Home is not just the sweet aroma of stews that wafted from Mama’s kitchen, which formed momentary white clouds over our roof on Sundays. It is not the rainy days that I do run about in my birthday suit with Isioma, offering our backs to be flogged by the cold hard tassels of the rain.
Home is my father, sitting at our small corridor with his loud radio, with his pen trapped in between his fingers, writing only what himself understood. It is the hushed whisper in the middle of the night when Mama amidst sobs begged my father to stay clear from politics.
Home is memories, of the days my father had unknown visitors with cold eyes and unsmiling faces, who left silently like death just the way they have come after discussing with Papa. It is the day we left Papa in our big house and stayed with aunty Amaka. It is the many years we didn’t speak, when only vague images kept Papa alive in our hearts. This was home, until those last days and that night I visited Papa, every other thing died, I had no other memories of home.
That night, Papa had stared at me, as if wondering how time had made me grow so big, big to ask the questions I now do, big enough to look him in the eyes and ask him what the problem was. He looked at me and smiled in the way a father’s cheeks would bulge with pride before friends at the sight of his precocious lad who had just done great.
“All is well” that’s all he could say, because there was nothing else to say. His pale distant eyes and ruptured cheeks behind those bars spelt in all boldness, the many things his tongue was too weak to say, petrified that uttering them would worsen the situation.
His sight dried all the words my tongue harbored. So, like a nail pulled by a big magnet, I grabbed his weathering hands, so that the belly of my palm would warm up his pulse and rest his veins. That was the only language I could speak at that time, that’s the only one I thought he would really understand, that’s the only language that would tell him that I understood.
I didn’t reach out to wipe the tears that escaped the rims of his eyelids, I knew he needed those tears; they were slaking the thirst of all he did love to say. Those tears laid them bare, so I could see them. My tongue would have disturbed the beautiful cinch of our hands, that like electric cables shared equally the pains that ran through our hearts and washed by blood down our veins.
I left that day and promised to come back tomorrow at ten O’clock, that’s the time he would be executed. It would be hard not to tell Mama that he would be executed the next day But of what use is it, to watch how like a common thief bullets would be rained on her husband tied to a firing stake. It is okay to bury one, it’s a big burden already, to make it two by telling Mama would be way too much. So Isioma and I decided, we weren’t going to tell Mama until it’s over.
Sympathizers stampeded into our homes that evening, causing a momentary traffic jam. They all had something to say, and each dished generous portions of advice into Mama’s waiting ears. They all said beautiful things, too good to be true, gave hopes that only God could grant. They would all end their speeches with the stale phrase “it is the will of God “.
But the latest incident has dealt a great blow to my faith. Even as the priest came in to pray, he requested we all closed our eyes. I kept mine opened, it was my own protest, my own rebel against God. I didn’t ask anything in the prayers, there was nothing to ask for, I believed if God really wanted to help, he knows exactly where to start from. But Mama’s and Isioma’s faith never wavered, though like candle wax mine has crumbled, burnt into a thick white paste, their faith never wavered.
In my room I battled with the daunting fact, that in the next fifteen hours Papa will be history and Mama would be a widow. Cold shivers settled in my bones at the thought. Death no longer seemed distant, I could almost touch it with my hands, its aroma scuttled in through the gaping windows and stood stark before me, the smell of death.
Papa has been in custody for 104 weeks. He was taken in on the count charges of slander, defamation of the presidency and rabble-rousing, leading to public unrest. Papa had written in the Guardian newspaper, raising a concern about the person of the president. He insisted that it’s not the Buhari, the man who took the mantle of leadership from the former President Goodluck, that was on the seat.
He said the Buhari we knew was long dead after the health challenges that saw him out of the country for months. That the man in charge now was just his lookalike from Sudan, that the real Buhari was gone. He made plausible claims, but that was way too much. He was deliberately sticking his fingers in the eyes of the Presidency. People began talking, many calls tugged Mama’s phone, advising her to keep Papa in check, to caution him. But like always, Papa wouldn’t listen, it’s always a woman’s talk for him.
The Supreme Court issued an arrest warrant. The day they came to arrest Papa, he resisted. He was all prepared and got his small pistol ready. But the officers were just too many to be shot all at once. He managed to kill only one before he was overpowered and apprehended. The look in his eyes that day was satisfaction, he had seen this coming.
He believed he had said the truth and that has slaked his thirst. But the labor in the prison was simply unbearable, prior to his expectation of being killed quickly, they made him beg for death. In the prison, you see how loose what used to be his skin hung on his withering bones just after two years.
When I reached the station the next day, none of the policemen talked to me, they all avoided me like a plague. I asked about Papa, none of them answered, it was still 9:30, so I knew he wasn’t yet executed.
One of the policemen motioned me to a little room, just before the cell papa did stay. I didn’t understand, had they changed his room just on the last day, or are they giving him the final treat before his death. I looked at the uniformed men with suspicion. They all avoided my eyes.
I strode into the room. A strong repugnant smell hit my nose; it hung heavily in the room. For a moment, I was blinded by the flurry of its wave. Then at the end of the room, just by my right, was a grotesque figure. A skeletal frame with a half bald head, tufts of skin, empty rib cage, every other thing we’re all bones. There was a strong urge to bolt, my eyes had fallen just below the eyelid of what used to be someone’s eyes. I saw that mark. I went closer, I feared the answer my head was giving me.
I hunched before the dismembered frame, like a thunderbolt my head was struck by what I couldn’t explain. It was Papa. I swallowed hard. That mark, he got it 10 years ago in a scuffle with a policeman, whom he had refused giving a stipend on the highway.
For a moment my head was blank, I didn’t know what to feel. They didn’t shoot him, they had considered him too useless for bullets to be wasted on him or maybe they saw that as way too generous. They wanted a painful and slow death. Now there will be nobody to be buried, but only bones, wrecked bones of a man who believed in himself and that truth was meant to be said.