International Writers Magazine: Real Life Stories
OF A FUNERAL DRUM
nights ago, Baba and I were at the Lokongoma crossroads to perform
the sacrifice which Nokas life depended on. I was only a
carrier of the items required for the occasion and I watched keenly
as he slaughtered the white cock with a small shiny knife; collected
the blood in a calabash and drew a circle with it at the point
of intercession of the tarred roads.
I gave him a small
black cellophane bag containing rice, beans and guinea corn. He poured
the content into the ring of the blood, pulled out a feather from the
dead animal and dipped it into the remnant of the calabash and sprinkled
it on the grains, chanting some incantations in which Nokas name
was mentioned intermittently. I felt naked in the gaze of the half moon
and my eyes darted in all directions hoping that we would not be identified
by whoever may be passing by at that time of the night.
In less than ten minutes, we were through and riding home in his new
The next day, he had traveled with the firm conviction that Nokas
illness was over, but as the days went by she plunged further into the
deep waters of death.
It was Saturday morning. Unlike other Saturdays, silence hung heavily
over the house. It bothered me that even my younger siblings acknowledged
the mood in the house by keeping quite. Ibe! Mama called
from the sitting room.
Ma! I answered.
Hurry up with the breakfast. She said. I hastily arranged
the plates I had washed in the dish rack. Amarya came into the kitchen.
Obviously, she just woke up. Her hair was raised and her eyes looked
puffier than usual. She wore a blue night gown which appeared shorter
at the front because her protruded tummy pushed it up. We exchange greetings.
She paused for a while and said, So in your town young girls dont
kneel to greet elders? she jibed. Finding it difficult to stoop,
she still managed to serve herself some slices of pineapple from the
fridge. The twins trailed her and as they left she gave Ejima a whack
on the head and mumbled something.
I think he got tangled in her legs. She move snailishly as if it was
her tummy that pulled her forward so that her upper body was completely
thrown to the back and her footwear swept the floor as she climbed up
I doubt if Amarya knows what is going on in the house. She nursed her
pregnancy above everything else and for some reason; she had suddenly
grown sullen since the past one month or so. I think it has to do with
the rumour that Baba was bringing in a new wife, a university undergraduate
at that, when she only managed a diploma in mass communication.
This is the third successive night since the man of the house
last came home mama was saying, as if I didnt already know
that. It is not like I want to see his face, she continued
but what about money to take Noka to the hospital? Only God knows
where he is. She concluded, gulping Akamu from a large plastic
cup. She finished her meal and dashed out of the house to get money
for Nokas treatment. Usually on Saturdays, she took time off from
her stall at the new market in Felele where she sold foodstuffs. Then
we had all the time to talk. She would go on and on, inundating me with
history on how we used to be a very cute family, stories going round
that he was preparing to take a fourth wife in a matter of weeks and
stuff like that.
I think mamas trauma began five years ago when Baba became the
speaker of the state House of Assembly, or was it when he married Chide?
Whichever, but his marriage to Chide was a consequence of his new found
position. It did not end there, three years after, he topped it with
Amarya and to think of he was planning on another
I always had
the feeling, just a feeling, that if I was more at home, not having
to spend most of my hours in school preparing for my SSCE, things would
have been better or would not have gone so bad. At least I would have
known where he could be. If he was going to the club, he would spend
a lot of time dressing up. Then he would emerge in a polo shirt, usually,
white and the fragrance of his perfume would consume the entire compound.
He preferred using his sleekest cars for such occasions. If he was traveling
outside of Lokoja, he would call us all the children into his bedroom.
It was a privilege to be in there because it was always under lock whenever
he went out. The room had a large bed, blue rug and curtains and a white
bed spread. A television, radio and VCD player were on display opposite
the bed and his clothes were neatly stacked in his wardrobe. It was
an idyllic setting compared to the rest of the house. He would sit an
edge of the bed and we would all line up in descending order of birth.
We would kneel one after the other and spit into his palm which he rubbed
on his head saying a short prayer, more like a blessing. When it came
to the twins, they would argue over whom to come first than resolve
by kneeling beside themselves and spitting into Babas palm simultaneously.
Noka was the most dramatic of all, she would summon as much quantity
of saliva as possible and pour it into Babas palm. He enjoyed
her show. He would fondle her hair and hail her, then, she would get
all excited, grinning and trying to draw in yellowish green mucus stuck
in her nostrils. Sometimes I wonder how she breathes because it had
become a permanent feature of her face. Inspite of this, she still looked
lovely. She had thin lips, sparse hair and an ethereal look and was
extremely lively and smart for a two year old. Baba was particularly
fond of her. He neednt say it. It showed in the way he whisks
her of the ground whenever she was in slight. If it is because she is
the last child of the family, then her tenure may soon be over.
I sat on a sofa in the living room trying Babas number. I hate
to hear that voice: the number you have dialed is not available
at the moment, please try again later
the number you have dialed
I tried later and later, no way! Chide had Noka fastened on her back
with a large shawl. She paced up and down the room fiddling with the
tip of her blouse while I kept at my task of getting through to Baba.
I was interrupted by Mamas call. She asked Chide to take Noka
to the federal medical center and promised to join them in a short while.
The day was no longer young when Mama returned from the market. She
heaved herself on the sofa beside me, dug her hand beneath her wrapper
into her ugbur and emerged with crumpled Naira notes. She placed them
on her lap and sought them out quickly. Minutes later, she joined Chide
in the hospital. After a meal of garri with sugar and groundnut, I took
it upon myself to search for Baba at the Confluence Beach Hotel: It
was his usual spot. I had twenty Naira which could only take me there.
If I did not find him there, I risked trekking back alone in the night.
The Confluence Beach Hotel was situated at the muddy bank of river Niger
overlooking the Confluence of the Niger and Benue rivers. It had chalets,
supermarket, restaurant bar, and other attractions. I walked through
the lawns looking out for Baba. The place was rather quiet except for
the chatters from the bar. I was too shy to go in there. I recognized
his friends car amidst the array of cars. I sat on the bonnet
from where I could view the Confluence and some fishermen relaxing on
the island. I flinched as my eyes came in contact with his friend. He
came out immediately with a green bottle in his hand. He told me Baba
left the hotel yesterday for an official meeting at Abuja.
Thank God! I still had my N20. He offered to take me home but I refused
because the last time he gave me a ride from school he said something
really nasty. I did not tell Baba because I did not know how to begin
and I have not learnt how since then.
Here, for transport, he said, handing me some clean Naira
notes. No thank you sir. I said with a curtsy. He
tucked the money in my chest pocket so that his hand slapped my breast.
Waves of embarrassment surged through me. I disappeared without a good
As I got out of sight, I brought out the money. Good God! There were
fix pieces of N500 notes. I put the money back in place and began
to envisage my budget as I hopped home. I will by sanitary pad
recharge card, cake powder, make my hair
I heard footsteps trudging
behind me. I quickly removed the money and put it in my skirt pocket.
I peeped through the corner of my eyes, behold, there was nobody. As
I made to go back to my line of thought, it struck me that we may need
the money to settle Nokas hospital bills. I had even forgotten
to board a taxi. I raced the rest of my way home.
Later in the night, Baba drove in and parked his car at the garage.
He usually took the rear entrance whenever he came from one of his trips
in order to avoid the cursing murmurs of his wives. The kids as soon
as they heard him honk would race through the courtyard to the back
door to welcome him enthusiastically and shouting Baba! Baba!
Mama who had been home earlier to prepare rice for Chide in the hospital
would have the privilege of being driven to the hospital by Baba since
the chauffeurs have all gone home for the day.
The kids were overfed after eating the Eba and Egusi soup Amarya made
for dinner and topping it with an extra portion of Mamas rice
so that they lay around the living room like poisoned cockroaches. Someone
woke up with a loud cry displaying a bright patch on the knee like the
surface of a sliced watermelon.
Whoever it was that bruised the face of his wound was oblivious of his
or her sin. The victim picked on Ejima whom he suspected to be cause
of his woe and a fight ensued. I pretended to be asleep as the episode
On Sunday morning, I was on the corridors of the Federal Medical Centre
searching for the childrens ward. I dreaded asking the nurses
that strolled past: most of them were fat and carried a frighting countenance.
I beg, where childrens ward dey? I asked in pidgin.
The peasant lying on the bare floor just pointed ahead of me.
The nurses were all over Nokas bed. I think it had to do with
Babas status, but if her situation was the cause of their fuss,
then, it was justified. Her condition had significantly deteriorated.
She puked constantly, her fingernails blackened and she had sores on
her stomach and round about her back. The nurses sat her up to take
her drugs. The blue bed cover glued to her back with the aid of the
puss from her sores. On seeing this, Chide let out a loud cry, shaking
the bed vigorously. Amarya and a nurse took her outside the ward and
other patient looked on forgetting their sorrows momentarily. I could
hear faintly the song Chide composed spontaneously. Ojo
Dont leave meeeee
she drawled, then charge
the key Baby dont go. Reduced her pitch and continued
We still anticipated the result of the medical examination conducted
last night. The doctor approached Baba from the walk way with his hands
in the pocket of his robe. He was smiling furiously and it annoyed me
how he managed to smile in this kind of situation. He engaged Baba in
a conversation. His nose appeared too close to his lips so that they
flared as he spoke. Through out the discussion, Baba just folded his
hands across his chest, leaning on the wall. The doctor led him towards
his office holding his hand like a baby. Chide having finished her show
outside came back pacified. She watched sternly as a nurse injected
The nurses asked us to go out, saying her bedside was crowded. We stayed
in the car waiting for Baba Amarya and I occupied the back seat while
Mama sat in front with the doors flanked open. I got out and sat on
the bonnet. The heat of the sun was so intense; it was like hell was
leaking. Shortly, a piercing scream from Chide sent goose pimples all
over me. She yanked herself oaway from the nurses that led her towards
the car and knelt before mama. Can you see what God has done to
me? she asked rhetorically. What did I do to God? Somebody
tells me now o
Are my sins too many that he cannot forgive me?
As she spoke, torrent of tears drenched my skirt.
At home, Baba barely spoke with his friends and colleagues who paid
him condolence visit. He had been more of a man after the death of Eke
(mamas last child) a year ago. Eke too had rashes all over him
so it was believed to be poison or spiritual manipulation by his political
enemies. She was taken straight to Babas favourite native doctor.
The one who said he had lived in times past but re-incarnated to solve
the problems of the sons of men. He was the same one Baba brought home
some months prior to his election: the one who made everybody in the
house eat a spoon of pepper mixed with some whitish stuff. It was meant,
to make us immune to evil, so we took it with the zeal to live. Even
when we all fell seriously ill in succession afterwards we were not
scared of dying.
Later in the day, when the callers began to leave, Baba called Mama
and Amarya into his bedroom. I tiptoed and squatted behind the window
that opened to the courtyard to eavesdrop on their conservation. I heard
him give a lecture on how he felt they should know this and that and
in fact, know it now
he went on and on, my thighs were beginning
to ache. As I was about to leave, Amarya exploded into a shout. I missed
the bomb Baba dropped. I think I heard AIDS. Yes, he said it again.
Noka had died of AIDS. The test result proved it. I raised my head a
bit in order to capture Mamas face. She was so calm her eyes darted
from Baba to Amarya. She looked like she had never heard the word in
her entire life and was waiting for them to explain to her why they
are so sorrowful, after all, they were the ones that were educated.
Baba opened the bathroom door and slammed it hard behind him. Mama fixed
her gaze on Amarya contemplating whether to join in her demented state
or not. I wandered out of the house. I cannot remember the streets I
passed through because a lot of things raced through my mind: the various
campaigns against HIV/AIDS. The zip up advertisement, the
billboards with skull and cross-bones, and the uncountable seminars
held in our school hall. It really got me thinking.
When I got home at about 6.00pm, the house was quieter than I had left
it. Only a few female sympathizers stayed with Chide in the living room.
She was longer crying but her eyes seemed larger and silvery with pools
of tears simmering in them and threatening to run down her cheek which
had already been washed clean by tears. As I got close to the dining
room, Baba stood up and walked towards his bedroom. The kids swiftly
pursued him hovering around him like the overflowing attires of fabulous
politicians. They were amused having him at home for hours. I hauled
myself on a dining chair to register my presence, else, I know those
women-the sympathizers-would go bearing tales that Chides step
daughter was not even sympathetic and was strolling to and fro the house.
Young, married and jobless women were prone to poke-nosing.
The room I shared with my sibling was dark when I got in. I groped for
the switch and clicked it then the room appeared darker because I had
expected light on. I did not know what to do next: no match box at hand,
no candle, no lamp, I dreaded going downstairs to get light else I tripped
over someone so I chose to watch the moon dance as it appeared and retreated
behind the cloud.
When the house was well lit, I ran down to get a candle for myself.
I lay on my rug beside the candle which I mounted on an empty peak milk
container. Beads of sweat formed on my forehead because of the intensity
of the heat exuded from the candle light. I began to caress the dripping
wax along the body of the candle, saviouring the warm sensation until
it fell and hot, wax splashed on my hand and solidified immediately
so that I looked like a priestess prepared to hear from an oracle.
Suddenly, my head came alive with a bang as if a troupe performed Agbaka
in it. Events of the past couple of hours began to spin in it and it
was accomplished by what sounded like the reverberation of dirge music
from a neighbouring land.
© Mary Opaluwa June 2006
all rights reserved - all comments are the writers' own responsibiltiy
- no liability accepted by hackwriters.com or affiliates.