The Pride of Manhood
The evening at Chuma’s father’s compound had hit critical mass by the time Ejike arrived. One look at the mass of his peers that filled the compound to a brim reminded him of paradise on earth. The idyllic sentiments pervaded the atmosphere with sentiments that could only have been treacly. The clemency of the weather was spellbinding. As it were, the sun lit the scene as if according to the unseen stage director above. Apart from its lighting aspect, it also gave out sufficient heat for all to be at ease with themselves in the enveloping harmattan haze. Meanwhile, the mild breeze that suffused the evening rustled the leaves of the surrounding trees to swaying.
True, it was that season of the year when the evening, free of any kind of chore, was utilized otherwise by all. The elders sat out of doors as if they had no cares, pursuing somnolent pastimes or just watching the weather. On their part all the children resorted to long-forgotten games, left in the limbo by busy schedules earlier in the day. While the boys took to the manly ones; the girls took to the its feminine varieties.
The latter could be seen in a cluster by the side playing the age-old clapping game of yore. Ever enchanting to behold, they clapped their hands in turn to the dance steps of the winner of a toss. You scored points according to how your stance marched to that of the lead clapper. In the present game the clapper-in-charge was in a circle of her colleagues whom she faced in turns. Whosoever matched her steps at her turn took her place in the middle and the evening rolled smoothly on.
The boys were busy at the game played in a pair of six opposite holes dug into the ground, into which four seeds are put per hole. The winner of the toss in this one chose whatever hole to start the game from and kept dropping a seed each in every hole till he had no other seed to collect. The next person then took his turn likewise with each claiming any of his holes that numbered to four seeds anew. As he made the round, he won any of his opponent’s pit that a seed in his hand made up to four.
While the girls were busy clapping away their fancies, Mgbeke, the grandmother of the house sought the boys out.
“Chukwuma,” she called out at the eldest as she approached. “How many of you are here?”
“All of us grandma,” he answered, “including my friend Ejike from the next compound.”
“As if I don’t know him. All of you should come after me.”
Though the boys were distraught at being halted mid-game, they followed her all the same. The old woman walked with a little limp. It was said to date back to an encounter with a stray cow when she was a newly married bride. She took the boys to a room in her hut, told them to sit down and disappeared to the inner chambers of the house.
“Did we do anything wrong?” a confused Ejike asked his friend in the interlude that ensued.
“Not that I can remember,” Chuma replied. “Were we not just playing a game?”
He really did not have any clues for the strange summons. He had personally completed all the day’s assignment well ahead of time in expectation of an evening devoid of distractions. He had even not forgotten – as used to be the case often – to fetch water for the woman which always fell on him on alternate market days.
“My children, where are you?” It was the old woman coming back into the room. She was carrying a covered clay pot that was evidently off from the fireplace. “I hope I did not take too long.”
The children’s eyes were focused on her the more. At a loss as to what to say, they kept quiet, casting side-ward glances at one another.
“Now listen,” the woman said on opening the steaming pot. A strong smell of chicken cooked in basil and other condiments suffused the room, making their mouths water. “This this is for you males alone. Do you hear me? That is why I called you without the girls. I was sitting in the frontage preserving my kola nuts when I saw this hen I have hurriedly cooked for you in consequence attempting to crow in imitation of a cock. It had flapped its wings at her body the first time but could not make any sound. I thought it was playing but when it crossed the lawn and tried it again, I knew its time was up. It is an abomination for hen to do that and if it is not tamed, thus shall visit the house with a calamity. Did you hear me? Hens should not invade the domain of cocks so I caught it and cooked it for you.”
As the children exchanged glances this time around, their faces were plastered with aureoles of smiles. They could not believe their luck as they watched the woman dismember the hen into parts which she handed them in turns till nothing was left in the pot.
“I hope you heard me,” the woman kept saying as she gave out the portions. “You must finish it here before going out. The girls must have none of it. Women should not partake in the meat of a hen that mimics a cock...”
With the meat in their mouths, they only nodded like lizards at her entreaties. They overheard the clapping of the girls outside as they drank the water at the base of the pot in turns. Though yet boys, they were proud to be counted in the number of men even for this once.