If only a palm wine-tapper could sum up all the hardships he underwent to tap wine, so he could give someone a pot of wine to put to his lips. But one does not stop eating just because money is scarce.
The famine in the town of Alooke did not give parents a chance to breathe. Whether man or woman, rich or wretchedly poor, no one was unaffected.
Ezeonyekwelu was a chief of Alooke. He was also the ku Dunu [one in power]. He had only one son, because his wife was greatly afflicted by the loss of babies in childbirth. That made him put great care into training his son, because if a child roasts a yam in the fire and it burns, he then roasts another yam and chews it without fully cooking it. [Learn from experience.]
The boy, whose name was Nonyerem, regretted not having many sisters and brothers, because if an animal itches, it goes and scratches against a tree trunk, but if a human being itches, his fellow-man scratches for him. Ikepuru [the father] also was unhappy, because you don't get rich by amassing wealth and throwing it away.
Nonyerem was indeed a child, but he ran errands for his mother like an adult. But it made Ikepuru Ezeonyekwelu very unhappy when he saw Nonyerem's mother, Ugonwa, sending him on errands beyond his ability, because a person should not sell his father's land just because he has a beautiful girlfriend.
Ugonwa tried to train Nonyerem as though one child were better than seven, because you don't ask the herbalist what he ate in another town, but rather what he brought back with him to his own town.
One Eke day, Ezeonyekwelu called Ugonwa and told her that four people were coming to work to plant yams for them in the Onyemarakaodiya farmland.
Ugonwa hemmed and hawed, but didn't know what to say, because she didn't want to go and work with them. So she told Ezeonyekwelu that she had a fever, because she wanted to use that morning to collect some things to fill up her bag.
She then took her large leather bag and went at daybreak to do some grinding at Onyeanisi.
When she returned, she cooked some ntucha and elele [bean meal dish], took them to market to sell them, then returned quickly before Ezeonyekwelu got back from the farm. She then called Nonyerem, gave him plantain and elele to eat and added some fish, then begged him please not to tell Ezeonyekwelu that she had gone to the market. Nonyerem nodded, took the food from her and ate.
Ugonwa knew very well that Nonyerem was like the small bird who told tales. So she watched him carefully so he wouldn't blurt out what she had told him not to say.
When Ezeonyekwelu and those who had gone to work for him entered the house, Nonyere went running to welcome them. They greeted him. He then gave a little smile, but he remembered that his smile was always giving him away.
Ugonwa then called him very loudly because the fart that gets a person into trouble stays around his buttocks and when the person turns around it cries ''tuum.'' Nonyerem answered and went running to her. When he arrived, he asked his mother if she heard him tell his father that she had gone to Orie.
Ezeonyekwelu then entered the obi [father's private house], gnashing his teeth. Ugonwa told him [Nonyerem] to come inside. He then shouted, ''Mother, I didn't tell my father that you went to Orie.''
Ugonwa went and warned him and told him to hold his tongue. He then went and sat down. While he was watching, he saw his father and said, ''Father, did I tell you that my mother went to Orie?''
Ezeonyekwelu then asked him if his mother had gone to Orie. He replied that he wouldn't say that his mother had gone to Orie. Ugonwa got scared and told Ezeonyekwelu to go and take his bath, because she knew very well that if you were cooking food and kept increasing the fire, the food would burn.
Ezeonyekwelu then said that you did not beat a child on the day he spilled the oil, but rather on the day he spilled the dregs, and one who used the cloth to wash his body knew himself. [Spilling the oil the first time would have been an accident, but the second spilling called for punishment.]
One day, Nonyerem came out, called his father, and told him that he wanted to be initiated into a masquerade, that his friend Ejike had been initiated into his.
His father Ezeonyekwelu agreed, and said that since those he had gone with to shoot rats were now shooting lizards, he should shoot lizards and leave rats alone. They all laughed. His father then told him to go and sweep the obi for him so he could go and warm himself by the fire.
Nonyerem ran to get a broom and swept the house, then returned to his father.
Ezeonyekwelu then got a new slingshot he had bought and gave it to him. He laughed, jumped up, thanked his father and ran to show his mother. His mother shouted for joy, and told him that he should use it to shoot birds that they could use to make soup. Nonyerem agreed. Ugonwa asked him if he had thanked his father and he nodded to her.
His mother promised him that she would buy him some shorts when she went to market. He nodded, then picked up the slingshot and went out, filled with happiness because they had done what parents were supposed to do for their children, and if okpoti [large lizards] did not behave like lizards, children would roast and eat them in both the dry season and the rainy season.
Nonyerem was slowly acting like an adult -- hearing but not agreeing [negativity] was gradually entering his head.
One day, he invited his friends Obiekwe, Opolo, and Okoro, and they went into the bush to hunt for bushrats.
They dragged along a pot with palm fruit fiber and fire in it, which made it smoke a lot, because when vulture-eaters meet together, the basket [of vulture meat] is brought down. [Vulture-eating is not to be taken literally here. Refers to really getting down to business.]
When they reached Owereoji forest, they tied up their pants well, then decided that Opolo and Okoro would beat the bushrats in the bush and Nonyerem and Obiekwe would wait in a certain place so that if one bushrat ran out fast, they would beat it to death. They all agreed, and entered the bush, because the elders say that if you plan together to go hunting you will kill a well-known animal, but if you just stand and shoot you will misfire.
Opolo and Okoro took short sticks and shouted "rat, rat," then beat the sticks in the bush as they went along. Nonyerem and Obiekwe held on to their own sticks, thinking that if an animal runs badly, the hunter shoots it badly.
They then beat their sticks "bam, bam," and one bushrat dashed out without looking back. They chased it immediately, because when a bird learns how to avoid perching on a tree, the hunter learns to shoot without aiming.
Opolo ran speedily to beat the bushrat on the head, and its body fell to the ground. They all then rejoiced, jumped up and shook hands, saying that they had caught it with their own hands.
The place where a child has found something good to eat is where he goes to fetch firewood every day, so they turned back to see if they could kill another bushrat there. Before long, Obiekwe discovered a rabbit-hole, called the others, and told them that a bat had jumped in the land of the blacks. They gathered round and tried to dig into the rabbit-hole, but Nonyerem told them that they should look for the exit of the burrow. So they looked for it and found it.
Obiekwe took a hoe and dug a clear space at the burrow so he could set down the smokepot and start to dig into the burrow. But he saw a small palm kernel and a shell in the burrow. He then inserted one finger so he could get them out and a nasty scorpion stung him. He shouted, ''Ewo!'' They asked him what had happened to cause his shout, and he deceived them by telling them that he had barely touched the rabbit's tail but his fingers could not reach it, for a humpback had come upon the tortoise. [Describes a feeling of embarrassment.]
Nonyerem came quickly and inserted his hand to grab the rabbit's tail; the scorpion then stung him and he let out a cry of alarm.
Obiekwe fell down laughing, grasped his finger and said he didn't want to be the only one stung by the scorpion. Nonyerem then ran off yelling. The others took the bushrat they had killed and went home to roast and share it. But they blamed Obiekwe because one should not, just because the apple said that it was not the only one who gave birth to a child whose mouth was broken open, use that as an excuse to go and do what the elders call an abomination.
The Igbo say that if you offer a sacrifice and don't see vultures, you know that something big has happened in the land of the spirits. So, Obiekwe had exposed the smell of the ogiri [castor seed spice] and then told the blue-bottle flies to come around. [He had asked for trouble.] Ugonwa then took her sister Ogugua, and Nonyerem, who was the eyeball that owed a debt to blindness [description of an only child], and went to Obiekwe's house.
Obiekwe's mother, Oduenyi, was not at home, but his father, Ogbuefi Ezennaya, was there, grinding snuff.
Ugonwa entered and called his name. He cleared his throat, ground his teeth ''takurum takurum,'' and came out, greeted them, and gave them seats. They sat down on a plank. He went to bring them kola nut, but they told him that they would not eat it because their errand was not a pleasant one. He went and sat down on his leather mat and asked them why their errand was not pleasant.
Ugonwa told him that a person whose house is on fire should not go chasing after rats. Ezennaya told her to talk to him, that his ears were itching, because why the dog refused a bone was something difficult to understand.
Ugonwa then told him that one need not tell the nose that it and the mouth were brothers, but that what Obiekwe did dried up the pot of tears [had gone too far]. She then began to relate to him how Obiekwe had caused a scorpion to sting her only child. She also said that the one who punched a child on the head with his fist told him to go home and tell his mother.
Ezennaya shouted that Obiekwe had done something wicked, and that one who is being treated for hydrocele and develops a swollen stomach will be carried into the forest and left there, with the falling rain and the darkness.
Ugonwa addressed Ezennaya directly and he replied. She told him that she would not ask a young woman where she had sprouted breasts, but rather would tell her that the soup in the pot should not become sour. Let him look at her only son, Nonyerem, to know what he would do about it, so there would be no telling of false stories. But if death should take him, what the eye saw that caused it to bleed [describes the unthinkable] would happen, because one does not become rich with only small bits of feces in the buttocks. This baffled Ezennaya, because something unexpected can be too much for a strong man.
Ugonwa then left Nonyerem with him [Ezennaya] and went home, saying that they had planted yams expecting results, because the avoidance of murder can look like cowardice.
Obiekwe had already gone to Ekwuofu's house, but he did not tell his mother or his father. Ezennaya then took Nonyerem and started out for Ekwuofu's house, saying that rather than someone else's dog killing his [Ezennaya's] own dog, let his dog kill the other person's dog and he [Ezennaya] will pay the cost; that he did not know that it is bad soup that draws [too soon] while it is cooking.
Ezennaya carried a large yam that he had tied up to take to Ekwuofu, because it had been a long time since fish and water had been together, because one who has many children has a lot of illnesses. [Ezennaya had not seen Ekwuofu in a long time, since he had a lot of family responsibilities.]
He then entered Ekwuofu's
house and called out his praise name. Ekwuofu greeted him. Then he told
Ekwuofu that Ihekora, a mad person, said that the reason people said that
she talked too much was that when she wanted to say one thing, another
entered her mouth. Ekwuofu took a look at Nonyere, shouted, and said that
the wine-tapper had almost broken his wine-pot. [Indicates that this was
~~ *TO CHAPTER 3* ~~