Behind Today

Born in Ubah to the Bahumono clan, in the river area of Cross River State, Anozeng lived very happily with his siblings, four brothers and a sister. The eldest, Obeten, was five years older than him and was seen as big brother of the family in many regards. The second, a once stoutly built young man who become a shadow of his previous looks, was three years older than him while his younger ones Ada, Brendan and Egbe were three, five and seven years younger than him respectively. Everyone loved to have a good home and this family looked up to Obasi to sustain and bring them to their destiny. One morning, while they were in their village Ubah, Anozeng and his sister Ada decided to follow other villagers to hunt for periwinkles along the Ubah swamps which are bounded by Bhatebha to the west and Bhazumutong to the north towards Othumusa the ancestral home of the Bhahumonos. Not familiar with the terrain, since they had not been staying in the village but in the local government headquarters in Obubra, it was not easy to locate places except those they had been to in the village and, for this reason, both children needed to be very careful as they followed other villagers for the periwinkle hunting. In the swarm, Ada tried to ensure that they walked closely in the company of other villagers and though she was younger, she felt she had the responsibility of ensuring their well-being which makes her caution Anozeng, “please don’t go too far away from the group as you well know we are but children in this company and we need to listen to them since we can’t even locate our way back home.”

But Anozeng was too adventurous for a nine year old and soon while every other person in the group kept a close distance to ensure that they could all converge together again and return home as a group, he sneaked off. Thus, the task of having everybody go home together was not to be achieved as Anozeng had wandered away to a far side of the bush and could not retrace his steps back to where the group was. Soon Ada realized that her brother had been out of sight for longer than was comfortable and she started looking around and asking individuals of the group if they had any clue as to the direction her brother went. But no one seemed to remember if they saw him walk off. Young Ada could not contain her panic and started shouting his name loudly with as much strength and ability that she could muster as a six year old. Soon it was the concern of the whole group to take turns in shouting his name in a bid to signal Anozeng to where they were.

The day was already far spent and getting too late and dark to find their way back home. Some night birds heralded the nightfall with their hooting and toads and frogs jumped about making quaking sounds also indicating the fast approaching night, yet Anozeng was nowhere close to be found. Meanwhile the group needed to return home and without any further effort, since the night was fast approaching and all previous efforts in search of Anozeng was in futility, the periwinkle hunters in company of Ada went home. However, not sure what reasons they would give to Anozeng and Ada’s mother, who had no idea of their whereabouts let alone any clue that she could possibly have allowed her two children to periwinkle hunt, made the group more uneasy as they did not know how to break such news to the children’s mother. “Well then”, retorted someone in the group, “We shall go home all the same and if summoned by the village elders to explain the whereabouts of Anozeng, we will explain it in such a way that may provide useful information that would help the elders to take possible steps towards Anozeng’s recovery.” Too simple a task it would appear to be on the surface but no one was ready to volunteer themselves as spokesperson to the children’s mother and this would explain why Ada went to their house alone without the accompany of any of the group members. At the moment no one seemed to have a clue as to what the little Ada was imagining because she seemed to be more assuring in her comportment as one who could well have answers to questions she was probable to be asked. Maybe her age betrayed her innocence in a way that seemed suggestive of a child who cannot and is still in dilemma of what she did and whether her actions and inactions counted so much that she appeared somewhat strong to betray her hidden anxieties. However, this strength would have been gained after the frantic efforts she made to find Anozeng in the bush and possibly leaving the issue to fate as though a brighter light would come at the end of the tunnel as her eyes seemed to glow with hope despite all the events of the day. Ada did not lose focus of the reaction such news would provoke on their mother who was perceived by neighbours to be a disciplinarian within their family’s short stay in Ubah. It would be argued that this realization was what restrained the group from wanting to accompany Ada to their family house to disclose such horrifying information and probably also explains why she was somehow panicky as she approached their house and, further, sheds more light on Ada’s worst nightmare about the entire events of the day as she did not know how Mama would particularly take this incident. Was their mother, going to see it as a mere coincidence that could have happened to any other child who is not conversant with the Ubha village and environs, or as a calculated attempt by some unscrupulous people in the society to be vindictive? This, particularly, was the only puzzle to crack that clouded Ada’s mind. Not sure of what to do but determined that the truth must be told of what transpired in the bush that resulted in her brother missing, she decided to brace up and divulge every bit of the details of the incident to her mother. Like the child she is, she immediately felt the need to retreat once she made to enter the house and saw an image approach in the dark which seemed to be their mother’s. She immediately beveled to the ground and at this point the magnitude of her action and decision to go for the periwinkle expedition crossed her mind again. This time it was with great feeling of guilt as she remembered that she would have at least saved the life of her cherished brother Anozeng if only she did not show interest for, and taken the bold step to approve of, their periwinkle hunting. Better still she blamed herself for even initiating the whole idea of the hunting expedition in the first place even though she also saw Anozeng’s complacency with providing the modalities that helped their sneaking out of the house.

At this point she was brought back to the stark reality of what their very action of disappearance from the house may have wrought as she imagined what it may have caused their mom, and she rather felt very sorry and remorseful for the multiple crimes that she alone would be made to answer to on the event that Anozeng was not eventually found. But nature soon had its toll on Ada as the cold breeze of the night blew in toward her direction and she could no longer hide as she sneezed and startled her mother from her hiding place. Quickly, her mother said rather pleadingly, “Lovely daughter where have you been, I’ve searched for you and your brother the whole day?” In her child innocence, her mother’s words where too touching and displayed the great love Mama had for her children and Ada regretted their unwarranted behavior especially for not seeking approval from their mother earlier and if she did not grant it, it would not have been the end of the world for her brother and her. Now she had to deal with all the saga surrounding Anozeng’s disappearance but also thought an immediate answer to the question Mama has asked might bring about the solution to finding her brother since she reasoned that her mother always has solutions to their wanton problems and the current predicament of Anozeng might just be another of such occasions where mama’s wisdom would suffice. She ventured to ask Mama if Anozeng has come home, and it didn’t seem to her that her mother understood from where she was coming from with such a question and this immediately startled her. Nevertheless, she asked a second time and now in a more steady voice and tone she asked. “Mama has Anozeng come home?” This time she needed to be sure that she was well understood because it was for Anozeng’s absence that she and the other group members where only returning home this late since they were all looking for him. But Ada’s mother, who is yet to take in the intensity of her question, merely motioned, directing her daughter to enter the house and she could see the action through the twilight rays provided by the new moon which was just sitting in for the night. It was surprising to her that the tone and manner she asked the question could not send out the needed impact she thought her question should ignite from her mother. It surprised Ada that she could understand that her inquiry did not spell out the magnitude of the question to the recipient and it was immediately confirmed by a reawakening question which immediately threw her off balance: “Yes, what did you say?” asked Mama. The question was immediately followed by another: “You mean Anozeng is missing, and how did it happen?” Not knowing what to say but also fearing that an emotional outburst would jeopardize any profitable solution towards helping with her brother’s whereabout, Ada took a very deep breath as though an elder had suggested she does that to hold back tears and she started narrating the ordeal of the day calmly to her rather bewildered mother.

Just as the reality of the news started sinking in, they both heard some hilarious shouts, “Epke Jen, Ekpe Jen”, meaning “one great tiger-one great tiger, one great tiger-one great tiger” and in a swift moment many children and adolescents made their way, advancing towards Ada and her mother who had now stopped talking to know what actually the matter was. It was at this point that Ada noticed that her brother Anozeng was carried shoulder high by the bigger boys among the crowd and then she also recognized the voices and names of some of the earlier periwinkle group members. Like a hero, Anozeng was made to stand and he was rather frightened and, not knowing what their mother’s reaction will be, he almost started crying and pleadingly. He started shouting, “I’ll never repeat this act again Mama please forgive us.” It was only at this point that the severity of what had happened became real to Mama as she listened to the crowd who started narrating all that transpired in the bush earlier that day and the difficulty of people being able to find their way home if they missed their bearings in the bush. It made them also talk about Anozeng’s prowess as a wonderful child who had demonstrated a good sense of geography and they tried to lighten the mood with stories of elders who have missed their way in that same bush before and the ordeal the whole community had to go through to search for them.

But it was later after the group had dispersed that Anozeng explained the circumstances which led to his being saved in the bush. One thing was certain and that is that Bahumonos where not known to be cannibals, perhaps if the bush was in certain parts of the state, people would have speculated that man-hunters would have picked him for other purposes. Worst still if that happened now it would have been a terrible thing to imagine since the once peaceful Bahumono clan had recorded two inter-village wars. Anozeng panted all through as he narrated his survival story especially because no one was certain as to the types of animals that are still in that bush, maybe some wild life could eat him up, and maybe the myth of humans who can transform themselves into wild animals as a test of the supernatural powers they possess is another threat to why people still fear that bush. However, no one has ever verified such strange stories but the tales abound in this part of the world of great men who could transform themselves to anything they so wished to create havoc or show their supremacy over other humans. Meanwhile, Anozeng’s revelations was that he encountered an old man in the bush who took him and led him to where he could find the foot path that led to the Ubah village and with the help of the moon light he could trace his way from that path to the village. Their mother immediately shouted in appreciation and hailed the name of her father who died a few months ago “Taupo Ovai, Taupo Ovai!” This was a popular name in their mother’s mouth which all her children could remember as she was so well loved by her father. And stories abound as to how her deceased father was so sick and in a state of coma and when his favourite child Mama was sent for and came to see him he was revived by only hearing her voice after more than three days of being silent and also considered almost dead. Furthermore it was known that he gave up the ghost shortly after she travelled back with her husband Egbe to their station Obubra where they domiciled and called the country-home.

But Anozeng and Ada were clueless as to why Mama shouted the late man’s name that way and why she ascribed so much to the deceased man’s benevolence. It would take many years for her two children to understand and read the meaning of such encomiums on a dead man. For as their mother explained to her children, it was her late father that had taken on the persona of the old man who saved Anozeng and brought him to the safe path where he could make his way home. This indeed left some puzzles in the minds of these two children and they could never come to terms with the mystery surrounding such ghostly or ancestral protection especially since their mother was a Christian and ought to know better than that. Nevertheless the children never discussed the incident among themselves again maybe because it was scary. But could this also be because of the sensitive nature and magnitude of the incidence which was capable of swallowing Anozeng, or that the subject matter of ghost or ancestors was not a much cherished talk? Either of these reasons could have been responsible for the silence that enveloped and marked the near closure of this topical concern.
***

Four years after this incidence, which was barely two and half years after Anozeng and Ada had left their Ubah village for Obubra, which was now their country-home and somewhat real home for many reasons as they grew up in this town and saw it more like their home with many attachments to the hospitality that the indigenes and all who domiciled there accorded their family, something happened which called-up the mystery of Taupo Ovai and Anozeng’s safety. This time Ada was preparing to join the choir for the Christmas Carol Night which was usually held in their St Francis Xavier’s Catholic parish every night on the twenty-fourth of December, as she sang in her church choir as a small girl and the youngest in the choir. Ada was very happy to attend to the errand her mother sent her on which was to get some money from the family hotel which was a building next to their main house and just a couple of meters away. Joyfully she ran there, got the money which they were meant to use as offering for the Christmas Carol Mass, and as she tried to walk back to the house she immediately felt a strange aura but since she could see almost clearly, because the environment was bright from the electricity light which her family was privileged to have especially because of the business premises they lived in, she felt there was no cause for alarm. Meanwhile, the aura that seemed to have eclipsed her was frightening but she did not sense any danger, rather she thought to herself that the house was close enough to run to for safety and just then she noticed that an old man had advanced towards her with a supersonic jet speed and immediately delved a big slap on her left jaw. That was the last thing she remembered when she woke up a few hours after the incidence and found out that she was laid in one of the hotel rooms occupied by a lodger Dr Chukwuemeka who had been a guest in their hotel for close to nine months now, as was routine for newly posted doctors to be accommodated in the hotel while awaiting permanent housing, or if they were just going to be in Obubra hospital for a year or thereabout. Dr Chukwemeka was one such guest who would stay for a year and, within this time, he made much positive impact on the Egbe’s family and was well received and looked at in the same way family kin would be received. Waking up to the realization that she was in Dr Chukwuemeka’s room, made the rather surprised nine year old Ada not sure if it was a dream or reality but only realized that many people were around her and it seemed as though everyone was beginning to warm up for a questioning session. It was just then that she discovered that her mother and older brothers were also among the people she saw and even though some ray of hope of her safety could be imagined on seeing family members, she was yet to come to terms with the sordid reality.

The twist of the whole issue that bothered her most was that the crowd was too anxious to know her state of mind but it was her mother’s question that actually broke the ominous silence and inquiring looks. “Are you alright?”, and with this first question began the marathon questioning. Ada came to terms with the fact that it was at her that all these people were gathered there for and decided to sit–up since she noticed that she was lying down and did not have any explanation she could offer herself to warrant her lying down, especially not seeing a bandage or anything else to explain why she needed the doctor’s attention to be in his room. At this point it seemed she had forgotten what day it was or what activity she was supposed to be involved with. Like every other small town, news of such magnitude spread like wild fire and soon some members of their parish who were going for the Christmas Carol got wind of the incident and started trouping into the family living room, and for want of what to say to these seemingly well wishers, Mama could only muster courage to say “God has done it for me.” Ada was now escorted by her older brothers Obeten and Enyi in the company of Dr Chukwuemeka to their living room where she sat for a while before her mother came and took her into the bedroom which Ada shared with her brother Anozeng. While in the room her mother gave her a nice flowery dress which was about her best except for the new Christmas dress which she was to wear the next day. She wore the dress and tied her hair in preparation for the church and the family walked to the church which was about three poles from their family compound. In the church many people including some of Ada’s choir members were coming to greet her and she started becoming uneasy. It was then that she asked her mother if she could go over to the choir stand but her mother said she could not sing in the choir that night as she was not feeling too well and informed her of the doctor’s advice that she be properly monitored. With such realization that she could not sing, she began to wonder what indeed had happened to her but she had to sit beside her mother until Mass was over. After Mass, many passers-by from the church who got wind of what had happened called at their house to commiserate with them. The next day stories started filing in that some people felt that the said man who slapped Ada was rather an apparition of an old uncle who recently died in the village and this became the second time that a ghostly story would have impact on Ada whose young mind adhered to her catechism teaching which earlier helped her to completely lay to rest any fear the imagined Taupo’s help with her brother Anozeng tried to generate. She however could not explain ghost tales but tried to read the silences which such views had on her little mind about the world around her.

This was again a period which made her reminiscence of Anozeng’s saga and the old man’s help but she wondered why the old man she encountered wasn’t as kind as the one who supposedly brought her brother to safety. This would be indelible in her mind as was the former story as well as other incidents that she has witnessed since she and Anozeng relocated to join their father in Obubra two and a half years ago while their mother and younger siblings Brendan and Egbe Junior were still at home. Often children cannot explain why they are made to go through some grilling circumstances but could infer into one or two happenings around them to understand and make meaning as to why their once peaceful and loving homes have become battle grounds. Ada started recalling that all was rosy when they were in Obubra before travelling to spend the Christmas holiday in the year when her maternal grandfather Taupo Ovai died. She remembered that it was not an altogether pleasant experience in Ubha even though it was said that she had initially liked the idea of staying in their native village and this was somewhat strange to hear from their family history that they actually had to stay beyond the Christmas holyday that they were meant to be in the village for because she loved the village life more than Obubra. This baffled Ada to date and to imagine what her small mind could offer adults like her parents to reach such a decision of having them live in Ubah village at the expense of good primary school education she and Anozeng where receiving while in Obubra. But how could decisions of such great magnitude be decided by a little girl? This often generated some rhetorical questions to Ada as to why arguments of staying or not staying at Ubah should be decided by what she likes or dislikes or could there be more than meets the eye? Ada remembered vividly well that it was during their stay in Ubah that she started familiarizing herself with words like love, hatred, in-laws among others which she heard in their Ubah house that they also shared with their extended family, more than ever before. Could this be sequel to the ill treatment she, Anozeng and two of their younger ones Brendan and Egbe, as well as their mother received from their extended relatives, whilst they were in Ubah and for which future family squabbles will also emanate from?

AU