By Winifred Ogheneofego Felix, winner of ‘From the African Child’ writing contest.
Oluchi jumped as she felt something run across her feet, I saw the relief on her face when she found out that it’s was just a lizard chasing another. She walked into the house, picked the combs and came back to sit beside her mother.
Mama Chukwuka as she was fondly called, started combing her daughter’s thick hair softly with a big comb, Oluchi winced as her Mother parted her hair to make a weave.
“Eh! Is it too tight, Mama Chukwuka asked, peering into her daughter’s face as Oluchi nodded.
“Okay, let me loosen it a bit.
“Chioma! Chioma!! Chioma!!! that should be Nwoke’s voice. Chioma! He called out again.
“Ehen? Why are you screaming my name like that, as if the world is about to end, I answered sarcastically.
Nwoke’s face changed, I could see the color of his eyes become darker, as he made his hands into fists.
“You See this your crayfish mouth that you are using to talk to me anyhow, one day I will punch out all the teeth inside and twist your lips, then I will see what you will use to reply me rudely again, Nwoke spoke aggressively with a deep voice.
I don’t know why but his voice just changes when he speaks to me, especially when I look for his trouble, I think he does it intentionally to show me that he is older than I am or that he is becoming a “Man”.
Nwoke Nnamdi is my immediate elder brother, the third lion of the Nnamdi’s tribe. You see, when we were much younger, we used to be playmates, we ran through the streets together, we trekked to school together, bought sweets, biscuits and ice creams with our transport fares, we laughed at funny street scenes, we ran together when we sensed danger especially when there was a cult clash on the streets. During rainy seasons we intentionally kept our umbrellas in our school bags, used Nylon sheets to wrap our school bags while we danced our way home under the rain, yes dancing in the rain is such a good feeling, like freedom. Like you are dreaming in a world of no expectations, you just play in the middle of the roads with no cars coming, no one is watching you because everyone has ran into the shelter of their homes, just a few passers by with umbrellas. Dancing in the rain, you become creative, you could dance, run, laugh, open your mouth wide for the heavens to fill it, you could even walk on water.
Back to Nwoke, yes he was my protector, he protected me against bullies in school, he would defend me and warn the bullies never to come near me. Nwoke was my hero. But he changed when he got into Boys Model College, after his first term there, he became harder in heart, he stopped playing with me because he said my kind of games are for sissies and he is now a man. He went out often with Brother Chukwuemeka to play football and the likes.
When he is returning to school, I always envy him, because Mummy will buy lots of provisions for him: Cans of Ovaltine, Peak milk, cabin biscuits, butter, etc. What agreviated my envy was that, mummy bought him his own Body cream, Powder, Toothpaste and something she called “shaving stick”.
After his first three terms, when he was about to enter JSS 2, he stopped washing plates. You see, back then we use to take turns in doing the chores at home. When I complained to Mummy, all she said was, “Chioma your brother needs more time to read, go and help him do it today”. And I kept helping him do it, till it became Chioma’s job to wash plates.
“Mummy is calling you, Nwoke said. “She is at the back of the house”.
I went to the backyard(as it was usually called) to meet mummy carrying a bowl of freshly cut vegetables from the little farm we kept. I don’t know why, but Mummy just loved enough vegetables in her food, especially when it’s Okra soup, hmm my best soup.
” Ehen! You are here. Mummy spoke the moment she saw me.
“Take this ugwu leaves, wash it very well with salt and slice them thinly Chioma I repeat, slice them thinly oh! Not those things you do, that you call slicing”.
“Yes Mum, I said as I obediently carried the bowl into the kitchen and set to work.
All these stories and I haven’t even introduced myself, please forgive my manners. My name is Chioma Natasha Nnamdi, popularly called CNN. Yes not because of the acronym of my name, but because I always deliver firsthand news and gist. I am 8 years old, I am a basic four student of Ephraim Akpata Memorial School. I am born to a family of six, yes I am the last born. My father’s name is Mr Nnamdi Mathias Iheanacho, a man in his early fifties, strong and brave. A school teacher that loves education so much, that’s why he always makes sure we study our books and come out excellently without cheating in the exam hall.
My mother Mrs Nneoma Helen Nnamdi is a woman in her middle forties. Tall, slender, light in complexion, with a pointed nose that sag confidently in an oval face between her almond shaped eyes and her small lips with a white set of teeth they could catch anyone’s attention when she smiled. My mother would tell me stories of how people called her “mammy water” when she was a little girl, because according to them, only mermaids had such beauty that she has.
My eldest brother Chukwuemeka Nnamdi Josiah was just like my father, handsome and dark,the second lion of Nnamdi’s tribe. People usually said, it was as if my father vomited him from his mouth, because of their resemblance in almost everything. I even overheard Daddy say that he would soon become a big lawyer.
I heard that my elder Sister Chukwufumnaya Stella Nnmadi, took too long to arrive the earth and mummy was almost letting her spirit fly from her body, before the thin ear piercing cry of a child startled the spirit and because the child was very beautiful, like an angel, the spirit decided to stay and that was how Mummy could live longer to give birth to Nwoke Joshua Nnamdi and me, Chioma Natasha Nnamdi.
I used to hear that “Lastborns” in any family are usually pampered till they become spoilt like rotten garden eggs but mine is a different case. Though I was the last child, I was not pampered, except on special occasions. Mummy taught me everything she could, from cooking(yes I can cook) to sewing little dresses, to plaiting hair: that’s why she bought me a doll so I could learn better, are you surprised?.
Mummy would always say to me, “My mother didn’t spoil me or let become a lazy girl, so I won’t let you become one. And anytime any of my siblings committed an offence, she would say “I did not kill my parents oh! So this child you will not kill me” ( I usually laugh secretly when she says this).
After cutting the leaves till I was satisfied that they are thinly sliced, I sat to watch mummy as she cooked, even as she dipped small chunks of meat and fish inside my mouth as she cooked. You see, that is one of the benefits of staying in the kitchen, close to your mother when she is cooking.
Dinner came, we all ate in peace, since the last argument that almost resulted into a fight between Nwoke and I, mummy had decided to serve us food differently and Nwoke stuck his tongue out, wagging it towards me, while dragging the down lid of his eyes and said “Ntor” meaning “loser!
After meal, I sat close to Daddy, he always loved me to sit by him at night, after meals especially before NTA network news at 9pm. Sitting by him had many advantages, he would tell stories, old old stories his father and grandfather told him and I would listen with apt attention because I always loved them, especially the ones about “Mr Tortoise”, my favourite is “Tortoise and the Birds” that brought the name “All of us”. Sometimes you hear news from Daddy and Mummy’s conversation. Some didn’t concern me, so I don’t feel interested to listen to them, but some actually did. For example this one did. Brother Chukwuemeka and Sister Chukwufumnaya will be returning soon for the Christmas holiday. I am so happy because I know that they will bring something for me. Before Sister Chukwufumnaya went back to school ( I heard her school is very far, far away in Lagos, so she returns once in a while) I told her to buy me new hair packers for my doll and a new shoe that I can wear to church and a new pink dress to go with it. I also told Brother Chukwuemeka to buy me sweets and my own cream and powder, so that Nwoke will no longer boast to me again.
Thinking about my gifts made me sleep, yes anytime I sit close to Daddy, I always sleep. Sometimes I pretend to be asleep, so that he can carry me like a baby to my bed.
I sat as I wore my clean pair of white socks and my rubber sandals. I brushed my corn rows that were already loosening at the edges.
I picked my school bag even as I sighted Nwoke still asleep with his arms and legs spread out, and saliva escaping from the corners of his slightly opened mouth. We use to sleep on the same bed before, but he keeps on spreading his legs and hitting me. Sometimes, I found myself almost falling off the bed, that was why Daddy had to get me another foam, so that Nwoke can spread himself anyhow he likes. Sometimes I open my eyes at night to hear him saying “Bassey! Bassey!! Pass the ball! Hey! Pass the ball!!, this made me scared sometimes. When I told mummy, she called it “sleep talking “.
I slipped into the kitchen to pick my food flask containing “jollof rice and dodo”, said bye to mummy even as I ran out of the house just in time to meet Chinwe.
Chinwe is my friend and school mate. Most times we trekked to school together. She is fair in complexion. So fair, the type people called “Oyibo pepper”. She is a bit shorter than I am, but I like her because she smiles a lot and she says the truth always, even if it puts us in trouble sometimes which makes us quarrel and keep malice but we always settle. She will always say “I am a Christian, I don’t lie”
During the Assembly time, we sang praise and worship songs to God, led by our Senior prefect. Our principal gave the announcements and we all marched to our classes singing “the day is bright, its bright and fair”. Uncle Maxwell, our primary 3 teacher would always stand by to catch those who added the name “Mama Jollof Rice” to the song and punished them for spoiling the song.
After Aunty Florence had finished taking us on mathematics, she said “Everybody, tear out a sheet of paper for Dictation”. I quickly checked my notes, only to discover that I had written past the middle of my notes. I hurriedly begged Chika for a sheet, after seeing her tear a sheet for herself.
Emmmm….. Chioma, my notebook will soon finish , I can’t.
I looked at her surprised, then I looked back at the new note she just brought out that she claimed to be “soon finish”
I just hissed, while muttering angrily “Don’t worry, my elder brother and sister will soon come back, they will buy me new notebooks and this your notes will be rubbish.
“Chioma! Chioma!! Chioma!!!
Isn’t that Mummy’s voice? What’s she doing in my school by this time?
“Chioma! Wake up! It’s time for mourning devotion.
I opened my eyes to find mummy standing beside my bed, gently tapping me.
I got up wondering, till it dawned on me, Oh! It was a dream, I was dreaming of school already when the holidays just started I thought, smiling to myself. Mummy looked at me, startled at how I was smiling mischievously, so early in the morning, by 5am.
After morning devotion, Daddy announced that we will be going to the village to spend the Christmas holiday. Thinking about going to the Village makes me so excited, let me tell you what happens in the village especially during Christmas holidays.
Before Christmas day, we would join our age groups for various activities. Daddy would always welcome visitors upon visitors. Mummy would either be in the kitchen cooking for the numerous visitors or she will attend her Women’s meetings. Brother Chukwuemeka would go out in the morning to visit his friends and return in the evening.
Sister Chukwufumnaya was either in the kitchen, cooking with mummy, entertaining visitors or visiting her friends too.
Nwoke was always found with his age group, they were either learning new songs, making masquerade clothes or conducting a semi wrestling game to test who was stronger. I always loved sitting with my doll and with my friends, showing them the new hair styles I had learned.
Most times, uncles and aunts come visiting. When they saw us, they would exclaim “Chei!! You are now all grown up oh!. Sometimes, they would look at my sister and say to Daddy “My brother, this one is already ripe oh! When are we expecting new in-laws oh?, most times my father just laugh at their words.
At nights, we would always gather round grandma to hear her numerous tales by moonlight. I loved them because they always taught me lessons and words of wisdom.
Christmas day is always filled with fun, lots of food to eat, everyone always wants to be noticed, while showcasing their new dresses for Christmas. Visitors that visited us will always give us money or gift items.
Ah! I can’t wait till we get to the village this year, I said silently to myself while washing the plates used the previous night.