‘Nenye, greet your father for me oh! Safe journey,’ Grandma is saying. I hug and bid her bye.
‘Nenye, are you going?’ Aunty Nkechi asks. Aunty Nkechi is a neigbour to grandma. I had spent most of my playtimes with Lola and Kemi, her children; playing over the heap of sand in front of grandma’s balcony. She would feed me alongside her children in the evenings when grandma stayed late in the market where she sold food wares – tomatoes, peppers and crayfish.
‘sweety, come let’s be going,’ mum says. I turn to follow her. Then my eyes drift to grandpa’s grave. I drop the bag am holding and walk to the grave. I feel goose flesh.
It had been five years ago, I was five. Grandpa had been sick and dad and mum had taken him to the Federal Medical Centre. When my brothers and I visited him in the hospital, he was in a good state. He had promised to take us fishing when we come to Umuahia the next holiday. kelechi was barely two, he jumped in excitement. He had never gone fishing with grandpa; it would be his first time. In Umuahia, there was a big river two kilometers away from grandpa’s house. Every weekend, most fishermen took their children there to help them do the baiting and to carry the fishes home. It was fun, especially during the holidays when so many children came with their parents, some with their grandparents. I always enjoyed the fish pepper soup grandma prepared when we returned.
Weeks later after the hospital, mum came back from work, and started packing our cloths into a bag. I asked if we were traveling and she told me we were going to grandma’s house. ‘Is it to grandma Ikwo’s house?’ I asked.
‘No. To Umuahia, pack please.’ Emeka and Kelechi who had sat quiet all the while jumped at the mention of grandma Umuahia.
kelechi said; ‘Hurray! I will go fishing with grandpa. I will catch big fishes for grandma to cook soup. I will give Nenye but I will not give you Emeka.’ He snared at Emeka.
‘Yes, don’t give me. You think I will not catch my own fish?’
It was a long vacation, I was equally happy because I would spend lots of time with Aunty Uche learning how to knit with wool and join grandpa and my brothers in fishing. I would secretly go swimming with Uncle Pat. It would really be fun filled, I couldn’t wait. I looked at mum’s eyes and they were teary. A drop was beginning to trickle down her cheek when she brushed it off with her thumb. I made to ask but I remembered that the day before she had warned me about asking too many questions.
I liked asking questions about everything. Whenever dad’s friends came, I would sit on the side stool close to the center table in the sitting room and ask them questions about buildings and constructions. Mum would come into the sitting room and drag me by my ears to the bedroom. I was chubby and our neighbours always called me Orobo. They said my eyes were like that of a pussy.
On the Saturday grandpa was buried. It drizzled in the morning and the village was a little fogy. Mum came into the room where my siblings and I slept and jerked me up.
‘Get up! Get up! And remove your clothes for a bath.’ Emeka had woken on hearing mum’s voice.
‘Mum is today church?’ We are used to waking early on Sunday mornings to prepare for the Sundays service.
“No, today is not church.”
“Why are we bathing early if today is not church? We have not seen grandpa since yesterday we arrived. I hope he still remembers our fishing?’
‘Emeka, remove your cloths and stop asking unnecessary questions!’
Just then we heard a wail across the corridor. It was grandma’s voice, but why will she be wailing this early morning? Mum rushed out immediately while I helped my brothers remove their pyjamas. She came back and off to the bathroom we went.
‘Bestheart, have the children eaten?’ dad was asking. The previous day we had rarely caught a glimpse of him before we went to bed.
‘Then arrange a bath for me.’ Emeka went to dad and he lifted him and put on his lap. He was just a year younger than me.
‘Dad, why is grandma Umuahia crying?’ Dad was about answering when there was another wail. He put him down and went to grandma’s room; I tiptoed behind to know what was happening.
‘Take her away from the bed,’ Dad said to aunty. I stood by the door and peeped through a crack on the lintel. I saw grandpa lying on the bed, dressed on his white agbada, white socks on his legs and his walking staff in his right hand. I became confused, grandpa was sleeping, why was grandma crying, to disturb his sleep? Why is he sleeping on his church cloths?
“Nenye, aren’t you supposed to be with your brothers? Now run along and stay with them.’ I had been so engrossed in my thoughts that didn’t know when Dad opened the door.
“Yes, Dad,” I said. I rushed to the room where I had left my brothers. On entering the room, kelechi ran to me and said; ‘Nenye, I saw it! I saw it! I saw uncle pat caring a big box to grandpa’s room. A big box, bigger than the one mum puts her wrappers in. I will ask grandpa Umuahia if I can put my cloths in his big box.’
‘Me too,’ Emeka said.
I grabbed their both hands and led the way to the single cushion in the room. I learnt had belonged to Mum when she was still living with grandma and grandpa. The wall of the room had a worn out yellow painting – pictures of mum when she was young where all over on the wall. The floor had a pink carpet and the curtains yellow to match the colorful wall paper above the wall shelve.
While I sat on the cushion, so many thoughts raced through my mind. I couldn’t figure out the reason for grandma’s wails. Mum’s teary eyes, Uncle Pats gloomy face, Aunty Uche’s constant sobs and most of all, Dad’s less attention to us.
I turn from the grave and walk back to the balcony. Mum is, exchanging pleasantries with Aunty Nkechi.
“Oh, mama Nkechi, don’t worry, they will come with Nenye on her next visit to Umuahia,’. ‘Nenye, make sure you are not forgetting anything.”
“Yes mum, everything is ready inside the bag.”
“Let’s be going then or we won’t catch the next bus to Abakaliki.”
“Mama Nenye, safe trip! Greet your husband and your children,’ Aunty Nkechi says as we leave the compound. We board a bike to the motor park where mum buys two tickets. It takes so long for the bus to move on the journey back to Abakaliki. The driver shouts Abakaliki! Abakaliki! to attract passengers.
We are finally leaving the MotorPark, I allow my mind drift to Aunty Nkechi. Everyone likes her because she is so friendly. I think of grandpa. It seems like a century I saw him last. I miss him. I missed the tales of his wrestling days; grandpa had a huge body, with large chest, his fellows used to dread wrestling with him because he would always leave them with wounds after the wrestling. Grandpa loved telling stories – he told us a lot of them in the nights. I enjoyed fishing with him during the long vacations. He would refuse to take my brothers because they were too small. Whenever his friends came, after serving them palm wine, when they left, he would secretly call me and give me the little he remained in his cup.
Whenever he visited Abakaliki, he would buy so many things for my brothers and I. Sometimes he would bring smoked fish. It was always fun staying with him. Now that he is no more, I can understand the reason for all grandma’s cries during the burial. I wish he never died, I wish he is still alive, I would have shown him the new table cloth I made.