Memories

Submitted by Ndekwoh Ojen to Contest #14 in response to: It's a literary fiction story about growing up.... view prompt

Ours was a big old house in the center of a large compound mainly characterized by a quarter of a century old rickety thatch houses that served as homes to the thirteen legal wives of my grandfather. It was a beautifully hand-stoned semi modern house, the first of its kind in the area, with a refetory-like sitting room that never served its purpose. There were never chairs or tables except some old fashioned irreparable motorcycle parts all covered in thickets of cobwebs. Only the elite children lived in the big house with their father as the undisputable landlord. My father falls under this category, so we lived in the big house.

The fact I didn't like about the house was that it was big for nothing. I couldn't understand why a family of eight would live in an undersize stuffy room with a wrongly placed bathroom-size window that hindered ventilation instead of facilitating it. Sweat, urine, overnight foods and other forced ordors gave the room a stable-like stench that made us little free rangers. Two of our uncles came to our rescue and decongested the room a little by taking two of my sisters to go live with them. Even though they had to be living as slaves and not family, Dad and Mom were relieved, I suppose.

The family was the largest in the village and environs. Dad told us he was the fifty-second second child at the time of his birth. His mother was nine out of the thirteen wives of his father, and his name wasn't anything near Solomon, I wondered. Even marriages between relatives wasn't anymore considered as incest. Most of the people were pretentiously kind and loving. They would smile in your face but curse at your back. One uncle was annoyingly different. He wouldn't let us (children) enter his house to watch the only television in the compound-a 14" black and white analog device that most times showed nothing but "rain" because the antenna couldn't catch the signals. We were never allowed to sit on the cushioned spring chairs that sparsely furnished his sitting room.

Dad and Mom were teachers but also did a little peasant farming to support. We had to go to Grandma's often. I was four and had just recovered from a life threatening ailment that left me obesse. Like the big house, I was big for nothing. Fat and lazy. Always bullied by my age mates.

*****

Dad started keeping late nights and sometimes never came home. It was worrisome and I prayed it didn't turn out to be like what was obtainable in some of our neighbors' houses where the parents would fight for same reason. I had asked Mom if Dad had another home but all I got was an emphatic no. The wooden benches arranged in the open space within the compound played host to the incessant crowd that followed Dad each night he came back. They were the ones I liked and others I analyzed as bad influence. My opinion didn't count anyway.

The screams and cries all fused up together went into the air like a terrible thunder. My heart jumped into my little hands and for a moment, I thought I was face-to-face with my worst fear - the end of the world. Death. The scary stories of the end of time as told us by the village Catechist had once given me nightmares. Dad had won his election into the Nigeria's House of Representatives.

The following month, Dad had to travel to Lagos for the inauguration. In no time, he relocated there. Levels had changed!

There was a change of everything - friends, attitude, public relations, wardrobe, food and so on. That's what naturally happens when the going is good. We began to travel often, by air and even though I couldn't appreciate it, I knew within me that levels had actually changed. Each time we returned from a trip, I would proudly ask my friends if they saw me flying above their heads. The answer would be in the affirmative because no one wants to fall out of my friendship should the say the contrary.

My happiest day was the day we moved out of the big old house to another Dad said was our personal house. Ah! I wasn't going to see all those uncles, aunties and grannies who would send you on errands that are beyond you and blame you for mistakes. I liked our new house but I wanted it to be like the one in Lagos, though smaller, had all the necessary furniture. It had a big white basin that could collect plenty of water and turn it into a mini stream. Mom said I could learn swimming in it. Not me! I was told Mom's oldest brother drowned many years ago.

The change of level affected us in all ramifications. Mom's cooking pattern changed; we had a new food policy. Even our stews became thicker, meatier and spicier. I guessed she was learning from those television cooks and started using too much onions that looked like Goliath's rings.

Our lives were full of eventualities.

In another swift, while we were still basking in the euphoria of our new status, things changed again. I was six. One fateful Saturday morning, I awoke to many moody and tear-filled eyes of family members and others. I tried to think but my head went blank like one suffering from the writers block. Dad was taken to the Police station. Big sister told me Dad wasn't going to live or work in Lagos anymore as his job had been taken over by soldiers. Their civilian government was ousted by a successful military coup.

Dad went to Lagos, this time to bid it a final goodbye as the ultimatum given them to vacate the Legislative Quarters drew near. With all bank accounts frozen and currency changed, Mom had to squeeze from her peanut-size salary to make up for Dad's road fare to Lagos to enable him bring back our luggage. The "effizy" had suddenly ended. No more flight and other exerggerated stories for my friends; there have all been turned into flashbacks. Even the few snacks recipes Mom had haphazardly learnt had all been washed away by the unexpected tsunami of change. Not even the simple recipe of that her over-sugared muffin or something like that remained.

Dad and Mom became full time farmers while Mom also maintained her teaching job. Mom shared every day equally for both endeavors. 8am to 2pm for civil work and 2pm to 8pm for farming.

Our farm road had many witches sorrounded stories that could effortlessly pass for a great horror movie and the ghostly atmosphere it exuded went further to drive home their perceptions. Everyday, we walked warily back from the farm on the tiny footpath with small stones in our mouths and fresh green leaves in between our lips like enchanters. It had been a long standing superstitious sign of protection from the witches who sometimes manifest outrightly through the booing and scary alternating sounds of the owl. I wished I was never born at all.

Coming home late from the farm usually got worse in the rainy season and most times, dinner would be served by 11:30pm when the early birds were already snoring.

I started getting angry with Dad even though he was our favorite parent. He was the direct opposite of Mom whom unknown to us, circumstances had shaped into who we came to know and tag the "soldier woman." While Dad remained the 'civilian.' Mom used to talk with her hands and I had wished once that God hadn't given her a mouth. I was mostly her victim. Contrary to complementing Mom's efforts, Dad chose to exert upon our little by taking a second wife. And everything that hitherto was ours in total, started coming in halves. Life changed its gears against us. Wars started sprouting up like weeds among crops. Food wars and word wars being the most popular.

Big uncle (Mom's elder brother) came home bi-monthly and gave whatever he could to support us while her temperamental younger sister came occasionally to visit. Each visit gave us mix feelings. We were sure to eat good food with some supplements to balance it up. She was a nurse. However, the shouts, abuses and beatings she would give us at the slightest provocation would make the palatability of the meals of non effect.

One morning, we woke up to the harsh reality that uncle, aunty and all her three children were involved in a ghastly autocrash that claimed all five lives. Mom was most hit. Neither she nor any member of the family recovered from the trauma.

A week had passed but the crowd of mourners didn't abate. They poured in like water torrents, crying more than the bereaved. It didn't even stop them...and us from eating. I never knew hunger could survive in the face of pain and mourning.

Mom stretched beyond her capacity as the wilderness became more extended and dry. She did her best to make sure we never lacked the basic needs of food and education. Clothing at this time was luxury. We only got new clothes during Christmas and we wished it came monthly.

A couple of years later, Mom succumbed to the pressures and bowed out of this world, leaving us as sheep without a shepherd at the mercy of wolves in human clothing. It became expedient we grew up faster and learned crucial survival tactics.


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