…“My favourite girls, come along”, Uncle Alex said as he put his arms around Precious and I. We went outside the house and Uncle Alex ate his meal under the star-rimmed sky.
The next day was Christmas and everyone had already woken up before I opened my eyes. Even Precious was outside; standing beside the boy that was killing the goat and offering no help except her incessant chatter.
I saw Mum in the backyard kitchen with other women cooking the food. She still had that dour expression on her face. She always looked that way in the mornings after her fights with Dad. I had often wondered what they fought so much about. I had heard them last night as I passed outside their door. I couldn’t make out what they were saying outside the closed door but from the tone of their voices, I knew they were very miffed with each other. I quickly moved to my room before the beating and screaming started. I secretly wondered if Mum enjoyed being bashed and boxed and why she always hid her bruises from sight.
Dad was sitting under the mango tree with some village men already drinking palm-wine in the early hours of the morning. They were laughing raucously at their own jokes.
The whole house was so rowdy throughout the day. I almost resented the unrelenting stream of visitors that kept pouring in with gleeful shouts of – ‘Merry Christmas’ and wolfing down the rice and goat meat. So, I breathed a sigh of relief when nightfall came and all the visitors had left.
I had not seen much of Uncle Alex during the day as he had gone out with his childhood friends. So, I went into the house to look for him. I found him on the veranda upstairs with Aunty Linda and she was laughing at something he was saying. I just stayed in the shadows because I didn’t want to interrupt their conversation.
All of a sudden, I heard bounding footsteps behind me and Uncle Chidi swept past me in a huff. He rushed at Uncle Alex; holding him up with his neck and choking him.
“Isn’t once enough for you, ehn? You want to take this one too? I will kill you first before you humiliate me again!”
I had run down the stairs screaming – ‘Daddy! Daddy!’
Dad and Uncle Femi had rushed up the steps two at a time and reached upstairs panting to separate both of them.
“I told you to stay away from trouble Alex”, Dad said angrily.
“But I didn’t do anything wrong. I was just talking with Linda here and he came charging; almost choking me to death!”
Uncle Chidi was sweating profusely and he almost broke loose from Uncle Femi to attack again. Aunty Linda kept looking confusedly from one brother to another. It was clear she didn’t understand what was happening.
“Chidi, you have to calm down. He is still your brother and you have to forget the past, biko!” Dad implored.
“Forget!” Uncle Chidi emphasised meaningfully and left the scene with his wife.
When they had all left, I remained with Uncle Alex on the veranda.
“Uncle Alex, what happened between you and Uncle Chidi?” I had questioned.
He looked at me squarely in the face. “I will tell you the truth frankly as I have always done, Ngo.” He said, lacing his fingers through mine.
“It happened some years back and I was still at the university then. I came to the village on holiday and Chidi brought his fiancée, Kate home with him. I got back home late one night and I met her lying on my bed. She told me she wanted real action. I consented and we continued in the act until we were caught at it. I’m not proud of what happened and I regret it because I betrayed my brother. Chidi has never forgiven me since then.” He finished gravely.
“Oh! I see” I said, thinking with surprise that my family also had such dark stories of illicit ranking.
When I told Precious about the incident, she laughed out loud.
“Why are you laughing?” I had asked angrily. “It’s not a funny story”.
“Oh! I’m sorry. It’s just ridiculous. I guess I now know why Aunty Linda cannot get pregnant”, she smirked
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“Why are you so dull, Ngozi? Can’t you see the obvious? Uncle Chidi is impotent!”
The realisation hit me hard in the face.
“And can you imagine the unjust torture Nnene has been giving Aunty Linda, when it’s her son’s fault that they don’t have children!” I retorted angrily.
I fell asleep very angry that night but I didn’t find any suitable means of expressing it.
The next day; the Boxing Day, Uncle Chidi left with Aunty Linda disregarding Dad’s entreaties.
Mum had an exultant look on her face. She was happy everything was going wrong because she had never supported the idea of coming to Ochara in the first place. She had plans with her friends in Lagos and she resented Dad for taking her away.
“What a family!” Mum muttered.
“What do you mean ehn? Oby! Dad asked, standing over her.
I looked on scared, thinking he was going to hit her. But I needed not to have been afraid because he never hits her in public – theirs is a private bad marriage.
“Nothing”, she replied with a mocking smile and turned away. Dad just walked off in anger.
The rest of the day turned out to be very boring because Precious had gone off with some village girls in the morning. They had asked me to come along with them but I had declined.
I was much relieved when Uncle Alex came back from visiting his friends and I tried to make him change his mind about leaving the next day.
“Nobody really wants me here except you and the other kids,” Uncle Alex said.
I was very sad that he wouldn’t be staying for the New Year. Uncle Alex tried to enliven me by telling me funny stories until I forgot my disappointment. I hugged him tight as I stood up to go to bed that night.
When I opened the door, the room was pitch black and I fumbled about in the darkness for a candle and matches. I heard some movements on the bed and I called out – ‘Precious, is that you?’ I received the biggest shock of my life when I lit the candle and raised it up. Precious was lying stark naked on the bed and a boy was right on top of her. She opened her eyes languidly and looked at me.
“Why are you standing there with your mouth open? Do you want to join us?” Precious said, winking at me.
I dropped the candle on the floor and bolted out of the room.
I was still sitting on the back steps when I heard Aunty Nkiru open the door of her room.
“I’m going to check on Precious. I haven’t seen her since morning”. She was saying to Uncle Femi.
The alarm went off in my head but it was too late to go and warn them. So, I just waited; expecting the explosion.
Aunty Nkiru screamed so loudly; enough to wake up the dead that everyone came rushing out of their rooms. I was forced to leave my hiding place so as not to make my absence conspicuous. The boy had escaped quickly and I had recognised him as Uche; the boy that killed the goat on Christmas day.
Aunty Nkiru was sitting on Precious and boxing her ears. “So you want to bring shame on me, ehn? I will kill you first, you hear!” she screamed frenzied.
Uncle Femi was trying to pull her off Precious and he was saying – “It’s ok, honey. It’s enough”. I wondered how he managed such calmness in messy situations.
Then, Aunty Nkiru suddenly noticed me and she reacted by pouncing on me; giving me a stinging slap on my cheek. “So, you are her partner in crime? You were waiting for your turn abi? I’m sure you were the one who went to call the boy”. She said dragging me by my ear.
Mum attacked Aunty Nkiru from behind; pulling at her hair and raining insults on her.
“It’s your Precious that is wayward. I train my own children well. I’m not surprised, since they said you were jumping into different men’s beds in school” Mum shouted.
They rolled on the floor; scratching and slapping each other. To my utmost surprise, Dad turned on his heel and went back into his room; leaving Uncle Alex, Uncle Femi and Nnene to disentangle them.
The next day, Aunty Nkiru banged on the door early in the morning; telling Precious to pack her things fast or she would be left in the village. Precious had taken her time to get dressed and pack her things. I felt sorry for her but she showed no sign of remorse as she beamed at me.
“We’ll see very soon” Precious said and waved bye-bye.
Uncle Alex also left that morning and the house became very quiet except for Nnene who wept piteously in the corner of the living room. I guessed she was sorry for the posterity that had come out of her, maybe believing it was her fault they had turned out this way.
I saw Mum carrying her box down the stairs and I asked her in surprise if we were already leaving. She looked at me funnily as if I was crazy.
“We came to the village for a family reunion but do you see any sign of a family here? Ehn! Answer me? You had better go and pack your things or I will leave you in this God-forsaken place!” I stood rooted in a place; dumbfounded. I had never seen Mum talk with such gusto and confidence before.
“Mum, is Dad ready to leave?” I asked
“He can stay if he likes but I’m leaving right now! I will walk all the way to Lagos if I have to”. I blinked rapidly to check if I was dreaming. Mum had never openly defied Dad to his face or in front of us. I watched as my brothers loaded their bags in the boot. Dad looked fatigued as he drove us home that day and Mum grinned triumphantly throughout the journey.
The silence prevailed for almost two weeks after we got back home and they didn’t even talk on New Year’s Day; but when it was finally broken, I noticed a new phase had started in their relationship.
I have so many doubts about uniting my fate with a man for better and for worse. I am scared of marrying into a dysfunctional family like mine. What if Dele becomes a wife-beater like Dad? What if my in-laws are a bickering lot of people? But I realise I can’t run away from it for too long. However, I’m sure of one thing – I will never stay complacent in an abusive marriage.
I know Dad is going to throw a tantrum when I introduce Dele to him – “Another Yoruba in the family!” and I can almost hear the voices of my uncles in my head, calling him ‘Ngbati Ngbati man’.
I know in the end, they will allow me to make my choice because Dad has always prided himself as being a new age man who gives room for change and radicalism. And he will not want to be dubbed a tribalist. As for my Mum, she will just smile gently and say – “I hope he makes you happy”.
My phone started ringing, interrupting my deluge of thoughts.
“Hello!” I said cheerily into the phone.
“I’m sorry for leaving you angrily. Please forgive me my love. How about a night out with me tomorrow’s evening to make it up to you? Dele asked over the line.
“That will be so sweet”, I answered with enthusiasm.
“O.K. I’ll pick you up at Seven P.M. I love you Ngozi”
“I love you so much more”, I replied with a laugh and placed the phone down.
Maybe there will be a romantic proposal with candle lights and ice cream enshrouding a ring after all! Maybe I will have a mouth-watering tale to tell my friends. Maybe I can just hear wedding bells tinkling in the near distance. Maybe, I’m ready to take employment in the enterprise of marriage but I do hope I wouldn’t have to work without pay.