Tribe – Ogoni; State – Rivers.
Papa told me to tell everyone to call me ‘Mary’ when we got to Lagos.
‘But why Papa?’ I asked, folding my tiny body into his thick, strong one as the bus ferrying us from Gokana to Lagos bumped up and down roads riddled with potholes.
There was a faraway look in his eyes when he answered.
‘It will make everything easier,’ He said simply.
I wanted to ask if ‘easier’ was what Banga did to Fufu as it slid down my throat but I was 7 years old, with a lifetime of unanswered questions before me so I said nothing and let the nest my father had carved out for me in his arms lull me to sleep.
A week later, I started lessons at Obalende Grammar School.
‘What is your name?’ A dark-skinned girl with hair done in blue ribbons asked me during lunch time.
I liked the way her voice sang out like the voices of the mermaids that lived in the river near where I was born so I forgot what Papa said and started to tell her.
But then, the teacher caught us and said “No talking while eating Mary!”
The girl’s name was Imole. She told me her name meant ‘light or dawn’. I never told her what Mary meant because I did not know.
It was 1971. Biafra was over but the battle for my identity had just begun.
Before the soldiers came to Gokana, I was known as ‘Barivuray’, ‘beloved of God’, but there is no place for love or God in the aftermath of wars that men fight.
No one would call me ‘Barivuray’ until thirty-something years later, when I descended from the Jeep that returned me to a land long-forgotten.
I had come home to bury my father.