I’ve seen different kinds of felicitations rendered in writing… But I must say really , I’ve never seen one as touchy as this. The writer in this piece captured the bad haps that surrounded the birth of the celebrant… How the mother lost six kids before his birth and so on. Little wonder the writer gave it that title:
“AN ONLY PALM FRUIT DOES NOT GET LOST IN THE FIRE: CELEBRATING THE BIRTH OF A DESTINED KID BROTHER-NNAJI AKACHUKWU NNAJI”.
The piece is quite lengthy but I’m pretty sure you won’t regret taking your time to read through. And how about getting yourself a cup of coffee as you read along? Winks!
AN ONLY PALM FRUIT DOES NOT GET LOST IN THE FIRE: CELEBRATING THE BIRTH OF A DESTINED KID BROTHER-NNAJI AKACHUKWU NNAJI
I have always known that God is not an Ugali eater. His doings are ever right and incontrovertible. Today, I wish to prosaically conduct an exploration into the semiotics of the name, Onwubiko as conferred on the said kid brother of mine by my late father, on Friday , 5th May 199—.
I have patiently and eagerly anticipated this day to unburden my heart on the personality of this kid brother of mine and the circumstances surrounding his birth which necessitate his being celebrated extravagantly by me. Let me tell him the events of the years before his birth and its uniqueness.
I would have ended up sadly as Mum’s only son, if this bundle of joy were not released by God. Mum would have ended up with just two living children, if God had not benevolently intervened and stretched out His hands to hand us Akachukwu . This son came at a time when sorrow enveloped our lives and it seemed the endless night that shrouded our world would continue unabated.
It is ill-omened when no child follows the trail of a child whose mother is still fertile to give birth to children. A good child should be followed by others and not be the last to come from a young fertile mother. Not even the strife over the head of fishes from Orie Market would make a child wish he had no younger one to call nwene mu ta. Apart from a naughty boy called Sunday Nweze who was said to have expressed the wish that his mother should not have given birth to another child after him, it has never been heard before that a child loathed the coming of another child after him. Sunday’s reason was quite laughable, “the heads of fishes” which were given to the last child in the family at the time. I had later wished Sunday knew that there is no gain in the fish’s head which makes it the portion of children.
I have always been haunted by the trauma of watching pass through the painful experience of burying not less than five children in succession. These incidents shaped my childhood greatly and necessitated the “no second place” I give to this only kid brother of mine. Watching hot tears draw thick lines on mum’s cheeks each time the dead child was to be taken from hands to be buried, left me devastated and wondering what could be wrong. The pain of going through the pang of pregnancies only to bury the children at tender ages bitterly reminded me of the proverbial woman that washed her hands clean with soap to crack a palm kernel to eat but after cracking the kernel , a fowl from nowhere comes to swallow the cracked kernel .
Mum undoubtedly was surrounded by series of battles. Coming in as the only Christian in a polygamous family entailed a kind of battle; being a vibrant young Methodist from grandpa’s house.
Ogechi was supposed to be my immediate elder sister. She was already in primary two while I still played about with other children in the compound and neighborhood. I was two and half at the time and going to school was left for only mature children . Oge was said to be the most brilliant as one of her teachers, Mr.Eze testified. Even her terms report cards that I could read clearly bore witness to her acumen. Mum’s beauty was unreservedly transferred to her . Mysteriously, one Sunday afternoon, after we had returned from church, in the midst of the strange confusion and movements, I heard Mum’s sharp cry , announcing that Oge, Ogbo Nede as she was called had left. Muffling voices urged her to remain calm .
In my helplessness, I was asked to prepare for the journey to Ndulo as we called the more civilized part of the village where we also had a home. I stood transfixed when I beheld, Mum, beleaguered, being led away by some group of Methodist women . A black head tie was tied around her waist. I wished I could do anything to help her . I will never forget that afternoon when neighbors, loved ones and Mum’s church members gathered to commiserate with us. We were led to Ndulo where Oge would be buried. According to tradition, since she already had a younger one and had come of age at that, she was not to be buried in the forest but rather in the family compound. Listening to Methodist Women fellowship sang with voices heavy with grief, “onye atala Jehova uta, ihe ahu bu ichie ya ga-eme”, meaning no one should blame God , only His will must be done ,I pondered on the validity of such a song. “Then who was to be blamed for such a tearful misfortune?”, I mumbled to myself . Magi’s voice sounded like a newly purchased ogene as she led the songs in between sobs. I could not behold Mum’s face as she was sandwiched in between the sorrowing women. I heard sympathizers pour encomiums on my late sister; highlighting her unparalleled beauty, intelligence and obedience. The paragon of beauty was laid to rest amidst the harvest of tears and loud ululations. Then, John , now Akachukwu was still a dream .
We returned to Ndiagu Ogba with a deep sense of loss and I prayed God that another gathering of sorrow would not be called for the sake of Mum. I had learnt to say, ‘let the year not end without a record of death, but it shouldn’t be any of my loved ones’ . As a child I always wished that problems of life should be evenly distributed among people. One person shouldn’t be encumbered with so many problems to deal with when some persons seem to have none. But as Mama Chika would always say, when mountains of problems come a person’s way, he or she cannot command them to be shifted to another person. “Onye obiaru adugu ashi ye jeru onye ozo” she always said in our Nkalaha dialect.
Shortly after we had prayed and sang Ozoemena in my family, Chinwe who was supposed to be my immediate younger sister died. She was up three or more years and yet had not began to walk . Pity and a sense of love overwhelmed me one afternoon when Bro. Victor, returned from the city and came to pray for Chinwe . I sat quiet close to the door , nodding and echoing Amen at things he said in a language I could barely understand . All I knew was that he was beseeching a higher power to intervene in my younger sister’s situation. When Bro. Victor, rattled in tongues , I had thought my sick sister had provoked him. He seemed to be rebuking someone who had provoked him bitterly. When Chinwe died some days after the prayers, I wished something more potent than mere words called prayers were sought. That day, I passed a vote of no confidence on the God that Bro. Victor called upon for paying a deaf ear to such deep agony of a devotee in the pool of perspiration. I also passed a vote of no confidence on my ancestors whom Dad worshipped and never starved of their goats and fowls. At this time , Akachukwu was still in the world of forms .
Mum gave birth to another male child who we had already begun to call Onyejiuwa in the form of a question, who holds the world? He was born amidst jubilation that another male child had come to join me from my mum. At birth , Onjejiuwa looked hairy , chubby and healthy . In the euphoria that trailed his birth as gifts, firewood, water, comestibles and cooked foods poured in , Onyejiuwa died two days to his naming ceremony . He never had a namesake. As usual, neigbours and sympathizers already surrounded my enervated mum to prevent her from harming herself. It was said that humans are the life and savior of their fellow humans; mmadu bu ndu ibe ya.
At that juncture, I wished Dad would stopped sneaking into mum’s room to implant ephemeral seeds in her . “What was the use of the suffering when the children would suddenly go back to where they came from”? I did asked myself . Such Olouwa should stay far from Mum , any child that knows it was not coming to stay should better not come and waste our time , I did said to my playmates. We wished such wicked reincarnates should be cut into pieces before burying them so that they will be incapacitated to come back for their expensive jokes.
As if Mum, served a deaf God, the next child died even before we learnt of its birth. It was on Orie market day and Mum had left for the market, heavily pregnant. After some hours that I was already expecting my akara from the market, Mum, was led in by a group of women. I knew immediately that something was wrong but what it was I couldn’t tell until I inspected Mum’s belly very well to discover that it has been flattened. Some of the women came to where I was standing with eyes reddened with tears and arms akimbo and softly said ,”Offor Ndo, God will surely bring you the tata that will stay” . They said this as if they penetrated my heart to see how baldy I needed a younger one I could be fond of; give a heavy knock on the head when he or she messes around me and send on errands. One of the women told me that Mum has been delivered of a stillborn on her way to the market at Ogbo Nneze’s house. Ogbo Nneze was the naturally gifted midwife that the small Ndiagu Ogba could boast of. The gift was said to flow in her lineage. I forgot to ask the women the sex of the child as I retreated into a corner to ruminate on the reluctance and seeming malevolence of God and the gods of my father.
Each time these unsavory news was unearthed in the family, it seemed the devil hovered triumphantly over the atmosphere and sat with pride on our joy. I could remember how even the morsel in my hands would seem poisonous each time these debilitating news was announced. At a point, people became bereft of consolatory words. My beleaguered mother seemed to had become accustomed to the fate of “suffering for the forest” .She did listened to her fellow women as they consoled her with stories of women who had suffered worst misfortune in child bearing. “Were nkpume donye obi, ‘stuff your heart with stones”, Mama Chika always said to Mum when every other persons had retired to their homes and beds. Others, consoled mum,saying, Ndubuisi meaning life is the principal thing. But how can mum pretend as if nothing happened for it is the one who stays close to the fire that knows the intensity of its heat. As I can remember, another unnamed child of Mum also died after few days of birth.
The Almighty and all-knowing God, who had forged my destiny from the womb, placed me strategically in the family. None of Mum’s children died before I was born. I experienced the grief because I was born to be a chronicler of events. I will write the family’s story one day.
After the fourth child died on Sunday, I heard Dad telling mum coarsely “today will be the last day you will step your legs into that place you call church to commune with your foreign God, how can you be burying your children on Sunday in succession?’ , Dad asked with a tone of finality. And that was how mum was barred from going to church or attending church programmes. She prayed silently in her room for God to wipe away her tears.
As a child, I supported Dad’s decision in my mind for how can one be crying and praying to a God who seemed so far away and reluctant? Anyone or anything that portended positivity was welcomed. Dad was Ezeulu in Achebe’s Arrow of God .If the Church had any good thing to offer, he didn’t want to miss out and he would not abandon the worship of his ancestors. So only few of the family members were Christians and a good number joined dad in the worship of ancestors. I was lucky to be one of the Christians from childhood. Dad encouraged us to put our minds in the things we were taught at the church. Even though he never attended, dad knew that the church taught children Morales especially as it pertains to obedience.
In the midst of all these, little did I know that Mum was bearing a precious seed in her .In the midst of the anxiety and mixed feelings that filled our hearts, JOHN, MY KID BROTHER WHO I CELEBRATE TODAY CAME FORTH.
I was in primary one then, about going to two. The circumstances surrounding Mum, had delayed my primary education a bit . Emerging from Obodoato Community Primary School, where I was being schooled, heading for Ndiagu Ogba where we lived, I was at Okpealu, running trying to catch up with Nnajieze and some of my other friends who had gone ahead of me as I stayed behind to pluck some mangoes. I was running to catch up with them to swim together at the Ebe Ulo River on our way home. Odo nweze’s wife, Mama Chiji, as we had become used to calling our neighbor’s wife after one of her children, stopped me after I had greeted her . “I saw your heavily pregnant mother being led by some women to Janet’s house at Ebia” she informed me. The noun phrase ” your heavily pregnant mother appealed to me as it reassured me that nothing bad had happened to Mum or the unborn child who I had already become fond off from the womb. I did caressed mum’s protruding belly each time I sat close to her, urging her to hasten up and bring forth my tata. As my heart throbbed, I sat under the big Achi tree at Okpealu , under its cool breeze and muttered some lines of prayer to any benevolent Spirit that could hear and help. “Oh let this one stay and console us” ,I prayed . Let the community know that Mum had not offended any Deity” , I uttered finally as I made my way to Nurse Janet’s house at Ebia.
Janet’s house was opposite maternal grandma’s house. I had known the adroit nurse when I lived with grandma. I frequently played seek and hide with her beautiful daughter Chioma as children. Janet’s house looked totally different as I beamed with anxiety. “Where is my mother I intoned” which drew the attention of everyone. Grandma was there and other persons from mum’s family
They looked happy and laughed at me , Nshi ,grandma began, see how you have turned that white shirt of yours into black or what. The white school shirt was tied to my waist as I wore only my black singlet. “Are you sure you had your bathe in the morning” , grandma taunted me further. “Leave my husband for me o”, one of the women who always called me her husband, interrupted. Jimu, come and see your mom and your new tata, the woman said as she led me to the poorly lighted room where mom and the new baby were. Immediately I sat on the bamboo bed, I encircled mum with an endearing embrace as she caressed my head asking why I had packed my hair full of sand. I disentangled myself from mum’s embrace and made to carry the baby. “Leave him, he is sleeping, the woman who ushered me into the room thundered. So It is a he? I had managed to conjecture. Not intending to be deceived by what the woman said , I slightly uncovered the swaddling around the genitals , and beheld his yet to be circumcised penis that looked like a coil.
As we returned home from Janet’s house and even from Janet’s house, names were already pouring in as the befitting nomenclature for this bundle of joy. Some suggested UME, to make the impression that many children before the present child died. This name was shoved off as we never saw any need of reminiscing on the past of sorrow. Others suggested Onwuharaonye which means who does death spare? Dad remained unruffled about the appropriate name for his beloved child.
On the morning that the child was to be named according to custom, I had woken up earlier than usual. I wanted to witness for the first time, how a child was named in our culture. As Dad took the child from the swaddling, he brought him outside and looked affectionately into his faced as the chubby child chuckled. The entire large family had kept count and were awake and nearby. Dad looked up to the sky and cleared his throats. “This Bringer of Joy should be called ONWUBIKO” he announced . We murmured at such seemingly terrible name. For how can a loving father name his child after death. The name Onwubiko means “death please”. But Dad had his reason. The name apostrophically appeals to death to spare the life of the child for us . After Onwubiko, was pronounced on the child , we still waited in anxiety because his Ogbo, namesake had not been conferred.
When the squabbles that followed what we called Afa Oyibo had died down, Dad cleared his throat again and adjusted his wrapper with one hand and then intoned “we will be going to Amegu”. When Dad mentioned Amegu, my young mind travelled to the part of the community where we had always ran for refuge during the Nkalaha – Ngbo clash in the early 90s. I had known it would be no other person than that relative of ours who with his wives and children made us feel at home each time we ran to them for refuge. When Dad finally announced, “his Ogbo is John Ebeozi’ , people muttered “ehee, we said it , who else if not uncle John? And so we got John in our family. The child who came to prove some points and he have been doing just that. So many things happened to claim his life but God has already destined him to leave and excel.
When Udoka , his nanny ran away and Mum told me I would stop going to school until John was grown, I never hesitated. To me , what is school compared to a precious child? For about a year and eight months, I was out of school babysitting as mum went about her business. In must occasions when he cried uncontrollably, I cried along with him as I knew not what to do.
Mum’s love for him is unparalleled. Until Dad’s demise in the year,2001, he was “uncle” to him. Big Sis does not joke about him. My love for him is unspeakable. The entire members of Fidelis’ family love him so dearly. He should enjoy because we prayed and waited for his coming.
His sagacity and witticism has always baffled me. I stopped asking about his position in class during his primary school because it was always first position. He carried this over to secondary school and now to the university as a Medical Laboratory Science student. People have always told Mum , jocularly, “those your two sons are fire in book’. Though she ended up with the three of us before Dad’s death, she has peace and contentment even from the show of love from our step brothers and sisters. She lives in one united family. I know Mum will live very long to reap the fruit of her labours im our lives. In all our stories, Mum will remain the heroine. She can look at us today and lift her hands up to heaven and bless God .
And so, today , I celebrate, extravagantly, Mum’s last born and Dad’s last son, as Dad called him, Nnaji Friday Onwubiko John Ebeozi who now adopts the name, Nnaji Akachukwu Nnaji. I needn’t worry about his life and destiny because; the creator of the coconut will never forget the accompanying juice. The God of the horse without tale always drives its flies away. An only palm fruit according to our people does not get lost in the fire because its owner is always mindful of it.
Akachukwu, hope you know that Mum loves you so much? Hope you know you are Big Sis’ right hand man? You know she loves you… Hope you know, I your big brother, wish you are not studying in Nigeria? Hope you know our brothers and sisters wish you well? My fans extend their love to you. We may not always be seen together but our hearts are connected by the inseparable chord of love . You know I would refuse you nothing. ….?
And so today, on behalf of our loving mum, big sis ,Oluchi, and our beloved brothers and sisters , I wish you a blissful birthday
HAPPY BIRTHDAY THE JOY OF THE FAMILY, A MEDICAL LABORATORY SCIENTIST IN THE MAKING , NNAJI EMMANUEL JOHN, AKA NNAJI AKACHUKWU NNAJI.