Oyibo | Chizitere Madeleine Nweamesi

Mandela streets still wore the sour looks of grief though the war ended a year ago. It has not ended on our path. The flora still refused to acknowledge the abundance of rain. The oxygen remained polluted with a stale odour. Houses with black smoke patches stood unwavering and deserted. Our house was not one of those because it is one of the oldest unpainted uneasily noticed bungalows. The women still gathered every Sunday to share reliefs ranging from those with the highest number of kids to the lowest. My mother belonged to the latter. The men still hung their khaki on the shoulder while arguing over draft games.
It was on such days that the war was called to an end. The women danced not minding if their wrappers were falling off. While the men ordered more local beers because they were tired of waging saboteurs and running to take cover in the bunker.
Mother said that war only took and never gave back. Though she said it on one of her drunken nights I held onto it, after all, the war took her husband and brought no replacement. The war took her best friend, Aliyah, the fairest woman I ever set my eyes on, Aliyah with the long black hair and brought no replacement. When I clocked 15, she bought me a red dress with cream-colored enlarged pockets by its sides, just before the war. That day mother made cupcakes and mango juice and called me her womb opener.
The setting of the sun reminded me of my evening duties; mother’s gin, which I usually buy from the haggard aged man that lives before the barracks. On my return, I saw grey jungle boots outside and I tried to recall which Sergeant’s turn it is today. Ali wore black boots, Niyi wore grey anyways but not this grey, Tito wore brown. It was neither of these men. So who? Maybe a new man.
I sat outside and waited. When father was alive, mother usually prepared evening meals by this time while we waited for a flash of his well-polished black boots. Now, there was no father to wait for, no food to eat, or even a mother that would cook. I stared at the gallon of gin. An unfathomable desire to drink from it possessed me. No noise was forthcoming from the house like it usually was with the other men.
I looked up to the only tree that survived in our compound, our coconut tree. It has full Bunches of coconut heads dangling from different angles. We have lost our appetite for coconuts.
The day father died, he looked lost with the right part of his face charred. All the soldiers that went to the same war zone as father was returned wrapped up in a white cloth. It was a ritual to always wrap up the dead men before taking them to their families.
Mother began crying three days after he was buried. She would lock up herself in his room for long hours. And surfaced after the suspense with bloodshot eyes to ask me “what if our food finishes?”
When NGOs reached out for support, mother was glad. She joined the other women to argue about whose stock fish or milk is greater than the other. Sometimes she comes home with a torn blouse, blazing eyes, or a scratch here and there.
If your father is alive, I will never suffer. I will never drag for food; she told me on one of those food combat days. It made her look so small and vulnerable when she sighed after such expression as if dependence is a virtue.
In the early war days, mother kept me away in the bunker. With each explosion and bloodied mass, it was inculcated that the bunker is indeed a saviour.
When a black Hilux came to take father, he held mother to his chest for several minutes. I let my tears drop. That was the last time I saw him alive.
The door swung open, a young slender Man came out firstly before mother. He wore his boots and left. Mother sat beside me.
Hope he added hot?
She grabbed the gallon and gulped while I watched through the corners of my eyes. Her eyes sparkled and watered from the effects of the liquor. My appetite dissipated.
Her shirt hanged loosely off her shoulders exposing the mound of her firm left breast.
There is a piece of yam left if you are hungry; she got up and went back inside.
There had been a day one of those men who wore heavy boots beat her so badly that her lips were visibly broken. I started crying but she laughed.
Why are you crying? But he gave me money or are you the one with broken lips?
Before the war, mother used to be different. Every morning she took me to school and waited for her office bus to pick her up to where she worked as a clerk. Her corporate wears wrapping her up in an adoring manner. Every Saturday, she would weave my hair into neat cornrows after she has conditioned and tinted hers. She loved her hair in bouncy curls. Before the war, mother could not hold alcohol in her mouth or skip a meal. Then father was just a lieutenant before he was transferred to Sapele as a captain. Mother hated his job. Notwithstanding, the family bonds didn’t loosen completely as father was resolute in his decision to always visit, because mother refused to relocate yet again. I tried to establish an affinity with the mother who used to be tenderly in executing all motherly duties and the one that cared less now. Mother made me a bright blue cake on the day of my final secondary school exams and didn’t allow me to blow off the candles myself.
Oh! I thought it’s my cake; she grinned
My mother did the same for me, so I promised to do the same for my daughter; she said rubbing my head lightly.
I tried to reconcile the mother who on every mothers’ day cooked plenty of food and called the neighbor’s children together and the one who doesn’t even keep important dates anymore. I tried to link that woman whose smile father said captivated him. The woman who exuded so much love. There is no connection with the woman I had known from birth and the one who gulps alcohol like water and entertain dirty boots men loudly. My mother was gone. I have knowingly become fatherless and unknowingly become motherless.
Oyibo, how much worth is this? Mother emerged raising her gallon of liquor.
700 naira ma.
That was not our agreement.
We have no oil left.
Her face contorted with fury and she seized me.
In this house, you will do as I say because I provide for you! Do you hear me?
I nodded in fright.
After she left I adjusted my collar and allowed air into my dried mouth. She must have inherited some rough strength from her captain.
When mother discovered father had an affair after we joined him in Sapele, she hit him with his pistol belt and broke his glabella.
I looked up in time to see our neighbor’s youngest child trying to climb the little pavement demarcating our verandah. I reached out and carried her over. There were some dried tears on her tender cheeks.
Water; she muttered
Do you want water? I asked
She nodded. I got her water which she gulped hungrily. I placed her on my seat beside me while she leaned on me dangling her feet in a childlike manner. She reminded me of Aliyah’s daughter. The day Aliyah died, mother was breathless. She kept lamenting; ‘we didn’t know they were close, the nearest bunker was miles away! I told her to lie flat! She kept running. After the raid, her body was seen headless, and her baby was headless too! I told her to lie flat!’
That was what I heard throughout that week of her demise. Mother would hug herself tightly, unfold her arms, fold it back, sigh deeply and say ‘I told her to lie flat, but she kept running’
It was hard to bear. Aliyah with the most beautiful skin is gone. I glanced at the child on my lap, she is already asleep. I carried her gently and quietly to her older sibling who put her to bed. It was gradually getting dark. I went back to my sitting position.
What will tomorrow bring? I asked myself
Mother came out and sat with me in silence. I became uncomfortable around her. I perceived the stench of liquor from her breathe.
I met your father in downtown, Sierra Leone. The firm I was working with sent me on a workshop. Your father too came for a program; she broke the silence
I looked away.
I lost that job after our marriage, we wanted to leave but your father was more concerned about his job and his loyalty made us stay back. I told him he could get another job. He refused.
We would not have witnessed the war. He would not have died.
He swore his allegiance to his country; I said quietly
Don’t be stupid Oyibo, they have nothing to offer him.
I sighed
I worked for years, I saved much money; she continued
Where is all those money?? Where is all his money? Trapped in some stupid bank without access.
Mother, war has ended
Has it ended in our lives?
What do we have left?
We have ourselves.
She smiled, bitterly.
We lost more than we ever gained. There must be a way to survive.
I turned to look at her, survival sounded unreal. She looked foolish trying to justify her promiscuity. Who could believe mother will ever condescend so low.
We have lost more than we will ever gain; She sighed
The night birds’ humming and chirping grew louder as darkness spread out in thick double layers. Silence fell upon us again.

Chizitere M. Nwaemesi is a modern prolific writer,who relates coexistent stories in a fictional manner. She believes that stories is a very important instrument used in addressing salient issues in our present society.
She is a lover of arts and all that arts contains. Chizitere M. Nwaemesi is of the view that every story needs to be told, just the way it is.
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