It had been a black, starless night. The humid air brought with it the east winds and with the winds a rank odor drifted into Aghina village. The village smelt of impending doom and blood. Of dead carcasses abandoned after wars. Of rotten Kunu. The stench tickled my throat. I wanted to rip it out.
The crickets had ceased chirping as if in anticipation of the great evil that would happen. Adults were huddled outside their huts, children in smaller groups around them trying to keep cool.
The droning mosquitoes made the humid air more unbearable. Trying to get rid of them only made it worse. The bumps would be the tell tale sign on my yellow paw-paw skin tomorrow. I tried to concentrate on Mama as she sang in a low voice to the smaller children gathered in a circle round her, her co-wives and Papa.
I smiled to myself. She had been good to me. I wouldn’t let any harm come to her. A mosquito landed on my cheek. I brushed it off and cleaned the blood off my palm with my shirt.
“Go and sleep. It is very late and the night has changed,” Papa said.
About 13 children of varying ages in different states of undress, my brothers and sisters, stood and filed in. Not a sound was to be heard except the muted “Kachifo” to the parents. Complaining earned a slap and a reprimand from your mother.
My Step-mothers Mama Adugo and Mama Nkechi followed, struggling to their feet under the weight of their “Christian mother” hips and walking in slowly. Papa was the next to stand. I watched him struggle to get off the bench, groans accompanying his futile efforts; his arthritis had gotten worse in the last few days. Mama jumped up from where she had been shelling melon seeds using the oil lamp, she helped him up. They walked towards his Obi. It was Mama’s turn to spend the night.
She turned to me, “Pack up everything.”
“Yes Mama,” I said, with a small knowing smile. She smiled back.
I picked up Nnenne’s corn cob doll and stood up to dust it on my lappa. My smile froze. I watched my parents walk through her, the silhouetted figure who stood by the door. I’d know her anywhere. Queen of the Mermaids, Ujabiani. The great river goddess. My real mum.
“You’ve grown, my dear child,” she sneered. “Come.”
I felt my feet move beneath me. My mouth opened in a soundless scream.