Frederick was really shaking, he could barely hold the papers still; if he could only get away from here he was sure everything would be alright, so he closed his eyes. He was really big, strong and intelligent. He pulled Miss Hatchet by her hair, and told all the children off for laughing.
‘We’re waiting,’ said Miss Hatchet, bringing him back to reality.
‘Read what you’ve written at least,’ Nwakaego whispered to him.
Frederick’s hands were shaking; he could barely see the words he had written.
‘Americais a country – I mean continent,’ he added, when Nwakaego shook her head. ‘InAmerica, we have U.S.A, which is where I’m from.’
‘Really,’ cried Willy, a short boy with flyaway hair, in mock awe.
‘But your dad is from Africa,’ added Cindy. ‘You said so yourself.’
‘He’s lying,’ cried Charlotte. ‘Frederick’s a liar.’
‘No I’m not lying,’ he retorted, trying to stop himself from crying.
‘That’s enough,’ cried Miss Hatchet. ‘Go on Fred.’
‘Americawas discovered by-’ he paused, as he tried to hold back his tears. ‘By Chris –Columbus.’
‘Thank you very much Fred,’ Miss Hatchet said disappointedly, pushing him softly back to his seat. She took the essay paper for him, and read it, shaking her head. ‘I see some of us have refused to change,’ she said looking at Frederick. She expected that this term he was going to change and become hardworking. She looked around at the other students, and spotted Nwakaego, who was staring at Frederick, who had his head hidden under his table, probably crying.
‘I suppose your dressing is for a reason,’ she said to her. She couldn’t get too angry with Nwakaego because she was her best student in the class. ‘Miss Udoji, why hasn’t Frederick completed his own assignment? I believe you two come from the same place with very diverse cultures, so why did he decide to write about America? He has not even bothered to get the facts right.’
The students laughed at this, which made Frederick feel much worse.
Nwakaego stood up proudly, scowling at Cynthia and Willy then the rest of the class as she walked up to the front.
‘I am going to talk about the Odu festival of the Ibo women of my tribe,’ she started, opening her book to reveal a lot of photos of women wearing white wrappers with red beads, and wearing large bangles on the wrists and ankles. They had identical hairdos as hers. ‘The white bangles are extremely heavy, and they are made from the finest of elephant tusks…’
And she continued talking for at least ten minutes, before Miss Hatchet called up the next person. ‘Really good, meticulously done,’ Miss Hatchet praised her. ‘I think Frederick could take a leaf from your book. Joshua you’re next.’
‘Why do you always have to show off?’ Frederickwas still angry when they got into the car after classes that day. He slammed the door shut.
‘I don’t understand, what’s that supposed to mean – hi Mrs. Peterson.’
‘What’s going on, how was school?’ replied Mrs. Peterson, barely nodding at Nwakaego. ‘What happened?’
Nwakaego told her everything, but Frederick cut her short with an impression of her explaining why no men were allowed near the area where the Odu festival was held. ‘It’s really sacred; a man can lose his mind if he approaches. I am not going back to that school mum.’
‘Don’t worry it’s going to be all right,’ she assured him.
‘But how!’ Frederick cried. ‘Every time I ask about my background dad never answers me. Are we such nobodies, did we not come from somewhere? Why don’t I have a grandmother to tell me stories?’ He wiped his face, and began sobbing. ‘Those idiots, Joshua, Cindy and even Willy, were laughing at me.’
Mrs. Peterson gave him her hanky.
‘I don’t want the hanky,’ he cried again, pushing it away. ‘I’m – just – tired of every – thing,’ he continued in stammers. ‘Why – doesn’tdaddy – want me to – go to the village? What is he hiding from me? I want to KNOW!’
Frederickhad never been this angry before, and Mrs. Peterson was scared. She turned to look at Nwakaego, who immediately looked the other way pretending to have seen something really interesting outside.
That night, Mrs. Peterson had a long talk with Mr. Peterson.
‘He is only nine; I don’t like to see him like that. He is having an identity crisis.’
‘Identity crisis?’ replied Mr. Peterson with incredulity. He flipped the newspaper to read the back page adverts. ‘Is that what they are calling it these days? My decision is final he is not going anywhere near Africa. I don’t want anybody bewitching my son, neither do I want him catching any disease, and because of what, identity crisis?’ he buried his head in the newspaper.
‘He does not have to go to Africa,’ explained Mrs. Peterson, taking the newspaper away from him so he could look at her. ‘You could invite someone here, perhaps Uncle Bosa or Uche – why yes of course, you could bring your mother here, what better way to make her forget the death of your father.’
‘I will think about it.’
‘Really? I was beginning to wonder if you remembered you had a mother.’
‘Don’t make me change my mind.’
Frederick could not have been happier, all he wanted was something or someone from the village to come and tell him African stories. He always enjoyed Nwakaego’s stories better than the ones Nanny Morgan told him.
If it was this strong wish that caused it, it is not clear, but the instant he closed his eyes to sleep, he heard a muffled yell under his bed, and actually felt someone kick the foam of his bed so that it shook beneath him.
He screamed, and Mrs. Peterson rushed into the room, to find him flashing his torch-light under the bed.
‘What’s wrong honey?’ she asked him, clutching her chest with her right hand. She was sweating on her forehead, but it was nothing compared to Frederick. He was trembling and sweating.
Frederick looked dumbfounded at Mrs. Peterson, and shrugged, barely saying, ‘I don’t know.’
‘But you screamed,’ Mrs. Peterson replied impatiently. She was very tired and sleepy-eyed.
‘Oh leave the kid to sleep,’ came Mr. Peterson’s lazy voice from his room. ‘He was probably imagining he was flying again.’
Mrs. Peterson made for the door, but Frederick pulled her back. ‘Mummy please,’ he pleaded quietly so that Mr. Peterson could not hear. ‘I wasn’t imagining things, someone’s under my bed.’
Mrs. Peterson shook her head tiredly, and sighed. ‘Do you want to come to our room?’
If Frederick wanted to say ‘Yes,’ he did not have time to say it for Mr. Peterson burst into the room with an angry look on his face.
‘Ogini? What is it?’ he asked angrily.
Frederick Knew only too well that whenever his father said something in Ibo, and hastily added the same thing in English, it meant that he was in trouble.
‘Will you go to bed?’ he scolded. ‘Kita – Now!’
Mrs. Peterson quickly tucked him in, as Mr. Peterson waited impatiently at the doorway.
‘Good night,’ came Frederick’s voice hoarsely.
After they bade him good night, Frederick was sure he heard his father say something like ‘He’s nothing like a boy, and did you really have to tuck him in, he is nine?’
His thought was interrupted by the sudden bump on his bed. He held his breath, and hoped that it wouldn’t happen again, but it did.