I did not even know we had a visitor until I heard Nnamdi shout, “Uncle Henry!” just before jumping on him.
“Eh, see this boy o, Brother Chika. He wants to knock me down,” said Uncle Henry laughing, and setting Nnamdi down.
“Don’t mind him, Henry,” said my father who was alarmed at all the commotion, but relaxed when he stepped into the sitting room and saw his brother. “He has forgotten he’s a big boy now.”
“–And very heavy too. Chai! Between Nnamdi and a bag of rice, I wonder which one is heavier. And he doesn’t look it. So lanky,” said Uncle Henry shaking his head in disbelief.
“Dense bones, Henry,” said my father, patting Nnamdi on the shoulder, “just like you and me.”
I had fallen asleep on the sofa, and it was Nnamdi’s shout that had roused me from my slumber. I heard this conversation as if through a haze, but by the time Uncle Henry got to me, the sleep had cleared from my eyes.
If there was any sleep that still clung to my eyelids, Uncle Henry ensured that it completely vanished as he came up to me where I lay, propped up on one elbow, wiping my eyes with the back of one hand, and tickled me.
I laughed so hard, gas escaped from my derriere. Uncle Henry suspended his tickling, and I opened my mouth to give the answer nobody had asked of me:
“I ate egg this morning, Uncle. Sorry,” I said in a guilt-ridden tone.
Uncle Henry chuckled, and my father immediately sent me on an errand.
“Ezekiel, go and get Coke for your uncle.”
“–And some water, too,” added Uncle Henry, clearing his throat right after his request as if a dry throat was the only tool one could use to get water.
As I got up to obey, I heard Uncle Henry tell my father that he needed to discuss something important with him.
What could Uncle Henry have to talk about that brought him to our house on a Friday evening?
If there was ever any day of the week when we were least likely to see Uncle Henry, it was Friday. Being the social butterfly that he was, he constantly had one social engagement or the other which took up his Friday evenings.
So, his visit that evening was truly a surprise.
After returning with his glass of cold water and bottle of coke, I went to fetch a bottle opener from the kitchen. On my way, I almost collided with Nnamdi who had gone to the backyard to retrieve some of my mother’s clothes from the clothes line, including a scarf, which had been hung to dry.
He had apparently been on his way there when Uncle Henry knocked on the door. Once he got the clothes, he disappeared into my mother’s room with them.
A few moments later, my mother emerged, followed by Nnamdi. She wore an orange and green tie and dye boubou, something she would never wear outside our home, and her hair was wrapped in the same black and white floral patterned satin scarf that Nnamdi had just brought in from the clothes line.
She had just loosened the braids she wore to my school that afternoon, and was about to shampoo her hair when Uncle Henry showed up.
On sighting her, he greeted her warmly, and she returned his greeting.
She was about to leave them when my father called out to her:
“Mama Nnamdi, please join us. Henry has something to discuss with us.”
My mother looked puzzled. Usually, when Uncle Henry came to visit, he was content to spend the time, almost exclusively with my father. He only involved my mother in very serious discussions.
“Ehen? Hope there’s no problem o?” said my mother, as she took a seat beside my father, simultaneously tightening the knot that bound the scarf to her head. I could imagine what she was thinking as it was what she often mumbled to herself where her scarf was concerned.
Let this scarf not come and disgrace me today.
But she did not say this aloud. Instead my father replied her question with a firm, “No.” Then Uncle Henry took it one step further.
“No, Sister Chioma. There’s no problem. It’s just –” he began, but halted when he saw my father’s upraised hand, bidding him to hold his tongue. Then, my father turned to me and ordered:
“Ezekiel, go to your room now, and tell Nnamdi to stay there too.”
I got up and left, wondering what was so special about this visit that I was not allowed to sit and listen.
So, I dragged my feet noisily to the room I shared with Nnamdi, and told him what my father had said.
Then, I tiptoed back to the entrance of the sitting room, which was always open, hidden from view by a tall, green, plastic potted plant, which coincidentally, I had begged my mother to throw away the week before, because according to me, it served no purpose in our house.
Her response was swift.
“Leave my plant alone! You hear me? When you build your own house, you can decorate it anyhow you like. But in my house, you don’t tell me what to do. Are we clear?”
With those words, that plant survived and lived to see another day. Many more, in fact.
It was the same plant which now aided me as I listened to one of the most memorable conversations I had ever eavesdropped on in my life.
Uncle Henry kicked off the discussion as soon as he heard the door of my bedroom slam shut.
“Brother Chika, Sister Chioma, I’m getting married!” said Uncle Henry his voice trembling with excitement.
“Ehn?” said my mother in shock.
“What?!” said my father, just as shocked as my mother.
But he took his question one step further when he added,
“Come on, Brother. Who else? The girl I’ve been telling you about now … Sister Chioma, you even took us to her house the other day. It’s Cordelia … Or Miss Agbo, as you people call her.”
My mother was still shocked, but she managed to say:
“I never thought that Henry would marry a school teacher.”
Uncle Henry stiffened and the smile faded away rapidly from his face.
“Sister Chioma, what do you mean? Is there anything wrong with being a school teacher?” he demanded.
“Henry, watch your tone with my wife,” my father growled. Uncle Henry got the message and adjusted accordingly.
“Sorry, Sister Chioma. It’s just that … I-I thought you liked her. But from what you just said, it seems–”
“Well, I liked her … Until this afternoon when she didn’t give my son the score he deserved for some yeye reason. Otherwise, to answer you Henry, No, there’s nothing wrong with being a school teacher. Abi she no go school?”
“Ahn ahn, Sister Chioma! Cordelia is a university graduate now,” said Uncle Henry leaning back in his seat.
My father turned to my mother and said in a lowered voice:
“Chioma, I thought we had settled this report card matter. What is it again?”
“You had, but not me. A mother never forgets things like this,” said my mother arms folded across her chest, lips pursed.
“Okay, don’t forget then. But forgive and move on, at least,” my father pleaded.
“Ehn, sorry to interrupt o, but isn’t this about me and Cordelia? How did it turn to Ezekiel’s report card?” said Uncle Henry who in spite of my father lowering his voice had heard what had transpired between husband and wife.
That was when my father explained all that had happened in my class that afternoon.
“Bravo! Bravo! That’s my girl!” said Uncle Henry, clapping for joy when my father finished narrating the afternoon’s episode.
My parents looked surprised.
“Ahn ahn, Henry, why are you hailing her? Don’t tell me you’re supporting her?” said my mother.
Uncle Henry could see that this issue agitated my mother and so he chose his words carefully.
“Sister Chioma, it’s not like that,” he started in a gentle tone. “It’s not even about Ezekiel or his report card. You know she briefly mentioned all this to me, but didn’t go into details. For me, it’s the principle that matters. I know Cordelia. She would’ve done the same to any other child.”
I almost coughed where I stood as I recalled the times when Miss Agbo’s judgment had been called into question, especially where those lousy twins were concerned. But when I looked past these isolated incidents, I realized that what Uncle Henry was saying was true. Certainly, no one was perfect, but Miss Agbo was a principled person. Even I knew that.
“Alright, Henry. Let’s leave this report card matter alone. Chioma, are we agreed?” said my father, turning to face my mother.
She nodded stiffly.
“Good,” said my father. “Now, I never met Miss Agbo until this afternoon. Between you and my wife, you people have had more interactions with her and would know her better. I already have an idea of what you think of her, Henry, but let’s hear from Mama Nnamdi. What do you think?”
Rather reluctantly, my mother replied:
“Okay, aside from the report card matter, I think she’s okay. She’s respectful, diligent, loyal, considerate–” began my mother.
“Ah, Sister Chioma! All these adjectives you’re just dashing her … Miss Agbo has definitely rubbed off on you,” said Uncle Henry grinning.
The company of three roared with laughter. But when it subsided, my father raised a very important issue.
“Henry, I know you’re old enough to get married. But do you really know this girl? How long have you been together?”
“That’s a good point, Papa Nnamdi. She just left that her boyfriend, Titus when? And you people somehow started going out. Now, marriage. Why the rush?”
Uncle Henry smiled and said:
“There’s no rush. At all, at all. It’s just that–” and here, he paused briefly as if gathering strength to power his next statement, “–I’m ready. When your heart has found that person, you just know. Am I not the same person who has been dating all sorts of girls all these years? But I have never said I wanted to marry any of them. With Cordelia, it’s different. I feel like a naughty school boy when I’m with her,” said Uncle Henry with a wistful look in his eyes.
My parents chuckled and pointed at him before laughing together.
Uncle Henry laughed too, a very light-hearted laugh before he continued.
“See you’re laughing at me, but you both know me well. I mean it. Cordelia has changed the way I see life, the way I see myself. I can’t even imagine my life without her. I’m ready for this, and so is she. And … You know we’re not getting any younger. I’m 34. She’s 33. At our age, you can’t expect us to be dating for 2 or 3 years before deciding if our relationship will lead to marriage. Or not. We have already decided. Sister, Brother–” said Uncle Henry, turning first to my mother and then my father, “–I have thought this thing through. If there’s any woman I want by my side for the rest of my life, it’s Cordelia. End of story.”
“In that case, Congratulations, Henry!” said my father, rising to his feet and grasping Uncle Henry’s hand in a warm, handshake before leaning in for a macho hug, patting him on the back.
Uncle Henry beamed as my mother joined in congratulating him and hugged him too.
I knew what was coming next after the word “Congratulations.” So while they were busy and my parents were making comments on how Miss Agbo would fatten up Uncle Henry and transform his mode of dressing, I took advantage of all the noise and slipped back into my bedroom unnoticed.
Nnamdi took one look at me and shook his head.
“You’re still spying on people ehn? One day, they will catch you and flog you well well.” I ignored him and broke the good news to him well in advance of my parents.
He was dazed and before we could count to ten, we heard my father shout:
“Nnamdi, Ezekiel, come and greet your uncle o!”
Followed by my mother’s separate command,
“–And bring the orange juice from the fridge!”
Since they did not drink alcohol, orange juice was their go-to drink to celebrate special occasions. Uncle Henry’s announcement merited the opening of a carton of orange juice that had been chilling in the fridge.
Nnamdi and I came in and congratulated Uncle Henry on his upcoming nuptials, pretending, of course, as if we just heard this news for the first time.
Then, we took turns bombarding Uncle Henry him with questions ranging from when he would actually marry Miss Agbo to whether their children would be born knowing how to solve mathematical equations or what fractions were.
“I better make that a special prayer point because that will save me a ton of money in school fees,” said Uncle Henry laughing at our questions. “Only God can decide that.”
By the time he left that evening, in spite of all the questions, I still found the whole thing unbelievable: that Uncle Henry was going to marry my class teacher. Who would have thought?
Christmas went by quickly, and the New Year rolled in, full of hope and pregnant with promise.
Starting in January, I began to notice several note-worthy changes in Miss Agbo: she smiled more, laughed more, and was generally more cheerful than she had been in all the time I had known her.
Particularly, on her engagement finger, she wore a beautiful ring which she was always admiring when she thought no one was looking.
Over the next few months, I saw the coming together of two families: Miss Agbo’s family and ours, the Ezekobes. First, came the traditional wedding rites. Sandwiched somewhere in between was a court wedding. Finally there was a glorious white wedding, which we all attended.
That was how Miss Agbo became Mrs. Ezekobe.
We – Nnamdi and I – called her Auntie Cordelia, which seemed strange at first, but we got used to it.
The white wedding took place during the long holidays, after our final term.
So when I started Primary 4 with my new teacher, Mrs. Okanlawon, and she gave us a composition assignment titled “The Day I Will Never Forget,” I knew what my answer would be.
That the day I would never forget was the day my class teacher married my uncle, and became my aunt.
*Image Credit: Madame Noire