27th January 2002
Dark clouds hung in the air with thick smoke painting it in Lagos City. I could tell something was wrong by the sound of thunder that struck. I remember Mrs. Nwosu knocked at the closed front door of the house as she screamed Mama Chigozie! Mama Chigozie! I knew at once it was my cue to go be by mama’s side. So, I stood behind Mrs. Nwosu.
A few minutes later, Mama opened the door with an apologetic greeting “Sorry, I was in the bathroom. Hope no problem at all?”.
“Have you not heard about the explosion at the Ikeja military cantonment? And I have not heard from Uchendu. He is not back from school and neither have I seen his father chi m o” she replied in tears.
Mama dumbfounded, staggered to the back in the kitchen as she tried to comprehend what she heard. Once she gained control of herself, she picked up her phone from the kitchen cabinet. It was opposite the position of the gas cooker to dial Papa’s number. It rang several times but there was no answer.
Tears fell down her cheeks, the room became hot as though the walls were closing in on her. She then headed straight to the sitting room, turned on the TV set where she hoped to get updates. But no station said anything about the incident at that particular time. I ran to sit at the feet of Mama as I held on to her right leg which she tapped on the carpeted floor. Mrs. Nwosu wailed and sometimes whimpered in fear.
“Go and call your brothers inside, it is late”, Mama said to me. I called them and we went into our rooms to wash up our bodies. I thought we were not going to have dinner until Papa’s arrival but there it was on the dining table. Mama’s sumptuous Okra soup and yellow Eba. As much as I hated eating without Papa, I did not want to add more fuel to the fire that burned inside Mama. So I ate it but Mrs. Nwosu refused to eat.
The next thing we heard was a phone ring, Mama picked it up. “Hello, honey it is me. I am so sorry I did not call since. I had to rush to the hospital. Ma was unconscious when I found her by the roadside. The car glasses were all shattered so I rushed down to the hospital. Ma’s stabilized and I am getting the cuts on my skin clean” Papa said on the phone. Mama knew the night was not over yet because Mrs. Nwosu had not heard from her husband or son. It was going to be a long night.
At around ten o’clock in the night, my brothers had slept. I stayed awake being the first child of the family.
Mrs. Nwosu’s phone rang and it was a call from her husband “Hello,” Mrs. Nwosu spoke into the phone. She spoke for about five minutes before dropping the phone. Mama tapped her feet as she asked her what the problem was.
“Uchendu is missing,” she said as she tightened her lips and held onto her wrapper. “They have taken my son away from me, they have taken my womb, wiped my story from the face of earth”. Mrs. Nwosu wept.
Mama took me inside the room, where I asked her why Mrs. Nwosu was bitter if her son was not dead. Mama said, “it is better to know one’s child is dead than missing.” Even till this day, I cannot fathom Mama’s statement but I knew it carried weight from the tone she said it.
Uchendu is Mrs. Nwosu’s only child. She received an advice never to get pregnant again by educated scientists. I had heard Mama tell Papa one time I eavesdropped on their private conversation. She loved him so much and her husband, which made her a wreck. “I cannot imagine my world without my son, what will my husband’s people say, who will tell my story?” I heard her speak in low whispers to Mama.
Mama worried about Ma and Papa as her shoulders were slouched in arc shape, eyes wrinkled, mouth tightened, continuous tapping of her fingers on her thigh and a worn-out mask that appeared on her face. Within another few hours, her lips looked pale.
In the morning, Mama pleaded with Ma to stay back home. But, she insisted on going to the shop because she was always locked up by her personal nurses. “You are a strong woman,” Ma said to her before she left with Papa the morning of the incident at around ten o’clock. Mama squeezed my shoulders as we watched them drive off in the shining navy blue Toyota Corolla. Then led me inside as she dragged her feet behind me.
Ma lived on the Island with nurses who took care of her after the death of her husband. She had turned seventy years old in the first week of January 2002. So, she decided to visit Mama the day before the explosion because she wanted to be in the labour room along with Papa. The hospital allowed a maximum of two people into the labour room of their VIP patients, so Mama chose both Papa and Ma.
I could not sleep all through the night of the incident after Papa returned home. I was afraid that Ma was never going to wake up and Papa would never be the same again. Because I had heard of people who never recovered from bad incidents. I thought of if Papa got the job in Mutual Benefits. If not how would we survive without Mama’s business? The night seemed long as I heard Mama cry in the kitchen. I could tell she wanted to be alone and did not want to wake Mrs. Nwosu who was already fast asleep.
Later, I heard Mama call her younger brother who was in the village to inform him of Ma’s health state. She cried as she consoled her brother. I stood up from the bed and went straight to the kitchen where Mama laid on the floor. Her body shook and her eyes were red. When I got tired of hiding, I sat down by her side as I wished I could make the day go away. Instead, she wrapped me in her arms and told me everything was going to be alright. I thought it would have felt better to be with her but all I felt was the pain. I hoped my brothers never grew up and the morning sun took its place in the sky.