July 8, that was the day. Yes, that was the day she could not wake up from sleep. It was not totally strange to me, but the date. I recall with pathos how both of us, through the Railway line, were going from the Methodist Church, Obayi, Ovim, to Umuanya Ngongo, a compound, not far away. One hefty man appeared from the blues and grabbed her, dragging her along. I raved and beckoned at people around to rescue her. One man told me that she should go with the man. ‘Why?’ I asked, protesting with all my strength, but the hand that held her was stronger and could not let go until I woke up.
I wept bitterly, though not a regular dreamer, I knew that her end had come. In the morning, I wore a dark dress to school. Our tutor asked why I was not putting on my school uniform. Trust me, I managed to outsmart him. I shared the dream with two of my friends, Nweke and Egbo, and they assured me that nothing would happen to her. During our holidays, I shared the dream with her. She told me that she would not die. I found strength in her response.
I was in high spirits one Friday night preparing for our soccer match scheduled for the next day, when our principal, Chief D.O. Opoko, sent for me. I imagined the worst. He said that he would send me to Ovim, my lovely town, for a message the next day. I told him that we would be going for a Soccer Cup Match that day. He was surprised that I, a first year student, was in the First Eleven in a team made up two Teacher Training colleges – Higher Elementary Training Centre [HEC] and Elementary Training Centre [ETC]. The HEC students, being our seniors, dominated the team. ‘They will wait till you are back,’ he said. I reminded him of other students from Ovim he could send, who were not in the football team. He insisted that I was the one he would send.
I knew then that she was dead – my mother! How could it be? Life was nothing again to me – my mother! If I had a brother or sister, still living with us, I would not have minded much. How could I cope – the only male in the family, the last born and all my sisters were married. I did not have a close uncle or auntie. If I were a child of God, the story would have been different. Yes, I belonged to the Church, but did not know Jesus personally, except academic knowledge of Him. I did not pray and nobody ever prayed when there was a problem. We prayed only on Sundays by reciting ‘Our Lord’s prayer’ in the Church. I could not sleep that night.
Early in the morning, I went to see our principal as he had instructed me. He did not pray for me because it was not the time for morning devotion, the only time we would pray. Surprisingly, the principal told the school driver to take me to the Railway station. If there was any doubt of my suspicion that my mother was dead, that abnormal gesture put a death nail on it. On the ticket counter was Aunty Lechi! Pretending that she came to Uzuakoli for business, she asked me where I was going. I had no doubt in my mind that she was the one, who brought the sad news about my mother’s death to our principal. I challenged her vehemently, telling her, how my mother was dead and she sneaked into our school compound and told our principal. She was forced to tell me the truth. ‘By the time I was leaving home,’ she said, ‘your mother’s condition had deteriorated, but she was still breathing’.
Though an unbeliever, I told God that I would be all right, if I met her alive. And I did! It was not easy for me, when we arrived at Ovim Railway station. If I saw people discussing, I knew what it was all about – my mother’s death! Seeing how I was behaving, one man told me that it was my uncle, Pa Emmanuel Ikeoru, who died and not my mother. That was a big pain but not as painful as that of my mother. On our way home, I saw some women carrying cassava and I knew that it was in preparation for my mother’s burial! Immediately we arrived home, trust me, the well-known ‘404’, I rushed inside and saw her alive – yes, my mother! Were I Uncle Simeon, who dedicated the infant Jesus, I would have shouted, ‘Lord, now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace, according to Thy Word! For my eyes have seen Thy salvation…’
I hugged her severally and then wept joyfully. My pains were healed immediately. Had I known the Lord, it would have been a great opportunity to praise God and then minister the Gospel to her. I did not, and no one ever did that. I went to Ohoroho to console Pa Ikoru’s family. A few days later, I went back to school. July 8 that year, was like any other day but it was not so in Ovim. As Nigerians were preparing for Independence Celebration, the dark clouds had gathered. A woman, difficult to tell, whether she was a man, had gone to bed on July 7, 1960, but could not wake up the next morning. That was a woman, who competed favourably with men in farming and in trading. If you are in doubt, visit her yam bans in Ohoroho and Umuakwua. She never farmed near our town but very far away. If someone died, the bell would be rung in a particular way and a penalty was imposed for those, who failed to turn up. My mother was the exception because it was obvious that she must have left home for the farm or for her mat business at Uturu or Uzuakoli.
Emotion was written all over her – my mother! Imagine a woman returning from Uzuakoli market one day, and on reaching Ihenzu, Ahaba, she heard that someone was dead and she wept from there, quite a distance, to our compound. Asked, by the elders, what prompted her weeping, she said, ‘At Ihenzu, on my way from Uzuakoli, I heard that Osondu’s father was dead,’ The elders wondered. ‘Osondu’s father, who was he? Who is Osondu?’ they asked her. My mother did not know any of them. What touched her tender heart was the name, ‘Osondu’, because her son, me, is Osondu! Though the elders rebuked her but we know that emotion makes a woman. She was a woman! My mother was the first woman in our village to build an all-round-mud house. It was nothing but courage that guided her, a widow, to send me to school. That was why I did not bother, when she did not send me to the secondary school. No widow in my town did that.
It was a week after her death that I was told. I travelled home immediately only to discover that she had been buried – my mother! The pain was less compared with what it would have been, had she died that time Aunty Lechi came for me.
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