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It was Saturday morning, and Chukwuma and his siblings were performing their respective chores. Jidenna had left for the library, as he p...

It was Saturday morning, and Chukwuma and his siblings were performing their respective chores. Jidenna had left for the library, as he prepared for the University matriculation exam. Nzo and Uzor washed dishes, pots and other kitchen utensils. Onyeoma mopped the floors in the kitchen, living room and bedroom with Ibekwe’s help. Chukwuma did the laundry. He always complained that Ibekwe, Nzo and Uzor, were rough with their clothes, leaving him with excessively dirty clothes to wash at the weekends. At the end of the morning’s chores, they gravitated towards the kitchen expecting their mother to start preparing breakfast. She did not seem in any mood to cook. She sat on the front yard with Mma and Orjiugo stitching up torn clothes belonging to Onyeoma, Ibekwe, Nzo and Uzor. Earlier, she had made akamu for the twins, which they ate with akara.

“Mom!” “Yes.” “Aren’t we going to have breakfast his morning? You do not look like you are going to cook,” Ibekwe asked. “I am sorry, Ibe, there is no breakfast this morning. The rest of you will have to fast until lunch time. We will have brunch instead.” Alarmed, he asked in disbelief, “Brunch? What is that? I am hungry mom. I don’t see how I can go without food until lunch time” “Times are hard Ibe; your father has not been paid for the last three months. At this rate, we will be out of food in days. It may not make sense to you now, but if your father is not paid soon and we cannot borrow money somehow, we will all starve very soon. So, everybody has to toughen up. We will have brunch and dinner today, and same applies tomorrow.”

He wanted to understand her mother’s reasoning but the biting hunger that had colonized his stomach and intestines would not let him reason. Angered, he walked away half crying. He sniffed as he broke the news to his siblings, Chukwuma, Onyeoma and Nzo who were by the tap fetching water to fill their drums. “Have you heard? Mom says we are not having breakfast this morning.” “I know. She already told me,” Chukwuma answered painfully, trying to be more understanding, even though every part of him craved food. “What?” Nzo asked incredulously. It seemed both unfathomable and implausible to him for any living human being to skip a meal and not die, unless they had malaria.

He suddenly felt weak; demoralized by the news. He could no longer lift the bucket of water pre-assigned to him, to the drum. He went over to inquire from his mother, the reason why breakfast had been swept off the table for the morning. “Nzo, where are you going?” Onyeoma, asked. “I will be back shortly.” He felt an urgent need to ascertain the veracity of the news that spelt doom for him. “Is it true we are not having breakfast this morning? How are we supposed to survive without food until lunch time?” “I know it is hard my boy, but times are hard. The same thing is happening to other families too. We have to pray that your father gets paid soon. For now, we have to ration everything to get by.” He knew his mother would never really hold anything back from them. Her loving and giving nature was ever so glaring, but hunger had blurred his senses this morning. The only thing that would make sense was food on the table, and the absence of it left him even more frustrated and sad. He walked away sullenly, having failed to extract a change of heart from his mother, who had to be tough because she understood the times. Some other families are having breakfast, he thought. And I know they all work at the same place as dad. How come we cannot feed like others? It has gone from smaller portions to no breakfast.

He continued to ruminate over the situation with no inkling though that it was about to get worse. He walked through the living room, past the back yard and headed up the street. He knew exactly where he might find succor and nothing would deter him from making it there. “Nzo! We are not done filling the drum. Where do you think you are going?” Chukwuma yelled at him, but he ignored him and continued. “I knew he’d take the situation the hardest…he and Uzor,” Onyeoma said. “It seems he is crying. Poor thing! Even I feel the pain, let alone the younger ones,” Chukwuma replied sympathetically. As Nzo walked past Mama Maumau’s back yard, which was fenced off with old, rusty corrugate iron sheets, as though on cue, he heard the sound of boiling oil indicating that stew was in the making. The thought of rice and stew dulled his mind. How do other families manage to have enough food? He wondered again, peevishly.  Mama Maumau as she was popularly called by everyone in the neighborhood was a widow, whose husband, Mazi Okechi, had passed away many years ago, before Nzo was born. He had heard his parents, Jide, family friends and neighbors speak of how nice a man he was.

Mama Maumau had two sons, Okoro and Izuchukwu; and two daughters, Adanna and Maumau. Maumau was a ravishing young lady in her early twenties, who exuded charm, warmth, friendliness and happiness. She was loved by all, which was the reason her mother was referred to as Mama Maumau. Her elder sister, Adanna was a sharp contrast. She was extremely conceited and standoffish. She had a decent job with a telecoms company, but most of all, she kept a streak of rich and generous friends – men who paid her bills to the max. They would come looking for her in the evenings and at the weekends, clad in ‘gregarious’ danshiki, or brocade, and always flaunting their expensive cars.

For some of them, even under their expansive danshikis, their protruding pot bellies threatened to cause a road-block. Izuchukwu was involved in politics in some capacity, and his party happened to be in power at the time.  It was obvious he was doing well, having bought himself a Volkswagen Passat, and an apartment in more affluent part of town. This was no mean feat against a backdrop of harsh economic times. Okoro worked with the Railway Corporation, which put him in the same category as just about every other man in the area. It made sense to Nzo though that with Izuchukwu and Adanna’s income, Mama Maumau could afford breakfast, which had newly become an endangered species in his family.

The aroma of Mama Maumau’s stew wafted past his nose, almost in sync with the shrieking of red-hot oil provoked by the intrusion of slices of fresh, succulent onions and tomatoes. He could envision what the dish would look like, and the thought of it made him hungrier. Hunger however, jolted him out of his fantasy. He paced up to meet his target. He walked by Anisiebi’s block, veered left, then right and further up the street. As with most apartments in the area, Chisom’s back yard was fenced off with corrugated iron sheets. This created more storage space for families. He rapped on the door, and Chisom answered. “Nzo, kedu? (How are you Nzo?),” Chisom asked. “A dim mma (I am fine).” “Chisom, O bu onye? (Who is it, Chisom?)” His mother inquired from the living room. “It is my friend, Nzochukwu.” “Nzochukwu, how are you today?” “I am fine thank you, ma.” “Are you enjoying the holidays?” “Yes ma, I am.” “And have you helped your mother with some chores this morning before coming over to play with you friend?” “Yes ma, I have finished my chores at home,” he lied. I did quite a lot this morning anyway, he though, wanting to justify his answer. Why am I even worrying; after all, I had no food for all the work I did today. He brushed the nagging thought that he had lied off his mind.

Chisom was washing the dishes in the backyard, so Nzo took a chair and sat nearby. The sight of the dishes deflated him. He had walked all the way to Chisom’s house not just to visit with his friend, but in the hope that he could catch them at the breakfast table. It seemed he missed it just by the whiskers. “We have a few remaining pieces of yam and some vegetable sauce left Nzo. Should I dish it for you?” Asked Ndee, Chisom’s mother. He could not believe what he heard. The Nnonas always had enough. Chisom’s father worked for the Railway Corporation, but his mother was a teacher. Her extra income made significant contributions to the family’s overall financial well-being. Relieved, he asked for the left over.

“Yes ma. Thank you.” “No problem, my son.” He washed his hands and gobbled the yam and vegetable down with gusto. “So is your family traveling to the village for Easter?” Chisom inquired. “No, my father thinks that would be too expensive. How about you?” “I   think my father will travel by himself on Easter Sunday to see some of our relatives. He returns the same day though,” Chisom answered. “Well, your village is very close; your father can afford to do that.” Yes, Agbani is not far. By the way, can you believe who I saw yesterday?” “Who could that be?” “Take a guess.” “There is no way for me to know whom it could be, so go ahead and tell me.”
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Written by:
Victor Chinoo

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THE TRIALS OF NZOCHUKWU - Episode 11 An African Literary Blog
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