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Iheoma felt Nzo’s forehead and he was not running temperature. Relieved, she tapped him gently again. He peered up at her with a bemus...

Iheoma felt Nzo’s forehead and he was not running temperature. Relieved, she tapped him gently again. He peered up at her with a bemused look on his face. After a few seconds, he recollected dropping into bed. He was not sure how long he had been sleeping. “You have not eaten all day Nzo. Are you having fever?” She asked with no inkling of how much he had eaten Nzo was in no mood to divulge his achievement for the day. 

“I was having headache mom, but I think I am better now.” “It is good you slept. Come eat you food so you can take paracetamol for your headache.” He stretched his tired and fulfilled body, delighted at the mention of another meal. “Okay mom.” He followed her to the kitchen. I will warm your rice for you.” He sat beside her with a grin on his face. His well thought out subterfuge to deflect attention away from his truancy could not have worked any better; and he was being rewarded for it too.

Mazi Anisiebi pulled up in front of his house and walked to the rear of his car. He opened the trunk and a goat bleated loudly. It was Saturday evening, less than two days before Easter Sunday. Although Easter was often low key compared to Christmas, a few families like the Anisiebis could afford to slaughter a goat. His wife owned a restaurant which was doing very well, while owned a mechanic workshop which was in a healthy state too. Ibekwe was standing between their block and Mama Maumau’s when he heard the bleating of a goat. He stuck out his head past Mama Maumau’s backyard. Looking up the street, he sighted a crowd of children quickly circling around Anisiebi’s Peugeot 504 salon car. He sped off towards the gathering. 

Anisiebi’s oldest son, Okechukwu and his friends carried the hefty goat out of the trunk. They tied it to a metal pole while they made fire for roasting it. The circling children gawked at the goat as though it were an alien. For most of them, their parents had never been able to afford a goat. They all envied Anisiebi’s children who had seen the same fate play out at every holiday. Ibekwe picked a stalk of grass from the open trunk and held it out to the goat, which grabbed it and chewed hungrily.

Other children joined in, forcing Anisiebi to remove the remaining stalks from the trunk onto the ground. The children squabbled over whose turn it was to feed the goat, with each one brandishing a stalk. Anisiebi carefully moved his car further away. Okechukwu had earlier gathered some wood. He built a fire, dug a small hole in the ground and with the help of his father and friends, they wrestled the big strong goat to the ground. Anisiebi allowed his son to kill the goat this time. As they roasted the hides, more children circled around them, in awe of their achievement. Darkness was beginning to descend, but majority of them stuck around. After about an hour and half worth of work, Anisiebi and his son and his friends had butchered the goat into smaller chunks of meat. They filled their freezer, while his wife took some meat to the kitchen to make pepper soup. The children who had remained behind were passed a small chunk of meat each. Ibekwe wrapped his piece in a leaf, stuffed it into his pocket and ran home.

Onyeoma was cooking in the kitchen when he returned. Worried that his parents would question the source of the meat, he went to the front porch, scanned the area to confirm that they had not returned. He checked the bedroom and took a quick peek into the farm opposite their house, in case they stayed late on the farm. Nzo had been watching him from their neighbor’s house. He was sitting with Ugo Nnamdi and his sister, Belinda in in their backyard, ten feet from his house. He could tell that Ibekwe was up to something. Nzo walked across the gutter over to their house. “Why are you running around with that look on your face?” He asked Ibekwe. Ibekwe looked startled. “Are mom and dad back?” He asked hastily in a low tone. 

“No. Why? It looks like you have committed an offence. Are you looking to cover something up before they are back? He fired a barrage of questions at his brother. “No! I just wanted to know.” “Just like that?” “Yes. Everything is fine.” Ibekwe answered. He felt the piece of meat in his pocket. He had to roast it as quickly as possible and he did not want to share it with anybody. Nzo eyed him surreptitiously, not believing his story. He knew him too well to know that he was exhibiting the traits of someone looking to hide something. It was a game they had all played at some point. “Okay, if you say so.” Nzo said as he went into the bedroom. He took a mat from the bedroom and spread it in their backyard.

He lay down, raising his head well enough with two pillows. He could see every movement into and around the kitchen and living room. He had taken a vantage position from where he could observe everyone. “Why don’t you come back here Nzo? Come and sit with us. Chibundu wants to tell us a folktale,” Belinda appealed to him. Chibundu was Belinda’s second oldest brother. He was two years younger than Anselem, their oldest sibling. Their apartments were adjacent almost to each other with a small space in-between the blocks of buildings, so they could talk to one another from their backyards. Nzo liked Chibundu’s tales, even though he sensed he made most of them up. He had a knack for infusing his tales with rib-cracking jokes, which he liked but he was willing to pass it up tonight. 

Convinced that Ibekwe was onto something, he told them he would join them in a while. Ibekwe went into the kitchen for a few minutes. He came out and walked into the living room and back into the kitchen shortly afterwards. He had a plate of water when he in his hand went into the living room but it was empty when he returned. This further fueled Nzo’s interest. He watched calmly hoping to storm in on Ibekwe at the right time.

“What are you doing gallivanting about the kitchen,” Onyeoma queried in her characteristic caustic tone. She liked to make her authority felt by her younger ones, and there was nothing they relished more than flouting it. “It is none of your business if I come into the kitchen. After all, it does not belong to you,” Ibekwe fired back at her. “I am cooking. If you don’t step out of my space, I will mistakenly spill hot water or pepper on your skin,” she warned, stressing that it could be easily ruled as a mistake, even though she was prepared to carry it out deliberately. “Go ahead! What stops me from splashing hot water back on you as well?” Onyeoma shoved him aside as she tasted her simmering pot of egusi soup.  Ibekwe took a small seat and sat by the fire.

Onyeoma was perplexed as to what he was up to. She stared at him angrily and proceeded with her cooking. Soon, she went to the tap outside to fetch some water. Ibekwe had washed his meat, which he was holding tightly in his fist. He took the salt container, scooped out some salt and briskly rubbed it over the piece of meat. He reached for the gallon of oil swiftly, dipped a finger inside it, lifted some oil and applied it onto his goat meat. He kept staring at the door intermittently hoping that Onyeoma would not come back soon. Following the brisk dowsing of his precious piece of goat meat in salt and palm oil, he carefully placed it on a log of wood at the back of the fire where his sister would not spot it. He placed his left hand by the meat for a few seconds. Convinced that the heat was enough to roast it quickly enough without burning it, he moved slightly away from the fire. He stayed close enough to keep an eye on his treasure.

Onyeoma returned still confused about Ibekwe’s persistence in the kitchen. She walked past him into the store area of the kitchen. On her way back, she kicked him in the leg pretending it was an accident. She too wanted to taste her soup and tasting for her was a big event. It was her self-granted reward for her cooking efforts; an energy draining work, which she did to help her mom and everyone else in the family. 

She would normally scoop several spoonful of soup, sit back and savor every morsel of it. Their mother had told her that it was bad habit but she was not willing to give it up yet. “A good woman is mindful of her husband and children. With the way you are going, you will starve your whole family when you are married,” she would often say to her. Onyeoma turned deaf ears on her mother. After all, she was not married yet. That could wait for later. Now, only Ibekwe stood between her and a lavish tasting experience tonight before her parents returned.

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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