The room had all the finery from the magazines. She never thought that her ‘family’ would be one of those who lived la vida loca in the midst of the prevalent poverty in Nigeria. “What was the current ranking?” she asked herself. The last time she had checked, that is, before her re-posting, they were 16th from behind. They or we? She couldn’t tell now, but it was high time she knew. Clarissa sat on the edge of the comfy looking leather sofa. It felt more comfortable than she looked. And she felt like she was sitting on a million dollars. She heard footsteps and look towards the winding stairs. That should be her uncle, Chief Ikemefuna Manufor, the CEO of the marine company her father ran before his death. She got up and prepared for the first meeting.
“Aahh… my daughter! You look just as beautiful as the women in the Manufor clan” he said
She stretched her hands to greet him, she wasn’t sure which was the polite way now… Kikelomo said she knelt to greet her grandfather, but that was another tribe, right? The old man ignored her hand and embraced her.
“My daughter, bia, bia, let us go to the family room. This place is for visitors and strangers” He held her hands in his hand and led her towards the long corridor she noticed when she walked in.
“Sir, my bag…”
“Not to worry, the butler will take them to your room”
“My room?!?!?!?” she thought This was getting quite intense…
Uncle Iyk, as he insisted she call him was a darling man. He was warm and friendly without being overwhelming. She had thought all Nigerians were brash and effusive with their emotions. The man certainly exuded sophisticated poise. And yet there was something traditional about him. Maybe it was the way he kept reverting to Igbo language in every sentence. He had laughed at her confusion twice and assured her that with time she would learn.
“The entire family is home for Christmas. It is good you chose to come now. We will have a small family gathering before then, for your sake, so you can meet the rest of your clan”
“I have a few questions, sir.” He motioned for her to continue. “Did your brother… my father… did he ever mention my Mama?
“You sound just like my third child, she’s my only daughter” he said for effect. “I tell her she has stayed in America for too long, her accent, especially when she tries to sound Nigerian, is the funniest thing after the Chinese accent in Yoruba!” He gave a hearty laugh and seemed to relax more when he saw that she found it funny.
“I want you to be comfortable. You are with family now.”
The words stayed with her all through the night. She hardly slept a wink that night as she went through the day’s events. Meeting Uncle Iyk’s wife was the high point of the day. The woman was a fashionista, even by Paris standards. She wore a full length skirt and top made with Ankara, but her shoes were definitely from Milan. She matched the pink peep toes with a big Feragamo bag. Clarissa had half expected her to courtesy when she greeted her uncle, but instead, they hugged and kissed like London Lovers. The last two of her uncle’s 5 kids were at best, typical college kids. their interest and curiosity about her lasted all of 30 minutes as they soon got absorbed in themselves and what they considered the difficulties in their lives. Everything felt so strange and yet familiar. She had expected mud thatched roofs, cracked walls and wrappers smelling of smoke from the fire place. Instead, she was surrounded by crystal, chandeliers and soft, plush Persian rugs. Her last thought before she drifted to sleep was that of her apartment in Old Westbury wasn’t exactly the center of the New York glam. It wasn’t uncomfortable either. She had had to acquire some glamor after leaving the Nunnery where she grew up. The luxury in which her newly found ‘family’ were accustomed too, was, to her, unreal.
The pre-Christmas gathering had happened without her. Though she was supposed to have met her step mother and her half siblings, she had to cancel on them. Head Office had declared an emergency situation in the Gabon Office. And as Regional Head of Operations, it was her job to restore order. The four days in Gabon was unbelievable. Her ‘family’ called her everyday. She had spoken to everyone of them and they all said she sounded like her father. Her immediate, the ‘Obi’ of her father’s part of the Family even mentioned that she chose her words carefully, just like ‘our father’ used to.
“It’s a pity he never met you. He would have been so proud to hear you talk like him”.
They flooded her with so much affection, she was glad there were mile between them. Not that she didn’t appreciate their love and genuine concern for her well being, she just wasn’t used to it. It was neither intrusive nor rude. It was unusual for her and, for her lack of expectations, it was a little lot. She was grateful for the distance between them. Torn between anticipation and fear, she counted the hours till her return to Lagos.
“We have organized a welcome reception for you. Just the family” her youngest sister told her. The Clan (as she now called them) had insisted that she could not take a taxi back home. They had also insisted that she must stay in her Father’s house.
“Nne, the house is empty. No one has the time to go there often anymore and it’s a lot of work ensuring that the helps keep it in tip top shape” Her father’s wife was usually staying with one of the children. She was lonely at home, and everyone thought it would be a good idea of they both shared the two wings of the mansion. The party held in Aunty Nnenna’s restaurant. She owned a chain of Chinese outlets in the West and it was usually the venue of impromptu Clan meetings, she was told. Eating familiar food, seeing the more familiar faces of the Chinese waiters put her more at ease. She laughed at their jokes and even shared a funny story about a high school prank played on her. Felix (Her Father’s 4th brother’s (Uncle Chigozie) 3rd son) talked about the time he thought of joining the marines and how his father reacted to it.
“I don’t still understand what got into him! How can a son of mine serve another man’s land till the point of death?” the bewildered father asked everyone. His mother, the rotund Sisi Nene laughed till she had tears in her eyes.
“My husband came home that day emitting fire and brimstone. I could barely keep up with his tirade! Then he flung the mail Felix sent at me! I fainted o!”
The table burst into riotous laughter.
“And guess what Dad did? He called me straight way to let me know I had killed my Mother!”
“Ta! Broda! You have always been over dramatic!” said Rosa, Uncle Chude’s (2nd Uncle) wife.
Uncle Felix replied with mouthful of sauteed shrimps, “Ehn, no wahala, when Chiamaka becomes 18, let her join the Queen’s Guard!” He turned, amidst the general laughter to Chiamaka, Rosa’s only girl, “Nne, please ehn, find out the procedure for me when you return to school, I shall personally discuss and convince your parents on your behalf!”
Her brother’s twins were playing around her picking at her plate for pieces of the carefully cut lobster. Their mum, Winifred, had tried to distract them with hers so that they would let their Aunty Adaeze (her Clan name) eat in peace, but the little rascals were not to be convinced. Their father sat with his uncles and laughed at their scramble for the last piece of chicken on his plate. Uloma, her pretty sister sat in the corner with her and spent the better part of her time feeding her newly wed husband. Of course the were the butt of most of the jokes. Not like she minded one bit.
Towards the end of the party, her only single Aunt raised her glass to propose a toast to Clarisa.
“We are glad to have all our children complete. My brother, in his hey days, was a phenomenal bachelor!” The entire clan laughed. Clarissa smiles shyly. “If anyone doubts me, then Clarissa is an apparition. Look at her… she is a true blood. She has his careful manners… her eyes dart around restlessly when she’s uncomfortable like his does when he’s wary, she picks her sea food apart like my darling Broda Ugo. And who can deny those thick full lips? Thank goodness hers are more feminine!” Her step mother’s laughter was the loudest.
“Obi’m was a ladies man in all respects o!”
“Sister, I no follow u contest am!” her aunt continued. “But we thank God that she took only his graces!” she laughed
“Yes o, no one took dad’s bad habits!” quipped her youngest half brother.
“Like the way he scratches the back of his ears when he’s getting tired”. Clarissa quickly dropped her hands from her left ear.
“Or the way he turns his feet awkwardly to face themselves when he’s had too much too eat!” Clarissa dropped her feet on the ground and looked around to see if anyone noticed.
“Or… or… the way he laughs in silent mode when he thinks the joke is too funny…”
By this time, Clarissa was in stitches. Try as she could, her laughter couldn’t find voice. She could not remember the last time she laughed like that. It bubbled from the deep recesses of her tummy. Maybe because she was too full, her manners were presently covered in curry soup and finger foods. To her horror, in a bid to give voice to the laugh, the dreaded sound came out.
The table went silent. She wanted to disappear under the table. This was the reason why she never laughed hard in public. The stigma that followed her all through junior high was still too fresh in her memory. Suddenly someone said:
“Kai! She snorts like Uncle G too!”
The entire clan burst loud hearty laughter. It was settled then! Their daughter had come home. She had brought their brother alive again. She took the best of his best and the worst of his worst! It was a blessed combination! They took turns in hugging her during the toast, their formal welcome to the Clan.
Clarissa wiped tears from her eyes as she moved from hug to hug. This was it, the homecoming.