We used to have a happy family. Everything went well; father worked for five figures, and mother owned a clothes store which was booming very well. I was probably seven then and in class two, Chudi was still a toddler and grandma was staying with us when the tragedy broke out.
In tears, I stared at my mom and dad laying side-by-side in their respective coffins. I may have been too little or inexperienced about what happened and how things like that happen, but losing someone you love and who you share mutual intimacy with, was emotionally disastrous, not to talk of when they were more than one; heartbreaking and tragic.
At first, when it happened, grandma ensured every loop-hole as to us – the kids getting the information were closed. Men on red caps began to troop into our house like they did when my dad called for an urgent meeting among elders usually from my hometown. My uncle, Mr Ude, rarely visited us but on that day, he was at the front line, and at that point, I knew as far as I could read, something wasn’t right.
Being a good listener, I eavesdropped from a position nobody could notice, not even grandma who thought I and my brother were sleeping in the bedroom.
The elders talked almost in low tones and our family parlour. Grandma sat in a position very blur which made me unable to lucidly see her face as to know more about the situation at hand through her mien.
Among all who were present in our house that very day, I could at least identify a few: Mr Jaja and his wife, Mrs Eunice Osuji, who were our family’s closest friends were present.
Mr Jaja was slightly short and plumpy and had a potbelly. His wife, Mrs Eunice was very busty and huge, that even sometimes, I began to wonder how they got to kiss each other on their wedding day.
The Osujis were a very loving family, and we all got along with them. I could recall dad, years back, telling mom of how he got to know them. The very first day he met Mr Jaja while they were final year students at the University of Nigeria. Dad was studying economics while Mr Jaja studied science
laboratory technology. His real name was Chukwujekwu Osuji, but according to dad, chose the sobriquet after the great King Jaja of Opobo and some other stories backing it.
The Osujis rarely visited us alongside their children, but when they did, it was certainly a play-day for us. Their eldest daughter, Flora, behaved more like a fashionista and once told me she dreamed of becoming one, and then travel to France, where according to her, the best fashion galas and companies were situated. Their remaining two children were fraternal twins, a boy and a girl. I could also recall mom and dad discussing the labour Mrs Osuji passed through while delivering her twins and how it almost cut short her life through CS, which I later learned was an acronym for caesarean section, an operation for pregnant women who are having difficulties with normal child delivery.
From my deductions, I felt it was one of the major reasons why the Osujis decided not to have another child as they already had three. A lot of stories to tell about this wonderful family – the Osujis. The story of their generosity towards us; how Mrs Osuji scolded mom whenever she beat us up in her presence; the intimacy between us and them, if it were to be a the story would be very interesting and fantastic altogether.
Others who I could also identify that day were, Dr Ifeanyi and his wife, Engineer Otti Odunze and above all, Uncle Ude who was my father’s elder and only brother.
Uncle Ude spoke loudest among all who were seated there that day. He spoke mainly in the Igbo language, and pidgin whenever he spoke to people who weren’t on a red cap. Something I felt was due to the notion among folks that the city people do not clearly understand vernacular and ought to be treated with respect.
Uncle Ude’s Igbo accent was so unclear that I barely grasped any of his sentences. To be sincere, I personally didn’t like him, mom didn’t like him either; if she were to be alive, she would oppose most of his statements.
Grandma usually complained about him and his insecurities. The only dad gave an ironic adjective about him whenever issues concerning him arose in the family. Nevertheless, dad was also wary of him, citing reasons to his invidious characters towards him. It had happened and there was nothing we could change about anything. The great elephant who was highly respected in his hometown had fallen. Omelora as his title read was no more.
I began to ponder on what the other driver must’ve been thinking. If only mom and dad hadn’t gone out on that day. How the scene of the incident looked like… A lot of things went through my mind, and the worst of it all was that our house now belonged to my uncle and his family as dad left no will on deck.
Barely two months after my parents were buried, grandma died too. At that the point, it became clear to me that life didn’t like my family.
‘Who would I tell my challenges now? Who would caress my back and assure me of my brighter future again..? ‘
I cried so hard at her funeral than I did at my parents’. Grandma was now gone, and as a little girl I knew of the challenges ahead, having heard of so many stories about uncles and the troubles associated with living outside the care of your parents.
Life wasn’t funny especially to me and my brother. Just two years after my parents and grandma were gone, Uncle Ude and his family changed. It was as if they waited for the perfect time to strike. As little as I was, I was obliged to do all the house chores despite having grown-ups in the house; this wouldn’t have been so if grandma was still alive. Sometimes I began to wonder where all my father’s friends were and why they never felt concerned about us again.
Uncle Ude pretended to be a good man outside but inside, both he and his wife, Aunty Gina were devils. Life continued afterwards and every day brought its hardship. We had so far still managed to survive, I and my brother; eight years and still counting since my parents died.
I used to know my uncle as a man with malicious intents, but on this day, it shifted from knowing to experiencing it. It happened on a day when aunty Gina was away for the market. Chudi went to school. I stayed back home due to lateness, knowing how strict school was then. I was still in JSS2 in a government secondary school nearby. I was about fifteen years old then.
That day, my uncle was reading the newspaper with his eldest son who was around twenty-three. I was asked to bring them water, little did I know of their plans… To cut the whole story short, I was raped and sexually abused by him and his son, and was hospitalized for several weeks on false news that I left school for the streets and got raped. It pained me more than this was coming from someone I called father. I was threatened that if anyone heard about the incident, I would join my parents where they were.
The news was all over the place especially in my school, and people said whatever they liked. Times have changed, as I sat down to recount of these memories before the people whom my uncle and his wife brought along to apologize to me.
I told them of how I ran away with my brother some weeks after the rape incident. I told them of how we found grace and favour from a Samaritan family. I told them of how I won a scholarship to study in the university, and how Chudi is currently doing his masters in Medicine in the UK.
I told them of my beautiful family and my husband who sat right next to me. I waited to hear their own stories knowing why they came, but they were all tragic. My uncle was in tears seeing me and my brother become somebody while his children bore his consequences. Nnaemeka, his eldest son who jointly raped me was seen mysteriously dead, and according to stories was already decaying before his corpse was found. Adamma, his first daughter already had six children from different men while in her father’s house.
Obinna has not been seen for the past eight years. My uncle suffered a stroke, and aunty Gina was now an object of ridicule. I pondered on these things and why they happened at this moment when I wanted them to watch me smile and disprove their notions about me, when they said, “could anything ever come out of me?” All the same, no one could rewind time to make wrongs right. The only thing I offered them in return was love.
I didn’t know how long I’ve been crying until my husband called me from the sitting room,
“Dimma! Dimma! I’m out for work. Don’t forget to take the kids for shopping.”
Times had changed. I smiled as I took up my phone to read a text message. It was from Chudi and it read, “You’re not picking your calls. I’ll be back in a week time, take care. “
I peered at the wall clock in our bedroom without knowing why. I carefully watched as the second’s hand ticked and wondered how the day broke so soon. It has been a week my uncle and his family visited.
University of Nigeria