Agidi, the Slow-Meandering Stream: Memoirs of the Nigerian-Biafran Civil War, 1967-1970
By 5.30 am, Agidi, sixty-two years old, was up, sitting on the edge of the bed, trying to interpret the meaning of a dream. But the dream was in bits and pieces. The stifled yell of a man had echoed nonstop from Iyiba stream to Orie market. Why was the man inaudible? Though his mouth was open and he was talking, no words came out of it. Did the man drown at the stream? Did he meet the jungle justice at Orie when he stole out of hunger?
Anguish filled her heart. Perhaps Iyiba, the only stream in Eziama, had been uprooted and moved to join and defend Biafra. Or could it be that Orie market had been blown to shreds by the enemies of the Igbo people?
Beside her was the wrap which had covered her complete body last night. Now she drew it off the mattress, stood up and tied the complete sheet of fabric firmly around her trunk, below her breasts.
Her feet sought and found two rubber slippers. A few turns around the room got her to a brown cupboard by the side wall. She opened the middle section from where she chosen a small white glass bottle that contained ground tobacco. Flipping the bottle upside down, she slapped the bottom five times, and then turned it upright again. She unscrewed the cap and poured a pinch of tobacco into her left palm. Back at the edge of her bed, she used her right thumb to scoop some into her left nostril and inhaled deeply.
Then she fed her right nostril with more tobacco, and again inhaled deeply. Two sneezes came out, fairly well controlled, and her eyes watered with tears. Up again from the edge of the bed, she went to where she got the snuff box, took out a crumpled handkerchief, and deliberately sneezed into it. With the back of her left hand she wiped the tears from her eyes and returned the handkerchief.
She blinked approvingly, declaring her mind as bright as any shining star and her feet nimble and sharp.
Hurriedly she left her room and walked to open the front door of the house overlooking the front yard. For a moment she stood to listen for signs of activities. ‘nevertheless nobody awake! Kids nowadays are lazy! When I was their age, I would wake up before my mother and with general palm fronds sweep the front and back yards before adults set foot on them. When they finally woke, hopefully not after sunset, they would notice that Agidi had been and gone.’
Smelling her presence, Nkenke, the house dog that seven days ago had two puppies, woke from where she lay in a little corner behind the front door. She shook her body as if a flock of fleas had invaded her, and out of habit began to trail Agidi. With her legs moving fast, Agidi flew across the front yard to reach the bolted wooden outside door of the house in no time.
Over her shoulder she saw Nkenke halfway toward her, and she threw the handful of wingless fried termites she had been holding. Nkenke ran back, retrieved them and walked back to lie again next to her puppies.
Agidi closed the wooden outer door behind her and walked three feet straight onto yellow sand before turning right onto the thin footpath inside a small area of forest. Lizards, snakes and bush rats scampered away at her presence. Low-dwelling birds chirped and hopped away. Seeds of fruits broke away from their pods and cascaded down the branches. Agidi marched forward, her hand sometimes reaching out to break and toss aside wayward branches of cassava or yams or kola nut trees without realizing it, her mind filled with thoughts.
‘This Biafra-Hausa war, this war between Ojukwu and Gowon, already a woman as old as Agidi does not see any sense in it. What they are fighting for, Agidi does not know. Is Eziama the only town fighting for Biafra? The Biafra soldiers come and they take our sons, and a few days later they bring us bodies, stacked on top of others in the back of small, open trucks. What did they say the village people of Eziama did to them? Don’t they know that Agidi is beyond fertility? Look at these breasts (she swayed both breasts back and forth), they are no longer good to nurse a baby. Look at this belly (and over the wrap she squeezed her abdomen), you see how shrunk and patulous it is? It can no longer house a pregnancy. Agidi does not want any of her sons to leave Eziama, not on her watch.’
At twenty off six o’clock she reached the junction where a general path intersected with the thin bush path. ‘Should I go right to Iyiba stream or do I go down to Orie market?’ she debated with herself as she stood at the crossroads.
Not reaching a quick decision, she snapped her fingers on the obvious. Nobody was on the street. The general road was secluded and eerily peaceful, the kind of silence one finds in wartime. Where the chickens once roamed, the vultures had moved in. No women carrying cassava and yams in baskets on their heads, going to Orie. No children heading to Iyiba to fetch water. No palm wine tappers astride their bicycles, struggling to stay out of the side bushes as they fight with walkers who won’t be bullied off the road.
The shrill cry of the voice in her dream returned. Somewhere in Eziama someone was in agony. Where was he? Should she go right or left? She set a foot to go right then retrieved it. If only Agidi could divide herself in two. But a dog called to do two responsibilities simultaneously always fails. She must choose one path, but which one?
Iyiba is the stream that supplies water to Eziama. All these years it has opened its rocks for water to flow into basins and buckets placed under its knees and feet. Orie, a matriarch, has allowed the high in addition as the poor to sell their harvest of corns and beans and yams.
As Agidi tried to decide, despair fell over her.
‘Despair can never keep up down Agidi,’ she said to herself, thumping her chest, and then she began to sing the ‘Eziama was like England’ song, her voice low however clear and piercing, and she began to dance in addition.
Heaven opened, and a sense of triumph descended upon her. She sang louder and danced quicker, and as she danced rays of sun began to beat down on her and the surrounding vegetation and trees. With head bent she danced to the left, retraced her steps and danced to the right. Her waist wiggled, and her hands were a characterize of joy mixed with confidence and desire.
‘No one is here to see Agidi dance,’ she lamented over and over again while dancing.
As if orchestrated by prophecy, ‘Agidi!’, a passerby called. Ignoring the voice Agidi danced some more, then without looking up answered, ‘Oh! It is you, Agidi’s closest relative.’ She danced some more for the passerby.
‘I am going to Orie,’ said the passerby. ‘Agidi, you danced so well.’
‘What dance can come out of these wobbly knees now?’ she said, pulling the edge of her wrap to show both knees.
‘My son, Agidi would follow you like a slow, meandering stream.’