(By Daphne Duruoha) – “Hello, Akwa! Am I speaking with Akwa? Hello, hello?” The masculine heavily Igbo accented voice spoke.
“Mmpa! Owu akwa gi na ya ne kwu, It’s Akwa ooh, Hello?”
“Ah ah, this network is too bad” Mummy grumbled.
“Ehe Akwa-nwam! ele mbe e si umum ga bia hu ai, eh? When will my grand children come and spend holiday with us here?”
“Papa Amarachukwu, give me the phone kam gwa ya. Hello Akwa, anurum na Blaise no Port, I hear Blaise is in your house in Port Harcourt as we speak. Ehe, Mbe o na lota achomi hu Umum; I want to see my grand children. All this one unu ne ku, I don’t understand it. Everybody no nnga, even Bertha na umu ya are on their way back from America as we speak; so Ogadi good If you allow the children to come back to the village with Blaise”
Conversations between my Mum and her parents were the funniest. They usually start with her parents sharing their opinions and making it clear that they either did not understand the rubbish any other person was saying or did not care. My mum would always remind them that she is now a mother of four children and didn’t have the time or strength to argue with them-but she always gave in to their instructions. Angrily or stubbornly but she always did what they told her to do. It is funny. Hearing her brag over the phone and telling them how busy she is with her family and unable to pay attention to ‘drama’, only to have her mumble about it all day, every day, till she gives in.
So after that call we shouted for joy, all three of us. Whether or not she accepted immediately, we knew we were going to spend the Christmas holiday in the village. Hence we parked up our bags gradually as we witnessed the stages of Mummy’s approval-first came the mother of four-therefore-too-busy-for-drama reminder, next the mumbling and finally, she walked into daddy’s reading room to tell him we were going to spend the Christmas holiday with her parents in Isu.
It was hard for us to pretend to be asleep when we heard her shut the door of the reading room. So we had to cook up a more realistic activity as her footsteps constantly signaled us that she was fast approaching. We immediately held each other in the bid to create a We-are-just-chilling-together-in-the-room-as-good-children act. That was one of the most stupid things we had ever done. Actually, we were the drama she always told people she was too busy for-plot twist.
To crown the immature pretense, immediately she walked in and kept the weird face, we all smiled and said ‘Mummy this is how we would be in the village’. She burst into laughter and instructed us to get our things ready. We ran to her and hugged her so tight she must have regretted being obedient to her parents.
The question is, what type of children would be extraordinarily happy to spend the harmattan season in a village rumoured to be occupied by countless mosquitoes, poor electricity supply and weird water sources. Well, the type of children who have only known their maternal grandparents and were taken home this once, twice or let’s say three times, when they didn’t know their left from their right.
Anyone could tell we didn’t care about anything else but the idea of living in one big house with all the cousins we only knew by their childbirth stories- Ebuka’s was the funniest. While other children came out crying till they met with the solace of their mother, Ebuka was said to have come out with his legs (crossed) and didn’t cry till he was handed over to his mum. And whenever she complained about his bad behaviour over the phone, she’d say; “thank God from the day he was born he realized his mother Ngozi does not tolerate rubbish. If he does nonsense, I will nonsense him”. I didn’t know all my uncles’ wives personally, but I could guess which one always had a whip in her bag or maybe in her pocket-you never can tell.
Exactly three days later, we had our legs crossed in the backseat of the Lexus jeep our parents had just bought. Uncle Blaze navigating his way to Isu, Nwangele in Imo State, while listening to best P-Square album of the year. This was also the best ride we’d ever had back home. Maybe the reason we couldn’t remember any of our visits to the village is because we always got sedated by mummy’s Akanchawa songs during the ride. We would only remember the hustle and bustle with the potholes and next thing we know, we’re back to our father house-yes, those songs were that sedative.
We finally arrived by 3:00pm. It was nothing like we expected. The house in the village was a spacious duplex and immediately we drove into the compound, the screeching sound of the windows exposed all my cousins who stuck their heads out to see the family that had arrived in a Lexus.
“Ewo, owu umu Akwa ooo” a voice cried weakly, and just before we could get our things out of the car, my grandmother grabbed us from the back and yelled; “I am alive today oo, see them, see them. Can you see my grand children?” I hadn’t quite heard anyone express herself like that so I giggled. And to think she only yelled in excitement was my mistake. At the count of three, more than 15 strange faces surrounded the car. Some singing, the others whispering “you are welcome” in an accent I later came to realize was what they call ‘City English’.
It’s funny how no one touched us or our property despite how close they had come. When a young lady reached for a handshake grandma spanked her and called her a witch; in everyone’s presence to everyone’s hearing.
“Hand shake ke, you must be one of those witches she said” accompanying her confession with a stern facial expression. “Don’t shake anybody oh, my children, don’t let anybody touch you or your property, some of them turn into pussycat in the night” she said to us, what seemed like an advice and an instruction at the same time. From that moment, I knew we might had left mummy in Port Harcourt but a hotter version of her was here to hold us down; an older yet hotter version. And by hotter, I make no reference to appearance as Mma simply tied a wrapper on her chest-no slippers, no shoe.
And funny enough, just as soon as I thought, ‘who were the owners of all those heads that stuck out of the screeching windows’; I saw a different set of faces, carrying in our bags and gesticulating, they had better composure and went in through the back door, so, I supposed when next a family arrived, I would have to help my cousins with their luggage and walk in through the back door with swagger.
My grandparents knew nothing of formality and the initial image teenagers portray when they first meet.
“Ebuka! Nnzube! Chioma!” My grandfather screamed as he emptied cans of milk into glasses filled with malt-somehow, every person old enough to be my parent thought Malt and milk was a great source of energy. Had it not been a tasty combination, I would have put a stop to that self-deceit.
Sooner than I expected, another car arrived in the yard-a Hillux-my grandmother was out again, without a footwear, calling on the villagers she would still rebuke from actually familiarizing with them; I was shocked to see the same faces(and more) troop to the Hillux in sheer admiration. I braced myself for the shout of “Taah!” when they extend their hands for a shake. Everything was going as planned till my cousins came out from the backdoor again, with the swagger of familiarity, and I was still a first timer, sitting on the couch with my glass of malt and milk; hoping to be revitalized-not by the delicious combination though, but by the expectations Mmpa had, stirring the malt and the milk with his enamel spoon whilst whispering “Ehe, this one your grandfather is mixing will give you energy”
I heard of so many grandparents that couldn’t speak proper English. And my friends told me if I ever made it to the village for a proper holiday, I would bask in the sun rays of my native language and emerge glowing, like a photosynthesized flower. But my siblings and I didn’t think so, watching in amusement as my grandfather welcomed my Aunt, and her family.
“America has boxed y’all up” he said as they grazed their shoes on the worn out foot mat that read Welcome on it. When he told us “Yeah, familiarize yourself with my humble abode”, I pardoned him. I took it to be a slip of his excited tongue. But now, hearing him say this, I laughed openly and confirmed what mummy said about him being the headmaster of her school, the first British secondary school in Isu. An institution the white man built to compensate the village for polluting their river.
Things move fast after your arrival. You are assigned a room and shown the toilet for the part of the house you occupied. Hence I knew why my cousins still had swagger. If they had been made to bathe in the streams like I assumed, they would have been less comported like the villagers that rubbed themselves on our car when we arrived.
Very early the next morning I was awake and ready to start my day. I was eager to pee so I walked out of the room to search for the toilet. I looked around and all I could reminisce from Ebuka’s orientation was “down here, over there” and standing on the wide, long corridor; with nothing but the thought of urinating in my head, all the doors looked the same and there was indeed a “down here, over there” everywhere. I quickly ran back to the bed and forced myself to sleep. The thought of staying awake eager to pee was scary, so I joined everyone to enjoy the morning rest.
Waking up later on, I felt better. My favourite cousin had arrived, my favourite and oldest cousin-Chii. Chii is the first and only child of her single mother. She is our best adult. Whenever she comes to visit in Port Harcourt, we all get ready for endless adventures.
Well she arrived that morning, and immediately got to work with us. She took us to the back of the kitchen to take what she called an ‘airy evening bath’. You see why we love her? No one her age will do that, instead, they made it a norm to colonize everything; and as a team, Chii, my sister, Chioma, Ebuka and I decided to ‘siphon’ a little of the battalions.
That night; December 28th, we got to work. Everything was properly planned already. The carton of malt and soft drinks lay in the sitting room as they (Chii and the other elders) talked. My elder sister, my cousins and I formed a reasonable channel(with and by ourselves) connecting the sitting room to the room where Chii and her mum stayed, the room we would all go to later on to have a fair share of the deal. We had to do it or someone else would, during the day, up until evening, goodies lay in the sitting room untouched or fairly touched. But in the morning the next day, it would all disappear, leaving the young ones like us totally heartbroken. We complained to Chii and this was the only way out. She sat on the carton of soft drinks as she contributed to the conversation the elderly ones were having. With my sister as the anchor, and Ebuka as the door man, she was able to pass a fair share of the drinks to her room-the room of apportioning, merriment and justice. The same thing happened with the pieces of fried meat and chicken and Indomie too. Indomie is for kids anyway Chii said as she stuffed half a carton with old dresses and signaled us.
Days passed by faster, the 31st of December was here and it seemed like the night we had all come for, you know. It was the night I tasted my first alcohol, and almost my last. We threw a family party. Nothing serious at first-just the younger set of children dancing-till my uncles and aunties decided to remind each other of who the best dancer was after all. It started when my uncle Blaise teased my aunt Beth about a dance competition they had when they were equally as young.
“It was a draw then, but I’ll show you how I showed them in America” my aunt Beth said as she made for the room and changed into the tinniest shorts I had ever seen her on. Her husband was all out for her; playfully warning my uncle to back out before he got taught a lesson.
All this while, I never really paid any attention. I was at the car park with Edbert-the apple of my eyes. His American accent was thrilling and he still is the cutest and smartest 2year old I’ve ever know.
“Cuzzo, I want to go to the stars with you” he said, pointing to the sky, his tiny finger trying its best to point exactly at the star.
“ Me too”, I replied almost fainting at the thought that I’d soon have to leave for Port Harcourt and him for America and we would never make it to the stars anyway.
He always wanted me to feed him and his pecks were unending.
I managed to convince him to join the party when I met the drama and what is now the best night we all spent together. My aunt Beth was out with her shorts and my almost tipsy uncle was in his khaki knickers.
“I will teach my younger sister how it’s done” Uncle Blaise said, literally beating his chest, leaving us all in unending laughter”
“Action speaks louder” Aunt Beth’s husband warned.
“Who do you vote for” they asked as the music came on, and before we could reply; they were down on the floor, ‘digging it’.
A battle of two attracted another two who equally felt like childhood dance hall rivals. And before I knew what was going on, everyone was on the dance floor, ‘digging it’.
Edbert was fast asleep and I so I too made for the dance floor, leaving behind the unnecessary shyness.
Everyone was soon chanting my name, and to welcome me to the swagger, my uncle poured a glass of wine for me and urged me to drink-they all urged me to drink.
“Welcome to the big girls’ club baby, drink up!”
The wine went down my throat and so did my sanity. I danced, and danced, and lit fireworks, and ran all over the place, and puked, and danced. We all left for our rooms a little tipsy, maybe very tipsy. But what happens in Rome stays in Rome.
The next morning, we wore our civilized smiles. Grandma and Grandpa had no idea what even the most responsible adults had been up to the previous night. We were all knelt in the sitting room like the most responsible set of humans, holding hands and thanking God for a new dawn. And after long hours of praying, singing and praising, grandma went from room to room, in search of the ‘siphoners’ of her soft drink, no footwear and no sign of the empty cans in the room of apportioning, merriment and justice.
Daphne Duruoha is an emerging writer. She is based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State, Nigeria.
Isu Gave Me A December To Remember
(By Daphne Duruoha) – “Hello, Akwa! Am I speaking with Akwa? Hello, hello?” The masculine heavily Igbo accented voice spoke.