Your Brief Bio:
Born in Benue but hails from Anambra state Nigeria, Emecheta Christian fell in love with writing after reading a novel called 'Things fall apart' by Chinua Achebe and ever since he has written numerous short stories and poems featured on anthologies and magazines across the globe.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
The story revolves around a low income middle class family living in Nigeria and it explores family bonding and daily struggles.
I started learning the colours of the rainbow by heart from NTA. Whenever it was fifteen minutes to four in the evening, I would switch on our twelve-inch, coloured television and Chekwube, my younger sister always joined me on the sofa to pout at the long vertical bars which bore each a colour of the rainbow. It stayed that way till four o'clock.
I bragged to Chekwube, I can say all the colours in the same order as it is on the television with my eyes closed.
It is a lie! she protested, Oya say it let me hear, she challenged.
Watch and see.
I covered my face with both hands to convince her that I was not looking while I peeked between my fingers and said the colours without a pause.
You see? I told you, I taunted when I was done.
I noticed her forehead crease. She closed her eyes and tried but each time either failed to say them in the right sequence or skipped a colour. I laughed and laughed and stuck out a teeny part of my tongue in mockery. I enjoyed the joke because it was my own way of rubbing off some of the encomium dad showered on her when we tendered our end of term report cards. Her result always outclassed mine and the margin this term was the worst; she came first in her class while I was seventeenth in mine.
Why cant you emulate your sister, eh? dad always admonished after ranting.
I hated this comparison, between Chekwube and me. I wondered why he would not compare me with Isa Haruna, the big headed boy who always topped the class from the bottom. He became popular in school by the nickname Head boy not because he held any post of authority but because his head was the last and first part of him you would see before he vanished into the horizon or emerged from it. Our juniors feared his head more than the authority seniority conferred on him because he was always quick to deliver a headbutt if angered. Haruna was a living testimony that a big head does not guarantee knowledge.
students hailed anytime he paraded the school, long dogon yaro cane in hand. He would raise one hand and flash his sharpened incisors at them thinking they were insinuating he deserved a position of authority in school. That was what we all made him believe. This term he came forty-four out of forty-five and was jumping around the class, showing everyone he came across his report card.
I went to the television to touch the bars randomly and ask Chekwube to tell me the colour I touched. She grew jealous of my dominance and went into the room. Just then Dad surfaced at the door without warning and caught me red-handed. He had warned us never to touch the television in his absence.
What are you doing with the television? he barked. I thought I warned that none of you should ever touch the television when I am not around?
I paused like someone had pressed my pause key on an invisible remote. Just then Chekwube came out of the room with two empty buckets.
She froze too.
Good evening, Daddy, she greeted with bent knees.
Neither of us expected him back at that time. He usually came home with Mum some minutes after six. Chekwube and I always watched Tom and Jerry or Magic School Bus or Tales by Moonlight, aired by five o'clock whenever we had power. Monday was for Tom and Jerry, Wednesday for Magic School Bus and Saturdays for Tales by Moonlight. I would switch on the television and we would enjoy the thirty-minute programs and when we were done, turned it off and pretended we never touched it.
Will you leave that place and join your sister to fetch water, he snarled.
I paced to the door and tried to wriggle myself through the little space he left in the doorway but his huge muscular palm landed on my back. I squirmed and ran out to evade more.
Why cant you emulate your sister, eh? he said, hands folded contemplatively over his chest and head cocked to one side as he regarded my retreating back.
I became immune to dads frequent beatings on the slightest provocation a long time ago. In fact, dad had temper issues. He frowned through a good portion of the day. Everyday. I observed dad's genuine happiness came whenever the Nigerian national football team 'Super Eagles' played and somehow managed to muscle the ball past their opponent's goal line. During the last world cup when Musa cancelled Messis goal, he danced, wriggling his stiff waist like a teenager.
Chekwube joined me almost immediately and we left for Msughters house to draw some water from their well. We dangled our buckets as we walked uphill and laughed at the sharp way I yelped when dad slapped my back and at our busted secret.
Our house was the only house in the lowlands of Tionsha District along Naka road in Makurdi with shiny stainless zinc free of rust. The other roofs either had terracotta colour or patches of it that expanded after each rainy season. Albeit it was one room and parlour apartment, it still stood out in taste when compared to our neighbours. The majority of the houses in the lowland were round huts made of mud bricks with dried thatch as the roof. The road in our area was sandy soil washed down from the hills over the years by rains looking for a resting place after hitting the ground. The sand swallowed the tires of cars during the dry season and became very soggy when it rained.
Last year the rains poured down in bucketful and the road divided in some parts. The youths of our area had to gather garbage, tie them in sacks together with sand from the area where they were in excess to fill up the gully. The elders had held several meetings with the governor to build drainages and evacuate some of the sand but each time they got an empty treasury cry from the governor.
This year, we were lucky not to have had much rain and many people erecting new houses evacuated sand from the heavily silted areas so we had little problems with the road. But just as much as we were lucky, so were we unlucky. Other years, by the time we were on third term break from school, rain usually came down every day and filled the water butt and we didn't have to bother trekking the long distance to fetch water.
When we got to Msughters house, we found him outside playing soccer with Shima and one other boy that was so lank, lanky like he would break on a hard impact. We didn't bother to disturb them. We knew the direction of the well and walked up to it. Surprisingly, the well was lidded and locked with a big padlock. We hadnt realised the well had a lid. All the while we have been fetching, it was perpetually open.
Msughter, I called, but he did not answer. I waited few minutes, raised my voice and called again. This time, his friends hesitated and turned our direction but Msughter continued his run with the ball. I refused to give up. I walked up to him,
Msughter the well is locked. Please come and open it, I pleaded.
He smiled a vicious smile, I
I dont know where the key is, he stammered.
Should we go and come back later?
My mum said we should not allow anyone fetch the water again. Everybody has locked their wells, the truth finally rolled out.
You should have told us earlier, I mused, wasting our time for nothing. I shook my head and signaled Chekwube, Come let us go.
If we had stayed any longer, I may have done or said something I would later regret. Opposite Msughters house, was a round hut belonging to one old lady. She walked with the help of a bamboo stick which always stood before her bearing her weight. Her skin was wrinkled like Mother Theresas in the last years of her life. Children in the area feared her because they said she looked like a witchsome said she was a witch. There was a well beside her hut but we had never seen anyone fetch it, nothing to convince us it was safe. We really needed water to wash the clothes we would wear to church the next day.
Chidi, let us try her nah? She may allow us to fetch, Chekwube said and beckoned on me.
I am scared of that woman o. Cant you see how she looks?
We could run before she tries anything nah.
Ok, I said and led the way.
I didnt want to send a signal to Chekwube that she was the brave one and I the weakling. Our pace dropped when we entered the clearing in front of her house. Each step carried us cautiously as though through an anvil. She sat on a stool and leaned her weight on the stick that stood in-between her legs.
Good evening, Ma, we greeted simultaneously.
She mumbled an incoherent reply. Her gaze was uncomfortable and she made sure she glued her eyes on us.
n we fetch water fro
m the well? I stammered.
She mumbled again and pointed in the direction of the well. This we understood as a yes; she understood a little English but spoke only Tiv language, which we didnt understand. We moved stealthily. While I drew the water, Chekwube kept guard for sudden movements. We would abandon our buckets and flee if she noticed any funny scheme. I filled her container first, then mine. We thanked the old lady and trotted home.
Chief Ndukwes house was the house besides Msughters with a high fence decorated with coloured marbles. It was also the only storey building in the area. Rumour had it that he owned an electric borehole that never stopped producing water but his old gateman who we called Baba would never allow anyone through the gate without the chiefs approval.
Dad was on his way out when we returned. I emptied the big bucket I carried into the water butt and rationed Chekwubes water into the big bucket. We didnt intend to go back so we had to maximize the water.
Dad built our house in haste to get us out of the rented apartment when the landlord declared a five hundred percent rent increment. I used to think we owned the place until that incident. Kpa kpa kpa
heavy knocks rattled our door one morning, stirring us up from sleep.
Who is that? Dad flared in annoyance
The response was another string of knocks. Dad unbolted the door, flanked by Mum. His muscles rippled like a wrestlers ready to deliver a deadly blow. A kwashiorkor-looking man stood on the other side. He wore a singlet that barely covered his potbelly and a wrapper knotted around his waist. He chewed on a long chewing stick like a he-goat. Dad stared him down dumbly.
Here is the notice of rent increment, the kwashiorkor-looking man said, holding up a neatly folded sheet.
Dad hissed, snatched the paper from him and banged the door. The sound echoed and the door vibrated as if it would pull free from its hinges.
The outside wall of our new house was yet to be plastered. Dad said he would sink a well and fence the house because he felt insecure when strangers plying the road glared at us. The money for the projects, he complained, was not forth coming. Besides the television and the sintered glass it sat on, our parlour had three long cushions and a centre table beneath the ceiling fan. The furniture was pushed to one side every night to make space for Dads motorcycle which started sleeping in the parlour after its battery was whisked away one night.
The room contained every other belonging we possessed; a bed to one side of the wall, bags containing our clothes arranged neatly on the wall opposite the bed, starting from the door down. Kitchen utensils, empty buckets, and our drinking water gallons were neatly packed by the wall at the foot of the bed. Lastly, a rolled up mat which got any part of the walldepending on who rolled itwas spread out on the remaining space every night for Chekwube and me to share.
I poured detergent into the water in the smaller bucket and stirred while Chekwube went into the room to bring out our clothes. I would wash both clothes while she rinsed them in the bigger bucket and spread them on the line. That was our agreement. The setting orange beams of the sun fell on the bubbles in the bucket and the rainbow colours appeared in them.
Ché-ché, I called to my sister, the rainbow is in the bubbles.
She hastened to spread the striped shirt she held and ran to have a glimpse. She smiled and touched one of the bubbles but it burst on contact. We laughed. I began to teach her how to produce bubbles,
Dip your hand into the soapy water, I said.
Press your fingers together and remove it from the water.
She did as I said.
Now face your palm down and blow air through the small spaces between the back of your fingers.
As she blew air, a bubble began to grow out of her palm. It grew so big it covered her entire palm. I felt proud of myself watching her smiley face. We finished washing and went into the house and waited patiently for Dad and Mum to return.
Mum was usually the first to wake on Sunday mornings because she detested going to church late. I like to pray and meditate before the priest comes in, she told us. If you go to church late, it shows you are not serious with God and no different from the five foolish virgins in the Bible.
That Sunday Dad woke before her and while climbing down from the bed stepped on my fingers. I woke up and screamed. The pain burned like the venom of a scorpion sting.
Will you shut up? he rebuked. Why can't you be quiet like your sister, eh? he said, pointing to Chekwube who snored softly on the mat.
But Daddy you stepped on my fingers I sobbed.
And so? Is that enough to wake the entire neighbourhood over?
I dissolved my anger into tears and let it flow down my cheeks. I feared I might get a slap if I argued more with him. Dad got up from the bed, adjusted the knot of the wrapper around his waist and left the room. On his way out he flipped the switch. I heard the parlour door unbolt. The door creaked open. Close. I guessed he must have gone to ease himself. Mum was usually more careful. If it was her getting down from the bed in the darkness, she would feel the ground with her toes before placing a step.
Once the door to the parlour closed, Mum sat up on the bed,
Chi nwa, she called me in a petting tone
I climbed the bed and she made me sit on her laps and pressed my head to her breast.
Ndo, she said. Where did your father step on you?
I gave her my right fingers. She took them in her hand and caressed them. When the parlour door creaked again, Mum pushed me out of her embrace and told me to wake Chekwube so that we would start preparing for church. She meant to hide her sympathy to avoid a situation where Dad would accuse her of spoiling us.
We had a bathroom, a square beside the house cordoned off with sheets of zinc but mum always bathed Chekwube in the middle of the compound if it was still dark. I started refusing her bathing me when I turned eleven a few months ago. In three years time when Chekwube became my current age, she would follow my footstep. Dad was always the last to bath and get dressed and we had to wait for him in the parlour.
What Chekwube and I enjoyed most about Sundays was getting to compare our clothes with that of other children in the church, and picking out a new fashion we would demand from Mum the next Christmas when she went to the market to get us new clothes.
Dad sat on the edge of the pew, followed by me, Chekwube, and then Mum. The bell rang and everybody stood up. The choir was singing the credo to usher in the procession of altar boys and priests into the church. They walked from the back door of the church to the altar through the centre aisle. The smell of incense wafting out as thick white smoke from the incense burner swayed by one of the altar boys choked me as they passed our pew. Late comers scampered to make it to the door before the churchwardens already holding the doors shut them. The priest I saw ascend the altar was different from our parish priest. His jaw was bare of beards.
The priest themed his homily on the mercy of God from time immemorial. He spoke of how God spared Lot and the righteous faithful when he destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. He painted Gods mercy by not destroying the land of Nineveh when they repented.
Watching Dad seated like a saint and nodding to the words of the priest, I imagined what would have happened to those spared cities and people if Dad were God. I imagined him shouting and slapping silliness out of them. I wished subtly that the Dad I saw in the church could be the same as the one that went home with us. Staring at the faces of other church members, men and women seated quietly, smiling and gorgeously dressed, I wondered if they remained the same when they left the church.
Lastly, the priest spoke at length of the destruction of the world by floodwater by God and how afterward He made a covenant with Noah never to destroy the world again by flood, using the rainbow as a sign of their covenant.
When you go home, the priest charged the congregants, read the whole of Genesis chapter nine.
I saw some people pull out a pen from their bags or pockets to write down the verse on their bulletins or on pieces of paper. The congregation, awed, clapped often as the priest mouthed the homily. It was a moment of epiphany for some. Undoubtedly, his words were loved, unlike those of our parish priest who would be delivering a homily with half the church enjoying sound sleep like people whod kept vigil through the night.
As we rode on Dads motorcycle back home, Mum would not stop singing the Gloria in my ears. Chekwube sat in front of Dad while I sat behind himbetween him and mum. It was tight and uncomfortable but I had to endure because I wasnt ready to trek the long distance back home on an empty stomach.
Sundays were busy days for many families because it was, to most homes, the only day out of the seven in a week that parents spent the entire day with their children. This Sunday appeared to be one of the sun days when the sun burned red in the sky, shooting hot beams at the earth. Opposite our house, on the other side of the road, Mama Ochanya leveraged on the sun's heat to dry her freshly chopped ugu leaves on a sack pinned to the ground at the four edges with stones to prevent the wind from blowing it off. Clothes left to dry covered the carpet grasses.
I dont know where Mum filled our two twenty-litre gallons. As soon as I saw her approaching, I ran to help her carry one of them. She was panting. Sweat made polka dots on her blouse. Chekwube and I looked more like Mum, tender, and ebony, with pointed noses, and nothing like our muscular Dad whose broad nose stretched across his face like a smile.
Mum threw charcoal into the charcoal pot, poured a little kerosene on it, lit a matchstick and threw it on top. When the flames died, she used a hand fan to blow the charcoal till it burned red hot. She had just finished parboiling the rice when a strong wind tore through the neighbourhood raising dust and polythene into the sky. I used my hand to shield my eyes so that sand would not enter them. Mum slammed the pot cover over the steaming rice. I raised my head to the road and saw Mama Ochanyas vegetables scattered in different directions.
All too suddenly, big droplets of rain began to splatter. They produced loud noises when they hit the zinc roof. The initial water that ran down the zinc was the colour of coffee.
What kind of joke is this? Mum hissed. Sun and rain at the same time?
It must be those village rainmakers fooling around again.' Dads bass voice drummed from the parlour.
He stretched himself on the sofa, the TV remote in hand and eyes glued to the screen. Mum made sure Chekwube and I stayed close whenever she was cooking. She said it was very important we both knew how to cook. For Chekwube, she said it would make her husband adore her. To me she said it would help me not to be a stooge to any woman, A way to a mans heart shouldnt be his tummy but by aligning with his vision, she insisted.
The rain stopped and the suns intensity increased. It was as if there was a battle in the heavens on which elements turn it was to manifest. Mum blew the fire to make the charcoal produce more heat and cook the food faster. After some time, it started drizzling again but Mum had finished cooking and we all sat in the parlour to eat.
It drizzled for half an hour or so before clouds began to form and quickly choked the light out of the sun. It was two hours before noon but it looked like dusk. The downpour began pata pata pata on the zinc. Chekwube and I hastened to finish our food and took every basin and bucket in the house outside and lined them under the zinc at the points where the water rolled down the zinc. We sighted other families doing the same. Little children wearing only pants were chasing each other in the rain, falling and rolling in the mud. While we waited for the buckets to fill up so that we would turn them into the water butt, Chekwube and I danced.
In less than thirty minutes the water butt was filled up. We let the buckets and basins fill up and spill over. Dad ordered us to enter the house and change our clothes then went to sleep. We would have loved to play some more in the rain but we dared not to disobey. The intensity the rain started which kept increasing. For the next six hours, it rained like the heavenly dam had shattered.
Our excitement died when Mum peeped through the window and discovered the water level in the compound had risen to nearly the same level as the doorstep. Owing to poor drainage network the water had no place to flow out to and began to collect. Our basin terrain encouraged the buildup. The ground too had drunk to its fill. Soon, the water started seeping into our house from under the door. I turned to Chekwube and discovered she was shivering. Dad was snoring on the bed and no one was bold enough to wake him.
Mum struggled to plug the opening under the door with rags but as the water level continued to rise, her efforts became futile. The water began to pour in. It wet our rug and everything on the ground. I panicked, ran to Dad and shook him up.
What is it? he yelled
Flood, was all I could muster.
He sprang from the bed and stepped on water. I saw his eyelids lose the weight of sleep on them. He rushed to the parlour and pulled open the door. Water gushed in. The water rose quickly to his calf, my knee level, and Chekwubes thigh level. He stared uphill and saw a pool of water tumbling down.
Dad grabbed all of us in his embrace, Let us go to higher grounds, he said.
Dads motorcycle was parked outside and somehow managed to withstand the turbulence. He grabbed the rear and positioned it under the square deck by the edge of the zinc made to hold a tank. He climbed on the seat and one after the other lifted us onto the deck. We pulled him up afterward. Sitting on the deck in a circle, we held our hands together. For once, I had a sense of what family entailed; all for one and one for all.
The rain continued unabated and without signs of relenting. I felt cold and noticed Chekwube had already come down with a runny nose.
Each wave of the flood tumbling down the hill that hit our wall made me nervous. The water had risen halfway up our door. I watched our clothes and rubber plates come out of the door and float away, down the street. I shivered, not from cold but from the thought that the water would rise to the zinc and wash us off.
I watched mud houses dissolve like cubes of sugar placed in a glass of water. Different household equipment floated on the water and for a moment I was certain I saw floating bodies too. I was moved to tears to see how people struggled to save their lives and their loved ones. I pondered if Chief Ndukwe would let Msughter take refuge in his upstairs. Mum shut her eyes in prayer.
As evening neared, the rain began to decline. The flood still swept with force and carried anything on its way downhill, but the clouds had begun to disperse from the sky. I was thirsty so I cupped my hands to collect rain droplets. In my palm was a reflection of a figure in the sky.
I looked up, it was the rainbow.