RIPENING MANGOES 

The smell of the mango tree wafted through our house whenever the rain fell. Ours was a small
home, two bedrooms with a singular toilet and bathroom. Papa was a strong hunter and my
mother loved farming. On days when the sun shone too bright and too hot, i and my brother
nnaemeka would run off to play by the stream. Immersing ourselves into the water and moving
slowly around because we didn’t know how to swim. Barely a month from now, my brother
nnaemeka would join our father in hunting games. My mother made me learn how to make hair.
When I started, my hair dressing skills were “ihere”. Shameful. My mother would laugh
everytime I practiced on her hair but she never discouraged me. She always had kind words for
me and one day, she was no longer my only customer.
Time flies during the period you transition from an adolescent to an adult. From plucking
mangoes and weaving hair, I had matured enough to help my mother cook and go to the farm.
To hear my father joke about giving me out soon.
She tried not to bother me with farm work because by then my hairdressing had become a full
time business but I would offer to go with her. Youth was not on her side and her strength was
unlike before.
One evening, my father came back from hunting game with nnaemeka and a young man
called ifediora.He was tall, dark, well built but not big. He had this not too slender body, just in
between.He seemed to be in the same age grade as Nnaemeka, who was only two years older
than me. As papa spoke to us that evening while we sat outside on short stools, peeling coco
yam for dinner.
“Ifediora is visiting us, he is looking for a place to call home. He knows nobody here, I have
decided to take him in and help him, until he is set to leave”. My mother smiled sweetly at
ifediora and said ” welcome Nna.” Then she shot papa a brief look of worry. We knew my father
was kind so this came as no surprise, but it was a reckless decision.
Later that night, I listened from the door to my parents room how my mother gently scolded my
father and told him he had a daughter who was all grown now and he shouldn’t be making such
decisions without considering her. My father gently apologized and my mother opened her room
door.
“Nkema “ she gently called to me once she saw me, “where is the boy?” I knew she was asking
about where he was sleeping, she held two wrappers in her hands and moved immediately
when I pointed at our room. I followed closely behind her and entered the room when she did.
“Umu’m” she said in reference to three of us,
“You will have to manage the space. You are on the bare mat ifediora, use one wrapper to
cover yourself, the mosquitoes are unforgiving and the cold can be bitter. Use the the other to
make the mat bearable Nna”. He thanked her profusely and took it. She looked at all of us,
beckoned us to go to bed and left the room.
“You take the bed alone. I’ll share the floor with ifediora” my brother said moving from the bed. I
mumbled a thank you and laid down. Hoping to fall asleep fast and eager for tomorrow to come.
Ifediora grew on us all in no time. I was particularly fond of him and so was nnaemeka. He
followed him and papa to hunt on some days, on others he followed me to the farm and asked
mama to rest at home. He proved resourceful, I started thinking about him never leaving, what it
would be like to always have him around.

One sunny day after clearing weeds and planting new yams at the farm, I offered to show him
the stream since he had never beeen there. It would be a good way to cool off from that burning
sun and he agreed to accompany me. When we got there, he jumped into the water and stayed
down . I was terrified at first, but he came up, shot me a smile, laughed and swam far. He swam
well. Once I was in the water, he swam back and stayed nearby.
I scooped a handful of water to pour from my head down and shut my eyes when I felt his hands
around my waist. I opened my eyes to find ifediora staring right at me, with my eyes open, he
was looking directly into my eyes. “O’maka” he says, “so beautiful” and he leans in and kisses
me. I kiss him back, my heart feels warm and I feel my stomach squeeze so I wrap my hands
around him and hold on tight. He pulls his lips away and holds me in a tight hug and says “I’m
sorry nkema. I just , you looked so beautiful, I mean you look- I’ve been meaning to do that”. I
hug him tighter in a reaffirming way and respond “ ozugo. I liked it.” We break free from our hug
and swims a little more before we leave.
The house becomes more exciting for me, I start looking forward to activities I share with
ifediora and one day, my mother tells me to remember he hasn’t decided a place to call his
home. I reassure her that I remember that and there’s nothing more but I am lying. There is
infact more. I want more, I want to do so many things with him but I cannot say that, and so I do
not.
One evening, ifediora asks to accompany me to the stream, for an evening water run. I happily
accept. Once our home is far from sight, he asks me to hold his hand and trust him. I do. He
takes a different path from the regular stream and before long, we arrive at a small but beautiful
rocky stream. There’s an udara tree nearby, a clearing underneath and he guides me to sit
there with him. Before I sit, he holds my hand, stares at me longingly and kisses me on my
forehead. It is right there, standing underneath that tree, looking at that stream that I realize that
I have fallen deeply inlove with ifediora. We chat a little while and ifediora fetches water for the
both of us.
On our way home, I ask him how he found it and he says he didn’t. Nnaemeka did. I’m thankful
he brought me there and I tell him.
The rains come almost as soon as they stopped. Papa tells us that he has to travel to get new
season potatoes and other roots so mama can plant in her farm. He says this will be a different
type of potato, a less sweeter one that he wants us to have. He leaves the next day after putting
nnaemeka and ifediora in charge of hunting and I and mama in charge of taking care of
everyone. It is his way of bringing us all together, everyone playing their part even though we
already do this and we know.
With papa gone, I start seeing less of ifediora and he comes back tired at night, with little to no
time to chat.
On one of these days, mama goes visiting her friends daughter who has just put to birth and
ifediora comes back early from the hunt with nnaemeka.
He seems aggravated and let’s a low grunt when I geeet him. I put food for both of them in a
plate and go to give them because I assume they must be tired and hungry but I stop once I
open the door, the bowl falls from my hand and I don’t realize when a tear runs down my cheek.
I have just seen the man I love, kissing my brother on my bed.
I wipe my tears almost immediately and apologize for just barging in, I know I should have
announced my entrance . It was an established rule for all of us. I pick up the bowl and pack the

yam sprawled on the floor as quickly as I can. I run out when I’m through and nnaemeka follows
me.
“Pleaseeeeee nkem, you can’t tell them” he says, she’s full of tears. This is the first time I’ve
seen my brother vulnerable, seem weak. By them, I know he means our parents and so I smile
and hold his hands. “Why would I?. I’m only curious “ I respond.
“I know you are.” He says “I can’t explain it, I wish I could. I- I’m sorry nkem. It can never be.
What you witnessed was only a moment of weakness, it would never repeat itself.” He hugs me
tightly, “thank you nkema” he stands up and leaves. I take a stool and go to sit under the mango
tree. Ifediora comes out to sit with me as well. He calls me, but I act like I do not hear him. “Are
you sick at what you’ve seen?” He asks me, I stare at him for a while before I respond. “No.
Only hurt. I was beginning to fall inlove with you.” I wipe the tears that have found their way
down my eyes and stand up to go inside. That night, I sleep in my parents room.
I am woken by the loud scream of my mother from outside and when I rush out,  I see my brother hanging from our mango tree.

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