Auntie Obianuju – a short story.
Mother said she knew I would be a bundle of joy long before I was born. I had danced and kicked excitedly but gently in her womb. And she said that I did stunts like one of the world’s best swimmers in the vitreous fluid I swam within her. Some weeks before I was born, I had approached the womb in a transverse pose not wanting to leave the comfort of her womb. The matron told her it was a breach presentation. And a miracle was needed before the EDD approaches or the surgeon’s scalpel will slit -through and tear open her overstretched and bloated Tommy before I can be rescued.
That night she waited for dad to start his nightly snoring show before she knelt beside the statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary to make a desperate supplication. Since dad panicked easily like chicks being swooped upon by a vicious hawk, mum hid the matron’s words in her heart. He loved mum enough to not let her undergo a second caesarian section. The one who would have been my senior brother never tasted the freshness of air waft through his nostrils. She said the labor was chequered and prolonged that she exhausted all her breath pushing as the midwives screamed and scolded her. My big brother’s umbilicus would not let him free, knotting round his neck like a goat under reins. My people said such children are evil and accursed by gods and only transient visitors from the land of the spirits.
Dr. Njoku did a quick CS to bring him out, but he refused to cry. Matron Ogoke turned my could-have-been brother’s head upside down; shook him vigorously, sucked his mouth and nose with a suction pump, and nudged his chest to no avail. His arms were flail, his chest flat and motionless like one with no nuts. He snubbed their overtures and did not cry or suckle the colostrums milk reserved for him. It was mother’s first full term pregnancy. She had longed to suckle and feed her babies with the milk of kindness expressed in love.
Matron Ogoke felt helpless and beads of sweat dotted her creased face. She cast a piteous look at my mom whose tears had mingled with the beads of sweat that strolled down the furrows of sorrow on her sculpted face. Her doubts, worries and fears had refused to lie to her like spam mails. That assured her that my senior brother would remain a spirit forever floating and looking for a body to berth in . to be born after me maybe. He was born before me, and also died before I was born. A still birth also came after the travails of labor like the one that heralded me. The placenta was also evacuated but was put in the same carton that housed my brothers still, dead and cold body. Daddy refused to see what it looked like for he feared ghosts and ghostly nightmares haunted him mum had said. Like other children who died prematurely, they buried him in an unmarked and shallow grave somewhere mum did not tell me. She said she did not know and will break into tears each time she retold his story. She will wail in hushed tone; “nwam oma” rest in peace”. He was her first harvest that could not be staked in the barn. She loved him even in death.
Mummy prayed with her rosary beads every morning and night. She and daddy went to morning mass at St. Finbarr’s Parish before he resumed at his office at the Ministry of Health in my state. Mummy was a workaholic who had no office like daddy but daddy opened a shop for her at the Umuahia main market to console her. To keep her busy mind, hands and legs engaged and distracted. It was a provision store full of household goods and articles. She also sold beer; Golden Guinea lager beer and Eagle Stout. The smooth and classy Star lager beer; small and big stout; even 33 larger beer from Awomama, near Owerri. Men drank beer, stout and other hot drinks like whisky while women would request for ‘soft’- mineral drinks- like Fanta, and Maltina or Maltex. They said women like a lot of sweet things and complain that beer tastes like diluted bitter-leaf soup yet guzzle them down their insatiable throats at beer parlors after work whilst the women cooked at home.
It took another 5 years before mummy took in and I began to grow inside her womb. She and daddy tried but no luck until Matron Ogoke taught her the billings natural method that Rev. Sister Rose lectured the leaders of the Christian mothers organization in our parish. Mummy did not know when her ovulation came, so daddy would shoot and miss the goal by default. All she counted well was her money but not the most fertile days that Matron Ogoke had marked on the 28days women’s calendar. She said daddy was happy the day her monthly blood refused to show. That day, daddy shouted ‘it is goal’ like when Christian Chukwu scored a goal through a ‘penariti’. Now we call it a penalty like oyinbo people.
Papa is quiet and gentle and did not do “gragra” like mama. Dr. Njoku said such women use to have miscarriages, and Matron Ogoke warned mama too. She missed her business at the shop. Daddy and one big uncle brought two house girls from our village to cook and our house chores. Brother Okey assisted mama in the shop to sell things to customers. But she was the one who collected the money and gave the customers change. When mama’s tummy grew bigger, Dr. Njoku had to put her under “house arrest” like mommy called it. She said only lazy people crossed their legs and sit in one place from morning till night. But for my sake, she obeyed so that I won’t be like my brother who died. She would rub her tummy and talk to me like I had ears. ”Nwam, you will live long for me, you hear!” she would mutter as she stroked and traced the roof of her womb. Maybe that was why I used to somersault in her womb out of excitement.
That was why her joy took a flight the day Matron Ogoke told her I was lying in breech position like my brother did before her was born. A miracle was needed to lure me to turn and head southward. She drank holy water from Elele which Father Ede blessed specially for Papa. Mama’s rosary beads are very long like the ones reverend sisters from the covenant strapped to their waist band. She would mutter “Hail Mary” with her eyes closed, knowing that Jesus Christ had performed his first miracle after people cried to Virgin Mary for help when wine bibbers and revelers exhausted the drinks for the legitimate guests at the wedding in Cannan. She then talked to Jesus like any mother would; Knowing he would finally obey. He did and the wine connoisseurs wished for more water to be turned into wine at more weddings. So every night and day, mama called on Mary saying “Our lady mother of Jesus, help make my baby live and not die. Let my baby’s body to turn for I don’t want any operation again”.
It was in the midst of such prayers that I began to swim and kick her again. As I kicked and wriggle inside her womb, something like electric shock gripped her waist and before she knew it labor pangs took over. Daddy was at home that evening and carried her in his Peugeot 404 ‘station wagon’ with registration number ‘ECU 3150″ which he bought after the civil war. Before Imo and Anambra states were carved out by General Yakubu Gowon from the East Central Regional. It took him about 15 minutes to drive from our house at 86 Ohafia Street to Queen Elizabeth’s hospital along Aba road.
Matron Ogoke said that my delivery was a miracle. That couple of minutes after mum began to writ in pain on the couch ready to push, my curly head emerged. She had to use a scissors to cut mama before my big head scaled the hurdle. Dr. Njoku had travelled to his village to visit his father who had stroke. Mummy said it our people called stroke ‘mbam mmuo” because it is only evil spirits that can slap somebody to paralyze the leg and arm on one side of the body. They said I cried immediately unlike my “big brother” and I began to suck my left thumb as though mum’s breast milk was not enough for me. Mommy had shouted ‘Chineke thank sir’ when she cuddled me alive in her weary hands!
I was baptized 8 days later at one of the morning masses i
nside the chapel at St. Finbarr’s by Father Joe. Mama said I licked the holy water that was sprinkled on my face, while other children cried. She named me Chiwendum-God owned my life- because I did not die like my brother. My Baptismal name is Eusebius but they called me ‘Uzeb’ at home. Mum called used to call me ‘Ndu’ because she had felt the pain of death, hence treasured my life so much.
My grandma, ‘Mama “Nnukwu” came for the “omugwo” to help mama bathe me and nurse me. She brought the hot spice ‘uda’ to prepare yam pepper soup- “ji mmiri oku”- for mama which had more pepper more than the one the sold in beer parlors. Three months later they did my church dedication -“ikufu chochi”-, when other women sang “egwu omurunwa”, danced and did ‘ibara’ with mama on their way from St. Finbarr’s. Daddy gave the Catechist money for ‘High Mass” because he was happy that at last, his first son had been presented to God in church like Jesus Christ.
When I turned 4 years, daddy was promoted to a big position in the ministry. We moved to a bigger house- a bungalow with a fence and black gate in front at number 20 Azikiwe Street. Laborers from daddy’s office used to cut the grass in our backyard, twice a month, except during rainy season when the grasses grew fast like “okuko English fowl”. Daddy now had a driver who parked the brand new ash-coloured Peugeot 505 SR in the garage. This government vehicle did not emit smoke like daddy’s 404 station wagon. And whenever we travelled with it to the village, the policemen used to respect us on the road without asking for bribe from daddy. If not daddy would write a petition to the police commissioner in Umuahia and the officers would be in soup. My dad’s colleagues used to call him “Mr. Petition writer” in the ministry. Once he is annoyed with any principal in Umuahia, he would write to the Commissioner of Education and that principal will be punished by posting him to remote places like Ohaozara or Afikpo, where no car can reach easily.
Daddy boasted about Chief Sam Mbakwe, who won the governorship election in 1979 in Imo state- an Obowo man from Etiti Local Government Area- who worked so hard to develop the old Imo State. But daddy disliked politicians; and called them corrupt people that tried to bribe him to rig the election, when he served as returning officer for FEDECO. He said it was because he refused to be bribed by NPN people that NPP won in Imo state. It was when NPP came to power that he was promoted and he started living like a big man. He used to boast that Governor Sam was his senior in secondary school. And that he built roads, bridges, industries, Amaraku power station and many other things. He did not like it when people called Chief Sam Mbakwe “the weeping governor”. He said Chief Sam only cried, because President Shehu Shagari and the NPN party people like Alhaji Umaru Dikko ate Nigerian people’s money. And that was why the ENUGU-PORTHARCORT Expressway had too many portholes like other roads and trunk A roads in Ibo land.