THE HEART OF A MOTHER - Chapter three

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ODINAKA AND HER IN-LAWS Before a large granite stone she sat cracking palm kernels. From hi...


Before a large granite stone she sat cracking palm kernels. From his hut Ojemba, her husband’s elder brother, stormed out, shouting invectives at her, “Odinaka! Odinaka! Who cut a chunk from the bush meat I left over coals of fire in my hut?” “Nna anyi (Our father), I do not know. This is where I have been sitting since the first cockcrow this morning,” replied Odinaka. “Odinaka you did it. You are the one who stole some of my meat. Since your husband died you have not tasted meat! You just could not resist the temptation of a well smoked bush meat. This is the last time I will warn you! If you want to eat meat pack your loads and leave for your village. My brother who married you is dead. As for Ikem your son, we can take care of him. Return to your home town for your husband is dead and buried. Odinaka stop stealing my meat o!” “Nna anyi Ojemba, I have not stood up from this position since early morning. Please ask your wife and children who cut a chunk from your meat.” Egonwanyi, Ojemba’s wife ran out from the back of her husband’s hut and slapped Odinaka, shouting insults at her, “Odinaka, may the heavens strike your mouth with thunder. Who did you ask my husband to inquire the missing chunk of his meat from? If you were not the one, what have you been eating since morning? You said you have not stood up from cracking palm kernels since early morning.”

Odinaka calmly showed her a plate containing palm kernel nuts and garri and explained as her eyes moistened, “This is what I have been eating all day. I did not touch your husband’s meat Egonwanyi.” Egonwanyi slapped her hands excitedly and laughed maniacally. Turning to her husband they slapped their hands in the air like they were doing a high-five and began to laugh at Odinaka. “Wonders shall never end! Odinaka, so you are so poor that what you eat these days is garri garnished with palm kernel nuts? Please do quickly and go back to your people before you and your son die of hunger. Your husband is dead! Go back! Go back Odinaka!” shouted Egonwanyi. “Ego (short for Egonwanyi), how many years did I live with my husband before he died? I lived thirty years with him and had a son for him. Why do you, a fellow woman, want me to go back to my father’s house? Did not my husband pay my dowry? Why do you hate me this much?” “Odii (short for Odinaka), I want you to go lest you die of hunger in this compound,” replied Egonwanyi who was holding her husband in a manner to make Odinaka jealous. “Don’t worry about my dying of hunger Ego, my God will feed my son and I. I know the God I serve.” God please bless our mama dem! (God please bless our mothers!)

 Ego let go of her husband, Ojemba and began to turn around, darting her eyes about the compound in a mocking manner, and turning toward Odinaka, she asked, “Odii, where is your God? The God who could not stop bees from stinging your husband to death, what makes you think he is powerful enough to save you and your son from starving to death?” Running toward Odinaka, Ego gave her another slap and threw away the smaller stone with which she cracked the palm kernels. Standing before Odinaka, Ego removed from the edge of her wrapper a potent charm, blew her breath on it and said to Odinaka, “This is my god. It can make a man blind; it can shut a man’s bowel and stop him from defecating till death snuffs the life out of him. I have slapped you twice and threw away your stone, tell me what will your God do? Is he not too afraid to fight for you?” Odinaka lifted her eyes to the heaven and said, “God when a fellow woman mocks me, asking me, where is your God? The fight is yours and not mine.” Staggering around like a mad person, Ego began to make incantations with her charm. Turning to her husband she said, “Dim oma (my good husband), finally Odinaka gets to invoke her God for a fight.” Ojemba stood up and went to his wife, tapping her on the shoulder he said, “Don’t waste your strength on a dead fly and its God which is deaf and dumb. Please go and prepare ofe achara (achara soup) for me with that bush meat before Odinaka steals it all bit by bit. And when you are done, please scoop some for Odinaka and her son before she dies of hunger and we get blamed for neglecting her.” God please bless our mama dem!

Dim (my husband), Ekwu igwe, Ohiajoku, Ogugu (the names of her gods) have blessed us. We need not scoop a little soup for Odinaka and her son. When I am done cooking, I will carry the pot of soup over to her house and make another one for you.” Ojemba began to laugh heartily. Ego lifted her hands to the sky and said, “The gods of our land please remember my good deeds to a widow and her son.” She went into her kitchen and began to make ready to cook. Odinaka stood up and went to pick her stone which Ego threw away and continued to crack palm kernels. Odinaka’s plight had begun when her husband Onyema, began to build a block house, the first in their village. Ego and her husband were jealous of Onyema and did everything they could to stop him, but Onyema was a stubborn man. He would not let Ojemba his brother and his wife stop him. He was determined to finish his block house and move into it with his wife and son. He had followed the footsteps of his father and turned away from idol worship unlike is brother Ojemba. He would pray to God to bring to naught whatever Ojemba and his wife did to stop him and would believe God for a way out of his troubles. However one day he went into his farm and climbed a palm tree to cut down some palm fronds for his goats to eat. While he was up there a swarm of bees came out of the thin air and attacked him. This was known in their custom as ogu nmou (battle of the spirits). God please bless our mama dem!

Someone had invoked it against Onyema through a sacrifice. Onyema was a very strong man, he fought off the bees and climbed down from the palm tree and ran home. Odinaka prepared potent bee antidote and gave to him, but by morning he was found dead and swollen up. Odinaka was heartbroken, she knew her husband was killed because of his block house and he suspected Ojemba and his wife. From the day Onyema died, Odinaka was subjected to all manner of ridicules and ill treatments to make her go back to her father’s house and leave the block house for them. Odinaka knew why they wanted her to leave, but she had a plan. She was working her fingers sour to send her son out of the village. Ikem her son, who was born eleven years after her marriage, was as strong as his father and did not know how to pick a fight. He fought everything and everyone who stood in his way, and his mother feared that someday he might be killed just like his father was killed. To raise the money she needed to send her son to the city, Odinaka did all manner of menial jobs. She cracked palm kernels and sold the nuts, weeded farms for people, fetched water for even younger women and sold firewood. In spite of all she went through, she was never seen with sad a face. But sadly her health was failing her, cancer was eating her up and she hid it from her son and from Ojemba and his wife. She starved to save up money, and when Ikem would come back every evening, she would stop him by the door and take from him all the money he made all day. Ikem loved his mother and would do anything for her. He had no idea what his mother did with the money and did not ask. God please bless our mama dem!

To go out the next day to in work people’s farm or pound palm fruits, or fufu for them, he would only take a few Shillings from her.  One night after everyone had gone to sleep; Odinaka woke Ikem and told him that they were going back to his father’s mud house outside the family’s compound. “Mama, why should we leave my father’s block house for which he was killed?” “If we don’t leave it, they will kill us. They will kill you.” “Mama, let them do their worst! I will not leave my father’s house!” “I knew you would say that Ikem, but I insist we leave it. I have a plan.” “What is your plan mama?” “Have you heard of letting people eat from the same pot of soup they poisoned?” “Yes I have. It is a common saying in the village.” “I am glad you have. If my husband was killed by Ojemba and Ego because of his block house, once we move out they won’t hesitate to take possession of the house. And that is a deadly thing to do. You cannot kill an innocent man through ogu nmou and then take possession of the things he left behind. The same spirits which killed him will kill you.” “Are you sure this will work mama?” “It has always worked. I want you to go join my brother in the city. That is part of the reasons I want us to move away from this block house. I do not want Ojemba and Ego to see you leaving with your things for the city. They will attack you on your journey.” God please bless our mama dem!

“But mama, to go to the city will cost a fortune. We can’t afford it now.” “You are right, I will cost a fortune and I have saved it.” She stood up and went to her bed and removed a safe from under it. When she turned it upside down, a huge sum of money in both coins and paper poured out to the floor. Ikem was shocked, “Where on earth did you get this money from?” he asked. “I saved it. Do you know what I did with the money I took from you every day?” “No mama.” “We used most of it to feed and the rest I saved along with what I earned from my work.” Ikem shook his head in defiance and said, “I am sorry mama, I can’t take this money from you. You don’t look healthy. Let’s use it to get you adequate medical care. I will borrow money and go to the city.” Ikem was right, Odinaka didn’t look healthy and the money was enough to get her good medical care, but she chose to give it to her son to leave for the city. “Shut up Ikem, I am not sick. I look this way because we have not been feeding well since your father died and I have been saving much of our earnings. We will leave this house by tomorrow and after a week you will leave for the city. This money should be able to support you till you learn a trade and start your business.” God please bless our mama dem!

Very early in the morning Odinaka and her son woke up and carried their belongings over to her husband’s hut outside the compound. Before Ego and Ojemba could wake up, they were done packing. When Ojemba and his wife woke, Ego went to them and asked to speak with Ojemba. Ego stood by and wanted to hear what she would say and Ojemba did not bother to send her away. “Nna anyi Ojemba, I have been thinking, it is wrong for a married woman to be living in a block house while her husband’s brother and his family live in a mud house.” Ojemba and his wife were excited to hear that from Odinaka. “I and my son have moved out of the block house back to my husband’s hut in the open. If you and Ego wish to move into the block house, it won’t offend me.” Ojemba stood up and hugged Odinaka and exclaimed, “Odinaka you are a wise woman! I have been saying it from the day you came into our family!” Ojemba ran off in the direction of his yam barn. “Odii! Will you do this for us after all the fights we had?!” “Nwunye dim (My husband’s wife), we did not have a fight. You beat me up as the elder woman in the house when I said what you did not like. I have nothing against you.” Ego ran to the back of her house and returned with a big cock and offered it to Odii. “Odii, this is for you! You have shown indeed that you are wise.” Odinaka asked her to leave in on the ground. Ego’s children came out and watched the cock to make sure it didn’t take off. Ojemba came out from his barn with seven tubers of yam in a basket and offered them to Odii and she asked him to put them on the ground. Odii asked their children to carry them to her hut outside the compound. God please bless our mama dem!

When Ojemba’s children left, Odinaka covered the tubers of yam and the cock with a basket. She knew she would not eat them, by night she would pray with them against Ojemba and his family and give them out to helpless people like her. After a week Ikem got ready to leave the village for the city, in the night Odinaka asked him to kneel down so she could pray for him, “Ikem God will be with you wherever you go.” “Amen!” “They have killed your father thinking you will amount to nothing in this life; but hear me, God go bless you setay bad belle people go vex! (God will bless you so much that evil people will get angry). Em go bless you setay Okechukwu no go talk again! (He will bless you so much that Okechukwu will go dumb forever).” “Amen!” (Okechukwu in the context is a synonym for those who wish you evil. Those who pray that you never see good things in life, those who rejoice when they hear you have suffered a misfortune.) “My son God will surround you with good and drown you in it like the fish in the ocean.” “Amen!” After the prayers Odinaka began to instruct her son on how he should live in the city. She was not sure when she would see him again. Her health was deteriorating very fast. God please bless our mama dem!

From the time Ojemba and his wife Ego moved into Odinaka’s block house, they stopped making her life much more difficult than it already was. In spite of her poor health Odinaka continued to labour hard to find a living. However she could only go as far as her ill health could allow her. One evening she collapsed while weeding a cassava farm for a woman three times younger than she was. When she was found lying helplessly in the farm, she was rushed to hospital where doctors found out that cancer had spread through much of her lungs.  When Ikem he heard the news of his mother’s failing health, he returned to the village to be with her. It hurt him pretty much to see his mother slowly submit to death day after day. “Mama we should have used the money to care of you. What would I do without you?” “Ikem you must be strong, and there is so much you can do without me. You can learn a trade, succeed in your business, marry and have children without me.” “I hate to see you go like this mama!”  God please bless our mama dem!

“Stop crying! I am prepared to go. There is no longer much in this world which holds any promise to me. I have made the ultimate sacrifice by starving myself that you might have a life. That I am grateful to God for.” “Wouldn’t you like to hang around a while to see your grandchildren?” “I would love to do that Ikem, but it is time to go. I am glad I cheated death and achieved my goal…” “You cheated death! How?” “I found a way to offer you the support that will take you to the next stage of your life. As for my dying, forget it. That is not death. I am going home to be with the Lord. I will walk the pearly streets with the saints of God and drink from the water of life. It is you I feel sorry for. You will continue to live in this wicked world, but you must be strong and follow in the footsteps of your father and worship the Almighty God. There is nothing to be sad about my death. I knew it was coming and I planned to beat it. I am going to be with the Lord in his bosom, and there is only peace in his bosom.” It only took weeks for Odinaka to pass on. It was clear to Ikem that his mother wanted to leave the world and move on. Ikem being the stubborn child he was, insisted that his mother must be buried near his father, just beside their block house. God please bless our mama dem!

Shortly after Odinaka was buried, Ojemba and his wife Ego woke up one morning and left the village with all their children. They were never seen in the village ever again. The traditionalists believed that the blood of Onyema, Odinaka’s husband, whom they killed, drove them from the village. While others claimed that their sudden decision to leave the village was a judgment from the gods for killing Onyema and taking his block house. Ikem on his part knew that whatever happened to his uncle and family had to do with the repercussion his mother mentioned when she persuaded him to leave the block house for his uncle. As years wore on, Ojemba and his wife were spotted in several markets, raving mad and roaming about. There was no word about their children. If they lived or died, there was no telling. Onyema on his part moved back into his father’s block house and successfully learnt the trade his mother’s brother taught him in the city. God please bless our mama dem!


Written by:
Uzoma Ujor

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THE HEART OF A MOTHER - Chapter three An African Literary Blog
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