Stanley Chidiebere Okonkwo: No one told us [Nigerian Voices]

by Stanley Chidiebere Okonkwo

I had wondered why people cry when someone dies. For some people, it is so natural. Mother’s acrobatics when her mother was let down the grave could make anyone pass her for a professional mourner. She suddenly broke out from her seat and ran towards the mouth of the six-foot grave, barefooted. She threw herself to the ground as her hands and legs flew in different directions. Her wrapper lost grip of her waist and rested peacefully on the ground. She wailed violently. Tears poured out of her eyes in little trickles, only saturating her lids. She was restrained. Then she struggled to break free from the muscles which held her, to jump into the grave, while asking her deaf-dead mother why she had to leave her. I wondered if she would really have wanted to be buried along with her mother. Perhaps it was just an unscripted drama for the world to see. As for me, everyone owed life the ultimate price of death, especially when they are old. But why am I crying again for the umpteen times?

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I shut my eyes and allowed a fountain of tears to run freely down my cheeks. I saw father dancing the traditional Igbo way to the mesmeric rhythm of Osadebe. He hopped on his toes with his hands positioned like the forelimbs of a grasshopper. I saw the bright smile on his impeccably fair face, allowing the gap cutely dividing his canine, to beam to the world. Mother tickled him, and they grinned heartily. Then I saw the day he picked up a fight with a man and turned against me for trying to restrain him.

I felt nostalgic.

Then I saw him on his bed in 2005 when he took a peep at death. That year, he had retired from his workplace where he was a labourer. When he was paid his gratuity, mother suggested that he should invest the money in the completion of his building in our hometown. But he thought otherwise. He decided to invest in business and use its proceed to complete the building. Even though I was in my teens, I was old enough to appreciate the thoughtfulness in his decision. However, he was barely a year into production of Kings’ sachet water when the Company was shut down by the officials of the Regulatory Agency because the adjoining flat was residential. He did not have enough money to start all over again; he had invested all his savings in the business. So he lost everything except a few that he was able to resell.

About a month later, land grabbers encroached on his land somewhere in Lagos and resold it to a wealthy man who had started laying foundation by the time father visited the site.

“Nobody will live on my sweat in peace.” Father had cursed. And till last month when mother passed by the land, it still remained desolate. Then, his bus broke down.

And my admission offer to study Law at the Obafemi Awolowo University came.

Father could not contain all these tragedies. Even my admission came at the wrong time for him. I could see his face as he sobbed like a baby, surely, thinking over his fate, of how his only child would go to school, and the future afterwards. So he grew lean and got depressed. Although father did not see a doctor, we knew it was his excessive thinking that kept him on his bed for a couple of weeks. His limbs soon started to grow numb. And we feared for stroke.

Aunty Ruth, my father’s immediate younger sister visited the following week and gave him one hundred and fifty thousand naira to rent a shop and sort out some other issues. She left with the promise of stocking the shop when it was rented. That was father’s saving grace. In three days, both the numbness and the depression disappeared.

With that money, father rented a shop and gave me my school fees. I resumed school. And Aunty Ruth fulfilled her promise.

The University was entirely strange to me; I have never lived away from my mother for a day. Being the only child, born after nine years of their holy matrimony, she pampered me with choice things, particularly meals. But then in the University, there was no one to ask me what I wanted to eat and when. I had to fix it myself. It told on my health, academics and everything else. However, I improved as the semesters rolled by.

Rose, my friend, did her best to make me comfortable. She would always call to know about my welfare. She worked at the Computer village in Ikeja and so she gave me money and high-tech fairly used phones that helped to sustain my esteem. Soon, it was time for Law School. And there was no money to pay for the fees, over a quarter of a million.

“You will attend Law School this year, ” father assured after a moment of hesitation. He gave me twenty thousand naira for the application form. Father approached everyone who he thought could help but no one did, not even his wealthy brother. He had decided not to tell Aunty Ruth about it considering the fact that she had done a lot for him already.

He kept on assuring me that I would register for Law School that year. I couldn’t fathom what fetched him that confidence but his faith made me stronger. Three days to registration deadline, Mazi paid the fees. My parents were overwhelmed with joy by this show of kindness. They danced thankfully that day.

“I did this because we are family. Your mother is my mother and your father is my father. They have been good to me. You will do well to pass the Law School examination once. I did.” Mazi admonished. I thanked him.

The next day, I was on my way to Enugu for my Law School.

“I’ll do my best to see you through this. I will be fulfilled when you become a Lawyer. I can die a happy man.” Father had said before I left for Enugu that morning. Those words had been on his lips for as long as I remember. Although I chose to study Law, that statement had stopped me from changing to a four-year course after I had sought for admission for three years without success. According to father, being a lawyer would help me secure my rights, especially as an only child.

At the end of the session, I passed.

As I stood over father’s lifeless body, I remembered the day father and I visited Prophetess Ugochi in 1998 when I was eleven.

“What I see is unpleasant.” She had said as she swung back and forth, thumping to and fro. Father and I listened with rapt attention. “I see a cloud-covering over your destiny. That is why you make wealth but you cannot account for it. Your pocket is leaking, so it falls off, wasting away, one way or the other.” She paused for a moment and groaned like someone in pain, distorting her face like she was in great displeasure. “The lady you were supposed to marry before you married your wife is not happy with you. She never wanted you to bear a child. But this child’s spirit is strong. He could have been killed in the womb, and at birth. But he’s a star. And he will shine. He’s your solace. He will wipe away your tears. He will gather all you have lost and will lose.”

Almost the same words came from Prophet Ugwu who we visited subsequently, and everywhere else we went. Perhaps father forgot those episodes of his life but I still remembered that he was going to lose wealth, and I found myself living to gather up the wealth he lost. I had started to save for the completion of his building in our hometown right from my compulsory one-year National Youth Service. I got employed immediately after service year. But nobody told us that he was going to die before his tears were wiped off. That I would gather up his loses for myself and not for him. I got discouraged and felt cheated. Sleep led my father to death. Even though father was two months less than seventy years, I broke down in tears again and wept. And mother, she wailed again uncontrollably. I looked at her with pity this time.

Just then, my phone beeped. When I checked, it was a credit alert bringing my savings to one million, four hundred and thirty five thousand naira. What is the essence?

“This is unfair.” I soliloquized.

But perhaps, his tears were wiped off because I became a Lawyer. He died a happy man.

But then, I knew why people cry when someone dies.

 

– Stanley is the second runner up of the October phase of the Nigerian Voices competition.


This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.

We publish, un-edited, Nigerians telling the stories of their everyday lives. Read all the narratives daily on the Nigerian Voices vertical. You can also contribute your own story titled ‘Nigerian Voices’ to [email protected].

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