-Written by Iniobong Leroi Umoh
The house is located at the edge of the village. It is a mud house, a rectangular structure with a thatched roof. The house has five rooms.
The central room is the living room. The room is simple and almost bare. It houses a wooden table and four cane chairs, a church calendar hangs on the wall alongside a wall clock whose hands have stopped moving for ages.
A stack of old newspapers stained by dirt from the earthen floor is heaped at a corner of the room. An old Tv set sits on a wooden stool directly opposite the door. A window curtain that has seen many years hangs by the sole window opening in the room. The atmosphere of the house is that of neglect and ruin.
A stranger visiting the village for the first time would spy the house from a distance and conclude that it is deserted and no soul lives there. But if he ventures inside the house and moves to the backyard he would see a middle aged lady and two teenagers lost in their own world.
“Some broken hearts live in that house” is the popular phrase the people of the village use when the train of discussion moves briefly to the house. The stranger would be curious and would like to know why the house is described in that cryptic manner. He would ask questions but he would not get answers from anyone. They would shake their heads sorrowfully and snap their fingers. The stranger would beg to be let on the secret. He would take a walk to the house to hear from the horse’s mouth.
He would clap his hands to draw attention from the occupants of the building. He would utter the phrase that he had been told in the native dialect,
“Kpam kpam! Owo mi! Anie owo iba?”
(Hello, is there anybody here? Who is in?)
He would not hear a sound. His curiosity would increase. He would push the door and walk in to meet an empty room. As he stands and debates on what next to do, he will hear a sound of weird laughter coming from the interior of the house. The stranger would be frightened and would begin to beat a hasty retreat. But before he walks out, a woman will run into the room and pull him to herself in a tight embrace. She would scream,
“Ayong adi oooo!”
(He has come back o)
But then she will give him a prolonged stare and scream,
“Idoho enye ooo”
(He is not the one o)
She will release him and walk inside while weeping.
The stranger would flee the house, convinced that he had entered a mad house. He would relay the encounter to everyone he meets on the way because he is desperately trying to make sense of the encounter. One of the villagers would invite him to the palm wine bar and ask him to buy some palm wine to be told the intriguing story. The stranger would pay for the palm wine and the villager would drink with relish. He would clear his throat and move closer to the stranger and tell him the story in a low voice.
“That house you went to is the house where some broken hearts live. Mr Etim lived in the house with his family in this village. He was the bread winner of the home. He lived with his wife and four children and his mother and two sisters. They were very poor and barely managed to get by every day. However Mr Etim was an ambitious man, he didn’t like the poverty state he was in. So one day he announced that he was relocating to Lagos for greener pastures. He had sold everything of value he had to raise money for the trip. Mr Etim assured his family that he would never forget them, he told them that he would be back in a year’s time and that he would bring them money that will change their lives. With tear filled eyes, they prayed for him and said goodbye.
That was the last time anybody saw him. His family waited for five years without a word from their son, husband, and brother. We in this village argued that he could be dead because there is nothing that would make a man forget his own family just like that. His mother consulted the village oracle and the priest said that he was alive in Lagos and was doing well.
Meanwhile, his family was in severe hardship, one of his daughters had fallen sick and died.
When we heard the news that Etim is still alive, the village decided to send someone to Lagos to track him and to inform him about the plight of his family.
I don’t know how he managed to find him in Lagos but I think he took Etim’s picture along with him. He came back and informed us.
According to him, Mr Etim is now a wealthy man and has gotten married to a young beautiful girl from Lagos. He has totally forgotten about his family. He has forgotten about his promise to them. He refused to even send money to his family through the messenger. He said he has a new family now and is no longer a citizen of the village. He said that they are the ones who made him poor.
The messenger came back and relayed the message to the village council and to Mr Etim’s family, and they were all heartbroken. This was 7 years ago.
His wife couldn’t endure the pain anymore, she died a year after. His sisters left the village and no one knows where they are now.
Tell me, what could make a man abandon his family, his mother, his wife, and even his children? It can’t be ordinary but the messenger had told us that Mr Etim was in his right senses when he met him.
His mother now has a mental disorder, she believes he will come back home one day. His two surviving children are now destitute. Many people in this village believe that the family has been cursed. That is why no one associates with them. So, my friend, this is the sad story of the broken hearts who live in that house.”
The stranger would break down in tears. He would walk back to the house and leave some money on the table. He would leave the village with a sorrowful heart. He would write a story about some broken hearts who live in the mud house at the edge of the village.