I don’t know where to start. I didn’t know where it will all lead to. If I should cry till night falls back to day; that won’t bring him back. I knew he went for a good cause. I knew they needed him. An extra hand in the war was what our people needed. The husbands of many other women went. They all went. I couldn’t keep him for my own selfishness. They told me if he didn’t go the war would come for my children. They needed him to protect everything our country was built on. And so I sent him off.
With shaky hands I gathered my children as we watched papa leave. He couldn’t shed any tears. He only promised to come back with stories of his victory. Dele, oh my Dele. He was so enthusiastic about a war he’d never experienced before. He was a man who wouldn’t miss an opportunity to stand and die for a cause he believed in, but I was a wife who needed him home.
Dele turned around and hugged me that morning. I knew he secretly wished I would beg him to stay. Our children cried. I cried too but papa had to leave anyway. He kissed me for good luck but I knew this was goodbye. As he cascaded down our wooded stair case to meet up with his friends, I watched the man I loved since I was sixteen fade away into another world. They rode off together cheering. Off to a place they’d only heard stories about and now, it was time for them to face the real world.
When the officer came into our home, I was filled with envy. His uniform was filled with different badges of merits. I hoped Dele had some of his own after two years of war. Every woman had letters sent to her from the military from their love ones who were fighting in the war but Dele hadn’t sent anything in two years and it saddened me. But this evening, the officer handed me an envelope. I hugged him so tightly. He had no idea what that brown envelope meant to me. I gathered my children with shaky hands yet again. I took a seat and opened the letter.
“It’s been 730 days today since I left you; I haven’t stopped thinking about you. I haven’t been able to write to you because I couldn’t find words to say to a wife I disappointed. But when the third bullet hit me right in my chest, you stopped beating and I knew I had to start planning goodbyes.” The letter fell out of my hand. It was as if someone had poured boiling water all over my body. I was boiling, my heart was melting way. I placed both of my hands over my mouth. I wanted to cry out loud but my children where all with me. I didn’t want to alarm them so I picked up the letter and continued reading.
“A doctor found me a pen at the facility I was rushed to, so here it is my dear wife; the stories I promised you and the children.” I couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. What was I expecting? A letter saying he was fine? He was at war! At war with the South, the world and himself! I didn’t want to read any further, but I knew I had to keep going for the sake of what he left behind.
“Papa said,” I whispered into their little ears. “He said on the first night, it was really cold. The blanket mama packed for him did little to keep him from the winter cold. He wants you to know that he loves you. All of you.”
“Mama, what about me?” My oldest child asked, wanting to make sure her father had her specially in mind.
“To my dear Eliza, I love you.” I read word for word everything Dele wrote down on the letter to his daughter. “Papa wants you to never skip meals Eliza. He wants you to grow tall and beautiful so that later on you can marry the potter’s son who you like.” Eliza giggled.
“Does papa really think Sam likes me?” she blushed.
“Of course honey. Your father knows everything.” I reassured her.
“To my dear John,” when little John heard his name, he looked up at me, anticipating what his father had for his only son and for the first time since sending Dele off, I allowed my children see me cry. John was the exact replica of his father. Same eyes, same curious eyes as his father’s that held so much hope for the unknown. My baby boy stared into my eyes and all I could see was blood. His blood which would someday be wasted away in the same war his father died for.
“Mama, come on, what did he say? Did he still work on a gun for me? Oh when I get to the war front, I will not miss any of those French. You just watch mama.” He demonstrated how he would kill every one of the people who took his father’s life.
“Papa doesn’t want you to come here,”
“But why?” he grumbled. Dele wanted his only son as far away from the war as he was from home. He wrote, “This is no place to be. I see bodies being blown to pieces like they’re nothing and some days; I can barely keep my eyes close because I fear they’re coming for me.”
“But what about Adele, what did papa say about her?” Eliza asked curiously as she patted the sleeping child on her laps. Before Dele went off to war, he left another one of his seeds behind. I didn’t tell him he would be a father yet again because I feared that would stop him from leaving. I had Adele in the comfort of my own kitchen seven months after Dele left.
Now, what do I say to a daughter who never knew her father? What word of healing, of sentiments do I have for her when she grows up and ask after that same father? I read out loud to my children all the tales their father had for them. As I got to towards the ending of the letter, I began to panic. What about me? I asked myself. What did my husband have for me? Rushing to the back of the third page of the letter, my heart stopped.
“Abiola,” He said, and it felt as if he was right next to me. “If there has ever been anything I loved more than my life, it’s you. I remember the first day I saw you outside your father’s house back in Nigeria. You were such a beauty and right from that day, I knew I had to have you as my wife. But as fate would have it, we got sold off the next day to a new world neither of us knew about. Many nights, I cried my teenage self to sleep because I was afraid I would never see you again. But that one night when I saw you come out of your slave master’s bedroom, I believed there was someone called God who surpassed all my worries because he led me back to you. I’ll never forget you Abiola. Thank you for the children you blessed me with and thank you for the ones we could have had. And remember, although our language, our names, and our homes were stripped away from us; ‘okan mi sha wa nile pelu e.’”