As I grew up, I saw my destiny unfold: I went to the best schools, I made the best grades, and won prizes at school. In spite of my successes, I was as gentle as a lamb and very humble. I hardly argued with anyone at home or outside home. When I was not reading, I was sitting beside my mother, peeling unripe plantain for drying or husking egwusi – a local melon seed. Not that I liked egwusi soup, but then I didn’t like any type of food particularly.
“I don’t know what to do to make her eat,” I remember my mother complaining to my aunt who was visiting from Imo state.
“Nne, come and tell Nne Nne what you want to eat,” my aunt said, drawing me close.
Placing my head on her shoulder, I replied, “I’m not hungry.” And that was the end of the matter as far as my stomach was concerned.
My mum knew that she could never tempt me to eat whenever I voiced that chorus. “You see, that’s why she’s so skinny. I can never get her to eat,” she said resignedly in Igbo.
“Don’t worry yourself. Children are all different. Whatever little she eats must be enough for her. You can see how healthy she looks.”
I can remember my mum voicing her belaboured concern over my eating habit to friends and relatives at various times. I guess her worry was superficial. It was the natural worry of a mother; within her, I believe she knew I was okay.
My mother told me I was my father’s favourite.
“When you were born, your father bought me a new set of wrappers, blouses, head-gear and shoes - something he never did when I gave birth to your brothers and sisters,” said my mother with an endearing smile on her face. She continues, “Also, your father chose to name you after his mother, Zhara, whom he loved very much.” I was proud to be named after my grandmother who I am told was a courageous woman.
When the war was over, we were reunited with the rest of our family. I vividly remember that afternoon my father came from Port Harcourt and we were told we were going back home to Port Harcourt.
I remember once when it was Lenten season and I was fasting along with my parents. My brother said he was not feeling well and was in no condition to fast. As I sat in the living room reading Janette Oke’s novel, Love’s Enduring Promise, Ikenna came to sit across from me with a tray bearing steaming plates of semovita and Egusi soup. The appetizing smell filled the room. I could smell the stock fish which had blended with the rest of the soup condiments. I didn’t like egwusi soup but I was hungry. You know how most food smell delicious when you’re hungry? I began to salivate and managed to force my eyes back to the printed letters.