Chinelo ambushed Jideobi on his way back from NaijaBet.
His face looking every inch of it, Jideobi uttered: ‘Nne, you startled me!’
‘Nnaa, ndo,’ Chinelo apologized. She bent and flicked off a leaf that had stuck to her rubber sandal.
‘What are you doing in the bush?’ Jideobi asked her.
‘I saw you coming so I hid.’
‘For what reason?’
‘Please, help me call your brother.’
‘Hia. Why couldn’t you have come to the house?’
‘I could. I could, Nnaa. But I prefer not to. Please help me call him, oh, ezigbo.’
Jideobi stared at the old woman. The two shared a kind of relationship, something tender and loving.
When he was much younger, he preferred going to Chinelo for food instead.
Then, Maduka, his uncle was still alive. He liked to watch them, how they behaved. The amusing, gentle things they did. Unlike his own father and mother who rarely laughed, let alone cuddle openly, Maduka and his wife could be entertainingly funny.
As Jideobi was scrolling down to Phillip’s number on his small Tecno device, Chinelo said to him: ‘You don’t look so happy, is it just my startling you?’
‘My game didn’t enter, Nne,’ Jideobi said.
‘Never will it enter all the time, so don’t look so sad. If it didn’t enter today, it will enter tomorrow.’
Jideobi nodded and put the phone to his ear.
It appeared time dragged, in sluggish, soundless bits.
Finally, Jideobi gave a small shake of head and brought the phone down. ‘Still not connecting, Nne.’
Chinelo was quiet.
Jideobi stared at her. ‘Nne?’ he called.
Chinelo appeared to return with a start. ‘Yes, Nnaa.’
‘Did you hear what I said?’
‘Yes, Nnaa, I heard what you said. Thank you.’
‘Okay. I will be going now.’
Jideobi started away.
‘Nnaa?’ Chinelo called him.
Jideobi halted and turned. ‘Yes, Nne.’
‘You should stop playing that game, inu. I heard it wastes people’s money.’
Jideobi could have said something then to defend both himself and his betting habit, but he decided not to. He simply nodded and said to Chinelo: ‘Okay, Nne, I heard you.’
He walked off, leaving Chinelo slow and alone on the path.
Uzoma blinked twice and bent further, scanning the entire animal house again. ‘It was here,’ she muttered. ‘It was. I am sure.’ She pointed. ‘I am sure.’
She heard footsteps and turned.
It was Ejike, her older son.
‘Ejike,’ she called, charging toward the boy, ‘what happened to the pregnant goat?’
‘Which pregnant goat?’ Ejike was tall and firmly built. Though a little fairer, he looked much more like Phillip than he did his brother—Jideobi. And nearly like Phillip too—he rarely talked, always quiet and appearing moody. But whenever he did talk—when angry or drunk or fighting—he never stopped talking.
When he was years younger and had killed a big nchi, his father smiled, patted his shoulder and called him: ‘Oyilinnaya.’
‘Papa, adirom ka gi,’ Ejike told his father, right there in front of his friend—Enenie.
Those adolescent days he hunted, Phillip had not travelled to Lagos too. They sometimes went together, mostly to check the traps—Phillip was not that much into hunting. Football interested him more.
hunting evening, while deep in the bush, the two boys did something one never
imagined boys could do, let alone cousins. They had, while watching each other,
both jerked off themselves. It happened only once and they never talked
about it. As they grew older and the nerve to start approaching girls, they
drew further and further apart.
‘The pregnant goat with bulging belly!’ Uzoma screamed again.
‘Go and ask her friends na,’ Ejike said.
Walking off, Uzoma grabbed the boy.
‘Ejike, what happened to my goat, Ejike?’
‘Give me my goat, Ejike!’
‘Ejike nyem ewum!’
‘Nyem ewum!’ Uzoma, with her size and height, was nearly shrouded in the boy’s sturdy frame.
‘Leave me alone,’ Ejike said to her. ‘I did not touch your goat.’
Just then, Jideobi walked out through the corridor. ‘I sold the goat, Mama,’ he said. ‘It is me.’
Uzoma froze on Ejike and he had to break her off him.
It took moments before Uzoma finally recovered and became soft again.
She rushed toward Jideobi and slapped him twice at the same time.
‘Go and bring back my goat!’
She bent and picked her hoe. ‘Before I return from the farm, make sure that goat is back in the pen and intact! Ogbaa mpe, I gbaa mpe!’
‘Where are you going?’ Ejike asked her.
‘Don’t ask me! Did you not hear when I mentioned I’m going to the farm now?’
‘But there is no food in the house.’
‘So I should leave my cocoyam and come and prepare food for you, eh? Nwamkpi.’
Sammy looked out through the window of the bus. ‘What city is this?’ she asked.
‘That is Onitsha,’ Amaka said.
‘So it is this beautiful?’
‘Yes, it is beautiful,’ Amaka said. ‘Very beautiful.’
‘I heard it is dangerous.’
‘That robbers attacked people often.’
‘You mean just like in Lagos?’
‘Some parts of Lagos, yes.’
‘We are in the world,’ Amaka said, ‘no single place is safe.’
Sammy stared at her. ‘So how close are we to your town now?’ she asked.
‘We are almost home.’
Leaving the bridge, the bus passed the giant statue of Ojukwu into the busy city.
‘Is that your king?’ Sammy said, referring to the statue.
‘No. That is Ojukwu. Our kings do not wear military attire.’
‘I know him. He caused the war in the 60’s abi?’
‘He didn’t cause the war,’ Amaka said. ‘The war came to him. He had no choice.’
‘But a lot of people died from his decision to engage the army. So many children starved to death, I heard.’
‘He didn’t have a choice,’ Amaka said again and turned away.
‘I think he did,’ Sammy said, after a while passed.
Amaka turned back to her. ‘What?’
‘He declared the secession. Couldn’t there have been other safer options out of the trouble?’
‘The people to blame is the people who showed no mercy in wiping out an entire people. That is the people you should be angry with. The people you should be scared of.’
Sammy stared at her. ‘So why are those soldiers standing there?’ she asked.
‘Close to the statue.’
‘They are just doing their job.’
‘I see.’ Sammy said. ‘Let me carry him.’
Amaka looked down on herself; James was still deep in sleep in her arms. ‘Leave him, he is sleeping.’
Sammy still reached and carried the boy over.