Your Brief Bio:
I am Ike Hillary Chichebem from Enugu Nigerian, a law student at the University of Nigeria Enugu Campus. I have a couple of short fiction since 2014 though yet to be published any.
Tweet-Style Story Summary:
A story of love and loss as seen in the life of a very young boy who lost his brother one August day they went to play in the rain against their mothers advice, and the consequence on his young mother.
The month was August, lazy and rainy. Once the rain comes, the NEPA light goes, if ever it was there before the rain, and the whole place ceases to be alive, safe for the occasional shriek of Mona or her sister which muffled through our locked window.
Sometimes the rain would come without breeze, and water did not sprinkle into the parlour, we would sit on the arm of the chair by the window, and strain our eyes through the net covering. Outside, in front their house, before the billowing banana trees would be Mona and her sister and the other boys who come from the other houses to play with them in the rain. My eyes would move from the white down turned triangle that was her panties to the singlet, which she occasionally drew up. She didn’t were the singlet last year during the rains. I knew it was wrong to watch her like that. It was a sin to look at those parts of her body…but I already concluded I would not receive communion. I wondered if Tobe looked at those places too. We just sit; Tobe and I, we don’t talk. But our eyes burned with envy for the boys.
Other times the rain would come with breeze and bang the shutters of our window, and sprinkle into the house. Mummy would scream:
‘Cheta won’t you shut that window! ’
We would scurry, so she would not come and pull us by the ear. I would quickly put out my hand through the hole of the window and draw the shutter close by the rope fastened to a nail there. Suddenly everywhere would become dark. Tobe would immediately run out to be with Mummy. He would hit a chair as he ran. He feared the dark like nothing else. I loved being in the dark. I would climb down from where I stood on the arm chair and fold myself on the couch, with my eyes wide open and seeing nothing , waiting the next time Mona would shriek, so that I could close my eyes and imagine myself there with them.
We could not go out when it rained because Tobe could catch cold from entering the rain. Mummy said he had pneumonia the day she warned us when the rain first came.
Mummy was yet to come back from market one evening, the rain again came, and Mona was out and running as usual. The boys were there too.
“I want to go and play in the rain” I said to Tobe, my eyes pleading
He knew what I was asking. He shook his head from side to side, and said he wants to come too. I explained he could catch cold. He did not understand. I tried to ignore him and leave. He made it verbal; he would tell mummy when she comes back. I gave in.
“You can come, but don’t tell mummy we went.”
He screamed thank you and quickly pulled down his shorts.
We came back just in time for mummy not to catch us, and dried everything, so that nothing could give out that we went in the rain.
After we ate at night and lying on the bed, Tobe’s body burned like fire at my back and his breathing was heavy. I knew immediately that it was because we had been in the rain. I got every tick cloth I could and covered him, yet his body shook. Still Tobe insisted we don’t tell Mummy. He didn’t want her to be angry with us. By the time it was eleven his body was burning even more and his teeth clattered. I became afraid of what could happen so I ran out to call mummy. She came and jerked him up from where he lay.
“We were in the rain” I muttered.
She ignored me as she screamed in a voice that wrenched my heart and filled it with terror,
“These boys have killed me! These boys have killed me!”
The neighbours heard and rushed in and Tobe was taken to the hospital. When they left I was all alone in the house and for once became truly afraid of the dark.
On other nights when Tobe and I were left alone in the house I would sit and wish and imagine that by any magic Mona would appear at our door. But that night I did not think of Mona, I did not wish to be with her in the rain or anything. I just wanted Tobe and mummy to come back and be with me. The rain fell and fell in even greater torrents and hit our window and shook the house. Thunder came and the blinding flash of lightening sneaked through the interstice of our window and for a moment I could see clearly the whole room: Tobe’s cloth scattered on the floor where mummy had pushed them in her haste; my school bag on the nail, near it the Fr. Mbaka’s calendar, which says “This year shall be a year of blessing.” My eyes went to the Blessed Sacrament, on the calendar, and I wanted to pray, to tell God to save Tobe... But I had been watching Mona and today while in the rain I had intentionally brushed my arm against her breast pretending I did not know. So instead I asked God for forgiveness. I cried for having sinned and a mild quake engulfed me. When it seemed God was not answering my sinful plea, I asked him to take me instead of Tobe....was I not the person that took him in the rain? Even though I knew I would go to hell, maybe purgatory. I didn’t care.
I must have slept off saying that prayer.
Sometime, at midnight a certain kind of cold washed over me. I opened my eyes half awake, half asleep somewhat a trance. I looked up and there was Tobe by the side of the bed, in the darkness. I asked him what the time was. He said 2am. I was surprised, Tobe never told the time correctly. Then he asked why I had gone ahead to tell Mummy we had been in the rain, that she was angry with him. I apologised. When I asked him whether Mummy was back with him, he shook his head and said she is coming back, after the rain. I slept back.
That night would be the last night I saw Tobe, the last night I looked through the window at Mona playing in front of their roughly painted bungalow. The last time at the dancing banana stump which never bore any fruit and the last time I would see Mummy’s face beam with that unrestrained smile that held things inside you together and made sense of everything.
I woke up early to the sound of nothing; not of Tobe snoring beside me, nor of mummy’s early morning noise from her scrambling in the kitchen for our breakfast. There at the back of my mind was brewing the vestige of the night before, like a dream which I tried to piece together. I lay back on the bed in silence, hoping, wishing and convinced that it was really a dream, a very bad one, which I will tell mummy and Tobe and we would all laugh about it. I knew that when I turned I would feel Tobe’s face or hand and then pinch him to wake up so that we go join mummy say morning devotion and after go and brush our teeth, have our bathe, then eat and wave mummy goodbye as she rushes off to market. After we would play, as we had done throughout the holiday, till afternoon when we are sure the other children are already out for our game of WHAT under the Dogo-yaro tree by the ox blood tank adjacent to Mona’s house
Slowly I arched my back hoping to feel something; I did not. I shifted my leg in the same hope and there was nothing to feel. I got up and in the darkness searched for Tobe like he had suddenly become a very minute item on the bed that could be found by thoroughly ransacking the whole place. I climbed down to take a look under the bed, yet Tobe was not there. Perhaps he had gone to meet Mummy before I woke up. I groped through the lightless room to the parlour; there mummy lay straggled on the sofa. This was something very out of her habit, something she forbade us from ever doing. We were not allowed to sleep on the sofa no matter what. Tobe had couple of times urinated on it and the whole place had stank. To prevent such we don’t sit on the sofa till Tobe stopped urinating as and where he pleased.
Before I could tiptoe back to our room she woke up with a start and a sigh, and then slept back. I quickly bolted to our room, there I covered myself with layers of cloth and hoped that when I wake up again everything would fall into place.
It was nine o’clock, when I finally got up to hear the hoot of an owl filtering through our window, which I surprisingly found open with an unusual August morning sun streaming in and disturbing my vision. I felt a little sick from the sun. I moved to let the cloths fall off then climbed down and walked to the parlour my heart in hand. I finally found Mummy in the kitchen. She did not answer me when I said my greetings, instead she mumbled my name. Her eyes were red and swollen; her hair stood out in riot. She walked past me to put down the plate of Eba she was carrying on the centre table then waved me to come and eat. I went back into the kitchen to wash my hand there the dense silence punctuated by the rhythmic hoot of the owl put a disturbing feeling in my stomach. I came back to the parlour, sat down and with some apprehensions, though I did not feel hungry again, started cutting and moulding the Eba. I ate so slowly and quietly, that I could hear the gurgling sound the morsel made going down my throat and into my stomach. All the time mummy’s eyes bore down on my head, so I never lifted my face till I cleared my plate. It was a rule in the house that we clear our plate. Mummy believed food is best drug, so to stay healthy we had to finish our food. I heard Mummy sniff and lifted my head and my eyes met hers brimming with tears. She tried to blink them away but they came rolling down her cheeks and dropping to the blue rug covering the floor of our parlour. I followed the falling tears.
She shifted in her sit bent forward towards me and backward again and sighed then looked away and with the back of her hand mopped away the tears. She looked liked she was entangled in a sea of malicious web and she was trying hard to let herself free and could only do so by speaking up. Yet it was so hard.
“Your brother is no more with us Chetachukwu” She finally let it out. Her voice creaked and drowned me in a startling realization of what I knew but had imagined was impossible. At twelve I knew what it meant for one to die. I had learnt that two years ago when Daddy died. I knew it means not seeing the person again ever! But then it had been something only possible from afar till Daddy died. It was my first lesson on death and it was bitter. I missed Daddy. I never thought death could come for someone I know. Now Tobe has followed, now I don’t know again. And I felt guilty because I had taken him in the rain. Everything has become possible I knew that one day I would have to go where Daddy and Tobe had gone. For a long time I would live my life waiting as though what happened to daddy and Tobe would soon be my turn; that one day when I go and not come back ever.
“He is now with God and your father” mummy concluded. I looked at her with wide eyes, hoping I would cry, but I did not. Something twirled inside me, a force so strong and pin-painful but I could not get it out. It had disappeared from my eyes, from my mouth to live in my heart where it choked and made me terribly distraught.
After I went into the room I still did not cry, even when I tried, even when I forced myself to by conjuring the entire image that could possibly have made me cry. I didn’t.
Suddenly everything reminded me of Tobe. From my shoes on the carpet, which he had insisted one Christmas to wear, as oversized as it was, instead of his own, to the wall clock hanging on the light blue wall of our room. Tobe would endlessly disturb me to tell him how I got to know the correct time.
“Cheta, which one is the big and small hand?” what does it say?” But this big long one is not moving how do you tell?”
I remembered Tobe’s words but not his voice, not anymore.
Tobe was buried the next day. I was not to attend, so I was sent to stay with one neighbour till mummy came back.
I Knew Tobe would be put in a coffin, I knew the coffin would be put I a grave and I knew dirt would be poured back to cover the grave like they did to daddy. Poor Tobe how afraid he was of the dark, how was he going to manage? I imagined Tobe inside a box, dark and without air under the ground and I knew that should the rain sip in there too it would be very terrifying for him. I sat on the stairs leading into the main building from the courtyard throughout that morning praying that it would not rain.
By noon the cloud which had gathered in the morning had all dispersed and the sun shone fiercely and made the concrete on which I sat very hot. But I did not feel the sun or its sting. I was happy and consoled; somehow I knew Tobe would at least have some light. I was in the sun till mama Tobi came and called me in, and once inside I fell ill I would be sick till mummy came back.
That night as Mummy washed the dish to prepare our dinner her phone rang. I picked it up from the centre table; it was uncle Jide’s number. After she dropped the call, she dialled another number and once the person on the other end picked she started crying. I knew it was Aunty Rita she called. She did not later cook that night, and we went to bed on empty stomach.
After that day life at home became shadows of what was. It was like everything was buried somewhere with Tobe. We don’t pray in the morning again and mummy said very few and only necessary words to me.
School had till September to resume, so the times mummy went to shop and came back late saw me move to stay with my neighbours during the day. By day I would rotate from one neighbour to another. Sometimes it was with Bro Gab the balding bachelor that lived opposite us who snapped Tobe from mummy’s arms that night we went in the rain, or Mama Tobi’s place whose children are all grown up. Those had been the loneliest days of my life.
One day it happened that I would spend the day till mummy came back at Mona’s place and I became excited for once in a long while. For once I did not see or think about when what happened to daddy and Tobe would happen to me.
In the afternoon I ate yam and green with Mona and her sister and then we played all sorts of games. It was like a dream come true.
“Tobe would have acted the prince if he was around” Chekwube said as she tied the wrapper to make her look like the princess she would act in our play where I would be king and Mona queen. She had said it because we had no prince.
Her words hit me and the clean slate of joy I had had at coming to stay at their place was badly smudged. My spirit fell and I merely followed routine of the play
That evening it rained but I did not play with them in the rain. I sat quietly at the veranda and watched Mona and her sister shouting and running about in the rain. None of the boys came. Unlike other times when I heard them scream in the rain, I did not feel that sweetness that always was in their voice. Everything tasted stale and weak. My mind was transported beyond the rain rushing through the space from the zinc to the muddy ground and beyond the billowing banana stump to somewhere below the ground where Tobe was all alone, afraid and wet, and tears blurred the edge of my eyes.
The following Sunday afternoon I was sitting on the stairs looking for words in the dictionary to complete my holiday assignment when I heard footsteps grating the pebbled courtyard. I looked up and there was my Uncle and Aunts my Daddy’s three surviving siblings. I dropped the dictionary carefully on the stairs and ran to hug them then ran back into the house to inform Mummy. I came out after to continue my work. However from where I sat I could tell from the raised voices coming from the passage that they were quarrelling with mummy.
When they were done they stormed out without showing any sign that they saw me there on the stairs.
I went back inside to meet mummy but she was on the phone sobbing and talking.
“They want to take him away” she cried
“How can they be so heartless, how was it my fault?”
I stopped by the door and listened and for once in very long while hot tears streamed from my eyes.
August has a unique pattern of rainfall; there are times when the rain would fall consecutively for days nonstop, those times things were generally dull, business was bad and everybody stayed in. After sometime however the rain would lesson in its magnitude and it would not rain for about a week or so. Sometimes it would rain during that week but in light showers. Those times are known as August break. It was during the August break that Aunty Rita came.
Once mummy saw her she started crying. Aunty Rita was mummy’s elder sister, and a direct opposite of mummy. She was huge with a broad shoulder. She was strong-willed, independent and the richest in my mummy’s family. There were times she had bought Christmas cloth and shoes for Tobe and me. Despite being older than mummy aunty Rita was still not married. It was said men were afraid of her. Mummy had told stories of how she had succeeded during their high school days to check how guys approached her to her chagrin. So mummy had ended up losing all the boys she liked.
Aunty came in the night and in the morning she took charge of everything. She always did. It was so like her to do so, to bundle up the place like she owned it.
She was in the kitchen before mummy and I woke up. She had breakfast ready and walked from room to room as though this has always been her place and Mummy and I merely visitors
Before we finished breakfast she was arguing with mummy, I sat at one of the Sofa and inserted my finger in a tear there on the sofa and listened with a curtained agitation.
“You have to do this for your son” Aunty said. Her voice was strong and final.
“But should I always be the person giving up what I want for them? Should?” Mummy said and her voice choked with tears.
I was uncomfortable. I didn’t like the way aunty made mummy cry. So I tried hard to focus my attention on the tear on the sofa. Each time Aunty raised her voice hoarse and merciless to rebook mummy’s ideas or rejection of her own. I tore at the sheet with more force. By the time aunty said I should come and sit beside her the hole on the sofa was four times bigger.
Aunty fondled my hair something most unusual for her person. I always thought she was born on the wrong side of tenderness, so this new show filled me with a sense of foreboding.
“You and your mummy will be leaving this place with me, now you don’t tell your friends, and you will change school too, understand?”
I could not understand and would not for a long time yet I had nodded in agreement.
We were going to leave this place, which had been my home, this place where I was born, where I and Tobe have made a lot of friends. I was going to leave and not see Mona again. I was distraught but Aunty Rita was not someone you argued with.
I carried my resentment in my heart and hoped that I would enjoy the remaining times I had to spend here.
Aunty left that morning. In the night mummy pranced about arranging thing putting cloths into bags, and other things into cartons, I lay on the bed pretending to sleep and watched him come in and go out of the room.
Mummy woke me up by five in the morning and asked me to dress up, and help carry some things out. I thought she was arranging goods that she was taking to the market. But when I came out to the parlour the place was hollow. There at the centre of the room flickered the flames of a weak lantern which showed the smudged parts of the wall. Aunty came in immediately and urged me to go drop what I was carrying in the truck and come back.
Outside the sky wore an ash that was a tint tilting towards dark By the dim light of dawn I saw two vehicles, a truck and Aunty Rita’s car. There at the back of the truck was the missing chair and sofa and other things from our parlour. I shuddered and immediately came to the realization of what was happening. But aunty didn’t give a lot of room to ponder on the situation. She was here and there ordering the driver, mummy and I around.
The last time I came into the room I took time to look around, at the sky blue walls at the places smudged with dirt and I tried to recollect the memories of how some part of the wall had been stained.
Before long we had packed the necessary things and left few things in the rooms that were of little importance. I kept convincing myself that we were not on the run, even though it seemed most likely we were.
I climbed into the back seat of Aunty Rita’s car. From there I sat stared at the dark green house in which we had lived all these years for a while before the engine revved and the car galloped down the corrugated street. I craned my neck to see clearly Mona’s house for the last time. Somehow I hoped she would by any stroke of luck come out that early morning. I kept looking back even as we passed the Dogo-yaro tree and the ox-blood water Tank and Golden Loyal provision store where mummy had bought all our school lunch over the years. I strained my eyes backwards till the street disappeared from sight.
There was no cloud in that early morning sky but soon I saw drops of rain fall on the glass of the wind screen; it came successively and then fell continuously. Aunty Rita’s wiper was swiping back and forth as we galloped through the road. I knew that our sofa and all other properties in the truck which trailed Aunty Rita’s car would all be wet. I sighed and was lost in thought- thoughts of what I would miss of this place, of that afternoon in Mona’s house and I wondered, in the future, when she plays in the rain whether she will think of me?