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Книга Half of a Yellow Sun. Содержание - 19

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PART THREE. The Early Sixties


Ugwu sat on the steps that led to the backyard. Raindrops slid down the leaves, the air smelled of wet soil, and he and Harrison were talking about his upcoming trip with Mr. Richard.

"Tufia! I don't know why my master wants to see that devilish festival in your village," Harrison said. He was a few steps below; Ugwu could see the bald patch on the middle of his head.

"Maybe Mr. Richard wants to write about the devil," Ugwu said. Of course the ori-okpa was not a devilish festival, but he would not disagree with Harrison. He needed Harrison to be in a good mood so he could ask him about tear gas. They were silent for a while, watching the vultures hovering overhead; the neighbors had killed a chicken.

"Ah, those lemons are ripening." Harrison gestured to the tree. "I'm using the fresh one for meringue pie," he added in English.

"What is meh-rang?" Ugwu asked. Harrison would like that question.

"You don't know what it is?" Harrison laughed. "It is an American food. I will make it for my master to bring here when your madam comes back from London. I know she will like it." Harrison turned to glance at Ugwu. He had placed a newspaper before sitting on the step, and it rumpled as he shifted. "Even you will like it."

"Yes," Ugwu said, although he had sworn never to eat Harrison's food after he dropped by Mr. Richard's house and saw Harrison spooning shredded orange peels into a pot of sauce. He would have been less alarmed if Harrison had cooked with the orange itself, but to cook with the peels was like choosing the hairy skin of a goat rather than the meat.

"I also use lemons to make cake; lemons are very good for the body," Harrison said. "The food of white people makes you healthy it is not like all of the nonsense that our people eat."

"Yes, that is so." Ugwu cleared his throat. He should ask Harrison about tear gas now, but instead he said, "Let me show you my new room in the Boys' Quarters."

"Okay." Harrison got up.

When they walked into Ugwu's room, he pointed to the ceiling, patterned black and white. "I did that myself," he said. He had held a candle up there for hours, flicking the flame all over the ceiling, stopping often to move the table he was standing on.

"O maka, it is very nice." Harrison looked at the narrow spring bed in the corner, the table and chair, the shirts hanging on nails stuck to the wall, the two pairs of shoes arranged carefully on the floor. "Are those new shoes?"

"My madam bought them for me from Bata."

Harrison touched the pile of journals on the table. "You are reading all of these?" he asked in English.

"Yes." Ugwu had saved them from the study dustbin; the Mathematical Annals were incomprehensible, but at least he had read, if not understood, a few pages of Socialist Review.

It had started to rain again. The patter on the zinc roof was loud and grew louder as they stood under the awning outside and watched the water sliding down from the roof in parallel lines.

Ugwu slapped at his arm-he liked the rain-cooled air, but he didn't like the mosquitoes flying around. Finally he asked the question. "Do you know how I can get tear gas?"

"Tear gas? Why do you ask?"

"I read about it in my master's newspaper, and I want to see what it is like." He would not tell Harrison that he in fact heard of tear gas when Master talked about the members of the Western House of Assembly, who punched and kicked one another until the police came and sprayed tear gas and they all passed out, leaving orderlies to carry them, limp, to their cars. The tear gas fascinated Ugwu. If it made people pass out, he wanted to get it. He wanted to use it on Nnesinachi when he went home with Mr. Richard for the ori-okpa festival. He would lead her to the grove by the stream and tell her the tear gas was a magic spray that would keep her healthy. She would believe him. She would be so impressed to see him arrive in a white man's car that she would believe anything he said.

"It will be very difficult to get tear gas," Harrison said.


"You are too young to know why." Harrison nodded mysteriously. "When you are a grown man I will tell you."

Ugwu was puzzled at first, before he realized that Harrison did not know what tear gas was either but would never admit it. He was disappointed. He would have to ask Jomo.

Jomo knew what tear gas was and laughed long and hard when Ugwu told him what he wanted to use it for. Jomo clapped his hands together as he laughed. "You are a sheep, aturu," Jomo said finally. "Why do you want to use tear gas on a young girl? Look, go to your village, and if the time is right and the young girl likes you, she will follow you. You don't need tear gas."

Ugwu kept Jomo's words in mind as Mr. Richard drove him to his hometown the next morning. Anulika ran up the path when she saw them and boldly shook Mr. Richard's hand. She hugged Ugwu and, as they walked along, told him that their parents were at the farm, their cousin gave birth only yesterday, Nnesinachi left for the North last week-

Ugwu stopped and stared at her.

"Has something happened?" Mr. Richard asked. "The festival hasn't been canceled, has it?"

Ugwu wished it had been. "No, sah."

He led the way to the village square, already filling up with men and women and children, and sat under the oji tree with Mr. Richard. Children soon surrounded them, chanting "Onye ocha, white man," reaching out to feel Mr. Richard's hair. He said, "Kedu? Hello, what's your name?" and they stared at him, giggling, nudging each other. Ugwu leaned against the tree and mourned the time he had spent thinking of seeing Nnesinachi. Now she was gone and some trader in the North would end up with his prize. He hardly noticed the mmuo: masculine figures covered in grass, their faces snarling wooden masks, their long whips dangling from their hands. Mr. Richard took photographs, wrote in his notebook, and asked questions, one after another-what was that called and what did they say and who were those men holding back the mmuo with a rope and what did that mean-until Ugwu felt irritable from the heat and the questions and the noise and the enormous disappointment of not seeing Nnesinachi.

He was silent on the drive back, looking out of the window.

"You're already homesick, aren't you?" Mr. Richard asked.

"Yes, sah," Ugwu said. He wanted Mr. Richard to shut up. He wanted to be alone. He hoped Master would still be at the club so he could take the Renaissance from the living room and curl up on his bed in the Boys' Quarters and read. Or he would watch the new television. If he was lucky, an Indian film would be on. The large-eyed beauty of the women, the singing, the flowers, the bright colors, and the crying, were what he needed now.

When he let himself in through the back door, he was shocked to find Master's mother near the stove. Amala was standing by the door. Even Master did not know they were coming, or he would have been asked to clean the guest room.

"Oh," he said. "Welcome, Mama. Welcome, Aunty Amala." The last visit was fresh in his mind: Mama harassing Olanna, calling her a witch, hooting, and, worst of all, threatening to consult the dibia in the village.

"How are you, Ugwu?" Mama adjusted her wrapper before she patted his back. "My son said you went to show the white man the spirits in your village?"

"Yes, Mama."

He could hear Master's raised voice from the living room. Perhaps a visitor had dropped by and he had decided not to go to the club.

"You can go and rest, i nugo," Mama said. "I am preparing my son's dinner."

The last thing he wanted now was for Mama to colonize his kitchen or use Olanna's favorite saucepan for her strong-smelling soup. He wished so much that she would just leave. "I will stay in case you need help, Mama," he said.

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