Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 18

Olanna recoiled. She tripped on a stone in her path. She could not believe he had brought Arize up like that, cheapened Arize's memory in order to make a point in a spurious argument. Anger froze her insides. She started to walk fast, past Odenigbo, and when she got home she lay down in the guest room and was not surprised when the Dark Swoop descended. She struggled to pull it off, to breathe, and finally lay in bed exhausted. She didn't speak to Odenigbo the next day. Or the next. And, when her mother's cousin, Uncle Osita, came from Umunnachi to tell her that she was being summoned to a meeting at her grandfather's compound, she did not tell Odenigbo about it. She simply asked Ugwu to get Baby ready and, after Odenigbo left for a meeting, she drove off with them in his car.

She thought of the way Odenigbo had said, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," with an edge of impatience, as if he felt entitled to her forgiveness. He must think that if she could be forgiving of what happened around Baby's birth, she could be forgiving of anything. She resented that. Maybe it was why she didn't tell him she was going to Umunnachi. Or maybe it was because she knew why she was being summoned to Umunnachi and did not want to talk about it with Odenigbo.

She drove over the bumpy dirt roads lined by tall grasses and thought how interesting it was, that villagers could tell you something like Umunnachi summons you, as though Umunnachi were a person rather than a town. It was raining. The roads were marshy. She glanced at the looming three stories of her parents' country home as she drove past it; they would be in Cameroon by now, or perhaps already in London or in Paris, reading the newspapers to learn what was happening back home. She parked in front of her grandfather's house, near the thatch fence. Her tires skidded a little in the clumpy soil. After Ugwu and Baby had come out of the car, she sat still for a while, watching the raindrops slide down the windscreen. Her chest felt tight and she needed some time to breathe slowly to free it, to free herself so she could answer the questions the elders would present to her at the meeting. They would be gentle, formal, everyone gathered in the musty living room: her elderly uncles and granduncles, their wives, some cousins, and perhaps a baby tied on someone's back.

She would speak in a clear voice and look down at the white chalk lines all over the floor, some faded from years, some simple straight lines, others elaborate curves, still others plain initials. As a child, she had watched her grandfather present the piece of nzu to his guests, and she would follow every movement of the men as they drew on the floor and the women as they smeared it on their faces and, sometimes, even nibbled it. Once, when her grandfather stepped out, Olanna had chewed the piece of chalk too and still remembered the dulling potash taste.

Her grandfather, Nweke Udene, would have led this meeting if he were alive. But Nwafor Isaiah would lead; he was now the oldest member of their umunna. He would say, "Others have come back and we have kept our eyes on the road for our son Mbaezi and our wife Ifeka and our daughter Arize as well as our in-law from Ogidi. We have waited and waited and we have not seen them. Many months have passed and our eyes ache from being focused on the road. We have asked you to come today and tell us what you know. Umunnachi is asking about all her children who did not return from the North. You were there, our daughter. What you tell us, we will tell Umunnachi."

It was mostly what happened. The only thing Olanna had not expected was the raised voice of Aunty Ifeka's sister, Mama Dozie. A fierce woman, she was said to have beat up Papa Dozie once, after he left their sick child and went off to visit his mistress. Mama Dozie herself had been away harvesting cocoyams in the agu. The child nearly died. Mama Dozie, it was said, had threatened to cut off Papa Dozie's penis first, before strangling him, if the child were to die.

"Do not lie, Olanna Ozobia, i sikwana asi!" Mama Dozie shouted. "May chicken pox afflict you if you lie. Who told you it was my sister's body that you saw? Who told you? Do not lie here. Cholera will strike you dead."

Her son Dozie led her away. He had grown so tall, Dozie, since the last time Olanna saw him a couple of years ago. He was holding his mother tight and she was trying to push him aside, as if to be allowed to pummel Olanna, and Olanna wished she could let her. She wanted Mama Dozie to hit her and slap her if it would make Mama Dozie feel better, if it would turn everything she had just told the members of her extended family gathered in this room into a lie. She wished that Odinchezo and Ekene would shout at her too, and question her for being alive, instead of dead like their sister and parents and brother-in-law She wished that they would not sit there, quiet, looking down as men in mourning often did and later tell her they were happy she did not see Arize's body; everyone knew what those monsters did to pregnant women.

Odinchezo broke off a large leaf from the ede plant and gave it to her to use as a makeshift umbrella. But Olanna didn't place it above her head as she hurried to her car. She took her time unlocking the door and let the rain run over her plaited hair and past her eyes and down her cheeks. It struck her how quickly the meeting had unfolded, how little time it took to confirm four of her family dead. She had given those left behind a right to mourn and wear black and receive visitors who would come in, saying "Ndo nu." She had given them a right to move on after the mourning and count Arize and her husband and parents as gone forever. The heavy weight of four muted funerals weighed on her head, funerals based not on physical bodies but on her words. And she wondered if she was mistaken, if she had perhaps imagined the bodies lying in the dust, so many bodies in the yard that recalling them made salt rush to her mouth. When she finally got the car open and Ugwu and Baby had dashed in, she sat motionless for a while, aware that Ugwu was watching her with concern and that Baby was almost falling asleep.

"Do you want me to get you water to drink?" Ugwu asked.

Olanna shook her head. Of course he knew she didn't want water. He wanted to get her out of her trance so she would start the car and drive them back to Abba.


Ugwu was the first to see people trooping on the dirt road that ran through Abba. They were dragging goats, carrying yams and boxes on their heads, chickens and rolled-up mats under their arms, kerosene lamps in their hands. The children carried small basins or pulled smaller children along. Ugwu watched them walk past, some silent, others talking loudly; many of them, he knew, did not know where they were going.

Master came home from a meeting early that evening. "We'll leave for Umuahia tomorrow," he said. "We would have gone to Umuahia anyway. We're just leaving a week or two sooner." He spoke too fast, looking at a point in the distance. Ugwu wondered if it was because he did not want to admit that his hometown was about to fall, or if it was because Olanna had not been speaking to him. Ugwu did not know what had happened between them but, whatever it was, it happened after the village square meeting. Olanna had come home in a strange silence. She spoke mechanically. She did not laugh. She let him make every decision about the food and about Baby, spending most of her time on the slanting wooden chair on the veranda. Once he saw her walk over to the guava tree and caress its trunk, and he told himself he would go and pull her away, after a minute, before the neighbors said she was going mad. But she didn't stay long. She turned quietly and went back and sat on the veranda.

She looked just as quiet now. "Please pack our clothes and food for tomorrow, Ugwu." "Yes, mah."

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