Bro Chinua by Innocent Chizaram Ilo

 

Mama never liked girls, especially the white ones that wore dark J’Lo goggles  and carried iBand (for that was what she called iPhone). I stood there gaping at the stranger that walked into the room with Bro Chinua. She was an exact depiction of the type of women Mama didn’t like. My muscles were stiff and limp. Mama feigned surprise at my behavior. Yet, through the aging lines of her face I smelt mischief. She glared at me and I glared back.

Mama was busy grinning at the ‘oyinbo’ woman. She was rattling like late Papa’s bicycle. Bro Chinua would hold the frail looking woman tenderly. It nauseated me the more. Their voice interpretation was cacophonous. I was too irritated to think of thinking of hearing them. Finally, Bro Chinua and the strange woman went into the bedroom to freshen up. I heard her shrill voice saying, ’Man Booker, you didn’t tell me he was dumb ’.

‘Uba, go and set the table let us welcome our august visitors’, Mama said to me as she wandered off to the kitchen, gingerly swaying her hips like a possessed water spirit.

I just did not fancy the direction Mama was taking Bro Chinua’s return. Last Sunday, she had testified about it in church. She and Pastor Emeka has conducted countless safe journey prayers. What was so special about one’s son marrying a white woman for an American green card? It was not even like my erstwhile brother sent cool electronic gadgets for I and Mama. If only Mama knew how the flabby-armed women in the Sisters’ Fellowship and the neighbors mocked her, she would chill. But she does not listen and I would not want to tell her. What I utterly disliked was how Madam Nchala, the hairdresser down the street, continues asking me to sneak out some dollars for her when my brother arrives.

I was still rummaging through my thoughts when Mama screamed my name from the kitchen. “Uba  will you bring your bones here!”

“The ones you gave me,” I mumbled quite audibly for Mama to hear.

“I heard that!” Mama replied from the kitchen.

If I was ever good at something, it would be matching Mama’s insult-peppered tongue measure for measure. As I walked past the passage that led to the kitchen, I decided to snoop on our august visitors, as Mama called them. I quietly tiptoed to their room, never minding that Mama needed me in the kitchen. The door was firmly shut. I peered through the keyhole but could not see a thing. All I saw was the woolly cask of cobwebs that clogged the keyhole. I placed my right ear on the door so I could grasp whatever they were saying.

“Man Booker, you have a very funny family. A grinning mother, the poke-nosing neighbors and the dumb…,” Miss America continued to prattle in her pitched American accent.

“Uba is not dumb. You will soon get to like them”, I heard Bro Chinua saying reassuringly.

“I hope so. I can’t wait to get back to America!”

“Uba!” Mama shouted from the kitchen. Her voice carried a signal imminent danger.

I hurriedly tiptoed to towards the kitchen. Our kitchen was always dark, I had to wait for a while for my eyes to get adjusted to the darkness. I saw Mama’s shadowy outline at the far end of the kitchen stirring the pot of food. She was humming the tune of local highlife. Mama was oblivious of my presence.

“Mama,” I called, announcing myself with an overwhelming importance.

“Uba, what kept you so long?” Mama asked, there was a trace of anger in her voice. She had stopped singing and was now looking at me. Even in the pith darkness of our kitchen, I could feel Mama’s eyes piercing through me. I smiled and kept my hands akimbo, ignoring her question.

“I am asking you a question and you dare keep your cobwebs akimbo!” Mama shouted.

I knew what would happen next, and it did happen. I ducked as Mama flung her serving-spoon at me. Although it missed me by a quarter inch, I stilI winced in pretend pain. I held my right eye and shook my head vigorously like someone stung by a venomous scorpion. This was a trick I played on Mama to earn her undeserved sympathy. As always, she rushed to my side in a frantic haste. It was just like a child that smashed his favorite toy on the floor and rushing to check if it has broken. She thought the spoon had hit my eye. Ol’ boy, I was enjoying my acting. Mama promised me heavens if I opened my eyes. She even said I could go to Lasisi Disco-Hall for Adipue’s birthday party; a party she had vehemently refused me going. I still wondered why Mama never found out this trick I played on her ever since I knew my left from my right.

“Uba, did it swell up? Can you open you eyes?” Mama asked, feeling jittery.

“It is alright Mama, I can manage to open one eye now”, I answered still wincing in pretend pain.

“Go to your room and prepare for dinner. I am cooking Egusi soup for our new American wife,” Mama said. She was satisfied with the assurance that I could open my eyes.

She helped me stand up and led me out of the kitchen to the bedroom I shared with her. Immediately Mama closed the door, I leaped in triumph. Poor Mama, I have outsmarted her again. It also proved that I was still top on her priority list even though her other son and a strange woman were in the next room.

Mama has always been the only parent I knew in my fifteen years of life. She told me Papa died before I was born. Mama had destroyed all Papa’s belongings that would remind her of what she called; ’a terribly tragic death’. She only gave me the old man’s picture (dressed as an army officer) and his bicycle, which I mentioned Mama rattled like. Sometimes I would trace the slack contours of Papa’s face on the picture and imagined what would happen if he were alive. Would he pretend to like Bro Chinua’s woman? Would Pastor Emeka and Mama still be holding Friday vigils in her room? What would he say about my swollen nipples and my wet dreams?

The image of Bro Chinua was vague in my memory; that was until today. The memories surged through me like the overflowing banks of the Niger. He had left for America when I was three years old. Ever since, Mama and I had lived together and undisturbed for twelve years. At a point, I even forget I had a brother. How dare Bro Chinua and his expatriate wife come out of the blue to disturb the life I and Mama mutually shared? Mama and I never had visitors that stayed overnight and I don’t care if this visitor was my long lost elder brother and his wife!

I always cherish and tenaciously guard the relationship I shared with Mama. It was a relationship many people would tag weird. We were best of friends and at the same time sworn archenemies. We shared the same bedroom, slept on the same bed, she bathes me and even at fifteen years I still suckled her breasts. We were more than companions; we were each other’s rock. Mama raised me single-handedly while working as an  underpaid public-school teacher. We never heard from Bro Chinua until a year ago. He had sent Mama a letter, informing her that he was coming back with his wife.

Enough of my tales of woe, I would properly take care of Bro Chinua and his wife when the time comes. I was sure to leave a lasting bitter taste of me on the visiting couple. I jumped onto the spring bed, ruffled the bed linens together and threw them up in the air. At least I had a reason to be happy; I would go for Adipue’s birthday party. That was if Mama kept her promises, knowing Mama for all these I knew she would.

It was 4:00pm and we were at the dining-table for the welcome home dinner of my brother and his wife. The table was laid with a white cotton tablecloth; the dishes were set in a very formal order. Mama washed her flowery set of china. She polished the sets of cutlery which she brought from the big iron box that she rarely opened. She brought out her champagne flutes and carefully arranged them on a tray. We had six chairs (of which I wondered why six chairs for a small family like ours). Four of the chairs, two on the right and two on the left, had plates and sets of cutlery wrapped with serviette.

Serviette! Mama and I never used serviette. We wiped our mouth after eating with an old towel in the kitchen. I looked at the center of the table and saw a chilled bottle of wine. I wondered where Mama refrigerated the wine, considering the fact that we were cut off from electricity supply because she could not foot the bills. It must be at Mama Adipue’s house! Adipue would definitely make jest of me tomorrow.

I sat down beside Mama and pinched her lap. This I did to stop her from grinning as if she was seeing an American woman for the first time. She reached for her fork and jabbed it on my thigh. Meanwhile, Bro Chinua and his wife were staring at us, the way you would stare at a new television set. From the glow that the dimly lit hurricane-lamp cast I could see what Bro Chinua and his wife wore. He was putting on a black Real Niggas  T-shirt. Miss America wore a sleeveless gown that flaunted a large portion of her voluptuous breasts. I had to control my eyes not to look in her direction. How could she breath with those mountains heaved on her chest?

“You are very nice cook Mama,” Miss America commended.

“Thank you my daughter. You can call me Mama like everyone else,” Mama said, still grinning. I wondered how she could lie confidently, without bumps. I was the only one that called her Mama. Bro Chinua, while he was still with us, called her Mommy.

“I am not sharing that name ‘Mama’ with anybody,” I muttered under my breath.

“Uba,” Miss America said, pronouncing my name with much difficulty. The name hung on the air, its Igboness estranged. ”What is the meaning of your name?”

“It means wealth,” I answered without looking at her.

“You have not told us your name,” Mama chipped in an eager to please manner.

“Oh, I’m Pink Tades,” Miss America replied Ma.

“What a nice name!” Mama exclaimed.

“Hmmm, pink in Africa signifies prostitution,” I said loud enough to be heard.

Mama looked at me sternly and said, “Don’t mind Uba. He could be very naughty and over- philosophical sometimes.” That sent Bro Chinua, his wife and Mama laughing. There was nothing funny in what Mama said. I guess she said that to ease the already tensed tension at the table. Little did they know that I was just getting started with being naughty and over-philosophical! I raised my head and noisily cleared my throat. Mama’s eye darted back at me, she knew I had signaled chaos and trouble.

“Uba, I think it’s past your bedtime. Go back to your room,” Mama instructed an already grumbling me.

“No Mama, let him stay up with us,” Pink pleaded with Mama.

“If you insist,” Mama finally agreed with resentment bubbling up within her.

“Why do you call Bro Chinua Man Booker?” I asked reluctantly.

“Oh, he is Professor Chinua Achebe’s namesake. You know Achebe won the Man Booker price in…”

“June 2007”, I completed it for her.

“He was my lecturer at the…”

“So you attended the Brown University!” I exclaimed.

Pink stared at me in utter disbelief. I was very intelligent and I made it a point of duty to shout it from the rooftops to all and sundry, whether they cared or not. I wanted to rub my as-a-matter-of-fact IQ on Miss America’s face. The intelligent thing had always earned me severe beatings from my classmates for answering questions no one could answer and making the teacher flog the rest of the class. It has also made me loose so many friends.

“Uba, I have heard so much about you,” Pink was trying seriously to establish a good rapport with me.

“Things like what?” I asked as rudely as possible. My rudeness was like clotted cream smeared on bleeding wound.

“Fascinating things,” Miss America began, “Man Booker has told me a lot about you. How artistic and creative you are. I mean all those awards and certificates of excellence.”

I threw a questioning glance at Ma. What newa has she been feeding Bro Chinua?

“On the contrary, I have heard absolutely nothing about you.” The words knowingly slipped from my mouth. I smiled within me as I saw Pink’s jaw drop. I crashed her glass housed personality. Mama was busy squeezing my thigh.

A blanket of moist air hung above us as we continued eating. I could feel Mama’s eyes all over me. If eyes could kill, I would have been dead. Mama reached for her cellphone and within a short while I received a text message. It was from Mama; if you want to go for Adipue’s birthday party, behave yourself!

“Mama, I bought you a cardigan,” Miss America began again. She was desperate to establish a rapport.

“Thank you. Let me see it,” Mama said, reaching out for the cardigan. She sprayed the cardigan, exposing the WE LOVE TO FUCK   written in capital letters.

“Emm…, Mama I don’t think the print of the cardigan is good,” Pink said as she saw the shocking words.

“Ah, is it the: we love to fuck? Of course we love to fuck here in Africa,” Mama babbled to please her new daughter-in-law. Little did she know the gravity of what she was saying.

I immediately sent Mama a text message: to fuck is slang form of having sex. I watched Mama closely as she picked up her cell phone. Realization dawned on her face. I stifled my laughter, Mama was deeply embarrassed.

”I don’t think we love to fuck in Africa,” Mama said as she handed over the cardigan back to Bro Chinua’s wife.

I won at last! I crashed Mama’s grand welcome home dinner for Bro Chinua and the eager-to-please Miss America.

It was 9:00pm; I was sitting on the cold hard concrete floor of our verandah. In the distance I could hear the sound of heavy pounding. No doubt, it must be coming from Adipue’s house. Mama Adipue was notorious in the street for cooking late at night. I could hear her shouting at Adipue’s siblings to fetch her a little salt and a little pepper. Adipue must have sneaked out of the house. I knew I was lazy, but I was far better than Adipue.

In my solitude, I started recalling those happy moments I had with Mama. I remembered when I was five years old, Mama and I were watching an advert for a spaghetti brand on television. She told me to run to the kitchen, get my plate so that I would be served my share of the garnished pasta. I went into the kitchen, while practicing how to make Adipue salivate over it. I waited for ages in front of the television and I was not served any spaghetti. Mama had laughed the whole time. She even encouraged me to shake the television a bit; “Who knows, the food might fall out.”

“Uba, we need to talk.”

It was Mama calling me from the sitting room. I knew that something was not right. The last time she said, “Uba, we need to talk”, she had told me that our electricity supply would be cut off because she could not foot the exorbitant bills. As I walked into the sitting room, everyone of them wore a gloomy face. I guessed I really did more than crashing the welcome dinner. I sat beside Mama. I looked at Mama’s face, had she been crying? I must have gone too far.

“Uba, we need to tell you something,” Bro Chinua said, finally breaking the ice.

“Don’t hate me for this, Mama said as she burst into tears. “Papa had problems at work, he divulged a secret about a proposed mutiny. The affected party attacked us, they came here, in this very room. They shot Papa, they put the gun into his mouth and shot him. They forced Kene to rape me, before their very eyes. Kene refused, they shot him. Nnanna refused, they stabbed him. Okoli pleaded with them, they squashed his brains with their boots. When it came to Chinua, I could not bear to loose him. I grabbed him and begged him to do as they asked. Uba, Chinua is your father.”

I knew Mama told this story slowly but violently replayed in my head. I froze and unfroze. This was too much for one night. My head reverberated. The back of my skull tightened in painful loops. It was as if Mama Adipue was pounding inside my small head.

It explained everything. It explained having six chairs at the dining table, it explained the locked rooms Mama warned me never to open, it explained why the priest gave me preferential treatments and why Mama told me to always write her name and Bro Chinua’s name in forms that required my parents’ names. I must be dreaming, I needed someone to wake me up from this nightmare. Bro Chinua is my father! I guessed I passed out after that realization. Yet in the distance, Mama Adipue continued to pound without respect for my present quandary.

 

 

 

Innocent Chizaram Ilo is a Nigerian writer and blogger. He was the 3rd place winner of the YMCA Africa Short Story Competition (premier edition). His flash fiction ‘Vision’ was selected to be read at the 2016 Oxford Arts Festival. He has been
published on Litbreak, Kalahari and Storried. He was born on 13th May
1997.

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