BY ISRAEL USULOR
‘It was a black day for Agu-Ukpaka. It was as if the gods had abandoned us,’ said Aunt Adaku as she placed a tray of boiled yam and palm oil in front of Ikenna and Mimi. The yam was meant to serve as a make-shift meal before she would prepare something more sumptuous.
‘The Herders had no mercy. They came in the dead of the night and razed the entire village. The few people that escaped are now squatting with their relatives here in Okpokoto. Unfortunately, your mother and niece, Chidimkpa were not so lucky. Your father’s compound was set ablaze. They roasted to death. It was pathetic!’ Lamented Aunt Adaku. She sat on a wooden bench next to Mimi fighting back tears.
They were seated outside one of the huts in the compound. One of the huts belonged to Onwe, Aunt Adaku’s late husband.
‘What about their dead bodies? Were they at least given a proper funeral?’ Ikenna asked in a sorrow-laden voice.
‘The government people came and took all the bodies away, I heard they were stuffed in a big grave,’ she responded
‘They did what!’ Ikenna shouted. He jumped up from the bench and went to the back of the house. Mimi followed him, but Aunt Adaku ceased her.
‘Our wife, please sit down and eat something. Let Ikenna be. He will get over it soon. He is a man. Remember your condition. You have to eat to regain your strength,’ she said.
Mimi was thrilled that Aunt Adaku referred to her as “our wife.” She knew Adaku was right, but if she was really worth the name, she had to be by the side of her husband in his moment of sorrow.
‘No Mama! I need to be by his side right now. He needs me,’ she responded gently and politely.
She walked to the back of the house to meet Ikenna who by then sat on the rocky ground staring into vacant space. Mimi squatted gently and tapped him by the shoulder. Ikenna turned and looked at her with his misty eyes. Seeing the tears of a man makes Mimi uneasy. Not long, she began to cry too. She used the edge of the wrapper given to her by Aunt Adaku to wipe Ikenna’s eyes.
‘You need to be strong for yourself, for me, for our unborn child. It breaks me when I see you this way. You are all I have left. Please put yourself together,’ she condoled as she pulled him up.
They walked back into the compound. As they sat to eat, Ikenna pondered on what life would be like without a mother. He understood what it meant for one not to have a father, for he had lived without one his entire life. He imagined it would be hell to be an orphan. They ate in silence. Ikenna chewed longer than necessary prompting Aunt Adaku to ask if the yam was strong. Ikenna merely shook his head. Though he hadn’t eaten for two days, he had no appetite for food.
‘The yam is sweet. It’s sweeter than Zaka City yam. The yams here have a different scent. You must have great farmers here,’ Mimi said. She desperately wanted to distract Ikenna from his sorrow.
Ikenna looked at her with a dim smile on his face. He understood her trick but decided it was good to play along.
‘Really?’ Aunt Adaku wondered aloud. She rushed out from her hut where she had gone to bring her snuff bottle. She sat on the bench and tapped the white bottle on her knee cap.
‘The yam is from my farm. I planted it myself,’ she said with pride in her eyes.
‘Ah! Is that so? It’s the sweetest yam I’ve ever eaten. What do you say Ikenna? Can you compare this to Zaka City yam?’ Mimi asked, fixing her eyes on Ikenna’s with a broad smile.
Somehow, she managed to pull him completely into the conversation.
‘Yes! You are right, but your people farm yam in a larger quantity than us?’ Ikenna said.
‘That’s not true Ikenna. No one produces more yams than Agu-Ukpaka,’ said Aunti Adaku as she sneezed heavily. Mimi and Ikenna looked at each other with a mocking smile.
‘Aunt, we are not talking of few farmers cultivating their back-yards and planting few seed yams. In Zaka City, the whole of Agu-Ukpaka could be a single farm belonging to just one farmer’
‘That means the people there eat only yams,’ Aunt Adaku joked as she adjusted her wrapper and cleaned her nose with a piece of old rag. The rag was stained by snuff and Mimi thought it was disgusting. She hated snuff.
‘No! There are still many other foods there. Zaka City is the home of farmers who farm all sorts of crops. This is why they fight always with Herders who grazed on their farms,’ Ikenna said as he swallowed the last paste of yam in his mouth.
‘Oh! Are there cattle Herders there too?’ asked Aunt Adaku. Ikenna hadn’t narrated his ordeal in the city to her. He then told the story from the beginning to the end, evoking sympathy from the old woman.
‘Hmmmm!’ She sighed. ‘So these murderous lots are everywhere? This means there is no place to hide anymore. Mimi, I’m so sorry about your parents,’ she said, placing her left hand on Mimi’s shoulder.
‘It’s time to fight these people to finish. We can no longer fold our hands and watch them annihilate us. We must fight back with all we got’ Ikenna said.
‘And how exactly do you intend to do that?’ It was Mimi’s voice.
‘Eze Ekechi is mobilising the youth to confront the Herders. They’ve camped in Ala Eli and vowed never to leave. Rumour even has that they plan to attack Okpokoto. The two clans of Okpokoto and Agu-Ukpaka will fight on the same side. The final meeting is holding today at the king’s palace.’ Aunt Adaku announced.
‘I will join the warriors,’ Ikenna said soldierly.
‘No you mustn’t!’ Aunt Adaku exclaimed.
‘I must Aunt! I must avenge the death of my mother and all the other loved ones these bushmen took from me. I’m going to join the warriors and no one must try to stop me,’ he shouted. He was standing and he punched the air with his clenched fist as he spoke.
‘Then you have to kill me first,’ Mimi intervened. “I’m not ready to be an orphan and a widow at the same time. I’m too young for all these troubles. You cannot leave my unborn child fatherless either. These people are dangerous and no one has successfully tamed them. Even the government seems helpless. I swear by the blood of my dead parents, if you go, I will kill myself,’ she threatened.
‘She is right,’ Aunt Adaku was supportive of Mimi. This weakened Ikenna. He acted like a man to calm the two frayed nerves seated beside him. He already figured out what to do. His determination to join the war effort was a foregone conclusion. He sat down gently, allowing the women to defeat him temporarily.
‘Yes!’ He said gently and in tactical defeat. ‘You’re right. I’m not supposed to go to war. I’m the future of my family. My family needs me. I’m not going,’ he concluded.
‘Better!’ Mimi said.
‘You have to raise a family and your time starts now. Should anything happen to you, the Onukwuba family tree will wither. It is wise of you not to go. I will now go and prepare the evening meal,’ said Aunt Adaku as she rose and moved towards the fireplace. The sun had already set. Ikenna took Mimi to Eku River where they swam together. Ikenna still carried a lot of sorrow in his heart, but he bore it with the strength of a man. He knew if he broke down, Mimi and Aunt Adaku would break down too. He had to stand for the bigger battle ahead.
Read part 14 HERE
Israel Usulor is a journalist and short story writer. You can reach him via @JonalistIsrael and [email protected]
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