by way of explanation. “My mum is Nigerian…Igbo.”

“I’m Nigerian too…” I replied.

“…Really?”, He cut in excitedly. “Is Jehlani a Nigerian name? I mean, not that I know all there is to know about its two hundred and fifty plus ethnic groups and four or five hundred plus languages.”

A tingle travelled from my toes to the nape of my neck. I just love a man who is knowledgeable about …stuff; all kinds of stuff.

I don’t know how long we chatted for, but by the time he was draping my silver-toned mackintosh over my shoulders, the bar was pretty much empty.

***

“Jehlani, are you still going to the hair dressers?”

I was sitting in front of his dressing table, with a Tesco carrier bag tied round my hair to ‘steam’ it. I couldn’t for the life of me, find my shower cap.

“Naa, I’m treating my hair myself and giving it time to breathe.”

“Time to breathe kwa?”, Nduka (he insisted I call him instead of Linford when I eventually managed to get a word in edgewise and inform him that my mum was Igbo as well) had found his way to my shoulders and was kneading the knots away.

“Hmmm, that always feels so good, Lin…Nduka, thank you.”

“You don’t need to thank me, Jehl, it’s my duty to make you feel good.”

That was the thing about Linford…Nduka (even in my thoughts, I still struggled to call him Nduka; somehow he looked like a Linford to me) he ticked every box. He was attentive, kind, knowledgeable, polite and damn good-looking but…that was just it! There was a ‘but’…but I just couldn’t find it! I knew it was there because it scratched the back of my neck, when I woke up in the morning and every night, before I went to bed. It was an elusive, little bugger! I couldn’t catch it and I couldn’t make it go away!

“So you aren’t going to fix your weave then?”

“Naa, I really do want my hair to breathe.” His hands stilled for a nanosecond and at the same time, a thought flashed through my mind – ‘What big hands you have…’ I felt a swift, sharp shaft of fear pass through me but it was gone before I could grab hold of it and examine it any further.

“Lin…Nduka”, I pulled the carrier bag back a little bit, “Look…my front hair is thinning. I need to give my hair breathing space between weaves so it can grow back. If I don’t, I will be looking at a bad case of traction alopecia.”

“Traction alopecia, kwa?”

“Yeess, a.k.a ‘Mama Iyabọ!”

“Oh I see”, he chuckled, “You mean when your front hair, as you call it, starts to fall off and leaves bald patches?”

“Exactly! Too much tension, pulling, weaving, braiding…mba…not good.”

“But I love those soft, wavy curls…”

“…but Lin…Nduka, those soft, wavy curls are not all mine! They are only there from time to time. My own hair needs attention too or I will lose it permanently!!!”

His hands grew still around my neck, again.

“There was no need to interrupt me or raise your voice.”

This time seconds ticked away and I felt the elusive ‘but’ crawling up my toes again, trying to scurry past, to get to the base of my scalp, scratch it and disappear again.

Crunch!

I clenched my stomach muscles as it was about to dash past my abdomen and held it tight. It wriggled and wriggled, trying to make for freedom but I had had enough. If there was no reason to doubt, then there would be no visits from an irksome ‘but’.

“Lin…Nduka, I apologise for interrupting and raising my voice. It’s just that I get passionate about anything to do with my hair; indeed anything to do with…”

He interrupted me this time.

“I know, I know, your emotions are your greatest downfall, Jehlani but don’t worry, we will work on that.”

Crunch!

I stilled it. I stilled the writhing ‘but’. I looked closely at it, my eyes still on Linford through the dressing table mirror.

Control.

That was what it was.

Linford was a control freak. But he was controlling in a ‘I-will-massage-away-all-your-troubles, just-leave-it-to-me’, way.

His burnished caramel skin and piercing, blue eyes made you think of Thor, Hercules and the son of Amadioha, god of Thunder, all rolled in one. His broad shoulders and muscular chest spoke of safety and refuge and his hands, those large hands promised to ‘take care of it all’.

But…

If you didn’t…that was what I saw in his eyes…if you didn’t let him take control, then…

“Do it for me, inula? Just wash out your avocado and egg concoction and go fix your hair”.

“Okay, if you say so,” I grumbled playfully, hiding my ensnared ‘but’ and the shaft of fear that had returned with a sharp tip that prodded my insides; hot like a scorpion’s sting.

Sweet Mother, I no go forget you…

My signature ringtone for my mum broke through my fear; not the ‘but’ though, I held on to it for dear life.

My mum loved Prince Nico Mbarga, hence the ringtone. She said he was the only authentic, Nigerian musician with the exception of Sir Warrior of Oriental Brothers.

“Li…Nduka, I have to take this, you know what my mum can be like”, I made to appear rueful.

“Jehlani”, my mum pronounced my name like it was an Igbo name.

‘Of course it’s an Igbo name! All Africa was originally Igbo, didn’t you know that?’ I could hear her voice clearly in my head. I don’t usually bother replying. I mean how can you argue with a retired Professor of African Studies, even she says the pyramids were built by the people of  Arọ Kingdom? Waste of your time!

“Have you left that boy? That oso chi egbu! Destiny-Killer!”

“Just about to mum, just about to.”

“About time. Meet me downstairs and be quick please; I’m parked on a double yellow line.

How she always knew when to bail me out, I’ll never know but that was my mum for you, an amalgam of intellect and clairvoyance.

“Linford, I have to go”, I didn’t even stumble over the name anymore. Nduka kọ! Nduka ni!

Kiti kpa lacha kwa ya anya!  (May smallpox lick his eyes!)

Sean’s cousin or not, it hadn’t come to the point where I’ll put my life on the line for a neck massage, extensive general knowledge or the body of a hybrid demi-god.

I grabbed my vanity case and its matching weekend bag, plunked some random baseball cap over the carrier ‘steaming’ bag on my head.

“So you will fix the weave then?”

“Naa, I think I’m going to let my hair breathe.”

Fiction

My Turkish Delight II

I thought I was the only one who was perfection-prone. MTD hated anything constituting even a fleck on his ‘beloved’ Range Rover Sport. ‘Baby ọku’ he called it. Or tried to call it.

The man was learning Igbo with a vengeance once I agreed to go out with him.

‘Go out with him’. A delicious thrill ran through me. I was going out with him for real! Almost too real, the hard-dried cynic in me reared its tiny, deadly head like a fragment of an egg-shell in a tastefully-prepared omelette.

Tufiakwa”, I spat the thought out.

Ine, what is it? Your eyebrows are furrowed.

That was MTD’s Achilles’ heel; he could never get the double Igbo consonants right. So the ‘nnes’ became ‘ine’; the ‘nnas’ became ‘ina’. ‘mmili’ became ‘imili’ and the ‘mmanu’ became ‘imanu’.

But, his herculean strength was he noticed everything…even the slightest change in body language.

And yes, my eyebrows were furrowed, deeply furrowed. I was worried.

I was worried because he was learning Igbo too quickly. I was worried because I could sense a change in him; a slight closing. For a man who was ridiculously open about anything and everything, My Turkish Delight was hiding something from me.

Mentally, I began to prepare myself for the inevitable; it was bound to happen. It always did at this point – the point where you’ve got past the awkward, ‘Let’s-just-see-where-this-is-taking-us’ stage to the ‘This-looks-promising’ stage’ – the point where a rhythm starts to flow in the relationship and all of a sudden, they pull away and…nothing! They end it. It’s over.

Using my usual defence mechanism, I began to work out, in my head, how things will end.

His calls will dwindle to once every other day.

He’ll stop WhatsApping me frequently.

He will be too ‘busy’ with his restaurants to see me.

The excuses will begin to range from the sublime to the ridiculous…

His everyday ringtone snapped me out of my train of thoughts.

“Hmm…okay…siyah…yep…yep…alright then.”

That was all I heard from his side of the conversation by which time, his brows were furrowed.

Ine, change in plans. I’m afraid you’ll have to shop alone.” We had arrived at the traffic lights beside the Ilford Sainsbury’s. “I’ll pick you up in a few hours.” All this was uttered with his eyes on the road. No eye-contact.

No words came to my mouth either.

By this time, we had arrived at another set of traffic lights just before the bus-stop beside the Ilford Railway station. An unfamiliar silence descended upon our closeness and instantly a chasm wedged itself between us.

MTD didn’t even bother with the car park. He just dropped me off at the bus-stop and sped off down Cranbrook Road before the amber lights turned red.

Siyah’. Black in Turkish. That much I knew. He had to be talking about me.

I don’t recall crossing the traffic lights into the Ilford Exchange or walking through TK Maxx or bumping into some man with shopping who asked me if I was alright. I do recall going into the Pound shop and walking round the aisles and back out. I had to get home. It was all over.

Ine, Ine!” MTD was shaking me awake. I had fallen asleep, in front of the T.V, on the big, red, lumpy sofa I had since Uni.

“What’s the matter, Ine? What’s wrong? I called and called, no reply. I went back to the shopping centre and …”

I looked up at him, eyes crusty from dried-up tears. His voice seemed to come from a long way away. I just stared at him and waited…waited for what I knew was coming; what I knew would rip my guts out, hang them out for the birds of depression to devour.

“We need to talk”. He dangled what looked like a fob before me.

‘We need to talk’…those four deadly words. I carried on waiting. I wasn’t going to help him stab me. If he wanted to break up with me, he had to do it himself; all by himself. Let him ‘need’ to talk. I will listen.

“I know this isn’t what you want…wanted, but,” he hesitated, stroking his close-cropped beard, the gesture I’d come to understand hid his nervousness…the gesture that took me back to our first meeting…it seemed so long ago now… “But”, he carried on, this is something I want…have been wanting to do.”

Well, of course it’s what you want, I screamed silently in my head, how about what I want??? My eyes showed no emotion whatsoever. I had become an expert at the term – dead-pan expression –  when it came to the inevitable ‘we-need-to-talk’ phase.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?” MTD finally realised that he had been doing all the talking.

“What’s that in your hand?” I managed to croak through my pain-filled throat.

“What I’ve been trying to tell you but obviously failing woefully”, He smiled ruefully.

“Come.”

He didn’t wait for me to respond but pulled me up from the sofa, my favourite red, threadbare throw, trailing on the floor. His long strides made mincemeat of the distance between the hallway and the door.

“Bọbọ ọku!” He announced theatrically.

Parked in front of the driveway was Bọbọ ọku, indeed. A gleaming, metallic red Range Rover Evoque, complete with alloy wheels and leather trimming. The fob-like thing was its keys.

I looked at MTD in confusion, wonderment and amazement.

“I know, I know I said siyah but Gizem had nothing in black,” he’d never looked so doleful in his life. “I know, you don’t want me buying stuff for you, Miss Independent Woman, but I want to. That’s what we needed to talk about.”

He searched my face for a reply.

My eyes replied with a tear rolling down each one.

This time my silence was shame-filled.

[For Eso because she’s been asking for it for so long 🙂 ]