by Dexter Joseph
Ikemefula sat around his compound with his father who had aged but stood strong like old wine. Next to him was his younger brother, Obiora, who had recently just returned from Abuja after four years of being away. Life had treated all of them well with a mouthful of health and a plastered dose of happiness.
While their mother had moved to the afterlife of recent and the pain still sat in their chests, Ikemefula, much like his father, brother, and elder sister, who still was on her way back from Enugu, knew she had died without suffering. He had made sure of it, to keep his family together and happy.
With hard work and relentlessness, he had hustled, cracked his own back and cut back his dreams just to make sure his sister and younger brother attained education and lived better than he would. Now, in return, they both had retired him from stress and returned in favour every sacrifice he had made on their heads.
He was only thirty-five, but he had tasted the boney taste of the wind, and his skin had drunk the sweet-bitter wine of the scorching sun. Having them all sit around this way after such a long time, Ikemefula felt a strong rush of excitement course through his system. They would not be mourning their mother, but rather celebrating an industrious woman who had, like their father, taught them the importance of family, and had held them together till the very end.
His father, with a single look at the old man, was evidently missing his late wife. However, his state of mind was one far from a cloud of hurt and regret. He had, to the capacity of his youth, given his family everything he could offer. And if he were to join his wife soon, he would leave with a huge smile of satisfaction in his heart. He had lived like a man, like his ancestors, and was leaving with his shoulders high.
“My children, please drink more with me now before the others arrive. I do not want those family members of ours to taste this palm wine before we do,” he joked, causing a spark of laughter amongst the others. The burial was in a few hours, and nothing was better than balling the celebration of life with a little intoxication. He, after all, needed his energy at its peak, given that his children had threatened to shame his ancestors by making him dance when the music kicked off later. To not ridicule his own father’s name, he needed his groove boiling before then.
“Mpa,” Ibe called out to him, laughing, “Don’t fear. When it’s time to dance, I will show you some new moves.”
“Moves kwa? You don’t know your father o. It is I who would shock you with my moves,” Maazi Ibe shook his head in disagreement, surprised that his son thought little of his waist shaking skills.
“But you know stomping your feet against the ground is not dancing now. I heard there’s azonto now; there’s even shepke or what do they call it sef. Obiora, biko tell me the name of that one where they crouch and limp constantly like people jumping and passing poisons buried in the ground,” Ikemefula turned to Obiora, laughing.
“Dede, I don’t even know what to call that one, but you can’t expect him to do that dance. His waist is very fragile.” In his eyes, glancing at his father, Obiora had a look of concern in it, one dubiously masking mockery.
“You don’t have sense!” Maazi barked, and a peal of laughter ensued.
Ujunwa, the first child of the family, arrived shortly with her husband and kids, and she quickly bonded with the young girl Obiora had returned home with to introduce to the family as his choice. The grandchildren, all four of them, played around the compound, lighting up the room and aiding how time flew fast. Soon, it was twelve and relatives and friends of the family had gathered for the burial.
Everything moved with relative ease and comfort. As the eldest son, Ikemefula stood by his father as his siblings and close cousins did most of the organising and welcoming of guests. Mrs Ibe was put to the ground, and for everyone given the chance to speak, praises were all which were sung for her. After the rites were performed, the music was lit in celebration of her life and the happiness she’d brought into the world. Who would have known it was a burial?
Ikemefula noticed an anomaly in the crowd of guests. Of all persons present, known friends and foe alike, happy or not, one stood out, one he had neither seen nor known. His countenance held resentment which he did little to hide. It was a young boy not any older than nineteen. While Ikemefula’s eyes had been on everyone, this young lad’s gaze was fixed on no one else but him. Though Ikemefula disliked such negative energy around his mother’s burial day, a guest remained a guest, so he instead, presuming hunger was a motivating factor for this guest’s bitter demeanour, asked Obiora to make sure the boy had something to eat.
Obiora asked one of his cousins to pass food along to the boy, but she returned a while later, with both the food and a message. “He says he wants nothing but to speak to Ikem,”she said.
“Who did he say he is? From what family is he from?”he asked, confused. However, it all ended with asking the said boy to wait till all was over. And the boy did wait.
“My son, who are you? Where are you from?”Maazi Ibe asked after the evening chill hit the day and everyone already had dispersed to their various homes, leaving just a few relatives still stacking up seats and moving canopies.
The young lad stood there, fuming, a strange yet familiar resemblance which sat in his eyes. With very little said other than his prior greeting, he already beamed off an aura of dislike and confrontation around him. His fists were clenched, and while annoyance hung on the face of some over his attitude, particularly on a day like this, a sense of confusion sat with others.
“My name is Jonathan N’ike, or better yet, Jonathan Ndubuisi,”he spoke through gritted teeth, eyes on Maazi Ibe. Once he sensed the confusion from those before him, his gaze and finger turned to Ikemefula. “I’m his son.”
The murmurs rose between the family, and attention was drawn to the old man, his sons and the stranger who stood before them. Ujunwa had heard the words pouring off the boy’s mouth from the backyard. She came running out, shock in her eyes and haste in her footsteps.
“What did you just say?”Ikemefula said, sitting, but surprise clouding his face. However, in this surprise, there was no sense of shock or worry in his words, rather annoyance.
“I am the son of Matilda Ituma, your son whom you abandoned with his mother nineteen years ago!”the young lad’s voice rose, and for the first time, the source of his resentment was out. And he went on, without restraint. “I came here to ask you why? Why you impregnated my mother and left her, us, alone to suffer. Why?!”
Ikemefula was known for a lot of things, and his next reaction in the face of the boy’s words was one. He was up his feet, raging towards the boy, his arm flying across the air and against his face. Obiora was already in, pulling the boy away from him as Ujunwa made a pillar out of herself, shielding the young boy and Obiora from Ikemefula’s wrath.
“Uju, get out of the way!”he barked, seething, yet unable to move past her body and spread arms.
“Ikem, calm down. Please. Calm down!”she pleaded. Now, the others moved close to hold him down too.
Ikemefula raged on. “Who is this fool? How dare you come to my home, on my mother’s burial to speak this nonsense about me? Are you mad?”
“You are my father! And I want to know why you ruined my mother’s life! I will not leave here until you give me answers.”
The more he spoke, the more Ikemefula’s irritation rose. First, he, amidst his outbursts, wondered who Matilda was, when and how he had known who the so-called mother of the raging lunatic before him was.
“Why isn’t your mother here? Go and bring her here so I would behead you both right here! If this boy doesn’t sleep in a police cell today, know that I am not Ikemefula!”
It got darker in hours, the moon stood out firm amongst the clouds, crescent and bright. Jonathan sat on the floor, alone in the dark room; the four walls of a police cell, with a stench as awful as an unwashed pile of clothes stained by weeks of unwashed perspiration. There, he recalled his mother’s words, her cries, how she had suffered to train him, things he had had to do because he was brought into a world he had no say in.
He thought about all the bad decisions he had made up until that moment, all the loneliness he had felt for nineteen years, all the sufferings he had gone through while believing his fate was soiled at birth, and that his father was dead. Yet, his father was alive, with a happy and well to do family, forcing his mother by oath to never speak of his existence to him.
Recollecting his face, how happy he seemed through the ceremonies that day, how everyone one of them danced and enjoyed themselves, made his heart twist in anger.
“Ikemefula Ndubuisi, I hate you with everything in me! I hate you,”he growled, clenching his fists as the pain against his chest weighed heavily on him.
It didn’t matter what anyone said, it didn’t matter what he knew to be true, that boy had soiled his day, his father’s happiness and his mother’s burial. It made him livid, and worse still, that strange lad had challenged his reputation to the face of everyone. Was he not a boy, Ikemefula’s was certain he would have strangled him with zero hesitation.
As he paced around the room, he contemplated what could have prompted such drama. He couldn’t shake it off. As wrong as the boy obviously was, he had conviction in his eyes. He genuinely believed his own lies, begging Ikemefula to ponder on who this woman in question was. Nineteen years ago, he was certain he was never with anyone by the name Matilda Ituma, much more been around the state which the boy claimed they were from. So who was she and what was going on? He thought, hissing in annoyance.