29th January 2002
“Chigozie! Chigozie!! Did you see Mrs. Nwosu leave the house?” Mama asked that fateful morning. It was eight o’clock in the morning. No one had seen her leave the house. I went to knock at the gate of their bungalow but there was no answer.
I had woken up early that morning to prepare breakfast before the boys and Papa woke up. But, I did not bother to check on Mrs. Nwosu because I assumed she would be the last to wake up. Mama did not sleep because of the discomfort her protruding stomach caused her.
“Where could she have gone this morning?” Mama mumbled to herself. Meanwhile, as I waited for the water in the stainless kettle to boil, I thought of if Uchendu had been found. I wanted to believe my thoughts.
At around 9 am, the boys and Papa had taken their baths. They came out for breakfast. We joined our hands together as Papa led the morning prayer. He thanked God for life and family. He also prayed for the victims like Ma. We ate in silence that morning including the boys. That day had changed the lives of everyone in the country. After breakfast, I washed the plates while the boys went out to play football.
Papa and Mama were part of the people who only saw the world through the screen of a TV set. They went to the sitting room and watched the news on NTA Channel 10. Ever since the explosion, it became a routine for Mama.
The station showed a live broadcast of the riot, which they called ’Bird’s Peace’. The reporter interviewed the leader of the organized group. His name was Oladotun Mustapha. He spoke into the camera “we are marching to the governor’s office to demand compensation.” He continued, “Many of us are homeless, some of our children are missing and we deserve answers.”
Oladotun Mustapha was a victim of the explosion. He was one of the traders who lost his market stall in the incident. Yet, known to be an anti-Obasanjo’s administration. At the age of 54, he had lost his only source of income and depended on the government’s compensation.
At once I joined Mama and Papa in the sitting room. Papa held Mama’s hands in his. I admired their kind of love.
After the leader spoke, the reporter moved on to other people. There was a woman in a black guinea material gown and a head scarf. It was difficult to identify the woman. She spoke about her son who had not been found. As soon as she called the name of her son, Mama’s heart sunk. It was her childhood friend Mrs. Nwosu, who lamented.
Mama felt sorry for her. Also, she prayed the riot was not violent. After the report on the riot, Mama went inside to sleep. While Papa went out to watch the boys play in the little garden near the gate. I ceased the opportunity to read my copy of the book ’Things Fall Apart’.
The governor held a conference in the evening of that fateful day. He requested people to remain subtle about the explosion. That the government was doing its best to investigate the cause of the explosion.
The media spoke about centers established by the government to accommodate lost children with the possibility of reuniting them with their families. The government also promised the provision of food and other relief materials.
Mrs. Nwsosu went to the centers in search of Uchendu but did not find him there.
The boys tried to catch the butterflies that perched on the flower. We sat on plastic chairs in the garden as we drank ice tea from glass cups. Mama and Papa talked about finding a new school for me and my siblings. They talked about how the family was going to survive without the business. Considering Ma’s medical bills were preposterous.
The sun was setting when Mr. Nwosu knocked at the gate gba-gba-gba. Papa stood up from his chair and opened the gate for him. They both came to the garden. Mr. Nwosu was sweating profusely and his eyes were bloodshot. I saw his lips mumble some words to Papa, who had a downcast look. I knew he had brought home bad news.
Mama gave me the eyes, which sent me straight to the kitchen. I served Mr. Nwosu, Mama’s sumptuous jollof rice, and goat pepper soup with a pack of Five Alive Fruit Juice. As I took the food to him in the garden, I imagined the hell he had been through. I dropped the food on the table and the old man prayed for me. I wondered how he managed to be himself at such a critical time.
He stared at the tray of food in front of him. And tapped his hands on the white plastic table. Mama asked me to take my brothers along with me inside the house. Mama knew I was one to eavesdrop so she pulled me back to warn me.
I turned on the TV set once I was inside to cover up my action. I went to the wall near the window and placed my ear in the direction of the garden. I had heard Mr. Nwosu say “I contacted the school, went to the centers as well. So, I decided to go the mortuary, where I had to identify Uchendu’s body.
I froze where I stood. “How does one die before living?” was all I could think of. I saw Papa grip Mr. Nwosu’s shoulder. Their faces were sad especially Mama’s. She sometimes assumed the role of a mother in Uchendu’s life. I tried not to let my mind wander too far.
An hour later, I took my bath as well as the boys. Then I went to warm Fufu to go with the Banga soup Mama had prepared that afternoon. I was in the kitchen when I heard Mrs. Nwosu’s voice. She narrated what had happened at the governor’s office to Mama and Papa. I did not have to eavesdrop because the garden was few inches away from the kitchen.
While she spoke, Mr. Nwosu interrupted. Mama and Papa braced each other now. I stopped what I was doing and gave it my full attention. “I am sorry; I am very sorry Olama” was all Mr. Nwosu said. “What are you sorry for? The governor said that displaced children were yet to find their family. Our Uchendu is one of them, I am very sure of that.” Mrs. Nwosu said with confidence. Her set of white teeth glaring. Mama held Mrs. Nwosu’s upper right hand, she knew at once something was wrong. “What are you trying to say, Obi?” Mrs. Nwosu added.
Mr. Nwosu stuttered for some time before he blurted out the words “Uchendu is dead. I am sorry but I had to identify his body at the mortuary this afternoon. I am sorry but our son is dead.” Tears crawled down his cheeks. He tried to grab his wife but she got up. Her voice and body shook. Before Mr. Nwosu could get up, she slumped on the grass floor. I feared another death that night.