Life and General Fiction StoriesNaija Stories

Home is Safety, Family is Home

I came home after school to the sound of my parents quarreling. This was the fourth time they were quarreling since the Terminus bomb blasts. Too weary to go inside and get in the middle of their fight, I sat down on the stairs leading up to our house. It was not yet 6pm, yet the whole compound was as quiet as a graveyard. There were no children to play with and our fellow tenants went into their homes as soon as they came back from their places of works. It was a stark difference from the way it used to be about a year ago.

My mother wanted to go back to the village due to all that was happening in the northern part of the country where we resided. She had stopped going anywhere and stopped us from staying for after school activities as well as other places.

The day of the twin bomb blasts was still fresh in my mind. We had woken up by 5:30am as usual; said our morning prayers; prepared for school and my father dropped us off at our school. My mother had gone to her market stall as well. Even at school, things had went on as normal as it could without any warning of the forthcoming danger. By 2:30pm, my brother, my cousin and I were already at home. Ebube was having his siesta when we heard loud cries outside. We rushed to find out what was going on and we were met with a funny sight. My mother was kneeling down in front of our house, her red scarf tied haphazardly around her waist, her yellow blouse was stained with some black stuff. Her slippers were nowhere to be found.

“Hei, my God has saved me today oo. Jesus Christ, I thank you oo,” she cried raising her face and her hands towards the heavens. Some people who owned shops near our compound were trooping in to find out what the matter was. Someone must have relayed my mother’s state to them, and given her friendly attitude towards those around her, a lot of people were genuinely worried about what had happened to her.

“Mama Chinaza, what is wrong? Hope all is well?” I didn’t know who asked the question. I knew that I was supposed to go to my mother but I was frozen with shock and fear. For one, I had never seen my mother lose control. She was always put together both emotionally and physically. To see her this way meant that something was seriously wrong.

She looked towards my direction, “Naza, you’re well oo. Thank God.” She stood up and enveloped me in a tight hug. She smelled strongly of smoke. She looked around, “Where is Ebube?”

“He is sleeping,” I replied.

“Thank God. My God has saved me oo,” she continued crying.

“Mama Chinaza, what is it? Tell us the problem,” a robust lady who sold foodstuffs opposite our house said almost impatiently.

“You haven’t heard?” my mother asked incredulously, surprised that most people had not heard the news. “Ha,” she exclaimed indignantly, “these Boko Haram people want to finish us. But it will not happen. These people have bombed terminus. It killed many people.”

“Jesus.”

“Ewoo.”

“God forbid.”

“Chim oo, my sister went there today oo,” a woman screamed and brought out her phone probably to call the said sister.

“I’m telling you,” my mother sat on the stairs, “the bombs exploded near JUTH hospital. Two bombs oo. These people are really heartless.”

“Are you serious?” Oga Simon, a carpenter asked, his two hands on his head.

“My friend just called me. Too many casualties,” a woman came out of her house shaking her head.

“This is not happening. Are they that wicked? Of all places, Terminus market. What do they want from us?” Tochi, my cousin said leaning on the railing.

“My God will not allow any bad thing to happen to me,” my mother muttered in Igbo. “I would have died today,” she said to nobody in particular. I sat down beside her and put my hands round her in a comforting manner.

“This is really getting serious. Do these people want to kill everybody? God forbid!” he threw a spit violently at the flowers as though they were the cause of the problem. “Their charm will not work on me at all.”

“I knew that it was going happen,” Mama Chidera who lived on the floor above ours said as she came down the stairs. “Those people are just so bloodthirsty. They won’t rest until they wiped everybody away from the face of Nigeria.”

I drowned out the voices of the sympathisers and imagined the bombs exploding, parts of bodies flying around spraying blood around; black smoke reaching the blue sky as though to mock its serene and peaceful nature, cries and groans of people in pain resounding like a gong; traders and market women running helter-skelter for their lives. I imagined the instigators of the blast hiding at a corner safe from even the after-effects of the bomb blasts laughing and drinking to their success. Their red, blood thirsty eyes dilating in pleasure as they watched people crying for their missing body parts as well as their missing or dead loved ones. I wondered briefly if they would be satisfied by the fatalities caused by the blasts and they would finally leave us alone.

Just then, my father drove into the compound, raising dust with the speed he drove. He parked his car carelessly in front of the landlord’s poultry house where no one allowed to do so. Without even waiting to properly bring the car to a stop, he dashed out of the car and rushed to our house.

“UC.” For once my father’s face which was usually cast in stone was filled with mixed emotions; worry, fear, anxiety and love. My mother stood up and flew into his hands. “I’m here,” came the muffled reply.

“Thank God,” he muttered continuously. Looking towards me, he stretched his hands and enveloped in one of the warmest hugs I had ever received from him.

By then, our compound was filled with people. Some had left their places of work, some had streamed in to talk as was usually done in such situations. A group of women were consoling two women who had lost their relatives in the twin blasts. The first had sent her daughter to the exact area where the first blast had occurred. The other had briefly left her shop in another part of the market to see her cousin whose shop was in the said area and didn’t even get there before the blast occurred. It was evening and both had heard nothing from their relatives. A trip to the area and to the hospital had proved futile. I wondered if the woman would ever see her daughter again. That evening, the atmosphere was sombre. Everyone was still reeling from the heavy blow. The news gave a report of 56 people dead and still counting. The question that kept running in my mind was that if they could strike a market place, then they could strike anywhere again, but where and when? Would there even be a forewarning?

Since her near death experience, my mother had refused to go back to her market stall. I couldn’t blame her, a lot of women had relocated their stall. My mother claimed that they would go back to complete their mission to destroy terminus market as well as though who were there. She had also taken to asking my father to move down to the village where she felt was more safer as the beasts she believed could never infiltrate the southeast region. This could have been one of the most trying moments in their marriage. While my father argued that he had an established business in the city, my mother was more concerned about the lives of her family members. The quarrels as well as my mother’s tears became a constant feature in our otherwise happy home. The tense silence that invaded our home made it so unbearable that I and Tochi took to spending most of our free time with our neighbours. Ebube was blissfully ignorant to this tension.

While we played ludo and hangman with the neighbours, I thought of how moving would affect our lives and found myself siding with my father despite the threat of these terrorists. Going to a new school in a new environment that was entirely different both culturally and climatically certainly didn’t appeal to me, neither was the prospect of making new friends. I had asked Tochi what he felt about this, his reply was, “If auntie wants to go back to the village, I will stay here with uncle.”

I couldn’t fault him for his decision, after all, he was my father’s nephew and my mother could not force him to go to the village if he wanted to stay with his closest relative. His father had died of food poisoning about seven years ago. As it was widely believed in such cases, he had been poisoned by someone who was jealous of his prosperity. The fact that such still happened in the far east was chilling enough to make me hate the prospect of going to settle down in the village.

The quarrelling and silence lasted a month before my mother decided to bring in her mother into the matter. Mama, our grandmother was quite youthful and agile at 78. She owned a provision store at Onitsha and had vehemently refused to leave it in the hands of sales person. It was either she took care of it herself and have no fear of losing even a single naira than to leave it in the hands of salespersons whom she claimed were untrustworthy and unpredictable. One couldn’t argue with her judgement of the group of people who had on more than one occasion caused problems in both the business and the families of their employers.

We had been duped on two occasions by ‘apprentices’ whom my father had brought to our house to help him in the business. My father’s business would have collapsed if he hadn’t discovered their deceit before it got out of hand. The whole experience had left us disillusioned and confused, and because of this my father had decided to bring only close family members to help in the business. Tochi was the only one who helped him in his business.

My grandmother was the only relation I enjoyed spending my time with. She was vibrant, cheerful and was also kind-hearted. She told a lot of stories and was very good at giving advices. My father respected her so much and sometimes, I felt that he loved her even more than his parents that were rather nonchalant about the affairs of his family. Mama called both him and my mother from time to time to check up on us. And while she loved settling issues between married couples both in the village and in Onitsha, she was very careful to avoid involving herself too much in marriages. Among her children, my mother was the closest to her given the fact that she had been the only daughter among five children. They were like friends and though her calls were constant, they spoke for more than 30 minutes, and often chatted like long lost friends. And rarely hid anything from each other. I always listened in on their conversations. They were interesting and contained the best gossip from the village, Onitsha and even Jos.

On this Saturday, she was about to cook supper which was ọha soup along with semovita. She called my grandmother and put her on speakerphone. She had once told me that she liked talking to her mother while she cooked because it made her feel closer to her as she had grown up the closest to her mother, accompanying her in the kitchen and anywhere else that she went. I took advantage of the fact that I would help her in the kitchen to listen to them. I hoped that my grandmother could be able to convince my mother to remain in Jos.

“Mama anyị, good evening ma,” my mother greeted enthusiastically despite the fact that less than an hour ago, she had been crying in her room.

That wasn’t enough to fool my grandmother who had brought her up, “Nne, what is the problem? Did Dozie do something to you? Is it the children? Or those animals?” she said the last with disdain. She knew her daughter too well to know that something was wrong.

“Mama,” my mother said and burst into a fresh bout of tears abandoning the cocoyam that she was about to set on the cooker.

I heard my grandmother say something to someone in the background, “Nne, what is the matter, eh? Talk to me, stop crying, ịnụgo?”

It took a while for my mother to calm down. “I don’t want to remain in Jos. I am too scared, for me and my children. Even Dozie, one of his shops is near the central mosque. I cannot live here peacefully. These people are really heartless. Mama, do you know that I was among those that escaped death in that terminus bomb blast,” my mother said rapidly in Igbo.

“Chineke mụ o!” my grandmother shouted, “my God is not dead. Chai!, why didn’t you tell me this eh? I have called you three times since then, but you kept on saying that you and the children were safe from danger,” she queried, “What of Dozie? You said that his shop is near that mosque. Is he safe? What of the children…?”

“Mama, slow down,” my mother said calmly, “Is anyone really safe in this situation?”

“What did you say, safe ke? My children will not die in the hands of those wicked people. The God that I serve will safeguard you all in Jesus name.”

“Amen,” my mother answered. I chorused the same within my breath. “Mama, I want us to relocate. I want us to go down to the East.”

There was a moment of silence.

“Mama?” my mother called out when silence stretched out.

“Did Dozie say that?” she bit out.

“No. I told him that I cannot bear to live here. The tension…”

“UC, why would you tell your husband to relocate. Do you think it is easy to settle down in another place, eh? So, because of Boko Haram, you want to run away?” my grandmother queried.

“Mama, this Boko Haram issue will not just disappear today or tomorrow. People are dying every day. I don’t want to be killed by those evil people,” my mother argued.

“And so what? UC, and so what? Don’t you trust in the God that you serve, eh? I am worried about you and the children’s safety but do you think that Boko Haram is the only problem in this world. Okay, if your husband decides to remain in Jos, will you leave him there and run back to the village?”

“But mama, he is more concerned about his business,” my mother complained.

“Who told you that? Have you sat him down and asked him why he doesn’t want to come back to the village? Compared to life in the city, life in the village is very difficult especially for people like your husband. Do you think that it would be easy to vamoose from Jos and implant a jolly life in the east. Nwa m, it is not easy at all. Do you know, Obinna, my brother’s son just came back from Mubi. He said that they couldn’t even take their slippers and he came back with his family. Do you know that he is struggling to find his base here. Not all the successful businesses in the north will work in the east. Those two places are very different, both in climate and lifestyle. He was a very successful businessman in Mubi, and now, he had to take to riding okada, just to give his family three square meals. What about Tony, he sent his wife to the village and rumours have it that he now has a mistress. Do you want that to happen to you? If you are going anywhere, go with your husband. Don’t let those animals break your family. I wouldn’t want that to happen to you, nne.”

“Dozie would not want to uproot his life here in Jos. He has said it to me and to his friends,” my mother explained quietly.

“Then, you should support him with his decision. Nne, I know that you are afraid, but the area where you live now is quite secured. Even if they attack you, have faith in God. Moreover, if you take God with you anywhere you go, be rest assured that you cannot die a shameful death. Unless, He wills it. And God does not wish bad for His children.”

“I know, mama. But I cannot help but feel afraid. I want to believe as much as you do but it so hard.”

My grandmother took a deep breathe, “Do you want me to come to Jos?”

“No, mama. When people are rushing back home, you are coming. No, I won’t let that happen. We will manage,” my mother refuted.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, mama. I’m sure. I will think about what you have told me. Most of the women in my Bible study group are going to other states. Ifunanya and her family have moved to Port-Harcourt.”

“And if tomorrow they start bombing Port-Harcourt, where will they run to? America. UC, don’t listen to those your friends. These couples of nowadays, they do not know the meaning of marriage.”

“Mama, I was not going to leave because of them. This state is not safe. I trust Dozie. I know that he would not cheat on me,” my mother firmly said.

“I am not saying that I don’t trust him, but i don’t think that it is a good idea to separate the children from their father at this age. Your children need their father and you cannot take that right from them because you are scared. Nwa m, you need to be strong. You are the woman of the house. If you don’t keep the family together, nobody will do it for you. Pray always. I will go to Father Mbaka’s Adoration next month and offer prayers for your family. Do you still visit the Blessed Sacrament?”

“They are also bombing churches, mama. I will just pray at home. You said God hears our prayers no matter where we pray.”

“Okay, Nwa m, do as you like. But always call on God before you make any decision or do anything.”

“I will, mama”

“How is Ebube and Chinaza. It has been three years since I saw them.”

“They are fine. I stopped them from attending afterschool lessons. I have to be very careful, if I lose any of them, I don’t think i would survive,”

“Nwa m, don’t say that,” my grandmother chided. “Nobody will die, God forbid.”

My mother muttered an “amen.” “How is Ifeyinwa? Is she behaving well?” Ifeyinwa was my cousin. She had been sent to live with my grandmother after she had started behaving poorly in Benin.

“She is behaving as she should,” my grandmother said indignantly, “I don’t know why Amaka raised her child like that. When she first came here, I felt like flogging the hell out of her. You know that I don’t like flogging my children. She could not work or even greet her elders. She didn’t even know how to boil water. I hope Chinaza is not like that.”

“No, mama. I trained Chinaza well. She can cook sometimes and also does house chores.”

“Very good. I hate to see young people being lazy, lying down all day with their phones chatting with God knows who.”

My mother chuckled, “Mama stop complaining. They are young people. Let them enjoy their youth.”

“Enjoy youth, ke? During our time, enjoyment of youth was bathing in the stream when we go to fetch water. How many people do that nowadays. You have everything at your doorstep. I don’t blame them.”

“That was over 20 years ago. Things have changed.”

“You are saying the truth my daughter. Thank God for the change. I can still talk to my children no matter where they are.”

My mother laughed, “Mama, if things work out well, we would come home this Christmas. I will talk to Dozie.”

“Christmas is still 6 months away and you are already making preparations. Take it…” the operator cut in to warn my mother that she had one minute remaining.

“Ah, my airtime is finished. Mama, I will call you another time”

“Next time, I will talk to Naza and her brother. I am missing them.”

“Okay mama. Greet everyone at home for me.”

“Yes ma.”

With a laugh, my mother hung up the phone. All the signs of tears that had been on her face had completely disappeared. She looked happier than she had been since the bomb blast. With added gusto, she resumed her abandoned cooking.

That night, I heard her relate to my father that though she had conceded on not leaving Jos, the whole family would go down to the village for the Christmas holiday. I sighed happily with relief. I would tell my friends who were already preparing a farewell party for me that there was no need to do that. I wouldn’t have to breakup with my boyfriend of 2 months and I wouldn’t have to go through the trouble of getting used to a new environment and making new friends. My life would not undergo a complete turn, I thought with relief.

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