image source: pixabay.com



She sells fabrics, the kind of gorgeous cloths that make people crowd our house to haggle over her prices. Because of the flamboyant way she dresses – the big sunglasses she puts on, the stylish blouses and gowns she wears – everyone, even our school headmaster, says she is different.

We don’t know what being different means except that Mummy Chiaku helps us with our homework, scolds us if we eat with dirty hands, and before we fall asleep every night, she calls us into her room to say, “Kachifo, my children. I love you!” It just seems as if we are the only children in Kano who hear those words. We say kachifo to her and tell her in Hausa that we love her. She smiles and gives us hugs that smell of camphor.

Then she tells us to go to Baba’s room, where he is sitting on a mat, his legs crossed, a radio pressed to his right ear.

“Sai de safe, baba. Good night. We love you,” we say. Sometimes he does not hear because the radio is blasting Labaran Duniya! from the BBC Hausa or VOA Hausa into his ears. 

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​Our room is small and is separated from Mummy Chiaku’s room by a wall full of photographs of Baba as a young man working at a leather factory in Zaria before his company went out of business. It also has the photo of our late mother Kudirat wearing a red hijab and staring at us all the time. The room also has a photo of me, Amina, and our two brothers – Idris and Ahmed. We took the photo on the day Baba married Mummy Chiaku who came from the south of the country.

 But now it is night and Idris and I are busy talking about how people at the market were talking furiously about a sheet from the Holy Koran found in the truck of a man from the south, who traded in cows. Someone there had an enlarged photo of him, and it moved from one clamouring hand to another until a man in a blue jalabiya and white skull cap snatched it and spat at it.

“Nyamiri!” he said, with a crumpled, disgusted face. Then I saw the man in the photo. He was our landlord and Baba’s friend.

Mummy Chiaku’s voice calls out to us. We have almost forgotten our daily routine. 

We go over to her room. It is the finest room in our house. It has a long mirror as tall as Mummy Chiaku, a chest of drawers full of her jewelry and makeup. There is an album of colour photographs of her in stylish outfits and with eyes covered with sunglasses, there are boxes of clothes, and calendars, and almanacs. The air of that room smells so nicely of camphor that when we say kachifo to her, I imagine that the camphor shares my love for her.

“Kachifo, good children,” she moans so sweetly as if she is about to cry, squeezing our cheeks into her breasts. “I love you, my children.”

When she lets go of us, I see that she is sad. When I take another look at her room, I see that two of her trunks are gone from the room. I am in shock now. A thief has stolen them, I think. But I am amazed that she doesn’t call the neighbours.

I wonder if Baba knows who stole her trunks. We go over to his room, but he is not there. His mat is half-rolled up, leaning on the wall where the AS-SALAM-ALAAIKUM hanging is. The radio is lying with its face down on the floor, hissing like a cobra. We know that no matter how mad we might be, we cannot touch Baba’s radio, even if we see fire burning it. But now we remember Baba left about an hour ago, warning us, as usual, to lock the door and never open the door until he returns. 

But Idris has smart eyes. He notices a crowd with flickering torches through louvres of glass on Baba’s window. Then we sense something different about this night. We hurry back to Mummy Chiaku’s room and we tell her. She shivers now, and her eyes start to pour with tears and I wonder if it is about her missing trunks or about the news we have brought. 

She folds us in her arms and she begins to pray to God to spare her life from now till Baba finds a trusted cabman to sneak her out. We ask her what she means by what she has just said. 

“Where are you going?” we ask her.

“Don’t worry, my children,” she says, wiping her tears. “Go to bed. Kachifo.” 

We go to our room, but we cannot sleep. We peep through our windows until a big stone from outside smashes two panes of glass off our front window. We hear Baba’s voice outside, pleading with the crowd. He says he could give them money, five thousand naira, ten thousand naira, even twenty thousand naira. They shove him aside as if he is a bundle of rags. Someone even kicks him in the head, a man whom Mummy Chiaku always buys beef from. He has an axe now and he soon starts to hack at our door with it.

Then I wish our door were made of iron. But it is made of wood and in no time, the crowd is in our house. They kick our door open and find us crouching together in one corner. But they do not touch us.  We hear Mummy Chiaku’s loud scream as they kick her in her room, and from the way she is screaming, I know she must be in serious danger. Idris is looking out of the broken window, reporting how the crowd is looting our house and carting away the remainder of Mummy Chiaku’s trunks. It is the worst day of my life, seeing these people drag my stepmother out of our house to her death.

By morning we realise that our landlord, too, and his entire family have been hacked to death because they, just like my stepmother, come from the south of the country. Is this what my headmaster means, when he says they are different?





Glossary:
Kachifo: Good night (Igbo)
Sai de safe: Good night (Hausa)
Labaran Duniya: World News (Hausa)





Nnamdi Oguike is a Nigerian writer. He was selected as The Missing Slate‘s Author of the Month for March 2016 and was a finalist in the 2018 Africa Book Club Short Story Competition. His writing has also appeared in The Dalhousie Review, African Writer, Brittle Paper and The Wrong Patient and Other Stories. His collection of short stories titled Do Not Say It’s Not Your Country is out now, published by Griots Lounge Publishing. One of his best wishes is to visit every country of the world.


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