The dry season had come and with it came a multitude of problems. Firstly, I had managed to take the last position in my class for the third term running and was therefore forced to repeat the year. Papa was so angry the last time, he made me promise that I would come within the top three of my class or else he would leave me at the village cemetery for the spirits to torment me. He screamed at mama and I for what seemed like an eternity and concluded that if I had been a boy, I would have made excellent grades. I didn’t care that papa wished I was a boy but I did care about the stories I’d heard of the wild wicked spirits at the cemetery. So I willed myself to concentrate during my lessons. But it was impossible. All I seemed to do was fall asleep no matter how much I tried. I spent most of the afternoons trying to get mama’s attention by helping out with the chores without much success. And my evenings were predominantly spent pleasing papa while mama was asleep. So the only time I really had to sleep was at school.
So I decided to keep my recent failure a secret. That was until the Principal, Mrs Uba sent for me. There I was, almost falling into blissful sleep during Mazi Obinna’s mathematics class when the Principal’s secretary came into the class and announced in her rather manly voice that “Chinwe Okafor” was wanted at the principal’s office immediately. I hadn’t even realised she was talking to me until Mazi Obinna poked me with his long cane and said “Chinwe, maybe you can continue sleeping in the principal’s office”. The whole class responded in torrents of laughter while I managed to open my eyes long enough to make my way to the Principal’s office.
Mrs Uba, the principal, was a short stodgy elderly woman who wore the biggest glasses I’d ever seen. It always amazed me how her eyes managed to be looking in a different direction while her lips were faced in your direction. I always found it extremely difficult to pay attention to her while she spoke. Not only did she take forever to complete a single sentence, she also had a habit of pulling one’s ears if she noticed you weren’t paying attention. I knocked on the door of the unpainted building that was the entrance to her office. “Onye!?” [who is it], yelled the secretary. “Chinwe Okafor”, I replied still half asleep. “Bata” [come in]. I entered the sparsely furnished office and at once caught the whiff of a palm oil and local herbs; my tummy rumbled. I wondered what we would be eating today, with any luck it would be “Ofe Onugbu”, my favourite. My tummy rumbled yet again.
There was no door at the entrance to the principal’s office and as I approached I could hear the chattering of her rickety typewriter as her fat fingers smashed into the tiny letter plates. “Good morning madam principal”, I said wondering if she would be able to hear me above her typing.
“Is it still morning Chinwe?”, she replied almost immediately. “Are you so dense that you cannot tell the time?”
“No, ma”, I replied.
“No, that you are not dense or no, that you cannot tell time?” I remained silent keeping my head down. Till now my tired eyes and rumbling belly had not allowed my mind to focus on the possible reason for my visit to the principal’s office. Could it be that I was no longer required to repeat the class? That would be a welcome miracle, I thought to myself and the gods knew I needed one.
Mrs Uba hissed and mumbled something in Igbo I couldn’t quite hear. I looked at her now and realised she wasn’t wearing her huge glasses. I wish she was; her eyes looked even more frightening without them and I could swear her eyeballs were about to fall out from their sockets.
“Chinwe, I am surprised that your father has not come to enquire about your poor grades. The last two terms you failed he visited the school on numerous occasions. Is he well?” I swallowed what seemed like a handful of saliva.
“Yes, ma. He is well.”
“Ehen”, she replied eyeing the wall beside me suspiciously while her lips hissed again at me.
“Well, tell him that his presence is wanted in the school tomorrow before 12pm. E nugo?” [did you hear?].
“Yes ma”, I replied.
“That is 12pm; when the long hand is at 12 and the short hand is also at 12″, she said pointing to the wall clock on her left.
My walk home was the longest I have ever done. I thought about running away to the next village but I knew they would only bring me back as soon as anyone found me. My palms were sweaty as I opened the gate to the house. Papa’s motorcycle was parked under the tree and I could see more than one pair of slippers lining the entrance to the inner room. Maybe Father Peter was here. He would plead with papa on my behalf. I thought to myself. But as I approached the door I noticed it wasn’t Father Peter but Chief Akubeze and Mazi Ike, my father’s hunting partners. They were drinking palmwine and from the stench in the room and their loud voices, even my dense brain knew in an instant that they were all drunk.
“Nno nu” [welcome] I said half kneeling half standing.
“Aha Chinwe!” screamed Mazi Ike, “you are home. Have you been told the good news?”, he said pulling me to his lap.
I looked at papa, wondering what on earth the good news could be.
“Your mother is pregnant”, Chief Akubeze replied in between hiccups. My eyes widened with surprise.
“This time she shall have a boy”, papa said looking straight at me. “Ife ojoh ma mezikwa ozo” [a bad thing will not happen again].
“Chukwu makwe” [God will not allow], replied Chief Akubeze as he drank from his big cup of palm wine.
“Congratulations papa”, I replied. As I walked towards the kitchen, I wasn’t quite sure how I felt about it all. On one hand, I was glad that Papa would have the boy he so craved for but on the other, I felt a tightening in my stomach that I couldn’t quite explain.
“Congratulations mama”, I said as I entered the kitchen. I wasn’t sure if she could hear me over the loud chattering voices of both Aunty Ifeoma and Aunty Chioma. But to my surprise she said “dalu nwam” [thank you my child] and smiled. It was a rare thing to see mama smile and the tightening I felt earlier at the pit of my stomach loosened slightly. Maybe this was a blessing, a male child would make both papa and mama happy. I said to myself. I looked past the stove as I walked towards my room; we were eating beans again for the third day running. Maybe a male child would also bring better food, I thought as my head hit the warm mattress.
I woke up in a pool of my own sweat. I had a bad dream again. I dreamt that Chief Akubeze and Mazi Ike watched as papa touched me. My bad dreams were a usual occurrence but this time papa was holding a male child with one hand while he fondled my breasts wit the other. I began reflecting on the day’s events and it was only then I realised that I had forgotten to give papa the message from Mrs Uba. I was dead. Papa was either going to kill me himself or Mrs Uba would do it for him. I sat up in bed wondering what I was going to do. It was then that I noticed a light coming from the corner of the wood shed. Maybe papa was outside washing his motorcycle I thought. I better go and give him Mrs Uba’s message. Perhaps he is still happy about the male child and will not even care how many times I have failed. So I got up, changed out of my school uniform and began rehearsing exactly what I would say to papa as I approached the wood shed.
To my surprise I could hear whispering and I noticed two somewhat slender shadows instead of papa’s huge frame. It must have been about ten o’clock. Who could be with papa at this time or was papa touching Ogonna, the house help again, I wondered to myself. As I approached the corner of the shed and peered through the window, I saw what my eyes were definitely not meant to see. Father Peter’s white cassock lay on the floor while his naked body lay on top of mama. His waist seemed to be moving in a rhythmic motion while his mouth had swallowed one of mama’s breasts whole. Mama’s legs on the other hand were wrapped round Father Peter’s body and her hands were rubbing his head. And she kept repeating Father Peter’s name over and over again. I stood transfixed. I looked at the silhouette of their naked bodies as they seemed to grind into each other like two caterpillars that had been sellotaped together. The reality of the situation suddenly began to hit me. Mama and Father Peter? This was impossible! I began to cry then as I wondered what I had done to deserve such evil people around me. How could this be happening? Did Papa know? Was that why he was touching me? I stood there looking at my mother and the family priest naked doing things to each other that my father also did with me. I was about to let out a scream when I heard Papa’s voice calling behind me. “Chinwe gi ki ne me neba” [what are you doing here]?
I looked behind me then as I saw papa’s huge frame walking towards me. Instinctively, I stared back at the window of the shed hoping that the earlier images I had seen were a figment of my imagination. But it was not. Father Peter and mama lay on the floor of the wood shed in the ecstasy of their love making oblivious to the doom that was about to befall them…
Watch out for part 3…..
To God be the Glory