Half of a Yellow Sun
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Copyright © 2006
My grandfathers, whom I never knew,
Nwoye David Adichie and Aro-Nweke Felix Odigwe,
Did not survive the war.
My grandmothers, Nwabuodu Regina Odigwe and Nwamgbafor Agnes Adichie, remarkable women both, did.
This book is dedicated to their memories: ka fa nodu na ndokwa.
And to Mellitus, wherever he may be.
Today I see it still –
Dry, wire-thin in sun and dust of the dry months –
Headstone on tiny debris of passionate courage.
– Chinua Achebe,
From “Mango Seedling” in Christinas in Biafra and Other Poems
The Early Sixties
Master was a little crazy; he had spent too many years reading books overseas, talked to himself in his office, did not always return greetings, and had too much hair. Ugwu’s aunty said this in a low voice
as they walked on the path. “But he is a good man,” she added. ‘And as long as you work well, you will eat well. You will even eat meat every day.” She stopped to spit; the saliva left her mouth with a sucking sound and landed on the grass.
Ugwu did not believe that anybody not even this master he was going to live with, ate meat every day. He did not disagree with his aunty, though, because he was too choked with expectation, too busy imagining his new life away from the village. They had been walking for a while now, since they got off the lorry at the motor park, and the afternoon sun burned the back of his neck. But he did not mind. He was prepared to walk hours more in even hotter sun. He had never seen anything like the streets that appeared after they went past the university gates, streets so smooth and tarred that he itched to lay his cheek down on them. He would never be able to describe to his sister Anulika how the bungalows here were painted the color of the sky and sat side by side like polite well-dressed men, how the hedges separating them were trimmed so flat on top that they looked like tables wrapped with leaves.
His aunty walked faster, her slippers making slap-slap sounds that echoed in the silent street. Ugwu wondered if she, too, could feel the coal tar getting hotter underneath, through her thin soles. They went past a sign, odim street, and Ugwu mouthed street, as he did whenever he saw an English word that was not too long. He smelled something sweet, heady, as they walked into a compound, and was sure it came from the white flowers clustered on the bushes at the
Entrance. The bushes were shaped like slender hills. The lawn glistened. Butterflies hovered above.
“I told Master you will learn everything fast, osiso-osiso” his aunty said. Ugwu nodded attentively although she had already told him this many times, as often as she told him the story of how his good fortune came about: While she was sweeping the corridor in the mathematics department a week ago, she heard Master say that he needed a houseboy to do his cleaning, and she immediately said she could help, speaking before his typist or office messenger could offer to bring someone.
“I will learn fast, Aunty,” Ugwu said. He was staring at the car in the garage; a strip of metal ran around its blue body like a necklace.
“Remember, what you will answer whenever he calls you is Yes, sah!”
“Yes, sah!” Ugwu repeated.
They were standing before the glass door. Ugwu held back from reaching out to touch the cement wall, to see how different it would feel from the mud walls of his mother’s hut that still bore the faint patterns of molding fingers.