‘Kaaro ma.’ Tim greeted feeling elated.
‘Owuru omo Olulufe mi. Bawo ni?’
‘I’m fine, ma. Ma, how is Lola?’
‘Lola is Fine. Bawo ni iyarẹ? Ati Baba rẹ?’
‘She is fine, she left for her market this morning as usual and she is back. Papa has gone to check his traps.’
‘I know. Your mum is a very hardworking woman. I hope you won’t disappoint her when you come of age?’ she smiled at him.
‘Of course, Ma. You know I won’t disappoint them a bit.’ He giggled.
‘Ototo. Kini Ofẹ lati ra?’ Mama Tayo inquired.
‘Ata. Elo ni?’
‘Look at you, speaking our dialect. When you came back last year, you couldn’t speak. Wọn jẹ Kobo 3 nikan.’
‘Eh eh!’ He exclaimed. ‘Things are very cheap; I was expecting it to be costly. Oya Fun mi ibi marun. Mo mọ bi a șe le sọrọ, sugbọn emi ko fẹran sisọ ni ita.’
‘It is good to be proud of one’s tongue, my son.’ She handed him the Pepper, ‘I hope you’ll marry a Yoruba girl when you grow up?’
Collected the pepper. ‘Ah! Mama, I don’t know if I am shy to answer or I don’t have an answer right now.’
‘It is okay. Hurry to your mother, she needs this pepper.’ He runs off. ‘Wa gba iyipada rẹ.’
‘Sorry ma, I didn’t want to be scolded today.’
‘Kiwon fun mi, ani Willie.’ She said.
‘I will mama. And please do same to Tayo and Lola.’
Just like one handed the baton in a relay race, he took off. Dodging all that came his way. The ten-year old knew his way in the big Illalọrati Market. Last week, two younger boys were declared missing. He guesstimated they had issue finding their way back home. Why doesn’t everyone know their way like he does? He really wants to create a title for himself, Ọba awọn Ona should suit him. These two boys that got missing, what were they doing in a place they don’t know? He tried running as fast as those super heroes he does see on the television. Even Onyo ncha cannot outrun him, he was sure of this. If not, why do they go to work with Bikes and that thing that have four legs they call motor each day? If it was him, he would run to work and run back and he won’t even have need for all these bikes and that should conserve his money. He would like to go to the Olympics. He heard that’s where Legends are made. He knew deep within him; he could win a medal. But who will sponsor that? His dad? Mum? Brother Willie? Or Uncle Bamidele? Uncle Bamidele should be able to afford this, he thought. But, Uncle Bamidele will need to be convinced about the Olympic. His job doesn’t allow him to have time for anyone. No wonder he hasn’t even made any marriage arrangements. But if given a chance, he knew he, Timothy Eddie Chukwuemeka, the son of the great hunter, who has ran faster than a cheetah, could defeat Mercedes Benz and Outrun him in all competitions. He does know who this Mercedes Benz is, but he is sure is short and that is why he is fast. He must be a black man like him. Black men were always known as champions of any tournament they are in. Or maybe, Mercedes Benz had bribed his way through. On a second thought, Mercedes Benz wasn’t the fastest. He was. Maybe, maybe he doesn’t know that too well. Maybe he was too small to dream about the Olympic. Maybe, the Olympic wasn’t made for him. Maybe he was just quixotic. Maybe he could still convince Uncle Bamidele. Maybe, if Uncle Bamidele could ...
‘Stupid child. You want to practice your witchcraft in my life this early morning. What did I do to you?’ Almost! He was close to destroying a crate of eggs. He didn’t see her coming. God saved him, he thought.
‘Ị nweghị ike ịsị nwute? I fọrọ nke nta ka I bibie igbe akwa ya.’ Pa Ejike said.
‘My brother, see me ooo. Chegodị, ahụgị m ya n’oge, naanị Chineke maara Ihe gaara eme.’ She said. ‘Ụtụtụ ọma.’
‘Ututu nwam nwanyi. Biko gbaghara ya ị ma na ụmụaka na-akpa àgwa. Ha na-achọkarị imebiga ihe ókè. I hope you are not hurt in anyway?’
Looking at Tim, ‘No! Not at all. I’m good and it’s okay. I have forgiven him. He should count today among his lucky days because my borrowed crate of eggs didn’t fall down. If it had, the issue would have compounded.’ She turned and smiled at Pa Ejike. ‘Thank you, sir, for your concern, I should be on my way as my customers are already waiting for me.’ The lady said.
Still standing there but it looks like he was a presently absent as no one took notice of him. He didn’t know what to do. Apologies and run or wait for another insult. He took to his heel. They are enemies of progress. If not, why didn’t she see him as he was coming? This crony woman walked straight to him and looked for his trouble. A whole Ọba awọn Ona like him, someone will want to look for his trouble. She was lucky he didn’t hit those eggs. She won’t have seen him as he would have run away.
Now Uncle Bamidele could have; where was he self? He didn’t know where he stopped. But one thing he knew for sure was that he must go to the Olympic and Defeat Mercedes Benz and prove his enemies wrong.
He got home quite early. Mama has just finished selecting the rice. He didn’t tell her about the accident he had on his way back, he was scared of her reaction upon hearing it. He knew very well he will be scolded and given three to four hours of homily. No! he mustn’t tell her. He must eat. But, he then remembered Pa Ejike to be a friend of Papa. They do tell each other everything and he is sure he would not be spared today.
‘Timothy, have you buy the pepper?’ Motorayo, Mama Tim asked.
‘Yes. And Mama Tayo sends her greeting.’ He responded. ‘She sold them for three kobo each.’
‘Things is very really cheap. The other day, Mama Bello talked about the way things are go up in cost of price.’
‘You mean Inflation?’ He chipped in.
‘Yes. Infection! But, I told her to relax. I knew this government will not disappoint us.’ She said. ‘Pass me those tomatoes and the plate beside you. I bought them on my way back from the market. They are looking robust; this is how things should be in this country.’
He handed the tomatoes and the plate over to his mother. ‘Mama, when are we going to see uncle Bamidele?’
‘What for?’ She put the tomatoes in the water and washed them. ‘Why do you want to go and disturb a hardworking man? He is busy and I don’t know when he will be less busy. And You weren’t informed that he got married last week?’ She said to him. She took out the tomatoes from the water, brought the mortal closer and added the tomatoes to the mortar and pounded them with the pepper he had brought.
‘But mama, it is not a crime for one to visit one’s relative na. Uncle Bamidele should either visit us or we give him a visit. But, I prefer we pay him a visit.’
‘Why are you saying all these? What came over you in the market? Wetin you see? Or did you see him in the Market there? Don’t lie to me, I am your mother.’ The eyeball-to-eyeball conversation wasn’t necessary here, she knew how to get the truth from him.
‘I just want to join in the Olympic next year. I want to contest and win Mercedes Benz. I want to make you and Dada proud.’ He covered his face with his hands to avoid her eyes.
‘I know and I’m sure you will make us proud. But, first and foremost, finish your education. Become the doctor I want you to be. Then, after that, you will see as everything will fall in place.’ She said. ‘Pass me that cup of water let me add to the stew. Dada must find what to eat when he gets back. Mercedes Benz, who is he? Is he staying in Uncle Bamidele’s place?’
He gets up, searched among the dirty plates around him and found the cup, ‘He is the fastest person right now in the Olympic. No one has ever defeated him before. I want to defeat him. Amadi says he lives in the Olympic.’ Mama added more firewood to the fire and paid little or no attention to what he said. ‘Mama when is Brother Willie coming back?’ he gave the cup of water to his mother.
‘Am I supposed to know? You know that brother of yours is growing wings. He doesn’t like to listen to advice. Please, don’t be like Brother Willie when you grow up. Just finish your education and me and Dada will gladly sponsor you to the Olympic so that you can defeat this your Mercedes Benz.’
Grinning. ‘E seun mama. Ki Olorun tesiwaju lati bukun iwo ati Dada fun mi.’
‘And you too, Ifẹ igbesi aye mi. Go and finish your chores and don’t forget to go and see Mama Bello. She is complaining that she doesn’t have water in her house. The other day, I felt sorry seeing her carrying logs of woods on her head. She’s old and she needs help. You know Bello isn’t around and he would do same if it was him.’ She cleaned her hands on her wrapper.
‘Mama, your vocabulary has improved o.’ With this statement, Tim got up and went inside.
The house, which was big but not so big, was just refurbished. It wasn’t too dirty as was expected of a muddy house. The chairs and tables were made up of bamboo. Just three beds in one room. No one cares. The three chairs were beautifully arranged to the right of the window, directly facing the only door into the house. The frames of the window seem to die off. No one cares. There seem to be no need for curtains. No one cares. One could find one clothes hanging on the hands of the chairs. No one cares. The bed on the right was not looking too exquisite, though due to maintenance it was retaining its form. It belongs to Dada and Mama. But mama spent more time sleeping on the chair rather than the bed. Maybe, she was kind-hearted and considerate. Or maybe, the space wasn’t enough. Still, no one cared. The smallest and most beautiful bed in the middle belongs to Tim. He loves sleeping there a lot if he has no work to do. He prefers to stay there all day. His bamboo was not properly arranged. The bed on the left and most dirty of all, with loose edges and broken bamboo belongs to brother Willie. He was too lazy to replace them. He spent more time in his friend’s house – Amadi. Willie was the skittish one, having multiple of ideas and not doing any one of them because of laziness. He was never steady at home. It was rare to see him around the home and the thoughts of doing away with his bed became a major concern to Papa. The walls were decorated with shells of snails and periwinkle. It wasn’t a special decoration as the original intentions were not given. Eddie, Papa Timothy’s photo was hanged above the only window the room could boost of. Beside it were awards he had received from Ememme Dinta.
Tim went straight to the corner that served as a store room, he took the only bowel the house had and put the dirty plates inside. He went to the drum which held water for them, and fetch some from it and filled the bowel which he was carrying. He didn’t watch those plates last night since the kerosene finished. Now, he had to wash them. He dislikes washing plates, he prefers to sweep and fetch water. He would say washing plates is a job the girls ought to do. But he was not privilege to have a sister. So, the options were really empty for him.
No sooner had he gone outside did Papa arrive with Pa Ejike.
‘Where is your mother?’ Papa Tim asked.
‘She is at the kitchen trying to prepare food. Papa welcome.’ Tim answered avoiding eye contact with Pa Ejike as he tried to keep the heavy bowel down. He placed the bowel down and brought out the plates individually. He brought out his favorite plate first. He treated the plate with so much respect. It is the only one, if it were to be alive, to listen to all his stories and feed him without saying anything to him. He would tell his plates about his intentions of going to the Olympic and defeating Mercedes Benz. And he guess the plate reciprocates the love he has for it.
‘Go and tell her I have come back from the farm. Take this anumba to her and tell her to add them to my meal. She should be quick with my meal, the King is waiting for me.’
‘Okay Papa.’ He hurriedly left with the bush meat.
‘Please be fast about it.’ He added and turned to Pa Ejike, ‘you still don’t have any right to call him a thief until proven otherwise.’
‘That was exactly what you said the last time when Omuche was called a thief. You stood with him because of the kindness he displayed.’ Papa Timi sat on one of the bamboo he kept outside. ‘You know our people say person fit hide body for clothes but no fit hide body odor for clothes too. The clothes will smell.’ Pa Ejike got a seat and sat on it. The only surviving stool in the entire house. it was used to hold the door of the house so as to allow breeze penetrate. The stool was no longer strong as it has withstood the test of harsh wind and rain. The original brown color was decorated with black holes.
‘To be honest, Omuche’s case actually took me by surprise. I never thought Omuche could do something of this kind. You know he was like a son to me and everyone knew he was hardworking. But, for me to suspect he was the one always stealing the crops in the villager’s farm, was really a hard thing to do.’ Papa said to him.
‘But this one is really different. He never works yet he eats. It is rumored that he has money – plenty of Ego. How does that kind of thing happen in Illalọrati?’
‘You know some of these youths can be working night work when most of us are asleep. You really can’t tell with these new things they call empowerment and technology.’
‘But, what kind of night work gives him such money? Now the wind has blown and exposed the chicken’s behind. But that is by the way sha. I got good news from my son, Ejike.’
‘Eh! Eh!! What is this good news about? Is he going to do his marriage? Or has he been promoted? Or has …’
‘Who are you asking all these questions?’ Pa Ejike cut him short. ‘Or you want to marry him off to someone else?’ He laughed. ‘That Ọnyo ncha he used to work with has agreed to send him to school to further his education.’ The joy was evident in his face.
‘You know that those our brothers in the south will say “Abasi bo Ekom”.‘Pa Timi said looking at the door while raising his both hands to the sky.
‘Since when do you start speaking another language other than Igbo and Yoruba?’ He asked with surprise.
‘Immediately the Ọnyo ncha begin to have a good heart. You see my friend, things like these are good news. We should be talking about this kind of news every day, not this Ajayi’s story. If he do good, he does it for himself; if it is bad he says he wants to do, is it for you?’
‘Nbanu na. Why will it be for me? You can be funny at times. This calls for celebration.’ Papa Ejike exclaimed.
‘And that reminds me, bia where is this woman na? Do you want to kill me with hunger? Is the meat not ready?’ Pa Timi shouted.
‘Nnayi, Mo mbo. You know Kerosene finished last night and this firewood is slow.’ Mama said as she was coming out of the kitchen with the tray of food she had prepared for Pa Timi and Papa Ejike. Tim brought out a basin of water for them to wash their hands, still avoiding Pa Ejike’s eyes.
Rice and Pepper soup was Pa Timi’s favorites. This combination was sure to get him in the mood. He would always ask Oluwa to bless the ones that invented the combination. Especially the Pepper soup, his meals were incomplete without them. He preferred his Pepper soup hot and his rice cold. This time around, all were hot. He would either have to manage them or manage the hunger in his stomach.
‘Is this one for only me or for me and Papa Ejike?’ He inquired, having unveiled the content in the bowl. ‘Because I will not like to share this pepper soup plate with anyone, not even you, Olulu fe mi.’ He joke fully added.
‘Nnayi, it is for only you. But, if you decide to share it with Papa Ejike, I will not say no to you.’ She smiled at him.
She quickly left and returned with another plate for Pa Ejike still accompanied by Tim with the bowl containing washing water. Having dropped it, she left the men to their meals. She had some unfinished business with her kitchen, she must see to it.
Having cleared his throat, ‘but do you think this Ajike or whatsoever he is should be killed by hanging as custom demands?’ Papa Tim asked.
The pepper in the soup was clearly having effects on Pa Ejike as he had to take water to deal with the effects. ‘My brother, you’ve already added what I would have said. As custom demands, yes! it is against the traditions of this great village for one to be caught stealing. And now that the culprit has been checkmated, he should be dealt with properly.’ Pa Ejike said still struggling with the pepper in his throat.
‘But, if you were the chief, would you have condemned him to death or pardoned him?’ Pa Tim asked with the look of empathy on his face.
‘Condemned to death of course. At least, that should serve as a lesson to the youths. They need to be properly curtailed. But, this one you are asking too many questions, hope you don’t have anything to do with the thief?’
‘Ah! No! Not at all!’ He exclaimed. ‘I am just asking because everyone of us is guilty of individual sins, at least he could be pardoned and turned into a palace servant or commercial servant. You know? But, if that is what you want to do and what the chief and villagers are intending to do, I don’t have any issue there.’
‘You better don’t bother yourself with unrealistic issue. When he was stealing, he didn’t know he would one day be caught? Bia, don’t kuku bother yourself. If you are worried again, I will ask the Onya ncha to recruit you to work for him. I think that will ease your thoughts.’ Pa Ejike teased him.
‘This bushmeat is one of the best I have ever tasted in my entire life. Now imagine Ajayi had stolen my bushmeat. Is this what I would have missed?’ They both laughed at his joke.
‘You know, lately, my son told me about one boy in his class.’ Pa Ejike took a sip of water.
Bewildered, ‘What about him?’
‘He said on this day he was handling mathematics in the class and this child was sleeping. He decided not to disturb his sleep and carried on with the class. Some where while he was teaching, he wrote an equation and asked the class to solve it. The sleeping boy awoke and came forward and clean the board. He asked the boy why he did it and the innocent boy said it was his seatmate that said the teacher asked him to clean the board. I really found this story to be funny because he said the boy is a dummy.’ He took another sip of water.
‘It is both funny and frustrating. Did he discipline the boy?
‘Yes! He did. And likewise, the chief will do same today. So, let’s hurry up and meet Kabiyesi. You know he hates been kept waiting.’ Pa Ejike said.
‘In that case, we should leave the food and meet him right away. Don’t forget to carry your anumba as you will need to tell your grandchildren about my hunting techniques.’ Papa Tim gulped down everything as if the pepper were inactive. ‘Mama Tim!’ He called out.
‘Yes Nnayi!’ she answered from the kitchen.
‘Bikonu Bia!’ He commanded.
‘Ah! are you done with your meal just now?’ She wiped her hands behind her back on her wrapper.
‘No! We just want to meet up with the king. He requested for our presence. I should be back before night fall.’ He said. ‘Keep my bushmeat well because I need to finish it when I am back.’ He added.
It was evening and Papa Tim had just returned from the palace. He hadn’t said a word since his return. His meal was still untouched and it didn’t bother him that his anumba was waiting for him. He really couldn’t believe his eyes and ears when he got to the Palace. He had really wished the ground had opened up and swallowed him, but that never happened. How could his only son put him to such shame in the public? He didn’t know what response to give the king and who ever asked him of his opinion in the matter.
‘Papa Tim, you’ve been quiet since you returned from the palace. Did anything go wrong there?’ Mama Tim asked as she found a seat by his side.
‘Ehm! Have I really been quiet?’ He answered trying to conceal the worry. He doesn’t know how to relay the information to her.
She noticed the worry on his face, ‘Did someone kill the chief? Or the bushmeat you brought, is someone putting a claim to it?’ she asked.
‘Not that. It is just that what I saw today is sure to amaze you. But, I don’t know how to tell you.’
‘Tell me What? You have seen another wife to marry? Or you have children outside? If is that one, you should know I am ready to accommodate anyone so far as it is your child or wife. So don’t worry and tell me who she is.’ Surely Tim was right when he said she was progressing with her English.
‘You remember that thief I told you the king asked me to come and see in the palace today?’
‘Yes! Ajayi! And what about him?’ She hated been kept in suspense.
‘That thief is Willie!’ He pronounced.
‘Which Willie? Our son, Willie? Our son is Ajayi?’
‘Ah! It can’t be.’ With her hands, she slapped her laps so hard, arose and then shouted. ‘I talk it! Shea I talked it and he didn’t did listen. I have always sabi that that boy, that boy will put me in big wahala. Now, see where he has entered now. Ejike is doing well and my own son has decided to make his parents cry. He will be following Amadi up and down.’
‘Lower your voice. You’ll wake the neighbors and our son’.
‘Mama, Dada, is everything alright?’ It was Timothy’s voice that brought her back to herself.
‘Son, sleep. Everything is okay. ‘Papa Tim reassured him and turned to his wife, ‘Woman, put yourself together. We still have Timothy and I am sure he will do us proud.’
Inside the house, Tim was deeply in thoughts as to guess what really went wrong in the meeting Papa had attended. Does it have anything to do with the squabble? And the thief he earlier made mentioned of, what does the thief have to do with him? Or maybe Papa knew the thief intimately. He could recall that Papa Ejike said something about Hanging the thief, maybe the thief is dead. Did they really hang the thief? Why would they always kill a thief in Illalọrati? Or maybe the thief was responsible for the kidnapping of the two missing children. He really wished the children were safe. Or were they dead? Maybe they were. Why will someone kidnap another person? If Mercedes Benz was caught stealing, will they kill him? He really didn’t comprehend the situation but hoped everything will be okay by the morning. It is okay for one to sleep and worry less about issues that don’t concern them, he thought. But then, the sound he thought he heard was that of someone falling down. Or maybe the squirrels have decided to drop a coconut from one of the trees. But this sound was louder than a coconut…
‘Someone help me!’ The voice of Papa screaming for help cut him short.
‘Dada! Mama!’ He rose to his feet and rushed outside to see things for himself.
He stumbled on a log of wood on the ground. It was really dark outside, if not for the moon shining above. He had forgotten to collect money to buy kerosene for the lamp.
‘Someone help!’ Papa repeated as no help was coming.
‘Dada, what is it?’ He stumbled on the hands of the wood on the ground. ‘Where is Mama?’ He asked in fear and reasoned within himself that there wasn’t any wood there before this night. What could that be? With a loud voice, he cried out, ‘Mama! Mama!! Mama!!! Are you the one?’ He placed his head on her body looking for her chest and found that was her back, he turned her to face him and place his head on her chest. It wasn’t pounding. He got out and kept it there for some seconds again. Still there was not a single heartbeat. He kept his fingers on her nose and didn’t feel her breathing. His heart panicked. He didn’t know what to do next. He tried lifting her from the floor. Her weight really pulled him down. He could feel tears dropping from his cheek.
‘Dada, please give me a helping hand. Will you? His voice failed him.
Papa didn’t move a foot. He was still in shock as how this happened. In just a day, he is a victim of two unfortunate occurrences – first his son and now his wife. He is now saddled with two burials. How is he going to face the world? It will be too much for Tim to take, especially at this early age.
‘Dada, please. Let’s at least take Mama inside. Tomorrow, I will go and call the Native Man.’ He appealed.
‘Where are the legs? I will hold the hands, while you hold the legs.’ Dada said, struggling with the tears and the weakness that has come over him all of a sudden.
It is been many minutes now since Papa shouted for help and no one has responded. Maybe they were afraid of Ajayi or thought this could be a trick to be kidnapped or killed by another Ajayi.
Gently and slowly, they lifted Mama and took her inside.
Everywhere was silent. Eddie Chukwuemeka and Timothy laid quietly in their respective beds. No one said a prayer before sleeping. No one cared. No one told each other a good night before sleeping. The night wasn’t a good one. No one cared. They all had their heads filled with different thoughts on a different level. One has lost a wife and the other a mother.
The Anumba was spoiling slowly. No one cared.
With tears in his eyes, he wished this day had never been made. But it was. And it seems they cared. Mama lifeless body had many things to tell Timothy. No one cared.
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