Since Ginika moved to the city, she changed. When she calls, she no longer laughed in the throaty, high-pitched manner that was hers alone. She no longer wove igbo proverbs in between sentences like she did when she was in the village, trying to impress papa. And when we spoke to her in our igbo dialect, she replied in English. When papa said, Ada m, kedu?, she replied, “I’m fine, dad.”
We never call papa dad. It was papa Kamsi’s children, who lived in the big, white bungalow three houses away from our thatched hut, that called their head master father daddy. And that was because they never mingled with the village children. They did not fetch in the stream nor sing moonlight songs at the base of the udara tree at the square. They always stayed behind their low, black spiky fence, playing on their swing or building sand castles in their garden.
I pitied them. Even in their neat khaki gown, shorts, and knee length white socks, they looked like prisoners and when Ginika and I walk pass their house, we hear their loud voices, screaming in English… Olisa, go call mom or Kamsi, that’s the doll dad bought you, this one is mine.
I would laugh at their English, they seemed like actors rehearsing a school play. English was only for school because ndi nkuzi demands it. But Ginika didn’t agree, she would climb our mud fence and stare into their compound, a hidden sadness glowing in her eyes.
“Ginika, bia buru nri gi” mama would call her for food but she would not answer. Her eyes would follow Kamsi and Olisa enter their father’s black 504 Peugeot car and drive out of their compound, and she would remain there, staring at their shiny, silver corrugated roof, till nightfalls and her food goes cold.
“Hello Ginika… Ginika… Hello!” I said, pressing the Nokia 3310 phone to my ear, as I paced from the door of our latrine to the goat barn, searching for the best spot for network connection while papa and mama trailed behind me like dogs pursuing their master with their food tray.
“I can hear you clearly now, Agozie.” Ginika said, her voice soft and feathery. “By the way, It’s Gina now, not Ginika, please. I don’t want to correct you again.”
I heard a hint of anger in her voice. I wanted to ask why? Why was Ginikachukwu suddenly not good enough? I wanted to tell her that she shouldn’t order me around the way she does mama and papa who now calls her Gina, though their heavy igbo accent twisted the Gina and made it sound like Ji na.
“Gbahara nwanne gi, Ji na. Ngwa, Agozie, aporogize to your six-taa” Mama said into the speaker but her eyes remained fixated at me.
“Ndo.” I said, my voice barely above a whisper.
Then, I remained mute, listening to them speak into the phone speaker. Papa was chewing his kola as he narrated the land dispute between our family and Mazi Agu’s family. His kolanut made a cracking sound as he told her about Onyebueze’s visit last night and how he had told papa in confidence that Mazi Agu is planning to arrest him if he ever steps his foot into the land.
I heard Ginika’s loud laughter, then followed by a stream of curses.
“Tell Agu,” Ginika said in a calm, confident voice, “That Gina will soon test the strength of his manhood.” she said in Igbo before switching to English. “Tell him that I will bring ndi army to torture him if he doesn’t take time.”
I saw papa laugh and straighten his spine,then mama gave a theatrical dance, before raising her hands in silent thanks to the heaven for making their daughter powerful. No one rebuked Ginika, a young unmarried girl for mentioning manhood to her father’s hearing. They all laughed like it was normal.
Then, mama began to tell Ginika about our dog, Bingo that birthed three nights ago, Ginika waved the conversation away as though she no longer cared for Bingo. The same Bingo that she always fed and bathed when she was in the village.
“Hello, Agozie? Are you there? ” Ginika asked.
“Ehe Agozie, no ebe a. ” Mama said, thrusting the phone into my hand.
” Hello, ” I said, pressing the phone to my ear.
“I will send Nkenna to bring you some money next week, buy all the books you need and read well for your examination” she said.
I stood still, my heart heavy with unspoken words. I wanted to tell her to keep her money. I wanted to ask her what job she was doing that enabled her to send so much money to us. In just 4 months of leaving the village, she has sent money to change our thatched roof to corrugated zinc, mend our fallen fence and bought a new Suzuki motorcycle for papa. She also sent money for my Waec examination, when I had asked mama to return the money to her, mama had laughed in a loud voice that sounded nothing like her as she said… “Taa, nwata a, mechi onu gi. Shut your mouth.”
Mama and papa didn’t ask questions, but I knew they knew. I knew they too, heard the rumors flying around the village that Ginika was doing “Akwuna” in the city, spreading her legs for men and collecting money after. Chude, Mazi Okoro’s son had sworn that he saw her with his two eyes. Papa and Mama never asked Ginika, they only praised her and said prayers for her in the broken pieces of English they could muster.
“Hello.. Agozie! Are you there?” She asked, the soft rhythmic sound of her breath fanning my ear.
“I said I will send some money for you next week”
I remained silent, looking across at the hen and her chicks nibbling at the grains of corn on the ground, to the lone palm tree standing amidst the mango tree and ukwa tree outside our fence. An aged palm wine tapper was climbing the branchless trunk,his rope straddling the trunk made pam, pam, pam sound as he climbed. The sound mixed with the loud pounding of my heart and the whistling sound of the hot breath spurting from my nose.
“Agozie?” she called again. “Hello?”
“Hello…. Hello? Agozie?”
I didn’t answer, couldn’t answer. I tossed the phone into Mama’s hands, and walked away from the music of Hello’s, floating from the speaker.
Written by : Chioma Ngaikedi (She is a Writer, Filmmaker and TEDx Speaker)