Collecting his accumulated Isusu from the thrift collector Mama Nchekwube was like a dream come true for Ikem. His skepticism had prevented him from participating in one before, until his friend Ifeanyi showed him the dividends of his own effort.
He had never held such an amount of money put together as his own. It felt good. All the ideas of what he planned to do ran around in his head.
Now, he would buy a nice Ankara wrapper, vegetable oil and share a bag of Abakaliki rice with his neighbour to take home to Mama for Christmas. She prefers the local rice to the foreign ones that have been de-husked. They seemed to loose the real taste of Osikapa, but the art of cleaning the Abakaliki rice which was known to contain stones, was only perfected by old hands like Mama.
There was a hurried excitement of Christmas in the air. Wheel-barrow boys were pushing around cassettes of Christmas songs by ABBA and also blaring them from their cassette players from one end of the market to the other.
You could hear the exchanges of customers and vendors over the noisy din:
“Ha! Nwanyi Bacha, biko, I need to travel with this blouse o.” ”When can I come and collect it?”
”Nne, you should have brought this material earlier than now.” ”You know that this is the season for us eh!” ”I will try my best but maybe on 22nd, you can come and collect it.”
”Hei! Mbanu! ”Please 22nd is too far.” ”I am traveling on 23rd to the village.” ”Please try for 20th.” ”Biko!”
Indeed, it is the season of harvest for the tailors. They are turning brisk business churning out Christmas and New year attires as expediently as possible for all the holiday galore.
Ikem was gripped with nervousness. The money in his pocket felt hot that he could almost feel it burning through the lining of his trouser. Every brush of another human in the buzzing, cramped market made the butterflies in his stomach flutter some more. He felt as if eyes were watching him and he decided there and then to go and open a First Bank account.
He had never owned an account before and this time of the year is known for spikes in highway robberies and pick-pocketing. He had no plans of falling victim of such nefarious activities and losing his hard-earned money.
The remaining days fly past in a flurry of activities. As he excitedly packs his meager belongings to take back to the village. He knows that he will miss this place and pangs of melancholy occupy his thoughts, but he has to journey forth to pursue brighter tomorrow’s at Onitsha.
The motor-park is a commotion of human traffic and vehicles. Wagons are filled with families all loaded down to the teeth with their luggage for the forth-coming days of merriment. Conductors are shouting their destinations on top of their voices to draw passengers attention. Hawkers of all sorts of items, bread, boiled egg, chin-chin, kuli, kuli, soft drinks are doing their best to entice the traveling customers to patronize them..
Quick bargains are struck, last minute purchases are made, buses loaded to the last perimeter takes off with passengers, to Enugu, Ozubulu, Awka, Okigwe, Orlu, Owerri, Aba etc.
The Igbos are well known to sojourn home en-mass during this festive period. It is almost like a general return of indigenes. Some would travel for days on top of lorries all the way from the northernmost part of Nigeria to be with their families for the holidays.
Ikem boards a bus going to Oji, he cannot wait to eat Mama’s authentic Okpa and Abacha Ncha. These are some of the delicacies of his people.
Quick Glossary for words that you may not know:
Abakiliki: Abakaliki is the capital city of Ebonyi State in southeastern Nigeria. The inhabitants are primarily members of the Igbo nation. Abakaliki, as in the past, is a center of agricultural trade including such products as yams, cassava, rice,
Abacha Ncha/aka African salad: Native snack/meal peculiar to the Igbos but has become a well-known delicacy all over Nigeria. Made from cassava flakes, with palm-oil, oil-bean seeds, dry fish, garden egg etc
Ankara: African print known to symbolize African fashion.
Biko: Igbo word for saying ‘please.’
Chin-chin: A fried snack popular in West Africa. It is a sweet, crunchy, doughnut-like baked or fried dough of wheat flour, and other customary baking items.
Hei!/Ha!: An exclamation which could mean, you don’t say, indeed, what, really and a myriad of other meanings.
Ifeanyi: A popular Igbo name shortened from Ifeanyichukwu which means, nothing is bigger than God.
Igbos/Ibo: The Igbo people, historically spelled “Ibo”, are an ethnic group of southeastern Nigeria. They speak Igbo, which includes various Igboid languages and dialects. Igbo people are one of the largest ethnic groups in Africa. They are for their tough, resilient adaptability business people,
Ikem: An Igbo name for boys shortened from Ikemefuna, meaning may my power/strength never be lost/or founding.
Isusu: An informal means of collecting and saving money through a savings for the enablement of kith and kin ventures.
Kuli-Kuli: Hausa food that is primarily made from peanuts. It is a popular snack in Nigeria. It is often eaten alone or with a mixture of garri, sugar and water popularly called “garri soakings”
Mama Nchekwube: Nchekwube is shortened from Nchekwubechukwu which means to have hope on God.
Mbanu: An expanded NO with a bit of cajoling added to it.
Nwanyi Bacha: A nickname given to the female tailor occupying the prefabricated shed where she sews. It’s like saying ”the lady at the shed” or nicknaming someone after their trade e.g. egg seller, truck pusher, driver etc.
Oji: A Local Government Area of Enugu State, Nigeria to the south bordering Anambra State and Abia State
Okpa: A traditional Eastern Nigerian delicacy, made with ground Bambara beans.
Onitsha: A city with one of the largest commercial markets in West Africa. It is situated on the river port on the eastern bank of the Niger river in Anambra State, southeastern Nigeria.
Osikapa: A local Igbo name given to cooked rice.
Enugu, Ozubulu, Awka, Okigwe, Orlu, Owerri, Aba etc. Some of the towns and villages found in the Eastern Region of Nigeria inhabited by the Igbos.
© Jacqueline Oby-Ikocha
Links to the earlier series of this short story can be found at the top of the page. Thank you for reading.
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