What would you think if you saw me in front of my house, laughing my heart out and trying to catch as many drops of rain as I can with my tongue?
I looked out of my window today and it was raining-heavily. I sleep with my blinds closed and I only know what’s happening outside when I crack it open. The walls here are so light, yet so fitted, that the sounds from outside are insulated.
As a child, I smelled the rain before I saw it. The clouds in Enugu would first gather, like longtime friends excited to be once again at a reunion. Everything about the weather in Enugu was systematic. It gave you enough time to decide what your next options were — an umbrella or brisk walks home, while clenching your heart and hoping not to get drenched by the rain.
At one point as a child, we had leaking ceilings in our parlor. It was my chore to make sure I kept the raindrops away from our terrazzo. I knew the 9 spots that leaked by heart, and I was always fast to get 9 basins from the kitchen or the store for each of these spots. The faster I placed them, the faster I could run outside to play in the rain. Other people had to run outside with buckets and drums to fetch water, especially if water corporation had not given us water in a while. Not to sound weird, but I have never tasted sweeter dust or water like those that came with the rain in Enugu.
Sometimes I played longer than I planned to and I only ran in when it was almost too dark and I was afraid someone would release the dogs from their cage. Another common fear I had was that there were ghosts or momo spirits lingering in the shadows of the many trees we had in our compound. I would try to sneak into the house unnoticed, but it seldom worked.
The kinds of trouble I could be in were endless. For instance, I might have forgotten to go out with a pair of slippers, an action which would make my mom scold me for a little too long while I stood and shivered in my wet clothes. “I cho ka ife nwue?” she would ask. Every African child knows that the best response to questions of an angry African parent is silence.
Another possible trouble was the fact that I went out to play and forgot to clean the globe for the lantern. Sometimes I would try to play a fast one on everyone and clean it with some tissue or a rag instead of washing it with Omo and a condemned piece of foam. Whatever the case was, the worst thing that could happen was that I actually went out to play without turning on the lantern. Boy oh boy.
I’d think for a while whether to go in through the kitchen door or the parlor door. The kitchen door meant turning round the house in the dark and standing the chance of meeting face to face with the dogs. Also, just beneath the orange trees at the backyard were lots of algae that got slippery when it rained. However, the kitchen door was closer to my room. Sometimes I’d take all these risks involved in getting to the kitchen door and find it locked. I’d then have to go through the parlor door. (PS: at this point, it would be pitch black). I’d then try to tiptoe through the parlor, and just as I am about to make it into the dinning, my mother’s voice would penetrate the darkness with the question “onye bu onyeoni?” Who’s there? Yet, another rhetorical question, given that I was the only person foolish enough to be playing in the rain. I’d declare myself and more rhetorical questions would follow “be ka i te je?” “for how long” etc. The best question was always saved for the last — “so ne i shapu everybody in darkness jee gume egwu na mmili? Onye ka i cho ka o gbatie ukpe?” After about a minute of silence (by silence, I mean complete silence, I wouldn’t even breathe), I would creep away to go change my clothes and light the lamp. Whatever scolding I got was never commensurate to the happiness I felt from playing in the rain. And so day after day, I went back.
We would use the Kerosene lamp until it was dark enough to use the generator. Sometimes there would be no fuel in the generator because nobody remembered to say. But it was better in those days that there was no fuel in the generator, than that there was no kerosene for the lamp. In my stupidity, I always realised the no kerosene thingy after changing into warm clothes. I’d pick up the lamp with enough strength to lift a 50kg gallon and it’d be as light as a feather. I would then go to the second store in our house, praying to all the saints I believed in that there was some left in the gallon. If there was none, I’d prepare my speech which usually began with “mommy the jerrycan is empty….” IF THE JERRYCANS FOR FUEL AND KEROSENE WERE BOTH EMPTY, WHICH MEANT NO LAMP AND NO GENERATOR, EL OH EL. That’s all I can say for sure.
However on most nights everything went smoothly. I would light the lamp and inhale the brief fume it emitted. It would accompany us into the night and make way for the generator. The generator stayed on till 10pm. On good days (e.g. when the Super Eagles had a match) it stayed till 12am. The generator once more gave way to the two kerosene lanterns that we had. Both were placed strategically in the middle of our long corridor in case someone needed to pee or walk around the house at night. The fact that they were kept at the same location for so many years made it easy to sleep-walk to them and then increase the flame so you could see where ever it is you wanted to go.
I love the taps of rain on zinc. It’s the best way to get me to fall asleep. As a child I wanted this so much, that if it wasn’t raining and NEPA was merciful enough to give us light, I’d turn on the Panasonic TV in the room, put it on one of the stations that had closed for the day and listen to that shshshhshsh sound it made like it was raining.
And so, looking out of my window I felt nostalgic and slightly sad that I couldn’t run out and dance in the rain until my teeth threatened to crack against each other and my body was filled with goose-pimples.