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Chinelo Achebe Ejueyitche

Chinelo Achebe-Ejueyitche

Achebe-Ejueyitche teaches and writes in New York State, where she lives with her family. Daughter of Chinua Achebe, the famous Nigerian novelist, she has also worked in publishing. Her first book, The Last Laugh and Other Stories, was published by Heinemann in 1992.



 The Jacaranda Tree

It was hot. And like pieces of yam roasting over slowly smoldering coals, people cooked in the unrelenting heat, fleeing into their homes when they could no longer bear it. Hoes lay forgotten on farms, foodstuff covered and abandoned in the marketplace. Lethargy settled over the tiny village; only the buzzing of insects and an infrequent pestle pounding a late meal could be heard in the stifling silence.

In a small bungalow, a mother and her three young children tried their best to ward off the heat while an ancient fan creaked ineffectually from the ceiling. The children fidgeted; just before dawn, they had been woken from an uneasy sleep by the sound of low flying planes and sporadic gunfire. It was quiet now, but the heat kept them on edge.

The youngest child played on a raffia mat piling wooden blocks on top of the other. From time to time, he would swipe at them, uttering a shriek of delight as they tumbled to the floor. But tiring of the monotonous game, he was soon diverted by the sight of his older siblings in a kicking match.

Their mother raised her head with an effort. “Alright, you two, that’s enough…”

She sat at the dining table, fanning her face with a small handkerchief, and then, sighing, turned to stare out the window beside her. Shading her eyes against the sun, she peered into the distance; there appeared a faint rippling of the leaves of the Jacaranda tree in front of the house. There it was, again; a barely discernible draft. She listened intently. Around her, it was still and quiet.

“I think you can go outside now,” she said hesitantly, and then nodded. “Take the baby with you; it might be cooler under the tree.”

The girl sat up eagerly, and prodded her younger brother in the ribs; but he had fallen asleep out of boredom, his little chest gently rising and falling with each breath. Scrambling to her feet, she went to the baby and picked him up, chuckling at his instantly upraised arms and expectant gurgles. She hoisted the child unto her waist, staggering slightly under his weight, and then with the sideways gait of a crab, made her way slowly and carefully to the Jacaranda tree in front of the house.


The helicopter flew east, and then turning on an arc, headed westward to circle the village. Its pilot noted a few domestic animals roaming the fields or that were tied up in yards; but there was no sign of human presence. He sighted several long bungalows that, no doubt, housed extended families. But there was the feeling, somehow, that some supernatural force had swept through the village snatching away souls as they performed everyday acts.

But the pilot knew the village was not deserted. Just before dawn, he had trailed a company of military planes on exercise, startling a group of early-birds on their way to farms or the makeshift market. It was cool, even chilly, up in the skies; but below him, the steamed air rippled. People would be in their homes seeking relief from the sweltering sun. He would fly over the village one more time, he thought to himself, and then banked left.

A young soldier, barely a man, sat directly behind the pilot; slouched forward, his head bumped repeatedly against the seat before him. Lulled into sleep by the morning sun and thin atmosphere, his mouth had dropped open, a bit of drool collecting on his chin. But his hold never slackened on the rifle on his lap. The pilot had made several attempts at conversation, but encountering silence, had retreated into his thoughts.

The pilot was searching for the infamous Ulli airport. Military Intelligence had situated it in the area over which the helicopter was flying, only not its precise location. A regular road, it had been broadened to handle the take off and landing of aircraft. But during the day, the enemy covered the strip with branches so that from the air it resembled a tree lined avenue impossible to distinguish from other roads.

Frustrated, the pilot thought of heading back to the camp, but he did not like the idea of defeat. Growling at the soldier behind him to ‘wake up, and be sharp,’ he began a slow descent over the unfamiliar terrain, oblivious of the breath taking scenery below. The thick brush obscured his vision; but now and again, a neatly tended farm or abandoned school would suddenly materialize, forcing him to acknowledge that human beings like him inhabited the spaces below.

Suddenly, he saw a clearing in the distance. Three zinc-roofed houses with a few grazing animals quickly came into view. Imagining some movement under a tree right in the middle of the compound, the pilot flew lower; sure enough, there was a young girl and a baby in napkins playing under the tree. The pilot called out to the soldier in hushed tones, but his companion simply stirred and slept on. In one of the houses, a face appeared at a window, and then, aghast, quickly vanished.

“Wake up, my man!” the pilot called out more urgently, dipping the helicopter even lower.


Like everyone else in the village, the young girl could identify the drone of an aircraft long before its appearance in the sky. There were several underground bunkers in a nearby copse dug by the villagers for refuge during air raids, and she knew to head for the trees at the sound of a plane. But finding a plastic plate half buried in the grass, she put her baby brother down under the tree, and was transformed into a mother preparing the afternoon meal.

So intent was she in her play that the young girl did not at first hear the helicopter flying steadily toward the compound. But, suddenly, there it was; hovering low, so low, that when she looked up, she could clearly make out the shape of a man staring down at her. Her heart swelled, and then jumped into her throat. And with a cry, she ran, colliding with her mother who had rushed out of the house, and was screaming questions that disappeared into the air. Straining against the drone of the helicopter, the young girl listened, and then froze. Her baby brother...

Whirling round with the shock of comprehension, she watched her mother stagger toward the Jacaranda tree, her mother’s movement magnified in her heightened senses. Suddenly galvanized into action, the girl raced into the house where her other brother lay sleeping, and frantically shook him awake. He woke up on cue and stood up, sleepily rubbing his eyes. She pushed him into their parents’ room, under their King sized bed, and then hurried back out to the verandah, petrified, yet fascinated by the enemy aircraft hovering over her mother and baby brother.


Seeing his mother race toward him, the baby had crawled out from under the Jacaranda tree; he stood up unsteadily, arms stretched out to her, then fell back again on his padded bottom. An eagle in flight, his mother swooped down and crushed him to her body, finally glancing up to stare into the expressionless face of the enemy. She walked back to the house with a quick pace, the fourth stanza of Psalm 23 a mantra in her head. Above her, the helicopter dipped and swayed, its heavy drone combating the afternoon calm.

At last, mother and child reached the house. Over the Jacaranda tree, the aircraft drifted, and then slowly lifted up into the sky. On the verandah now, the woman looked up, bemused, and then quickly urged her eldest child into the house. She crawled under the bed, huddled with her children, her limbs trembling with life of their own.

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