Friday, 14 September 2012

Familiar Strangers


During the drive to our Nigerian-home, my father began talking about the family, trying to familiarise me and Peace with our aunts and uncles. As my father talked I began pondering about the family members.

My father had three younger siblings, two brothers and a sister.

Uncle Ikenna was the second born after my dad. My father once mentioned that uncle Ikenna was a managing director at a bank.

Aunty Nnenna was the third born.

I remember as a young child when she came to visit us in London. 
I was around 8 or 9 years old then. Peace had been getting on my nerves so I hit her. As usual she went crying to my mum, who then came charging into my room with the wooden spoon. I could still see the little smirk on Peace's face as she looked on expecting to see me get beaten. Luckily aunty Nnenna saved me!

The youngest of my father's siblings was uncle Ikemefuna. 
Uncle Ikemefuna lived in Port Harcourt, where he worked in an oil company.
My aunty and uncles had their own kids, but Peace and I hardly ever spoke with them, apart from the brief phone calls at Christmas and Easter. We usually tried to avoid those calls but mum would usually catch us before we could sneak out of the room. I didn't really like having forced conversations; I could barely think of anything to talk about.

The drive was excruciatingly longer than it needed to be and the heat was unrelenting. It was such a relief to finally arrive at our destination. I looked around at all that I saw. It was like something I had seen in Nigerian-films, with high-walls and large gates.

Uncle KC beeped the horn a few times and within a few seconds the gates were opened up by a gate-man. We slowly pulled-up into a compound and stopped in front of a large house.
The outer walls of the house were painted a cream-colour with neatly cut shrubs and hedges running across the edges of the compound.

We all got out of the car and uncle KC helped us carry our luggage to the house.

The inside of the house was nicely set up with beautiful décor; the furniture was almost like something out of a catalogue.  I was filled with a bit of warm-pride to see the efforts of my father's hard work.

As I stood looking around, a house-boy came up to help carry away our luggage. He was a young boy of about 18, but looked older. He smiled politely at me as he walked over to where our luggage was.

"Chike! How are you?" my father asked nicely.
"I'm fine thank you, sah! I hope your journey was pleasant"
"It was fine, thank you...we arrived safely, that it was we prayed for"

Chike had a bright smile with a neat gap in his bottom set of teeth. He seemed to have a spring in his step as he came over. I stepped forward to help him but was startled by a loud voice. Aunty Nnenna. Chike had started taking our things away as I turned to give my attention.

“Wow! Obiora, you have grown! Dimkpa. Look at you! And see Ada! Adannaya!”

My aunty Nnenna came rushing with eagerness to me and buried me in her bosom as she hugged me. Within moments my mum also became overjoyed with excitement and hurried over. As expected the exchange was loud and fast. The joy they both showed must have been contagious because my father joined in with them; he didn't rush over but you could certainly see the joy in his face. I and my sister were quite surprised at this, as this was something we rarely saw from dad. Peace decided to take advantage of this moment and took a picture.

Just when we thought the moment couldn't get any more joyous my two uncles came over and saluted my father; their deep voices echoing across the hallway. Uncle Ikemefuna embraced my father and the two of them hugged tightly, patting each other on the back. Uncle Ikemefuna was a tall as me but naturally larger in size. He had a thick beard and low-cut hair. He was dressed smart but casual in shirt and trousers.
My mother and aunty were still exchanging pleasantries and catching up on time passed as they made their way into the parlour.

Uncle Ikenna came over. He was a tall figure, slightly taller than my dad. Dressed in traditional Isi-Agu and red-cap, he walked with an air of importance which kind of reminded me of my dad.

It had been quite a while since I saw my aunty and uncles. I still vaguely remembered them.

Uncle Ikenna stood facing my dad and the two greeted each other with salutations, slapping each other’s palms.

"Odogwu!"
"Agu!...Agu-Nwoké!"
"Okosisi!... Nwanne'm nkem oooh!"

As Peace and I stood watching, my father turned to us, gestured with his head, 'Come and greet!' and like the well-disciplined children we were, we went over to greet.

"Hello Uncle Ikemefuna." We shook hands with the usual click of fingers that Nigerian men love to do.
 "Obi, Ada; ke ka unu mere?" My uncle asked.

I just about understood the question, but I couldn't respond. My father and uncles just laughed knowing neither I Peace could speak Igbo. We just smiled in response.

"Obiora, Adannaya, come; don't you want to greet me? Am I a stranger?" My uncle Ikenna asked as he put his arms around me and my sister.

I wasn't used to being called by our Igbo-names by people other than our parents but for some reason it didn't feel strange. I hugged him back.

"My children, welcome back home;" Uncle Ikenna said happily. "Ngwanu, come. We have to catch up."

With his arms around our shoulders, he led us towards the living room; the sounds of laughter and loud voices from family members could be heard chiming across the hallway.

I felt my father pat me on the arm as he hurried past us towards the living room.
I guess meeting the rest of the family would help me understand more about my father, and the strange relationship me and him had. 
I mentally prepared myself about what was to come. 
One thing I needed to do if I was to understand anything, was to acquaint myself with my other family members... these familiar strangers.


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