Chukwuokike, sometimes, Fada doesn’t help us quickly. He asks us to believe a lot, and we don’t see much. Medical center doesn’t heal us quickly, either. Some things seem a little bit too dirty for you to handle, too. Forgive us if the quicker routes we find make you angry. Amen.
It was too cloudy to be afternoon, too rainy to be the last days of a November in Ahiazu. The raindrops were loudest as they played on our well-worn and faded roof. I dragged through the house, bolting up doors and windows, placing buckets and plates, bowls and pans to collect the drops that would play their way through the many holes in our roof. I visited the popular holes first − the holes with the Broad is the Way features that let anything in. Then I checked with the other ones − the holes that seemed to appear suddenly and disappear in the same way. These holes were particular about the type of liquid that could pass. Sometimes, they would suddenly decide they were closed up for the day, only to resume after a few minutes. Next to Nne’s constant bugging, their fluctuation were the second frustrating thing in my young life.
If only Mpa-anyi didn’t die.
Mpa-anyi made the rainy months bearable. He couldn’t buy us a new roof, but he could fill the pockets of his grey jumper with nails, mount our miserable one-legged ladder and teach the holes lessons with his rusted hammer. But he was gone. He died of everything and nothing in particular: fever, cold, a little chest pain. He couldn’t pass faeces sometimes. Everything was wrong with the man. I naturally stepped into his shoes. His shoes were too big a size for me, so instead of hammering roofing sheets, I ensured nothing in our house got wet.
I was soon done with my first round of roof inspection. I slithered past Nne’s room. She was busy with the akidi in her hands and the Ekene Maria at the tip of her tongue. If she as much as sniffed me up, I would take over the akidi business, immediately. And if I complained, she would remind me of how she went through three days of labour to have me. If I dragged the issue, her phone would immediately dial brother’s number and his ears would be full in seconds. So sneaking around had always been a better option. I slipped noiselessly into my almost dark room and fell on the bed. All I needed was tiny patience. I only had two years in Ahiazu. If I made my papers at a sitting, I would be far away in nursing school in the third year. Then Nne would have to find another person to slave for her.
“Unego, your ear is paining you, okwaya. You can’t hear that someone is knocking.” I sat up quickly. I squinted, trying to make out Nne’s figure at the door. “Take umbrella, see who is outside. Go and check, osiso.” She left.
Not even a second of peace and quiet. I picked up myself and grumbled to the door. When I opened it, Adanne was standing there, drenched to the skin, with a long face and her small Ekolag.
Adanne broke into tears immediately she saw Nne. Nne equally turned on her faucet when she saw her daughter in tears. Typical of Adanne. More typical of Nne. They both had this mushy thing between them. Although Fada said otherwise, Nne strongly believed that her late mother came back to earth as Adanne. I’m not sure Adanne believed it, but she acted on the idea. Who wouldn’t enjoy near worship from one’s mother? Nne even called Adanne Nne sometimes. They never fought about anything, until brother Effiong. Nne had insisted she didn’t like brother Effiong. He was not only non-Igbo, he was Calabar. Nne said she would accept Delta, even Yoruba, but Calabar. She said she didn’t like the way Efik sounded. Things didn’t go as she expected. She obviously thought if she put it out there, Adanne would stop liking brother Effiong. Adanne suprised her. The Brother Effiong fight did not last, though. Nne couldn’t deal with Adanne not talking to her, so she gave her blessings.
I sat in the background, watching the two women smear each other with tears and saliva. I sat there waiting for the words to come.
“Nne, I’m tired. I can’t do this anymore. Effiong’s mother. She is Ekwensu. She is Jezebel. And Effiong na-ege ya nti. He swallows every mucus the woman coughs out. He’s still doing that thing. It is worse now, Nne. Effiong sends the woman my report card every minute. All I hear is ‘my mama said, my mama wants, my mama doesn’t like this, my mama this and that.’ Just because I can’t get pregnant. And the woman is doing all these from Calabar. It won’t be long, Nne. It won’t be long before one Ekaette would appear at my door step, throw my things out and take my place. Gini ka m ga-eme? What will I do?”
“Why are they like this? It’s been only two years. Oge ka no.”
“Nne, it’s been two years. And I’m supposed to be pregnant for the second one. But No. I’m in my husband’s house, growing only green leaves like a male paw-paw plant. And the Mr. Husband is not helping me, ma Chi.”
“Did I not warn you from the beginning? But you said it’s love. You and your late father. Love. Now you see. What that sitting old woman sees while on the floor, you won’t−’
“Nne, biko biko. This is not what I want. You’re not helping me. I just want pregnancy. Even if I miscarry, nsogbu adiro. I just want anything that would prove I’m not a lost cause. Biko.”
‘Nnem, it is Chukwuokike that gives babies. What can man do?”
Adanne started to sob again. “I just want pregnancy.”
“Nne m, don’t cry now. You know I don’t like you crying. Or you want me start crying, too?”
Join now,I snickered, town crier. Of course, I cared that I was yet to be an aunty, but Nne did way too much.
Nne turned quickly. The look on her face showed she had completely forgotten I existed. “Let’s go to my room,” she whispered to Adanne. “Unego, come collect akidi and pick for me.” So, as usual, I didn’t get the full story.
Very early the next morning, Nne woke me up.
“Unego, we are going to Nnewi. Take care of the house. Don’t forget yourself when it starts raining. If I come back and everything is wet, I cook you. There’s rice. There’s akpu. Sister Jane-Frances said that you people are cleaning Fada’s house today. Go on time, Inula?”
“Nne, I don’t want to stay here. I don’t want to stay here.”
Nne tried to make me understand why I needed to stay back. Fada’s house needed cleaning. And it could rain. If it did, who would take care of the holes? Moreover, somebody needed to be in the house in case anything else came up.
I kept shaking my head to all her entreaties till she gave in.
We spent four miserable hours on the road. Nne stared at nothing. Adanne was on her phone throughout the journey. I sat between them mourning my empty stomach. I wondered why I insisted on going with them and why I was the only hungry one. We all had nothing in our stomachs, but they looked just fine. I was far from fine. My eyes kept moving from the very yellow plantain chips the hawkers flashed at us to Nne, hoping she noticed them, too. She didn’t. I couldn’t risk getting slapped in public, so I didn’t dare call her attention.
“Are we going to see aunty?”Adanne asked when we came down at the bus park in Nnewi. Aunty Ogochukwu was Nne’s elder sister. She lived in Nnewi with her husband and children.
“Did we come to Nnewi to see Ogochukwu?” Nne fired back, irritated at the question.
“Nne, I meant when we are done. I thought—”
“And if she asks what we’re doing here? Biko, we are visiting nobody. We’ll just do our business and go back to Ahiazu.” I wished Adanne dragged the issue a little longer, but Adanne had always been Nne’s loyal dog. She went quiet, and I took up the case.
“Me, I’m hungry o. This thing you people are doing, I’ve not eaten. This business of yours is not as serious as ulcer. I will soon slump here and—”
“Tah,” Nne barked.
“It’s not about Tah. Let’s just go to Aunty’s house. At least she’ll give us food and we will–”
Nne promised to slap me if I put my nose in their business again.
After a couple of taxis and some trekking, we got to Nne’s destination.
I gasped as I took in the place. “Nne, is it not that shrine that−?” The look Nne threw at me made me shut up.
“Sit here.” She pointed at a little stool just outside the little house. I sat, slightly shaken. I knew Nne and Adanne were on a baby-getting mission, but this shrine? Didn’t Fada say getting children from the Devil was a very bad idea? These Devil babies turned into evil children that killed their parents. Nne knew. Adanne knew. So why were we here?
Nne pulled out a little loaf of bread from her black nylon. “Take. Unego, please don’t stand up from here. I’m begging you.” She gave a can of water, too, before she turned to Adanne. “Let’s go inside.’
“Chere. Wait.” Adanne removed her rosary and dropped it in my lap. Nne cracked a little smile and her hands quickly found hers. Nne rubbed the beads a little, but she didn’t take it off. They went in.
I had just taken my first bite from my bread when I heard Adanne yell. I cringed. The witch had sliced her. I knew because the same rusted metal had drawn four long gashes on my left thigh and another four on my back two years ago.
I was just fourteen with very new, little, hard and painful seeds on my chest, seeds I was both proud and ashamed of. I was yet to see my obia, but Nne was so sure it was near. I even saw her hide the tiny waist beads I would wear when obia came. Obia didn’t come. I fell very sick instead. It started with a mild cough. Then the cough wasn’t mild anymore. The mucus that followed each cough was too dark to be mucus. I drank a lot of kernel oil until the insides of my mouth seemed permanently oily. Nne even bought tiny tablets from the chemist, but the cough didn’t budge. Rather, it turned to fever. Nne strapped me to her back and marched to the medical center and I was given malaria tablets, but I remained sick. The fever turned to gradual emaciation till I was a breathing carcass − bones covered in pale flesh. When I started having breathing problems, Nne bundled us to Nnewi. Long story short, I returned home, a healthier girl. When anyone asked Nne how I became better, she would smile broadly, clap her hands and lift them skyward.
“It’s God. Chukwuokike aru ka. He just did it. Just like that.” Then she would proceed to preach. “In this life, just trust God. Anything He says, He would do. You saw Unego, okwaya?” She would wait for the women to nod before she would continue. “My daughter almost died, but God did it.” The women would cheer and shout long Hallelujahs.
Nne took me and a little goat to thank Fada after.
Nne and I walked Adanne to Ahaizu motor park. While they both talked in hushed tunes, I kept thinking of the Devil baby in Adanne’s tummy. I was going to be an aunty to a Devil baby. Brother Effiong would be a father to a Devil baby. And he wouldn’t know.
Nne and Adanne laughed. I turned immediately. They were not laughing at brother Effiong, were they?
“Don’t worry, Ezenwanyi has taken care of the woman. Just believe Ezenwanyi never fails.” Nne beamed. “She’ll remain in her husband’s house from now. Chuwuokike has already done it.”
“I just hope it works. I just need to get pregnant, even if it doesn’t stay.”
“Stop saying that. Didn’t you hear Ezenwanyi? You will be pregnant. You will born. I will come to Owerri and do omugwo. Trust God. Whatever He says, He will do.”
I shook my head. Fada will get another goat on Sunday.
Ezeji Princess Ifeoma
is Igbo. She is a student of English and Literary Studies in the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu state. Her greatest aspiration is being a real writer. She is currently in love with God, dictionaries and peanuts.
Cover photo credit: Doyin Deji