At 5:30 am, Agidi, age sixty-two, was up, sitting on the edge of his bed, trying to interpret the meaning of a dream. But the dream was in pieces. A man’s gasp had echoed endlessly from Iyiba Creek to Orie Market. Why was the man inaudible? Although his mouth was open and he was speaking, no words came out of it. Did the man go down to the creek? Did he meet the judge of the jungle at Orie when he stole from hunger?
Anguish filled her heart. Perhaps Iyiba, the only stream in Eziama, had been uprooted and moved to join and defend Biafra. Or could it be that the enemies of the Igbo people had blown up the Orie market?
Beside her was the coat that had covered her entire body the night before. She now pulled him off the mattress, stood up and firmly tied the entire sheet around his torso, under his breasts.
His feet searched and found two rubber slippers. A few turns around her room brought her to a brown cabinet against the side wall. She opened the center section from which she selected a small white glass bottle containing ground tobacco. Turning the bottle upside down, she tapped the bottom five times and then turned it back upright. She unscrewed the cap and poured a pinch of tobacco into the palm of her left hand. Back at the edge of her bed, she used her right thumb to scoop some of it into her left nostril and inhaled deeply.
Then he fed his right nostril with more tobacco and inhaled deeply again. Two sneezes came out of him, fairly well controlled, and tears welled up in his eyes. Getting back up from the edge of the bed, she went to where she’d got out the snuffbox, pulled out a crumpled handkerchief, and deliberately sneezed into it. With the back of her left hand she wiped the tears from her eyes and handed the handkerchief back.
He blinked approvingly, declaring his mind as bright as any bright star and his feet nimble and sharp.
She quickly left her room and walked to open the front door of the house that led to the front yard. For a moment she stood up to listen for signs of activity. ‘Nobody wakes up yet! Kids these days are lazy! When I was her age, I would wake up before my mother and sweep the front and back yards with broad palm fronds before the adults set foot in them. When they finally woke up, hopefully not after sundown, they would notice that Agidi had been and gone.
Smelling their presence, Nkenke, the house dog who gave birth to two puppies seven days ago, awoke from where she lay in a small corner behind the front door. She shook her body as if a flock of fleas had invaded it, and out of habit she began to follow Agidi. With her legs moving fast, Agidi flew across the front yard to reach the locked wooden outer door of the house in no time.
Over her shoulder she saw Nkenke halfway toward her, and tossed the handful of fried wingless termites she’d been holding. Nkenke ran back, retrieved them and lay down again next to his pups.
Agidi closed the wooden outer gate behind her and walked a meter straight on yellow sand before turning right onto the narrow path into a small area of forest. Lizards, snakes, and voles ran away from him. Low-dwelling birds chirped and jumped. Fruit seeds broke from their pods and cascaded down the branches. Agidi moved forward, his hand now and then reaching out to snap and toss aside unruly branches of cassava or yam or kola nut trees without realizing it, his mind filled with thoughts.
‘This Biafra-Hausa war, this war between Ojukwu and Gowon, even a woman as old as Agidi doesn’t see any point in it. What they are fighting for, Agidi does not know. Is Eziama the only town fighting for Biafra? The Biafran soldiers come and take our children, and a few days later they bring us bodies, piled on top of each other in the backs of small open trucks. What did they say the people from the town of Eziama did to them? Don’t you know that Agidi is beyond fertility? He looked at these breasts (she was rocking both breasts back and forth), they are no longer fit for nursing a baby. Look at this belly (and on the bandage he pressed his abdomen), do you see how shrunken and patulous it is? You can no longer harbor a pregnancy. Agidi doesn’t want any of his children to leave Eziama, not under his watch.
At twenty minutes to six he reached the intersection where a wide path intersected the narrow path through the bushes. ‘Should I go straight to Iyiba stream or down to Orie market?’ she debated with herself as she stood at the crossroads.
Without coming to a quick decision, he snapped his fingers at the obvious. Nobody was on the street. The wide road was secluded and strangely peaceful, the kind of silence one finds in times of war. Where chickens once roamed, vultures had moved in. There are no women carrying cassava and yams in baskets on their heads, going to Orie. There are no children who go to Iyiba to fetch water. There are no palm wine drinkers riding their bikes, struggling to stay out of the side bushes as they battle with unintimidated pedestrians on the road.
The high-pitched cry of the voice in his sleep returned. Somewhere in Eziama someone was in agony. Where was he? Should he go to the right or to the left? She put one foot down to go to the right and then retrieved it. If only Agidi could split in two. But a dog called to do two tasks simultaneously always fails. She must choose a path, but which one?
Iyiba is the stream that supplies water to Eziama. All these years he has opened his rocks so that the water flows into the ponds and buckets placed under his knees and feet. Orie, a matriarch, has allowed rich and poor alike to sell her harvest of corn, beans and yams.
As Agidi tried to make up her mind, despair washed over her.
‘Desperation can never stop Agidi,’ she told herself, beating her chest, and then she began to sing the song ‘Eziama was like England’, her voice low but clear and piercing, and she also began to dance.
The sky opened and a sense of triumph descended on her. She sang louder and danced faster, and as she danced, the sun’s rays began to fall on her and the surrounding vegetation and trees. Head bowed, she danced to the left, retraced her steps and danced to the right. Her waist moved and her hands were a show of joy mixed with confidence and desire.
‘No one is here to see Agidi dance,’ he lamented over and over as he danced.
As if orchestrated by a prophecy, ‘Agidi!’ shouted a passerby. Ignoring the voice, Agidi danced some more and then, without looking up, he replied, ‘Oh! It’s you, Agidi’s closest relative. He danced some more for the passerby.
“I’m going to Orie,” said the passerby. ‘Agidi, you danced very well.’
‘What dance can get off these wobbly knees now?’ she said, pulling the edge of her coat to show both knees.
“My son, Agidi would follow you like a slow meandering stream.”