Grace paces about in her mother’s garden beside the modest house she called home. The disturbing sounds from the smelly goats that roamed the streets and the hyper-active chickens that kept fighting for one wriggling worm or the other kept distracting her as she prayed for help from God. Everything seemed to be getting worse. She couldn’t go back to school and there was no money to pay their overdue power bill let alone feed for a week.
There wasn’t even money to buy the local bread she and her younger brother sold every morning with the sweet akara her mother fried in their soot coated kitchen that stood strong even though its ceiling seemed to be caving in. The chirp from the swallow which flew past her pulled her out of her state of self-pity. Grace shrugged and reluctantly walked back to her home.
The very familiar look of worry and uncertainty on her mother’s face caused a painful spasm in Grace’s heart as she approached the veranda. The bench under her mother’s bottom seemed to be splitting as her mother moved her face from one hand to another in worry. The bags under her mother eyes now served as a comfort cushion for her mother’s eyes and the wrinkles caused by troubles and not age seemed to be increasing each day.
Grace walked up to her Mum who didn’t notice her presence rather continued to stare intensely at the ugly rag that lay under a chair beside the guava tree in her compound. She sat down and held her mother’s hands.
Mma Grace: (Sighs and smiles weakly) Nwam e yo la!
Grace: Yes Mum. I was at Papa Nneka’s house. He sent his regards to you and Obinna.
Mma Grace: Really. Did you get the money?
Grace: Mba. Uncle Mike said he was very broke and wouldn’t give it to me. He said he needs to go to the city the day after tomorrow for Uchechi’s omugwo and he had to buy tubers of yam for herpepper soup. Anyway, the summary was that he wasn’t giving it to us.
Mma Grace: (Shaking her head in disappointment) Mike! Mike would never change. When did men start going for omugwo. Biko gwam!
Grace: Mum we’ll be fine. God is with us.
Mma Grace: (Sighs and hugs her daughter) I know my dear. God has always been faithful to us.
A sleepy Obinna staggers towards them yawning and rubbing his eyes with the sleeves of his night shirt.
Obinna: Mummy good evening.
Mma Grace: (Tapping the space beside her on the veranda) Good evening nwam. How was your sleep?
Obinna: (Grumbling and sitting down beside his Mum) Mummy the mosquitoes are getting stronger oh! It seems like they are eating up the little food in the house. (Opening his shirt and pulling up the legs of his trousers) Look at my chest and leg. They have dealt with me Mum.
Grace: (Laughing) Sorry dear. Don’t worry it is well. If we get little money, I’ll run to the local market to buy tusa-tusa for the house.
Mma Grace: (Untying the end of her wrapper and pulling out a twenty naira note) I have twenty naira here. Obinna you can now buy the tusa-tusa.
Grace: Mba kwa! We haven’t settled breakfast let alone dinner. Mum, please keep the money. We can manage with the mosquitoes.
Grace: (Retorts) There is no but. Obinna biko manage. We can’t afford the tusa-tusa and dinner at the same time.
Mma Grace: (Rubbing Obinna’s arm affectionately) Don’t worry I’ll buy it tomorrow when we get some money.
Obinna: (Nods) Okay Mum. Did Uncle Mike give us the two hundred naira?
Grace: (Sighs) He didn’t. He had other problems to settle.
Obinna: Typical Uncle Mike. He never gives but always collects.
Mma Grace: When your dad was still alive, he made sure his mouth was always at the other end of the suction pipe that his people connected to your Dad’s pocket.
Grace: (Getting up and dusting her skirt) Mummy, let me go and boil water for akamu. Can I come back for the twenty naira when I’m through?
Mma Grace: Okay nwam. I also have another thirty naira on the table in my room. Use the money to buy the akamu and thirty naira akara. Or don’t worry, Obinna would buy the akamu and akara. Just go ahead and boil the water.
Grace: Okay Mum.
Grace walks to the kitchen at the back of the house and gathers dried leaves. She throws the dried leaves on the firewood under the kettle, sprinkles little kerosene on the firewood and squats to light the leaves with a match. As the leaves burn, Grace stands and adds more water into the soot covered kettle and fans the burning wood.
Grace then exits the kitchen and stares at the one sight that brings her joy during her days of gloom. The beautiful white mansion behind her house. The majestic site of the house that seemed to blind the eyes of everyone. The lights always came on at about seven o’clock every evening and it was still five minutes to the time. She leaned against the kitchen wall and stared at the house, imagining herself in it. She daydreamed about herself in the mansion every day. The beauty of the house made her smile whenever she was sad. Grace stared at the house until the magic happened. The lights came on and all she could think of was what heaven actually looked like if there was such a beauty like this on earth. The water begins to bubble and spill in the firewood as Obinna runs into the kitchen.
Obinna: Sister, the water is boiling!
Grace: (Hurrying into the kitchen) I’m coming dear!
Grace puts the kettle down as her younger brother prepares the akamu.
Grace: Obi, please pass me the blue bowl.
Obinna: (Hands her the bowl) Auntie Tina is in the living room.
Grace: (Mixing the akamu with the hot water) Is the lantern on?
Obinna: Yes, Mum put it on.
Grace chuckled at the thought of the lantern being put on whenever Tina or any special guest came to their house. They usually used old battery powered torches or just managed the light from the white mansion that illuminated the house.
Obinna: (Smiling) She bought two loaves of bread for us. Your friend is very kind to us.
Grace: Obinna please take care of the other things. Let me go and see Tina.
Obinna: No problem Sister.
Grace: When you are through, bring everything to the living room. Use a tray oh!
Obinna: I would.
Grace: There are two cubes of sugar remaining in the sugar bowl.
Obinna: Are they mine?
Grace: (Walking away from the kitchen) No, Tina would use them for her own akamu.
Obinna: (Grumbling) Okay.
Extracted from the unedited copy of “The House Behind my house” by Sylvia Chika Ozoemena (firstname.lastname@example.org)