22 Umunogo, Enugu
The door reminds me of the house my grandfather built
Both my parents are from Anambra State and they both grew up in Enugu. No they meet each other as kids so this is not a childhood love story. In a way it could be a childhood love story, it could be one of my childhood love stories on how I fell in love with Enugu .
In the house my grandfather built is where I spent a handful of my summers growing up. I didn’t know how many flats where in one big building but I knew one or two families were from our hometown . In this house there was no Enid Blyton but Mabel Segun. I would read and after I was done I would pass it down to my cousin. Sometimes he could like to claim that he was the same age as me. I would remind him that he could only say this on this birthday and if he dared I would remind him the next day which was my birthday that he wasn’t anymore. He would look at me and smile “nwanne m”.
It is in this same house that my uncle would make us memorize Psalm 91 and recite it to him a week later, each person going into the room while others would wait outside the door hoping not to forget when it was their turn.
I remember pouring cold water on our heads in between memorizing because it felt too hot. My Aunty looked at us , laughed and shook her head with her facial expression a mixture of amusement and pity.
It is in this house that we would sneak out on Sunday mornings by 7:30 to attend a church service that started by 6. It was simple. Wake up, wash your face, change then escape. We would walk close to the walls of the house so as not to be seen by any relative who happened to look out the window. When returning by 8:30, we would decide on a topic that we ‘had been taught’ in Sunday School. It was better than the 9am Sunday school that finished by 3
In this same house, my Aunty would make us translate all our game songs from English to Igbo. “Na’asu Igbo, speak Igbo “ . And in order to be sure, she would stand there and supervise us. Imagine jumping and translating ‘Humpty dumpty, stop, every body stop’ to Igbo. I remember telling my mother’s younger sister that the Igbo the children next door spoke was funny. She laughed, “ha na’asu Awka, they’re speaking the Awka dialect”
It is here that I would learn that roasted plantain isn’t just a snack, it’s a meal. Plantain with palm oil, ugba, with bits of fish and kpomo was a meal. And a good one. On some days it was abacha with fried fish and uziza. I remember one summer I went from a 48 to a 51. Sometimes my cousins and I would gather enough money to buy Pepsi and biscuits. There was some joy in dipping Coaster biscuits in a cup of Pepsi.
I visited Enugu again few months ago , after many years. The house had a new paint. The people who lived there most certainly didn’t recognize me , I didn’t spend enough time for them to be told “That is Oge, nwa Chinweoke ba nyi, our Chinweoke’s daughter”. My cousin tried to claim he was the same age as me and I gave him a side look and he smiled “nwanne m” . He has just a year left to get his engineering degree. Uncle Obiora still has the shop downstairs. The small red canopy that served as a Catholic Church opposite the house has been replaced by a wall .
My uncle has moved but brings his children back now and then.
My mother’s younger sister has her own children and lives in Maryland. The other day on the phone she asked me “Can you still say Psalm 91 by heart?” . It was my turn to laugh.
I can’t pronounce Igbo words in my mother’s dialect neither do I know how many flats are in this big building.
I stood on the same balcony that we used to listen to catechism from, with my cousin beside me. Just like the generation before me, my children will stand on this balcony. They would translate their game songs from English to Igbo.
The door is still the same and I can’t recite Psalm 91 by heart.