He was a miracle to all of us, this beautiful child. His mother had kept him a secret from us. While her stomach grew to accommodate his coming to be she went on a trip to the village. She returned with a child wrapped in a blue blanket and we all knew it was him. Of course we did not blame her, we held her in no judgment for we understood deeply why she must have felt the need to hide his arrival.
Three times her belly had grown and three times it had come back down with no one to show for it. For these three times we had said three different kinds of prayers, the first was for safe delivery, the second was that what happened before would not happen again and the third prayer was partly the first and partly the second with a quiet part to help her bear her loss if the prayers are not answered.
Having him now, we understand why he had to come this way. Being a miracle, he needed extraordinary circumstances to portend his arrival. He needed sisters –for all three were girls – in the afterlife to prepare for his return. He needed a mother that would hold him like life itself was in his breath.
If anyone deserved this miracle child it was her; sweet Aunty Clara, the second of six women born in the Aridogba family. Her youngest sister, my mother, was already on her second child when the third belly gave way. The world had a lot to say about her but to us, her nieces and nephews, she was just Aunty Clara. Every chance she got she hugged us lovingly and bought us the things our mothers never did. Unlike most adults in our large family, she remembered our names, what class we were in and our favorite drink or candy. Nothing in the way she told us folk tales was sad. She sang the songs and laughed with no hidden pain. Some adults thought she was trying too hard to hide her sadness, some feared she would poison us out of jealousy but we loved her for it. She did not let the irony of her father’s name upset her. The myth that had become a legacy to our family, the myth that allowed my grandfather to say to his friends many times “bring all your sons, hundreds if you wish, to see my daughter is enough to bring a compound full of children. That’s our name. A ri d’ogba”
Aunty Clara enjoyed the compound full of children that was gifted to her by her father’s name. But none of them were hers. Most days it was easy to forget this fact but some days were not as good. I remember the day an emissary of in-laws arrived with a lady from the village. We thought it odd that Alhaja would bring another help when there still was one, Patience, a very lovely girl. But it turned out not to be another house girl. She was to be the replacement of our sweet Aunty Clara. She would do what Aunty Clara couldn’t. Lay with her husband and bring pride to the family. I was too young to understand then but she made it easier for us. There were no angry words or crying or breaking down. She knew her inlaws chose that day to come because Uncle Bolaji, her husband had traveled two day earlier. She knew they wanted her to break down and make things easy for them so instead, she said to this aging women and their younger ward coolly.
“I am sorry ma but while I cannot object to your mission here, the owner of the house who left me in charge left no word of any visitor. Please take her back and when my husband returns you may bring her so he can decide where she will sleep and who will feed her.”
We learnt much later that Uncle Bolaji would have none of that. He insulted his relatives loudly when he returned and asked them never to set foot in his home. Even when the miracle came to us, he sent no word to them.
His first miracle was a small one. He had just turn six and we were at the party his parents threw for him. Being their only child still, Uncle Bolaji spared no expense in the celebration of Jobi’s life with them. Aunty Clara gave him that name; she did not want him to bear the reminder of their past sadness so she did not give him a name like Durotimi or Durojaiye. Instead she called her son Adejobi, an acknowledgement that she did not bring him about on her own.
There were clowns, magicians and dance performers at Jobi’s birthday party but I was most intrigued by the bouncy castle. While the adults ate and talked among themselves, the Aridogba grand children, all fifteen of us ran freely through the yard screaming with glee and childish abandon. I was the first to go into the bouncy castle, it was blue and yellow with a tiny entrance that led to a world of tumbling fun. I asked Jobi to join me but he refused so I called Jay-jay, my brother who joined me with his friend and in no time the bouncy castle was filled with laughing children tumbling in excitement.
I was the first to get tired so I fell by one of the windows and stayed there trying to catch my breath. It was I who saw him from that window as he walked into the generator house. My mum had always warned us about going into such places so I was the one who shouted his name as I ran out of the bouncy castle because I knew he was in trouble; it was me all the other children followed in a state of urgency. Before we could reach the generator house, we all fell to the ground together at the loud explosion that came from behind us. The pump that kept the castle bouncy caught fire and in seconds the whole structure was engulfed in flames.
The grownups must have stopped their eating and talking amongst themselves when they heard the loud bang. They surrounded all seven of us saying the same thing at the same time. Only I pointed to the generator house, I wanted to keep screaming his name but my voice had left me and all I could do was point. Aunty Clara came and sat with me on the grass hugging me tightly even as I pointed. It was then my voice returned to me and I whispered to her “Jobi is in there”.
She ran to him immediately but it was too late, he slipped on a pool of engine oil and cracked his head on the concrete floor. He was unconscious when she saw him and gone before Aunty Clara could call for help. That was his second miracle, the most amazing of all.