Jude’s return to the village after his National Youth Service Corps was a big event. Amakwu has had its share of graduates but Jude’s graduation set a world record. He was the seventh child of his widowed mother to finish university. She bore seven children and turned them into seven graduates. 7/7. Not many villages on earth could boast of seven graduates from one womb, so Amakwu rolled out their drums and celebrated. Jude became a celebrity and their house a little Mecca, and both old and young poured in to sake the hand that slew the seventh white man’s masquerade and praise the woman that sired them.
There were rumours that Jude had secured a job. These were heightened by the fact that Jude would be leaving for the city, Lagos or Abuja, no one was sure, a few whispered America where two of his siblings reside, in few days’ time. His stay in the village was coming to the predictable end. Then Mazi Udeh came carrying a small keg of palm wine.
Jude didn’t grow up in the village, but he had holidayed here enough to tell the faces of his family from the well-wishers without necessarily attaching a name to them. He knew this tall slightly bent man with soft eyes and a face spotted with shades of white hair, wearing a beret colourless with age, wasn’t a kinsman although he didn’t know his name until the man told him his name and where he lived. His house shared walls with the Anglican Church on your way to Eke Market.
Jude nodded. ‘How are your children?’ The man smiled painfully to this and shook his beret. ‘My son, let us drink.’
Jude brought two tumblers and the visitor filled them with wine. Jude didn’t drink alcohol but he made an ill-defined exception to palm wine, although the last time he drank a glass during their local government corps members send-forth party he suffered a terrible stomach upset. But that wasn’t Amakwu tapped and shouldn’t agree with his system.
Mazi Udeh blessed the wine, praying to God and the ancestors, but praying more for his youthful host, initially thanking God/the ancestors for this great accomplishment but dwelling largely in urging them to superintend the boy and enable him not to forget where he came from. When the prayer began, Jude had his eyes tight-shut but opened them in the course of the prolonged litany and studied the dregs filled bubbles in his hand.
At the end of the display of eloquence, Jude didn’t know whether to say amen or the traditional iseh. He settled for the neutral Ya’me. Let it be so. They drank. The drink began by pleasing Jude’s tongue then slapped his cheeks. Ahhh!
‘This is natural ngwo.’
‘Your mother went to Eke?’ Jude said yes. The man said he knew. Jude nodded. He knew the man knew.
‘I have come to talk to you man to man,’ the guest broke what was gradually becoming an awkward silence. Jude placed his twenty-four years on the man’s age. He was at best a third of the man’s span but perhaps education had qualified him to talk man to man with his father’s age. Indeed the Igbos say when a boy (a child actually) washes his hands he may dine with kings. Or drink with old men.
‘You are of a great lineage, I am not afraid of being misunderstood by your youthfulness. I knew your father, he was my playmate. I knew your grandfather, he was a great man. I have heard great things about your great grandfather and your great great grandfather. Your great great grandfather Okpoko was a great warrior. When the Obika slave raiders attacked our village he was the leader of the warriors who drove them back. He was the only man in the legends of Amakwu to drink palm wine with the skulls of seven men.’
Jude nodded with pride. He rewarded himself with a sip from the tumbler.
‘Your great grandfather Dinta was a hunter of unequalled excellence. Do you know Ofia Nnadi?’
Jude said yes. As a boy he had gone to that forest twice to pick udala. The chief thing he could remember about Ofia Nnadi was that it was so far away an older brother had to carry him in his back half of the way, all the time.
‘Your ancestor killed a wild pig in Ofia Nnadi. The game was so large he couldn’t carry it. So he dragged the beast all the way from Ofia Nnadi to the village square. The blood trail had remained on the earth for years. I wasn’t here when it happened but I saw the blood trail of Dinta’s great kill with my naked eyes.’
‘Yes, I saw it. The oldest man then said that was the biggest game ever killed. Till today we haven’t seen a bigger game.’
Jude hissed with pride.
Mazi Udeh emptied his tumbler. ‘This ngwo is a rare one, I tapped it myself. You know that palm tree behind Oguehi Nnado’s compound?’ Jude didn’t know but he said yes for literary continuity. ‘I tapped this there.’
‘It is sweet.’
‘Your grandfather Theophilus was a great man in his time. He was one of the first Christians in Amakwu. He was the first in Amakwu to read the white man’s letters.’
Jude had heard a little about this grandfather whom people referred to as the postmaster, and was full of pride. Now, reaching his father’s time, sadly, the story of his great ancestors had come to a bleak end. Jude new his father had died in poverty, of little substance, when Jude was still a tiny boy long before the eldest child entered university. His father wasn’t a great man, he was sorry. But Mazi Udeh thought otherwise.
‘Your father was a great man. Yes, he died before his time but he lived a remarkable life. During the Civil War he was among the earliest men to volunteer for the military to defend the new Republic. Look at me, I didn’t join the army. I was the only son of my father so I remained here. When Ojukwu made it compulsory for all men to join I dashed into Ofia Nnadi and hid. Your father was brave because he fought in the war on his free accord. He began greater because he survived Gowon’s Mark 4 and starvation. Towards the end of the war, after Amakwu had been captured by federal forces, stories began to tell that Aloysius had been killed in the war front. The rumours became so loud they became true. We even decided to bury his arithmetic textbook at his funeral after the war.’
‘Three days after General Effiong surrendered to Gowon in Dodan Barrack, we trooped back to Amakwu. It was an old woman who first saw your father in Iri Metu. She threw sand on him, he wasn’t a ghost. She ran back to the village and announced the good news. We came and carried your father shoulder high. He was our hero. Biafra lost the war but Amakwu won the war. Your father won the war for us.’
Jude fought back tears. He drank up the entire tumbler to steady his emotions, to water the news.
‘You know your brothers and sisters more than I do and you know yourself. You are a rare breed of great sons and daughters of Idemili.’
Not knowing what to do, or say to this, Jude extended his glass to be refilled.
‘Do you know why I am here?’
Jude said he didn’t know. The man smiled with the confidence of his insight. His teeth was too white for his age, Jude noticed. ‘I have come to ask for your favour.’
‘I know a toad does not run in the daytime for nothing,’ Jude said in an attempted display of traditional wit. He immediately regretted it. It sounded insulting, degradating. He began to form words of apology in his mouth when the man shocked him by laughing a dry long laugh.
‘Earlier here you asked me about my children,’ the man began, ‘I bore seven children in my life. Five men and two girls. All of them died, one by one, except Chizoba my last daughter. I buried my first son seven years ago and my last son, three months back.’
‘Eww,’ Jude exclaimed as tiny knots of sorrow hit his belly. He knew Amakwu as a land of binaries. Here, success and glory stood side by side squalor and woes. His family’s triumph, as an instance, was duly marched by Mazi Udeh’s blight. ‘Nna ndo.’
The man smiled with pain. ‘I am the only son of my father who was an only son. At my age, I can no longer give a woman child. My chi has done me great disservice.’
Jude hissed with helplessness.
‘Do you know my daughter, Chizoba?’ Jude nodded. He knew Chizoba, she was a strong girl of nineteen or twenty he had once seen in a construction site with shovel and head pan, mixing cement and sand and stones with water, carrying concrete, competing with boys. He knew her, but he didn’t know this was her father. ‘She is a hardworking girl.’
‘Is she not beautiful?’
Beauty wasn’t the word. Chizoba had certain handsomeness coupled with a provocative aura of sensuous promise evident in her soft lips, assured breasts, full waist and firm hips. Chizoba was desirable. ‘She is beautiful.’
Mazi emptied his glass. ‘I have spoken to her. She is going to remain in my house and bear children that would keep our family name. I want the blood of your great family flowing in my family. I want you to give Chizoba a baby.’
The silence that followed was embracing, almost to the point of suffocation. Even the tick-tock of the timeless clock was suspended as boy and man watched, seeing nothing except the request hung on air like incense waiting to be received or repelled. Jude did not know what to think, how to think it. Yes, he was educated, he may dine with kings and drink with old men, but the peculiarity of this suit had fogged his faculties, chained his tongue.
A warm palm landed on his shoulder. He looked up at watery eyes. ‘Think about it my son. I am not in savage haste, I am not like the tortoise who endured three market weeks in a faeces pit but shouted at rescuers to hurry up when help finally came. You are a man, take your time, think about it.’ He left.
Jude relaxed his back on the armchair he was seated without relaxing his mind. He lifted his long legs and laid them on the table, knocking down his tumbler in the process; he braved his ears waiting for the glass to shatter on the carpeted floor. The cup did not break, to his astonishment. He hurried off his seat, rounded the table and bent down to pick up the glass container, sure this was an omen from his ancestors.
As he lifted the tumbler, he felt someone toe into the sitting room. That must be his mother, back from Eke, so soon? But his mother usually hailed him when she returned, and never stole in. Or Chizoba? Oh no! God please, not her. But his heart had begun stormy throbbing on his chest, seizing his breath. He sighed; he rose to his feet, slowly, turned to the door, uncertainly, and looked.
Update: Read the next August-themed post