Legend as it my father became a member of the elders guild of our illustrious village when he was ten years old. Our village was ensconced in the vast hill tops of the South eastern part of Nigeria. The main stay of our people was cassava. The elders guild was made up of a representative of each of the twelve families who owned the largest cassava farms. Each family usually put forward their most successful son, which of course translated to the most successful farmers. My grandfather, Aduba represented his family. My father was his first child, they were seven children in all. But his position was indisputably the most important, by virtue of his gender and position. In a world that was fiercely patriarchal, everything in their home revolved around Aduba and his first son, Azuka.
My father was a dynamic speaker. It was said just before his birth, my grandparents were visited by the village dibia. There was a prophesy. The baby would be a son, one whose words would be spooled like that of a masterful spider spinning a beautiful web. He would be a great leader.
He spoke so eloquently, with fire in his belly. His voice was strong; his speech precise, concise…beautifully crafted. His teachers called him the ‘master’, his parents called him their ‘gift,’ his peers always shouted ezeokwu k’aneku! at the delivery of any rendition. His father presented him before the guild after his tenth birthday. Many of the elders expressed their reservation but their objections were overruled by their king. When my father was given permission to address the guild, he spoke on the beauty of our great village, on its potential and its heart…the people. There was no sophistication in his presentation. He was after all a child. However, there was sincerity and a masterful looping of his words, the elders were completely bowled over.
The inclusion of my father started a trend. A member was only replaced at death. However, after Azuka joined, that rule was reviewed. My father was raised in an unusual family, for that time, that terrain. His father was a staunch ‘traditionalist’ who had absolute faith in his dibia. His mother a recent convert to a foreign religion. My father said he learned religious tolerance from his parents. Despite their different religions and modes of worship, he never saw any tensions between his parents. One day, he wondered out loud why his father allowed his mother practice a different religion. His father dismissed his concern with a wave of the hand, he stated: she is the same woman, she hasn’t changed. When she stops cooking my onugbu soup and refuses me entrance into her chambers, then I will torch that church she goes to. He never compared but celebrated each person for their creativity and individualism.
My father despite great success in the metropolis kept gravitating back to the village. He ran a printing business but couldn’t resist lending his voice to the political terrain. And it was that voice, that great voice that led to his murder, their murders. Mine was a charmed life. Or so I thought. I was an only child for so long I assumed there would not be another. I do remember a sense of loneliness for a short time but my mother’s commitment towards me was so absolute, I couldn’t imagine sharing her with another. Then, one day I overheard her saying a prayer. She was on her knees by her bed, her head on her pillow and though her voice was muffled, I heard her quite clearly. She was praying for another child. I was almost twelve. I tip toed back into my room and from that day on started praying also. I wanted her to be happy.
When I came home on vacation from college a few days short of my eighteenth birthday and noticed her extended abdomen, I remember picking her up and spinning her round in the garden. She screamed with laughter. My father had his glasses on the tip of his nose, sipping his Guinness. She was the most beautiful pregnant woman I had ever seen. She took me into her room and showed me the beautiful clothes she had bought for the baby. A baby. Finally, after so long. I took her into my arms again. And that was how my father found us. Her head was nestled on my chest, her arms around my waist, my arms wrapped around her….as much as her distended abdomen could allow. He laughed. Uche and his mother. We stayed in the same position. My sister was born a couple of weeks later. Adaeze.
When my grades were released that session and I did poorly in three courses, my father’s disappointment was disconcerting. I remember I sat with him in his study and I could see my mother breast feeding my little sister in the garden. Adaeze’s lips were firmly fastened on my mother’s right nipple, her beautiful dark head cradled in the nook of my mother’s arm. My mother’s eyes were firmly on my sister’s face. Such devotion, such intense devotion. Uche why are you not doing well in school? I told my dad in all honesty I was distracted. I was like a kid in a candy shop. First time I was having easy access to the opposite sex, parties, alcohol….I was loosing a sense of myself but at the same time, I felt I was discovering who I was. My father listened to me without interrupting. When I was done, he said something I would never forget. What you lack my dear son is singularity of purpose. You are fixated on too many things. Focus on one thing and then you will excel.
Focus, I did. I focused and excelled in my academics. My parents were happy, I was happy. The world stopped spinning. I finished school and was able, through my father’s influence to get a much coveted internship with a successful minting company in Benin Republic. I returned to Benin, even after the mandatory NYSC. It was there, I got the news of my parents murder.
The loss left me a different man. My sun and moon were gone. I have gaps in my memory about that year. I believe I went into survival mode so as not to loose my mind. It is true that what doesn’t kill you, definitely will make you stronger and develop spiritual muscle. My sister became mine to care for. That responsibility I embraced with what was left of me. I truly believe Adaeze gave me singularity of purpose, again. My father and mother left enough in the bank for both of us apart from a vast wealth in real estate. However, by virtue of the way they died, I didn’t want to have anything to do with the Southeast. I continued to retain the same lawyer my father did but kept my distance. I moved to Lagos and secured a good job with the sister company that employed me in Benin Republic. Adaeze was my only stay. The first year was the roughest. She would wake up screaming: fire! fire! fire! Her eyes open but not seeing. In the morning, she would have no recollection of the night before. It took a bit but gradually we both started to heal. It hasn’t been easy but we are both going to be fine, especially my sister.
I promised my father I would focus on one thing. I would focus on passing on the legacy my parents gave me to Adaeze. That, was and will, remain my singularity of purpose.