That morning before the early hunters left their homes for the forest, Papa was already on his way to Ndi-Ikele to welcome the priest, newly arrived from Trinidad and Tobago. It was breezy and cloudy that morning, it seemed it would rain any moment. Trees, especially the palm took to joyful procession when I stepped out to look around. Heavy breeze shook the forest and the skies grew darker. Birds took flight, stray dogs barked. People took in laundry previously spread to dry. The wind blew dust and tree leaves about and I had to retreat back to my room. It was dark inside but I could hear Nene playing with her dog near the kitchen fire while Mama prepared breakfast. Mama knew well enough to get food ready before Papa’s return and while Papa may not bother about himself, he will definitely want to know if his first son has been fed. Men’s queer world, I shrugged.
I took a pen from my school box and started writing on an old wooden seat in my room:
I’m but a soul in a cold tumbler
I catch the wind with my palms, but my life is lived by another
I only wake to live another’s dream…
I was still scribbling and thinking of this strange rhyme when Nene walked into my room without knocking. She quickly scanned my room with her eyes and then delivered her message. I was wanted by Mama. Nene was the inspector in the house and always had something to report to our parents. She was talkative only when she wants something and had a bossy way of getting things done. She was the miniature version of my father.
“My son, your food is ready.” Mama recalled me back from my thought.
“Thank you, Mama.”
“Nene, take his bowl of water to his room.” Mama said to Nene. After a short protest and smirks she finally took the bowl to my room, mumbling and spilling some water on the way.
“Be careful Nene. Don’t spill water on my mats.” I said to her. She took a short look at me and disappeared from the door.
Tinkom tinkom, tibaliba
Dadi nkem o, Dadi nkem o
I we hapu m oo, wee jewe Lagosi
Muna onye ga ebi…
Children sang and played outside our compound. The noise wouldn’t let me reason or rest. Nene and Kiri, our cousin from few compounds away were the leaders. The game was played by softly hitting the palms of your opponents in numerous styles to rhyme with the beat sang by members of the two teams. Both led a team of three followers. The game progressed peacefully for a while, and Nene’s team led in total score. Suddenly she mistakenly put out her left hand instead of the right one and lost a game. Kiri and her teammates shouted and rejoiced over their gain and Nene pained with the mistake bursted out angry.
“It seemed that you’re happy for nothing. I still lead the total score… See your tummy like that of a pregnant frog.” She yelled at Kiri, hands akimbo.
“See this one, she is angry that she lost a game. You’re a loser!” Kiri retorted when she learned her rival was bitter.
“If you don’t close your mouth, I’ll help you deliver that foetus in your tummy.” Nene shouted again. Their team members were enjoying the scenario when Mama walked in from the back.
“Who are those children that won’t let us drink water and rest in this compound. Ssshussh children, run away!” She shouted and clapped her hands. The fighting parties disengaged and ran away from the compound to regroup somewhere else and continue with their game.
To be continued…