Later that afternoon, the compound was filled with many people; children and adults, all wearing long faces. Most of them were crying and cursing, others, mostly men, stood with their arms folded and watched the ambulance arrive and drop each body one after another. I saw another man in black uniform drop from a black vehicle, he called the men aside and spoke to them; I could tell from the way the men shook their heads that he was giving them sad news. The men in turn moved to the wailing women and whispered something to them; it was like pouring gasoline into fire, whatever they said to the women made them cry louder.
After speaking to the men in the compound, the man in black uniform came to me and squat in front of me
Man: “Are you the teacher’s daughter?” he asked, wearing a fake smile on his face
Me: “Yes” I said, confused
Man: “Your father was a good man. He was trying to save the lives of your neighbours when the armed robbers shot him. We will make sure we find the culprits and make them pay for this.” He stood up and tapped me on the shoulder
“You will be fine, the government will sponsor your education to any level” he promised
…that was when it fully occurred to me that Papa had died. I was just ten; I did not know how I was going to live my life without him. Tears refused to come out of my eyes; I stood there thinking of what to do and where to go to. Mrs. Mathew took me to her house and told me that I could stay for as long as I wanted; that Papa’s family had been contacted and they would arrive our town anytime soon. Her house was a One-room self contain; she had no furniture only a cushion that looked like an abandoned bicycle. She laid a mat for me and her sister, who had come as soon as she heard Mr. Mathew’s death. Other relatives who had come to condole slept outside the house, under the big tree in the middle of the compound.
“Shiber! You dey mad? Where you put your ear when I tell you say make you nor dey put dis pikin for bed if she wan sleep? Shiber!!” I heard my aunt calling from the outside
Me: “Ma! I dey come” I ran to the front of the house, I did not see her there, then I ran to the backyard
Aunt Engee: “Come make I teash you lesson small, idiot!” she dragged me closer to the bucket of soapy water and dipped my head into the water.
I held my breath for as long as I could, but before I knew it, I had lost the ability to stop myself from breathing. The first heavy breath that followed got me inhaling the dirty soapy water I had kept aside to flush the toilet. It was then Aunt Engee decided to pull my head out. I coughed painfully like the water had mixed with my brain, the deep cut her nails made on my neck made me feel worse.
“I look like your mate wey you go disobey my instruction?” She held my hair tight and lifted my head
“Hehehe see dis small rat of yesterday. Next time you take my pikin mata play, I go show you Yoruba pepper. Nonsense!” she said and walked into the house.
Who was I to cry? I had been living with Aunt Engee for Four years; she had come with Papa’s relative the following day the ambulance brought his corpse to the compound. Like a piece of meat being given to hundred slaves, my father’s siblings debated on who should cater for me; it was after their long timed meeting that Aunt Engee volunteered to take me with her, since she was a single mother and only relative that lived in the North. She had given her reason to be that she wanted her daughter to have a sister around, and she also wanted to have me around too. From Mrs. Mathew’s house that day, I heard Aunt Engee telling the rest of her siblings that I was her favourite niece; and it was a fat lie.
I hated Aunt Engee, in fact, I despised her everything. She had this small stature and wicked looks, with her mouth always busy chewing gum and legs looking like they would break any minute. When Mama was alive, she told me that Aunt Engee had visited when they were childless. They both engaged in a huge fight, as she had visited to convince Papa to send Mama away. What upset Mama was that, Aunt Engee did not, like other Nigerian relatives call Papa aside to tell him whatever that brought her to the house, she was bold enough to say it in Mama’s presence. I heard Papa did not take it nicely, he had asked Aunt Engee to leave his house, and on her way, she called Mama a witch and accused her of controlling Papa.
My father’s half sister, Aunt Engee, lived in Janguza Barracks in Kano state. Most of the wives of the military men in the barracks seemed like they were handpicked by God; they had so much similar characteristics, Gossip was a synonymous word for their personalities. They would turn up for every occasion even without invitation; as they smile to rejoice with you, they gossip within themselves and feel hatred deep inside. I did not know who Aunt Engee was dating or married to, but I knew she had a very strong hold in the barracks; the women hated her but accorded her respect.
My first few months with her was like living in the worst part of hell; no day had passed without her nagging and innovated curses and insults; she never ran out of vocabulary as long as it had to do with curses- she was a professor in that discipline. One of the days, she had asked me to boil beans and I did as instructed. After the beans was done, she argued that she never asked me to boil the beans but rice. When I tried to prove my point by telling her that we were both in the house while the beans was being cooked and she would have at one point, perceived the aroma, she lifted the pot of beans and poured the hot beans all over my head; it was the first time she had acted that wicked, I was not used to such maltreatment, so I cried all day, with fever.
Later that day, she returned from where she had gone for a wedding ceremony, according to her, she was booed out of the venue
Me: “Why would they ask you to leave the wedding, were there bouncers?” I asked sarcastically
Aunt Engee: “Hmm my dear, no mind dose poor people, na poverty dey worry dia head. As I reash I come see say food wey dem dey share nor reash my side. I come stand up go d MC go complain say food nor reash me. I nor no say d microphone dey on. The foolish MC come yarn me say food finish” she paused for a few seconds and removed her
gele then heaved. It was obvious she was not comfortable in the native outfit, the gele had made temporary marks around her head. She continued,
“Naim I provoke, I say ‘food, finish? How? Nor be now pipo dey reash d venue? How food wan take finish?’” she dramatized her actions
“By mistake, I come say ‘wish kain palm oil wedding be dis wey water, dem nor share, food, dem nor give. Nor be burial we dey na’…naim Captain Obodoeze wife begin rush me with insults. All those officers wife too join, I come vex dey come house” she hissed and went into the bathroom with sadness written all over her face.
Of course I was a good listener. I made sure I heard every detail of how she was embarrassed by the barrack women. I laughed so hard as I went to the kitchen to warm her food, I knew my God was not asleep, she had her own day ruined too just as she ruined mine.
After coughing out the dirty soapy water, I sat on the cement block to catch my breath; I had to breathe through my mouth, because breathing through my nose caused me pain. I cried and called Papa’s name, why did he leave me? Why did he confront the robbers? Didn’t he know that I was his only fruit? I cried as I stared at the dirty dog that came to pick some bones from the dishes Aunt Engee had lined up for me to wash. I quickly stood up and pretended I was busy with chores when I heard her duck-like footsteps
Aunt Engee: “Where that witch? You see? If person nor make you cry you nor go sabi the correct tin” she placed her left hand on her waist and instructed me with the right
“If you finish wetin you dey do for this backyard, rush go inside clean everywhere; I dey expect visitor. If to say you nor sluggish, na you for go this market wey I dey go like this. Nor forget O!”
After she left, I was caught up in another deep thought. Who was she expecting? Was it a visitor from the village? Was it Papa’s relative? If it was, then God had answered my prayers; I was going to tell the man or woman what I had been going through for the past four years. Yes!
Our long expected visitor arrived very late; Aunt Engee had made up for hours like an Osun goddess, the food we prepared was getting cold and I was also exhausted from multiple house chores. We heard a very loud car horn. I ran to the window to check, then I saw a big flashy car; it was the special visitor, I guessed. Aunt Engee ran into her room and applied more make up, I never knew there was anyone in the world who could put her in such happy mood. She came out of the room looking like a new born, who had just been bathed by her Nigerian grandmother; the white powder was all over her face and neck, but I didn’t tell her it was too much; I wanted her to look ugly.
She went out to welcome her guest, who swaggered into the living room in his native attire. Behind him, was a boy, almost my age. Aunty asked the man to sit and signaled me to take the boy to the guest room; we both dropped the luggage in the room, and as I was about leave the room, the boy finally spoke,
Boy: “Hello dear. We have not spoken, My name is Miebaka, what is your name?” he stretched his hands to shake me
Me: “I am Shiber, Aunt Engee’s niece” I stretched my sweaty hand to shake him.
He held my hand, smiled at me and then released it; it was my first hand shake
Boy: “Why is your hand so cold? …and sweaty? Are you nervous?” he asked
I looked away and smiled, how could a boy my age know so much. He moved closer to me and placed his right and on my chest, lowered his fingers towards my right breast and looked into my eyes as he smiled then leaned on the wall near the door. It felt so odd, but great at the same time; I managed to take his hand off and ran to my room. I could hear my heart beat like multiple talking drums.
To be continued!
Who is the visitor that just arrived at Aunt Engee’s house? Could he be a relative? What role will the new boy, Miebaka play during his stay at Aunt Engee’s house?