Almost One year gone and it seemed like Mama had only gone for three days. I was already in primary Two, even though the most intelligent in class, I still did not feel complete. I needed Mama to be alive to prepare the meals I enjoyed while she was alive, to sponge-bathe me so hard like she always did, and to beat me as many times just as she did the first time. Since her demise, all the meals Papa had been preparing were never done, they were like the kind of meals my friends and I would use some hot charcoal to prepare during our play hours.
I remember when Mama was alive, our Hausa neighbour, who is now late, would always boil rice at her house, and come to our house for stew. She had said since her children visited us during Christmas and tasted Mama’s peppery stew, they stopped eating hers. Everyone in the compound missed Mama; her shop was no longer open the whole day, many had advised Papa to bring one of his relatives from his village but he had refused. He never gave them any reason but I knew why. The shop was closed until I returned from school, we were no longer making profits, but Papa did not care about the profits, he cared more about my academics.
According to what I heard, Papa came from a polygamous family. His dad had married so many wives from different cultural backgrounds, in fact, his grandfather was known to be the richest man in the village, and his dad, the first lawyer from that village; this gave them more power to marry as many women as they wanted, snatch farm lands and even slaves. As the people became educated and exposed, they grew to hate the family and cursed their children.
Papa once told us a story about his father and how he divorced his seventh wife. My Grandpa had a land issue with one of his enemies. On his way to the compound of the chief he was having the case with, he met a beautiful girl. He asked her to marry him and she agreed but insisted he asked for her father’s permission first. To his surprise, she led him to the same compound he was going to
Girl’s father: “You wicked man, what are you doing here? To poison me like you’ve poisoned your other enemies?”
Grandpa: “Why would you say that? I was on my way to resolving the land dispute with you when I saw your daughter. Chief Inimgba, I leave the land for you. You can take the whole of the land”
Girl’s father: “Ehn? Hahaha you think I am a fool? Listen, take your pranks elsewhere. But, do you know you are foolish? You walked all the way from your house just to please me? Our people say, after a foolish deed comes remorse. I know you too well, Chief Inimgba”
Grandpa: “Ok, how else do you want me to prove to you that I won’t harm you after letting you have the land? What if I say I want your daughter’s hand in marriage?”
Girl’s father: “The gods will strike you down this minute! Now get out of my compound before I give the animals in the forest a feast tonight”
Everyone in the village heard about the argument and how my Grandpa was disgraced out of Chief Inimgba’s compound and praised the Chief for his bravery, but waited for the revenge from Grandpa. Days passed and Grandpa never retaliated, the surprising news they heard was that Grandpa was marrying Chief Inimgba’s daughter. Six months after their marriage, my father’s half brother saw her in the kitchen poisoning Grandpa’s food. When asked to taste the meal after she denied the accusation, she refused. Grandpa had no option than to send her away. Rumour went round that Chief Inimgba had sent his daughter to eliminate Grandpa, but Grandpa had his charms; other people believed Grandpa had used his enemy’s daughter and dumped her to hurt her father.
In December 1995, I had just returned from school. It was few days to Christmas; I sneaked out of school so I could make some money at the shop. I knew Papa did not have enough money to buy the goat for Christmas, so I decided to use the few days left to sell the few gifts in the shop so we can have enough money to buy some meat for the Christmas celebration. From the shop, I could hear Papa calling me, but I was not sure, so I kept quiet. In my town, it is believed that one has to be sure of who is calling one’s name before answering because sometimes the evil spirit may be calling, and if one is unfortunate to answer, it may result to bad luck. As I was about to sell the last balloon to my neighbour’s son, I heard Papa’s voice again, this time it sounded like he stood right behind me…
Papa: “Shiber! Shiber!! Have you suddenly become deaf?”
Me: “Sir!” I quickly gave the boy his change and locked the shop
Papa: “Will you come here…”
Me: “I’m coming Papa”
I ran towards the house and hit my right leg so hard, I looked at my toe and smiled, I knew good luck was on the way; if it was my left leg, I would have been worried. I cleaned my sweaty feet on the piece of carpet by the door and ran to Papa’s room,
“I’m here Sir”
Papa: “Take this” he gave me a yellow-black nylon bag. “Wait! Take this, then go to your mother’s room and try them on” he then handed two more nylon bags to the one he had given to me.
I ran with excitement to Mama’s room and slowly loosened the nylon bags, I could not dare tear the bags open; I knew he would skin me alive if I did. Papa always saved every carton or nylon bag given to him from the supermarket; he believed they would be useful some day in the future.
He had bought me a red suit and a pair of sandals. The suit had a big collar like my school uniform and it was a different size, the hands were falling off, but I was very happy, Papa bought my favourite colour although the suit was so big the material could be used to sew two suits for me. I stood there, staring at Mama’s standing mirror, I could smell her presence and imagine her standing behind me and taking the clothes back to Papa to tell him they were not my size. I had missed her, I knelt before the bed and cried, I cried even more than the way I cried on the day of her funeral. I knelt there crying when Papa’s voice startled me,
Papa: “Shiber! What are you still doing there? How many hours will it take you to try it on?”
Me: “Sir!” I answered sharply
I did not pull off the over sized suit and the over sized sandals, I wanted him to see how it looked on me, making sure that I walked in a way that will make him notice he had made the wrong choice; I tip toed and limped at the same time.
Papa: “Perfect! Sooo perfect! Do you know that when I told the shop owner that you were six years old, she screamed and said this dress wasn’t going to be your size? I’m an artist and a teacher, I know the right thing to choose. This is so colourful, at least you will still be able to put it on next year Christmas”
Me: “Thank you, Sir” I knelt down on both knees and showed appreciation
What else was I supposed to do? That was the first time Papa would willingly buy a gift for me. When Mama was alive, they would argue for hours and make a lot of calculations on his salary before getting a very little amount to buy clothes for me; and in cases where he bought the wrong sizes, Mama would convince him to return them. I had a feeling he would return the suit and not get my size in return; so I pulled off the suit, folded it like it was a treasure and kept it in Mama’s box till Christmas day.
Will Papa be able to bring Shiber up the right way? Will she be happy without her mother? How will the first Christmas without her mother be? Should her father get married to another woman or should he bring in a relative to help take care of her?
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