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A 504 Peugeot Salon pulled into the narrow way leading to their house in the village. They had been home for Christmas. A good look ...

A 504 Peugeot Salon pulled into the narrow way leading to their house in the village. They had been home for Christmas. A good look reveled that it was Professor Osuala’s car.  He pulled up near the old, rusty dilapidated makeshift gate made of corrugated iron sheets ‘stitched’ together by a mesh of nails and wood. Uzodika’s compound was a large one, surrounded by a thatched fence of bamboo trees and palm fronds. Osuala and Uzodika emerged from the car chattering and laughing as they entered the compound.  They had been friends for years, having grown up together in Ariam.  “Welcome daddy!” “Thank you my children.” Welcome sir,” they echoed extending their pleasantries and respect to Professor Osuala. “Daalu umu oma…thank you good children,” he replied with a wide grin on his face. His mustache was threatening to mask his lips and like Uzodika, his bald head glittered under the sun. 

The children rose almost simultaneously as their father and Osuala sank into the couch. “Actually, I came to see you all my children,” Osuala announced. Jide had already retired to his room shutting the door behind him. Surprised, they stood still staring at him for more information. “I have already informed your father. I am hosting a meeting of my kinsmen on New Year’s Day, and in addition, I am organizing a small party for children to usher in the New Year to thank God for his blessings. You are all invited to my house on the first of January.” They looked at their father for approval before confirming that they would be attending. “That is fine, they will be coming,” Uzodika confirmed. “Thank you sir,” they answered. “You are welcome. I look forward to seeing you about 2:00 pm in the afternoon. “Okay, we’ll be there,” Chukwuma answered for his siblings. They disappeared into the house, to allow their parents and Osuala converse. It was impudent for children to sit around while adults conversed. 

“Happy new year aunty,” Olunna hollered at Iheoma as she and her siblings and their mother, Theresa, Iheoma’s younger sister entered the compound. “Happy New Year to you too my dear. How are you?” Iheoma replied. “Anyi di mma…we are fine thanks,” Olunna and her siblings replied in unison. They marched through the narrow gate that stood between stretches of thatched fence built from palm frond and fortified with bamboo. “Olunna!” Uzor and Nzo shouted. “Look at you Chidubem. You have grown into a man,” they added, excited to see their cousins. They had met briefly during their grandfather’s burial. Apart from Olunna, the rest of Theresa’s children vaguely remembered their cousins. 

Onyeoma emerged from the house dressed in a resplendent red dress ready to leave for the party at Osuala’s. “Mom I think we are ready,” she announced. “Oh! You are here,” she added recognizing her little cousins whom she noticed belatedly. Ibekwe and the twins joined the burgeoning crowd outside. “Onyii, make sure you take care of your younger siblings,” Iheoma implored Onyeoma referring to both her siblings and cousins. “Make sure that yourself, Ibekwe and Nzochukwu hold the younger ones’ hands while you cross the main road, okay?” “Okay mom,” she replied absentmindedly, eager to get going. Realizing her inattentiveness, Iheoma reiterated her plea, to which Onyeoma gave the same answer. “Did you hear me Ibe and Nzo?” she asked the boys as she persisted in reinforcing her plea for carefulness when crossing the road. They nodded in the affirmative.  Iheoma’s children and her sister Theresa’s left for professor Osuala’s party, with the exception of Jidenna and Chukwuma who were too old to attend. 

Once again, they relived their Christmas glory as they donned their new outfits. The troupe led by Onyeoma arrived at Osuala’s in no time. They stood by the gate and watched the razzle-dazzle of New Year’s party explode in the compound. They did not see any children their age, so they skulked by the gate hoping to catch Osuala’s attention from a distance. “Sah! (Sir!) Good afternoon!” Onyeoma yelled on sighting him as he walked hurriedly past them. Recognizing her voice, he turned in their direction. “Oh! You are here my children?”. “Yes,” she replied. “Do bear with me. I will try to find some time shortly to come get you okay?” “Okay sah,” they echoed. About fifteen minutes later, he walked past them and gestured that he was still busy. The children continued to chatter, waiting patiently. The next time he walked past them, he made the same gesture. “We have been standing here for a very long time. Ike agwula m…I am tired. If he has no room for us, he can simply tell us to come back another day. I don’t like standing here unattended,” Nzo complained bitterly. “You don’t have to be impatient, Nzo. He said he will be back,” Onyeoma reminded him. “But that was a long time ago.” “Perhaps, you can imagine the assorted delicacies the Professor will spoil us with eventually, if we wait it out,” Onyeoma coaxed. “So…” Nzo began. “Think about it Nzo!” Ibekwe interposed. “The man has a big car; that means he has money. I am sure he has bought a lot of meat for all kinds of dishes. We will eat ourselves silly later, just be patient,” he continued.  “I like food as much you all do, but I cannot be left here for this long like a fish lured by the appeal of bait,” Nzo replied rather philosophically. 

“I am sure if we were the children of rich folks he would have ushered us in immediately. I reckon we are not that important on his guest list that’s why he has probably forgotten us,” Nzo continued to vent his frustration. “I do not think he has forgotten Nzo, you are just being impatient,” Onyeoma reiterated somberly this time as she pondered Nzo’s last statement. Even Ibekwe wondered if they would have been left standing for that long if their father was considered rich. “I am tired of standing here too,” Orjiugo announced with a frown on her face. “Me too,” echoed Uzor, Mma, Olunna, Chidubem, Ogenna and Oleka. They were interrupted by the arrival of a grey Toyota Datsun in front of Osuala’s gate. Mazi Uwanya, his wife, and four children alighted from the vehicle. “Good afternoon!” Onyeoma and her siblings said. “Good afternoon, how are you?” Mazi Uwanya and his wife replied. “Fine thank you, the children echoed. “Is your father here?” Mazi Uwanya inquired.  “No, he isn’t,” Onyeoma answered. “Send my regards to him when you get home,” “We will sah.” 

He and his family walked past them and entered the compound in search of the host. They walked towards the main building, meandering through the throng of guests in the compound. When they could not find Osuala, they headed back and stood a short distance from Onyeoma and her siblings and cousins. “Have you been here long?” He asked Onyeoma. “Not that long,” she answered politely. Nzo, Uzor, Orjiugo, Mma and Olunna peered at her in disbelief.  “Not that long?” Nzo murmured angrily. “So, does the professor know you are here?” “Yes, he said he’d be around soon.” As if on cue, Osuala appeared from the building. Uwanya waived to get his attention. He walked briskly towards him as soon as he sighted him. “I am glad you could make it,” he said smiling. “I promised we’d make it.” He led them through the thick crowd shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries with guests, as they went into the building. 

“I told you!” Nzo yelled. “So does anyone have an explanation for this? Our father is a poor, unimportant man in his eyes; else we would have treated us better. How come he found time for them right away?” Nzo fumed. “Maybe if we had come with dad, he would have treated us differently,” Ibekwe said feebly, trying to convince his siblings including himself. “If Mazi Uwanya’s children had been here by themselves, I am sure they would have received better treatment than we have been accorded thus far. If Professor Osuala truly had any respect for dad, his dear friend, he would have treated us better. I am leaving. I can no longer stand this ignoble treatment.” He walked through the gate, crossed the tarred road and headed home. His mother was sitting on the couch on the front porch when he reached home. “O bu gini? (What is it?) How come you are back by yourself? Where are siblings and cousins?” “They are still back there mom.” He went on to narrate the events at professor Osuala’s house to her. She hugged him and rubbed his hair for a while. “Never let anybody insult you for food or any other thing. You did the right thing. I am surprised Onyeoma did not bring the rest of your siblings home. I wish she’d learn faster. How can she be standing there waiting for him to come and get them after what you have just told me?” Nzo lay down with his head placed in his mother’s laps. 

Iheoma stroked his abrasive hair gently. They were both in deep thought. She wondered why Osuala had been so blatantly disrespectful that a little boy like Nzo could see through his thinly veiled shabby attitude. Perhaps his desire to please his fellow rich and important man outweighed his sense of etiquette, Iheoma thought. After all, they are children, and those of poor parents, so they must be too daft to notice, and above all, a sumptuous plate of rice and goat meat would wipe such treatment off their little minds. “Mom!” Nzo called to her, disrupting her thought. “Yes?” “Why do people treat us very shabbily? Is it because we are not rich? Because we do not have a car? Because we live in a small and old house that is far from beautiful? And our house here in the village is still uncompleted?” Iheoma was struggling to hold back the surge of tears that welled up behind her eyelids lids. “Nzochukwu ezigbo nwa m (my good son), some people will try to place you in a group because of what you have or don’t have. Others will laugh at you for being poor by their standards. We all want to be loved and accepted irrespective of what we have, okwa I na anu? (I hope you are listening to me?)” She asked. Her voice was filled with concern.

Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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KEY WORDS: Christmas, New Year, Peugeot




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