By Uche Amunike
I was born in the city of Lagos in the early Seventies. It was in the period of abundance as our country Nigeria truly lived up to her name, ‘Giant of Arica’. It was the time when the Nigerian economy was based purely on the petroleum industry. In was born into a middle class family. We weren’t rich. We weren’t poor, either. We were just comfortable and richly content.
Growing up in Lagos was quite enjoyable and I had a very happy childhood. Life went on from my childhood and extended to my adolescence. Shortly after that, I got married in the early nineties. That journey to the marital terrain made me leave the city I had lived all my life to a different one I had never in my wildest imagination, imagined I would end up in. However, we’re talking about marriage here, so I didn’t have a choice. Like our people say, a young girl doesn’t have a permanent abode until she gets married. I had a new home to build and it happened to be in a town I dreaded back then. I have lived in Onitsha for 29years now and sometimes, I realise that time really does fly fast.
When my children were little, I used to take them on holidays to Lagos every time they were on their long vacation. It was my way of maintaining ties with my city of birth. I remember always longing for Lagos. In my early years in marriage, I kept asking myself how I would survive in a town like Onitsha with its congested streets, markets and houses. I wondered how I would survive descending four flights of stairs each time I went out and how to ascend the same staircase each time I returned. I just wasn’t really too happy giving up that life I had known all my life for what I was suddenly saddled with. I however adjusted to my new home and life continued.
Now, because I really wanted my children to have a certain degree of exposure, I made sure Lagos became their second home. They visited, like I said, during the long vacations and it was always worthwhile. Soon after that, I became too busy with work to travel with them for these holidays. I started making them go without me and it always turned out to be a good experience for them.
Just last month, we had course to travel together for the Christmas holiday. We travelled to Lagos because my little brother got married and his wedding was fixed to take place there. It was pretty hectic for me, having to plan on how to take them all to Lagos at that period of busy roads and all. We however, had no choice. And so, on December 18th, we happily boarded a chartered Sienna and in less than six hours, we were in our house in Lagos. I was really happy seeing my daughters super excited especially as they reunited with their brother, my son, who is a serving Youth Corper there in Lagos.
A day after our arrival, our excitement grew even more as all my siblings arrived one after the other with their families. My big sister, Iruka arrived from Atlanta-Georgia with her children, Emeka arrived with his children from Abuja, Chimezie returned from Atlanta-Georgia, Vivian arrived from California with her children, my mother arrived from Fontana-USA as well and so, with me and my children added to my brother, Obinna who is resident in Lagos with his family, we formed a full squad ready to take over Lagos. My only sibling that was absent was Ikenna who had just moved to Pennsylvania- USA and couldn’t make it because he just got a new job and couldn’t have been granted permission almost immediately he started work in his new establishment.
Now, because my brother, whose wedding we came for lives at Lekki, we had no choice to move the whole squad to the Island so that we would not have difficulties getting to the wedding destination on time and also, in order to have easy access to each other in case we wanted to hang out as a family. This made us rent apartments with our different families. Talking about apartments, I noticed that it was the in thing in Lagos. It was actually better than lodging in hotels because, in a regular apartment, you have your 3 master bedrooms, living room, well equipped kitchen with all the needed gadgets (gas cooker, refrigerator, deep freezer, blender, microwave, cooking utensils, glass cups and tea mugs, and of course 24 hour power supply) . I forgot to mention the swimming pool and of course, Jacuzzi. They didn’t come cheap, but were worth every dime paid. As I enjoyed the facilities in my own apartment, I wondered if Awka and Onitsha had started such highly lucrative ventures. It’s an investment worth taking up. We already have too many hotels and introducing the apartments won’t be a bad idea. My own apartment was named Martina’s Apartment at Victoria Island. For two weeks, my children and enjoyed every moment shared. I certainly had a good time and I realized that spending Christmas in the east had never been that enjoyable. I always had visitors and spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Then I had to attend certain outings, not because I really felt like, but because more often than not, everyone knows you came home for Christmas and would expect you to attend all their events. Most times, the stress I feel comes from driving everyday from Onitsha to Awka. All I ever craved was to go home for the holiday and chill with no stress.
That explains my joy at the Lagos trip. It was a great family reunion. We were spread all over the world in different parts and it wasn’t always that we had the opportunity of coming together like we did this yuletide. The last time we came together was tree years ago when my little sister, Vivian lost her dear husband in far away United States. But then, it wasn’t a celebration. We were in deep mourning.
So, I want to thank God for the opportunity to be with family again in celebratory circumstances. We had a good time. We had family outings throughout our stay. I think our first outing was at Oniru Private Beach at Victoria Island. It was so much fun seeing all my mother’s grandchildren come together after so many years and chill together. It was also, so much fun basking in the euphoria of being surrounded by siblings that truly loved me and appreciated my person in every special way. We had friends from our childhood who showed up for the wedding and it was quite emotional for me. We were able to relieve old memories and believe me, it was a good experience.
We were also able to go to the popular Muson Centre to watch a stage play titkled, Ada the Country. It was the most amazing stage playI ever had the opportunity to watch. Veterans like Joke Sylva, Kate Henshaw, Bimbo Akintola, Chi Gurl and Patience Ozokwor were the lead actors and I enjoyed every bit of the show. I also got the opportunity to meet them behind stage and interact with them. It was the most wonderful feeling.
On the 31st of December, we spent the cross over night with our in-law, Alhaji Nuhu Yakubu. He insisted we chilled with him in his intimidating home at Lekki. Alhaji Yakubu is a wonderful young man who has done well for himself in this country and beyond. My big brother, Emeka is married to his little sister. She was a staunch moslem as at the time they met. Gradually, she was converted to Catholicism and now holds a lot of posts in the Catholic church in Abuja where they are resident. Again, we were all given a royal treat in the palatial home of Alhaji Yakubu. As we laughed and joked amidst drinks and the most amazing barbecue, I thanked God for the gift of family and the love that comes with it. It is priceless. It is indeed the most beautiful thing.
While we were at the Yakubus, a cousin of his, Rasheed invited us to chill with him on the day after at the amazing Atican Private Beach and Resort at Lekki. Of course we gladly accepted the offer. So, hours after leaving the Yakubus, we found ourselves heading towards the beach, shortly after attending the New year Mass and having some rest. Because it was on New Year’s day, the beach bubbled with lots of families that wanted to have a good time celebrating the first day of the year with so much pomp! As I watched my children groove with their cousins, I was truly glad they had that connection. I know they have a Whatsapp chat room where they play catch up, but it’s not the same thing as being together. It was such a good feeling being in the midst of family and sharing so much love and communion. I felt peace. I felt love. I felt joy.
However, you know what they say about short lived joys. I lost someone dear at the same period we were on that trip. Ejike my cousin was a medical doctor. He studied Aviation Medicine and lived with his young wife and daughter right there in Lagos. He was in his early forties. I spoke with him on December 18th as my children and I headed to Lagos. We talked at length and he told me we would see at the wedding three days after. I told him I couldn’t wait to see him. On the wedding day, I didn’t see him and assumed he was held by the traffic, since he would be coming from the mainland. At some point it dawned on me that he might not have made it due to the exigencies of his job as a doctor. I was used to him cancelling our dates and appointments last minute because of emergencies that he was faced with in the course of his job. Wedding over, we all went home to our different apartments and life went on. A day after, I was in deep sleep when my brother, Obi called me to break the news that Ejike was shot by assassins and inflicted with machete cuts and left in the pool of his own blood to die. His phones, laptop and money were left untouched. While it was clear to us that he was killed by hired people, we kept on asking ourselves who they were. Ejike is an easy going quiet young medical doctor that minded his business. He taught Marriage Course at his parish in Lagos. He was a staunch member of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Society. He was just a good guy. I can only pray that God takes my pain away. I place his old parents in the hands of God. His father, a Medical Consultant in Cardiology has just retired and I’m supposing Ejike was supposed to take over his clinic in Enugu. Wondering how the vacuum he left will be filled. His only child, Amanda seemed strong when I visited her, but his wife is still in shock. God! I still can’t believe it.
The more I think about his death, the more I remember the love we shared as a family this last Christmas holiday. Life is really short and I hope we can learn little lessons of forgiveness, tolerance and acceptance and apply same to our daily lives. May the soul of Ejike Eze and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, Rest in peace, Amen!