The sound walked into the ears of each of the men and they jerked in unison as it tickled the nerves encased in the bones of their backs. Your father closed his eyes and put his palms on his head, with his elbows pointing in opposite directions and he jerked again.
The sound continued on its journey as you chewed the kolanut slower than you did before, letting the bitterness fill your mouth and your heart too.
“Onye mura nwa?!” De Ephraim shouted with his gaze locked on the orange branch just above your father’s head, who had continued rocking his head, he welded his eyelids together as if seeing you standing there would blind his eyes.
“Umuorue lee! My eyes have seen my ears.” Dee Onwughara jumped with the velocity you’d thought was reserved for the young, you smiled at him and continued to chew.
“Are you telling me that a thing that squats to urinate, walked into this meeting, greeted us and went to break oji?!” De Clement croaked and shook his crooked walking stick in the air with the end of the stick pointing at you.
“Nwaobiara so you were not joking yesterday” De Eberechi’s voice startled you, he was your mother’s brother and his voice did not belong at a meeting of your father’s kinsmen.
You turn to him to explain, to tell him how you’d always wanted to break kolanut with your umunna just like your silly brother had begun to do this year. That the longing had grown in your heart and burst out of your skin, each branch sizzling with current. You’d come to De Chimezie’s ovu, to this meeting so you didn’t the buzz to kill you. But he turned away from you and looked at the De Isaac instead.
The last bits of your courage drifted to the sky and you ran, ran until you got to Iyi Umunanwiri before you collapsed on the fine sand that the Imo River oiled daily. The men who fetched sand by the river ignored you as you wept into the ground. When you felt strong enough to survive death at your mother’s hand, you dusted off the sand on your gown and on your limbs and headed home.
“So you did it?!” your mother cried when you entered the parlour, “So you rubbed shame on my face”.
“She is Ekwueme, She said it and she did it” your father’s hoarse voice tickled the tiny hairs at the bottom of your spine, there was something in it that sounded like pride.
“How will I face ndom Umuorue, my fellow wives?! Who will marry this one who calls herself a woman and behaves like an untied he-goat?”
“Somebody will marry her, even mad people marry”, your brother’s breaking voice floated from the floor where he sat crosslegged peeling egwusi seeds.
“Nna Nwaobiara are you seeing your son? He is calling my daughter mad”. She walked to your brother and pulled his ears and you finally smiled when he ran out of the room as the tray clattered to floor with the egwusi peels floating to the ground like confetti.
“Ekwueme! Ebubedike! Agu! I hope that what you did has filled your belly with gladness. I pray the joy will last for a long time because this thing you have done might swallow you.”
“I do not care” you said slowly.
“How will you care when your father has been filling your head with nonsense talk of you being a warrior in your former life”. She let out the words on one breath
“Missus, today your daughter showed me that she is indeed my grandfather returned to me. You know he was wonderful, he could swim to Opobo and he feared neither man nor gods. Did I tell you about the time he…”
“Biko I am going to sleep” your mother snapped and stalked- yes that’s the only word that can describe the way she left the room.
“Ekwueme go and sleep, today has been enough trouble for a whole year”.
“Good night Mpa”
“Kachifuo nwam” he replied in the same low tone.
Until the day he died, your father never called you anything but Ekwueme.
For K, who is magic and laughter.