“Have you heard?”
“Heard what again, Nne Ada?” Mama Amaka asked, rolling her eyes as the famous village gossip of the Umuobi community returned. She was popularly known as ‘radio without battery.’ She carried all kinds of news. It was surprising to many in Umuobi how she got her information.
“Wait, Mama Amaka, this is serious news—good news even”. This time, Mama Amaka adjusted the stool she was sitting on and offered Nne Ada a stool.
Unlike other communities in Anambra State, this community was the least developed. The climate in the village made even something as simple and familiar as farming almost impossible. Since the town was located on the outskirts of the state, close to a border, the government paid little attention to it, so most people lived in mud houses with thatched roofs, and Mama Amaka was no exception.
“Chima is back,” she said in a hushed tone.
“Chima… you mean the son of Chukwudi, the boy that went to the university?”
“Yes, that Chima. You know, I thought he would come back with a car and return as a big boy, being the first person from Umuobi to go to the university, but it was Mr Okoro’s tricycle that dropped him; I couldn’t be more disappointed.”
“Clean your mouth, Nne Ada, at least he went to school, and he is a graduate; where is your son today, and what has he accomplished?” Mama Amaka asked in disgust, immediately regretting entertaining her.
“Please don’t insult me,” Nne Ada said, standing up angrily.
“It is because I came to your house to collect Oha leaves.”
“Nne Ada I’m sorry, I didn’t mean it that way.” Mama Amaka immediately apologized, but it was already too late. She was too angry to turn back now. Won’t you at least collect the Oha that made you come?
At Mr. Chukwudi’s household, it was all joy and laughter. His mother couldn’t have been prouder. Her son was the first person to attend a university in Umuobi.
She was crying and rolling on the floor the day he arrived. However, a week later, the song changed. Chima was unemployed. Although he had valid plans to return to the city to look for a job.
But a degree in geology in Nigeria only got you jobs unrelated to your field; perhaps he could apply for a bank job in Awka even though he hated it with a passion, he thought as he sat inside the house listening to his mother, who was about to nag him to death about making it big in life so her female counterparts wouldn’t laugh at her.
“Mama, I have told you, I’ll leave month end as soon as I’m done with what I am doing in this village.”
“What could you possibly be doing in this village?” she asked angrily
That was a question Mama Chima wasn’t ready to hear the answers to, which was why Chima decided to keep it a secret.
But a secret in Umuobi would have been possible had Nne Ada not existed in the community.
Chima had been investigating the unknown and moving into the forbidden regions of the community.
Umuobi was a dry, almost desert land that lacked many water sources. Hence, they would jump at any chance of having a water source. But Umuobi had markedly superstitious beliefs; at least, that was what Chima now believed. It had many names: evil well, forbidden well, and so on.
It felt like each quarter of the community had a name for the well. Still, the general idea was that the well was a ‘no-go area.’ It was believed those who attempted to fetch water from the well were mystically consumed by it because, when you passed close to it, you could hear wailing sounds.
Hence, the King and his cabinet members marked it as a danger zone. They even made sacrifices to the well with reverence for it, with the thoughts of the well bringing good fortune. But it never did; they were still as poor as ever, a struggling community with a wailing well.
Chima’s newfound knowledge about the earth’s geography and the country’s topography had led him to think something different about a well he was warned about when he was younger, and after 5 days of visiting the well and its environs, he was convinced there was another explanation to why the well wailed. Something completely different from what he was raised to believe, but more than his convictions, he knew his parents must not find out otherwise that was an impending World War III for him.
After a typical back-and-forth argument with his mother that Tuesday morning, he heard a distant sound that felt like troops ready to go to war. There were cries from the women, and the children carried sticks while the men followed. It was a complete mob attack.
At first, Mama Chima felt the King wanted her son’s audience, perhaps to reward him and commend him for being the first in the community to get a higher education. But she couldn’t be more wrong.
As the crowd approached, she realized it wasn’t a visit of peace. The King’s guards were present but not with praises.
“Where is your Son?” One of the palace guards asked angrily.
“My son, which of my sons?” she asked, not understanding why the King would send the palace guards to arrest her son, who was the pride of Umuobi.
“Madam, we aren’t here to joke around; everyone in this community knows you have only one son; release him; the Igwe wants to see him,” the second guard angrily replied.
“What has he done?” Mama Chima asked, this time almost in tears.
“Your son has been poking around the forbidden well; he wants to curse this community, aren’t our lives already too difficult?” Nne Ada asked, the radio without battery, who had seen him and reported the matter to the King.
Chima walked out of the house, confused, but had a rough idea of why they were there.
Immediately they saw him, there was a loud murmur with his mother sitting on the floor and grabbing the fine sand on the floor, shouting.
“Chima, you have killed me; how can you disgrace this household after all your father and I did for you to go to school? Is this how you repay us, Chima?”
His father looked at him, visibly disappointed, but didn’t say a word as they made their way to the palace.
Chima prostrated and greeted the King according to their local custom. Still, the King and the cabinet members sat down angry.
After a minute of staring daggers at him, the King spoke up.
“Young man, when I heard you had come back from the city and gotten a university education, I was happy and felt It was progress towards the positive for the community. But words on the street is you are vehemently trying to make things more difficult for us by your recent activities in the forbidden well, what exactly do you want?” The King asked, raising his voice while his kinsmen nodded affirmatively.
“Igweee,” Chima hailed, pausing for a while and then continued.
“It is true the wailing well has been reverenced for years long before any of us here was born, but after obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Geology, I now have a valid explanation for the wailing well and have discovered the well isn’t mystical but scientific. My King, I have discovered a tunnel connecting to the well that amplifies the sounds echoed by the well. With more people accompanying me to explore this site, this could be good news for the community. I mean an additional water source, and who knows if these tunnels could hold minerals that could enrich the community.” he said confidently but a bit scared.
As soon as they heard all he said, the lines of anger on their faces quelled, and the King turned to his cabinet members. After some minutes of whispering, he called the chief of the palace guards to take two others along with Chima to explore the tunnel he talked about.
Chima could see the hesitation in their faces and stances, but it was the King’s order. They had no choice. When they got to the wailing well, Chima led the mini troop into the tunnel; as they got close to the well, the wailing sounds became louder, and Chima had to constantly reassure them that there was a scientific explanation.
“Don’t worry, my brother, it is our presence that is amplifying the sound you hear.” He said, making them feel a little bit at ease.
As soon as they got to the tunnel, Chima noticed something unbelievable. The tunnel was laced with gold, and a second tunnel was laced with Iron Ore.
After confirming this, he happily returned to the King and told him.
“Umuobi is now a wealthy community. We have gold and iron ore.” He said with a wide grin on his face. This was the change and impact he wanted for his community. This was why he came back, and to him, it was answered prayers.
The King and the rest of the cabinet members quickly followed him in disbelief.
For the next week, Chima Chukwudi was the name on everybody’s lips, not just the Umuobi community, whom the government had now shifted attention to and was making plans to offer scholarships and give the community the basic amenities they needed, but everyone in the country.
“I couldn’t be prouder of you, my son,” his father said, almost in tears, as they moved to a better house in the city.
The state governor had offered Chima a political post to represent his community, and Chima became a model for all the children in the community.
The Wailing Well, once feared and shunned, had become a symbol of hope and prosperity, thanks to the determined efforts of Chima and the newfound understanding of its mysterious nature.
The town learned that sometimes, what appears to be a curse may hide untapped potential. With a curious spirit and a willingness to explore the unknown, they could turn adversity into opportunity.