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Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 17

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Olanna leaned on the veranda railing of Odenigbo's house in Abba, looking out at the yard. Near the gate, Baby was on her knees playing in the sand while Ugwu watched her. The wind rustled the leaves of the guava tree. Its bark fascinated Olanna, the way it was discolored and patchy, a light clay alternating with a darker slate, much like the skin of village children with the nlacha skin disease. Many of those children had stopped by to say "nno nu, welcome," on the day they arrived from Nsukka, and their parents and uncles and aunts had come too, bearing good wishes, itching for gossip about the evacuation. Olanna had felt a fondness for them; their welcome made her feel protected. Her warmth had extended even to Odenigbo's mother. She wondered now why she did not pull Baby away from the grandmother who had rejected her at birth and why she herself did not move away from Mama's hug. But there was a haunting, half-finished quality to all that happened that day- cooking in the kitchen with Ugwu, the departure so hasty that she worried the oven was left on, the crowds on the road, the sound of shelling-so she took Mama's hug in her stride, even hugged her back. Now they had gone back to being civil, Mama often came over to see Baby, through the wooden gate in the mud wall that separated her home from Odenigbo's. Sometimes Baby went across to visit her and run after the goats that wandered in her courtyard. Olanna was never sure how clean were the pieces of dried fish or smoked meat Baby came back chewing, but she tried not to mind, just as she tried to stifle her resentment; Mama's affection for Baby had always been half-baked, halfhearted, and it was too late for Olanna to feel anything but resentment.

Baby was laughing at something Ugwu said; her pure high-pitched laughter made Olanna smile. Baby liked it here; life was slower and simpler. Because their stove and toaster and pressure cooker and imported spices were left behind in Nsukka, their meals were simpler too, and Ugwu had more time to play with her.

"Mummy Ola!" Baby called. "Come and see!"

Olanna waved. "Baby, it's time for your evening bath."

She watched the outline of the mango trees in the next yard; some of them had fruit drooping down like heavy earrings. The sun was falling. The chickens were clucking and flying up into the kola nut tree, where they would sleep. She could hear some villagers exchanging greetings, in the same loud-voiced way that the women in the sewing group did. She had joined them two weeks ago, in the town hall, sewing singlets and towels for the soldiers. She felt bitter toward them at first, because when she tried to talk about the things she had left behind in Nsukka-her books, her piano, her clothes, her china, her wigs, her Singer sewing machine, the television-they ignored her and started to talk about something else. Now she understood that nobody talked about the things left behind. Instead they talked about the win-the-war effort. A teacher had donated his bicycle to the soldiers, cobblers were making soldiers' boots for free, and farmers were giving away yams. Win the war. It was difficult for Olanna to visualize a war happening now, bullets falling on the red dust of Nsukka while the Biafran troops pushed the vandals back. It was often difficult to visualize anything concrete that was not dulled by memories of Arize and Aunty Ifeka and Uncle Mbaezi, that did not feel like life being lived on suspended time.

She kicked off her slippers and walked barefoot across the front yard and over to Baby's sand hut. "Very nice, Baby. Maybe it will still be standing tomorrow, if the goats don't come in the yard in the morning. Now, time for a bath."

"No, Mummy Ola!"

"I think Ugwu is going to carry you off right now." Olanna glanced at Ugwu.


Ugwu picked Baby up and ran off toward the house. Baby's slipper fell off and they stopped to pick it up, Baby saying "No!" and laughing at the same time. Olanna wondered how Baby would take their leaving the following week for Umuahia, three hours away, where Odenigbo had been deployed to the Manpower Directorate. He had hoped to work at the Research and Production Directorate, but there were too many overqualified people and too few jobs; even she had been told there was no vacancy for her at any of the directorates. She would teach at the primary school, her own win-the-war effort. It did have a certain melody to it: win-the-war, win-the-war, win-the-war. She hoped Professor Achara had found them accommodation close to other university people so that Baby would have the right kind of children to play with.

She sat down on one of the low wooden chairs that slanted so that she had to recline in them in order to rest her back. They were chairs she saw only in the village, made by village carpenters who set up dusty signs by the corners of the dirt roads, often with carpenter misspelled: capinter, capinta, carpentar. You could not sit up on such chairs; they assumed a life of hard-earned rest, of evenings reclining in fresh air after a day of farmwork. Perhaps they assumed, also, a life of ennui.

It was dark and the bats were flying noisily above when Odenigbo came home. He was always out during the day, attending meeting after meeting, all of them on how Abba would contribute to the win-the-war effort, how Abba would play a major role in establishing the state of Biafra; sometimes she saw men returning from the meetings, holding mock guns carved from wood. She watched Odenigbo walk across the veranda, aggressive confidence in his stride. Her man. Sometimes when she looked at him she felt gripped by proud possession.

"Kedu?" he asked, bending to kiss her lips. He examined her face carefully, as if he had to do so to make sure she was well. He had been doing that since she returned from Kano. He told her often that the experience had changed her and made her so much more inward. He used massacre when he spoke to his friends, but never with her. It was as if what had happened in Kano was a massacre but what she had seen was an experience.

"I'm fine," she said. "Aren't you a little early?"

"We finished early because there's going to be a general meeting in the square tomorrow."

"Why?" Olanna asked.

"The elders decided it was time. There are all kinds of silly rumors about Abba evacuating soon. Some ignoramuses even say the federal troops have entered Awka!" Odenigbo laughed and sat down next to Olanna. "Will you come?"

"To the meeting?" She had not even considered it. "I'm not from Abba."

"You could be, if you married me. You should be."

She looked at him. "We are fine as we are."

"We are at war and my mother would have to decide what will be done with my body if anything happened to me. You should decide that."

"Stop it, nothing will happen to you."

"Of course nothing will happen to me. I just want you to marry me. We really should marry. It no longer makes sense. It never made sense."

Olanna watched a wasp flit around the spongy nest lodged in the wall corner. It had made sense to her, the decision not to marry, the need to preserve what they had by wrapping it in a shawl of difference. But the old framework that fit her ideals was gone now that Arize and Aunty Ifeka and Uncle Mbaezi would always be frozen faces in her album. Now that bullets were falling in Nsukka. "You have to take wine to my father, then," she said.

"Is that a yes?"

A bat swooped down and Olanna lowered her head. "Yes. It is a yes," she said.

In the morning, she heard the town crier walking past the house, beating a loud ogene. "There will be a meeting of all Abba tomorrow at four p.m. in Amaeze Square!" Gom-gom-gom. "There will be a meeting of all Abba tomorrow at four p.m. in Amaeze Square!" Gom-gom-gom. "Abba has said that every man and every woman must attend!" Gom-gom-gom. "If you do not attend, Abba will fine you!"

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