The darkness was just beginning to lift, not too much time to dillydally, Nimi mused as she swept the front yard with the long broom, happily singing at the top of her voice. She loved her village but wished her Pa will allow her spend this coming holidays with her mother’s sister, Aunty Chinwe in Port Harcourt. She had dared to beg him already but Pa said he will think about it and knowing her Pa, that could mean anything. Aunty Chinwe was Nimi’s best aunt, smart and fearless which according to Ma was why Pa detested her so much. Her Pa said that a woman should be seen but not heard and that her place was in the kitchen, but Aunty Chinwe made sure you not only see her but you must hear her too. Nimi wanted to be just like her. She rolled her eyes and smiled to herself, imagining Pa’s face when she turns out just like her aunt or worse.
“Nimi!” she started as her mother roused her from her reverie.

“How long will it take you to sweep that front yard? Please hurry up, we are going somewhere”

Her mother announced from the kitchen door way. Surprised, Nimi ran to the kitchen to find out this place that is suddenly more important than school.
“Mama, where are we going, am I not going to school?” she asked her mother through the small wooden kitchen window.
“You will know when we get there, it is a surprise”.
That piqued her attention, could this place be better than school? Is there any place better than school? She remembered her mother telling her that education is the best thing she could do for herself if she wanted a future better than hers.
Nimi loved surprises and school even more and her Ma knew that so could it be that maybe she was just pulling her legs to get her to hasten up for school. But the day was not even bright yet.

“Ma, are you being serious? Where are we going that could be more important than going to school?”
“Nimi, do not ruin the surprise, do you want curiosity to kill you like the cat? Besides, I know how important school is and I know that this is equally important”

She turned back to her cooking, leaving Nimi staring at her in confusion. She ran back and hastened to finish the sweeping after which she sorted out the leaves and threw them away into the nearby bush, then packed the ones that cannot decompose and poured them into the fireplace behind the house. She took a bowl, fetched water from the metal tank, washed her hands and went in search of her mother. She found her in the sitting room feeding Braiye her younger brother.
“Nimi, run, go and take your bath, we are running out of time” her Mother said, forestalling another bout of questions.

Before long, Nimi and her mother with Braiye on her back were ready to set out to the undisclosed destination. Her mind calmed down a bit because her mother was putting on an old wrapper and an equally old lace blouse, the wrapper torn and sewn in many places. Her mother hid their house keys inside the small clay pot hanging from the orange tree by the side window for Pa or Godwin her brother when they come back. Nimi noticed that the blouse too was torn at the armpit wondered if her mother was aware of that.

“Ma, you blouse is torn at the armpit o” Nimi exclaimed. Her mother raised her hand, scrutinized the erring blouse and nodded. “Let us get going, I know, I will mend it later”, she said, handing Nimi the small hand-woven bag containing mostly Braiye’s stuffs. Nimi herself wore one of the bright floral print gowns aunty Chinwe bought her. Her heart began to beat faster when they took the path through the old village square towards the forests, it was an area Nimi least expected her mother to bring her. Even though it was not too far from their house, it was a part of the village that they hardly visited. The path to the square was lined with thick, impregnable forest. Children were not allowed to pass through it if it could be helped. Nimi’s mother kept a straight face which Nimi knew meant ‘no questions’, so they moved on in an unsettling silence.

They used a pathway through the forest, past the village square, then more bush before they emerged at a small clearing. There was a mud house standing alone in the open space. She had not known of the existence of such a place and wondered who could be living in such a place. With no other houses in sight, Nimi could not understand how someone could live there. The place looked deserted and empty except for an old drum standing like a lone ranger in front of the hut. To their left and right, there were no other buildings except bushes. The only sound she could hear came from birds flying above them, some perching on the thatched roof of the hut and insects from the bush. She opened her mouth to ask her mother about the place but closed them immediately when she realized they were actually heading for that lone building. She began to hear muffled noises coming from somewhere within as they drew near the door. She tugged at her mother’s wrapper to draw her attention and when her mother looked down at her, she whispered, eyes wide with fear,
“Ma, are we actually going inside this place?” her mother only nodded at her and turned abruptly.
Nimi observed that her mother knocked rather gingerly on the door frame before pushing aside the big mat covering the door way. They walked into the room, Nimi followed closely, clutching her mother’s wrapper. Nimi peered from behind her mother at the strange faces in the airless room as her mother exchanged pleasantries with them but she made no move to greet them. She could not make out their faces but only knew they were females from their attires and voices. They were all seated on what looked like a bench but for the fat, short woman standing in the centre of the room. The only light in the room came from a dim kerosene lamp kept at one end of the room, the only window in the room was also covered with a cloth, probably dark from dirt. She felt goose bumps spread out on her skin as she took in her surroundings. She tapped her mother to get her attention without attracting undue attention to herself. Just then, Braiye woke from his sleep and began wailing on top of his voice as if sensing danger around him. Nimi wished she could just let go and cry with him but she knew that it would not do to cry at this point, what with all those strangers staring at them.
 “Only God knows what Ma is up to, were she not my mother, I would think she wants to harm me, but she wouldn’t, or would she?” she mused.

To be continued…