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The Sound of War

The Sound of War

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The Sound of War

Lunghezza:
441 pagine
7 ore
Pubblicato:
Mar 7, 2012
ISBN:
9781467880268
Formato:
Libro

Descrizione

The Sound of War is a heart-warming story about a group of Africans who have turned away from the vision their ancestors fought for. This shift becomes important when a new king ascends the throne of Umuisa. Metu, as the young king is called, throws culture and tradition to the wind. He refers to their culture as archaic, changes the system of government, and spurs a riot among his people. Furthermore, he declares his intention to demolish some sacred statues in the village square, which are symbols of their gods. Chioma, the oldest person in the land, wont let that happen. She gathers the villagers and tells them the actual story of how those monuments came to be. While telling the story, she tells them how Umuisa came into existence.
Pubblicato:
Mar 7, 2012
ISBN:
9781467880268
Formato:
Libro

Informazioni sull'autore

Chidera Duru was born on 19 October 1992. He is Nigerian and studies microbiology at Imo State University, Nigeria. He wrote this book on his summer holiday during his second year.

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The Sound of War - Chidera Duru

AuthorHouse™ UK Ltd.

1663 Liberty Drive

Bloomington, IN 47403 USA

www.authorhouse.co.uk

Phone: 0800.197.4150

© 2012, 2014 by Chidera Duru. All rights reserved.

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the author.

Published by AuthorHouse 02/10/2014

ISBN: 978-1-4678-8025-1 (sc)

ISBN: 978-1-4678-8026-8 (e)

Any people depicted in stock imagery provided by Thinkstock are models, and such images are being used for illustrative purposes only.

Certain stock imagery © Thinkstock.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, any web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher, and the publisher hereby disclaims any responsibility for them.

Contents

Appreciation

Preface

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Some Igbo Words and Their Meanings

Appreciation

I thank God Almighty, my help in ages past and my hope for years to come. I thank my most supportive parents, Mr and Mrs Cyril Duru, for making this dream of mine a reality. Likewise, I cannot thank my siblings enough, especially Ifeoma. My siblings have always listened to me, and to them I say the following: I love you all. This dedication would be incomplete without acknowledging the role of my aunt, Appolonia, who always offered her matrimonial room when I needed solitude. I must express my gratitude to Onyekachi Soroibe and my cousin, Amarachi Uzowuru, whose laptops were very instrumental in the completion of this work. Plus, I am grateful for my Nigerian editor, Miss Judith Mgbemena, who supported my writing efforts. To my good friends—Nwabueze Kaine, Enyinnaya Ukogo, Moses Achugo, Ezeugo Deborah, and Nonye—you are the best.

This book is dedicated as follows:

To my siblings, Adaeze, Chichi, Ifeoma, and Chiamaka.

To my mother, Mrs Patricia Duru, who taught me everything I needed to know about the Igbo culture.

To the sweet memories of my late brother, Chiedozie Duru, who made me believe I could achieve my dreams. Dozy, I will always love you.

Sometimes the stars vacate the sky

While the moon seems to die;

The owl hoots in daylight,

And in the shelter of darkness, evil takes flight.

Sometimes the gods of heavens become senile

And the sun glints through the rain, stretching a mile;

Things do not always work as they should,

So I shall grieve not as I would.

Sometimes the rabbit hops about in the day,

And omens loom under the sun’s ray;

The fall of breadfruit causes a loss,

And man will cry that evil grows like moss.

Sometimes the old bury the young,

And the world weeps that life is cow dung;

The earth drinks rain in the harmattan,

And the wind will no longer blow as if it ran.

I will make my anger mellow,

And the course to improve life I will follow,

For if things are always normal, Dozy, you won’t die,

So I shall better my life whilst under the sky.

Preface

S o much has gone wrong in our world today. People hold onto their grief and grudges; they hide under the shadow of pain and start wars. Wars are acts of fear—the fear of confronting our differences and shortcomings, the fear of airing our grievances peacefully.

Many African countries have gone astray, especially my country. In Nigeria, tribal hate and religious chauvinism have replaced the vision and goals that our old heroes had in mind for Nigeria. Their visions inspired the people to seek independence.

Our leaders have become greedy, and they pay more attention to the needs of their purse than the needs of the people. A group of religious terrorists have exalted themselves in Nigeria, refusing to engage in peaceful dialogue with the government. They insist on killing people and committing other crimes. Nigerians do not care about the quality of their leaders; instead, they focus on which tribe the people come from. Considering all that has gone wrong, I wonder whether it was worth it for the leaders of the past to give up so much to help us gain independence. I believe that they would regret their heroic deeds if they saw that the nation they wanted to build died with their generation. These thoughts inspired this story.

The Sound of War is not just a story; it is my way of protesting all that has gone wrong in the world today. Let us retrace our footsteps; let us try to resolve our grievances so that we can build a better world. We should create the kind of place we can be proud of. Let us not think just about the present, but also about posterity. Let us understand that life will not always treat us fairly, but the choices we make can influence the world at large.

Chapter 1

Echoes from the Past

P a in was gradually becoming all that Chioma could feel. It snaked around her waist in the mornings, swimming through her bones like worms in wet soil. It seemed to snuggle up to her when she sat on the balcony to listen to the ubiquitous chirping of birds. It drenched her legs whenever she stood up, making them feel heavy, as if an entire tree had been tied to them. She had visited many hospitals, received many treatments. She had done all she needed to do, all she was advised to do, but the pain held fast to her like a scared child to its mother. In time, she began to accept it as part of who she was, proof that she was actually alive. So when she woke up on that Eke morning and felt no pain, she thought she had died.

She opened her eyes slowly and looked around her room. It was frozen in silence. The curtains didn’t lift in response to the impact of the morning breeze. The ceiling fan’s blades did not race after one another—the three brothers that never meet, as her great-grandson called them. Her ceiling looked unfamiliar and her alarm clock had forgotten to ring. She hissed and hauled herself out of the bed. Her legs, once she managed to stand, seemed to have abandoned her. And in a brief moment of delusion, she thought she was floating on air. She walked down to her window to perform her timeworn tradition of staring out of her louvered window. She was among the few people in Umuisa who lived in storied buildings, thanks to her sons’ opulence. From the first floor, where her room was, she would stare at the loose canopy of trees; the shimmering green seemed to blink under the rising sun. And she would smile. But on this morning, the green appeared dull, and the flowers that hugged her house’s walls seemed to be backing away, staying away from her. May the gods forbid! she muttered and turned away from the window, walking towards her dressing mirror with a speed she hadn’t attained in years. And then she stopped before her mirror, her head pounding, her breath shivering like that of someone who had caught the flu. A feverish sensation rushed down her body, and she felt it flooding her legs. The sensation gathered at places she had never noticed all her life, places such as her calves. Her knees quaked, and she sank into a chair near her dressing table. She began to ask herself why she was sitting down at the table. She thought hard and concluded that she had forgotten, just as she had forgotten most things as of late. She looked at the mirror and wanted to ask the image who she was. Most times, she forgot that she had grown so old. What she saw in the mirror was a mangled version of her former self. She drew forward to take a closer look at her face. Memories of herself as a young girl replaced the horror she saw initially.

Chioma was the most beautiful maiden in Umuisa and around the neighbouring villages. Many eligible suitors had come for her hand in marriage, a phrase used by her ancestors. And she had selected the best, Dimgba, a renowned wrestler whose back never touched the ground. She remembered vividly how he used to adore her eyes. He called them cat eyes because they had flecks of brown and hints of grey—a very rare combination of colours in a black woman’s eyes. She remembered Dimgba saying he could never grow tired of her body, never be able to keep his hands off it. He craved her leathery, brown skin that had the sheen of smooth pottery, and he lusted after her well-rounded breasts that stood proudly on her chest. Her breasts were firm, and according to Dimgba, daring. She liked the word daring; the word alone made her feel ageless, even after she had her last child. Her legs were full, and many had noted they were like straight, flawless lines. "Nne, do you do any form of body exercise at all? other girls would ask with admiration in their voices. The other girls then compared her legs to theirs, which were not all that straight or shapely. Some mothers would tease: My daughter, do you stay in this village with us at all, or do you live in the white man’s land, where there are no mosquito bites? Your legs are too smooth." Chioma would smile and smile again. She was attractive, and men knew that—even the white men who had come to their land during the colonial days.

On one occasion, she was nearly raped by some depraved, white soldiers who were part of the revolutionary cadre. That day had been an Orie day, a day set aside for the worship of their water goddess, Ogwuloma. At the time, she wasn’t married. Her foster parents’ ill-bred son had wasted all the water she had fetched the day before, and in those days, nobody visited the stream on Orie days. When Chioma saw that the water pots were empty, she decided that it would be better for an aggrieved deity to strike her dead than for her stepmother to discover that there was no water. She sneaked out of the compound with two pots, and shrugging off caution, shot into the narrow footway leading to the stream.

The stream lay quietly, rippling like a rumpled bed sheet. Chioma dropped her pots by the bank and sat down to catch her breath. She looked around apprehensively: the trees stood motionlessly, as if shocked by her presence. Further away, rodents darted about without fear of being caught. Chioma was fascinated by their freedom, by the fact that they expressed themselves better in the absence of many people. She thought of ways she could utilize her brief freedom. Being away from the terrors of her foster siblings inspired an unbridled thrill in her. She looked at the water. It looked inviting and chilly, and she decided to take a dip in it. As she swam, she realized that many people did not appreciate the great value of water.

When she came out and reached for her clothes, hands seized her. Firm and strident hands brought her to the ground with ease. She began to struggle with them. They were men, four in number, and they were white like peeled yams. One man held her hands, and another man spread her legs apart. She managed a scream before one of them held her lips together and smeared a wet tongue over them. He then licked his mud-coloured lips and sniffed through his narrow nose. The most enterprising of them tugged at her underwear. She tried to scream again, pushing and whimpering, but her voice remained locked in the confines of her mouth. She began to pray silently, asking the gods for intervention.

Ta! coarse voices boomed from behind the men, and all four degenerates scampered to their feet and ran away. They disappeared into the cluster of trees that provided a night-like shade, even in daylight. Chioma sat up to look at the faces of her rescuers. It was the council of chiefs, including her stepfather, the chief priest, and some warriors and shrine slaves who were carrying goats and fowls for the animal sacrifices to the water goddess. Women and children weren’t supposed to witness such things, and that was why they stayed indoors on Orie days. Chioma wasn’t relieved that they had rescued her from the white soldiers. After all, they had caught her defying Ogwuloma. She was doomed!

What are you doing here? a warrior demanded before striking her on the shoulder with a squawking chicken.

What happened? What are you doing here? her foster father, one of the chiefs, asked. He spoke through clenched teeth, fury and fear merging in his voice. She didn’t reply. She stayed put, trying to recover from the shock. It took her some time to regain her composure, and she kept questioning the reality of what happened until she received a rough slap to her face.

What are you doing here? the chief priest thundered. She stared into space, her head light, her eyes unfocused. She opened her mouth to speak, but she was shut up by another slap.

Speak up! Nze Agwu, the chief priest, barked again.

Turning furiously to the other elders, he queried, Whose child is this?

She is my ward, her foster father answered. Please be patient. I will make her speak.

He went over to where Chioma sat and bent over her. How did you get here? he asked quietly but sternly. Chioma was still blank. They observed her for a while, anger boiling in their hearts. Moments later, she looked up at them with tears in her eyes. I didn’t mean to intrude, she muttered in between sobs. Papa, it was Adiya’s fault.

What is that supposed to mean? her foster father retorted.

Chioma proceeded to tell them about her ordeal and Adiya’s misconduct. After her story, Nze Agwu was wild with rage. He stamped his Oja, a walking staff meant for the spirits, on the ground.

Hmm! he exclaimed.

"Please, Nze Agwu. Please!" the chiefs chorused carefully.

Her foster father turned to her and said, You have incurred the wrath of Ogwuloma. Plead for mercy at once!

She fell onto her knees and apologized via song. As she sang, she cried, and her sonorous voice aroused the sympathy of the elders.

Eh! Our daughter! they echoed.

This time around, it was the head of the council who spoke: You’ve heard the girl. Please, Nze Agwu, temper justice with mercy.

Nze Agwu’s face softened, which meant a lenient punishment was going to be pronounced. She was sent home at that point, though, so they could carry out their task.

Days later, judgement was pronounced on Chioma. She was ordered to avoid any human contact for two market days. After that, she was cleansed; the gods where appeased. Adiya, on the other hand, was punished for being wicked to his father’s ward, and he was asked to take over the water fetching for Chioma. The judgement was seen as fair and just; after all, the gods of Umuisa were just.

As an old woman, Chioma looked at herself with nostalgia. She had been irresistible, even to white men. She laughed slightly, stroking her chin and examining her eyelids that had become so swollen that it seemed as if her eyes were perpetually closed. And then the power came on. The fan began to move, blowing quiet air. Yet the room was lifeless. Chioma began to think about the reason she was particularly gloomy that morning.

She had just finished dinner the night before in the cropped patch of grass in front of her house—what her grandchildren called a lawn. She called the place ezi because it was her front yard. That night, her great-grandson, Dozie, brought her some fruit. The fruit was good for her stomach, her doctor said. She bit into the fruit balls, releasing a kind of sweet and sour taste into her mouth. They were grapes, and they came from the white man’s land.

Ah! she drawled. She was relishing a delicious meal and the fact that she had hard-working sons who had built her a house. It was a duplex, a high building with a roof like the umbrella tree. It had louvers the colour of the sea, which was a rarity, especially in Umuisa. What more could an old woman ask for? she wondered. Chioma decided she was in heaven. She chewed more of the fruit before she imagined hearing her name. She looked around her neighbourhood of lush flowers and high, jutting trees. None of them had the wherewithal to call her. She picked up her hand fan and heard her name again.

"Nda Chioma!" the voice intoned angrily. She recognized it. It belonged to Nze Ogbuefi, the only surviving brother of her late husband.

Nze Ogbuefi, my own husband, she answered customarily. Nze Ogbuefi emerged via the footway that lay between the trees lining both sides of the entrance to her compound.

"Nda Chioma!" he cried again. She could hear that he was panting as he came closer. The evening wind was hurrying towards her with him.

Chioma looked at him, and her heart started to beat faster. Her mouth was agape. What is the matter, my husband?

Everything! the old man growled, This land; the uncouth, young king; and his besotted council. Umuisa’s end is near.

May our gods forbid, Chioma interjected. My husband, you must speak with care, lest you desecrate your tongue. Our people say that the words of we elders are the command of the spirit. She took a deep, shaky breath, staring at Nze Ogbuefi, whose chest rose and lowered speedily like troubled waters. She leaned over and began to pat his shoulder. Please don’t place a curse on our children. You are like a father to everyone in this land.

Not when they refuse to acknowledge that, he replied and smiled cynically. They referred to me as senile.

"Ekwusu! Chioma shouted and snapped her fingers. My husband, you do not mean this."

That is not all that happened. Chioma drew closer, her eyes alive with curiosity as Nze Ogbuefi began to tell her all that had happened in the cabinet meeting he had just returned from.

The young king, Eze Metu, had summoned all the chiefs in the land that evening for an urgent meeting. It was a meeting he said would determine the future of the land. When all the chiefs arrived and sat down in the obi of the new palace he built, he began to address them. He talked about the events in the land, the tense political climate, and the threat of war. He wrapped up by teaching them the value of the crude oil that flowed underneath the soil of Umuisa. He explained its monetary value, how it had helped many countries in the world, how it made people rich. He spoke of things they knew little about. But he did not mention the things they knew very well: how the discovery of that oil had stabbed their unity with its daggers, how it had thrust their once-peaceful land into the buffeting wind of unrest. He paused to let them assimilate all he had said, and then he told them that the Umuochiagha and Umudo villages had sworn to keep peace from him, that the Umudos were kidnapping white oil company officials and demanding ransom.

Your Majesty, if I may speak, Ugbala, an influential chief in the land, began.

Of course, the king nodded, granting him permission.

My fellow chiefs, I greet you, he said. And without waiting for their response, he continued, Our people say that he who brings the maggot-infested firewood should not be surprised when the lizards come visiting.

That is true talk, most of the elders chipped in.

Your Majesty, I must say that you are responsible for the actions of the Umudo village. He turned around to look at his fellow chiefs and continued, They are part of us. They are part of the four villages that make up Umuisa, and yet you treat them as though they do not matter. You banished their chiefs from the decision-making cabinet of Umuisa. You do not include them in any development plan. You don’t seem to mind that the oil we seem so concerned about appears in their part of the village. So I ask this council, are they totally wrong to become rebellious? With those words, he sat down.

Another chief, Nze Okoro, sprang up and said, How can you say that, Nze Ugbala? Are you the only one in this community who does not know how domineering those people are? If given a nose, they will take in snuff. Did you not see how they were controlling every part of this land, how their men occupied nearly every prominent position before the king terminated all their appointments.

That is true talk, a smallish chief noted as he jumped up, both his hands crossed behind his back. Chiefs of Umuisa, how were we supposed to stay inside water and allow soap invade our eyes? How were we supposed to have folded our arms and watched this ambitious village take over the running of our land? If I am asked, I would strongly maintain that the king’s decision to banish them from the cabinet was in our best interest.

Oho! many of them concurred.

The same chief concluded by saying, Before what rightly belongs to a man goes over to another.

And let us not forget that these people, if given the chance, might want to produce a king someday, Nze Okoro added. See how they send all their children to school, ambitiously developing them to become better than their peers in our other villages.

And their chiefs kept prying, always demanding to know how the communal money was being spent, how the development plans were carried out. They carried their shoulders high as if they knew better than all of us. The king did us a favour by banishing them, the smallish chief added.

Is that the reason they were banished? Nze Ugbala quipped as he bounced up again. Your Majesty, members of this council, he said and looked about, is it not the right of every member of this community to know how the money realized from our efforts is put into use?

Sit down, Nze Ugbala! I said sit down! Nze Okoro barked.

How dare you talk to me in that tone, Okoro? Nze Ugbala shouted and drew closer to Nze Okoro. His eyes had darkened to the colour of nightfall. Did you just speak to me like that?

And what if I did, Ugbala? What if I did?

As Nze Ugbala moved closer, some chiefs rushed to their feet and held him. The room soon became rowdy. Elders supporting Nze Ugbala and elders supporting the king screamed at each other. Nze Ogbuefi sat in the midst of all that noise and wondered when everything fell apart, when the elders had become children.

Calm down, my chiefs! the king ordered. There was a new meanness in his eyes, a frown as tight as a squeezed cloth on his face. In a minute or so, all the chiefs took their seats. The king cleared his throat and spoke: Nze Ugbala, I thought you and I reached an agreement, I thought we were together.

Your Majesty, you and I are together, but our people say that an adult does not stay at home and watch the mother goat give birth while tethered to a tree. I cannot be a part of a plot to dispossess some of our people.

"That is enough, Nze Ugbala. You and I still have some talking to do after this meeting. I do not want to hear any more noise in this obi; else, I will have the guards throw the perpetrator out."

Nze Ogbuefi bowed his head; he was feeling pained. Whatever happened to respect? he wondered. He looked up at the faces of the so-called guards, uniformed members of the army who had become the king’s guards. That was why a young king, merely an adult, could look into the faces of elders and threaten to throw them out of the obi. It was sacrilege. He asked himself what had happened to their land.

I can’t help noticing that you don’t seem all right, Nze Ogbuefi. And you haven’t said a word, The king said.

Nze Ogbuefi raised his face calmly. What is there to say? You have all said it all.

The reason we are here today is to plan how best to pull down those grotesque statues by the village square, and how to prevent the people of Umudo and Umuochiagha from disrupting the activity.

At once, it felt like someone had hit Nze Ogbuefi hard. His head felt full. You are still bent on destroying those statues? he bellowed.

Yes, why not? the king asked.

They are sacred! Destroying those statues means erasing all that holds us together as a people, Nze Ogbuefi cried.

Be quiet, Nze Ogbuefi. You speak like an ancient man. The reason the Umudos and the Umuochiaghas have refused to allow us to crush those statues is because they don’t want the white men to build their oil company headquarters there.

Nze Ogbuefi did not know how to handle such rudeness. Likewise, he did not know how to handle the many other impersonal changes that had come with the new king’s administration. In the old days, an older chief would never be insulted by people so young. He was at least two decades older than the oldest of them. In fact, he was the oldest man in the village!

Exactly, Nze Ogbuefi. The reason some of the villages are against the demolition of those statues is that they want to frustrate my administration. They don’t like civilization. That spot is the only site that catches the white man’s attention. The company wants to build its headquarters there because of its nearness to the city and the level of ventilation around that environment. The king explained with exaggerated patience.

But there are other places with such qualities. You cannot tamper with those statues; they are our gods. At once, most of the elders burst into laughter and ignored his subsequent remark about how the statues held the very air the people of Umuisa breathed.

Listen, the white man is offering a serious amount of money. The young king was enticing the elders, and they all leaned forward to argue about how much they would each gain from the money, the money that was supposed to go towards more pipe-borne water supplies for the villagers. Nze Ogbuefi sat helplessly, looking like a shadow from the past.

It was Nze Okoro who looked at him minutes later and laughed. Go home, old man. These are different times from yours. You will never understand these sorts of things.

Nze Ogbuefi’s fists trembled in rage; he stood up and removed his cap, exposing his thick forest of hair the colour of a harmattan sky. That was what the elders did when an abomination occurred.

He walked away slowly, tiredly. He had heard enough. When he got to the door, he heard the king sneer: The old man is going senile! The rest of the chiefs roared in laughter. Nze Ogbuefi felt like crying; in fact, he was sure he would have cried if not for the fact that the tears didn’t come out. He began to go to Chioma’s house. Chioma was the oldest person in the land. She was the leader of the women, a powerful voice. Perhaps she could talk some sense into the heads of the chiefs in the king’s council. Perhaps she could stop them from demolishing the statues, the symbols of their oneness.

When he finished his story, Chioma looked intensely at him. You mean Eze Metu is still bent on destroying those statues?

Nze Ogbuefi nodded, sitting with his hands akimbo. Chioma looked around her compound, shifting her gaze from the climbing flowers that spread over the lawn to their branches. Those limbs pointed out as if they were akimbo to her house. She saw that the house glowed white under the blanket of the night. Everything in sight seemed like the result of greed.

When do they intend to commence the demolition? she asked after a while.

Tomorrow, Nze Ogbuefi exhaled.

Tomorrow, then.

"Kachifo," he said and left. Chioma searched her body for pain, but did not feel anything. In fact, she didn’t feel her body throughout the night; that was why she assumed she had died when she felt nothing on that fateful Eke morning.

Remembering the incident tinged her heart with a frustrating weight. She looked at herself in the mirror again. Her cheeks had been touched by a breath of colour. And then she felt pains flowing down her body in an unusual current. Everything began to come alive around her. Her bedside clock ticked vigorously; the fan whirred; a swirl of fresh, morning breeze rushed into the room, filling her nose, flooding her insides. Yet she felt as if she were suffocating. The pain had settled in her legs, and it was biting them, chewing into her bones. She stood up and staggered to her bed. And then she began to think about Eze Metu again. Who is he to push them around, to laugh at their ways? Moreover, who is he to tear their people apart, to turn them against each other? It’s about time someone knocked some sense into him. She decided to go to the village square to stop the insane demolition. She would tell the villagers what they needed to hear about the statues, how they had come about, what they symbolized. But she would first address the king’s insolence. He had assumed undue powers. Maybe he did not realize that, The Igbo people do not recognize any king.

She lay down on her bed, waiting for her great-grandson to come and tell her to get ready. She had told him the night before that they were going to stop the demolition. She was sure he didn’t believe her, but he didn’t say as much. Raindrops were beginning to beat against the roof, slowly and rhythmically, like music. She stretched herself on the bed and felt her pain sprawl over her body as if it were a person. Maybe it was a person. Maybe it was her Dimgba.

Chapter 2

An Errant Generation

T h e rain that fell on that Eke morning was soft, so soft that it seemed to caress one’s skin. It touched the heads of people, the roofs of houses, the wares in the marketplaces, the sacred statues by the village square, the lines of vehicles, the stretches of tarred roads, the grasslands, and the trees. It touched everyone and everything tenderly and mildly, like a groom touches his bride.

The people of Umuisa gathered at the village square to witness the crushing of their sacred statues, each holding their hearts in their hands. The statues had been in their village square from time immemorial. They were giant, grey statues, about twelve or so in number, that stood proudly and well apart from one another. They looked old, but they had always been treasured. Several stories had been told about them: that they belonged to gods who once lived among men, that they belonged to the founders of Umuisa, that they were moulded to honour deserving sons and daughters of the land. But the new king said they were grotesque, a word the chiefs didn’t really understand. Grotesque was a word the educated ones insisted was unbefitting of the sacred statues. He could say they need a slight modern touch or a makeover, but not that they are grotesque, the village headmaster from Umudo had said.

The people who first gathered at the village square that morning were few, but by the time the rain had stopped and the sun was pushing its way through the gloomy clouds in the sky, many people had gathered. The people of Umudo and Umuochiagha had assembled; they had sent a warning to the king’s council that they would not live to see the statues being demolished. They said that, if the statues were demolished, new ones would be erected in their place. They believed, in accordance with traditional lore, that the statues were the very beginning of their village, symbols of their early years. The king’s council had replied to their message with a warning: what happened the previous year might repeat itself. On that morning, they were armed with guns and daggers, red strips of cloth wound round their heads. But they did not display their weapons or raise their voices; they stayed calm. It was a calculated kind of calmness that worried members of the other two villages. But they did not show it. Nobody showed emotion. They stood side by side in the square, holding back all that needed to be said, all that had to be talked through. There was nothing but hate holding them together. It was a community bound by the uncomfortable tie of location, a community that stood in the square knowing that they were half-enemy, half-sibling.

The sun was shining madly when Chioma came out of her house. It seemed as if the sun wanted to roast the earth. She shielded her eyes with her palms, blacked out, and sank into a chair near her lawn.

Mama, what is the matter, her great-grandchildren asked with care. She hissed and looked at the two young men and one teenage girl. How can I explain to them that, most times, a dark shadow covers my eyes, that I feel my head rotating on the inside? They will say I’m senile, just like the king said to Nze Ogbuefi the previous night.

I am all right, my children, she said, feeling awfully parched. Just get me some water.

One of them—Dozie, her favourite—went into the car and returned with a bottle of water. Mama, are you sure you can still make it to the square this morning? he asked as he uncorked the bottle.

She did not reply until she had swallowed a mouthful of water. I will go, she answered firmly.

Mama, I don’t think you should go. The square will be too rowdy. All that noise is not good for your health, the teenage girl quipped. Chioma looked at her and smiled. She didn’t really grasp what the girl said. Her grandchildren and great-grandchildren all spoke the same way. Their Igbo sounded clunky, almost incomprehensible, as if it had been diluted with another language.

Eh! Chioma moaned, holding her hip. My hip bones are on fire. I can feel the pain there. It was first in my hands, and then it moved down here. She held her right hip.

Let me get your wheelchair, Dozie said and ran into the house. Chioma shut her eyes until he came back with the chair. They helped her slide into it, and then they wheeled her to her car. When she got into the back seat and Dozie began driving out, her other great-grandson turned to face her. His face bore a hint of amusement on it.

Mama, where is the pain now? he asked. Chioma knew her great-grandchildren never understood her when she talked about her pain. In fact, it amused them. They always laughed at her description of it.

"Nnam, it is swimming into my nose now," Chioma said humorously. The boys laughed.

Your nose, eh? Dozie asked as he drove out of the compound.

"Yes, and it is biting my mouth

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