Opinion

One Last Help

By Amarachukwu Okpunobi

Kunle had insisted that we get a chilled coke across the street to flush down the hot spicy noodles we just finished eating. I had not wanted to go, but he insisted. He had threatened not to accompany me get any stuff outside our street again. I know him too well, he will certainly keep his word.

That is what I was really afraid of. What if the day he decides to retaliate will be the day I really need to cross the street at night. I hate going out at night. In fact I hate being alone at night, after my parents were miserably shot before my eyes some years ago at night while we drove from Maiduguri down to Lagos.

We had gone to attend Aunty Somtoo’s Wedding. I was Seven years old then and Aunty Somtoo wanted me to be the little groom for her to-be- husband. My mother had said it was in the groom’s place to look for the little groom but Aunty Somtoo proved otherwise to my mother.

She wanted a handsome charming little boy who is smart and social. She said the little ones her to-be husband found were timid and at most couldn’t speak good English. After much debate, Aunty Somtoo won my mother and I became the little groom. The wedding had ended perfectly with both families of bride and groom going home happily.

After the thanksgiving in the church for the wedding, we went straight to Aunty Somtoo’s House for merriment. It already got late but my father insisted we go cake to Lagos since he will be in the office on Monday. Lateness is one of the things he detested.

We have not left Maiduguri when two young girls flagged down our car and my mother persuaded my father for a halt. She thought it could have been two young girls who were stranded on the road and needed a lift.

Left for my father, he would not have halted, but my mother who spoke somewhat faster than her brain convinced my father that she grew up in Maiduguri and as such knew the citizens more than they knew themselves.

My father didn’t doubt his wife, of course it was only normal to help a fellow human being, moreso my father trusted my mother so well that she actually knew these people since she grew up with Aunty Somtoo in Maiduguri.

My mother unwind her window down, asked them some questions in their dialect precisely hausa and they hopped in. Neither I nor my father understood their discussion. All we heard from my mother was that she would tell my father where to drop them.

My father felt comfortable with her decision. They hopped in and we zoomed off. I was sitting with my babyseater, Aunty Kelechi. I looked at her as the two girls entered and she kindly patted me on the back. She understood the gaze I gave her.

If there was something Aunty Kelechi taught me that I will never forget is personal hygiene. She made sure I bathed twice daily and brushed my teeth too properly. My school uniform and the rest of my clothes were always clean.  But there I was perceiving what I rather call unpleasant odour from the two girls. I wondered if no one ever taught them how to bath.

We have moved some distance, yet, the two girls were still with us in the car. I was tempted to ask my mother where they were alighting. Aunty Kelechi who seemed to have read my inquisiveness, placed her index finger over her lips while looking at me.

Any time she does that, it only means one thing, ‘keep quiet’. I unhappily pocketed the words that almost fell out of my mouth and we continued. My father and mother were so deep in their discussion about the wedding that my mother almost forgot that we had strangers in the car. She laughed out so loud about Aunty Somtoo’s husband who could not dance.

My mother had always argued that with my father, who wouldl maintain his stand vehemently that men dance more than women in their marriage ceremonies. Aunty Somtoo’s Wedding was a practical case study. My mother mimicked Aunty Somtoo’s husband’s unrhythmically dancing steps to prove her point to my father.

I smiled and chuckled with Aunty Kelechi. I wanted to laugh out but I couldn’t. Aunty Kelechi once told me that it wasn’t only cultural to keep quiet while elders talked but also respectful. So, I kept smiling to myself.

Gradually, sleep crept into my eyes. I slowly laid my head on Aunty Kelechi’s laps and doozed off. What ever happened next, my little head wasn’t aware.

I have not slept for so long when Aunty Kelechi woke me up with a shout. I opened my eyes slowly but angrily. I could have remained angry but who would have after seeing a gun being pointed at my father’s forehead. My father was pleading with the gruesome men.

They looked angry and aggressive. My mother was crying, Aunty Kelechi looked dead. Gose pimples took over my skin. I looked around, I couldn’t see the two girls any longer. Did they disappear into the thin air in a flash? Or was a planned deal to ambush us? Your thought is same as mine here.

The environment in a second became sour when the bullet went into my father’s head. I had actually seen cartoons where gun are shot but this was real. My father bent his head and blood gushed out just the way it happens in movies.

It didn’t take three minutes and my mother was dragged out of the car, at this time it was really dark. I heard another gunshot and that goes my mother. Aunty Kelechi froze while my cry filled the air. The gruesome men pushed us out of the car and zoomed off with the car. Aunty Kelechi fell on the floor and wailed. I ran to my mother and she still had a little life left of her.

She placed her hand on my forehead and murmured what sounded like prayers and slowly her hand went down to the floor. I didn’t know what was happening but I can remember that whoever acted like that in all the cartoons I had seen after a gun shot never came back to the scene.

Does it mean, my mother was putting up the act or maybe it was becoming real. Those things I did saw on screen can turn to be real. I let a loud cry and Aunty Kelechi came to carry me up from where my mother laid. She managed to put a call across and we remained on the road until Aunty Somtoo and her husband came to pick us up.

I lived with Aunty Somtoo after my parents were buried and Aunty Kelechi left too. I had my education in Maiduguri and university at Ahmed Bell University, Zaria. Thanks to Aunty Somtoo who contained me throughout the period of childhood and adolescent.

I met Kunle in our NYSC camping ground at Lagos. He is a cool guy and loveable. Good a thing we were posted to the same place of permanent assignment. We both decided to stay in the same room.

********

I can’t remember the last time we had electricity in our street. It was always one story to another. Kunle’s  small generator had broken down beyond repair and we sadly closed the chapter of electricity. Don’t even ask how we managed, we managed anyhow. Anybody who can’t manage in my country needs a teacher to learn from or better still learn by experience.

We have not moved far from our street when kunle tapped me on the shoulder.

“Did you hear that?”, he asked

Hear what?, I snapped

How will you hear nii? he asked rhetorically.

I wasn’t in the mood to answer his questions. I just prayed we saw a shop that had chilled coke faster. Kunle can’t take his coke if it’s not chilled . We already saw one down the street he had refused taking.

Is that drink cold in your eyes? He queried me when I tried persuading him to buy from the shop.

“Guy let’s go back, I think that sound is gunshot”, kunle who was then shivering with fear dragged me back.

Your coke nkọ?

“Na who dey alive dey drink chilled coke abeg”, he was already few steps away from me.

He walked briskly but a bit fast towards our lodge.

We were close to our street when shouts filled the air. People began to run helter skelter. What I couldn’t fathom was what exactly the uproar was all about. My heart began to pant. You can call it tachycardia. My legs were getting weak. I could not run. Kunle was not close at all.

It seemed the gunshot was coming for  me. Sweat filled my skin. My mouth became dry. I wanted to call for help but I couldn’t. I opened my mouth but no sound came forth. I stood at a spot for some time. My eyes rolled back and front.

The fear of loosing my sanity and consequently my life if my body becomes a wedge for a flying bullet gripped me. Did I forget to tell you that I am asthmatic? Anyway, that’s by the way.

I struggled to get hold of myself. It was getting darker and the lights in the street were fading gradually. My vision was getting more blur. I felt I was going to have crisis. I tried to take a deep breath and slowly layed on the ground while feets flew like birds over me.

I laid down on that same spot for about an hour. Every where was cold. No voice filtered across my ear. No soul was on the street. I gently rose and sat on the ground and wished for a better nation, where helping a fellow would not be the reason to become an orphan. Where gunshots will only be for war and not for the vulnerable citizens of the nation. Where human lives matter and is cherished.

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