How Can I tell this story and Live.
Becoming 12 was a lifelong dream for me. Mum had told us in one Sunday School lesson that Jesus was 12 when he had his first test of intelligence, arguing with lawyers and professors. 12 became for me, the age of awareness.
I wanted to be 12 so badly. But I would lose count of my years at 10. I stopped counting, stopped living. Time has since lost its value for me, and now everyday is a Tuesday, June 7, the day Aunty Ifechi died.
I didn’t understand it when people said it was love that killed her, I didn’t know that love killed people, that love could kill. Well, my Aunty Ifechi had held a sharp blade to her throat and cut it open until she found the oesophagus and dug deeper until there was no more pain to feel, only a raw, stinging throb, as I imagine. They found her body soon after. No one heard her scream.
Dad had been telephoned and asked to come to their family house. Her mum sounded urgent, she spoke the way thirsty people drink: “Ifechi…. Damilola…. Suicide…. She has killed me!”
Dad returned from Ifechi’s parading a sorrow-clad face.
A pale and impenetrable darkness seemed to have followed him back from that house of death. He did not discuss it with us. But mum had told us everything while he was away, Ikenna and I. Damilola was a boy from Aunty Ifechi’s school whom she had been dating for three years, only to find out last week that he’s been married all that time.
She confronted him , half expecting him to deny it, to say it is not true; and he told her he is sorry, he’s been trying to tell her. It’s not a lie. She has not known another man but Dami, all her life. And this! No; she would unwrite it, this life was a lie. It was her fault and she had to correct it.
Her body let another body fool it. And only it can atone for such a mortal error. Scars won’t do. End it. And she did it.
I cried in silence, leaning on the balcony, listening to mummy talk. Images of Aunty Ifechi slitting her own throat in sporadic movements filled my head. Blood. Pain. Anger. Hate. I did not like Dami, for what he had caused. In our house that evening, the smell of death hung in the air. It had followed dad back; it clung to him, and was in his visor.
Ikenna was in his room playing Ancient Words on his piano, and singing aloud: Ancient words ever true
Changing me, and changing you.
We have come with open hearts
Oh let the ancient words impart.
The evening was waning and in the distance the birds were flying home from their day’s toils. I strolled out, letting my legs wane and wander, taking me anywhere of their own will. I knew dad won’t call me back, nor mum. Not tonight.
I walked past the apartment buildings that formed our Street, past the community primary school. I walked to the General Government Hospital where her body waits. Where was I going? Anywhere out of the world! The lowlands of Ifite contrast strongly with the hills of Zanga Street where we lived which was at the periphery of the world; Zanga that hangs precariously from the precipice of a vast hill. Viewed from the ground, it looked like it was waiting for the apocryphal order to tumble into oblivion. But Ifite, life here is coolheaded, like me. It is a little peaceful town that always sleeps. Always quiet. I had to get to Ifite, to this peace. Here where I can listen to the silence of the night. I had my childhood moonlight plays here. It was here, around the Udala tree at the heart of Town, the playground, that love gets given for free, for almost nothing. Older children did it in the play. Once we were playing hide and seek_ a night game of course. I had sought refuge in an empty drum. Another figure hid in another corner of the drum. I could feel its movements. I raised my eyes and to the immediate distance. It was Ikenna, with Uju, the girl who always teased him for his world best soprano in the children department choir. But what were they doing shaking that drum like that! I squinted a little to let in more light and…. That day, Ikenna told me that if I told anyone what I had seen there, he won’t be my friend again. I was four then and this right here was my only friend. I promised not to tell. I guess I just broke my vow. No, I only remembered, the way I remember Ifite, for the memories that it brings. This town is a peace offering,; it is peace itself. Thus, the day Aunty Ifechi died I strolled to Ifite, alone, for the first time.
I had always gone with Ikenna. But today, I know too well than to disturb him at his piano. I know he would play until his tears streamed and flowed into the chords and notes and melancholy would sing in his voice, piercing high, penetrating the high walls of our residence. If I was God, I would dance every time Ikenna sang.
When I got to the playground, the children were there as always. I joined the older ones. I’m an older one now. We did not know our ages but there were perfect parameters in place for promotion and/or demotion. For hide and seek, we split along genders, male and female; the girls hide while the boys seek out their hiding places. I hid in a nearby bush this time. I squatted just a few inches from the road, trying to keep my mind on the play. The searchers had seen many others, a few of us remained. I followed the shouts that issued after every find. Then some neon eyes came towards me. Screams wouldn’t issue from me hard as I try. The eyes had an evil aspect. It was a human, drunk with frustration and anger. The smell of gin and grease came with him, pungent and sickly. An okada man. He advanced like a trained apparition, without full or proper use of his senses. He trained his eyes on me; then he smiled, shutting his eyes ever so briefly. A prayer of Thanksgiving. I have never been able to tell this story, but this Hausa brute grabbed me and… He unleashed whatever frustrations that life had thrown at him on my tender thighs. I did not return home that day nor the next. And when I finally returned on the third day, I didn’t talk to anyone. No one questioned me. Dad told me they all missed me. He told me again and again how he loved us all. But I didn’t listen. I wanted to talk, to tell them all about it. But how can I tell this story and live!
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