Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 34

"Why are you crying?" Olanna snapped at him. "Kainene is just stuck on the other side for a few days."

Richard's tears blinded him. He veered off the road and the car screeched as it ran into the thick undergrowth of the bush.

"Stop! Stop!" Olanna said.

He stopped and she took the key from him and went around and opened his door. As she drove them home, she hummed steadily under her breath.


Olanna ran the wooden comb through Baby's hair as gently as she could, and yet there was a large tuft left on the teeth. Ugwu was sitting on a bench writing. A week had passed and Kainene was not back. The harmattan winds were calmer today, they did not make the cashew trees swirl, but they blew sand everywhere and the air was thick with grit and with rumors that His Excellency had not gone in search of peace but had run away. Olanna knew it could not be. She believed, as firmly and as quietly as she believed that Kainene would come home soon, that His Excellency's journey would be a success. He would come back with a signed document that would declare the war over, that would proclaim a free Biafra. He would come back with justice and with salt.

She combed Baby's hair, and again some of it fell out. Olanna held the thin wisps in her hand, a sun-bleached yellow-brown that was nothing like Baby's natural jet-black. It frightened her. Kainene had told her some weeks back that it was a sign of extreme wisdom, Baby's hair falling off at only six years old, and afterward Kainene had gone out to look for more protein tablets for Baby.

Ugwu looked up from his writing. "Maybe you should not braid her hair, mah."

"Yes. Maybe that's why it's falling out, too much braiding."

"My hair is not falling out!" Baby said, and patted her head.

Olanna placed the comb down. "I keep thinking about the hair on that child's head I saw on the train; it was very thick. It must have been work for her mother to plait it."

"How was it plaited?" Ugwu asked.

Olanna was surprised, at first, by the question and then she realized that she clearly remembered how it was plaited and she began to describe the hairstyle, how some of the braids fell across the forehead.

Then she described the head itself, the open eyes, the graying skin. Ugwu was writing as she spoke, and his writing, the earnestness of his interest, suddenly made her story important, made it serve a larger purpose that even she was not sure of, and so she told him all she remembered about the train full of people who had cried and shouted and urinated on themselves.

She was still speaking when Odenigbo and Richard came back. They were walking; they had left in the Peugeot early in the morning to go and search for Kainene in the hospital in Ahiara.

Olanna sprang up. "Did you?"

"No," Richard said, and walked inside.

"Where is the car? Did the soldiers take it?"

"The fuel finished on the road. I will find fuel and go back and get it," Odenigbo said. He hugged her. "We saw Madu. He said he is certain she is still on the other side. The vandals must have blocked the way she had gone in and she is waiting for a new route to open. It happens all the time."

"Yes, of course." Olanna picked up the comb and began to untangle her own matted hair. Odenigbo was reminding her that she should be grateful that they had not found Kainene in hospital. It meant Kainene was well, only on the Nigerian side. And yet she did not want him to remind her. Days later, when she insisted on searching the mortuary, he told her the same thing, that Kainene had to be safely on the other side.

"I will go," she said. Madu had sent them some garri and sugar and a little fuel. She would drive herself.

"There's no point," Odenigbo said.

"No point? There is no point in looking for my sister's body?"

"Your sister is alive. There is no body."

"Yes, God."

She turned to leave.

"Even if they shot her, Olanna, they would not take her to a mortuary inside Biafra," Odenigbo said, and she knew he was right but she hated him for saying it and for calling her Olanna instead of nkem and she went anyway, to the foul-smelling mortuary building, where bodies from a recent bombing were piled up outside, swelling in the sun. A crowd of people was begging to be let in to search.

"Please, my father is missing since the bombing."

"Please, I cannot find my small girl."

Olanna's note from Madu made the caretaker smile at her and let her in and she insisted on looking at the face of every female body, even those that the caretaker said were too old, and afterward she stopped on the road to vomit. If the sun refuses to rise, we will make it rise. The title of Okeoma's poem came to her. She did not remember the rest of it, something about placing clay pot on top of clay pot to form a ladder to the sky. Back home, Odenigbo was talking to Baby. Richard sat staring at nothing. They did not ask her if she had found Kainene's body. Ugwu told her that there was a large palm-oil-colored stain on her dress, his voice low, as if he knew it to be the remnants of her own vomit. Harrison told her there was nothing to eat and she stared at him blankly because it was Kainene who had been in charge of things, who knew what to do.

"You should lie down, nkem," Odenigbo said.

"Do you remember the words of Okeoma's poem about making the sun rise if it refused to rise?" she asked.

'"Clay pots fired in zeal, they will cool our feet as we climb,'" he said.

"Yes, yes."

"It was my favorite line. I can't remember the rest."

A woman from the refugee camp dashed into the yard, shouting, waving a green branch. Such a brilliant wet-looking green. Olanna wondered where she got it; the plants and trees around were scorched, blown bare by the dusty winds. The earth was sallow.

"It is over!" the woman shouted. "It is over!"

Odenigbo quickly turned the radio on, as though he had been expecting the woman with this news. The male voice was unfamiliar.

Throughout history, injured people have had to resort to arms in their self-defense where peaceful negotiations fail. We are no exception. We took up arms because of the sense of insecurity generated in our people by the massacres. We havefought in defense of that cause.

Olanna sat down; she liked the honesty, the firm vowels, and the quiet assuredness of the voice on the radio. Baby was asking Odenigbo why the woman from the camp was shouting like that. Richard got up and came closer to the radio. Odenigbo increased the volume. The woman from the refugee camp said, "They said the vandals are coming with canes to flog the hell out of civilians. We are going into the bush," and then turned and ran back to the camp.

I take this opportunity to congratulate officers and men of our armed forces for their gallantry and bravery, which have earned for them the admiration of the whole world. I thank the civil population for their steadfastness and courage in the face of overwhelming odds and starvation. I am convinced that the suffering of our people must be brought to an immediate end. I have, therefore, instructed an orderly disengagement of troops. I urge General Gowon, in the name of humanity, to order his troops to pause while an armistice is negotiated.

After the broadcast, Olanna felt dizzy with disbelief. She sat down. "What now, mah?" Ugwu asked, expressionless. She looked away, at the cashew trees covered in dust, at the sky that curved to the earth in a cloudless wall ahead. "Now I can go and find my sister," she said quietly

A week passed. A Red Cross van arrived at the refugee camp and two women handed out cups of milk. Many families left the camp, to search for relatives or to hide in the bush from the Nigerian soldiers who were coming with whips. But the first time Olanna saw Nigerian soldiers, on the main road, they did not hold whips. They walked up and down and spoke loud Yoruba to one another and laughed and gestured to the village girls. "Come marry me now, I go give you rice and beans."

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