BN Prose: Olembe’s Last Christmas by Gbenga Awomodu

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On that night of April 1997, rain pelted the corrugated roofing sheet like the frenzied drumbeats of village drummers who entertained guests at the coronation of a new king. As the thunder clasped far above the sky, setting out as a distant guffaw, but ending in a deafening nearby blast, the first of the dozen eggs cracked under intense heat and Mother Hen’s light weight. For twenty-one days, she had only come out of the coop from her back-corner lodge two times every day; in the early hours of the day before most people could observe how emaciated she had become, and in the cool of the evening, just before sunset, when the playful kids had gone on errands for their parents. Occasionally, she came out an additional time at noon when the same kids had gone to school and the adults were busy at work.

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The kids would not let her rest – from the time she laid her first of the clutch, they would quietly follow her and peep through the wire gauze at the front of the cage – it stood four feet above ground with two layers, the upper one divided into three compartments while the lower was left undivided. The upper compartments served as brooding area and were lavishly bedded with shavings and had a central heating lamp, food and water. Mother Hen had created her brooding area in the back corner of the rightmost upper compartment. The kids wanted to know everything and would giggle as the brown egg hit the cushioned floor. Then, her body would begin to vibrate as she cackled; she would raise her neck as the hackles shook in tandem; she would constantly adjust her head as if to show a sense of vigilance. As soon as she took a few steps towards the entrance of her compartment, the little spies withdrew their peeping heads and excused themselves. She would then make haste and fly triumphantly above the wall of the compound onto the street. The wall stood about five feet tall.

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