|Girl on a boat
"NOBODY NOSE TOMORROW" was the focus of my attention at the moment. Badly scrawled at the back bumper of the old bus ahead of us, I pondered over the significance of the statement. The setting sun created a back drop for my musings as it lightly dipped the tip of a hill afar off. The view was strangely symbolic and I was filled with reverence for witnessing such a spiritual moment.
The hill was the bedrock of our small town. Fables have it that our ancestors sat on that hill and other hills surrounding it whenever they wanted to make serious decisions. Our town was the outcome of one of those meetings they often gathered to make and they named it Anyala. My great grandmother told me that the name was coined from water and life, meaning the fountain of all living things. Which is why as far back as I can remember, we've always used the stream near the forest for everything we needed. My cousins and I swam in the water when we were kids and mama always sent Ugochi to fetch our cooking and drinking water from the same stream.
It all seems like yesterday and rush of memories assail me. Uche's voice echoing catch and the quick kisses I exchanged with Ada, my crush that year, Fifteen years ago. Ada would definitely be all grown up now, probably married with a few kids of her own.
I lug my bag across my shoulder as our rickety bus drew to a stop with a long shudder that rattled its engines and finally a loud hot hiss. We all heaved a sigh of relief as everyone struggled to get down through the narrow space provided as the door forgetting that it's always the ones closest to the door that have the privilege of making headways with door, the rest of us simply have to shuffle and push till we all get out finally.
I took a deep cleansing breath as I stepped down from the bus and beheld my childhood town. So many memories, it was home. Cries of "Uncle Ebele!" soon rent the air as my nephews and nieces sighted me from afar. It became a race to see who can reach me first and grab my bag to carry. "Uncle welcome! Uncle we've missed you o! Uncle what did you bring for us?" They bombarded me with their questions as soon as they got to me almost pulling me down as they jumped on me excitedly.
I saw my younger sister Chioma coming out of the house heavily pregnant with a beaming smile and I wondered what she was doing here and not in her husband's house.
"I brought fruits and junks for all of you." I replied my younger ones facing them. "What is junk, uncle?" piped Desmond, the little one among them. "Junks are snacks like meatpie, sausage rolls etc"
"Is it like the sausage mummy chibuzor used to sell for us in school? that one is very sweet o"
"Desmond" Hannah interrupted. "That mummy Chibuzor sausage is local one jor, this one that uncle brought is the real one.. shey you can not smell it already?"
I laughed at their gimmicks and brought out the treats I bought for them, with squeals of surprise and pleasure, they grabbed it from my hands and raced off to go show their parents.
I headed straight for my father's hut. He was seated in his ancient chair as expected, dozing. "Pa I'm home" I said in a loud voice and bent before him as our culture demanded. "Ebere?" he whispered in a worn out voice stretched thin by age and time. "is that you?"
"Yes papa" I moved closer. "It is I, I have come home."
"Nnaa" Papa's voice echoed with strength as he beamed a smile towards my way. "Welcome home my son."
"Has your mother seen you?"
"No papa, I headed for here as soon as I entered."
"Good." he nodded in approval "You are a good son, go and see your mother, she will be wondering where you are."
I politely took my leave of his presence and headed for the women's part of the compound where my mother was. Barely had I announced my presence when my mother jumped out of her room with cries of "Nnam o! Obim! Ebere 'm" squeezing me tight in an enclosing hug that robbed me of my breath.
When she finally released me, it was to look at me critically and berate me for not eating well that I was leaner than the last time she saw me. Then she promptly grabbed my hand and drag me into her hut as she prepared herself to regale me with all that has happened since I left. Even though I always protested the open display of affection, I secretly enjoyed it, even more when she would tell me about who married who in my absence while putting a plate of hot akpu and oha soup in my hands to munch on.
This was home and it felt so good to be back.
*. * * * *
The cock crow signalled the break of dawn and I rolled away from makeshift bed on the ground near my mother's own. Mama's bed was empty, I suspected that she was out in her open kitchen already, preparing the morning meal for the household.
I quickly said my prayers and went out to join her. I wondered how she could still wake up so early to cook considering how late we both slept yesterday night. We talked well into midnight. She was curious to know what had been going on with me in the city and why I took so long before coming back home. I asked her about Chioma's pregnancy and her absent husband. Before either of us knew it, it was midnight. She had to cut short our discussion with the insistence that I needed to rest from my journey.
I walked up to the borehole at the middle of the compound, it was one of the most recent projects papa had undertaken a year ago and it was with mixed feelings I received the news that nobody ever fetched water from our stream anymore after an outbreak of cholera badly affected the whole town and upon closer inspection, the village stream was found to be the cause. A part of me felt relieved that my people were now using clean water but I didn't like the way civilization was robbing off some parts of my childhood moments, Uche and I created beautiful memories with that stream.
After brushing my teeth and washing my face, I fetched water in an iron pail to carry to the bathroom. I had a quick bath and joined mama where she was cooking. "Mama good morning" I greeted affectionately. "My son!" she beamed with pride. "How was your night?"
"Fine mama. Mama I want to quickly go and see Uche ehn, I won't be long."
"Ehn ehn, okay my son. hurry up so you won't meet a cold meal."
On my way to Uche's house, I observed that some trees have grown taller, their leaves greener. "Possibly that time of the year" I mumbled to my self.
I answered one or two greetings from childhood friends and branched the house of Mazi Obi, Papa's closest friend. "Ebere my boy! look at you all grown up and sprouting beards." he called out boisterously slapping me at the back in a manly greeting. I smiled at him and told him I only dropped by briefly to greet him and I would soon to be on my way. He waved me off with a message for my Father that he would see him in the evening and I headed for Uche's house.
My friend wasn't home when I got to his place. His mother was the one at home. She greeted me with so much happiness and was surprised when I asked for Uche. "Uche?" she repeated incredulously. "Didn't no one tell you? Uche is married now. His house is not far off from Obi's plantation farm. That's where he stays now."
The news hit me like a ton of bricks. How was I away for so long? True, I severed all communications when I left for my sanity sake but I never imagined in a million years that I would miss the wedding of my childhood friend. It hurt.
His mum looked at me in understanding. "It's all right my son, you don't have to feel bad. I'm sure he will understand after all you've known each other for so long."
"Mama please, can you describe his house for me."
His mum gave me a series of directions that were not hard to follow and it led me to an impressive house with a black gate. I knocked at the gate, a stout man peered outside and demanded to know who I wanted to see.
I told him that I was here to see Uche and he told me to give him a moment. Five minutes later, he returned and opened the gate for me to enter. Uche was already at the entrance of his door waiting for me with a huge grin. "Ebelem!!!" he screamed the childhood name he gave me and rushed me a brotherly hug that washed away the distance of fifteen years.
"I've missed you man! look at you?!!"
"I'm sorry for missing your wedding Uche, I just heard from your mum--"
He cut me short with a hand in the air.
"Ebele why na! can blood get angry with blood? Mbanu! don't embarrass me with all these plenty apology o ehn!"
I smiled a grateful smile as he led me inside.
"infact there's someone I want you to meet. My very beautiful wife that I like to show off."
"I can imagine" I rushed. "You always had the eye for the prettiest girls" I teased.
As we entered the sitting room, a woman came to greet us, it was Ada.