Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 4

"You've known Madu for very long then," he said finally. He hated calling the man by his first name; it assumed a cordiality he did not feel. But then he had no choice. He would certainly not call him Major; using a title would be too elevating.

Kainene looked up. "Forever. His family and ours are very close. I remember once, years ago, when we went to Umunnachi to spend Christmas, he gave me a tortoise. The strangest and best present I ever got from anybody. Olanna thought it was wrong of Madu to take the poor thing out of its natural habitat and whatnot, but she didn't much get along with Madu anyway. I put it in a bowl, and of course it died soon afterward." She went back to looking through the file.

"He's married, isn't he?"

"Yes. Adaobi is doing her bachelor's in London."

"Is that why you're seeing him so often?" His question came out in a near-croak, as though he needed to clear his throat.

She did not respond. Perhaps she had not heard him. It was clear that the file, the new contract, occupied her mind. She got up. "I'll just make some notes for a minute in the study and join you."

He wondered why he could simply not ask if she found Madu attractive and if she had ever been involved with him or, worse yet, was still involved with him. He was afraid. He moved toward her and put his arms around her and held her tightly, wanting to feel the beat of her heart. It was the first time in his life he felt as if he could belong somewhere.

1. The Book: The World Was Silent When We Died

For the prologue, he recounts the story of the woman with the calabash. She sat on the floor of a train squashed between crying people, shouting people, praying people. She was silent, caressing the covered calabash on her lap in a gentle rhythm until they crossed the Niger, and then she lifted the lid and asked Olanna and others close by to look inside.

Olanna tells him this story and he notes the details. She tells him how the bloodstains on the woman's wrapper blended into the fabric to form a rusty mauve. She describes the carved designs on the woman's calabash, slanting lines crisscrossing each other, and she describes the child's head inside: scruffy braids falling across the dark-brown face, eyes completely white, eerily open, a mouth in a small surprised O.

After he writes this, he mentions the German women who fled Hamburg with the charred bodies of their children stuffed in suitcases, the Rwandan women who pocketed tiny parts of their mauled babies. But he is careful not to draw parallels. For the book cover, though, he draws a map of Nigeria and traces in the Y shape of the rivers Niger and Benue in bright red. He uses the same shade of red to circle the boundaries of where, in the Southeast, Biafra existed for three years.


Ugwu cleared the dining table slowly. He removed the glasses first, then the stew-smeared bowls and the cutlery, and finally he stacked plate on top of plate. Even if he hadn't peeked through the kitchen door as they ate, he would still know who had sat where. Master's plate was always the most rice-strewn, as if he ate distractedly so that the grains eluded his fork. Olanna's glass had crescent-shaped lipstick marks. Okeoma ate everything with a spoon, his fork and knife pushed aside. Professor Ezeka had brought his own beer, and the foreign-looking brown bottle was beside his plate. Miss Adebayo left onion slices in her bowl. And Mr. Richard never chewed his chicken bones.

In the kitchen, Ugwu kept Olanna's plate aside on the Formica counter and emptied the rest, watching rice, stew, greens, and bones slide into the dustbin. Some of the bones were so well cracked they looked like wood shavings. Olanna's did not, though, because she had only lightly chewed the ends and all three still had their shape. Ugwu sat down and selected one and closed his eyes as he sucked it, imagining Olanna's mouth enclosing the same bone.

He sucked languidly, one bone after another, and did not bother to tone down the slurpy sounds his mouth made. He was alone. Master had just left for the staff club with Olanna and their friends. The house was always quietest now, when he could linger over nothing, with the lunch dishes in the sink and dinner far off and the kitchen bathed in incandescent sunlight. Olanna called this his Schoolwork Time, and when she was home she would ask him to take his homework into the bedroom. She didn't know that his homework never took long, that he would sit by the window afterward and struggle through difficult sentences in one of Master's books, looking up often to watch the butterflies dipping and rising above the white flowers in the front yard.

He picked up his exercise book while sucking the second bone. The cold marrow was tart on his tongue. He read the verse, which he had copied so carefully from the blackboard that it looked like Mrs. Ogu-ike's handwriting, and then closed his eyes and recited it.

I can't forget that I'm bereft Of all the pleasant sights they see, Which the Piper also promised me. For he led us, he said, to a joyous land, Joining the town and just at hand, Where waters gushed and fruit trees grew, And flowers put forth a fairer hue, And everything was strange and new.

He opened his eyes and scanned the verse to make sure he had missed nothing. He hoped Master would not remember to ask him to recite it because, although he had memorized the verse correctly, he would have no answer when Master asked, What does it mean? Or, What do you think it is really saying? The pictures in the book Mrs. Oguike gave out, of the long-haired man with happy rats following him, were incomprehensible, and the more Ugwu looked at them, the more certain he became that it was all some sort of senseless joke. Even Mrs. Oguike did not seem to know what it meant. Ugwu had come to like her-Mrs. Oguike-because she did not treat him with special concern, did not seem to notice that he sat alone in the classroom at break time. But she had noticed how fast he learned the very first day when she gave him oral and written tests while Master waited outside the airless room. "The boy will surely skip a class at some point, he has such an innate intelligence," she had told Master afterward, as if Ugwu were not standing right beside them, and innate intelligence instantly became Ugwu's favorite expression.

He closed the exercise book. He had sucked all the bones, and he imagined that the taste of Olanna's mouth was in his as he started to wash the dishes. The first time he sucked her bones, weeks ago, it was after he saw her and Master kissing in the living room on a Saturday morning, their open mouths pressed together. The thought of her saliva in Master's mouth had both repelled and excited him. It still did. It was the same way he felt about her moaning at night; he did not like to hear her and yet he often went to their door to press his ear against the cold wood and listen. Just as he examined the underwear she hung in the bathroom-black slips, slippery bras, white pants.

She had blended so easily into the house. In the evenings, when guests filled the living room, her voice stood out in its clear perfection, and he fantasized about sticking out his tongue at Miss Adebayo and saying, "You cannot speak English like my madam, so shut your dirty mouth." It seemed as if her clothes had always been in the wardrobe, her High Life music always come from the radiogram, her coconut scent always wafted over every room, and her Impala always parked in the driveway. Still, he missed the old days with Master. He missed the evenings when he would sit on the floor of the living room while Master talked in his deep voice and the mornings when he served Master's breakfast, knowing that the only voices that could be heard were theirs.

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