It has been the hardest year of my life. And it has been hard, not just for me, but for my family and the entire community as well. Every night, I lie on my mat, hoping to wake up the next morning from this horrible nightmare. But the next day, reality comes head-on and hits me hard, leaving me dazed and with no hope for the future.
Onyinye died a fortnight ago. She had wandered into the bush to find something to suppress the pangs of hunger that tore through her fragile body. Chibudo said he had found her lifeless body at the foot of a tree, with her killer lying right beside her, scarred by the marks of her teeth. She had unknowingly poisoned herself.
Mama did not cry. She had cried when Chinyere and Cheta died. So did I. But the tears were nowhere to be found this time. I feel guilty for admitting this but it is the truth anyway. After brooding for hours, I came to a conclusion – one less mouth to feed.
‘It’s all his fault,’ Mama Ejima said, when she came to pay a condolence visit. Once robust and succulent in all the right places, the beautiful mother of twins now bears a countenance that can only be likened to a weary corpse. The twins had died of starvation, just like my siblings. Her husband was killed while trying to steal from one of their neighbours and no one could be blamed – everybody is angry. Mama Ejima will soon die as well, if not from starvation, then from the grief that is eating her up.
‘It is nobody’s fault,’ Papa replied. I look at him many times and wonder if his heart is made of iron. Through all of this, Papa has remained optimistic.
‘If only we had stuck to the old ways, we would be fine,’ Mama Ejima bellowed. I have heard the story over and over. The Onyiboo people arrived in the days of my grandmother, bringing along with them, their white gods. They had won the war so they had come to establish their dominion in our land. Of all the many changes that they brought to us, the most prominent was the declaration that our leader would be chosen by lot. It turned out favourably at first, but it has taken a downturn ever since.
It would appear that the gods are angry with us for accepting them. Our new leader seemed like a beacon of hope, a ray of light coming through from the end of the tunnel. Everyone was optimistic. It was the infectious type of optimism. Feasts were thrown to celebrate our new leader, we were all thrilled. Yes we were – until recently.
It started with the invasion of the locusts. They ate everything. It wouldn’t be surprising if they started eating humans too, they were fierce and hungry. Then the rains stopped coming, the stream was drying up and the fishes began to disappear.
Some have left, many will leave eventually but I am scared for my family. We have nowhere to run to. This is our home, we really cannot leave. It is all the more saddening because our leader is not saying anything. The village youths have cried and fought, the women have built invisible houses around him, refusing to leave, the men try to talk it out, but nothing is working. Throats are parched, bellies are empty, and eyes have retracted further in their holes. Pregnancy is now a burden and death, a relief. Grief is everywhere.
‘If you leave your life in the hands of a man, this is what you get,’ Papa said to me.
‘But our lives were never in man’s hands,’ I replied. ‘Everything we have done today, we did on our own.’
He looked at me with a sad smile. ‘You have quite a lot to say, don’t you?’ he asked. I nodded. ‘I will not interrupt.’
I was angry and Papa knew it. Since Chinyere died, I had boiled on the inside, looking for a way to vent my anger. I knew saying it out would help, but I was scared.
‘The leaders have not helped us in any way,’ I began quietly. ‘They did not help us build our house. They did not help us till the ground, they did not follow us to fish, or to raise children. All they do is demand a percentage of our profit and squander it among themselves. It is not fair, Papa.’
My father nodded and looked away. I noticed the wrinkles on his face had multiplied. The evidence of grief and fruitless labour.
‘Our leaders are human too. And whether we like it or not, there is little that they can do. It is not their fault that nature is frowning on us. Our crops are not enough to feed us, let alone other communities that depend on us. They have turned their eyes away and we are of little importance to them now.’
As much as I hated to admit it, I knew Papa was right. Our leader was not the one holding the rain. In fact, blaming him for everything did us more harm than good. It was only shifting the responsibility to a fellow human and so far, it has not helped.
I have decided to take matters into my own hands. I will not join others in weeping with no future in view for them. My life is in my hands right now.
I learnt to weave baskets from Mama but we have weaved baskets for family use only. I am going to weave baskets and sell them to others to feed my family. If it means walking down to the next town to sell, I do not mind. People say desperate times call for desperate measures, is there a better time to be desperate than now?
I have talked to Uju, she says she will make brooms. Ike says he will make traps and catapults for hunters, Chibuzor says he will sell firewood.
It will start with my family and we are not many, but I hope that with time others will open their eyes and see the many opportunities that abound even in these hard times. Perhaps, with time, our community will grow again and peace will be restored.
Jane Kareem is a young writer, with a special interest in fiction. She studied Science Laboratory Technology at Yaba College of Technology, Yaba, Lagos, Nigeria and will further her studies in the medical field. The second of four children, she is a God-crazy Christian. She blogs at janekareem.wordpress.com.
You can reach her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find her on Twitter and instagram @jane_kareem.