THE CURIOUS MIND OF A FAMILY MEMBER
The door cracked open like an old man‘s waist when grandma opened it and strolled out into the veranda. It was morning again- it was time for her to sweep the compound with palm fronds. She had a ritual, she would stand by the tree and thank them for yet another morning. Then she would fart three times and the wind would carry it into my nostrils. I almost died but I couldn’t talk, I couldn’t tell grandma that the old farts coming out of her bombom were disastrous. You could hear the funny noise it made as it escaped her shrivelled buttocks.
I had only eaten what was available in the open and I stepped out of her way before she decided my faith that morning. I walked carefuly to avoid being trodden upon. I was insignificant to them, at least I was only a part of the family by extention. My mother had me in her womb when she came to live with them, then a few weeks later she gave birth to me and nursed me.
Some of them accepted us, while some of them couldn‘t wait to get rid of us.
As for me I managed to get by each day and comforted myself with the things that made me happy and went to places I was happy to visit. I was warned not to wander too far away and to always return before six in the evening.
They didn‘t say this in so many words because I couldn‘t understand their language, but I had come to understand their mannerisms. My mother also taught me what to do and showed me the path to tread to avoid punishment. I was usually denied food, but I didn’t mind. I could always eat wherever I went. I only obeyed them because of my mother. I didn’t want them to punish her too, she was old and couldn’t really move around much.
The grandpa of the house walked around with a staff in his hand, he was old, grey and wise. He always sat infront of the compound and quietly sipped his palm wine after he had cleared his throat and muttered some incantation to the gods of the land. I wondered why he bothered to take snuff, seeing how his nose looked as though air was trapped in it.
I jumped at any opportunity to go to the farm because at least I always felt better in the company of fresh leaves and fruits. It didn‘t matter to me that at home sometimes they gave me little or nothing to eat. In the farm I had more than enough. I was the first to spot the fallen fruits. I enjoyed eating the fresh Udara fruit, the mango fruit and the guava that falls in abundance in its season.
Grandpa‘s grandchildren would chase after me and beat me with sticks for eating the fruits whenever we went to the farm together. As if nature reserved it solely for them. For some reason I couldn‘t finish whatever I ate, I always left evidence of whatever I had eaten. It made it easy for them to detect me and curse me. It wasn‘t easy being different, I was born there yet I still felt different; I knew I was different.
Sometimes the house was empty with only grandma and grandpa around. But during Easter and Christmas celebrations the house would be full and lively.
Grandpa‘s children would come home for the holidays along with their wives and kids and everywhere would be noisy and boisterous. But I dreaded those moments. Those were the times grandpa smiled the most and tried to act very strong again. He loved his children and would do anything for them. He would go and tap fresh palm wine for his children.
They celebrated all the time. I hated those moments because those were the times they would carelessly throw things at me when I passed and pretended not to notice. I was little in stature. I felt like I always had to run for cover.
Grandpa‘s grandchildren made the most noise, they would play around and tease me. They tried to play with me sometimes but I simply avoided them by running away. Grandpa loves them so much. He made sure they had whatever it was they wanted. They looked thrilled and excited, jumping here and there, with legs that looked as though they had spring in them. I wished I could do things like them.
Grandma‘s kitchen stood at the corner in the compound. It was made of mud and zinc. The zinc was old, it looked as old as grandfather. It was inside there that I sat quietly by her corner to pick up whatever I could while she cursed grandpa for always farting in his sleep. She would pound something with all her strength, then raise one part of her bombom up and release a dangerous fart. I quietly left the kitchen for her. She would not kill me before my time.
Besides the kitchen was not exciting to look at. There were holes here and there such that whenever it rained, it dripped into the kitchen and drenched the corn hanging above the fire place. Grandma would scurry around here and there gathering sack bags to cover her fire wood so it doesn‘t get soaked in the rain. She would get annoyed and beat me and accuse me of eating her corn. I only did that once and never did it again since she chased me out of the kitchen and denied me food for two days. I went into her farm and and helped myself with whatever was availabe.
That evening grandpa was celebrating with his sons. His youngest daughter was about to get married. Everywhere was hearty and lively. Grandma even brought food for my mum and I. I walked around the compound to join the celebration. There was a cock in the house, he arrived that morning on grandpa’s head. I was happy to see him. He walked around and picked food from the ground. He would hop here and there as though the compound belonged to him.
As the people grew in number, grandpa stood up and grabbed the cock. He crowed and struggled for his life but grandpa held him firmly by the throat. He went into grandma‘s kitchen and brought out his knife. He lowered the struggling cock to the ground and seized his legs. The cock immediately quit struggling and humbled himself in the face of death. He could feel the pain and disappointment in the cock‘s eyes. He must have thought he had a chance to grow with them in the house. He had enjoyed himself in the day, little did he know that his time was already up. The cock closed his eyes as grandpa‘s sharp knife cut his throat. He lay there trembling and after a few seconds became still. Grandma emerged and dipped him into a big pot of hot water. She removed the feathers with ease and mastery.
Grandpa stood up took one of the feathers and cleaned his ears with it. He took another feather and wrapped it in one of his titled hats. When grandma was done removing the feathers, she cut the cock in pieces and put them in another pot of hot oil. The journey of the cock was completed in the belly of those who attended grandpa‘s celebration. They nodded as they ate the meat; grandma had done a good job they acknowledged and grandpa gave her a pat on the back.
I was sad, even though the chicken had only been with us briefly I kind of saw him as a friend, as an outsider like me. What made me even more sad was that no one missed him, they ate him and enjoyed him. Some still looked around for more. I quietly left the place and went to sit beside my mother. She rubbed my head when she saw the disappontment in my eyes and told me it was the way of the world.
I gradually learnt to understand grandma and grandpa more through body language, having lived with them these past seven years. I understood how they communicated even though I wasn‘t able to learn their language.
Whenever grandma grumbled towards me I knew she was warning me or grudgingly fetching food for me. Whenever she threw her hands up the sky or shook her bombom vigorously I knew she was challenging grandpa. As for grandpa, I knew he was hungry whenever he looked at the pot. Whenever he carried a rope I knew he was going to tap palmwine. I would quietly sip grandpa‘s palmwine whenever he fell asleep while drinking in the afternoon. I licked it and ran away whenever he startled me only to return immediately when it was clear that the sound I heard was the air struggling for movement in his nose or his hands that seemed to wrestle with his ancestors in his sleep. I didn‘t like the taste, it was sour so I wondered why he enjoyed drinking it everyday.
I learnt to avoid grandma whenever she was angry. On such days she would shake her bombom vigorously while throwing her hands up and if I happened to be in her way, she would kick my bombom which was flat and strong.
It was Christmas again and grandpa‘s children came back with their families. They embraced each other and walked around, I thought they were supervising grandpa‘s house. Grandpa looked happy. It was as if he was thanking them for sending him some money for some renovations. His first son saw me and my mother and was suprised that we were still around. He had never said anything to me these past few years, just patiently watching me grow.
The day for the “NWAM AKWA“ festival approached. It was the initiation into manhood by the latest age grade and grandpa‘s youngest son would be among, you could easily spot the proud look on his face, it was the fourth time he would be joining in the celebration; watching boys from his loins become men, his ancestors would be happy to receive him when he died.
It was almost noon and time for the festival yet grandpa had not killed any cock. I had grown a little selfish. It was true that I did not like the way grandpa killed the cock but I enjoyed the celebration, I enjoyed the heap of vegetable grandma made available for me whenever there was an occasion. She believed it would make up for the meat I would not eat since I was a vegetarian. My mother and I were vegetarians. I looked around and went into grandma‘s kitchen yet I saw no sign of a cock and I kept wondering why.
Grandpa‘s eldest son who had gone out to fetch firewood came back with three bunch of firewoods. He arranged them in the fire place and lit it. It burned, including the bamboo sticks which cracked and sent sparks and smoke into the sky.
Grandpa stood up, went into our little hut and dragged my poor mother out. He tied her up while she struggled weakly for she was old. I ran around grandpa wondering what he was doing but he paid me no attention. My mother told me again in our language that it was the way of the world towards the weak.
What type of people are these I thought. Grandpa lowered her to the ground and siezed her legs. He reached for his knife and cut out her throat. My mother gave up before my eyes. Grandpa‘s son lifted her up and swiftly dumped her into the burning fire and in no time her aroma filled the compound. I yelled but grandma chased me inside and locked me up while she prepared delicious pepper sauce which they would used to eat my mother.
I must have exhausted myself. I slept for long, when I woke up it was around evening and the compound was full with people. They ate her and said she was delicious. I saw my mother‘s bones being dropped here and there all over the compound. I went into grandma‘s farm and sat in silence. I felt so lonely and bitter. How could they have eaten her like that. All this time we have lived, grown and walked together all these years. They didn‘t even miss her, my mother. How can they be this insensitive?
Was it because she was old? I wondered, but come to think of it grandpa and grandma were generous towards her this morning, they gave her a lot of things to eat. As these thoughts and questions went through my head over and over again, I had no answers and it was frustrating.
Christmas was going as quickly as it came. Grandpa‘s children always left after the new year celebrations. On the eve of the new year they would all gather while grandpa shot three bullets into the sky and told the new year to hear him and bring him good tidings. That midnight we all gathered as usual. I stood by the side while they held hands with each other and chanted. Grandpa shot three bullets into the sky and told the coming year to fill his barn with more yams and let it enrich his children in all their endeavours.
Again I saw no cock. I knew that grandpa was a creature of habit, he always prepared cock for his children before they went back to their various places of work and busines. I went into grandma‘s kitchen and grandpa‘s barn and I saw no cock. Grandpa‘s eldest son came back with three bundles of firewood and to my chagrin without a chicken.
Then I knew something was up. It reminded me of the manner in which my mother was killed. I went into grandma‘s kitchen and grandpa‘s barn again, checking judiciously for any sign of a chicken and I sat still to listen for a crow but heard nothing. I even went as far as grandma‘s farm but no chicken. Then it occured to me that I might replace the chicken. No, I shook my head, I would not allow them eat me.
I saw grandma preparing her famous hot pepper sauce again. She tried to chase me inside to the back of the house but I refused. I defiled her efforts and scrambled out of the compound. I went to her farm and from there I watched them. I saw grandpa’s son pour kerosine on the firewood. He lit a match and set the wood on fire. While the wood cracked and burned, he went in and called grandpa who came out and sharpened his knife.
He then went to the back of the house to look for me, for that was my place, but he couldn‘t find me. They searched the entire compound but couldn‘t find me. Grandpa and his son went around the neighboring compound asking after me “Where is he?
No one seemed to know my whereabouts.
What is it? grandma asked when they returned, rising from her stool in the kitchen.
Where is nwamkpi? Asked grandpa
Where is who? Asked grandma
“The goat” said grandpa’s son.
“I saw him run into the farm” she pointed to the direction of her farm and added “but I thought he would have been back by now, I have warned him against staying out too long”
I saw them all from afar coming towards the direction of the farm, so I hid behind the Udara tree while I carefully planned my next move.
As their footsteps approached closer and closer, I carefully tiptoed into the nearby bushes. Then I ran as fast as my legs could carry me. I didn‘t know where I was going to but I was sure as hell not waiting to be caught by grandpa and his family to find out, all I knew was that I wasn‘t going to die that day.
As for grandma, I had eaten her precious “Ugu” leaves. She usually sold them every first “Eke” market day, and the rest that I couldn‘t eat, I defecated on. I knew I had ruined grandpa‘s new year but who cares. They had already ruined my life by killing my mother – a family member.