Papa has always referred to Ikenna as “that small boy”. I would hear the phrase repeated over and over in their evening congregations over fat bottles of beer. They would talk about Ikenna’s new found wealth and lack of respect for elders until their money runs out and no one else calls me to get them beer or cigarettes. They would talk deep into the evening, falling back to kolanuts for respite from their now empty pockets. Then they would disperse each to his own house, with papa coming back to rouse a sleepy house with his shouts for food. It’s not Ikenna’s wealth or lack of courtesy that makes him curious from my perspective, it’s the shape and size of his head, the basic thing my mind runs to whenever I use mama’s grinding stone. It is always funny watching him throw his head back and forth in his emphatic mannerisms, gesticulating here and there about how much transformation he was going to bring about in our town if we vote for him.
The tension in the air is palpable. The continuous meetings at the town’s square were pointers – pointers to the D-day. Day in and out, the air is charged with two distinct levels of transformation. Just last week, Nwanna stood at the pavilion confident and convincing, his ego boiling at every roar. His cheering bare-chested acolytes rotated brown singlets in the air like those soccer crazed fans at the Olympics. I had followed mama there in anticipation of whatever led her there. Mama has no interest in politics like the other women. She was there with her big bowl to grab whatever blessing the speaker today had to offer. The speaker kept talking for 30 more minutes eliciting chats and commendations from his audience. But at the end of his speech when he strolled down pointing at a bag of rice to be shared among the women, our anticipation waned. And we walked out of the hall with our nothing in our mouths but our tongues. Ikenna had come before him, he didn’t speak for long but he left 30 bags of rice for our mothers. The youths who went with him got fat pockets in return. Papa wouldn’t eat the rice when he learnt who gave it. He shouted and cursed till almost midnight until sleep stole me away. I heard the soft clanging of the pot’s cover in the wee hours of the morning which was probably Paul my brother stealing meat again but I was too sleepy to find out.
I was at the back of the house touching Nene, my friend next door, my fingers trembling at the pleasures offered by her fast maturing body when I hear papa call me from the front of the house. I abandon my present trip with a clumsy goodbye to meet papa and his friends in a very hearty mood. He sends me to get them cigarettes from Nne Ogbonna’s shop and they continue their merriment when I leave, each taking their turn at the pot of palm wine before them. He came in early that evening and didn’t quarrel with mama. I could hear them talking and laughing into the night until I slept. It was in the morning, from my mother and Mama Nene’s gossip I heard what happened. The rumour was thick about the way Ikenna made his money through diabolical means. The whole town was agog with the rumour. We would have nothing to do with a wicked person. By afternoon that day, it had thickened and people now sold tales of how he had killed his father for wealth. The youths got angry; we were ready to devour him! We would tear him in pieces when he ventures into our town again. It was certain no one would vote for him. His fate was sealed. That was four days ago. It is barely eighteen hours to the time no form of campaign would be allowed, a few hours to the d-day.
Nwanna makes his last stand in the square. He pleads with us to make him our representative. He begs us to accept the two bags of salt he brought as ‘kola’. He continues talking in his usual fashion, spewing quotes from Einstein and Rene decartes. We do not understand the names he calls, or the things they say but we would most certainly vote for him. He was our only hope. Just when he was about to finish, shouts at the tail end of our gathering rouses everyone’s curiosity. We make way as a big Range Rover jeep drives into our midst. A misshaped head with an uncanny semblance with mama’s grinding stone emerges from the top of the car. We do not cheer. We simply stand and regard him. Our mind was made. But Ikenna does something we didn’t anticipate. He brings his hand from within his agbada and throws a stream of naira notes in the air. Before our minds could react, our bodies dived for it, scrambling to get our pockets full of the stream. He continues with it as the pickup van behind him with musical instruments drives past the square towards his house. Soon after, the range rover follows it with the entire content of the square at its wheels. We start chanting his name and praises, with the blessings and love of our ancestors.
Soon, the square is quite empty as Nwanna looks forlorn at the departing crusade. This is the last chance he has before the election proper. He sees distant images of notes floating in the air like confetti . . . and shouts at the departing throng “chickens! Go and sell your rights again! Chickens!!” I continue picking the scattered notes the throng missed with other children. We laugh at him, we show him no pity. He forgets we have been chickens right from time morphed into poultry by hardship and betrayal, into accepting the little we get now and deal with their apathy to our plight later when they become our representatives. I raise my eyes and see the throng at different parts of the road, picking notes, heading slowly for Ikenna’s compound. I and the children pick up the last notes at the square and we run towards the compound grinning wildly. Like the elders say, the best way to send chickens to their roosts is to make a trail of crumbs.