Home / Arts & Entertainment / Short story: Ojiaka, (pronunciation oh-ji-aka) – Ritual of Justification By Oluchi Ibe

Short story: Ojiaka, (pronunciation oh-ji-aka) – Ritual of Justification By Oluchi Ibe

Oluchi Ibe
Oluchi Ibe

He was noted as the village trouble maker even at a tender age. It gave his father so much worry.

Sunny left for Aba one early morning. He did not inform any one. Story came one night that he was seen at Abayi. It was 1975. It was a big relief to his father.

Barely six months after, Sunny drove into the village with a brand new Kawasaki motorcycle. Who were you to own a Kawasaki in 1975! Tied securely on the bike’s carriage was a hill of bread, the special Aba bread.

We, the children were ecstatic. We abandoned our football game at the village square, trooped around Sunny and his glittering bike, and started singing his praises to the high heavens.

By the time our small entourage had gotten to Sunny’s father’s Obiri, a very large crowd of the village people had gathered awaiting our triumphant entry. It was not only Sunny, we, the children were transformed into little Sunnys immediately.

Sunny’s bad stories before he left the village were retold with happier endings. Even the dreadful story of Mama Oguadi’s fowl that Sunny stole long ago was transformed into the story of an errant fowl that flew uninvited into Sunny’s cooking pot. We were all happy for the great village hero, Sunny.

Sunny’s father as all fathers at that time of the evening was reclining on his akwa-oche in the Obiri, his nkpara, walking stick and fly-whisk  by his side. He kept clearing his dry throat as our entourage neared his Obiri half gate.

All greetings were dispensed with as quickly as possible apart from the women who broke into songs intermittently. Stopping women at moments like this was near impossible.

When everything seemed to have come under some sort of control, the old man cleared his throat yet again, possibly the thousandth time. It wasn’t a good sign. But who bothered with signs when all we could see was the shinning Kawasaki and the lovely aroma that whaffed through the polythene bags covering the bread.

We helped Sunny push the heavy bike through the three steep steps leading into the Obiri and towards his father. ‘Where are you going?’ came a most unwelcoming voice from the seated old man, Sunny’s father.

‘Nnayi-ukwu, our great father,’  intoned Adamgborie, Sunny’s mother, God has done it oh! Praise the Lord!’

‘Alleluia!!’ came the rapturous response from all the voices gathered in the Obiri. I suspected that some of the women responded louder than others. I took the cue. It may make the difference between who takes a larger chunk of bread when the sharing started.

‘Praise the living God!’ I screamed with my entire tiny voice. The response nearly removed the thatched roof of the Obiri.

The old man never uttered a word. He gnashed his remaining teeth, cleared his voice and once more asked, ‘where are you people going with that thing,’ pointing at the shinning bike with his left thumb. A very bad sign. In our village, you do not point at good things with your left hand only the right even if you are left handed.

‘Adamgborie,’ Sunny’s father called out quietly, ‘go and get me a basin of water.’  That was another bad sign. He usually called his first wife by her pet name, ‘Obim,’ ‘my heart.’ Oluchi moved from his strategic front position into the middle of the crowd.

‘Nwakaibeya,’ Sunny’s father called out again. That was Sunny’s name, given to him by his father at birth. He had come back from school one day and insisted everyone call him Sunny.

‘Welcome home. I have seen all you came back with. Keep them by that corner,’ he pointed. The motorcycle was carefully pushed to the corner of the Obiri. ‘Oluchi, go and call my brothers,’ said Sunny’s father. Oluchi did not wait for a second summon. He flew like a kite and ran to three other Obiris to summon the old men as requested.

By the time Oluchi came back, there was a large basin of clean water in the middle of the Obiri. He noticed the tension in the air. He regretted coming back after delivering his messages to the old men.

‘When my brothers come, Nwakaibeya will do ojiaka for us with this water before his bike can enter our compound and before the bread will be eaten.’ All eyes eyed the inviting bread. Then, bread was eaten by few families once a month, usually on a Sunday.

Oluchi noticed that despite the cool evening breeze, sweat had broken out on Sunny’s face. His armpit was already soaked. Suddenly a voice croaked, ‘Nnaanyi, our father, let me go and urinate.’ It was so quiet many did not know it came from Sunny. ‘That wasn’t Sunny’s voice,’ the tiny voice told Oluchi.

Sunny did not wait for permission to be granted. Permissions were never granted for such requests. You just say it and leave. Sunny left to urinate. That was the last we saw of Sunny.

The Kawasaki and remnants of the bread in the polythene bags stayed at that same corner until Oluchi came back from university, long after Sunny’s father had died.

Sunny came back after three decades. He had become a pastor in Onitsha.

(Memories and reflections on this week of new wealth)

*Oluchi Ibe, a Washington-based historian and writer is one of the sons of late Justice Gerald Ibe of Obowo, Imo State


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