The rumours were making the rounds. Papa was a ritualist, a wicked man who used his little son for rituals. Anytime I drove by and felt people’s stares boring holes through the new Lexus jeep Papa had bought, I couldn’t help but think of Papa’s furrowed eyebrows whenever I told him about school fees; the lines on his face that was now a perpetual feature; his grunt in response to any requests involving money; the trembling of his lips as he asked God to bless him; the faraway look in his eyes as he thought of another life that he might have lived but was not living. I would remember how he went for one prayer meeting after the other; how he kept us up for many nights to pray, insisting that it was during this time that the devil sneaked about tying us up. We would begin with clear eyes, vibrant and trying to please Papa. Before long, Mama would start nodding sleepily like a lizard, much to Papa’s chagrin. Papa would hurl rebukes her way, and convinced she was awake, he would present his manifesto before God: God if you bless me, I will do this and that, I’ll make sure that this happens. The prayers would suddenly degenerate into a one man’s affair. Papa would fall on his knees and cry out ‘help me, bless me Lord,’ with tears streaming down his eyes, totally ignoring us.
‘Bless me Lord, I’ll never let you go.’ The tremour in his voice would make me shiver. It was like I was seeing into him.
‘God does not exist, reverend,’ Papa would insist later when the reverend in charge of our church who didn’t know our house came after Papa bought his first car, a land rover jeep. Many things changed Papa, made him believe what he believed. So it was always a knife stab to my heart whenever I heard the rumours about him, against him.
On 20th November, a month before Nnanna’s arrest, the last of the five of us, Adaku was rushed to the hospital. She had a brain tumour which needed to be removed. The amount required was money Papa would never earn in a hundred lifetimes. Still, he prayed. He prayed for a miracle even though at that moment his faith was shaky. He prayed kneeling by Adaku’s bedside, holding her little two years old hands with tears streaming down his weathered face.
‘You won’t do this, God. You won’t take her away, you won’t. Ihe ojoo emela.’ let bad thing not happen, Papa would whisper every night, clinging on to a thread of hope I couldn’t see. Adaku would lie there, her head swelling every second, crying in pain. The doctors and nurses would move about like business men and look at us like we were customers who didn’t know how to deal.
Two nights later, Adaku died. Papa didn’t cry. It was Mama whose wail filled the hospital, Mama who could never be consoled, Mama who insisted that she would take her own life while our relatives and friends consoled her.
‘Taa, mechionu, close your mouth. Will you die when you still have 3 sons and a daughter? Some don’t even have at all, ‘ they would say. Papa would look into the distance, tapping his legs. He would shake his head from time to time while the men sat in silence with him and reminded him ‘what has happened has happened. We can do nothing about it.’ Papa didn’t see it that way, he believed he could do something. Adaku was not just any child, she was a daughter of covenant. ‘Daughter of wealth’ her name meant. Papa, by her bedside had told God when he thought I was asleep, ‘I can’t let my children suffer this way. If you won’t hear me, I’ll find another way.’
I always chose to believe that the way he found didn’t spell doom for us. But when the nightmares returned two years after Edu’s death, the nightmares in which I would see Edu’s dead body climbing a tree and falling from there to become a dead Nnanna on the ground, the chill in my bones said ‘doom’.