By Chika Onyenezi (Nigeria)
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He raised the dust once more and kicked the soil harder with his barefoot. The dry season wind was as strong as the season. The whistling pine clapped their hands, let out a whistling sound at the same time. He likes it when these grasses scratch his leg. He walked deep into the forest. He could feel the season; truly yuletide is on the way. The dull sun that never goes down, the strong wind that never stops turning dust, the grey grasses, the trees that are beginning to shed their leaves. He went straight to his usual resting place in the forest, made a seat with dry grass under the mango tree, and sat on it. Leaning on the tree, he brought out his flute carved out of a bamboo tree, placed it on his lips stuck his two hands expertly on the hole. He blew his song of sorrow into the forest heart. A group of birds joined in the song of sorrow, donating their voice.
The world has cooked so much sorrow for him; the music raised many questions for him. ‘Am I too ugly? Can’t the world love me with my looks?’
Few days ago, a salesgirl nearly laughed her hearts out, just because he bargained for some food items. His bulged eyes and big teeth made her laugh that way.
He knew why they laugh. ‘Am I really a fool?’ he thought. He blew the song his grandfather taught him. In school he doesn’t talk to anyone; he does it so many times they mock him all the time. His mother told him that Jesus loves him. ‘Is it only Jesus that loves me? Have I seen Jesus? How can I see him?’ he always asked her.
The mother felt speechless each time he asked these questions, at times she even shed tears. He had been ugly from birth; he could be described as a replica of toad. His fingers are like that of toad.
In a church service, a little lad cried out his eyes just seeing him. Tomorrow Uncle Chike and the daughter will be coming to spend the day with them. ‘Will they also laugh at me?’ he wondered.
His mother once told him that Jesus would make him handsome. ‘You are still young; before you enter high school next year, you will be handsome,’ she told him.
‘But the visit is only tomorrow. If only Uncle Chike would come next year, by then Mom said I would be alright,’ he thought. He removed the flute from his lips, and cleaned it with his shirt, fixed it in his pocket. He picked a stone, aimed at his companions, and scared them away. The birds scattered in all direction.
The day was Monday, a day before Christmas. People were still returning for the celebration. The busy main road showed it. Uncle Chike was Mom's last brother; he returned from Ireland with his only daughter and will visit us today. He would meet his cousin from Ireland today. He had mixed feelings. He was happy because he has never seen them before, sad because she could laugh at him. That didn’t slow him down in dusting the wood. He had scrubbed the floor and dusted all the pictures hanging on the wall of the sitting room. He could smell the sweet aroma of the stew being prepared by his mother and Tata, his beautiful sister.
He could hear voices in the sitting room, a stranger’s voice. ‘They are here,’ he thought, ‘but what can I do? Maybe stay here than cause laughter.’
‘Chidi! Chidi! Come and greet your Uncle,’ he heard his mother jubilating that they had arrived safely. He piped into the sitting room. He could see his mother dancing the Igbo song of welcoming good things. She kept stamping her right foot on the ground, exchanging it with the left, the movement of her hands rhythm with the foot stamping.
He took some steps forward. ‘Good afternoon, Uncle,’ he greeted.
‘Is that not Peter... come along, come along!’ He gave Chidi a hug that made him forget how ugly he was.
‘Greet your cousin,’ his mother told him.
She looked beautiful. Around his age, she was dressed in expensive clothing. She spoke through her nose, ‘Hello cousin!’
He didn’t reply.
His mother never left Jesus in anything she does. ‘Let's pray,’ she said. She led a short prayer that ended with everybody saying ‘Amen.’ His mother hugged Uncle Chike again. They started jumping up, laughing, and telling stories of their experiences. Chidi noticed that the girl kept staring at him. Tata went to prepare food and fetch drinks.
‘Chidi, take your cousin to your room,’ his mother told him. It was like placing a block on his shoulders.
‘Go with him,’ here father, my Uncle Chike, told her.
He stood up without looking at her direction, bent his head low, and walked into his room. When he turned, the girl was at his back. He felt shy, ran to his bed, and stuck his head in between his knees.
Still she moved closer, stretched her hand towards him. ‘What is your name?’
He was surprised to even hear her speak. 'Can’t she figure out how ugly I am?' he thought
‘I am Sandra,’ the girl said beaming with a smile
‘I am Chidi,’ he managed to utter.
‘I am in grade eight, Grandtend Elementary School. Do you go to school?’
‘In what class are you?’
‘I am in primary six.’
‘Truly, but after your primary school what next?’
‘I will enter secondary school’
‘I like your eyes, ‘she said seriously.
These words came like a blow to him. No one has ever said these words to him, not even his mother. 'The only one who would love me is Jesus; it is either she is Jesus or she is mocking me,' he thought. ‘Why do you like my eyes?’ he questioned.
‘They are pretty,’ the girl ran closer to him and sat beside him. She put her arm around him. He felt like in heaven. This showed him that Jesus truly loves him, if she could love him. ‘Dad never told me I had a cousin like you,’ she said and smiled.
‘Tell me, how is Ireland?’
‘Oh, Ireland is big. We stay in Dublin, the capital city. Every Sunday we go to the mall for shopping. I have many friends. My best friend is Natasha; she is a white. She did her birthday, and I danced.’ Sandra was getting more excited
‘Ah! You dance? I can play music.’
‘Play for me.’
He ran to his box brought out a flute and showed it to her.
‘Ah, blow it for me,’ she pleaded
He placed the flute on his lips. This was no time for sorrow. He blew a typical Igbo epic music, throw a dance step on the floor, bending his head to rhythm with the music, and shaking his waist at the same time. They girl got excited and joined him in dancing. They had so much fun dancing. When they got back from the land of dancing, they saw their parents standing beside the door and looking at them with excitement. His mother was very happy to see him happy once in his life. Uncle Chike didn’t want the moment to end. He took the flute from Chidi, blew a happy tune into the air once more. Birds gathered from afar to share in the happy moment.
The day was gone only the night still rejoices, the moon shinning straight into his heart. They are gone, but he was happy and his soul rejoices. ‘Someone loves me; Jesus loves me. He came today.’ He blew his flute into the air once more. He remembered how Sandra cried when they where about to leave, that made the father promise to bring him over to Ireland.
A hand fell on his shoulder. He turned. It was a radiating face beaming with smiles. It was his mother. She bent low and said, ‘He came today, my son; Jesus loves you! In his face, you remain handsome.’
He never let go of these words throughout his life.