I remember going to our hometown from Awka.
My father, bless him, was always excited on these trips. He would enchant us with stories of walking long distances in bare feet to fetch water and swimming in rivers, the games they played along the way, the palm kernels he collected, shelled and sold for pocket money. Sometimes there was a new story and at other times it was simply a rehash of ones we had heard many times before. His voice pitched in the juiciest parts of the story, he swivelled his head to ensure we were listening to every word. My mother would cut him off with a reminder to keep his eyes on the road.
These days I know the journey took all of 45 mins to an hour tops, but it seemed much longer then, especially when we got stuck in Onitsha traffic.
I passed the time watching for shapes in the clouds; here a rabbit, there an elephant’s head, and God’s hand waving. Sometimes, they just reminded me of pounded yam made from the newest, whitest tubers, the kind we ate during New Yam festivals. My stomach would grumble and I would focus on hawkers tapping on the windows of our car and take the deep breath needed to interrupt my father.
My mother always bought sensible things like loaves of bread and bunches of bananas with their accompanying groundnut parcels for people in the village. If the traffic jam was particularly bad, we could have some Gala to stave off hunger. There were always sweating bottles of water in the car which had started out the journey a little more than cylinders of ice. We weren’t allowed to have the ‘omiyo-omiyo!’ sweets that their sellers announced with piercing whistles.
Soon, we would leave the bottleneck behind, my father speeding to make up for lost time. We were allowed a respite from trapped air behind windows wound up to dissuade theft, my mother resting her fingers from clicking the air conditioner on and off.
The breeze would lift the hairs on my arms and make me smile. There was always a thick liquid sliding down my arm from having whichever sister was near me at the time resting on my shoulder; I never slept in cars. I didn’t mind the saliva by then. My mind was on the one thing which my dad never failed to get us: a local snack from his childhood. The hawkers sold it straight from the fire in front of the failed airport leading to the Igwe’s palace in our hometown.
He called it ‘Ie-iee’. They were the larvae of palm tree beetles roasted over a wood fire.