It is a sunny and bright morning, and dews perch on leaves. Ajao wakes up from a long slumber. Three days ago was Friday; today is Monday. Since Friday, he kept reciting word by word his admission letter into the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. So he kept thinking about tomorrow.
There are many tomorrows to come into his life. This tomorrow will wash away today’s petulance. He won’t want to term it what it is – petulance – No, Ajao wouldn’t, till thy kingdom come. He still believes he is an adult, despite his age. Nwanyimma, his mother, still believes he is.
This idea emerged from Ajao’s childhood days. The way she would clap in dusting powder to his face and body, the way she would wrap him in her arms after the double throw and catch over the air, and singing him lullabies to sleep while the moon shone. To her, he is still that tiny baby she had cuddled to sleep, the same boy she nuzzled and told bedtime stories all through his teenage years.
Ajao grew up to be a brilliant boy, the best Nwanyimma and Ondo have ever had. So since he’ll be moving to the city of Nsukka, he no longer thought of many things: his mother, the bad roads in Ondo, the murky corners to traverse before he got to Ore. At Ore, the smelly armpits of women who hawked gbole, groundnut and plantain chips whooshed into his nostrils. With the smell of fossils around the vicinity; the cramped stall of women who scrambled for space around the filling station’s arena, Ajao no longer thought he grew up here.
Today, Monday, he packs up his belongings and places them on top of a bench in the middle of their compound. Nwanyimma hands him a polythene bag that contains a bottle of red oil, unripe avocadoes, and other perishable goods.
“Foods are cheap in Nsukka, if you reach; you buy food items with this money.” She tucks in a wad of naira notes into Ajao’s palms. Ajao stares at the money in his hand, then he smiles and hugs Nwanyimma. Nwanyimma holds him closer to her bosom, longer. She’s going to miss Ajao so much, especially in helping her harvest some cassava and plantains and taking them to the market for sale. Nwanyimma has been a struggling widow ever since the demise of her husband, Iduma. Iduma was predominantly a farmer and hunter before he went on expenditure at Iyagba Forest where he met his death.
“Call aunty Nnebu once you reach Nsukka, she will help you get the items you need,” Nwanyimma instructs. Nnebu is Nwanyimma’s sister who resides in Nsukka with her husband and two kids.
Ajao boards bus number 411 from Ore. He’s the fifth passenger. He sits on the third seat to the window. Heads of hawkers keep poking inside the open window. The boy sitting next to him has a bad breath. Ajao thinks he hasn’t brushed for over a week, his stomach rumbles, the least he can do is place his white handkerchief over his nose.
Later on, after the bus revs to life and an exhaust pipe coils transitory smoke backwards, Ajao wonders if he’s a transient to this place or an indigene. He ensconces himself as a transcending air swoops across his face.
Two hours later, the bus pulls up at a park in Nsukka. It’s June and so it’s raining. Through the windscreen, Ajao tries to make sense of figures that whirl past the screen. The door to the bus jerks open. A woman close to the opened door was shouting: Okpa di oku! People rally around her. Many wore thick sweaters and couples cling to themselves.
The rain comes in heavy torrents with splinters of thunder sounds. Ajao sits for like an hour at the park; he keeps seeing people walk past him, few throw a cursory glance his way and ask, “Idikwa oyi?” He doesn’t know what Idikwa oyi means here, he keeps nodding, just as he nodded at the Okpa seller while she divided the okpa for him into sizable pieces.
Ajao has first heard about Okpa from his cousins. As he swallows the sumptuous okpa, he keeps remembering words from his cousins, the exact sweet taste they used to describe okpa: its yellowish sparkles that reminds him once of his mother’s breast, supple and sumptuous. Like the one in his hands now, like the one that has been in his own hands since he was eight, many nights after his father’s demise. And the supple voice his mother used in yelling her ripe okpa into his hands and telling him in whispers, “hold it sugar, you remind me so much of your father.”
When Ajao places his mouth over the last okpa, he smells his mother’s body spray in the decadent scent of the okpa, he sniffs and raises his head, sniffs and sniffs again, but before he raises his head again, the rain is gone, people start trekking home; others flag down bikes and enter.
A child yells, “pure water jiri oyii, pure water!”
Ajao basks in the coldness that hits his lungs. It’s been long he felt this way: Cold and sure of himself. He sniffs in and everywhere was quiet save for the conductor’s voice calling out from a speaker, “Enugu! Enugu!!”
Ajao crosses the road and boards a University shuttle to school.
A few months later, it’s still raining in Nsukka. Nwanyimma calls Ajao one night. She is wearing a singlet and bum shorts and fanning herself on the bed.
“Hello! Sugar!” she says.
Ajao keeps calm. He recognizes his mother’s mood. After a while, Ajao tells her how it never stops raining in Nsukka and how the sight of okpa makes him feel every day.
“Do you miss me?” She asks.
She doesn’t wait for him to answer before she starts to tell him what the house has been like without him. He is quiet the whole time, struggling to hold back the emotions threatening to burst out of his mouth.
NWABUISI KENNETH N. is a Nigerian writer.