By Chioma Precious Ezeano
When are you coming home? It is over fifteen years now. Mama always said things would get better when you leave America and come back home. She would renovate the house, and Papa would fix the van and get back to his business and stop drinking so much palmy and beer. And what about my tea? In Mama’s favourite photo of you – the one with you wearing green shorts, laughing and sweating from soccer practice – you are towering over your friends. Mama used to point you out to me, and tell me that if I was a good boy, you would send tea that I could drink to make me grow as tall as you. Mama says you went to America when I was just a little baby, and now I am in class one, and I am still not as tall as you.
So, when are you coming home brother? Mama has stopped pointing you out to me in her photos, she has stopped making renovation plans about the house, she has stopped talking to the neighbours about her son Nwacheta living in America. These days, she only mutters your name under her breath. The other day I heard her, holding her chin, muttering that you have deceived everyone. Deceive! That word she uses only for the devil. ‘Devil deceived me,’ she would say and go on to sprinkle holy water on herself. Sometimes, sitting with her legs outstretched on the floor, she mutters ‘Nwacheeeeta….You are not supposed to forget. Is it not your name, Nwacheta?’ She re-reads that one letter you sent long ago, when you said things are hard, that not all Americans live in big houses, that jobs were not easy to come by.
Mama always holds her chin to say how you have deceived everyone. She retells how you promised to write us letters weekly and send papa drugs that would stop him from drinking beer and palmy, and send her supplements, and send Chidera a gun to kill all those uncles struggling for papa’s small land with papa.
I look at your photo sometimes, trying to imagine the way you talk, the way you kick a ball, the way your laughter fills the room as Mama used to say. Will it only be through Mama’s talk that that I know you? But then I realise that there also things you know only in small doses. Like Papa’s death. You simply know that Papa is dead. Do you know what killed him? Debt did. It was Mama Nkechi, one woman that sells palmy and beer in Nkwo market. Papa was owing her big amount. So, she started chasing papa everywhere she saw him. The last day was at the market square. Papa fell. Eyewitnesses said he hit his head on a block. He died, immediately. I didn’t go to school for some weeks because it was embarrassing. Now, mama has started her own. She has not been to the house for three days now, because she’s running from Madam Agnes from the market women association. Mama is one of them, though she has not paid her dues for many years. I had a dream where her creditors were chasing her too, only that in my dream, mama was running faster than them because her tiny legs were good for her small body. Nowadays, Mama is so small it looks like she’s shrinking.
Pastor Obi said the rate at which my family owes is a curse. I am beginning to agree because Chidera has come back from the University in Awka, where he attends, to say that he too owes his classmate some bucks. That was what he said, ‘some bucks’. Maybe I am not owing because I am too young to owe. But you never can tell. Am I not owing Okwy five mangoes? We plucked them from their mango tree. I was to sell and give him commission. But I didn’t because mama took the money from me and used it to cook the watery egusi soup Pastor Obi ate the day he came. We were thinking that he wouldn’t eat. He did, and said it’s a blessing to eat anything served by a widow. Chidera and I laughed. Now, we say, ‘stop licking plate like Pastor Obi.’ Mother had asked us to stop mocking him, that it is a sin, but everything is a sin for mama. Everything, except running from creditors. Mother does other things too. You know how hard working she is. She farms even though her farm products are mostly sent to Pastor Obi. They call it first seed offering. The Offering is supposed to bring about blessings for other seeds. Me, I am yet to see the blessings. But I believe mama. She has faith, plenty plenty faith. That is why she believes that her debts could be wiped out by fasting and praying. I believe too. And I fast with her, especially when there’s no food in the house.
Brother, find a way to get back to us. Mama’s fear lives in her eyes; the way she doesn’t want to talk about you any more, especially since papa died. She used to look at my fair skin and say, you look like your brother, Nwacheta. But not any more. When Aunty Mgbochiekamma gave birth after many uncountable years, Papa asked her to name the boy Nwacheta. She refused. It caused quarrel oo, big time. Chidera believes you are doing well. He brags about you to his friends. Me, I just know it’s over fifteen years now. And I still know you like I know winter; in pictures, in sketches, from descriptions let out by mama’s under-breath words and Chidera’s loud brags. Don’t you think I deserve better? Write. Even if there’s nothing to write about, write!
Chioma Precious Ezeano is from Nigeria. Her profile can be accessed here.