Ikenga August 2007…..

She was confused, anyone who paid close attention would have noticed, she was just thirteen, but you couldn’t tell from her looks, she had one of those bodies that were in a hurry to get adolescence over and done with; you had to look at her, really observe to understand she was just a child. Crying village women kept coming at her, hugging her, attempting to wipe tears that weren’t there, trying to ease a pain she couldn’t feel. She just stood there, wide eyed, dry eyed and receiving their condolences, her eyes constantly wandering, searching faces, lingering on some and then moving on.

She was fascinated with the place, this her birth place that she was only visiting for first time, she didn’t want to stand and watch people crying and pretend to be sad, she wanted to hop around the big compound, to explore every corner, she wanted to be introduced to everyone, her uncles, her aunts, and cousins, she wanted to be hugged and greeted by welcoming smiles, smiles that said “we’ve longed so much to meet you”, she wanted to ask a million questions, but she didn’t; couldn’t, because she had to play the part of the grieving daughter. Her mother lay in coffin 3 feet away, the mother she’d never met, never known, never loved.

She glanced at the woman that lay in the coffin again, expecting to feel a recognition, a pain, a sadness, any emotion that would validate the fact that the woman lying in that coffin was her mother. She waited for the rush of emotions. Nothing. Where was the famous mother, daughter bond? the grief, the loss. She felt noting, not even disappointment; perhaps a small dose of guilt. Maybe, just maybe if she’d met her once in her lifetime, she’d have felt something more. She wondered why the coffin looked very small, it looked like those coffins they’d used for mass burials in the movie SARAFINA, nothing like the one they’d used for Uncle Bona’s burial at Enugu or the ones displayed at the funeral parlor on the way to their church.

Her brother squeezed her hand and she glanced at him. He looked like he was getting an overdose of all the feelings she couldn’t muster; the tears had rolled down to his chin and his lips were quivering. She let her gaze linger on his face, fascinated and longing, perhaps a bit jealous but soon enough she was bored, and her eyes began to wander again coming to a stop at the woman they called her grandmother. She caught her eye and held it for a moment, then remembered she could be punished for that, she’d been warned several times about looking elders in the eye.

A man came in and closed the coffin. 3 other men joined him, and they lifted it on their shoulders, and everyone proceeded to the grave dug at a corner of the compound where the cluster of banana trees stood. There was no singing, no band, no choir, and no procession. There was only a pastor with very bad looking shoes whose voice was quite coarse as he shouted at the heavens to forgive Aku’s sins and accept her into heaven, leaving Nwanne wondering if Pastor Augustine had lied when he preached so often in church that sins could not be forgiven after death.

Nwanne looked around and wondered why there were no church members, they were supposed to come and sing hymns, or did her mother not go to church on Sundays? She wondered if it was her mother’s absence from church that pastor ‘tattered shoes’ was asking forgiveness for or if he also knew about the other thing she’d often overheard her aunties discussing. She offered up a silent prayer for forgiveness for mocking a man of God and started to mull over the fact that she now had neither mother nor father.