The roads became smaller and familiar, I could remember the houses I visited during Christmas for the traditional children dance that my age group did then in exchange for treats, the houses were now old and overgrown with weed and wild flowers, I wondered where the “then” Influential owners were, most of them were government officials that fled the country when they were asked to declare their assets,leaving their properties for nature to thrive on. It then changed from the old tarred roads to a dirt road with puddles and up ahead was my grandfather’s compound, the largest in the village, with a large ‘ube’ tree standing in front of it, the tree was sign of wealth and power and it brought many visitors any time the fruits were harvested. The car drove into the compound and parked beside the ‘obiri’ traditional meeting place, my grand fathers’ was quite different, it was an underground building with stairways leading to the centre, somewhat like a theatre. I got down from my car, there were screams of little children running out of the ‘orokwu’ a large building that was close to where I parked, shouting rhythmically “ obi oyoyo!” I thought it meant “ obi welcome!”, it felt weird as they called me Obi, I had not been called that in a long time.
The chant continued as they came close to me, they brought the smell of roasted ube, hugging me around like as chicks do to their mother.
“obi!! iwe ala”, my grandmother said coming out of the house. She was barely five feet tall, though shrunken with age, she still had these youthful eyes, she could barely walk, her walking stick looked like an artefact, made from polished black wood, and a gold plated handle, with leather tassels at its end.
“mama, owe”, I said grinning, rubbing the head of one of the children as he helped me with my bag,
“your mother told me you’d come”, she said in English, I could still hear bits of the American accent she got from her ten year long ‘omu ngwo’ at my aunts in New York.
“oh, did she?”, I said with disappointing smile, “I wanted it to be a surprise, mama”, I said, after which she grinned, I could see her wonderful set of teeth that browned with age.
“Ngo!! come and greet your uncle!”, she shouted in the native dialect.
A thin voice came from the kitchen amid the loud rumblings of what sounded like kitchen utensils,
Saying, “mama, ai ga bia!”.
My grandmother smiled at me and continued in in her slightly accented English,
“she’s been my maid, for almost a week now”, then the thin voice came from behind me,
“good afternoon, uncle”, I turned and I looked at her, a beautifully radiant girl, that seemed to be in her early twenties, curvy and with a hair that still stood out despite being tied up by an old scarf.
“yeah, good afternoon…Ngozi?”, I said turning my to my grandmother and back to her,
“yes, her name is Ngozi”, my grandmother still grinning even wider now, then she turned to Ngozi and signalled her by eye contact to carry in my luggage to my room, as she bent over to reach for it, I stopped her,
“don’t stress yourself, I know my room”, I said grinning.
“okay uncle” sighing slightly but I could notice, It felt weird as she called me uncle, because I thought I was just about a few years older than her, she then turned and left for the kitchen.
“are you hungry?”, my granny said as she turned to me, she had some kind of a satisfactory smile
“mama, I have to rest”, I laughed “I will eat when I wake up mama” I said grinning.
“ehen eh? Okay o”, my grandmother replied.
The day grew darker and the sun turned redder, it was about twenty minutes past five, the time when children played under the setting sun, fathers returned from their farms, the recurring chant of ‘Nna, oyoyo!!’, from some children I saw through my window as they ran towards the gate to their father reminded me of the injuries I sustained as a child from being trampled on by kids of my age then, as we ran towards my grandfather’s gate to jeer the festive masquerade, I had to nurse those injuries for about a month with intensive care.
“Obi!!”, my grandmother called from the sitting room.
“mama”, I said, coming out of my room.
“come and help me carry my chair outside, let me enjoy this breeze”
“okay mama”, I said going to the veranda that was enclosed with old fancy blocks,
I remembered peering through the little spaces in the blocks when I was younger, to watch my cousins play out in the sand, during my mother’s curfew.
I took out her wooden rest chair out, it was made of woven raffia and bamboo sticks. I placed it close to an overgrown hibiscus bush, at the façade of the house.
“your food will soon be ready”, my granny said as she climbed down the step outside the house.
“go and bring that bench from that corner here”, she said pointing to the where it was. I lifted the bench, I noticed a transparent polythene bag just at the corner, tied up haphazardly, with something that seemed to be rat poison in it, I wondered what it was doing outside but then discarded the thought.
“sit down, let us talk”, my granny said cautiously. I sat down.
“our nye nwali died and is going to be buried this week”, she said, my eyes popped out. I last saw the nye nwali a year before, during his ceremonial tour in the village, he was a young man in his prime, barely forty, he looked strong and vibrant.
“ah mama, how did he die?”, I asked curiously.
“his doctor said he died from poison, chi m o!! who would have poisoned him o!!”, my grand mother exclaimed feebly.
“wicked people that pretended to be his friends”, I answered her in my thoughts.
“mama when did he die?”, I asked after a long thought.
“emm, almost two weeks now”, she replied me still in grief.
“strange”, I said in bewilderment.
“even stranger things have been happening since people started coming back home from the city”, she said.
“Chief Nwokoye too,they said he slept and never woke up”, she said in whisper.
“ah, Jesus Christ!!”, I said in more bewilderment.
“it was his daughter’s introduction, Ngozi and I even visited the family then”, she continued .
“ah, when did this one happen”, I asked pensively.
“few days before you came oh”, she replied shaking her head.
“mama, the food is ready”, Ngozi said in the native dialect as she came out of the house.
“serve Obi’s own and cover it”, she replied her in the dialect.
The sun had completely vanished and the stars started taking control of the sky, it was dark, the mosquitoes had made my hands busy, I was starting to feel frustrated.
“you should stay in the house, for the next 3 days”, my granny said.
“why mama”, I asked in confusion.
“they said they need seven heads to bury the nye nwali”, she replied me whispering.
My eyes popped out in bewilderment, “seven heads?!” I exclaimed.
“owe, just be indoors to avoid problems”, she replied me in the native dialect.
“i should have just come next week”, I thought to myself.
“Ngua nu, go and eat your food before it gets cold”
“ok, mama”, I said as I stood up to carry the bench to put it back in place.
“no, leave it”, she stopped me, “somebody is coming to see me” she added.
As I laid on my soft bed, I had slight pains from having over eaten the delicious meal that night, it was my favourite, otara and ohwor soup, I was sure my mother had told my grandmother what to welcome me with.
The thoughts from the discussion I had earlier with my grandmother troubled me, my mother’s village seemed peaceful and serene, not the way my grandmother had painted it to be with what had been happening recently, one would think that there were perpetrators, but concluding so soon would be illogical. The distant voices of my grand mother and her friend then drove me to sleep.
It was Sunday, three days later, so my curfew was broken. I woke up early and prepared for church, I got to the sitting room and sat down on the long couch, waiting for my breakfast, then my grandmother came out from her room dressed beautifully in her traditional attire, walking frailly, with her walking stick, she smiled at me with amusement.
“good morning mama”, I said with a slight curt.
“yes, good morning”, she replied still smiling.
“where are are you going?”, she asked
“to church mama”, I replied wondering why she asked me that, it was rather obvious.
“all the churches in the village won’t open, the nye nwali’s burial is today”, she said
“oh, mama I didn’t know”, I said in disappointment.
“it is okay, we are harvesting the ube this evening”, my granny said further.
“ok, mama”, I replied.
“so eat and help Ngozi with the house work, nnu go?”, she said, “where is she, I am already late”, she said further.
“mama I am here”, Ngozi said as she came in from the living area with my breakfast, looking more beautiful than the first time I saw her, though she had the same head tie on, “good morning” she said with a slight kneel as looked at me, after which I nodded back at her with a smile.
“you will make okazi soup this evening, nnu go?”, my grandmother said with a stern look at Ngozi.
“ don’t make it to watery, I will have visitors from the palace”, she added.
“mama owe”, Ngozi said kneeling slightly.
My grandmother turned and started walking slowly out of the house, Ngozi helped the with her bag and she also leaned on Ngozi for support.
When my grandmother had gone and I had finished my breakfast, Ngozi came back into the house and picked up a broom at the verandah and started sweeping the concrete floor roughly, I stood up ans went to where she was and stopped her, “let me sweep, you go inside and clear the dishes”, I said smiling.
“okay”, she said, handing the broom to me.
I swept the verandah thoroughly and cleared the cobwebs, I went outside to do the same, then I noticed the polythene bag I saw three days earlier wasn’t there, while trying to arrange the long bench, “maybe Ngozi must have taken it away”,I thought
After having my lunch, it was about 4:30 pm and the harvesters came in front of the gate where the tree was with long sickles, machetes and long sacks. The harvesting went on for close to thirty minutes, I watched the skilful way that the men climbed up and down from the tree, the way they swung from branch to branch, as though they had mastered the tree after years of practice.
It continued for an hour further, their bags were full of the ‘ube’. The kids at the mouth of the tree cheered on the harvesters as fruit after fruit rained down from the tree and they engaged in a little game on who would catch the most fruits.
I sat down at the gate watching this scene play out, forgetting all essence of time. At that moment, i wished i was an artist so i could be able to capture that scene on paper. I took a deep breath and sighed. I was jolted out of my reverie when i felt a hand on my shoulder.
I looked up and saw Ngozi and placed a puzzled look on my face. She then explained that my grandmother had been calling me for a while now and since i did not answer, she came to look for me. I stood up, dusted myself and went inside to my grandmother’s room.
Mama, i said, as i opened the door to her room, she raised her head up from her tablet and looked at me. ‘Where were you’? i was watching the harvest, i replied, with a faraway look in my eyes. My grand mom nodded and smiled. It’s alright, she said. Go and prepare yourself for our visitors.
Okay, i said and left the room.
I went back outside to watch the harvest but they were done with it. The people around were engrossed in the sharing of the fruits while the harvesters were resting at the base of the tree. I went back inside to freshen up. As i passed the kitchen, I perceived the scent of the boiled ube. Unable to resist the scent, I entered into the kitchen to cart away one of the fruits. I picked up the spoon beside the pot and used it to remove one of the fruits. The scent was so lovely and i moved the fruit closer to my mouth as i decided to take a bite there in the kitchen.
“Stop!!” The fruit dropped to the ground as i turned around and saw Ngozi with a shocked look on her face. “Have you eaten out of it?”, she asked. I shook my head. She sighed in relief as i bent down to pick the fruit. Will you help me watch the fruits while i go and change? No problem, i answered. As she turned and walked out of the kitchen, i found myself watching the swaying motion of her backside. As she reached the door of the kitchen, She suddenly turned back and caught me staring. I looked up to meet her eyes and she giggled and left.
When the fruits were boiled to my satisfaction, i put off the stove and went to the parlour where i met my grandmother. I was just about to call you, she said. I took a seat in the parlour and began to surf the net on my phone.
A few minutes later, our visitors, five chiefs from the palace arrived. My grandmother welcomed them, as i stood up. Iwe ala, they asked me. Owe, i responded in the customary greeting. I went inside to my room and left the elders to do their talking. Few minutes later, i was asleep. I dreamt about Ngozi.
I woke up unaware of the time; i checked my phone and saw the time was 5.30am. i was surprised that i slept so long and that no one woke me up for supper. I decided to get up and take my bath. As i stepped out of my room, i saw Ngozi coming out of the bathroom with only a towel wrapped around her. Good morning, uncle, she stammered, embarrassed. I didn’t know that anyone was awake. I told her it was okay and responded to her greeting. I finished taking my bath and went back to my room and after a few minutes of reading a book, i dozed off.
I awoke to the sound of screaming. I stepped out of my room and went to the parlour where i met a crowd of people weeping uncontrollably and my grandmother in the centre of it all. I sighted Ngozi, went to meet her and asked her what was wrong and she told me in tears that three of the chiefs who visited us had died in their sleep. I was quite flabbergasted. I began to wonder what atrocity the people of the village had committed recently that had caused this number of deaths. I quietly went back to my room to avoid engaging with the throng of weeping people that were around. Soon, the crying died down and i overheard them saying they were going to the palace.
There was a knock on my door and i heard Ngozi saying that my grandmother wants me to follow them to the palace. I groaned and stood up from my bed, got dressed and came out. The palace was quite far from our compound and we soon got there. We entered the meeting grounds in the palace and waited for the new king to arrive. The king’s praise singers began to sing and soon the king entered the grounds. After he took his seat, the singing stopped. We all hailed the king and he responded. Then he began to talk about the chiefs, about their lives and all they had done for the village. He reminded us of the deaths that had happened before and promised that he would do everything in his power as king to stop the deaths. He assured us that they would get to the bottom of the issue and if their deaths were caused by someone, justice would be duly served. Then after hours meeting ended. As we were returning home, i overheard someone saying he believes my grandmother was responsible for the deaths. I turned around but i could not find the person who said it. I asked my grandmother if she heard anything and she shook her head and we continued home in silence.
“you are a wicked witch!!”, a woman shouted as she stumbled out in sorrow, she was probably the
Wife of one of the deceased chiefs.
“my friend, I can never do anything like that, believe me”, my grandmother said in the native dialect frailly, the wailing continued till it became distant.
As we journeyed home the thoughts from that day flooded my mind, I remembered my encounter with Ngozi in the kitchen, “did she know?”, I thought to my self, in the midst of my thoughts I looked at her, she seemed to be absent minded and was kicking stones playfully, “wasn’t she touched?”
We got home tired and weary, it was two in the afternoon, the smell of ‘ube’ still stung to the air, making me hungry, but there was no preparation for food due to the situation, my grandmother entered her room, Ngozi stayed in the verandah outside, and I was on the long couch, weak and frustrated, I slept off.
“Obi, Obi!!”, Ngozi said as she woke me up, it was almost dark, the night had turned blustery, the wind entered the house with vigour.
“close the window, your food is almost ready”, she said. I quickly rushed for the old drapes, pulled them down and the shut the louvre blades behind them. I felt like I would burst open with urine, then I ran for the toilet, three doors after the kitchen, I looked in to check on Ngozi, she was bent over preparing the garri. While urinating I was wondering where my grandmother was, it was so strange for her to be outside during this tension period.
I started heading for the sitting room, I couldn’t hear any sounds of clashing kitchen utensils as I did earlier, then I saw my grandmother outside, accompanied by her friend, speaking distantly in the native dialect. I then turned inside the kitchen, then to my amazement, Ngozi was dipping her hand into the a transparent nylon, similar to the one I had seen before, bringing out it’s content and sprinkling it into my grandmother’s dish not even aware of my presence.
“Ngozi”!!!, I shouted, she turned back at me in shock.
“What is that?!!”, I demanded, my grandmother and her friend had come from the verandah
“What is going on here?”, my grandmother asked.
“Mama I saw her sprinkling something inside your dish, and I’ve been asking her what it is”, I answered furiously.
“chi m ooo!! my enemies!!”, my grandmother screamed with her hands on her head, almost collapsing but she was held by her friend, gently reassuring her in the native dialect.
Then I rushed at Ngozi, to my amazement she tried to hit me with a pan which I dodged easily, then I grabbed her by her arm, twisted her arms together to her back like she was a criminal, which she was indeed was, she was a psychotic murderer, although it hadn’t been proven yet.
I dragged her outside, my grandmother and her friend followed, thus a scene was created, cars stopped on the road just to watch, people came out from their houses to catch a glimpse despite the weather, she was rolling on the floor after I pinned her down, people were begging, there were even shouts of “what did she do”, from the crowd.
A tall muscular man came out of the crowd with three men behind him, he was the youth head of the village, he demanded to know what was going on, after which I told him, his eyes popped wide open,
“we need to take her to the nye nwali’s palace”, he said in his heavily accented English. I agreed
The young men then dragged her away to the palace, I followed them with haste.
The verdict passed by the nye nwali was that she was to be handed to the police immediately, after which a police truck came in with it’s blasting sirens, a police officer came down said the necessary and then handcuffed her, she was put into the van and taken away.
I watched the van drive off wondering in my head why such a beautiful young woman would turn out to be a devil, “people aren’t what they seem” I thought to my self.