Michael’s intimation: This is a fiction written by Chiziterem Ndukwe-Nwoke. He tweets @ChizzyNdukweN
Why did we follow the road by the left? We shouldn’t have. Not many people do, and those that do either do not know that it was the unspoken general rule not to or they were foreigners to the village. Now, Maama is sad after I told her I went that way.
Johnny would say that I don’t know how to keep a secret. There was this one time where we went on one of our little innocent scavenger hunts and we met a little snake crossing from one bush patch closer to the East River to the other. We were very hungry, so I had to forgive Johnny when he killed the snake. It was horrifying at first, and I was sure the ancient spirits cursed us the moment he did it because it was forbidden in the village. I guess remembering the sensational savour of the nearly burnt meat made me feel guilty in the face of my mother, forcing me to blurt out the details of our despicable act at the simple question, “how was your day, Dede?” Maama and I had grown closer and closer since Papa increased the frequency with which he attended the Mgbako, the gathering of village artisans. He was a coffin maker and a pastor, and wasn’t very wealthy.
The secret I couldn’t keep this time certainly didn’t warrant all the crying Maama was doing in response. I mean, two months ago, I reported to her that the ancestors had cursed Johnny and myself, and all she did was to tell me to pray to my chi and ask for forgiveness. Now, I tell her I followed the road by the left – where absolutely nothing happened – and it is as if I had been transported to the land of the dead without hope of return.
The last time I remember Maama almost as sad as she was now was when I told her I went with Johnny to Papa’s church to bring his cola nuts for him. He had forgotten them. I very enthusiastically mention that Johnny’s mother had started attending the church and our congregation was growing, meaning more money, and Maama poured tears from her face like the East River in the windy nights, turning away from me.
Twenty minutes into amusing the spirit of futility, doing all I could to cheer Maama up, Johnny showed up in our ezi and as if something had snapped in Maama, she sprung up from the cold floor where she’d been sprawled, eyes fixed like a starved hawk on my friend who was barely a year older than me, nearing 10, and she attacked. A sacrilege was on the verge of being committed and even my young mind knew that at the time. If that was the case, she’d gone mad. It wasn’t uncommon. This was my spur-of-the-moment conclusion. So I dived at her predacious form going claws first at Johnny by the hem of her waist wrappers. It came off her just as our neighbours little children passed the front of our home. A story to be told for days, all four market days, had been brewed.
As Johnny ran for his dear life, I looked at his face and saw the disappointment. It was as if he knew something I didn’t about the road we took. It was as if he expected me to be wise and mature enough to know this thing he knew. It’s surprising how much one can tell from a white, disapproving look. This thing he knew must have been something that people intuitively do not ever get to utter. What was it? I couldn’t lay my finger on anything.
All that happened was that, unlike before when we took the road leading to the right when you reach the famous forked road our village is known for to get to the East River, we let our curiosity get the better of us and we took the left. Word was that the left led to the exact same terminus as the right, but was narrower, and more dangerous because the land was still a cause for lots of battle between our village and the neighbouring village. We knew this, and we took it anyway. The only particular thing that happened on our journey was when we got to a clearing. We heard noises. A loud deep one, alternating with one higher in pitch and much shriller. It sounded too familiar for my liking. Johnny egged me on, and we went and looked. We were on elevated ground from the sounds. It was just a naked man behind a naked woman and they were dancing the omanche with their hips, just like Papa and Johnny’s mother were doing at the church.
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