I love memoirs, I enjoy those sad and sometimes humorous mind trips down memory lane, remembering or telling these stories isn’t the hard part, putting them into words is, but every time I am able to piece these stories into words, Its always a delightful pleasure sharing them with you.
On a late winters eve some years ago, in Washington DC, my older brother Ikenna was 18 years old at the time, he was on the high school football team and very popular, he had a super hot cheerleader girlfriend and was already being tipped for scholarship to college, I was 17 and very average, maybe a little below average, At the time I had only video games and stashed adult magazines going for me, ‘average’ might even be an over reach for me, little Chuka or ‘Chu-Chu’ as we call him had just turned 12, he had discovered his love for bugs and animals early on in life, he did a school project on animal rights and won so much praise that he appeared in a local newspaper and was invited to his first animal rights convention, so you see even Chu-Chu’s life in its tender years had more direction than mine did in its prime. And so it happened on this day that we were all summoned one Sunday evening seated on a couch, Ikenna at one end and I at the other, with little Chuka in between, our parents also seated directly opposite us, our mouths ajar and mind blown at the revelation that we were visiting Nigeria for the first time in our lives for the Christmas and New year holiday.
My name is Obinna Henry Opara, and this journey of ten thousand miles, began with a huge WOW!
“Bia Ikenna jide Chuka aka!!” Yelled mom at Ikenna not to let go of Chuka’s hand, as we arrived the airport, the weather was warm, dry and dusty, the airport was so busy with arrivals and departures, dad cleared our luggage with the officials and we left, we boarded a taxi to a hotel not too far from the airport, where we lodged for a night, and boarded a private vehicle early the next day headed for Anambra state, it was a long drive, daddy had told us it would be, we arrived the village late in the evening, only Ikenna and Dad were awake at the time of our arrival, we entered the family compound and there were people screaming out of excitement, our grand mother who had just been introduced to us was crying and dancing, grandma locked Chuka in an embrace the boy had initially made an attempt to get away from, mom gave him the ‘Side-eye’ and he stayed put, I and Ikenna laughed sheepishly at him, as the poor boy made an angry fist at us. We then drove to our own house, dad had built a duplex with a semi detached bungalow, which he said was ours!, mom had never let us be alone in the house at Washington while growing up, Here in Nigeria we owned our own apartment!. We had seen photos of our village so far nothing had seemed out of the ordinary, Chu-chu said it looked like one of the locations used in Jurassic Park and we laughed.
In the evening we met some of our cousins who were going to dance at the village square, we thought it would be cool to experience that, so I and Ikenna went along with them, we understood Igbo, our parents spoke all the time at home and made sure we understood them, especially in public when mom wanted to give an instruction intended ‘for your ears only’, but we didn’t speak fluently, our accents got in the way most times. at the village square a fire was lit and dancers danced around it and the drummers drummed aloud, there were people in different costumes, the dances were fun and all but it was getting late and I told Ikenna we should get going, our cousins pleaded for us to wait for the last dance “you have to see Adanma” they said, “what is Adanma?” I asked, but got no response in return. The moon was at its fullest when I saw her, the drums had stopped almost immediately and a sudden calm had come upon the village square, the wind had began to blow gently and you could feel it charting it’s next course, the silence was strange, you would hear a pin if it dropped. a young girl stepped into the circle formed around the fire, she stood expressionless, poker faced, she was dressed in a local attire with beads in her hair and on her neck, wrists and ankles, on her ankles she wore tiny bells that jingled. I could tell she was a dancer, but why wasn’t the music playing?, she lifted her face to the sky and closed her eyes, a number of the other villagers did the same, including our cousins. And I felt the wind again gently blowing in circles, she started to tap her foot as if in sync with the movement of the wind and the bells on her ankles started to jingle a beat. She lifted her arms gracefully like she had a dance partner and she started to move, she danced slowly, gracefully, the bells on her ankles and the wheezing breeze were her music, the villagers locked gaze like missiles on target, inseparable, if eternity had an emotion, it would be the peace we all felt watching Adanma’s dance, Oh the grace with which she moved!, no one could be taught such grace, very few are born with it, you could live an entire lifetime and see such grace just once. Adanma’s dance eventually came to an end and the villagers dispersed, I and Ikenna were silent for the rest of the evening, I had wanted to ask what he thought of Adanma’s dance but there were no words to express myself and I knew he struggled too, so we didn’t speak of it. in that moment I realized, I had fallen in love for the first time, and of this, even with myself, I refused to speak about as well.
Over the next couple of days, we had made Christmas preparations, we bought a goat to give to my maternal grandmother, dad didn’t want the goat messing up his side of the house so it stayed on our side, we divided labor and our little brother Chu-Chu was responsible for feeding the goat. On the afternoon of Christmas eve, while preparing for the Opara family Christmas lunch some young girls were invited to assist mom in the kitchen, Ikenna will say he went over to help pound yam, But in actuality he just wanted to show off his muscles to the girls, the girls stood starstruck in awe watching him pound away, I had seen this all too often, Ikenna in ‘show off’ mode is irresistible to the female folk. Dad said he was going to get palm wine for the occasion, so I hopped in the car with him. We arrived the palm wine place, it was a bush bar, the owner of the place seemed to know dad, after they had exchanged pleasantries, dad introduced me to him, he asked dad to give him a few minutes to get the palm wine, we sat and waited. A young girl had emerged from what seemed like a small kitchen to serve guests, she was friendly and chatty with everyone, she turned, our eyes met and then she smiled and went back into the kitchen, “I was rude, I didn’t smile back” I thought to myself, I was too stunned to, “she’s a beauty, isn’t she?” Dad spoke almost as if he had been eavesdropping on my thoughts, he wore a cheeky smile ” I know Ikenna has game, but I question your skills son” he laughed. “Ikenna is just a show off, I’ve got real game pops” I replied, “Boy am I glad to hear that?” He laughed again, the girl had made another appearance out of the kitchen and was serving guests again, she was friendly, chatty and everyone seemed to know her, I had a good look this time, she was beautiful to pieces!, on a scale of one to ten she was ‘infinity and beyond!’. “Obi, why don’t you walk up to the nice young lady and ask her to bring us a plate of bush meat” he wore his cheeky smile again, “Dad I know what you’re doing” I replied. He laughed and shrugged. my pride was on the line, so I took a deep breath, rose to my feet, stiffened my chin, squared my shoulders, I turned away from dad ready to take my first step into redemption. “Oh and by the way…” he added, “her name is Adanma”
….I froze, rooted in that spot, paralyzed head to toe, as I heard dads laughter echo repeatedly in my head.
Soon after I took my seat again, Adanma’s dad appeared with a large keg of palm wine he called Adanma over to greet my dad, she squatted beside him and he tapped her back and asked how she was doing?..she stood up and our eyes met again she smiled at me, this time I smiled back, then she was gone as we rose to leave, Adanma’s dad was greeting some elderly men who looked like they were chiefs, Adanma went over to greet them as well and they asked her for a dance, she looked to her father as if for approval and he nodded with a smile. She moved with lighting speed, this time without the bells on her ankles, this dance was different as it looked like a depiction of characters or emotions, she would dance for a bit and then strike a pose with different facial expression each time, and the men would try to guess the character or impression she was trying to make, she had very quick feet, after each dance movement she would freeze in place like a statue, till they had guessed the impression correctly, in her last pose and facial expression, she leaned over forwards and seemed to depict a happy/friendly face and then almost immediately she leaned over backwards and had a scorn/frown expression, this one my dad interpreted to me as the ‘frenemy’ impression, people who are friendly in front of you and enemies behind you.
On the way back home while thinking of Adanma, Dad broke the silence “Adanma’s dad and I were like you and Ikenna growing up, we weren’t biological siblings but we loved each other all the same, we were the best in our classes, we had the same dreams to leave this village and become rich, we would buy everything!, we would buy the world itself too if we could, we both got scholarships to school abroad, I was going to be a doctor and he was going to be an engineer” he laughed and then paused. I saw his eyes get a little misty “what happened to his dreams?” I asked. After a long pause dad responded, “he fell in love and tied his heart to a beautiful maiden ‘Olunma’…Adanma’s mom – Olunma, was the most beautiful girl, she was the best dancer in the entire village, the chiefs and the big men from the city all wanted to marry her, you see son, it’s easy to leave a place, when you have nothing to come back to, like I did, that way you leave with your heart and your head, most importantly Obinna, if you must leave, leave with your heart, don’t live without it”. These were the wisest words my dad had ever spoken to me, at the time I never really understood them, and quite frankly, I was too young to.
It was chilly in the Harmattan, Early on Boxing day, at about 6 O’clock in the morning, when Ikenna woke me, apparently Mom and Dad had run into Adanma on her way to the stream, they insisted she stopped by to know where we lived, on her departure mom asked me to see Adanma off, to which I happily obliged, I had never been to a stream my entire life, most of the trip as I walked her to the stream had been silent, we had gotten to a downhill, then I thought to myself how would Ikenna approach this situation? what would Ikenna do?, I should be cocky, I’m a city boy, shes probably awed by my presence alone, so I stuck my hands in my pockets puffed my chest, so far so good, then I said, “I loved your dance the other night, afterwards I was gonna ask if you had sometime, so we could get dinner or something”, Adanma stopped in her tracks, she had been walking ahead of me carrying a pile of clothes and a keg to fetch her water in, she cocked and eyebrow and asked in a light tone “dinner?..”, I spoke again in a cocky tone “Yes dinner, food in the evening, it’s the gentlemanly thing to do” I spoke proudly and smiled, “gentlemanly?…the gentlemanly thing to do would be to offer to carry this” she forced her water keg into my right hand, and walked on ahead of me, I increased my pace to catch up with her, we arrived at the stream and after exchanging pleasantries with everyone she set down her clothes and began her laundry, “they think you are my boyfriend” she laughed, “oh God no, that would be wrong” I joined her laughing, as soon as I had begun laughing she stopped and wore a frown, and I thought “what have I done now?”, she cocked an eyebrow again and asked “so I am not good enough to be your girlfriend eh?”, “I am not ‘American Standard’? ” she added, “No!…I mean..Yes!”, I stammered badly embarrassed “t-t-t-that’s n-n-n-not what I meant”, “calm down american boy, I am joking”, she laughed again and I wasn’t sure If I should join in the laughter or not. “Thank you, I am glad you enjoyed the dance” she looked at me and smiled. we remained quiet stealing glances at each other whenever we could, by the time she was done with her laundry the sun was high in the sky. I summoned a little courage and spoke again “I think a lot about that night..it was strange”.. “in a good way” I added, “How do you mean?” she asked, I heaved a sigh “I don’t want to be weird” I laughed a little, “too late, I think you already are” she smiled “so say exactly whats on your mind”, “Most people watched you dance alone, but I watched you dance with the wind”, she paused for a few seconds, looked at me and said “you saw correctly Obinna” she smiled and continue rinsing her clothes, “how is it possible to dance with the wind?”, I asked, “when I was little, Mama taught me to speak with the elements of the world” Adanma picked up a small stick and five pebbles, and then she drew a circle in the mud and placed a pebble at the top of the circle and said this is God, and then she placed two more and the sides of the circle and said, these represents the elements of the world, and at the bottom she placed another and said this is us, humans, the last pebble she placed at the center, “Mama taught me how to dance, but first she taught me about the universe, only what has life can give life, God is life so he gave the elements life” and she drew a line from the pebble at the top to the pebbles at the sides of the circle, “the air we breathe, the water we drink, they give us life” she drew another line from the pebbles at the sides to the pebbles at the bottom, “You have life and you can speak, so can the wind”. “wow…that’s interesting, are there a lot of people who can speak to the wind?”, I helped her balance the keg of water on her head, and carried her laundry as I walked her home, “Yes, a lot of people can speak to the wind, that’s not the problem, they have not learnt to listen to the wind, that’s the problem” she replied.
Adanma educated me on a lot of things, and I fell in love with her all over again, by the time we arrived close to their family compound I just had to ask, “do you have a boyfriend?”, she laughed and said “No”, she could see the delight on my face, so she spoke again almost immediately, ” that you arrived to a party before the food and drinks have finished, doesn’t make you early” we laughed out loud, “when will I see you again?” I asked, “tomorrow evening, there is a dance at the village square, It is going to be “American standard” we laughed out loud again, I said good bye, and began to run home. I was the happiest man on earth as I ran home!, not even the rough driver who had driven into a puddle of mud as I ran, splashing it all the way from my left foot to the left side of my face, could bring me down from the ‘mountain of Joy’ I felt. “Tomorrow will be the greatest day of my life” I thought to myself and smiled as I kept running.
..To be Continued..