Mama had just finished ekpe ekpere ụtụtụ*, as she prayed, her lusty voice bounced off the walls and somehow made the room shake and tremble but afterwards, it was quiet again. Her eyes were already starting to water as she looked into the distance with vacant eyes, so I sat on the floor of the obi* and tugged on her hand to bring her back from her thoughts and I waited for the story she always told me…it took a while to rouse her, to make her look at me with tear filled black eyes but I did and she started with the story, as I knew she would.
You weren’t always an only child Mbari, was always how she started the story, “I had another girl, with a full head of hair, beautiful brown skin and black eyes just like mine. We, your father and I, named her after Ala, the wife of Amadioha, fertility goddess of the earth and mother of all things. She was beautiful”, mama said as she wiped her nose on her lappa. She went on to tell me about her birthing and how this sister of mine didn’t make her stay in labor for long unlike me, see I was barely alive the night I was born – my mother was even presumed dead and had to be taken to the community clinic where she was nursed back to health and even that took days.
Ala was a beautiful girl, she continued, everyone in the village wanted to carry her, they praised us daily for birthing such a beautiful child and we made sure to always dress her up in her best. She didn’t lack anything, anything at all. When she was of age, we took her to the white man’s school and since she was a fast learner, they only brought us good results…Father Jones said she was a star. But Ala had a problem, she was mischievous and played jokes on everyone- she would always trick your father and I and we’d always believe her, once she hid your father’s snuff box and insisted that he left it at the village square, it was after hours of going back and forth searching that she brought it out of its hiding place, she laughed so hard. Her father punished her that day and she fell sick, the nwoke ọgwụ* told us she was an ogbanje and that if we punished her again, she would die; it came as a shock to us but we never punished Ala again.
Then we had you, Mbari, on the day you arrived, Ala had a dream and told us you’d come, we believed her because it was a gift she had…she was not keen on your arrival, she always eyed my belly with consternation and cried when I sang to you, so on the day you arrived, she disappeared. Your father found her at night, sitting on an udala tree inside the forest, she was crying bitterly about how you would kill her and it took a lot of pleas to get her down and even more to get her home which was a big feat as it was a stormy night.
She never adjusted to having a sibling, she constantly said she was an only child. She hardly carried you and when she did, it was to get a good chance to pinch you where her little hands found flesh – we kept her away from you as much as we could. This was how we lived till you were about a year old.
You were very fond of the Okonkwos, a childless couple living close and you were always waddling over to theirs – they took care of you so well that everyone that saw wept on their behalf for Chukwu to give them their own child. You spent many a night in their home. On one of such nights, we heard Ala screaming outside our obi, we found her stitting in front of a freshly dug and covered hole in the ground; her screams were so loud that it brought almost the whole village to our hut. She refused to tell us why she was there at that time of the night and she came to an abrupt stop when she saw you in Mrs Okonkwo’s arms, so your father, after apologizing to the disgruntled crowd and dismissing them, took his mkpisi* and flogged her mercilessly, thinking it was one of her silly jokes again. She promptly fell sick and we remembered too late the nwoke ọgwụ’s warning – Ala died within a week of that beating, Mama said as fresh tears rolled down her face.
The whole village mourned with us and many wondered about her death since she was a very healthy child, we never told anyone of the circumstances surrounding her death… I had to consult the nwoke ọgwụ and he explained to me why Ala was outside that night; she had had a bad dream, bad men took you from the Okonkwo’s house, killed and buried you in the same spot we found her that night, unknown to her your father had planted a few akụ oyibo* seeds earlier on when she was at school. She only stopped crying when she saw you and realised it was not one of her clairvoyant dreams. Months later, your Papa followed her, I do not know why your father died, heartache maybe…on some days, I can see her; like now, she’s here, Mama says and I feel a hand rustle my hair.
Hope you enjoyed reading. Enjoy your week.
Love and warmth,
ekpe ekpere ụtụtụ – prayer before breakfast/morning prayer
obi – hut
nwoke ọgwụ – medicine man
mkpisi – cane
akụ oyibo – coconut