Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 26

"I want to kill all the vandals, miss," she said, when she came up to hand in her drawing. She was smiling the smile of a precocious child who knew she had said the right thing.

Olanna stared at her and did not know what to say. "Nkiruka, go and sit down," she said at last.

The first thing she told Odenigbo when he got home was how banal the word kill had sounded from the child's mouth and how guilty she had felt. They were in their bedroom and the radio was turned on low and she could hear Baby's high-pitched laughter from the next room.

"She doesn't actually want to kill anybody, nkem. You just taught her patriotism," Odenigbo said, slipping off his shoes.

"I don't know." But his words emboldened her, as did the pride in his face. He liked that she had spoken so forcefully, for once, about the cause; it was as if she had finally become an equal participant in the war effort.

"The Red Cross people remembered our directorate today," he said and pointed at the small carton he had brought back.

Olanna opened it and placed the squat cans of condensed milk and the slender tin of Ovaltine and the packet of salt on the bed. They seemed luxurious. On the radio, a vibrant voice said that gallant Biafran soldiers were flushing out the vandals around Abakaliki.

"Let's have a party," she said.

"A party?"

"A small dinner party. You know, that's what we had often in Nsukka."

"This will be over soon, nkem, and we'll have all the parties in a free Biafra."

She liked the way he said that, in a free Biafra, and she stood up and squashed her lips against his. "Yes, but we can have a wartime party."

"We hardly have enough for ourselves."

"We have more than enough for ourselves." Her lips were still against his and her words suddenly took on a different meaning and she moved back and pulled her dress over her head in one fluid gesture. She unbuckled his trousers. She did not let him take them off. She turned her back and leaned on the wall and guided him into her, excited by his surprise, by his firm hands on her hips. She knew she should lower her voice because of Ugwu and Baby in the next room and yet she had no control over her own moans, over the raw primal pleasure she felt in wave after wave that ended with both of them leaning against the wall, gasping and giggling.


Ugwu hated the relief food. The rice was puffy, nothing like the slender grains in Nsukka, and the cornmeal never emerged smooth after being stirred in hot water, and the powdered milk ended up as stubborn clumps at the bottom of teacups. He squirmed now as he scooped up some egg yolk. It was difficult to think of the flat powder coming from the egg of a real chicken. He poured it into the dough mix and stirred. Outside, a pot half filled with white sand sat on the fire; he would give it a little more time to heat up before he placed the dough inside. He had been skeptical when Mrs. Muokelu first taught Olanna this baking method; he knew enough about Mrs. Muokelu's ideas-Olanna's homemade soap, that blackish-brown mash that reminded him of a child's diarrhea, had come from her, after all. But the first pastry Olanna baked had turned out well; she laughed and said it was ambitious to call it a cake, this mix of flour and palm oil and dried egg yolk, but at least they had put their flour to good use.

The Red Cross irritated Ugwu; the least they could do was ask Biafrans their preferred foods rather than sending so much bland flour. When the new relief center opened, the one Olanna went to wearing a rosary around her neck because Mrs. Muokelu said the Caritas people were more generous to Catholics, Ugwu hoped the food would be better. But what she brought back was familiar, the dried fish even saltier, and she sang, with an amused expression, the song the women sang at the center.

Caritas, thank you,

Caritas si anyi taba okporoko

na kwashiorkor ga-ana.

She did not sing on the days she came back with nothing. She would sit on the veranda and look up at the thatch roof and say, "Do you remember, Ugwu, how we used to throw away soup with meat after only a day?"

"Yes, mah," Ugwu would say. If only he could go to the relief center himself. He suspected that Olanna, with her English-speaking properness, waited her turn until everything was gone. But he could not go because she no longer allowed him out during the day. Stories of forced conscription were everywhere. He did not doubt that a boy down the street had been dragged away in the afternoon and taken, with a shaved head and no training, straight to the front in the evening. But he thought Olanna was overreacting Surely he could still go to the market. Surely he did not have to wake up before dawn to fetch water.

He heard voices in the living room. Special Julius sounded almost as loud as Master. He would take the cake out and then weed the vegetable patch with its gnarled greens or perhaps go and sit on the pile of cement blocks and look across at the opposite house, to see if Eberechi would come out and shout, "Neighbor, how are you?" He would wave back a hello and imagine himself grasping those buttocks. It surprised him, how happy he was when she greeted him. The cake turned out crisp on the outside and moistly soft inside, and he cut slim slices and took them out in saucers. Special Julius and Olanna were sitting down while Master was standing, gesturing, talking about the last village he visited, how the people had sacrificed a goat at the shrine of oyi to keep the vandals away.

"A whole goat! All that wasted protein!" Special Julius said and laughed.

Master did not laugh. "No, no, you must never underestimate the psychological importance of such things. We never ask them to eat the goat instead."

Ah, cake!" Special Julius said. He ignored the fork and stuffed the piece in his mouth. "Very good, very good. Ugwu, you have to teach the people in my house because all they do with our flour is chin-chin, every day is chin-chin, chin-chin, and it is the hard kind with no taste! My teeth have finished."

"Ugwu is a wonder at everything," Olanna said. "He would easily put that woman in Rising Sun Bar out of business."

Professor Ekwenugo knocked on the open door and walked in. His hands were swathed in cream-colored bandages.

"Dianyi, what happened to you?" Master asked.

"Just a little burn." Professor Ekwenugo stared at his bandaged hands as if he had only just realized that they meant he no longer had a long nail to stroke. "We are putting together something very big."

"Is it our first Biafran-built bomber jet?" Olanna teased.

"Something very big that will reveal itself with time," Professor Ekwenugo said, with a mysterious smile. He ate clumsily; bits of cake fell away before they got to his mouth.

"It should be a saboteur-detecting machine," Master said.

"Yes! Bloody saboteurs." Special Julius made the sound of spitting. "They sold Enugu out. How can you leave civilians to defend our capital with mere machetes? This is the same way they lost Nsukka, by pulling back for no reason. Doesn't one of the commanding officers have a Hausa wife? She has put medicine in his food."

"We will recapture Enugu," Professor Ekwenugo said.

"How can we recapture Enugu when the vandals have occupied it?" Special Julius said. "They are even looting toilet seats! Toilet seats! A man who escaped from Udi told me. And they choose the best houses and force people's wives and daughters to spread their legs for them and cook for them."

Images of his mother and Anulika and Nnesinachi splayed out underneath a dirty sun-blackened Hausa soldier came to Ugwu so clearly that he shivered. He went out and sat on a cement block and wished, desperately, that he could go home, if only for a minute, to make sure that nothing had happened to them. Perhaps the vandals were already there and had taken over his aunty's hut with the corrugated iron roof. Or perhaps his family had fled with their goats and chickens, like all the people streaming into Umuahia. The refugees: Ugwu saw them, more and more each day, new faces on the streets, at the public borehole, in the market. Women knocked on the door often to ask if there was any work they could do in exchange for food. They came with their thin naked children. Sometimes, Olanna gave them garri soaked in cold water before telling them she had no work. Mrs. Muokelu had taken in a family of eight relatives. She brought the children to play with Baby, and each time, after they left Olanna asked Ugwu to search Baby's hair carefully for lice. The neighbors took in relatives. Master's cousins came for a few weeks and slept in the living room until they left to join the army There were so many fleeing, tired, homeless people that Ugwu was not surprised the afternoon Olanna came home and said that Akwakuma Primary School would be turned into a refugee camp.

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