Chapter One: Ifunanya
Frederick Peterson was nine years old. He had soft knees, dark eyes with a well-shaped nose, and cropped dark hair. Their house had this lonely feeling about it because Mr. Peterson was never around, and Mrs. Peterson was always in the saloon. Frederick spent most of the time with his nanny Morgan, who wasn’t really funny. He had no friends except Nwakaego, the daughter of the Udojis, and she had traveled to Nigeria for the holidays.
Frederick lived in Tampa Bay, Florida. He had always wanted to travel to Nigeria but his father never let him. He envied Nwakaego anytime she told him some of the stories the village elders had told her.
“It’s usually at night,” Nwakaego would say. “In the center of the compound, and mama would tell us a lot of stories.” She also told him that she used to farm, and it was fun to watch the villagers scream when a large snake appeared in the farm, and it was even funnier, when the men tried to kill it.
It was as a result of this that Frederick was good at imagining things. He sometimes pretended that there was another world under his bed, and at night he would go under there and talk to invisible people. It had been very bad at the age of seven. So bad that he had broken his arm while pretending he could fly.
Mr. Peterson did not like this about Frederick and so wasn’t very proud of him. His idea of being a boy was completely opposite to Frederick’s behavior. For example, Frederick rarely did any sports; he rather spent his time making up stories, and playing with Nwakaego his best friend.
Frederick looked at the clock; that cold evening, it was almost nine o’clock, Nwakaego would not be arriving anytime soon at the airport. He would have loved to go to the airport but there was nobody to take him.
He wondered if she had done the holiday English assignment: An essay on your culture and tradition. In fact, that was one of the reasons why Nwakaego had traveled to Nigeria in the first place. He wondered why his father never wanted him to go to his own country. Were people really that bad in Nigeria, did they actually practice dark magic there? If all these were true, how come Nwakaego‘s parents let her go all the time?
He looked at the time again, four hours before she would land in America. He needed to do something to make the time rush by. He began to empty his cupboard; he was going to pretend that he was being attacked, and the cupboard was an escape route to a secret world. Yes, as he pushed the clothes and scattered the room about, someone knocked on the door.
‘Nanny Morgan is that you?’ he asked, half scared. If his father saw his room in this state, it would mean trouble.
‘Yes Fred,’ nanny Morgan answered. ‘Open the door, your father will soon be back.’
Frederick sighed, and opened the door to let Nanny Morgan in.
‘What have you been doing?’ she gasped, staring around at the messy room. ‘Your father will be back any minute, we better start arranging.’
She helped him arrange the room, and put him to bed. Frederick asked her to read him a story from one of his books. She took out the storybook about a copper bucket, and read it to Frederick. It wasn’t as interesting as Nwakaego’s folktales, but it was worth it. He slept off later, and Nanny Morgan left him to tidy the rest of the house.
As he slept, he dreamt of a girl with large elephant ears, and she was flying around with it. He held unto her legs, and she flew him round too. Before he realized it, the next morning came, and he had to prepare for school.
Mrs. Peterson stopped at Nwakaego’s to pick her too because they both went to the same school. Frederick beamed when he saw Nwakaego come out from her house. She had a very strange hairstyle on today. Her hair was wrapped with tiny black threads, making it stand on end. She then rubbed black eye-pencil on her lips and eye lashes. She bathed her eyelid when she saw Frederick, and smiled.
‘What’s with the hairdo?’
‘Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten already,’ said Nwakaego in a tone of surprise. ‘Our heritage assignment, I had already done mine since of course, but when I went to Nigeria and saw lots of other things, I decided to rewrite it.’ She brandished her essay book at Frederick, and his face sank. ‘Hi Mrs. Peterson.’
‘How are you dear?’ replied Mrs. Peterson. ‘You should have asked your father for help on your essay Fred.’ she added, as they drove.
Of course Nwakaego’s work always had to be perfect. She usually over-did her assignments, which Frederick found annoying. She was a very playful girl, yet she always did well in class. She had been the best student for two years running now.
‘I could help you with another one now,’ she offered.
‘No thanks,’ said Frederick, taking out a pen and paper. Mrs. Peterson’s mind was on the road, she wasn’t listening to what the two were discussing anymore. ‘I’ll do mine now.’
Frederickwasn’t sure about what he wanted to write, but he knew he had to write something. He would make something up if he had to.
‘You don’t even know anything about Nigeria,’ Nwakaego told him. ‘Let me help you.’
‘Who told you I was writing anything about Nigeria?’ replied Frederick. He turned around to take Nwakaego’s book, but she took it away from his reach.
‘You’re from Africa not America,’ Nwakaego told him. ‘You’ll lose a lot of marks. Don’t be such an èwu.’
Even if Frederick Didn’t really know how to speak Ibo, he knew what ‘ewu’ meant.
‘I don’t blame you,’ he said indignantly. ‘You’re the goat.’
Nwakaego laughed, and the car stopped. She always felt very happy when she got to school, contrary to the way Frederick felt.
Frederick hated school, and it wasn’t because he didn’t like learning, but it was because of the people in it. His classmates were a bit bigger than him, and they always bullied him, or laughed at him. Nwakaego tried to defend him at times, but he didn’t like the idea of a girl standing up for him. Imagine if his father got wind of that?
‘I hope we’ve all put away all our lazy attitudes this term,’ Miss Hatchet, the English Teacher said that morning. ‘I hope we are all ready with our essays on our heritage,’ she paused.Frederick was scribbling down something really quickly on his notepad, and was distracting her. If there was one thing she hated, it was her pupils doing something else while she was talking. ‘Hem hem,’ she cleared her throat.
‘When was America discovered?’Frederickwhispered to himself, unaware that everyone was staring at him. ‘Yes, nineteen sixty-two, I hope it’s a lucky guess, and I think it’s the biggest continent, with twenty countries- Oh Asia is the biggest rather – whatever, at least I tried.’ He dotted his last sentence, and looked at Nwakaego. She was shaking her head disappointedly, while Miss Hatchet walked to him and pulled him by the ears in front of the class.
The class boys and girls found this amusing. They laughed at him, and Nwakaego, who didn’t want to be told off for standing up for him, just kept quiet and watched, as Miss Hatchet spankedFrederickand told him to read out his essay.
‘I wrote about America,’ he said timidly.
‘Are you fromAmerica?’ interrupted one of the students.
‘That’s enough, Cynthia,’ replied Miss Hatchet. She turned to Frederick.