I was ten years old when the strange noises started. I can’t say if it was the tapping of the rain or the strange voice that woke me up. Pressed against the rough wall beside my bed, clutching Mama’s old wrapper, I listened.
“Mmmmmh mmmmhmmh” … it was a woman’s voice. It was indistinct-like someone who was beaten and had a strong hand covering her mouth to prevent her from crying. It could not have been my father’s wife. I think she looks like someone who had ample experience in street fighting. I knew that if anyone mistakenly sets up a fight between her and Papa just like Nduka does for the junior students during break time, she would beat Papa black-and-blue.
I remember the first day Papa brought her to the house – how scared I was. Suddenly all I saw was Mike Tyson. It wasn’t until Papa wriggled out his hand from mine, that I saw how hard and tight I held on to him. That was the effect she had on me. I had never seen a woman with hands puffed out like mba ji. The way she rolled her eyes at me when Papa handed over the buns he bought for me made me conclude she was not a good person. I gracefully took the buns from Papa and rolled my eyes back at her too.
I cried the whole night after she left. Papa said she had gone to bring the remaining of her clothes. “she would be your new mother” – he said. I didn’t want a new mother. I wanted Mama back. Papa said that I should do what she tells me to do and that I should call her Big Aunty.
Ayobanna told me not to worry. He said you cannot tell if someone is an Ezigbo mmadu simply because they have aka mba ji. I wanted to believe him. I wanted him to be right, as he had always been. We always ran on our way home from school, but because I was still sulky, Ayobanna suggested we walk instead. We even stopped over at his mother’s kiosk for nzu and sugar. That is Ayobanna, very thoughtful and kind. Little wonder I tell him everything. When I started seeing blood, it was Ayobanna I first told. When Mama was alive, she fondly called him Nnaa obi ocha.
The first time Big Aunty broke my head with Turner Garri, I couldn’t wait for Oga Emma – the street Chemist to finish stitching it so I could go and show Ayobanna. Finally, it was confirmed. People that have aka mba ji are wicked – ndi obi ojoo.
Could the muffled voice be from an evil spirit? It wasn’t until I heard “Uzondu igbugo m” “Uzo gbuzianu m” that I snapped out of my thoughts. It was Aunty Ugochi-Big Aunty’s younger sister. “But, what was Uncle Uzo doing in her room by this time of the night?” – I wondered. He had his own room.
“Chai if I were you eeh, I would have gone to peep o” – Ayobanna exclaimed with excitement.
“they were doing Ife Ojoo” – he said.
“but Aunty Ugochi is a member of the Legion of Mary” …” why would she be doing this kind of thing?” – I asked, to no one in particular.
“I wish I live in your house o” – Ayobanna went on. “I would have been watching free film every night”.
As I watched Uncle Uzo reconcile the daily sales book with Papa that evening, I felt betrayed on Papa’s behalf. He clearly didn’t know what his sales boy does with his wife’s sister every night.
“Raluchi, are you well?” Papa asked.
“I am fine, Papa” – I said. Shocked.
“then why are you still sitting down there staring at me, after I told you to bring water for me?”
As I held the stainless steel cup, I wondered if I should tell Papa what happens in his house every night or I should wait until Aunty Ugochi’s stomach starts getting bigger just like Ayobanna said it would.