Short Stories

Lost in the Ice

Lost in the Ice

“Every where is white!”

“Every where is white!”

Her gaze fixed on the wide open door, Oluebube refused to move. She must not step on that white stuff, she seemed to say to herself.

In the same manner, she had perceived the darkness that had enveloped her surroundings in November. She had woken up one dimly lit morning to see that it was still very dark, as though it were night. Yet she was certain this was not one of her late night awakenings. She went to the window and peeped through the curtains and, to her utter dismay, saw more darkness.

“’Everywhere is dark, very dark!” she had exclaimed, again in her usual childlike tone, with a little frown on her young forehead.

She ran back to bed, sat and stared bleakly through the window. She began to cry, waking her little sister, who soon joined in the outburst.

“Shhh, don’t make a noise, people are sleeping,” cautioned her mother, Ifeoma, and went on to list the names of all those she thought must be in bed at that time (since it was still dark), people she had met at church and at the day-care club.

Ifeoma’s efforts to comfort her daughter were almost futile; she succeeded in getting her to watch a cartoon on the shiny new smartphone for only a few minutes before her attention went back to the darkened room and then to the outside. Every plea to step outside fell on deaf ears. Oluebube held on to the door handle and even prevented anyone from going out, as though she shielded them from stepping onto danger.

Oluebube finally had to be carried to the waiting pram already cold from the snow. She didn’t want to spend the whole afternoon pleading with her daughter as there was still housework to be done before Chidi returned from work. He would be upset if there was no food on the table after a long day at the office. The apartment must be thoroughly cleaned, with not so much as an iota of sand or left-over food visible. If she didn’t want his criticism and endless nagging, then his bidding must be done to the letter.

Ifeoma was still recovering from their last row. He might have beaten her had she not threatened to call the police when he raised his trembling hands to her face. He knew wife battering is a serious crime in western countries, not least in Finland, that might land him behind bars or with an outrageous fine he would be unable to pay. Very different from his home country, where Chidi had never seen a man convicted for beating his wife or children, despite several obvious instances and women going about bearing the visible signs.

Ifeoma must strive to avoid such quarrels from disturbing the peace. She was still the woman of the house notwithstanding the ideas of gender equality and shared responsibility prevailing in their new environment. They were still an African family in which wifely submissiveness was a moral obligation. How could she be like those wives who bite the hand that feeds them just because they are in Europe? She should be grateful that Chidi brought them to Finland with him. A good number of men in his shoes make countless excuses why their family should stay behind. For once, she counted herself fortunate to be in Finland.

Oluebube could still not understand what had happened to the ground. Had she not gone shopping with her mother the day before and everywhere had seemed normal? Even as Mummy struggled to push the heavy stroller through the slippery snow, she could not help but stare at the unusual white stuff around her. She had been getting used to the fact that her favourite vadelma (raspberries) that Mummy used to put into her tiny hands to eat while taking a walk had disappeared – the snow now covered everywhere, including the leafless vadelma bush.

“No more vadelma, it is finished, loppu!”

She noticed that it was gradually getting cold and then colder. She could no longer play outside without a warm jacket and gloves. At first, she had to be persuaded to wear warm clothes while outside but recently she pleaded with whoever was close by to give them to her from the hanger. She would exclaim, “oyi na atu, tum tum, it’s cold, very cold”, in the same manner as adults she had overheard.

She had observed the changes silently and reluctantly, unable to do anything about them. And yet, the snow covering everything was unacceptable. She must not allow it to happen she seemed to say, by refusing to step on it.

Not that she had known a different climate in her few years on earth. She had seen herself sit, walk and speak the few words she had learned – in three different languages – in this same environment, it is just that she doesn’t remember any of the events from the past.

But now, she can see the snow! Everywhere is white, and she doesn’t like that. As though it is the first snow she has ever seen.

How could she ever forget the very first day she stepped onto Finnish soil (snow)? Alas, she was too naïve to notice anything other than her mother, who doubled as her food and heater. But how could she even think of failing to remember the fateful, darkened afternoon when she almost froze to death despite been wrapped in Mummy’s bosom? Even Mummy shivered in the freezing cold and all the clothes she wrapped her with could not save the situation.

Ifeoma was wearing a dress that still carried the label, Nigerian Wax, on the sleeve. It had been hurriedly sewn by the young apprentice tailor at Ogige market for the very occasion of her departure for Finland. With sketchy information about the prospective new environment, she was determined to make a good impression on the would-be hosts. All efforts to get her to wear the new dress to a church service or an important occasion failed; she insisted on “launching” it on her first travel abroad.

Gnashing her teeth in the chilling cold, she muttered what was certain the baby didn’t understand. The newborn reacted only by blinking her eyelids, which she quickly closed again as snowflakes tried to make their way into her eyes. Even when she felt like crying, because of hunger and cold, she found that her lips were too frozen to weep. She was woken by her mother’s continuous movement, as Ifeoma constantly changed her position to ease the discomfort caused by the baby’s weight..

The mountains of snow on the ground and the heavy snow flakes falling from the sky, as Ifeoma came out of the airport, must not overwhelm her, she promised herself. She had passed the proverbial seven rivers and seven seas to reach her destination, and succumbing to the unexpected weather would be an act of cowardice. She paused to rest from both the chilling cold and the weight on her shoulders and one particular flake which seemed to target her fell on the brand new “Ghana-weaving”, her specially plaited hair, which had incurred Chidi’s disapproval.

Locating the guest house where they were to stay until they found an apartment of their own seemed to be a herculean task. After travelling for over an hour around the city in search of the particular house, the taxi driver, afraid that they might not be able to foot the ever increasing bill, screeched to a halt and removed their luggage from the boot, so overloaded that it had had to remain open. He said he had done more than could be expected in a bid to help, by carrying so much in a single taxi when a larger vehicle was needed.

He printed their receipt and told them the amount in an unrecognisable accent. Speechlessly, Chidi searched his pockets for the exact amount while the driver pretended to look away. He was about to hand over the cash but hesitated, took a second look at the paper note and then at the waiting hands. The older man’s face was expressionless and he neither smiled nor frowned but waited patiently for Chidi to make up his mind, as though there were any other option.

When the man finally received his money, he zoomed off in a manner that suggested he had wasted more time than necessary on them.

Chidi stared at the disappearing vehicle until it was covered by the thick winter clouds and he could see it no more, then he went back to the spot where his wife and child stood, in the open cold.