A Short Story by Pat Omanu
Amaka, a fat girl with a face scared by pimples, listened as her father named his blessings, which consisted entirely of her twin brother’s achievements.
“We are so blest......he’s a great athlete.......plays the violin you know and the piano…….a favourite of everyone, such a rare thing…….to be so popular…….always among the top five in any exam…..any exam….and…..just fourteen”.
The father was in a jolly mood. Peter Udoh, a slim, quiet man in iron-rimmed glasses to whom the blessings were being told, smiled and nodded as each one was mentioned. He knew all the blessings. He heard of them frequently, for Mr. Maduka never failed to start a conversation with anything other than how blest he was, but Peter always smiled and nodded as though he was hearing them for the first time.
They were in the Maduka’s parlour. Amaka was on a sofa with her round cheeks propped on her fists; her eyes which seemed buried in her plump face, moved from her father to Mr. Udoh and back to her father. She also knew all the blessings, she had heard them recited many times before, but she sat there and heard them again, too miserable to get up and leave.
Chuka, Amaka’s brother, was indeed a child of many talents; of all the things he was good at, his singing was his greatest gift. He was a boy treble and could extend his voice to a ‘high C.’ His singing was a joy to listen to and always touched those who heard him sing.
Amaka frowned as she listened. She did not dislike her brother, she was fond of him, and they were friends. What she disliked were the blessings; she considered her brother good enough without them. So what if his voice gets to a ‘high C,’ that’s not what makes him funny, and that’s not what makes him lend a hand whenever he can.
She continued to look from Mr. Udoh to her father; neither seemed to notice that she was in the parlour. She coughed behind her hand. Neither paid attention. She coughed a bit louder; Mr. Udoh turned his head slightly, glanced at her and smiled.
“You know he has just been selected as the soloist for the performance their school will give when the Governor visits next month, and it will be shown on television….channel 4……he will be on television…… you should look out for it” Mr. Udoh nodded.
“I must be going; I just stopped by to escape Grandma Bola’s singing for a few minutes. She finally agreed to be fitted with hearing aids, and as she can now hear herself sing, she sings all the time and not very well, I’m afraid.”
“Ah, it’s nice that she is visiting; I suppose we can expect some of her famous puff-puff soon.”
“Yes, very soon. She made some today.”
‘My regards to her and Yinka’
Soon after Mr. Udoh left, Chuka’s music teacher walked into the parlour, followed by Chuka, tall, handsome and athletic.
The teacher cleared his throat and looked at Mr. Maduka.
“Sir, I have come with Chuka because Mrs. Udoh reported to the district police officer that someone broke into their house, locked her mother in the bedroom, and stole her husband’s phone and a plate of puff-puff. She said her mother told her she believed it was a boy and that although he was a hooligan and a thief, he sang the Ave Maria beautifully. The officer came to the school to enquire, and I was asked to mention boys I thought would sing Ave Maria beautifully. I said it could only be Charley Dibia or your son Chuka. As Charley’s house is not far from the school, I was told to take the policeman there to talk to Charley. When we got there, we found Charley, Chuka, and Godsman eating puff-puff and arguing over Mr. Udoh’s phone. When the policeman asked Charley about the puff-puff and phone, he said Chuka brought them to his house.”
Mr. Maduka’s mouth fell open. Amaka’s shock was so great that her fat face spread in all directions like dough being kneaded.
“I didn’t break in,” Chuka protested. “I was coming home from Charley’s house, and as I passed Uncle Peter’s, I heard someone singing Ave Maria. The person wasn’t singing it correctly, so I thought I would go in and sing it correctly for the person. I thought it was a good idea because I had not yet practiced and so I would practice my singing and let the person hear how Ave Maria is supposed to be sung. I knocked two or three times, but there was no answer, so I gave the door a shake, and it opened; the lock wasn’t solid. When I got in, I saw it was Grandma Bola singing, and I know she doesn’t hear very well, so I thought she would not hear how I sang it, so I shut the door to the room where she was so that her singing would not disturb my practicing. I didn’t know the lock to that door was also bad and that the door would jam.
I sang Ave Maria three times as I was so supposed to and left. I went out through the kitchen and took a small bowl of puff-puff; many were on the table. I didn’t steal them. God forbid that I should steal. I didn’t steal the puff-puff. I knew that it was Grandma Bola that made the puff-puff. She is the only one that makes them like that and whenever she makes them she always asks me to take as much as I like so I thought she wouldn’t mind if I took some and then I saw Uncle Peter’s new Samsung phone on the table next to the puff-puff. I had been arguing with Charley and Godsman about some of the games on the phone, so I checked to see if I was right, and I was, so I thought I would go back to Charley’s house with the phone to show them that I was right. I didn’t steal the phone. God forbid that I should be a thief. Uncle Peter always says I can borrow his things as long as I am careful and don’t spoil them, so I thought he would not mind if I borrowed the phone. Then the policeman and teacher Eze came.”
Amaka sighed and was penitent, for, in her heart, she had always longed for something to happen that would wipe out Chuka’s blessings. Mr. Maduka continued to stare with his mouth open.
“Your son has returned the phone and apologised to the Udohs. We met Mr. Udoh as we were coming here, and he said he knows Chuka meant no harm, but I’m afraid Mrs. Udoh is outraged that her mother was locked in. She says you have to pay for new locks to the doors. I know Chuka is a good boy, and I accept his explanations, but I’m afraid the incident is talked about all over the school, and we have to take some action to show that we consider what he has done unacceptable. Charley Dibia will replace him as the soloist for the performance for the governor.”
“Charley…no no no….it can’t be Charley Dibia” Mr. Maduka shook his head several times. He was horror-stricken. He envisioned Charley Dibia performing for the governor while the whole world watched. He tried to remember the people he had told and nagged till they assured him they would watch Chuka, and then the things Mrs. Dibia, the loudest braggart in the town, would say - Chuka who?… Maduka?…where did you hear that…..he was never meant to perform…….
“I bid you good day,” the teacher said and left.
Mr. Maduka did not hear him; his thoughts had moved from the performance for governor to the new locks he would have to pay for. He looked around for Chuka, but he had slipped out of the parlour; his gaze fell on Amaka.
“Sit properly! Don’t you know you’re a lady?”
Amaka overjoyed that her father had noticed her, straightened up, crossed her legs, and folded her hands on her knee. She looked at her father and struggled to hide her joy. She tried to appear solemn, but a smile stretched her face.
“What is that smile on your face for? Get out! Go and find something useful to do!”
Amaka got up and hurried out of the room. The words ‘you’re a lady’ ringing in her ears.