Ever reflected back on an event and wished you could re-enact the exact moment when the realization hit you. Your intent is not so much to pinpoint the precise location or your preoccupation at the time but only an optimistic quest for the desirable intermission before the muck hit the fan. Your thoughts are far from wishing to recreate or re-live that moment; however your bid is to attempt to freeze your reverie prior to the period when it all went awry and eternally repress it.
Try as she might to recreate this, Nkiru couldn’t. Instead she tried to envisage that fateful day, 2 and more years ago as it would have been. She must have woken up as usual but it was no ordinary dawn. She must have tarried to get out of bed that morning because there would have been no need to hurry. She must have been cheerful or even hummed a melody underneath her breath, the possibilities were endless.
One certainty though was her then general state of mind because she was undoubtedly happy, just happy? No, ecstatic would be a more appropriate descriptive term.
She and her betrothed, Obinna had just concluded their ‘iku aka’ or knocking ceremony the previous day and the formal traditional wedding ceremony was billed to follow suit and subsequently church or white wedding. Who wouldn’t have been happy? She queried rhetorically. To cap their rosy future together, they were also intended to depart soon afterwards to start a new life in the USA.
There possibly couldn’t have been a happier couple in the whole town of Ubi. None!
Her residual memory of the exact moment when her world was overturned was however a blur. What remained vivid in her mind was the fall, not a physical fall. You know just like the rug had been pulled from under your feet and you whirl in a free fall. She remembered watching herself declining rapidly as she tumbled down an apparently endless pit. Bizarrely, she also stood atop the gaping hole while her other self tumbled down. There was two of her, each image more factual than the other. An out of body experience it is called.
She recalled plummeting incessantly, thumping down an endless cascade of stairs, her body flailing like a lifeless doll as it went thump, thump from one step to the next. Her eyes ached from watching the spectacle of her simultaneous endless drift while her observer body stood numb and still. She had felt drained, hapless, helpless and incapable of movement or reaching out to rescue her counterpart battered ostensibly inert body rattling along in quick descent down the ditch. She couldn’t recall when or how the fall broke, much less when or how the two images finally merged back into one.
She was subsequently engulfed by blankness and transported into a hollow shell devoid of pain or emotions. She found herself encased in limbo and suspended in time. Inside her pristine cocoon, she refused to feel or acknowledge the prickly thorns that encircled her head. Maybe if she stayed motionless for long enough, the events will upend. For when she finally rises, time would have reset itself back to her pre-plunge period. It wasn’t, couldn’t and shouldn’t be true. She had mentally shut herself down, denying and refusing to acknowledge that Obinna was gone. In her then thwarted troubled mind, she argued that the rest of the world was mistaken.
It was only a bad dream and the nightmare would be over as soon as she wakes up. She stayed in bed hoping that when she finally decides to wake up, it would have been a mere fluke, none of it real.
Alas, if only wishes were horses because she did wake up but it was not a dream. When she emerged from her cocoon, it was no pretty sight. She finally had to confront her reality. The impervious cocoon that she had encased herself in hoping that when she creeps out that life would be normal again, had only but offered her a temporary refuge. Her desire to rewind time or restart from her previous comfort zone was just wishful thinking. Life was far from a slate that she could wipe clean and rewrite. It is a master of its own fate; her part is to arbitrate with destiny.
She still longed for a clean slate to rewrite her residual life and plug with only laughter, very little of S’s but no T’s of life. However, more than two years later and the numbness were yet to fully dissipate. The entire period is interposed by pure anguish.
Her heart threatened to burst out of its seams with sorrow as she re-contemplated her recent past. She had refused to cry throughout the initial trial period. Her eyes were wide open but blind, ears receptive of sounds but she was deaf. She learnt how to cry with a smile while her smile was transformed into a smirk. She had clutched her cell phone to chest, clung to it as if her dear life depended on it. She had grasped so tightly that the veins at the back of her hand were visibly outlined and threatening to pop. She willed the phone to ring and waited expectantly to hear his voice at the other end.
“Hello Baby, it’s me.” She’d have heard him say because those were his usual opening line whenever he calls like she would mistake him for any other. She was failed by the phone which refused to ring with his name reflected on the interface. Why? Why? She had queried repeatedly in anguish. Had they not suffered enough? Their strife with her parents and kinsmen weren’t enough penalties? Had they not propitiated the gods enough?
A myriad of recriminations, doubts, anger and various other emotions clogged flittingly through her mind, flickering like the embers of a dying candle through her tormented soul. This was followed by another series of unrelenting queries flashing one after the other across her mind like the pages of a book left flustering in the face of the wind. She still didn’t have all the answers but was healing and trying to fully embrace the realms of her tragedy.
It was against the tenets of her religion to doubt God, query her fate or the power above. She was supposed to stay complacent to destiny after all the Almighty Savour was crucified to atone for her sins, yet never bemoaned his trials. Which sacrifice is greater than that? He never uttered a single word of complaint. She recounted penitently. She was no god but we are supposed to embrace his sacrifice.
So why should she still be complaining? She might well embrace her lot and get a grip but it was just too much. God, unbearable! She suppurated in anguish, albeit no tears or words escaped from her lips, just the blank stare that kept forcing her mother back on her knees clutching and praying rosary beads while pleading for absolution and beseeching the Lord to intercede before her daughter loses her sanity.
But…but…why? She still soliloquised in vain, knowing no straight answers were forthcoming. A conflict of emotions raced through her tormented soul offering no relief as powerless rage crushingly engulfed her once again. Time was supposed to be the greatest healer yet her pain was persistent and raw, harsher than the sharp painful sting of a tincture of iodine applied to fresh wound.
She usually flourished on staying upbeat in the face of adversity but not anymore. Life had dealt her too heavy a hand. As if Obinna’s tragedy was not enough, she had to contend with others too. Her reoccurring trials beggared the aphorism ‘when it rains, it rains in torrents’ as a relentless torrent of mishaps had dogged her very existence in the last two years, end-to-end.
Where does she start to recount her inveterate heartbreaks? She lamented repeatedly, bemoaning the culmination of events that had rocked the root of her equilibrium nearly forcing her senses to desert her. She was still trying to rein herself in but as of yet was en-route to recovery.
Her eyes brimmed with tears as memories of her beloved Obinna came flooding back. They trickled down her cheeks as she gazed up at the ceiling half blindly and momentarily fixed her gaze on the shoddy chandelier at the centre of her bed-sit. She noticed a tiny spider dangling precariously at the edge of a stringy web extending from the chandelier. She watched the tiny creature spinning energetically and erratically while rapidly transforming a webby mesh into a globe around the chandelier.
Lucky spider, at least you spin your own world, she pondered enviously, mesmerized by its adroitness at work. She soon turned away to take in the rest of her nearly bare typical student digs. Nothing mattered anymore, she sighed.
What was it with life anyway? Her rage rose again in indiscriminate anger. Life was what you make of it, came a devilish reprimand from her subconscious. I never asked for misfortune to befall me, she canted back. She had frequently found herself engaging in a tacit exchange with her chi but dared not confide this to anyone. Enough swirl of insanity already.
Winter was setting in after her first month of settling in. Her mother had left a few days earlier to return home, reassured now that her daughter was psychologically strong enough to take on the world again. Both of her parents reckoned a new start in a different environment would be the best option for her. A change of scene and a Masters program in tow to help her heal. They were optimistic that this new environment could prove to be the catalyst to reignite her waned interest in life and surroundings. They had almost arrived at the end of their tether before coming to the conclusion that uprooting her from the shores of her home country; Nigeria might well overturn her recent misfortune. Nkiru on her part was personally past caring because nothing seemed to matter anymore. She was virtually a living dead encased in an empty shell. She was convinced that without Obinna, she was only but a robotic moving, walking, talking zombie. That was all that was left of her.
The memory of her first official meeting with Obinna was stirred up again. She could still visualize the day like it was just yesterday because the memory was indelibly encased on her mind. It wasn’t actually their first meeting per se but the day that they became officially acquainted. This was around her third year semester exam period. She had left the lecture rooms after a prolonged revision session and briskly making her way back to her hostel. Obinna had approached and offered to accompany her back. She had pretended to be reluctant to let him while pleased deep down for his offer since she dreaded the solitary walk. It was pitch dark and pretty late. She and Obinna struck up minor conversation as he walked her back and consequently became firm friends, transcending into lovers and naturally contemplating marriage.
Her beloved Obinna was a considerably good natured fellow. He also possessed an uncanny knack for upending adversity into good fortune, no matter how awful the situation that he happens to find himself in. He had even proposed marriage to her the following morning following his rescue from the hands of a formidable gang of kidnappers. It is difficult to imagine how he could have pulled that off now given their respective dispositions a few hours earlier. They had both been in a quadroon, he was terrified and held captive by imprudent kidnappers whereas she was frantic with worry and haunted by an extraordinary premonitory fear for his safety. He had been scheduled to return ashore from an offshore duty assignment the previous evening and she had waited at her base for a call from him confirming his safe arrival but to no avail. She was increasingly apprehensive by nightfall when he failed to contact her or answer his perpetually switched off phone when she dialled his number. Her gut instinct foresaw he was in danger and she feared for his safety. Her hunch was later confirmed after she solicited the help of their mutual friend Sanni, who lived in the same city as Obinna to verify his exact whereabouts.
Sanni on arriving at Obinna’s digs met with his absence but on further enquiries from his next door colleagues learnt the distressing truth. Obinna’s boat was hijacked and he was kidnapped. The kidnappers uncannily enough contacted Sanni with a demand for ransom while he was still over at Obinna’s residence ascertaining his whereabouts. Nkiru and Sanni subsequently rallied Sanni’s father’s immense support to ensure Obinna’s successful rescue. Sanni’s father was a very influential business tycoon. He didn’t disappoint by pulling all the right strings to guarantee a wide scale police search that led to the successful rescuing of Obinna but sadly his fellow co-worker, Mike kidnapped alongside him was not successfully rescued or found.
Nkiru’s family as was customary in their culture after she and Obinna announced their engagement proceeded on a reconnaissance of his extraction prior to sanctioning the proposed union, more so because Obinna hailed from a different town. They unexpectedly unravelled that Obinna was an OSU in the course of their investigation, thereby literally opening up The Pandora’s Box.
Her parents immediately prohibited her from associating with or marrying Obinna since it was taboo for a freeborn to marry an OSU. She however refused to heed to their advice. A major rift developed threatening to cause a major discord not only within her immediate but also amongst her extended family members. She and Obinna remained pretty unwavering in their decision to wed, refusing to keel under the pressure from her family members who were vehemently agitating for their break up. She and Obinna did ultimately succeed in winning her parents over, especially after they had enlisted the help of the Parish priest to persuade them to change their minds.
Nkiru’s father had unpredictably contrived a cleansing ritual after they considered the whole matter settled. This was believed to help appease and assuage the wrath of the angry gods that would arise from desecrating the OSU taboo.
OSU diatribe was a cankerworm that ate deep into the fabrics of her culture and people. An individual is designated OSU, slave, untouchable, and non freeborn, or such analogous terminology depending on a wide range of factors. These are supposed descendants of forefathers or ancestors who had been consecrated to peculiar gods as sacrificial lambs either as captives from intertribal wars or had worshipped and served at shrines of deities in the their day amongst others. The subsequent lineages of such consecrated fellows automatically inherit the OSU legacy and have to endure a peculiar segregation. They are erroneously perceived as untouchable, inferior to the freeborn and meet with constant discrimination from the rest of the society.
Obinna hadn’t been aware of his OSU legacy prior to Nkiru’s family discovery of his iniquitous legacy rendering his situation more complex. His father had concealed their OSU heritage from his brood. He was under the misguided notion that by so doing, he was protecting them from similar discrimination and ridicule that he had encountered in his youth. He went to a great length to conceal their legacy by resettling far from his birthplace in hopes that his new neighbours wouldn’t fixate on their cumbersome heritage. He subsequently embarked on petty trade and hardly ever revisited his birthplace. In place of notifying them of their legacy, Obinna’s father thrived on nurturing and equipping them adequately to counter any future strife. He was of the opinion that their future would be more secured if they obtained ample education, which would be their eventual weapon against the unkind world. They didn’t disappoint him either. Obinna was a first class brain and had graduated with a first class degree in Petroleum Engineering while his younger brother was nearly completing his medical degree program. Their much younger siblings also exhibit a similar academic prowess and promise.
The whole brouhaha arising from the proposed nuptial between herself and Obinna was finally resolved after the cleansing ritual was accomplished. The preliminary knocking ceremony finally held with a mini jamboree attended by both arms of their respective close family members. They formally congregated at her home to dine and wine together thereby officially indicating accord on both sides for the nuptials to proceed.
Alongside the endorsed nuptials plans scheduled to hold in next to no time, Obinna had also received a new transfer posting notification to the United States. Both of them were therefore aligned to relocate abroad to the USA after the conclusion of both traditional and church wedding ceremonies. There was a huge sigh of relief on all sides and for all intents and purposes, their initial run of hitches seemed to be behind them.
The next day though, her world was suddenly collapsed like a pack of cards. Man proposes but God disposes, she deigned once again. She frequently wished to be suspended in the realm of that last evening when their beloved ones and family members had assembled for their knocking ceremony and to rejoice and celebrate her engagement to Obinna. She also wished to capture and freeze Obinna in his most delightful moment when he had broken the news of his transfer posting to her after keeping the secret for days to surprise her.
They were so happy and reckoned things were finally falling back into place until…