The day papa was kidnapped was a pale day. That year itself carried a sullen sun around its neck and let events happen. The unfolding events were the works of the enemy, the works of the evil one that could have caused anyone to seek solutions in the prayer houses that were scattered all over the city, had that person not taproot in his church.
It was that year that I left school, not because I graduated, but because I had to stop. That year, we lived in the village from where we had alienated ourselves. That year, Nigeria was divided into two: those that wanted Jonathan to win and those that wanted Mallam. The Easterners wanted Jonathan and the Muslims wanted Mallam. I wasn’t sure who I wanted. I knew my thought was inconsequential. That year was marked by two moments: our country produced the first President to lose an election and my cousin’s wife gave birth to a girl and called her Chukwuabia, God has come and everything was supposed to change.
It was that year that Biafrans took up there flags and fanned their half sun, so that the other half would rise. Nnamdi Kanu went in and out of jail as though he lived there, and Mallam became the Pharaoh that would not let the children of Israel go.
That year, Chidozie, our neighbour’s son, was beat down by a mob and burnt. News got to his mother and before we got to Ngwa road, he was roasting. They said he had stolen something. The mob had dispersed when we arrived and Mama Dozie saw no one to ask after her son. She had no other one, so she tried to jump into that fire and roast with him, but Papa grabbed her by her wrapper. Later, Mama Dozie would lose her mind.
The day he was burnt, I stood in front of the flame and watched him reduce to ash. His Afro hair cut that made his face longer and finer had burnt long ago. I searched for it through the fire and I saw nothing. The face I saw: black, smoked head with gapped lips revealing incisors was not the face I knew. My legs felt like they were glued to that spot. I imagined that when he becomes ash, the wind would blow him off and I cried. Dozie my crush. Once, another neighbor’s dog fell into a pit. He didn’t rest until he brought the dog out. They had killed the wrong person.
It was that year that I read Half of a Yellow Sun and feared for the rising Biafra, and discovered I could tell my own stories in paper; our stories. That year I had my first period, I was fifteen.
All these happenings were still the lighted nights of our story, the one I called lights-out were those men taking Papa. After that, I began to work hard for my smiles.
It was April 2015. Rain dropped during the day and the earth smelt like edible clay. It was those hours before dawn, when the world felt like an electric bulb has been directed towards it. The sun was giving its last shine before it retires. The Plantain trees that occupied half of the compound were dusty and shy. I watched them. Radio Biafra played a raggae song in Igbo, Obodo Chukwu tere nmanu, Biafra… The song had been composed for the same reason the station itself was made. I heard it clear from the verandah where I sat looking at my books. My brother sang along and danced to the song. He didn’t miss a word. The ginger with which he followed the song made me laugh. Mama laughed too.
“Adimchi, you will fight for us. You will put on Ojukwu’s shoes,” she said, and my little brother sang and danced with a fresh energy, putting his hands together and pointing two fingers out to make a gun.
I didn’t know if it was the sun or the song, or Nnamdi Kanu’s interrupting voice, but something tense hung in the air.
“Matachi kporum Ebuka,” Mama said.
Ebuka was outside the house, under the ugiri tree with some boys; street boys. They were discussing, arguing, on how they had said Jonathan would lose and he lost, on how stupid he was for losing, on how the newly elected president was going to chase corruption with a system of government that would be semi-military. That year, everyone was politically active. Before the election, Mama Ngozi, a mamaput in her late 60’s refused to sell rice and beans to a young man, because he shouted APC. She poured back the rice she was dishing into her cooler and said to the confused man,
“Go and eat change.”
If there was more than one person, a discussion or debate would start, for or against Jonathan. And when his opponent won, some said he was too soft for the seat, he was destined to lose, and others said Mallam was the solution to Nigeria’s problems. Those who were against Mallam, like my bedridden Grandma, said he would die on seat like his brother, and people like Mama said Amen. Ebuka and his friends were ready to discuss Nigeria, and prophesy into Biafra from morning to night. They would even go for war if need be. Their voices were higher than the Ugiri tree, which was always crowded with leaves when I approached them. Dozie could have been there. I wanted to tell them to shut up and go back to their mothers, but I signaled my brother to come.
Papa came back that night with papers and more stories. All the papers had the picture of Nnamdi Kanu on the front page. One headline read, “Nnamdi Kanu, the man IPOB stands behind.”
After dinner, Papa continued from where he stopped. Every night he did that; continued his story from where he stopped the other night. On one such night, they talked about Mama Dozie, and Papa said, “Uche ya apugo.” Her mind was gone. His stories tallied with the papers. He told Mama of how we have been marginalized and why he thinks we would go to the Promised Land this time. I listened to those stories lying on my bed. Most of them made me want to cry. Some made me angry. The story that lingered in my thought was the one he told of a boy, whom his mother pleaded with the rioting Kano boys in the 60s to spare and take her own life, but they bisected him before killing his mother. I imagined the boy’s face and the fear in his eyes before he was killed. I imagined the disappointment and pity in his mother’s eyes after he was killed. Did she cry? Did she try to fix him together, or she was just watching when she received her own machete? I imagined their helplessness. I let the boy’s face form. It was dark at first then I made it fair. I saw his fair body lying in halves near his mother; in two almost equal parts and I cried. I cried, maybe because it was inhumane to kill innocent helpless people, or maybe because I am Biafran and that boy was a brother.
Papa’s stories and my imaginations found ways to my dreams. The bisected boy became my Adimchi. In the dream, he was cut into two by a sharp knife from nowhere, and his half bodies shook and shook and then stopped. When I woke, I walked quietly to where my brother laid to see if he was still whole. He was breathing fine. He was sweating. I dried him with a wrapper and went back to bed.
The next morning during prayers, our story changed. Papa had prayed for all of us. He was praying for Biafra to rise when we heard gunshot. The almost busy street went cold and soon we heard the noise right on our steps. We didn’t hear it pass our gate, it came right on us. No one asked what they wanted, they didn’t tell us either, they just ordered Papa to stand and they took him away.
Later that day, after the buzz of sympathizers had dispersed, we were on our way to the village; I and Adimchi and Grandma. Ebuka and Mama would find ways to bring our father home.
We would spend the rest of that year in the village with Grandpa, Grandma and Aunty Blessing. We would taste poverty and it made me wish we were poor from the start. I would fell in love and would think differently of everything. But the stories and songs of Biafra never stopped. Grandpa would continue from where Papa stopped and the search for Papa would continue. Grandpa would tell us of his own experience of Civil war. The Civil war was like the Holy Spirit, every born-again has a synoptic account of it. His own story was living his garri farm in haste and coming back after the war to see what he never told. It was too heavy for his mouth. Kingsley would give me a copy of “Half of a Yellow Sun”. I would read the story and I would cry. I would tell my own story, and I would carry the book everywhere I went. It was September when I read the story. One evening, I felt something dripping out from my peeing place. It felt like urine, but I was sure I wasn’t urinating. I stood up and I saw blood. I didn’t tell my aunty, it would be bothering her with more problems. Then she found out. She found out herself, from the stain I left on the back of my skirt. She called me to the backyard one evening and said,
“Nne, you are a woman now.”
The rains began to go. My moods began to swing. I felt nostalgic for everything, for my childhood city Aba and I cried the more. My Aba, where no one boasted of his wealth because all of us were poor, and all of us were rich, after all, no one fed his neighbor.
Before Christmas, we were cooking all our food without crayfish; with little or no salt. Even salt became a luxury. On Christmas day, we killed Grandma’s remaining hen. She hatched ten chicks during that year but she moved about with none. I watched one evening, when a kite descended and ascended again with her last chick and she danced around in pain. She herself became meat for Christmas.
Mama and Ebuka came home. All these time, I told myself the entire world was passing through a phase, like a rite of passage, not just us; after all, Britain and America had their own problems, were Americans not busy with gays? I assured myself it was going to end. I also assured myself that papa would return to us. I was Matachi, know God. We already knew God; not any God, but the God who was so great, Chukwuebuka, and we were in his hands; Adimchinaka. He would get everything to normal.
On thirty-first night, people stayed awake to enjoy the passing year because it would never come again and people like us stayed to watch it go, to say goodbye to it forever. By twelve, fire blazed in most compounds and made the dark night friendly. We gathered and hipped worn out property, starting from clothes and set them on fire. As it burnt, people threw more things into the fire, and recited what the year would go with and what they wanted the new one to bring. Aunty blessing sent the year off on our behalf, but I felt I should say goodbye to it myself. I needed to burn something. I looked through for what to throw into the fire and I saw the Biafran head-warmer Dozie gave me during the beginning of the protest, when he was still a potential Biafran soldier. I supervised it with the lantern light in the room. The red part of the woolen cap had got a hole. When you pull a strand of wool on it, it would come along and along, leaving a bigger hole on the cap. The black part lustered near the lamp light. The green part also lustered, because it turned black with the night. I clutched the cap for a moment full of thoughts, full of voices screaming in my head, and in the next minute I went to the fire with it.
The next day we were on a bus going down to Aba. We occupied the back seat. Ebuka lapped Adimchi and a man sat with us to make us four. A woman and her kids sat in front of us. Her sucking child kept crying, like she needed to be freed from something. The woman had a bangle of the rising sun on her left arm that brightened her dull skin. My eyes couldn’t move off it.
“One day, the half sun would be full,” I told myself.
It could have been the compartment of the bus that spread silence on all of us like salt. Radio Biafra sang all the way. I listened to hear my brother sing along. He knew all those songs, but he didn’t. He could have sang with them, or at least move his body to the beat of the music. He didn’t, he just stared at nothing. I watched him, I knew something had died in him; my little soldier brother, my Adimchinaka.
We boarded a Keke na Pepe at Ngwa road and headed home. Aba had a different air, one that made me uncomfortable; that made me a stranger. We passed the spot where Dozie was killed. Women displayed their yam and onion there. There was no trace of him, like nothing happened there. I felt rage. At that moment, I hated life and everything it could offer.
Our street seemed smaller and longer. The taxi parked in front of our house. The Ugiri tree had lost so many leaves, no one sat under it. People ran to welcome us. Most of their faces were new, we had new neighbours. Mama paid the driver and he left. We went into our compound. My view caught the Plantain trees. They were still dusty and shy, they were tired too. Papa’s car had been swallowed by dust. Like the car I saw on my way to somewhere sometime, where children had used the dust that rested on it to inscribe,
I didn’t want to look round. I wanted a fresh start. I carried my bag and made for our steps. I was half way up when one of those voices in my head whispered to me:
“You would be living without papa, and this world phase would never end.”
Adaeze M. Nwadike writes from Nsukka where she is completing a B.Ed/Eng. She was shortlisted in the 2016 Nigerian students’ poetry award. She was also in the BN poetry long list in 2015, and was 3rd prize in poetry for the Muse Journal in the same year. She is currently working on a collection of poems.