Sarkin Zamfara, Sokoto,
Friday 13th April, 1990.
I ran after the ambulance that took away dad’s and granny’s bloodied bodies wailing. Shalom, my brother, followed me (scared shitless, as Americans say) from a distance.
When I realised I was kinda chasing the wind I gave up.
“Mommy! Mommy!” I shouted as I went back to the house.
The last of the crowd that had gathered in our home was leaving. We were left alone, terrified and confused.
When I looked at Shalom as though to ask “What shall we do big bro?” all I got was a blank stare.
I did not know what to do. Mom might have brought us up encouraging us to be strong and courageous, but she had never told us what to do in situations like this. Shalom took my hand and led me to the front door of our house and did what most kids would have done – huddled together like puppies puling in low guttural moans.
“Zo, what do we do now?” Shalom asked me. “What do we do now!” he started shouting, slowly getting hysterical.
“Sister, answer me now, what do we do now?”
I said nothing.
Fear turned panic as darkness crept up to where we were cowered.
Everything seemed to have come to a standstill save for the lights that went on automatically making the house look alive even when deserted. We were afraid to go inside (afraid of nothing, like the fear of darkness). We were more at ease with the darkness outside than the light inside.
It’s like we dozed off (don’t know after how long) because we did not know we were not alone until a man dressed in black walked up to us.
“Shalom! Folami! Are you alright?”
The sound of that voice and its recognition brought paralysing relief with it.
It was Uncle Uche. He was the only person in the whole wide world who called me Folami (and guess it stuck).
“Uncle, uncle,” I shouted rubbing off the spider webs of sleep from my eyes. My heart leapt with joy as I tore off Shalom and rushed to him.
Uncle Uche hugged us together and in his arms we forgot the evening. However, this was not for long.
“Folami. Shalom. I have come for you. I was told what happened.” That alone brought back the memories of the evening like an avalanche.
I started to cry, but Uncle Uche told me not to. “Don’t cry Folami my girl, please. I have come to take you home. So, wipe your tears for me, will you?”
I nodded lackadaisically and Uncle Uche gave me that smile of his that comforted all the afflicted as I took the lapels of my school uniform and wiped my tears.
“We are going down to the church,” Uncle Uche said.
“Is mommy there,” Shalom and I asked in unison.
Uncle Uche hesitated a bit and swallowed hard. “No, mommy is not there, but she would be fine,” he said.
He took us to his car, an old Daimler pick-up that was nicknamed ‘Uncle Uche’s wheelbarrow’ in the villages.
Everybody called him Uncle Uche, and he liked it.
Uncle Uche was Father Augustine Camara, an Italian Franciscan Friar missionary who was serving at the Cathedral of Holy Trinity, Sokoto. He was loved by everybody in the parish, and probably in the diocese because he too loved everybody – Everybody Loves Uncle Uche!
Fr. Augustine was a friend of dad’s, a closer friend and many a time he visited us at home, played with us and took us to walks and our favourite ice-cream joint. I can’t remember how many teddy bears and dolls he bought for me, or the toys he bought for Shalom – he never missed any of our birthdays (or anything else in our family) for anything in the world. He was our uncle truly.
He took us to the mission down in Sokoto where we spent our last night in Nigeria.
Copyright ©Elove Poetry, 2012. All Rights Reserved.