It was already getting dark when I packed the tractor behind the overhead tank and walked wearily across the backyard towards our old two-storey building that had been my home since birth. It was built by my grandfather. I, my wife Sophia and our only surviving child Chizitere were the third generation to live there. I was already tired and the thought of Sophia’s new egusi soup and a bath with cold water made me want to hurry up and get inside. Tiredly, I climbed the stairs to the little porch on the back side of the kitchen, stamped my feet on the mat to knock out the dirt on my shoes, and pulled the remaining straw off my wet shirt.
“Nnaa how was your day?” Sophia called from the stove as she wiped her brow with her apron.
“Ehh, Odi ka ogadi, we have done it for today, we thank God. Biko mee nyem nri kam rie, I am hungry. I did not give myself a break today so I did not eat anything. Nyem Nyem Nyem biko”
“Kenneth,” she said with her laughing brogue, “remember you are not as young as you used to be. You will be sixty next birthday.”
“Ummm, don’t remind me,” I said as I walked through the kitchen to wash up before supper.
I glanced at the old house. You are almost a hundred year old, old girl, I mused to myself. You have been doctored up, but after so many years, I guess, a thing just naturally wears out. Maybe that’s what is happening to me too. Maybe I am just wearing out. I put my left hand under my right arm and gingerly felt the big lump that was developing in my armpit. It reminded me of my encounter with death, I saw something similar during that period. I wondered if this is the beginning of the end. I walked back through the house, to the kitchen. Supper was almost ready and I stood gazing out the window- at the last streaks of the sunlight. Next door, silhouetted against the darkening sky, was an old cemetery. It separated us from the small Methodist church that stood alongside the road leading to Ndi Aniche Obina-etiti. A taught of death befell me. Despite the warm weather, I felt a chill and shuddered involuntarily.
I had been close to death once.
Back in 1988 on my way to Lagos with my first son Emeka, I wondered what would have been the fate of my family if I had died in the drastic motor accident that claimed my son’s life and all the passengers but saved mine.
I was a nobody though, I was not the most righteous. In that vehicle we had a pastor who preached and prayed while we travelled, he had just concluded prayers shortly before the accident happened. Also sitting behind me was a woman; like those women who care less about fashion- whom tie head scarf round their head covering their ears, she had no jewelry too, she shouted the loudest “AMEN” and clapped the most.
I quickly remembered my only son Chizitere was in final year in the University of Portharcort, he studies pharmacy. And I wept silently while I wondered why I wept. “Nnaa bia rie nri o, our food is on the dinning table” Sophia called from the dining table. I quickly wiped my face with the faded pink hand towel hanging loose near the kitchen window before I went to join Sophia. My pocket radio which was old enough to be replaced accompanied me; it always did. That was how I heard over the news through a local station that some students were set ablaze for theft in the small community of Aluu in Rivers state. My wife looked me in the eyes in a hurry, so did I.
“Chimoo!”, her mouth turned into corners in disgust as she pushed her head a bit closer to the radio to garner the information clearer. Her eyes were wet but she wasn’t crying. “Why won’t children appreciate the suffering of their parents and stay one place to read? Ehh, ha ana agahari”She sighed and continued eating. I did not say a word because there was more to listen from the news. So I listened while I ate. The names of the victims were mentioned over the radio, the names included Chizitere but we weren’t sure he was the one in person. So many people could have borne the name. The news further specified that foolish Nigerians recorded the ugly event and posted it over the internet instead of contacting the police. I quickly got up, washed my hand and got ready to visit a cyber café.
Sophia’s curiosity made her join me to the cyber café located a hundred miles away from Umuagba market square, the nearest market to Ndi-anichie Obinaetiti. The café was filled with youths, men and women who were not smiling. The men talked with newspaper in their hands while the women murmured and some of them folded their arms tight and occasionally unfolded it to click their fingers while frowning as they said “aru” which was the only word we could hear clearly. Sophia was really restless, she untied her wrapper and tied it again; breathe so hard that I could hear her heart beat. I met the attendant and explained that I wanted to watch the video of the UNIPORT incident.
“Oga, na two hundred and fifty naira for that video” the dark skinny lady said.
“Ok no problems”
“Oga, madam please make una come sidone here abeg”.
I and Sophia sat down. Sophia laid her back against the seat, placed her two hands on her head and watched the attendant carefully as she operated the computer. It did not take time before pictures came up; the picture read “Four UNIPORT student-cultists set ablaze by Aluu community”. Sophia and I concentrated. As the video played, behold it was our son Chizitere. He had been stripped Unclad before the public, injured and beaten by the angry mob who accused him and his friends of theft. Sophia fell on her back from the chair, attracting the attention on everybody in the café.
I cried as I saw the movie, not like a man but like a baby. I could not hold myself talk more of ensuring the safety of my wife. I torched the lump in my ambit and screamed. So this is how my world ends, I told myself. Sophia had been rushed to community clinic at Ndi-Uche after buckets of water were wasted in her. I saw Chizitere plead innocent, I saw him cry for fair hearing but the angry mob slapped and kicked him. My only son lay on the floor weak after being hit with sticks and stones. He torched his friend only to notice that he was dead; he shouted “God where are you?” I heard it, the video was clear enough. I knew he prayed for a good Samaritan to intervene, maybe amongst the wicked mob members whom majority were active Christians. As I saw my only son hit to unconsciousness, I imagined him scream and plead innocent, in his closing eyes I knew he had wished they knew the family he was coming from-how poor they were and how all hopes lay on him to graduate and lead the family to happiness as the only child. But all were mere wishes. My only son Chizitere was set ablaze, recorded and placed on the internet; then I paid to see it.
By Okereke N Best