A Beautiful Mind

The wind blew like spirits chasing each other, with uniform patterns as if they were having their own mmanwu festival.

It blew round and round, taking the mango leaves up in its waves like a woman dancing and wiggling her hips at the village square during a new yam festival, swaying round and round and pushing everything in its path. The Cassava leaves waved like hundreds of little children smiling back at their mothers, the sun beaming down on their faces.

Mosquitoes didn’t like this dance of the spirits and hid in their houses, but sun flies enjoyed it, they didn’t buzz around in your ears like mosquitoes or houseflies did announce themselves to you, sun flies moved like spirits, invisible to the eyes and only their actions; their stinging bites alert you of their presence. I didn’t mind the gruesome heat as the wind circulated the air and made the midday scorch easier on my forehead, but I couldn’t tolerate the piercing of sun flies. They seemed to like my legs and I had slapped the spots where I felt the bites so much that they were red.

The problem with farm work was how truly back-breaking it is, I took breaks every time it felt like any more swings of the ogu would cause my spine to snap out of my back, and it felt like that too often, the worse problem was how even taking breaks didn’t guarantee comfort, the insects of the wild would come to feast.

Mama nnuku called me the lazy one, she was always teasing me about how I didn’t like to do anything besides sleeping and spending time thinking. Papa said I was lucky I wasn’t her son and that his mother had gone soft, she would have beaten the laziness out of me.

I knew I was lazy if lazy meant not wanting to kill myself working. What was so wrong with spending afternoons on tall cashew trees looking at the sky and the vast area beyond, wondering where it stopped and why the skies seemed to stretch out until they joined with the trees, if it was so where did the white men say they came from?. Last week on eke day I told Lotanna, my elder brother, that I thought the world was like a mango seed and we lived inside it, “uwa dika nkpuru mangolo” I said, the world is like a mango seed. He looked at me and laughed, not in a condescending way but in a manner that showed he was thinking about it too.

I wondered if he really understood things like I did, if his mind really painted the pictures the same way mine did when I described my thoughts to him. Lotanna was my best friend before he was my brother. Papa and Mama had been married for a long time without bearing any children, papa told us that everybody in the village advised him

to take another wife who could give him children, citing that even if mama wasn’t a barren tree and actually bore children it was still advisable that he married more wives, but he flatly refused. Papa said it wasn’t that he didn’t want to take another wife, but the pressure on mama would only get worse and worse if he took another woman and she bore him children. He had sworn to protect mama and insisted he would do it no matter what, so he didn’t take any other wife. He said his papa had 3 wives who bore him five sons in total and he was the fourth, along with 6 girls, they were many other people who were already producing children and if he himself didn’t there was no great loss.

It took 10 years for mama to finally conceive, she gave birth to a male child and named him Lotanna – meaning never forget father. 2 years later she was pregnant again, it was as if a stone blocking papa’s smoking pipe was removed and the smoke could now flow optimally.

I was born on an afo day and when I turned out to be another boy my father couldn’t hold his joy, he named me Uchechi – meaning God’s will, he was glad there was another boy to accompany his already growing, big first son. Lotanna grew big, his arms had always looked to me like the gods cut down iroko trees to make them. His legs were thick like yamsthat had stayed in the barn for a few moons, no longer wet but supple and strong, Lotanna looked a lot like papa and mama nicknamed him oyiri nna ya – meaning he who looks like his father. On the other hand, I wasn’t slim but I wasn’t big like Lotanna, my chest didn’t have a deep crevice in the middle and my breasts didn’t bulge. I was more like mama, with brown skin that shone in the sun and over time had turned darker to look like the colour of mud in the evening at sunset, mama had long slender arms and it rhymed with other parts of her body, she was almost the same height as papa, I wasn’t at that height yet and my brother towered over me, but mama says my strength is in my mind, mama was the only one who didn’t think I was lazy, at least she was the only one who didn’t nag me about it.

The sun was beginning to pass, slowly but surely, it was now hitting from one side and not as harsh as before. The wind was settled, not moving as much and that meant the sweat couldn’t dry up as quickly as before. I had joined Lotanna in tilling the farm and we were making yam moulds and ridges. Papa had shared the farmland 2 moons ago, he gave a fairly smaller portion to me as the younger son but as at seven days ago Lotanna had done more

of his share compared to mine, he was even almost done and I had to make up for it. My muscles were pulsing as I swung the ogu up and brought it back down hitting the ground and breaking open the soil.
“Uche it’s almost time for us to leave,” Lotanna beckoned.
I stood up straight, fighting the pain from my back as I slowly arched back. “but my own part isn’t much again, can’t I just do a little more?” I replied.”mba, we need daylight to guide us home, except you want spirits to come and carry you like that story mama told us,” Lotanna said and started laughing. “No! don’t mention those spirits, please! Let’s go!” that story haunted me and he knew it. Mama told us a story about a widow and her daughter who went to their farm. She worked until very late and the child reminded her that it was late and they should leave, but she replied by saying she was almost done. Again and again, it happen until darkness came, then spirits came, the child miraculously transformed into a bird and flew up to a tree, from there she watched the spirits kill and eat her mama. The story haunted me, I always remembered it anytime I was outside our compound and darkness was descending.
“if you didn’t waste time resting you would have done more today. Finish up that mould and pack up so we can go, I have finished for today.” He leapt out, stretched then went to urinate.

I rounded up the already finished mould and went to join him in urinating. My wrapper was folded across my waist and sweat was all over it.
“I really need to wash my body, Lota,” I said, trying to have the small talk we boys had when we urinated together, saying something minuscule to pass the time.

“ngwa, bia k’ayi laba, come let us go home” he replied. “mama promised me pepper soup and I can’t wait”.
We started on our way home, me dragging our farm tools in a bag made out of animal skin. We walked in silence, the leaves beneath our feet made squishy sounds as we passed, there were no clear footpaths as the shrubs had overgrown their natural boundaries, some were so far out we had to slash at them with our cutlasses. Neither of us wanted to bring up the real reason why we were scared and wanted to go home earlier than usual.

There was news of late about how some boys and even girls have been missing from the town but
none had been reported from our village in particular and I overheard papa assuring mama that nothing could happen to us as the chiefs had settled some people, but the stories we heard from the other villages were enough to scare us. Some days ago mama’s brother had come to see us and he told of how he heard a man had escaped from being captured, when he was done everywhere was silent. We knew who the kidnappers were, we had heard stories of how they operated and what their business was, but we didn’t think it would get close to us and now it seemed to be getting closer every day, a man was kidnapped 2 days ago. Azuka, the son of the village palm wine tapper, has been missing since yesterday, the elders in the village have been predicting and suggesting that he could have gotten injured or lost in the forest where he went to tap wine, but everybody knew if it was so he would have been found and it was impossible for Azuka to get lost in his own village. Everybody
knew what had happened, but nobody wanted to voice it out, afraid that saying it would somehow make it real.
Igbo words not translated in prose:
Mmawu – Masquerade.
Ogu – Hoe.
Mama nnuku – Grand mother.
Eke, afo – name for traditional days of the week.

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