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I was born in Nigeria, West Africa with the moon smiling at me. In fact, it was said by my granny that the man sitting inside the moon had a wide grin on his face as he looked down at me taking my first gulps of air and shrieking with zeal. He then placed series of gifts in my palms and I clutched them tenaciously. Those gifts must have become obvious in my life as years went by because everyone said I was kind, humble, gentle, intelligent, and beautiful.

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.

            Having been born just before mid-1960, I still remember the Nigerian Civil War vaguely. I remember being taken along with my siblings to my maternal grandmother’s hometown Arondizuogu in Imo State while my parents remained in Port Harcourt.

            I can still recall the times we saw airplanes flying over the village and everyone would run for shelter in the bushes around the Imo River. My maternal aunts who lived at Ikpatu and Okigwe occasionally came on short visits because it was unsafe to go far from home then. During those times, some white men and women came from time to time with assorted provisions ranging from milk, beverages, rice, biscuits to clothing. We lined up outside the CMS Church to collect our rations. Sometimes these things were dropped from the sky like manna from heaven.
         
 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.

            It was in the year 1970 that I started primary one at the age of six. My elder sister and her friends treated me like a nuisance so I kept away from them. She only remembered to look for me when we were nearing home because she did not want our mother to scold her.

            Looking back now, I guess I was a tall featherweight and believe many smaller girls of the same age could easily lift me off my feet buy I never found out though. I generally avoided fighting with my mates no matter how much they goaded me. Whenever anyone threatened to “wait” for me after school, I would run to my brother’s class immediately the closing bell was rang and stick to him like glue and no one dared lay a finger on me.

**********


At home in Port Harcourt we attended church regularly. What I enjoyed at the church was the choir. They sang like angels. When they sang you thought of heaven. Other than that, I hardly followed the service.

“The sermon was just great,” my dad said keeping his eyes on the road as he maneuvered our Peugeot car out of the tight parking lot beside the church.

“Yes, it really challenged me to service,” my mum agreed.

“The pastor tells many stories. Are they all true?” my elder brother, Ikenna, asked.

“Of course yes. He wouldn’t tell lies on the pulpit,” my dad said giving him a disproving look.

“But they say some pastors exaggerate when preaching,” my eldest sister who was on holiday from boarding school said.

“You don’t have to listen to such remarks by people who dislike and castigate and disparage anything to do with God,” my mum said matter-of-factly.

We knew we were Christians. My brother went along to church grudgingly. My sisters sometimes appeared aloof. I for one felt an affinity with my creator and so was happy to seek Him.

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.

“You want some chicken?” he asked, showing me a big drum.

“No, thanks.”

“Are you sure? What of fish? You know how tasty stingray is,” he said exhibiting a tempting chunk of fish.

I knew he was up to no good and wanted to say, ‘Get thee behind me Satan’ and ‘Man shall not live by bread alone’; but I controlled myself and instead asked nicely, “Shouldn’t you be eating in the dining area and on the dining table?”

Smiling mischievously, he said, “I prefer it here.”

“As you like,” I said and lay back on the couch turning away from him.

Luckily, he let me be.

My elder brother and I were one of a kind as my mum would say. We could predict and correctly interpret each other’s emotions and actions. Mum said that right from the day I was born and my brother set eyes on me, he loved me. Probably because I weighed less than three kilograms at birth and looked vulnerable so he felt protective of me.

My childhood was so smooth you would think nothing could go wrong. I had loving parents and siblings and our home was run as smoothly as oiled wheels. I was a happy kid and so were my siblings. I believed that one day I would meet my prince charming and we would live happily ever after with our children too.

But life at home did not prepare me for the stark realities of the outside world.


To be continued

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