The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Darkness came swiftly

Posted on: April 9, 2007

Master came out to go to the outhouse.

“My madam told me what happened, sah,” Ugwu said. “Ndo. Sorry.”

“Yes, yes,” Master said, and walked on briskly.

It was inadequate to Ugwu, their exchange; he felt as if Mama’s death required more words, more gestures, more shared time between them. But Master had barely glanced at him. And when Special Julius came by later to say ndo, Master was just as brisk and brief.

“Certainly one must expect casualties. Death is the price of our liberty,” he said, and abruptly got up and went back into the bedroom, leaving Olanna to shake her head at Special Julius, her eyes tear-filled.

Ugwu thought Master would stay home from work the next day, but he took a bath earlier than he usually did. He did not drink his tea or touch the yam slices Ugwu had warmed up from the night before. He did not tuck in his shirt.

“You just can’t cross to Biafra-Two, Odenigbo,” Olanna said, as she followed him out to the car. Master pushed down the palm fronds piled on top of it. Olanna kept saying something that Ugwu could not hear while master silently bent over the open bonnet. He climbed in and drove off with a slight wave. Olanna ran off down the road. Ugwu thought, for one absurd moment, that she was chasing after Master’s car but she came back to say that she had asked Special Julius to follow him and bring him back.

“He said he has to go and bury her. But the roads are occupied. The roads are occupied,” she said. Her eyes were focused on the compound entrance. With each sound she heard — a lorry rumbling past, a chirping bird, a child’s cry — she ran from the veranda bench to peer down the road. A group of people armed with machetes walked past, singing. Their leader had one arm.

“Teacher! Well done!” one of them called, when they saw Olanna. “We are going combing! We are going to root out the infiltrators!”

They had almost passed when Olanna jerked up and shouted, “Please look out for my husband in a blue Opel.”

One of them turned and waved with a slightly puzzled look.

Ugwu could feel the heat of the bright afternoon sun even under the thatch awning. Baby was playing barefoot in the front yard. Special Julius’ long American car drove in and Olanna leaped up.

“He’s not back?” Special Julius asked from the car.

“You didn’t see him,” Olanna said.

Special Julius looked worried. “But who told Odenigbo that he can make it past occupied roads? Who told him?”

Ugwu wanted the man to shut up. He had no right to criticize Master, and rather than sitting there in his ugly tunic he might turn around and go search properly for Master.

After Special Julius left, Olanna sat down and leaned forward and placed her head in her hands.

“Do you want some water, mah?” Ugwu asked.

She shook her head. Ugwu watched the sun fall. Darkness came swiftly, brutally there was no gradual change from light to dark.

“What am I going to do?” Olanna asked. “What am I going to do?”

“Master will come back, mah.”

But Master did not come back. Olanna sat on the veranda until past midnight, resting her head against the wall.

From “Half of a Yellow Sun” by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

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