If I tell you this story please don’t laugh at me. I repeat, don’t laugh at me.

It was Christmas and I was just eight or thereabout. My village was a cold Hamlet and it was so dense that at some point one felt something like balls of snow, dance midair and melt away.

It was on one of these hazy days that I would sit in a corner of our verandah and watch Ifeoma, one of my extended Uncle’s house help, wash plates without a hissing.

In that crippling cold, when a dip in water gave one a frozen hand, Ifeoma washed plates in the open; bathed my Uncle’s smaller children, and also washed some leftover clothes in the evening.

From my hiding where I watched with mischievous delight, I would chuckle at her genius. I would remember the battle with cold water every morning while I bathed with my brothers.

How I would draw imaginary lines with droplets of water till that moment of madness when I would spill a cup over my head and jump and scream and jump again like a child receiving merciless stings from innumerable bees.

But here was Ifeoma, humming and working under the very hot cold; her hair flying under the caress of the harmattan breeze. I could not tell myself if I liked her or not. Yet, I continued to watch her. From the goat shed to the clothesline. From the water tank to the fireplace. Then one day, I decided to walk up to her.

I had perched around one of the hedges made of old blocks in a path that formed a bigger path to the village square. Then, I sighted Ifeoma racing down. Her hair still billowing and her eyes as sharp as that of crickets that disturb the night. My heart jumped over and must have pumped rivers of fear into my chest. My eyes could not see well again.

Why did I want to talk to Ifeoma? I still had not known. So why was I stopping her on the road? My stupid eight years old mind had no answers to these throbbing questions.

I stood on quaking knees, while Ifeoma hurried close; and even closer, until I saw that she was moving closer. Jesus! She was coming to my abode. And before I could prank my way out of the jigsaw, there was Ifeoma standing before me, She smelled of Vaseline and a fragrance of talcum.

‘Hei you!’ she started. ‘Why have you been looking at me.’
I could not raise my head to her.
‘I know. I know. I know that you like me’ she said.
‘I don’t like you!’ I retorted sharply.
‘Then why have you been looking at me all the time. Looku looku without job. Nonsense!’ She hissed and made a three sixty turn. The last glimpse was of her back, as she cut through another path, her flip flops spreading grains of sand over her back.

I breathed a relief like someone back from hell. My palms were greasy and my face wet. I had never met a girl like that. That night, I called myself an idiot and prayed never to see Ifeoma with my naked eyes. The thought of her gave me chills. However, next day had other plans.

My father had woken me with a message to my Uncle’s house. God! It was her house, Ifeoma’s house. The other day she roasted me, and I knew today was for frying. I encouraged myself. Was I not the boy who took the first position in primary 5? Was I not the boy who climbed the stage often to render morning speeches in my school? I was ready for Ifeoma. This time, I would talk to her. I would! But what would I tell her: I still had not known.

That morning, I walked into my uncle’s house with searching eyes and a beating heart. Through the goat shed and water tank; through the fireplace and clothesline; Ifeoma was missing.

There was no humming. There was no crackling sound as hands sought plates in bowls of foamy water. There was no Ifeoma.

I had delivered the message and was about to leave when I saw my name inscribed on the kitchen wall. Blurry black lines made from charcoal, spelling my name CHINO. I knew who did that. My mind knew. But where was she?

Someone startled me from behind. It was Ebuka, my Uncle’s son about my age, just like Ifeoma. He was laughing at me.

‘I knew it’ he said.
‘Knew what?’ I asked.
‘Ifeoma’ he said.

I shoved him aside and started hurrying away, not ready for a silly banter. Then I heard him say: ‘Ifeoma left with my Aunt this morning. You won’t see her again hahahaha, lover boy.’


I ignored him and ran away. First day. Second day, and I was waiting for her to return. I would sit on the verandah once again hoping to see her running about like a girl on four wheels. I would think of all the things I should have said to her but couldn’t.

Just after a week, and Christmas had given way to a new year. I realized in my broken heart, that something had happened between me and Ifeoma. But I knew not what,

I could not understand why I would sit up at night, in the blank open, starring at stars or why I would close my eyes and smile for no reason. I could not understand why I looked out every morning when I knew she wouldn’t be there – just plain wasteful hoping.

I could not understand because I was just eight.

And remember I said before I started. Please don’t laugh at me.

Today, at New Heaven, Enugu, I saw Ifeoma with a protruded belly and dragging along a little boy. It had been many years apart but I still recognised her. Time had collected many debts since I was eight.

Ifeoma was no longer the Ifeoma that sparked fires in my young heart long ago. Dull lines had sunken deep beneath her once striking eyes, and her hair was now greyish brown. I helped her with the little boy while we ferried across roads.

She was now shy and dodged my eyes. I told her about many years ago, but she had forgotten. I had bottled up those memories like quaint books in aged libraries but she had lost hers.

I told her. How I waited for her to come back and how I watched over my name on that kitchen wall till it faded by nature’s will. The more I said, the more confused she became.

I was no longer eight years old but I still had the heart of that cold Christmas times when I snuggled up in my bed thinking about Ifeoma and the many things that would have been.

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By Mazi Chikelu Chino

If I tell you this story please don’t laugh at me. I repeat, don’t laugh at me.

It was Christmas and I was just eight or thereabout. My village was a cold Hamlet and it was so dense that at


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