Life was a big circus to me. Everything was still beginning. You know that phase in your life when you had not a teeny-weeny care in the universe. Flash memories of playing in the rain, making mud houses out of clay, throwing tantrums whenever I was dropped at school and stuffing pieces of clothing into my eleven-month-old baby brother’s old jumpsuit; making a teddy out of it and carrying it around the house; memories of this kind still linger.
Momma, as I was made to call her, was a round plus-size figure whose bosom and thick arms were capable of snuggling both little Ejere and I to sleep. I would fall asleep on her large cosy breasts dreaming to the piano sound of her heartbeat.
Dad was like the tooth fairy. We rarely saw him, yet we would always wake up to his little gifts of biscuits and sweets portioned out for us on the dining table. Momma said he worked long hours at the pasta factory eight miles away from home, so he always had to leave home early only to come back late at night.
Dad was a perfect gentleman in his crisp ironed shirt and trousers, all thanks to Momma’s routine Saturday morning laundry and ironing. He was attentive and eager to please. There was something striking about his movements; it was more like a god parading his kingdom in the most humble way possible. In his movements, there was always a bow to place a light kiss on our foreheads and a swoop to lift us high in the air and bring us down, just like a priest offering sacrifices to the heavens. I didn’t think I had ever taken a closer look at his exquisite figure until a random day in July. July 24.
The tenancy we lived in was located on the south side of Uhuekenta’s commercial boulevard between a specialist hospital and a block of stores in an area popularly known to residents and realtors as Eke’s Square. The tenancy was a block of six flats with about four shops in front and an underground warehouse, which were all rented out.
We occupied the flat on the second floor, facing the wide view of the daily hustle and bustle of people going about their respective businesses. The sitting room was decorated with a beige-coloured Parisian rug and an Aquos Sharp TV with an LG DVD. There was an enlarged wedding photo of dad and momma and a never-ageing wall clock hanging side by side on two rusted nails firmly on the wall. The settees were custom-made and arranged in a curved-like manner. The dining room had a seventy-two-inch brown painted wooden table with six similarly painted chairs surrounding it.
On the evening of July 24, I sat on the rug in the sitting room with my legs wide open. A little plate half filled with akamu was in between them. Akamu is the Igbo term for fermented cereal pudding made from millet, maise, or sorghum. It is prepared by adding a sizeable quantity of the semi-solid akamu paste to room temperature water, mixing it evenly into a free-flowing paste before adding boiling water. Sugar and milk can be added to improve the taste. It can be eaten with either Akara or Moi-Moi.
I had my spoon dipped into my plate when the door creaked open, and Dad was standing at the entrance with a grin. He was home early that day. I got up and ran to him. He carried me up, reached out to the leather bag he was holding and brought out a wonder.
For a moment, I was stunned. My eyes popped out of their sockets as I stretched out my hands, held them and pulled them close to me. It was a close replica of the ones I used to make from Ejere’s old jumpsuits. It looked exactly like those colourful ones I always saw behind the store’s showcase a few miles from home. I remember tugging at momma’s gown and pointing at the showcase. She would always ignore me. She spanked me so hard on one such occasion that I whined in public. She probably didn’t consider it a priority for me. I already possessed a plastic toy gun, a Barbie doll, and a miniature race car. I guess I was just an Oliver Twist.
Jeff, as I had named him, was purple with a soothing softness. His furry body was comforting. He had a white bow tie around his neck. I recall taking it off and hiding it in the bathroom to wash off its stained parts so that momma wouldn’t scold me for wasting soap again. I found Jeff, and I found love. We did everything together, from playing to eating to sleeping. He would listen to all my chatter and never say a word. He became my best friend and confidant.
Dad had his eyes fixed on mine as I leaned forward to hug him. I felt a little wetness on my hand. I didn’t realise I had been crying.