By Yetunde Arebi
I couldn’t resist this article when I saw it in my box last week. Nearly all families have a similar experience to share. We all love them too, stories of people rising above their circumstances to achieve success. Typical grass to grace stories that will make even an atheist recognise that there must be a force directing the fortunes of man from somewhere. The story you are about to read was sent in by Kingsley Alumona from Ibadan. I was moved to tears just trying to capture what he and his young sister must have suffered in the hands of their uncle and his family as a result of the loss of their parents. Today, though in a position to take his revenge out on his uncle, he has opted to show him love instead. Surely, if the Lord has already granted you victory over your enemy, then it is not too much if you are magnanimous towards them. I hope you find it interesting as well as educative. Do have a wonderful weekend!!
“Growing up, my village was one of the villages in Umunchi in Isiala Mbano of Imo State that still worshiped Amadioha, the god of thunder. My uncle, the older and only sibling of my father, Mazi Nwaigwe, and his wife had a shrine for it. My parents had warned me and my younger sister and only sibling, not to go close to my uncle’s shrine, not to mention eating anything from them. My father, a secondary school principal had said that my uncle and his wife were not God’s people and that their god was evil.
I was 12 years old at the time and my sister was 10. I did not understand what my parents were saying because my uncle was nice to me. But not long after, when my father died and my mother was accused of killing him, I began to understand.
My father had woken up about one week before his sudden death with a swollen stomach. The doctors said there was nothing they could do for him, and he died three days later. My uncle and his wife accused my mother of killing my father and demanded, according to tradition, that she swore by the alusi, their god, and drink the water used to bathe his corpse to prove her innocence.
They accused my mother of killing my father because she was an osu, an outcast. My father was a diala, a true born, and was not supposed to marry my mother. So, my father’s family had always hated her. My uncle’s wife hated her the most. She always said the shrine or the marketplace was where my mother rightly belonged.
So, at my father’s funeral, they handed a cup of the corpse water to my mother. Much as my sister and I cried and pleaded with her not to drink the water, she recoiled from us.
“Arinze nwam nwoke, ima nghota,” my mother said in Igbo. “Arinze my son, you won’t understand.”
“Agam egosi n’aka m di ocha,” she said. “I have to prove my innocence.”
“Egbughim di m. Agam anuriri mmiri a. Esogbula onwe gi, Agaghim anwu,” she said. “I didn’t kill my husband. I must drink this water. Don’t worry, I won’t die.”
She drank the water and died two days later. The villagers said my mother was the witch that killed my father, and that she was lucky Amadioha dignified her with a peaceful death, instead of striking her with thunder.
It took just two weeks after my parents’ death for me to begin to understand what had befallen my family. I began to doubt the fact that it was Amadioha that killed them since they did not die by thunder. I was already in secondary school so I could understand what was going on.
They told us it was the custom and tradition of the land, so, my uncle and his wife inherited everything my parents owned, the house, the car, the businesses, everything except his position as school principal. He demolished his thatched house and moved into my father’s three-bedroom flat. His wife took over my mother’s beverage business but within six months, squandered everything. Shortly after, my uncle sold the car because he could not maintain it. What broke my heart was not that my uncle and his wife colonised my parents’ property which rightly belonged to us, but that they relegated us to one of the rooms in the two-room boys’ quarter. The other room was allocated to Amadioha. Alusi became our next-door neighbour. My uncle had wanted to build a shrine at the rear of the compound, but his wife disapproved. When it came to making decisions, he was the figurehead while his wife was the real head. Their three children who were all older than us attended public schools before the takeover but were enrolled in private schools and we were taken to public schools. Though, my uncle had wanted us to remain in our private schools, his wife objected to it, saying there was no money to enrol osuchildren in private schools.
My sister could not endure the hardship, especially the fact that she lived next door to Amadioha and would always dream that it was about to attack her. So, I convinced them to send her to our maternal aunt in Owerri while I remained without knowing why.
What I went through growing up is better imagined than experienced. I had to push wheelbarrow in the market to pay for my WAEC examinations. During vacations, I learnt how to repair cars and generators. In all of these, I noticed that my uncle was always proud of me, no matter what, even though I resented him deeply. A few weeks after my exams, I told them I was leaving for Aba to eke out a living with one of my class mates and his uncle. My aunt was against it but my uncle hugged and prayed for me, insisting I must keep in touch. He probably did not know I was leaving so I would have nothing to do with them again.
I did not return until almost 12 years after when I received a call from my uncle that his wife had died. She had died with her stomach swollen, just the way my father died. But hers was strange and sudden and she looked as black as char in death. It was very obvious that my uncle was very happy to see me when I finally arrived the village, commenting on how big and robust I had become. All I could see was all the pain and hardship I had suffered living with him and his wife. As we chatted, it was obvious that he did not remember if I were osu or a diala.
He was still living in my father’s house. My uncle informed me that the house had been listed for demolition by the government, along with some houses in the village, because it was built in an area earmarked for electricity projects. The time given to my uncle to evacuate had elapsed, and soon the bulldozers would arrive. I wished I had not come.
My uncle had no place to live. The only land he had was close to the cemetery, where his wife, due to the mysterious nature of her death, would be buried. I remembered that many years ago, the cemetery was where the evil forest was. My uncle’s land, on which his demolished thatch house used to be, had been sold by his last son who ran away with the money to South Africa. His first son was in prison for drug and arms dealing and his only daughter had had a fierce quarrel with him over a man and had eloped with him. I was not sure if they had heard about their mother’s death as they were all absent. My uncle had briefed me on the phone last week that I was all he had as family now. And though I wanted to laugh, to tell him how much I despised him, but I couldn’t. He had also called my sister but she had abused him and hung the phone on him.
My odyssey was a long one and it rolled out in front of me in a flash beginning with how I arrived Aba with the family of my classmate. How I got a job as a mechanic and with the help of a man who claimed he knew my father and but for him, he could not have passed his WAEC. He helped me through my education at the National Open University. He got me a job as a manager at Innoson Motors but today, I commute between Nigeria and Japan importing cars for my boss and electronics for myself.
God has been kind to me. I had no choice but to forgive my uncle and take him back home with me. As I watched him evacuate the property in the house, majority of which belonged to my father, tears cascaded from my eyes. The house would soon be demolished, but the nostalgic memories it created stuck like glue. Suddenly, the question popped from my mouth.
“Mazi Nwaigwe, do you think it was my mother that killed my father?” My uncle stopped and looked at the sky, then at the ofo, sacred staff, in his calloused hand. From the way he was now holding the ofo, you could tell he was tired of it and of life.
“Nne na nna gi bu ezigbo mmadu. Odi ka ya buru na fa k’adi ndu,” My uncle moaned. “Your father and mother were good people. I wish they were still alive.” At that moment, I knew I was right about my uncle all along. He is a good man, but he was tied to his late wife’s apron string. “Mazi Nwaigwe, you’re a good man, but you allowed bad things happen around you.” My uncle halted at the door of the shrine and looked at me. He nodded his head, moaned and entered the shrine with his back.
He came out, carrying his god in a red-and-white box. I asked “Mazi Nwaigwe, if people had told you that your children would desert you, that your wife would die in a mysterious way and that you would be homeless today, would you have believed them?”
My uncle mumbled something in dismay. He was old and frustrated. He looked at me, then at the box in his quavering hands. He took two feeble steps and the box, with his god in it, dropped and shattered on the ground. I was not sure if it was intentional or an accident, but he looked at me and smiled. When Amadioha shattered, I had thought it would unleash lightning and thunder, but nothing happened. I suspect he had also expected something too and had been disappointed. He fell to his knees and cried. “Arinze, naani gi ka m nwere
,” he looked at me and said. “Arinze, you’re the only one I have.” I nodded and gathered him on his feet and told him I would take him home with me.