How are you? I hope Sheffield is treating you well? Recently, Enyo-ojo and Iko were talking on the phone about Idah. Iko recalled daddy’s slow but steadfast footsteps that left traces in the night’s silence; the irony of it dawns on me now.
Lately, I remembered our lives in Idah; the Christmas celebration, the full house, the bazaars, the masquerades, the myths, family friends from the Cathedral, and even the long new year mass where the bishop blesses every family in church—all these make tears converge in my eyelids but they do not trickle down though. These memories made me write my only published poems, Adios to Those we call Friends and Cheers to New Memories, and the type of attention the poems drew stunned me. One lazy Sunday evening, I logged on to Twitter to see a notification, the Caine Prize official Twitter handle had shared my poems and called them beautiful. Ojonugwa, I could not believe it. I checked the follower count to be sure, and behold it was them. To this day, that has been the highlight of my writing journey. I wrote another poem about Idah recently. You may ask what is so special about that tiny town. A quote from my poem answers this: “how do I leave a place that holds traces of memories, I recall with fondness?” To me, home is a state of mind and not a place. Do you recall the memories too? Idah is a ghost that keeps fading and shedding itself of inhabitants. Every year, an ambitious wave ejects familiar faces but never returns them.
I did not suspect a thing when daddy did not attend our school bazaar in December of 2017. My sad eyes kept staring at the road, hoping to catch a glimpse of his ash-colored car. It was nothing but a futile gust of hope. And it was strange he did not attend because he always attended. At first, I thought he was busy. December 2017 had a lot I was yet to unbox. We were cleaning the school after exams, preparing for our Christmas carol and vacation. My portion was to trim the branches of a short palm tree. Maybe I did not strike it well or maybe that branch was too strong for my Langa Langa; when I struck it, it bent and swung at my face. It hit my left eye and left me reeling in pain. The eye was bloody red. I was granted permission to go home.
Not until I arrived home did I realize daddy was sick. As soon as I got home, I was told I needed to travel. I packed the few clothes I could pick and headed for Lokoja. I arrived in Lokoja to see daddy’s receding frame on the hospital bed. The last time he was that sick was when he had a temporary ear impairment. I felt helpless, and I literally could not do anything but pray. I do not know why I never cry, maybe the torture from Saint Kizito has made me numb, or maybe it is age. This sickness had jumped from one part of his body to another. The thing with daddy’s health is that it keeps getting better and worse at the same pace: he was okay during the lockdown before we (Ojonimi and I) went to Abuja but when we came for Christmas. I saw him on crutches. This illness has left me in constant fear; there was a time mummy called me and for the first time in my life, I feared the worst, the frosty calmness of her voice hastened my heartbeat.
Sometimes I wonder what our lives would have been like if daddy was not averse to change. I often hear he had a job offer that would have taken him from Idah to Abuja, but he turned down the offer. I often ask myself why? What did he see there that we did not? Was it his friends, the memories, or fear? I think it was a mix of all. If we grew up in Lagos or Abuja, our lives would have been better, or we would have been exposed to opportunities and we would not be scattered all over the country and abroad.
I am like a nomad now, never settling, always finding a home in different places and people. I think it is a mental revolt, trying to be the opposite of him. I no longer feel bad about growing up in Idah. I savor the memories and look forward to the future. Some of my friends do not know what masquerades look like; I find it funny because we saw masquerades every festive period in Idah. Even in the town, others do not know much about the Igala culture. I think Idah gave us that opportunity. The world is gradually evolving with tech; it does not matter where you are from but where you are heading. For me, Idah is no longer home but a trove of memories. I feel I have to write about that place, the people, the culture, the serenity. There has been no prominent novel or poem about there. I pray one day the world will see this place through my lenses and that of other Igala writers and poets.
When I first read Purple Hibiscus in 2014, I saw Kambili’s father in daddy, except for the abuse. He was like most Catholic men I knew—extremely dedicated to the church. We were not allowed to attend other churches or their programs. When mummy attended Living Faith programs, we could not go. I remember one holiday in August when Holy Family Nursery/Primary School and Saint Boniface were organizing holiday lessons. He insisted I attend Saint Boniface because he was the laity council chairman, but I preferred Holy Family because all my friends went there. I had to write him a letter, telling him why I preferred Holy Family. I was afraid he would not agree, but surprisingly he did. When I applied to study at the University of Jos, he ordered me to change it to Kogi State University (KSU). I refused. I sat him down and explained to him why I chose Jos and he listened. “If that is what you want, that is fine with me,” he said. I did not gain that admission but I learned he was approachable.
The past few years have shown me I am like him in some ways. You have to come closer to know him. He was somewhat of an introvert, always in his room reading newspapers, listening to the radio or sleeping. I remember him being strict but he never did beat me (except once, when he knocked me for cutting the curtains with a pair of scissors). His words were enough to halt my juvenile delinquencies. I realize why he made some of those decisions for us now; he knew we were not old or wise enough to decide for ourselves. The University years were when he allowed us to do what we wanted. Yet I wish he spoke with us about these things.
Since his retirement last year, he has become chatty. He wants to know if I have eaten or not, and he always calls to ask about my well-being. When I am home, I try to engage him in conversations. In some ways, he is why I want to be a writer. His room was filled with bundles of Tribune newspapers, which ignited my interest in politics and my love for Current Affairs. My classmates were surprised when I listed the names of all the governors in Nigeria in my SS3. The newspapers also had story sections I loved. I became better at spelling. And the news column on the back page read like excerpts from novels. It was there that I learned about the late Obadiah Mailafia and Prof. Farooq Kperogi.
Daddy rarely missed my visiting days, unlike mummy. I should appreciate him more, you know? I remember attending your graduation with him at Sacred Heart Marist College in 2009, where you received the prize for the neatest student and the best in Chemistry. I see pictures of him in various graduations and it becomes clear: he was always there. He was ill when I graduated from Secondary School. Only mummy came. I wished he was there to see me receive my prize for the Best in Economics, I know he would have been proud. Do you remember his room? It housed many of our documents, medical test results, catholic cards, school results, and childhood pictures. He always bought us wraps of suya the night before we went back to school, or the oje oskapa and obo egwa, which he bought every Saturday. He is not perfect; I wouldn’t wish for any other.
I never understood why he insisted that I take down the curtains at night until two years ago when I got robbed. My curtains were wide open and the lights were on. The robbers tore through the net and stole my phone and laptop. I thought daddy was being pedantic but he was being protective.
Do you remember when robbers ambushed you guys after a vigil and they left you behind? Or when I threw your pillow into the water because I did not want you to go back to school? I hope to hear from you soon.
About the author:
Unwuchola Victor Achile writes short stories, creative nonfiction, and poems. His work has appeared in Kalahari Review, Spillwords, Salamander Ink Magazine, and Isele Magazine. His works revolve around themes like memory, dreams, and love, amongst others. He loves to write about Igala culture. He cherishes good music and football.
Feature image by Pawel Czerwinski on Unsplash