We greeted you with no kola at the door
And stammered at your steely insistence
As you laughed, loud reports of thunder and fire
You engulfed us in blackish vapours of corruption
Ours, a million sorrows forever
She woke from a dream about an old traditional dance of her childhood.
It had been a vivid dream of depthless, heart-swelling joy and merriment; how she had danced with unfettered energy and abandon, the hand-held wooden clappers smacking together repeatedly in a jaunty and infectious rhythm.
Now her spirit had returned, the dream was puzzling to think of, considering the Uko dance was only for young children; young children dressed like old women.
She smiled to herself, sitting upright in the semi-darkness of the self-contained room she shared with her three children, Odinaka, Nnenna and Akanso; the rasping sound of her movement on the worn raffia mat must have disturbed the sleep of Akanso, her last and only son who would be three in June; he stirred briefly beside her with a groan of complaint and then grunted a tiny snore.
Her lips fluttered in a small prayer of gratitude; a particularly stubborn chesty cough kept him in wide-awake suffering most nights and early mornings, for several weeks now. Every moment he was asleep was a relief.
She had contacted Nna Emeka, the clothes dealer who often travelled from Onitsha to Nyanya to visit his family, and asked him to buy Inyinyi ogwu, a powerful local anti-tussive concoction; he was due that weekend for the Easter celebrations.
She rose quietly, grateful for the cool breeze of dawn sifting through the lone window covered with mosquito net above the sleeping children; Nnenna mentioned the light went off at about four PM the day before and till then, had not returned; someone equally mentioned something about ‘the NEPA people and their ladder’ then, and she wondered if they hadn’t cut the electricity cables again for outstanding bills. Odinaka would have to go and buy some ice-blocks for the drinks in the shop from Oga Rambo later that morning.
She was also concerned the Bugu she bought on Saturday for fresh fish pepper-soup on Good Friday wouldn’t last another day without refrigeration; if the NEPA failure persisted she would be forced to cook the fish earlier than she wanted to – at the risk of Odinaka pilfering a considerable portion of the soup before the festive day itself.
That girl, she wagged her head in disapproval. The first-born who was meant to be an example to the younger ones was at times irresponsible, especially when it came to food.
She treaded cautiously over the motionless bodies on the ground towards the hurricane lamp glowing dully in one corner of the room, and shielded the sudden flare of the lamp with her body when she turned up the yellow flame.
The wall clock besides the wooden wall hangar showed the hour hand on five and the other on eight; it was a good thing there was some leftover yam porridge the children could eat for breakfast; with the business of their breakfast taken care of, she could simply prepare her eggrolls briskly and leave the house on time.
She was almost done vigorously kneading clumps of dough in a wide plastic bowl when the door creaked open.
“Nne, how are you doing?” She said, turned to see Nnenna approaching, tiny fingers partly plastered over her eyes, for the light. “Mummy, good morning.”
“Nne, kedu?” How are you?
“You slept well?”
She returned to her kneading, smiling slightly. It was now the child’s daily ritual, to wake up shortly after she had gone outside to prepare the eggrolls and join her on the veranda, unobtrusive company. Her quiet solidarity was rare in children her age, howbeit reassuring.
She shook the kerosene stove shortly and nodded satisfactorily at its content. In a moment, yellow capped blue flames appeared.
“Mummy I dreamt.”
“Ezi okwu?” Really? She was concealing boiled eggs in mounds of dough now, occasionally tossing small bits of onion into the large frying pan to test how hot the groundnut oil had become.
“I saw masquerades with very white faces.”
Momentarily distracted from shock, she lingered a second too long with a handful of dough poised over the seething groundnut oil, and oily steam scalded the back of her hand.
She hissed in pain, wagging her hand furiously in the air.
“Go inside, Nne.” She said with more asperity than she felt or was necessary. She was suddenly terrified, pissed at the burn and lonely.
Masquerades with very white faces such as the Agbogho Mmuo were spirits of the dead.
Tufiakwa! God forbid.
No one will not die. My enemies will die!
She fumbled mentally for some memorised prayers from the Daily Manna devotional she had gotten from Alice about two months ago, but everything in her head felt befuddled and incomplete at the moment. She would ask Alice for another copy of the devotional again today.
She’d not dreamt when Gab died from food poisoning in 2011; why would it matter now if her dreams reeked of unsavoury premonitions?
His dying had crushed her dreams. It saddled her with much more responsibility than a tautly pregnant twenty-four year old with two children could bear on the proceeds from a small job – that is if selling fermented clumps of ground corn in moin moin leaves was worthy of the name.
But I’m not complaining. My children. I cannot die.
The words coursing through her distraught mind were more of a plea, a prayer than a resolve.
Tears blurred her vision and the moment was briefly as the miracle of five loaves and two fishes, the eggrolls doubling, tripling falteringly before her gaze.
And Jesus blessed her business; he broke the rolls, his fingertips shiny with a patina of groundnut oil.
So she and her faithful ones sold the hungry crowds coke, bread, eggrolls, biscuits, sweets and maybe we’ll start selling fried egg with indomie because they keep asking for food in the morning.
I cannot die. You see, business keeps growing and growing…
She slid one hand into a black polyethylene bag and began to fill her pastry bucket with eggrolls from the sieve.
Soon Odinaka will be able to go back to that Government Secondary School in Garki. Soon we will be talking about University…
She returned to the room for a hurried bath.
We will move into a one-bedroom apartment and use one room as a day care centre. Shei Mama Irabor said she’ll hook me up to plenty people that need day care for their children when I’m ready?
Nnenna was curled up on the ground with one hand under her head for a pillow, tears drying in white lines on her sleeping face and in one second of sheer impulse, she almost stripped her work clothes just there to announce she would not be going out that morning anymore, that one day at the stall with Odinaka wouldn’t hurt anything.
But the temptation passed swiftly. She had long learned reality didn’t dance comfortably to the tune of whims. To miss any day at the bustling Nyanya Motor Park was to forfeit some good profit. The earlier she got there, the better. Then she could return home soon enough to join Odinaka at the stall.
Nnenna sniffed pitifully when she gathered her from the floor briefly in a hug, and whispered: “I’m sorry, Obiomam” My beautiful heart.
Her throat tightened with emotion as the little girl’s hands wrapped securely around her neck.
She gazed with satisfaction at Akanso’s steady breathing and decided not to toe Odinaka awake for last minute instructions at the risk of waking the infant into a fit of crying and wretched coughing.
The time was fifteen minutes past six; she would be at the park in about four minutes if she found an Okada immediately, as she normally did.
She hoisted the bucket of pastries onto her head and left.