It was the second time in a week that they were fighting. They seldom fought that often and less so when we were around. When they did fight, we only got wind of it when on our return from school we would find Mum’s hair disheveled and her eyes blood red from crying. Shreds of dad’s clothing would be everywhere, from the sitting room to their bedroom. Whenever he returned, usually after the evening news, we would see the scratches Mum’s fingers caused; on his face, on his forearm, sometimes on his neck too.

After a fight, what usually followed was a period of cold war between them. He, our father would spend much of the day at Papa Ejima’s house, playing Draft. Mother only showed up at night. With a velveteen scarf to shield her wounds, she would walk gingerly to our room from the guest room, her cold war abode.

“Gozie, kedumakaakwukwor?” She would ask, her voice husky.

“School was fine mummy,”

 “Where’s Kene and Ngozi?”

“They are sleeping in daddy’s room.”

“Ewoo. Did they eat at all?”

“No.” I would reply, making sure the sadness in the response ricocheted off my lips to hopefully reverberate in her eardrums and maybe, just maybe make her be more available. It never did, she would simply ask me to boil water, make garri and microwave the stale soup in the fridge. It was a routine I had become accustomed to whenever they had a fight.

The cold war usually lasted for three days or four after which they reconciled, things would go back to normal until the next episode.

Something was however different about today’s fight. It started in the car on the way back from church. They didn’t talk, normally they would point out the mistakes from the lectors and jeer the choir’s lackadaisical rendition of antiphons. They did neither. Mum looked out of the window throughout the whole drive back home and Dad fired up the cranky Peugeot 504 that the engine’s cry turned hoarse.

The shouting match began immediately they got out of the car. Allegations and counter allegations. We didn’t understand them. They spoke in Igbo and we didn’t understand Igbo much. But the insults did not need to be in English to be discernible. Whore. Jobless drunk. Wifebeater.

“Gozie, is daddy beating mummy?” Kene asked me. He was still on the jean pant and yellow cardigan he wore to church. It was Mum that dressed and undressed him and she had not done the latter. Ngozi had already pulled off her gown and run out to play with Bobby, our dog.

“No. They are just arguing. Come let me remove your clothes for you.” He was six and garishly puerile. Drawing him close to myself, I unbuckled his slender rubber belt and pulled off his pant. I tried to be deaf to the blows, the slaps and the howls coming from their bedroom. They had begun the fight proper now. Things crashing and muffled screams usually signaled the end of a fight. Not today.

The first time they had a fight, he had used his belt. It was a Tuesday and we were at school. Ngozi and I alighted from the school bus to find Mum seated at the verandah. Her face stoic and beneath the chiffon gown we could see swollen stripes and dried blood. Dad’s black, hide belt was in bits on the floor.

The second time there was a fight, she bled, but not on her skin, blood flowed down her thighs. Dad rushed her to the hospital. The doctors saved her, but the baby was not so lucky.


I dabbed the soap gently around my face and was careful not to let it get to my eye. Tura soap was unforgiving when it entered the eye. I knew I had to be fast lest Aunt Perpetual would show up and bath me herself, something I dreaded. She was very rough with the sponge and the way she flipped one around impromptu and with gusto could make one lose consciousness.

We had stayed a week in Abakpa and we were not liking it. Abakpa was everything New Haven was not; narrow, pothole ridden single lane roads, gutters with heaps of refuse in them that stank when it rained, clusters of multi storey buildings with insufficient spacing between them and then of course, there was the noise. Whether it was from the bus drivers who always had their palms glued to their horns or the generators of varying sizes which at night seemed to be in a contest for which was loudest, the noise was nothing like we had ever experienced. It was hard to imagine that people actually slept well amid that cacophony.

 The mosquitoes in Abakpa also seemed more ruthless than their New Haven colleagues, their proboscides when they pierced the skin were as painful as syringes and their trumpets so powerful you could hear them humming from miles away.

 In the second week of our stay at Aunt Perpetual’s house, Kene fell sick. He had pustules and a fever. The pharmacist on our street said it was chicken pox and gave Aunt Perpetual a chalky lotion to apply on the affected spots. Three days later Ngozi had it too and then it was Emeka, Aunt Perpetual’s oldest son that came down with it.

“What is it sef?” Aunt Perpetual had asked feigning anger, “I’m tired of buying calamine lotion in this house. Anybody else that contracts chicken pox will have to carry it to term and the person will sleep in the kitchen throughout the period.” Maybe it was her threat, perhaps the plague was just tired of our house but nobody else contracted chicken pox in the house. Adanna, our neighbors’ daughter who was Ngozi’s playmate had it a few days after Emeka healed.


I loitered around NOWAS filling station and prayed fervently that the drizzle wouldn’t turn to a heavy downpour. The white heel of my sneakers was already muddy from the wet dirt. Amanda, the girl from my new school had promised to meet me at the bus stop and a heavy downpour would most likely make her change her mind.

“Liberty fifty naira. Liberty fifty naira. Nwanneina’aga?” A conductor yelled at me from the open side door of a moving bus. It was remarkable how they were hardly incidents of conductors falling out of buses seeing as they anchor their entire bodies to the moving vehicle with just tips of their fingers. “Mba,” I replied.

“Gozie,” A voice called from behind. It was her. She had a peculiar way of calling my name which only people who weren’t proficient in Igbo did.

“Amanda, do you know how long I’ve been waiting here?” I asked. I was more relieved than upset. I had left the house the moment Aunt Perpetual left for the market and knowing how short her trips to the market always were I knew my outing had to be a brief one.

“Sorry. I had to finish cooking the egusi soup my mother started before leaving for work, besides I told you to be here by four, you are fifteen minutes early.” she said and smiled slyly. Her gap tooth shone under her dark skin. Her kinky hair also stuck out like tree stumps on an untilled land.

“Is your house far?”

“No. It’s just over there.” She pointed to a green roof bungalow beside a Zenith bank building.

The heavens unlocked all their taps by the time we got to Amanda’s house. It sounded like rocks were falling on the roof as the torrents poured down voraciously. Outside, in their small compound, the mango tree shook off its fruits vigorously as though that would give it stability in the storm.

I sat on the sofa in the dimly lit sitting room. The rain had turned day to night.

“Are you going to sit down there or are you coming?”

“Coming where?”

“Alright then. Sit down there, I’ll be in my room.”

“Can we talk?”

“We’ll talk in my room.”

“But…” Before I could finish, she was already gone. Amanda had a penchant for being weird. At sixteen, she was the oldest girl in SS1. During Math classes she would lay her head on her desk, hold her tummy and pretend to be writhing in pain, she would stall the class until the math period was over. She loathed math. She also beat up very easily any classmate that ever roused her short temperament. She had however, been very nice to me. On my first day in the new school, she had warded off two older boys who had wanted to collect my lunch and the next day when I didn’t have enough money to get home, she gave me two hundred naira, four times the amount I needed to get home.

“You have started this your acting again okwaya? We’re not in class, so better behave yourself.” I said when I got to her room. Her room was larger than the one room I shared with my siblings and cousins at aunt Perpetual’s house. She lay on her back on her superfluous Vitafoam mattress and was fiddling through her Blackberry.

“So, what did you want to talk about?” She asked. Her eyeballs glittered and her kinky hair was more relaxed. The rain had softened it. In a swift glance, I noticed beneath her transparent skimpy gown that she was wearing a pink underwear.

“I wanted to…” I stopped and took hard breaths. My heartbeat increased and my breathing slowed down. My eyelid twitched and I thought I felt something pressing against my zipper, “I wanted to ask if you guys eat from that mango tree at all.” I muttered. My heartbeat increased exponentially that I felt the cage might just capitulate and let it out onto the floor, “There are so many of them.” I added.

“Well, nobody in my family likes mangoes, come and sit down. Why are you standing there like my bodyguard?”

“Don’t worry. I’m fine here and I’ll be leaving soon, I don’t want my aunt to get back home before me.”

There was silence after that. I remained standing, unsure of the way I felt. I had never felt that way before and whatever was pressing against my zipper wasn’t letting up. I took cursory looks round her room. There was a big poster of Celine Dion close to her wardrobe, arrays of neatly arranged colorful stilettos and a half-eaten cake on her table. The rain had subsided to a drizzle. It was the best time to start going home. I was about telling her when she got out of bed and came to me.

“How old are you?” She asked towering over me. I raised my head to look at her face, but not before passing through her cleavage, neck, lips and finally resting them on her sturdy eyes.

“uuh fourteen.”

“No wonder.” She moved my hand from my crotch and felt the embarrassment of a protrusion I had been trying to shield. She held it hard and then seemed to check the length when she extended her fingers to the base. The kiss had not been as intriguing as Bollywood movies made it seem, but I liked it, “See you in school on Monday Gozie,” she said and saw me off to their gate.

Galloping back home, I felt a tinge of excitement and pride. I finally kissed a girl. Emeka would no longer torment me with his vainglorious exaggerated half-truth tales of escapades. Getting home, I found Aunt Perpetual standing outside, her eyes were teary and her nose ran. Aunt Uju who stayed in Lagos and Uncle Uche who lived in South Africa was there too. My excitement melted away. Their glum look said it all. Mum had died.


“Gozie do you want to come with us?” Aunt Uju asked. It was only the second time I was seeing her. The last time she visited was during Kene’s naming ceremony. Mum had been all over her and announced to anybody that cared to listen that her ‘small sister’ was the manager of a bank in Lagos.

“No Aunty,” I replied not sure I was ready to see a corpse. Mum’s at that. The previous night I had been too shocked to cry. I had stayed up listening to Aunt Perpetual’s conversation with Aunt Uju and Uncle Uche. I squatted behind the curtain of our room and eavesdropped. Their voices tarried into the night.

“I told Nneka not to marry that mad man,” Uncle Uche shouted, “They’ve had a long history of madness in that family, but my sister wouldn’t listen. She wanted to marry for love, see where love has led her.”

“Actually, you objected to the three people that came before Ifeanyi,” Aunt Uju cut in, “You seemed bent on rejecting anyone that came for her hand in marriage.”

“That’s because I can tell a phony when I see one. I’m a man and know a genuine, reasonable one who is ready for marriage. Same way you women always claim to know the best women for us to marry.”

“That doesn’t matter now. The most important thing is to make sure her killer doesn’t go scot-free and that she gets a proper burial.”

“Ifeanyi is a goner already. His prayer point right now should be to get life imprisonment and not outright death penalty.” Uncle Uche said. My heart sank.  I had still not seen Dad since the morning an ambulance came to our house and carried mum to the hospital. She had froths all over her mouth and her stomach was bloated. Aunt Perpetual came in the evening with her red sedan and took us all to her place. Kene had refused to come with us and kept crying, Aunt Perpetual was having none of it, she dragged him into the car and zoomed off. That was a month ago. Last I heard was that Dad was being detained at the central prison at Holy ghost awaiting trial for murder.

They had talked right up to 4a.m. in the morning, they then retired to bed.

St Vincent mortuary and embalmment center was a small building situated in a large compound. The gate had palm fronds tied with white fabric. The entrance to the mortuary itself also had palm fronds hanging from a nail.

“Do you know what those are for?” Uncle Uche asked me. He had insisted I follow them to the mortuary being the first son and that it was traditionally improper for a first child not to be carried along in the funeral arrangement of a parent.

“No Uncle, what are they for?”

“Spirits of the dead often move around causing havoc, either as vengeance for an unfair death or because they want to leave their mark on the earth before they are buried. Palm fronds have a soothing effect on such spirits. But not all of them, some spirits are so powerful and troublesome that palm fronds alone cannot restrain them, such spirits are usually restrained by sprinkling alcohol on their corpses.”

“Okay. I think I want to stay outside now.”  I stammered, overcome with fear. Uncle Uche burst out laughing.

“Don’t worry, we are here with you. No spirit will hurt you. Besides you’re still young and innocent, spirits don’t hurt children.” He added and winked at me. Mum never liked Uncle Uche. During Christmas holidays when we travelled to the village she always warned us to avoid him and his drug money. She least liked him of all her siblings.

“He should continue pushing drugs to South Africa and spending the money on Akwunas, his cup will run over one of these days.” I always wondered how Uncle Uche made so much money by selling drugs. Most drug sellers I knew were of moderate wealth. Maybe the ones in South Africa sold more than just paracetamol and anti-malaria drugs.

The mortuary attendant at St Vincent was an old man who had a brace on his left knee and a scarred face. He wore three washed out chains and when he walked, it looked like he was climbing hills. He laughed often and when he talked, he divulged personal information nobody asked of him. He claimed to have fought in two wars and that his experience seeing so many bodies during the war in Burma spurred him to take up his present job upon his return.

He brought out a note from his drawer and scrolled down for Mum’s name. The neat hard cover book had names of corpses in the mortuary and the dates they were received.

“You said they brought her from General hospital yesterday?”

“Yes,” Aunt Uju replied.

He scrolled through the names on his book some more running his finger gently through each name.

“She’s in fridge nine, I just finished embalming her this morning.”

Unlocking the lever, he pulled the drawer outwards. Mum’s hand was barely recognizable; swollen, black and lifeless. Aunt Uju started to cry. Mum was still elevated so I could barely see her face. The attendant pressed down the drawer. I saw her. Her feet were swollen, her lips still had the lesions she shielded from me with the velveteen scarf. Her face was gloomy and a crease on her forehead gave her a sad expression. Tears built up in my eyes and I let them pour freely.

On our way home from the mortuary, I sat at the back of Aunt Perpetual’s car with Uncle Uche. I tried to distract myself from both their discussion and the registered image of Mum’s lifelessness. It was all too much for me, I could not think of how best to explain to Ngozi or Kene. The past month whenever Kene woke up at night crying and asking for ‘mummy’, I would simply tell him she would come see us soon. Now the ‘soon’ would be never.

 Uncle Uche offered to take me with him to South Africa, a suggestion his sisters vehemently opposed.

“Gozie is too young to start swallowing wraps of cocaine for you,” Aunt Perpetual had said when he was done speaking, “Besides all three of them have to stay together, we will not split up these children at such a tender age, our sister would never forgive us if we did.” 

“Why don’t you raise all three of them by yourself, since you’re so sure I’m taking him with me to sell drugs! You people have been holding onto this false belief that I sell drugs and… Anyways its fine. Nsogbuadiro.


Aunt Perpetual drove us to Akanu Ibiam airport and kept pressing Aunt Uju to please take care of us. It had been three days since Mum’s burial. I had been unable to attend the burial. I was down with typhoid fever and was glad I didn’t attend. The night before we were to travel to Lagos, I had stayed up packing our things. I was excited and nervous at the same time. I had always wanted to go to Lagos, see their high-rises and very wide roads, run around barefoot on the beach. Now Aunt Uju was taking us to live with her in Lagos.

“Gozie biko, behave yourself in Lagos. Don’t allow bad company influence you. Watch out for your brother and sister. You’re their parent now.” Aunt perpetual had pleaded with me. She gave me a lengthy speech on honesty, hard work and perseverance and afterwards said a very long prayer for me.

The Arik flight we took for the journey arrived two hours late and afterwards we had to wait another hour for the craft to refuel. We left Enugu by 3p.m. Aunt Uju sat in front of me with Ngozi while I sat behind them with Kene. I had never flown in a plane before and was very uneasy as the plane strolled onto the runway majestically and increased speed. I held tightly to my seat belt and held my breath.

“Better don’t throw up,” Aunt Uju trolled me grinning mildly.

I felt my heart descend into my stomach as the plane took off. My stomach rumbled in anticipation of my body defying gravity. I opened my eyes after a few minutes and looked out the window. I took a parting shot at the city I had known all my life, 042 as we fondly called it. Palm trees lined the swathes of empty land surrounding the airport. I closed my eyes again and took deep breathes. I hoped Lagos would offer a fresh start and a happy one at that. There were however starts Lagos would never be able to offer and memories it would never erase. Like that night after Mum and Dad’s fight that I had angrily and mistakenly laced Mum’s soup with otapiapia, thinking it was Dad’s.

Ukaegbu Clinton Chinaza is a 300L student of the Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Nigeria, Nsukka. He hails from Mbaitolu in Imo state. “Memoirs from a place called home” is his first short story.