Ochamma was my great grandmother. She celebrated her centenary anniversary when I was four. At her age, she still sings and goes to the kitchen to prepare one of the traditional soups called ndere. It is a concoction of ogiri, uziza, uda, ukpaka and forest vegetable called ukazi. I avoided going close to her, due to her unprecedented way of celebrating that bitter soup. Anytime she wants to cook, she summons everyone close to her, as if she is preparing a recipe a good number of us would like to participate. We seldom give her such consent she yearns and she’d accuse us of being indifferent and uncompromising to her wishes.
On a Saturday evening, Mmachi my immediate elder sister and I set out to fetch firewood. When we got to the big bush, everywhere was think and lonely. The sound of the birds and other forest creatures were singing psalms and canticles with other stunning sounds that engulfed us. Moma had earlier told us on how dangerous invading that forest was, and the only means to do that was to go with an elder who would in every respect, perform certain rituals. My sister and I had only thought that ‘ife mmadu na-amaru, agaghi ama ya’. The more we screen more deeper, we are swept away by fear of the discriminating sounds and cries. The courage of Mmachi kept we sailing and I couldn’t figure out demonstratively where her courage was arrested from.
It is very common in some of such thick forests, to see a plant called Mucuna Pruriens, which has an Igbo traditional name called akugbara. In Yoruba language, it is called werepe. We were told that it enhances libido, reduces body fat and promotes sleep. But we were not told that the itching has an unpleasant feeling. Mmachi plummeted into this plant and she screamed in such a shrilling sound, that made me racing from where I was to see what has happened to her. She got trapped by the plant and was struggling on how to release herself. The little particles of the plant had already reigned on her and she had already begun scratching on her body in a profuse manner. I became perplexed. I was sandwiched between the thought of helping her and running back to the house to inform Mama about the horrible incident that befell us. The irritation was unbearable and I had thought, touching Mmachi, would make me contact it.
I decided to hurry over to the house to inform anyone who could help. When I got back home, I saw only great-grandma, inserting a chunk of snuff inside her tiny round curved nose.
Mama, Mama, I panted in deep trouble.
Mmachi, Mmachi, she is… She cuts in.
Speak now, she ordered with her soprano voice, which has no taint.
Akugbara gbara Mmachi, I spoke in a heavy breath. What? Mama said in an intense voice.
Go to the kitchen, Mama spoke in utter shock, get the local palm oil, let me get ude aki. Which of the forests is she, Mama asked. Ohia ogwugwu eke…
Ewooo umukaa achiputagom ukwu n’ama, Mama muttered in her ancient Igbo language. Hurry, let’s meet her, perhaps, she is troubled in absolute discomfort, she briefed. Mama could run the little she can, while I run along at the same pace. Mama’s age never told on her cleverness and I was so impressed that she was still skipping fine on her wrapper.
We got to where Mmachi was, blood was already squirting from some parts of her body. I couldn’t hold my tears. Mama got her ude aki, mixed it with the palm oil I was holding at my left hand and began massaging her body. Before Mama started applying those mixtures of cream, she made certain words of prayer, as if she was invoking the anger of her forefathers to attack the plight Mmachi was facing. A few minutes later, Mmachi’s body took a swollen contour. Her breath began dropping and her lamentations took bits to collapse. Mama looked at me and said, one thing is remaining, for this rite to be completed.
In depression, I asked, what again, Mama?
For her to regain fully an itch-free body, Mama said, she would have to eat ‘ofe ndere’. The moment Mmachi heard that she sprung up in a disgruntled manner. I am not eating, she whispered in such a strong affirmation. Well, Mama spoke again, that is the last hope of a desperate young girl who would want to survive this calamity.
Ofe ndere was Mama’s only reserved faith, an antidote that can give Mmachi healing. We never had such faith with her and we hadn’t for once asked to partake in such a custom that is almost against our own belief. Yielding to Mama’s concoction is like adhering to the perilous intake of chloroquine, especially when it is the last resort to restraining from preventing Coronavirus. Insistently, Mama was, she was deaf to everything we said about not being convinced to her faith. Mmachi’s body was still itching and the pains were increasing effortlessly. I was fanning her bare body, while she slowly caresses the affected part in order to give it a calm relaxation. I don’t want to subscribe to Mama’s opium and I do not want to see my sister scrub her body in irritation.
Sleep eluded everyone in the house, both Mama who ever thought that we will cripple to her suggestion. Mama tried to wean off the discomfort in her face, even when trying to force Mmachi to her medicine. I was already gassing out and my finger laid ambush at my back. My tongue was cleaved to my pallet and I am living with the reserved strength. The day was fading and Moma hadn’t come back from school. We do not wish to align with the pressures of Mama. The faith she preached had no fruit it bore, even when it signified as a relieve to Mmachi’s condition.
It was not a long time when Mama Zibenna walked into the house, with her little son, Kanyinolu. She was my Mom’s friend, who normally visited whenever her husband is out of the town for work. We are used to calling her Aunty Zibe because she originated from the same clime Mom came from. She has a large chest with a troubling waist that swings generously when she walks. Aunty Zibe had this soft heart that always flings into unstable emotion, whenever she sees someone in grief. Shortly, she saw Mmachi, she had thrown herself into pity and was already making efforts on how to help. They are deviant to my faith, Mama joins. Akugbara gbara Mmachi and they have refused to take the traditional medicine I made. I have tried to assure them the effectiveness of the medicine, but their insubordination kept Mmachi still gasping for breath. I am in the middle of commotion, as the body continued boiling in rashes. If you can, let them have you speak sense into them, Mama reported, because I have exhausted every other possible means to quench the raging tempest. Aunty Zibe is likely to convert Mmachi because she seemed to be the best human being Mmachi loved. Before Aunty Zibe could say something, Mmachi had already started twisting her head in consideration to what Mama spoke.
I will try it a little, Mmachi spoke while she adjusted her body to where Aunty Zibe was. I am in pains and I will choose to break my faith to live, in order to build a new circle of faith. As she spoke, I couldn’t tolerate her inner identity which was trying to concede to Aunty Zibe’s persuasion. Gradually, I was seeing a different mood written all over her and she was already taking a gulp of ofe ndere. Mama smiled hysterically, an attitude that she had won the battle. However, I stood aloof and was imagining how petty Mmachi sounded. Few seconds after, she had taken a two scup of the soup and I could tell from her face the smoldering bitterness that sapped her. Take again, and again, just one more spoon, you are already there, Mama flashed. I felt a piercing sting, a severe repulsive smell which had a reprehensive odour. Mmachi feigned a look at me, I drove past her with a stare at her too, while I swung the door open to see who tapped on the door.