Nwoye cried the night they took Ikemefuna. Despite that he knew his father would be very displeased if he found him, Nwoye could not stand the aching deep in his heart. It was a dark and haunting premonition that guided his tears and he could not shake it no matter how much he tried. He told himself that he was a man and that men did not cry. Only babies and women cried. But his heart ached too badly, the way a burn aches and stings through the night, depriving the sufferer of sleep.
When the men came and talked to Okonkwo in low voices, Nwoye and Ikemefuna hid in the shrubbery behind Okonkwo’s Obi and listened. They could not understand what they were saying for they spoke too softly, but the tone of their conversation was grim and a look at Ikemefuna face told Nwoye that all was not well.
“What is it? Can you hear what they say?”
“No,” Ikemefuna said quietly. “But my heart tells me that something is afoot. The last time something like this happened I was brought here from my home village.”
Nwoye sucked in a breath and strained his ears to hear, but it was futile. The daylight was still bright but the sun was slipping toward the horizon and the shadows in the compound lengthened. The approaching night made Nwoye even more uncertain and even more fearful of what was to come. Nwoye tried to keep a calm face and be strong like his father but he could never manage his father’s iciness.
Ikemefuna, sensing Nwoye’s distress, put an arm around the younger boy’s shoulders and drew him close. “Come to our mother’s hut. She has left for now and we will be alone. We will sit by the fire and talk as though nothing is wrong for we cannot know for certain that it is.”
Nwoye nodded and followed Ikemefuna into the hut. He felt safer and reassured with the other boy’s arm around him and he trusted Ikemefuna’s judgment. They sat together but could not bring themselves to talk. The silence hung heavily other them. Then Okonkwo came and told Ikemefuna he was going home later that night and to be ready to leave soon.
Once his father left, Nwoye scooted closer to Ikemefuna his eyes downcast. “Do you wish to go home?” Nwoye asked.
“I do not wish to leave you,” Ikemefuna replied. “We have become brothers and that will stay with me as long as I live.”
Nwoye nodded and stared into the fire. He remembered the night they had snuck out of the compound together and, under the protection of thicker foliage than what the compound offered, Ikemefuna taught him how to be a man. They had lain together and Ikemefuna told Nwoye that one day he would lie so with a woman and assert his own manliness. Nwoye believed him but he had not cared in that moment. He had felt free that night and when he thought of it then, sitting by the fire with Ikemefuna, he thought that they may have become more than brothers. If asked, Nwoye could not answer what this “more” was, but he did not need to. All that mattered was that it existed and he knew it existed. After that night, they had lain together twice more and Nwoye enjoyed it more every time. It did not seem humiliating to him, nor did it seem unnatural. Ikemefuna’s touch always reassured him and Nwoye felt like what they did together on those nights was more true to their souls than anything else they could or would ever do.
Nwoye slipped his hand into Ikemefuna’s and they sat holding hands until their mother came back and they ate. Then, the men came and took Ikemefuna away. Okonkwo went with them. Ikemefuna turned and waved at Okonkwo’s household who had all come out to see him off, but he looked straight at Nwoye and at him alone. Their eyes met and to Nwoye it seemed as if Ikemefuna was reaching deep into his soul and taking a part of him away for the long journey ahead. And Nwoye offered and gave it away willingly. Better to give away a part of one’s heart than have it torn off.
After Ikemefuna and the men disappeared beyond a curve in the road, Nwoye went back to his mother’s hut and cried. He could not shake the misery or the premonition that he could never see Ikemefuna again because he was not going home. When his father found him, he beat Nwoye, cursing him and calling him a woman because a man never cried, never was weak and certainly never showed weakness. Usually, Nwoye dreaded beatings from his father, but that night he barely felt the blows. The aching of his soul hurt more.