Thu. Dec 12th, 2019

A Free Plate Of Life

I grew up in a thick rural area in Ukpakiri, Aba. A place where the early morning crock crow is replaced with “jehova is your name… Mighty warrior…”, a song raining heavily from a megaphone with squeaky vibrations. At first it is a voice of a lady, then two voices in different locations, then many voices; singing different christian songs and preaching different messages which centres on stop fornication, stop selling your goods so high to gain more profit than you should, and they wrap it up with hell fire is real and Christ is coming soon. When you open up your eyes after these messages have died down, it is either sharp 6am or few minutes after 6am.

Then, Mama Jgb, our very pious neighbour, will start playing “Chioma Jesus” and “Akanchawa” from her huge radio that looks so much like a carton of medium sized Tummy Tummy noodles. Jgb is a short form of pronouncing her only daughter’s name that looks like a narrative essay, which means Jehova gbuo ndi irom n’iile(God kill all my enemies). Mama Jgb owns a women prayer house which is just few walks down the street. There, they flog demons that have possessed people, they nail your enemies on the wall ,which you write down on a paper and present to them for prayers .

Once, Mr. Ejiofor has visited the ministry for financial breakthrough and saw his name on the wall as an enemy, pasted by one of his debtors who prayed for his instant death. They fought so hard that the street gathered to watch the tooth leave his debtor’s mouth accompanied by some blood. Mama Jgb, opened up the prayer house after she lost her husband to a woman on bum shorts whom she said was an Ogbanje. Rumour has it that Papa Jgb said his wife has refused to cure his “Konji” for years now, with excuses that she’s either fasting and praying or she demands her husband goes for a deliverance from the spirit of “London dry gin” because he always gets drunk with it.

A lot happened in my small hometown. We the children, have our worn out car tyres packed by our corridor, or a bucket lid and an iron hanger which we have curved into shape to call a spoke. I have been beaten up severally by my mum for littering her corridor with sand, or pieces of parboiled rice or beans and empty tin milk and Geisha cans, which I used to play the cooking game with other kids. So I hid them behind the cupboard.

This time, I was beaten up again because mum found them. She said it brought rats and gives our room a foul odour. I cried not because of the pains she inflicted on me with her “koi koi” shoe but because she threw my toys into Okenwa’s wheelbarrow and gave him twenty naira to discard them.

I feared Saturdays a lot because those were the days when my father would come back from “outside work” (working in another town far away from mine), and personally barb my hair with shaving stick, while applying a soda soap and little water to make it easy to remove. After which, he would apply a leaf called “gbogborise” which left my head in the hot suns of sahara desert while I was in his arms. This he did because of the feasting of ringworms on my head. It was the most stinging pain I felt as a child. He always apologised to me with a packet of Cabin biscuit.

Life was fun and free. We were about eight kids in our face – 2 – face compound. We played naked on the rain and ran tournament with our tyres. We were between the ages of six to ten and always in our group as children. We fought many times a day and reconciled all the time. We loved Brother Gabon so well.

He happens to be one of our bachelor neighbour who came back from Gabon and speaks with a funny foreign accent, which he said is how people in Gabon speak. He allows us to see Hollywood movies in his room and he buys us lollipop and chocolates whenever he comes home in the evening. He is also mean a times and sends us out whenever any aunty visits. His room is a market of women who shop one at a time every day, with morning and night shifts.

On Sundays we didn’t go to church, we would assemble at Brother Gabon’s window, with our ears pierced to the openings in the closed frame and have the fun of our lives with laughing, though in undertone. We can easily distinguish between his voice which says “yeahhhhh baby… give it ru me from a back a!” from the aunty’s voice which screams “ooooooo…. Na enyem ya ka ube” (give it to me like pear) a little too loud, with a faint sound.

It wasn’t long until Uncle Nwamba – a primary school teacher in his late forties, who has an affinity for long ties and trousers that cover his shoes – caught us peeping and laughing and called us together. He gave us huge bricks to carry with our hands raised under the scorching sun and our kneels on the ground, with sand biting them. He flogged us until we confessed and promised not to do it again.

I hated Uncle Nwamba with passion because he was still the one that caught me with Jgb at our backyard one evening, when I raised her skirt up and tried fitting in my carrot into her tomatoe and flogged us like hell, but we didn’t cry. Yet, we were thankful to him for not exposing us all these while. He always hailed me “agbero my maaaannn”, with a funny look and a mouth withholding laughter whenever I greeted him or passed him. It wasn’t easy growing up in such an environment where our knowledge is heightened, more especially on the immoral aspect.

*****
I was so excited on going to Port Hacourt with my mum for her aunt’s marriage anniversary. I announced it to my friends and got the name “eleme boy”. It would be my first journey outside my little hometown. My aunt sent my mum some money to buy her things from Aba for the occasion because it would be more affordable, as well as our transportation fare which was above estimate. According to my mum, we were not going to come back because she would be helping out with aunty’s chores while I go to school.

Aunty’s children were all grown ups and lived abroad. She needed a house help whom she would pay. Since mum is a relative and I was her only child (mum couldn’t give birth again due to the complications she had during my birth. I was born premature and I never knew what it meant till this day), she was considered. We were allowed to visit my dad every weekend and can spend time with him more whenever aunty traveled out to be with her kids, but he couldn’t visit us because aunty hated him, due to the fact that he hasn’t performed mum’s marital rites yet.

We were to leave for Port hacourt two days before the anniversary and my joy grew even more; but on that day of our departure, hell broke loose. My mum was washing, cleaning and arranging the house while my father and myself went to fetch water. I carried a big bottle of Ragolis table water while my dad carried two big buckets on both hands. My dad was still on the door, trying to arrange the buckets when my mother attacked him with a knife from inside the house.

She was crying and running after him with a knife on one hand and a transparent balloon on the other hand. I have once seen that balloon in Brother Gabon’s room and when we wanted to blow it, he prevented us saying it is called “Konji waterproof” and used to hold back a natural ice cream from the gods, to prevent people like us from invading the world. We never understood that.

The neighbors ran after my mother who pursued my father like a lion in the jungle that had just seen a prey. I was afraid because I thought something bad might happen to any of them and I don’t wanna loose them. My dad ran out holding his right chest with his left hand, both covered by blood, while my mum bleeds from her forehead because she hit her head on the lintel while speeding out of the room. I don’t know what to do, so I followed them after shutting our door.

The street seemed deserted, so I had to walk down to the junction that was just a stone’s throw. I got there to see my mum and dad lying still amidst a surrounding crowd. They have been knocked down by a speeding van and crushed beyond recognition. The driver of the van, fled for his life so they couldn’t catch him. Mama Jgb saw me making my way to the scene, she yanked me up like a bag of rice, covering my eyes and took me home. She locked me up in the room with Jgb and went out again.

I was still crying. Trying to make meaning out of the whole thing and Jgb was consoling me. When she noticed I couldn’t stop, she pulled up her skirt again and asked that we play “mummy and daddy”. She had me use my carrot this time and it was without distraction. She was only nine and I seven , so we did it. After some minutes of rubbing our bodies on each other, she wore her skirt and got angry with me. She refused talking to me. I didn’t know what I did wrong. I sat down, with my legs crossed and my hands folded, while my eyes counted the ceiling. In no little time, I dozed off.

I woke up to the neighbors entering the compound one after the other. Wailing, cursing and saying all sorts of things. I could recognize Brother Gabon’s voice saying “shit meeehnnnn, that motherfucker issa hoe”. Jgb and myself ran to the window to see for ourselves what the compound has become with such noise. She held my hands tight and I hers, she has forgiven me for the unknown I guess. I stretched my toes to see from the torn net while she had no stress doing that, she was taller too. When we saw mama Jgb coming, we dashed to the floor, pretending to have fallen asleep.

She unlocked the door, came into the house and watched me with so much tenderness. She probably thought I was fast asleep, while I slightly opened my right eye and watched her too in a way she wouldn’t notice. She just stared at me with so much pity. She approached me, touched my cheek lightly; this time, I closed my eyes so well and counted my heartbeats which was now drumming heavily because I thought the holy spirit must have revealed to her what I had done with her child.

She said these words while sobbing bitterly “I’m sorry for doing this to you poor child. Your father was just like the Hebrew men in bed. He made me understand the Songs of Solomon. I didn’t mean to do this my child, just forgive me in your spirit”. She cried even the more and went into the other room where Jgb stayed.

I didn’t understand those words at all. No one has told me anything yet. What do I know? I’m just a child, given a free plate of life by my maker, with no knowledge on how it was made. The only thing I owe nature is to live this life and say thank you; just like when you’re given a free plate of rice and expected to say thank you too.

©Achi Gp Nuel

 

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