When I reached home that evening, it seemed like the whole world was turned upside down. I felt my head swell as the bee stings and sharp roots hurt my foot. By the side of my bamboo bed Nene and her dog sat, staring at me. She held my hand and squeezed softly. I saw her beautiful face through the moon light when she leaned over to kiss me. She was sobbing.
“Get well brother,” she said as she kissed my cheek. Ah! Nene seldom addressed me that way. I was always the big head or a naughty boy. I tried to smile at her but my pain won’t let me. I laid back speechless and she left with her dog.
Outside the hut, a lot went on. Many girls from my community brought water to fill our tanks. Few came into my room to help massage my body; pulling my legs and hands as they smeared shea butter, honey and other ointments all over me. I was still in pains when Fata walked in. Then I felt my heart dance to the moon. But I couldn’t hide my pain.
Fata, ah Fata! My secret crush. The girl that played the strings of my heart. Her colour was chocolate and she spoke softly. When she walked she looked like a graceful deer. She always held her head high like a proud peacock. Her pretty face was like soft roses. But I never had the courage to tell her how I felt. I still wonder how other boys did it, how they started conversations with girls.
“They are too proud!” I argued, as a flashback interrupted my thought. It was during the wrestling season in the village, just after the match between the legendary Mazi Agbareke, the Gorilla and cunny Mazi Kene, the Tiger. We were waiting for the next bout when we discovered a group of girls in the crowd, standing opposite to us. From our stand we imagined that the girls discussed about the boys as we watched them laugh and clap their hands.
“They must be musing over your big head.” Onu said, as he turned to look at me. The other boys slapped their thighs and laughed.
“Wait oo. Please can you all take a look at my head and Onu’s and decide for yourselves who should go home with the title of Isiuwa, alias world head?” I replied. More laughter followed. “These girls are scared of this drum you call head!” I said pointing at Onu’s head.
“Okay o. I may have a big head,” Onu admitted. “But it is not empty. I can talk to girls and they like me but you barely can stand them. You dream of a girl who doesn’t care if you exist.” With that, Onu won the fight and I decided to steer the conversation in another direction.
Now Fata’s sudden appearance in my room brought back my fears but I vowed to talk to her that evening.
Men, women, girls and boys gathered in my father’s compound to hear my story. Nearly everyone from the community sent an emissary. Gifts accompanied the visits too, for the Igbo people believed in onye aghala nwanne ya (do not abandon your own) philosophy.
My father with some men and hunting dogs formed a small search party to comb the surrounding forests. A score of younger men were asked to protect the village in their absence. The evening breeze gave way to night’s treacherous cover and thousands of singing crickets began their procession. It was usual to enjoy the night airs and listen to folklore but this evening things were not well.
My mother with the help of other women cooked for everyone that came. Yam and vegetable soup was prepared. A huge fire was made around the entrance to our compound to keep away Wild Dogs and Hyena. I heard Mama and her maids tore through the barn to fetch yams. The huge basket hovering over the charcoal fire in the kitchen was brought down. It was rare to see Mama take fish from that basket. I only recalled that she opened it during festive seasons like the New Yam Festival. I was aware that this basket kept most of Mama’s smoked fish and it was every child’s dream to steal a piece of tasty fish from it. Girls gathered Water-leaf, Spinach and Greens from the neighbouring gardens. Some of the visitors came with mats and was prepared to stay till daybreak.
That night I had another attack. It was midnight and everybody was settled for some sleep.
… To be continued…