27 Jan Nkem
Nkem is a love story set in Igbo land, Nigeria. Julius Topohozin expresses the Igbo culture flambouyantly in the story. Enjoy the romance.
She sat under the blanket of the night sky, counting the stars waiting for her mother. She knew what was coming. It is the usual talk about time and the men who seem responsible enough to hold a home in the village.
When she finally came right to the crux of the matter, Gladys was already shifting uneasily on the stool she sat on.
‘Don’t you think it is a good idea if you meet him?’.
‘What for mama?’, she snapped, getting irritated.
“The same reason I want to see my grandchildren”, she challenged and ended with tears that came too easily.
Her action caught Gladys unawares. She was more surprised at her tears than at the self pity she usually feels after each discussion about getting a man and settling down.
Her mothers sobs grind into her ears like the honk of many vehicles in traffic. Coming to the village to visit her has become something she dreads to even think about. Apart from her constant nagging about her singlehood, there was also the sickening feeling of seeing her mates and her younger sister’s mates strapping babies to their backs or going about showing off their wedding rings at every opportunity. The worst of them all was when some of her mates came to welcome her and said they were eager to eat rice. She knew what they meant. But even if they meant well, it brought deep pains to her heart.
She had almost passed him when he called her name.
She turned, holding the water pot with one hand. She observed him and then continued on her journey to the stream.
He was now walking beside her trying in vain to initiate conversation.
‘A little good morning from you isn’t bad. How many years ago has it been that I last saw you? I have been away. I just came back from the States’.
She said nothing but held her irritation quietly within her, praying the proud idiot did not try as much as hold her hand.
She got to the stream, steered the water with the bottom of the pot before dipping it and pulling it out when it was filled with water.
Two girls washing their clothes a few distance away greeted Okpara with exaggerated enthusiasm. He waved a casual hello at them. He was not at the stream because of them. Gladys saw the hostile look the girls gave her and she felt a sudden glee. She even smiled as she made her way out of the stream.
‘I will come to your house very soon’, he said wondering what offense he had committed against Gladys to always earn her coldness.
‘Don’t waste your time Okpara. You and I know that what you seek can only happen in the dream world.’
“We will see about that, ‘ he said, clenching his fist and marching angrily away.
The first time she saw him in the community grammar school, her hatred for him was born. She hated the way he carried himself. He behaved as though he owned the world. He made passes at her during their time in school but all of them met with her coldness.
She arrived home one day to a meeting that had started without her knowledge. When she passed the little path that separated her late father’s Obi to the main house, she heard the loud chatter of adulation of the older men when they spotted her. They saluted her late father and praised her beauty. They sat in a circle while kegs of palm wine stood untouched in the middle. She knew who they were and why they had come and her anger mounted with wings and hovered above the group. She greeted them and stood with her hands folded on her chest.
Her mother hurried over to her and whispered why the men had come.
‘It is a waste of time, Okpara is not in the league of men I want.’ She said it so audibly that the men stared in shock before taking their leave one after the other. She watched as her mother hopped from one man to the other assuring them that she would talk sense into her daughter’s head.
The rest of that evening became a night of war between mother and daughter. If a stranger had walked in, he would have concluded that it was a fight between the two wives of a man. Even though Gladys did not exchange words with her mother, she knew she had earned her mother’s disdain from that night onward. Nothing she did was right. She was planning to end her holiday in the village earlier than she planned but not until she met Nkem.
The girls teased him to play a song for them until embarrassed, he sang three songs for them. He brought his guitar from his bag, sat on a tree stump, closed his eyes for a moment as if drawing inspiration from inside of his soul and he began. He had a sonorous voice that carried the meaning of the lyrics even further. There was a deep unseen presence to his songs. He sang of love, of hatred, of life and death. One of the girls wiped away the tears that had gathered in her eyes. The girl donated some of her oranges to him with a smile of contentment. The others clapped, danced and even cried while he was singing. They forgot their sorrows at that moment. His songs transported them into another world.
She sat listening, drinking in every word and the pictures they painted in her mind. He didn’t strike him like a serious man. He spoke and acted as if he had no care in the world. When he finished his performance and responded to the greetings of the listeners. He came towards her and said with a playful frown.
‘You are new here. My name is Nkem’. Her heart stopped and she fled. The words that kept ringing in her head were his.
You are new here. My name is Nkem.
She tossed and turned on the bed at night. She couldn’t sleep. She found herself singing one of his songs. Her favorite. It was only the chorus she could remember. She felt as though she composed it with him.
ịhụnanya bụ nsi
onye ọ bụla chọrọ ị takeụ
Love is a poison
Everyone wants to take it.
For days his face kept coming to her mind and it became an obsession. She wanted to see him and hear his songs again but she couldn’t. She was told Nkem had gone to perform elsewhere. She waited patiently for him even though the time she planned to leave the village had elapsed. Her mother noticed that something new had happened to her but she kept her silence, observing and taking note of everything she did. She needn’t wait long because Gladys was carried away one day with the thoughts of Nkem that she began singing his song.
ịhụnanya bụ nsi
onye ọ bụla chọrọ ị takeụ.
‘Ekuna!’, her mother screamed, nearly flying into the kitchen in rage. Gladys was startled. She even feared that something had hit or bit her mother.
‘Mama what is it? You scared me!’
‘Where did you hear that song?’
‘What song?’, she queried, afraid for her mother.
‘Undergbè eluigwe agbaara gị ọnụ ma ọ bụrụ na ị jụọ m ọzọ. (Thunder strike your mouth if you ask me again).
Don’t tell me you are in love with that lunatic that lives on other people?’
She did not even realize she had been singing. When she knew it, she was openly ashamed without knowing why.
‘I am not in love with anybody’, she defended weakly.
‘Oh… well…we shall see’.
The conversation between herself and her mother were stifled and dry like a bad market day. They couldn’t talk without tension in-between their words. The day when she carried her bag and left for the motor park, she felt lonely as though a part of her was still in the village. She dragged her feet nodding to every word her mother said without actually listening. His face and his name dominated her mind. The motor park was noisy but she didn’t hear it. She paid the fare and found a seat beside the driver. They waited while the conductor scoured for more passengers. Traders came and left announcing and almost shoving their wares in the faces of the passengers. The bus was now full. Her mother bade her safe journey and left. The driver left to settle the union and returned much later. As he started the bus, a voice spoke.
‘Are you leaving us already?’
She turned towards it and her tongue cleaved to the roof of her mouth. She stared at him speechlessly. She only came to herself when the bus was leaving him behind.
‘Driver stop! I am not going again”, she announced. The force with which she said it made the driver ram his feet on the brake. The bus lurched forward, letting a fearful cry from everyone in it.
‘Are you mad?’, the driver cursed, his heart in his mouth and so were all the passengers in the bus.
She fetched her bag, collected her fare, it wasn’t complete but she didn’t care. She ran like a mad woman towards where the bus had left him.
‘My name is Gladys, where do you live?’