A story written by Jakemond… If you missed part 8, read it Here
Early one morning, we woke up to hear my mother shouting. I didn’t need anyone to tell me what had happened. I did not cry—I had shed all my tears while he was sick. According to tradition, all members of the family living in different cities—brothers, cousins, relatives of both parents—had to return to the village for the burial. Since my father was a member of Faith Tabernacle Congregation, he could not be buried in the traditional way, so he was buried in accordance with the church’s doctrine. His sister and my grandmother, who were not members of the church, had to fulfill all the traditional requirements for the burial.
My father’s funeral was not without drama. My grandmother and aunt were convinced that somebody had killed my father, that his sickness was a result of voodoo charms made by his stepbrothers. Because of this, there was some tension during the funeral as they did not allow certain people to see my father’s body before he was buried.
The other incident during the funeral was more like comic relief. There were poor people in the village who were constantly searching for funeral venues where they could get free food and drink. They would show up at funerals, not knowing who had died and not caring, and cry louder than the bereaved, some jumping up and throwing themselves to the ground. Sometimes in their feigned grief they would cry out loud, calling the wrong name of the deceased until someone corrected them. One such group was at my father’s funeral, crying my father’s name. They lay on the ground, shaking uncontrollably. The attention of the funeral guests was drawn to these people and everyone started to console them instead paying attention to the bereaved family. My father had been very popular—people came from far and near to attend his funeral—so it wasn’t strange that people confused this group of actors to be among the family of genuine guests. Eventually, the actors calmed down and took their seats, waiting patiently for the drinks and food.
There were four tents set up at my father’s funeral, marshaled according to traditional protocol. Members of Faith Tabernacle Congregation were in full attendance in the first tent at the far right corner. The choir members were dressed in their usual funeral white gowns with black hats. The prominent people who had come from afar to console the bereaved family were seated in the tent at the left corner, dressed in their traditional black funeral attire, while the bereaved family, including the children, was in the middle tent where the corpse was lying in state. Everyone in the family was dressed in black except for my mother, my siblings and me, because such tradition contravened the doctrine of our church. The friends of the family and the village women were seated in the last tent, where they clapped their hands and sang along with the choir.
The actors were spread around the tents. If food hadn’t come to them yet, they would keep crying. As soon as one of the servants responsible for food passed by, the actors would whisper, “He that cries must also eat and drink,” and then continue with their fake crying. If the food still didn’t come, they would cry louder and start heading toward the kitchen, where they would ask, in a sad tone, how long it would take for the food to be ready. They would do this until they were fed, after which they would leave the funeral area—only to return later. This scam would continue throughout the three days of the burial, with repeated performances every day.
My immediate family now consisted of my mother, who was pregnant at the time; my brothers, James and John; my only sister, Joy; and me. My brother Andrew had died a year before, on his first birthday. I was told that he had died in his sleep, but I was convinced that it was the same ghosts from my dreams who had killed him. A month after Andrew died, my mother gave birth to Joy. I was really disappointed. I had never wanted to have a sister, simply because I was afraid that she would be unable to defend herself. Besides, I hated the sister jokes that the other kids were fond of telling, so if I didn’t have a sister, I wouldn’t have to hear the jokes. Nevertheless, I grew fond of my sister with time.
After my father’s death, things became extremely difficult for my family. Luckily, my father’s male servants were still with us, selling the products that were in his warehouse. We also survived on the Daihatsu my father had bought, which my mother gave to my father’s stepbrother to use as a taxi. Unfortunately, he was cheating us out of our share of the profits from the taxi, so my mother had to sell the car. Around the same time, all four of our male servants took off, carrying with them my father’s entire stock from the warehouse. After that, we were broke.
A few months later, my mother gave birth to Joseph, a very handsome and healthy child. Though we had no money and very little food, we were still happy to have this addition to the family. We all wished that my father could have lived to see his son. One month after Joseph’s birth, my four siblings and I fell seriously ill. I started to have those nightmares again. This time the ghosts’ intention was to wipe out my entire family. My mother wouldn’t take us to the hospital, even though everyone asked her to; instead, we kept praying and fasting. Joseph eventually died from the sickness.
Months after Joseph’s death, my father’s brother Francis came to visit. He had finished attending technical school and was living in Orji Uratta in King Ewurum’s compound, working as a supervisor in my uncle’s construction company. He explained the reason for his visit: he got a revelation from God that we had to move back to my grandmother Eunice’s home in Orji Uratta because the land on which our house was built was a forbidden land—my father had no business building on it. This situation, he said, had contributed to our ongoing sickness and the death of my two brothers.
We didn’t move immediately. My mother continued to pray and fast, and we remained sick. But after a newly ordained pastor who was related to my mother came to us with a similar revelation, my mother was convinced.
We left Owerri Nkworji and traveled to Orji Uratta to live with my grandmother, Eunice Ewurum. We arrived to find that she lived in just one bedroom in her father’s compound. I couldn’t understand why the daughter of the king had only a bedroom, but I later learned that according to Igbo tradition, women didn’t inherit property.
The king had several daughters and a son, Sydney. Upon his death, the king had left most of his property to Sydney, including the palace where he had lived. However, the king had also given a lot of land to my grandmother and her children. He had divided all of his land into two portions, giving half to Sydney and the other half to my grandmother and her children. I suspected that he was thinking about the continuity of his lineage.
Obviously, the king had not thought Sydney to be a smart man. As the only son, Sydney was spoiled rotten. He had all the opportunities to be educated, but he chose not to, believing the wealth of his family would be enough to sustain him all his life. With the death of King Ewurum, Sydney was forced to become the head of his family. His wife and seven children needed him to be a man, so he became a jack-of-all-trades. He raised pigs, worked as a carpenter, raised honeybees, set up a brick factory, and got involved in every other thing one could think of. But like most jacks-of-all-trades, he was a master of none.
My uncle John, being a successful architect, took charge of the land that King Ewurum had given my grandmother and her family. Knowing that Sydney wasn’t smart, my uncle was able to manipulate him, allowing him control of all the land that belonged to the late king. Uncle John constructed several rental houses within the king’s compound, giving them to Sydney and asking him to collect rent on them and use the money to sustain his family. This was one of the things Uncle John did to garner favor with Sydney so he could continue to control the late king’s property. Nothing happened within the king’s house without my uncle’s approval. Sometimes, when Sydney was broke and wanted to sell his own land, he had to get permission from my uncle and then give him half of the proceeds after the land had been sold. The saying “a fruit does not fall far from its tree” was particularly true for Sydney’s children, especially the males. The first son was a jack-of-all-trades like his father, while the second was a mama’s boy. The third, fourth, and fifth sons were exactly like their two elder brothers. Education was not something Sydney’s boys had interest in pursuing.
Meanwhile, my grandmother continued to live in her one room with her grandchildren—ten of us, including my mother—and there was no justifiable reason for it. There were other empty rooms in the old palace. Uncle John had a room reserved for his family, even though they didn’t visit often, and even when they did, they would stay at a hotel. I was totally dissatisfied with the arrangement. I quarreled with my grandmother and even questioned Sydney as to why he couldn’t give us another room when he and his children each had a room to themselves. Sydney’s attitude toward us made it very clear that he regarded us as strangers in our great-grandfather’s home. Sometimes, when he was upset with me, he would remind me that we did not belong there and should return to Owerri Nkworji.
Living in my great-grandfather’s house without a job was not good for my mother. We had to rely on my grandmother’s income for our livelihood. The king’s palace was located on a major road, and the front of the palace was converted to shops that were rented out mostly to traders. My grandmother and my aunt Mercy shared one of the big shops. My grandmother, a professional seamstress, specialized in custom-made clothing. She was very good at it and had many clients. Aunty Mercy ran a provision shop, which she started with capital she had made selling peanuts. Their two incomes were able to support our family.
Aunty Mercy played a critical role in my life while I lived at my grandmother’s. She was the only one who understood me, and whenever I got upset, she always knew how to calm me. She kept me busy sometimes by allowing me to help out at the shop, after which she would give me soft drinks and cookies.
Aunty Mercy also had her share of problems with Sydney. She had gotten married six years after my mother, but after her wedding and the traditional period of living at the groom’s house, it become impossible to continue there, since he didn’t have a room in his name and was unemployed. So she and her husband moved back into the king’s palace, where Mercy, her husband, and their children all lived in a small room in the compound. From time to time, Sydney and his family would provoke my aunt, but her husband would be unable to say anything because he was ashamed that he lived in his wife’s family home. Unlike him, though, Aunty Mercy was a no-nonsense woman and always gave Sydney a piece of her mind.
In Orji Uratta, life remained a struggle for us. My siblings and I were enrolled in Orji Uratta Community School. It was the second term and I was in primary six (sixth grade). School was very challenging for me; I was distracted and didn’t pay much attention in class, probably because of the traumatic events that had preceded my family’s relocation to town.
However, life after school hours got better by the day. I had no one to control me, no curfew, and I could do mostly as I pleased. After school I would play outdoors for as long as I wanted. I would go into the bushes with my friends to pick fruit, and in the evening we would play soccer for as long as we felt like it. At night, I would go from one relative’s home to another until I got tired. There was only one problem: the compound had a big gate, and Sydney had a rule that everyone had to be in the compound before 9 p.m. when the gate would be locked. As far as I was concerned, Sydney’s rules did not apply to me.
Nighttime was always important to me, especially when there was a full moon. Traditionally, the full moon period was a time for folktales, and people would gather outside in small and large groups under the moon and listen to folktales. I always joined in. When I returned home at night during the full moon, I would usually find the gate locked and I would bang on it for a long time. Sometimes, someone would open the gate for me and say something that I would totally ignore, and sometimes the gate would not be opened for me at all. When this happened I would climb the wall to the roof, and then down into the yard.
The humiliation from Sydney’s family continued over time, but his children were actually very nice to me. I played and hung out with them most of the time. His wife was a kindhearted woman; sometimes she would make delicious food and give some to me. She seemed to like me a lot, but my hatred for Sydney overshadowed his wife and children’s goodwill. Whenever I got mad at Sydney, I would take it out on everyone related to him. Sometimes I would beat up his two sons, even though they were a lot older than me.
At the end of the semester, I decided that I would return to Owerri Nkworji to live with my grandmother at our old house so I could finish primary six and maybe take the entrance exams for secondary school (high school). But my mother wouldn’t hear of it. She would not let me go back to the house that had already killed two of her children. We were able to reach a compromise: she would allow me to go back to Owerri Nkworji Primary School, but I would not be living in my late father’s house. Instead I was to return to our house long enough to collect my mother’s bicycle, and then go to live with an old woman who lived ten miles away from my village. I would ride the bicycle to and from school. This arrangement seemed very good at the beginning, but it didn’t last long.
I spent a month with the old woman and her crazy son, after which I decided that I’d had enough. Riding the bicycle to and from school was very hard for me. Each day I would stop at my grandmother’s home on my way back from school, and though she never said anything, I knew that deep down she wasn’t happy about me living with another person. She was glad when I decided to move in with her. I did not tell the old woman and her son that I would be going back home; I simply didn’t return to her house one day after school. The next day she came looking for me. It turned out that she liked having me around since she had no young child except for her son. I apologized to her and expressed my sincere appreciation for her hospitality, and then told her that I would not be returning to her house.
It was nice to be back in my father’s house, sleeping in my own bed and eating my grandmother’s delicious food. It was like returning to my own kingdom and I felt like a prince.
There were many unforgettable events that happened after I returned to my village. One was the climax of a prolonged, misguided adventure of some teenagers. Owerri Nkworji Girls Secondary School had both boarding house and day students. The school was fenced with a block wall. The dormitories were located in the middle of the school, and the toilets and bathrooms were built along the fence walls. The bathrooms were like mini halls; they had no demarcations or roofs and could take twenty to thirty girls at once. On the other side of the bathroom wall were farms and land belonging to the people of the village. Early in the morning, and in the evening, the girls would troop into the bathrooms, and most of the unscrupulous village boys—myself included—would sneak through the farms and bushes to watch them bathe. We made holes in the walls through which we could observe the girls without being noticed. This went on for many years, unbeknownst to either the girls or the school authorities. Our luck eventually ran out, and one unfortunate kid and his family had to pay the price for our bad behavior. The kid was one of Mr. Onwuka’s sons.
Mr. Onwuka was a very poor man and could barely feed his family of eight boys and four girls. One of his sons, Boniface, had climbed the wall to take a peek at the girls. Unfortunately, he tripped and fell over in the process, landing on the other side of the wall, in the middle of the bathroom where thirty girls were bathing. They immediately descended on him, beating him up thoroughly, after which they paraded him through the village. They ended up at his house, and after some hot exchanges between the girls and Boniface’s family, the fight escalated further, ending with the girls beating up the entire family, including both parents. After seeing what punishment Boniface and his family had gone through, no one ever dared go back to watch the girls.
Though my siblings and my mother were not with us, my grandmother and I were not all alone in my father’s compound. My grandmother had a male servant, and there was a former apprentice of my father’s who had decided to come and live in our house in order to do his business. He had brought along his youngest brother, Raphael, who was my age. The presence of these people helped fill the vacuum that existed in my siblings’ absence.
By this time I became more serious about school, having realized that it was crunch time. I had to pass out of primary six to get into secondary school. This was like the ultimate achievement, both for the students and their families. For me, getting into secondary school meant a couple of things. First, I would have accomplished more education than my parents. Second, it was my ticket to total freedom. At that time, most secondary schools in the country had boarding houses. Before taking the entrance exams, candidates had to select their preferred schools, and while most of my peers were scared and only chose schools close to home, I was eager to select schools that were far from everyone I knew so I could live in a boarding house. This would give me the freedom to do whatever I wanted without any interference from anyone. With this in mind, I studied very hard and did everything I could, including buying gifts for my teachers so they would be nice to me. I no longer avoided the headmaster as I typically would.
To Be Continued…