Mama Junior worshipped God in truth and in spirit.
She wasn’t always that devoted to the Christian God until she left her husband’s home and came back to Okigwe Street (where her parents lived) with her sons. Four sons.
People stared as she offloaded large bag after large Ghana-must-go, after large rice sack, filled with kitchen utensils and shoes and clothes. No one was sure what the matter was.
Rumour had it that her husband sent her packing because she was a bad cook; then that she couldn’t give him a girl to balance the equation; then that he got tired of her loud mouth.
She sensed the judgement from the neighbors and the side talks of friends who spread their teeth in smiles when she was around and gathered like witches once she turned her back to leave. She needed to convince the world that although she left her big-headed cheat of a husband, the lord was on her side.
Her husband’s head was indeed large; it was the first thing one saw when one met him. My aunt, who only came to our home when something gossip-worthy happened, told my mother that Mama Junior should introduce her husband in this way: ‘Meet Imma’s head. Now meet Imma.’
My mother’s laughter echoed around our house as she responded, saying that when a chimpanzee gives birth, the baby looks absolutely beautiful to her. This was my mother’s way of saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. She went on to say that when Mama Junior looked at Imma’s head, all she saw was perfection.
Mama Junior soon became tired of speculations and rumors and people asking her when she planned on going back home, as if she were staying in their house, as if they fed her. So she decided to preach the gospel once and for all.
She rented a megaphone and loudspeaker and took them outside to the front of her father’s house, just next to the giant tree that produced nothing. Junior followed her with a bench and she pointed to where it should be placed for her. She sat down, fumbled a bit with turning on the megaphone and asked what was wrong with the stupid device, unaware that it had been turned on. ‘Ehee!’ she shouted, upon realizing it was working.
No one had taken notice of her presence. People walked by without looking her way, but she wasn’t ready yet. She had to finish eating her boiled groundnuts first. She peeled them one after the other and threw them up in the air and then positioned her open mouth so that they fell into it. Most got into her mouth but a few fell to the ground and she stepped on them with her bathroom slippers. She looked up, saw me standing on our balcony and waved. It was unexpected but I waved back at her, smiling.
She finished eating her groundnuts, clapped her hands to dust off residue and stood up to put the shells into the dustbin. When she returned to her chair, she was ready.
‘Testing testing the mic,’ she screamed into the megaphone. ‘Da lor is good, all da time. All da time, da lor is good,’ she said in singsong.
‘Ndi mmadu anokwa here? Neighbors in da lor! Where are you?’
Some passers-by stopped to listen briefly and move on if she wasn’t saying anything worthwhile. The neighbouring streets soon had people, women especially, coming out and retying their wrappers as they approached. My aunt also came out to the balcony when she heard. She was in our home at the time because the night before, the Nwangwu family who lived on Okwuenu Street had a night vigil with Father Oku Oku, where he dug out a locked padlock from their backyard, the padlock that had been hindering the family’s progress for years. They dug it out and Father Oku Oku miraculously found a key that opened it and set the family free from bondage. That night vigil cost them eighty thousand naira. It was worth it, my aunt concluded.
‘Who preaches whilst sitting down? This one bukwa international preaching, hia!’ my aunt pointed out.
‘Mama Junior is not joking at all o. Nne, go and bring the bed out for me, biko. If she’s going to preach sitting, I want to listen lying down,’ my mother added.
‘I will lie next to you. Nne, please bring me very chilled Coke and bread. This preaching deserves balanced diet. It is not a small something,’ my aunt joked.
‘Praise da lor!’ Mama Junior screamed.
The neighbours looked around at each other. That look that accused another, yet knew that even they were guilty of not responding. They were unsure of the seriousness of it. The response was scanty, it came from one, two, three people in different parts of the street, scattered.
‘Praise da living God,’ she continued.
‘Haaaa-la-luu-yaaaa!’ the neighbors responded.
‘You see, my brothers and sisters, da lor told me to talk to you today. When I was sitting here in the beginning eating my groundnut, some of them fell on the ground and I marched on it with this my white bathroom slippers.’ She stomped her feet in demonstration.
‘That is how the kingdom of da lor will be. All de people saying what they don’t know, da lor will march on them on da last day! Amen?’
No one responded to her. Many felt confronted by what she was saying and reacted by either looking away or scratching their heads or retying their wrappers.
‘Even some big-headed monsters,’ she continued, ‘who jump from one woman’s bed to the other because they cannot keep that nonsense dangling between their legs for their wives alone.’ She moved her hand from left to right as she spoke, to show the dangling movement. ‘They have turned to John da Baptist, sharing da gospel everywhere,’ she paused, looked around at the people as though their faces would somehow lend her more words, or that looking at them would further sink her message into their hearts. She continued.
‘This is an insult to John da Baptist because he was doing da lor’s work. And da idiots even cut off his head. God forgive me. It is da big-headed monster’s head that needs to be cut off! Da one that wanted to give his enemies AIDS, not me!’
Mama Junior bowed her head and her shoulders heaved back and forth. No one said anything; even the chicken pecking about knew to shut up. The people stared as she wept. The women were unsure whether to touch her or let her be. The guilt they felt had advised them to stay away from her. They touched her with their eyes instead and the scratching of heads became their way of saying ndo.
‘So Mama Junior has AIDS?’ my aunt whispered.
‘Okwy mechikene onu! Shut up for once!’ my mother retorted.
‘Ndo, sorry,’ my aunt responded, cupping her palm over her mouth.
‘You see, she even knows her husband has a large head,’ my aunt quickly added.
‘Okwy, is this a curse?’
‘Ngwa ndozia, sorry.’
Mama Junior raised her head, wiped her face with the edge of her wrapper and rocked her body front to back and vice versa.
‘Praise God,’ she said.
‘Hala-lu-yaa,’ the neighbors responded quietly.
‘Say what you know. If you don’t know something, shut up your mouth. Shut up your mouth, it is not by force to speak. You must not speak! Amen?’
‘Amen,’ said the neighbors.
‘Otito diri Jesu, glory to God.’
‘Na ndu ebebe, now and forever more, amen.’
Everyone dispersed. Most of them with heads bowed. Those final words were usually said at the end of mass from the priest to the people, to which they would disperse chatting and familiarizing and asking each other how their Sunday was coming. But on that day, there was no sound. The guilt hung heavy in the air and in the hearts of the neighbors so that they all walked home as though they had just received holy communion at the altar and were walking to their chairs, meditating solemnly.
Junior came and carried the bench back inside after his mother stood up. Even my aunt went home silent.
‘Okwy went home with her mouth full today. I know she desperately wanted to talk, but no, not today, please,’ my mother said.
Everything went on smoothly with her and no more witch gatherings happened, at least to the best of Mama Junior’s knowledge. Her boys had been enrolled in a school and, after many long meetings and pleas from their father, they began spending every other weekend with him. He brought them home early on Sundays, in time for them to attend church service with their mother.
Early one Sunday morning, Imma’s Peugeot 504 came whistling into our street. My brother said it was a bad car brake that caused the noise and didn’t understand why Imma would not fix it. Imma parked the car, got out and opened the back door for his sons. He got their bags out of the boot, waved at them and tried to start his car but it made more whistling sounds and died down lazily. He tried several times before sending Junior to fetch him some water.
Junior arrived with a jug of water and Mama Junior. She stood in the corner and watched Imma fill his water tank. Once he shut the car bonnet, Mama Junior saw that there was someone sitting in the front seat. That someone was female.
Mama Junior looked like she felt a string in her chest drag and stretch painfully. She squinted, wiped her eyes with the back of her hands and looked harder. There was definitely a female sat in the front seat. She walked up to her eldest son, held him by the shoulders and looked him in the face.
‘Junior, where did you sit when he was driving you back?’ Mama Junior asked.
Junior pointed to the back without speaking. Mama Junior slowly followed his hand and finger in an exaggerated manner.
‘You sat with your brothers at the back seat?’ she asked again. Junior affirmed by nodding.
Mama Junior ran to passenger’s side like one whose buttocks had been stung by agbusi, held the unsuspecting lady by her black and red box braids and began to pull. Neighbors who were getting dressed for church all came out in their shiny wrappers and colorful headscarves, looking at Mama Junior in pure shock. It was a Sunday, a holy day. She could have chosen a different day to fight, not a Sunday. But they forgave her; she was trying to get even. And they too could get even for gossiping about her.
‘Ashawo kobo kobo! Cheap prostitute!’ she shouted as she dragged her.
Imma went to save his lady friend but received several kicks from Mama Junior. Her multitasking ability was second to none. She knocked the lady’s head as she pulled her hair, kicked Imma and released one of her hands occasionally from the lady to punch or slap him, and then screamed at Junior to take his brothers into the house. They didn’t move. They stood staring.
The lady was dragged out of the car window and the neighbors clapped. I too felt a strange relief when she fell out through the window, but her suffering did not end.
Imma managed to hold Mama Junior’s hands. The lady quickly got off the ground and hid behind the fruitless tree. She stood there adjusting her dress and trying to arrange what was left of her braids. Mama Junior broke free from Imma’s grip and went back for the lady. She ran round the tree as Mama Junior chased. This went on for a while that it became comical. Then Mama Junior stopped.
‘You see this front seat?’ she asked, pointing at the car. ‘That front seat belongs to my first son Junior. And if Junior is not there, it belongs to Chuka. If Chuka is not there it belongs to Ossi. If Ossi is not there it belongs to Bobo. And if none of them are there, the front seat will be empty! I said it will be empty!!!’
She was breathing heavily and sweat ran down her face and settled under her nose. She collected the sweat on her forehead with her thumb and flicked her wrist in Imma’s direction so that it splashed on him. She looked at the lady as though she wanted the tree to fall and crush her to death. She turned to Imma who looked away.
‘Father Christmas, you’re still sharing your gift to them?’ she asked pointing at his crotch region.
She walked away from him, lifted Bobo to her chest, held Ossi’s hand and walked past the gates. Junior and Chuka followed.
Imma’s lady friend peeped at the direction Mama Junior went before dashing into the back seat of the car with the speed of light. Imma started his car and, thankfully, it answered. As they drove out of the street, neighbors jeered at them and some threw stones small enough not to break anything. Some ran after the car and slapped their hands on the boot. Imma’s car whistled away.
Shortly after the incident, Mama Junior came outside to pick up the lady’s fallen braids. She threw them into the dustbin with the same energy one would use in killing a fat rat. She slammed them in. The neighbors cheered as she walked towards the gate. They whistled and held out their thumbs. She smiled and waved with both hands like a politician visiting poor communities.
As she waved back at the people, and watched as their smiles broadened, as their hands moved vigorously from side to side, as many thumbs curved in backward Cs directed at her, as claps and whistling sounded, and proud faces of neighbors sprang up in all corners of our street, she knew she was home. For the first time since she left Imma, she felt welcomed in the neighborhood that had birthed and nurtured her. Okigwe Street was home. She knew that home was the absence of judgment. Home was the faces of the people who cheered her on, after her Sunday morning brawl that could have ended in shame.
‘Otito diri nu jesu!!!’ she shouted.
‘Na ndu ebebe amen!’ the neighbors responded.
Post image by Ilya via flickr.
About the Author:
Uzoamaka Doris Aniunoh is an Igbo writer from the eastern part of Nigeria. She is inspired by real life experiences. You can find her being troublesome on Facebook, or telling her truths on her blog – dorisaniunoh.blogspot.com.