Let’s call you Ajakaida.
Ajakaida, I will tell you a story of a family in Abak Oko.
This happened in 1992. The days
of Ibrahim Babaginda.
The days of of the military rule in Nigeria.
Udom had just returned from Kaduna. He appeared before his father’s compound in Abak oko: in his army uniform, and three big boxes by his side. His broad shoulders stood high and he lifted his eyes to the sky. He was home. Everyone had thought he’d died during the war. And before his own eyes, everything had changed. The guava tree was cut down in half. And the blue painting of the house was already defaced and ugly looking.
The compound smelt of He-goats and fowl shit. He had wondered where everyone had gone to.
Nsemeke her sister came out from
the house, she had a bowl of garri in her hands.
She immediately got frightened as she widened her eyes and sees a man standing on their frontage in army uniform.
“Who are you sa?” She asked in a quavered voice.
She was just three when the war began, when Udom was taken away to fight for the biafrans. She had only seen him in pictures, when her mother would show to her, his image in an old family album; the image of him standing before a table filled with 7up, and coke sodas in 1970.
“Hello? I am looking for mr and Mrs Ukoette, they are my parents. Do they still live here?” He couldn’t recognize his sister. He didn’t have to think of who she was, she was far too grown. Too grown that she had breasts that Pointed out.
Calmed somewhat and anxious to know, Nsemeke walked closer to him and screamed, “mma, mma!”
A woman in her early 70s ran out
from the inner house, a frayed looking wrapper tied loosely around her. Her heart
was beating so fast.
When she got to the frontage and saw that they had a guest, she paused and stared at his face for long moments. There were tears in her eyes as she shook like cold was running into her.
“Udom Akpan ami?” She asked in bafflement, staring into his eyes.
“Mma?” Udom called out his mother
in bewilderment and rushed to hug her so tight to himself. There were tears, soft
tears. He broke down when he was told that his father had died on his way to Nsukka
to find him and bring him back home. He was just ten years old when he was adopted.
And he had gone with machetes and guns to find his son when the bad men put a bullet
through his forehead.
The candle light was kept in the middle of the room, and Udom had just finished eating mkpafere and coco yam swallow. Nsemeke smilingly took the wash-hand bowl from him and handed him a small towel to wipe his hands.
“I can’t believe you’re this grown already.” He whispered with a smile.
“Mma always said you were alive. She kept you a wife. A beautiful girl from Ibiakpan. I heard you people used to trek from here to school at Ifuho back then. She is a teacher now.” Nsemeke whispered back to him.
“Kokomma?” Udom asked as he widened his eyes. Nsemeke nodded and took the bowl of water away happily.
Mma walked into the room. The soft glow from the candle light didn’t reach every corner. She carried the candle light and kept it carefully on a table that had a crucifix on it.
“Your father would be happy wherever he is today.” She said as she lowered herself gently to the floor. Udom nodded.
“Why is the house this way? What do you do now? What is Nsemeke doing for a living?” He asked looking around the room again as if inspecting what it was made of.
“She helps me with farm work. I haven’t been able to further her education since a year ago.”
“What class did she stop?”
Udom stared at his mother pitifully. She had changed, more aged but agile. There were no grey hairs on her low cut, but there were wrinkles on her hands, and he thought it would be excess suffering from farm work.
“I went to army school, sponsored by the Hausa captain that took me as his own son.” He broke the news quietly.
“So you’re now an army man?”
“Yes. I will be be ranked by next month at Uyo.”
His mother clapped her hands softly and smiled. “I will have to renovate this place.” Udom said as he stood to his feet and touched the walls of the room. “At least, you should have sold some of Baba’s lands to send Nsemeke to school.” He said.
Mma shrugged. “Your uncle, Mkpa took all of them. The lands and your father’s beetle. He drives the beetle around the village and tells his friends that he gave your father money to buy all what he owned.”
“What? Papa didn’t write a will?” He asked looking angry and shocked at the same time.
“What is that?”
“A paper filled with his property list, and people he would share them to.”
Mma shrugged again, fanning herself with one side of her wrapper. “Your father never discussed something like that to me. My husband never planned to die that soon.”
“But we can’t just let our father’s property go away like that. I will take them back!” He exclaimed angrily.
Mma rushed to her feet, “Please my son, your uncle Mkpa isn’t a good man. Everyone in this village knows his capabilities when it has to do with wickedness.” She lowered her voice now and whispered “before your father’s step brother Bassey died, he confessed and said that your uncle Mkpa is a wizard. The whole village fears him.” She held his hands. He looked at her again and took off his eyes.
“I don’t care.” He said boldly and walked away. Walking around his father’s compound, touching the leaves, the trees, perceiving them. The image of his father could be imagined as he held the half cut guava tree.
Breakfast was Ogi and Akara. He had perceived the hot aroma of the akara from his bed. Then he realized how much he missed home and Mma’s delicacies.
Nsemeke walked into the doorless bedroom that had only a faded brown curtain covering the doorway. She carried a tray of ogi and akara. Udom could see smoke coming out of the ogi in slow motion.
“Good morning brother.” Nsemeke said smiling heartily. Udom sat up immediately and got the tray food from her.
“How was your night?” He asked.
“Fine.” She said shyly and walked away.
And just as he bite the first akara, mma walked in looking happy.
“Someone special is here to see you.” She said, grinning.
“Who?” Udom asked as he took another bite of the akara.
Mma cleared her throat, “Do you remember Udeme Udoma? The one that used to be a village headmaster at Saint Joseph Ifuho?”
“Her daughter, she used to be your childhood friend.”
“Ahhh! You remember.” Mma lowered gently to the bed to reach his height, but he was still taller and obviously huge. She now looked diminished by his side. “Big men come to marry her with their big cars, but Kokomma said no, that you are her only man. She comes here to clean the house for me and help me teach your sister English and religion studies. She is a very brilliant girl. She teaches at saint Theresa primary school here in Abak oko.”
Udom exhaled and sipped the ogi calmly. Then he dropped the tray on the bed and stood to his feet.
“Let me see her.” He said.
When Udom arrived the sitting room and saw this beautiful fair woman, sitting neatly on a stool, by Nsemeke, her face was now clear. She was still as beautiful as she used to be, that childish face he could still remember. As modest as always, Kokomma wore a green dress that was flay and long. Her black hair usually held up by Bobby pins, now spilled to her shoulders.
Udom admired Kokomma’s natural grace. She seemed to be unaware of the her exceptional look, and her humility enhanced her beauty. She rushed at Udom and hugged him so tight to her body, coconut and kernel oil scented mildly on her hair, Udom could perceive it.
“We thought you were long gone, taken down by the war guns.” She said weakly, “you look so different.”
Udom stood absolutely still, barely breathing while the warmth of his touch radiated from her heart to her fingertips. It was like being microwaved, she thought, silently admiring the broad expanse of masculine chest hidden under a white T-shirt.