The night he joined his ancestors, birds came perching at the roof of our house. Their perching was very intentional. I was the first to be awoken by it. It was as though they were trying to awake us to the eerieness of the spirit of death that night. Birds sang mournful tunes on the bough of the iroko. Trees shredded fresh leaves… and all was significant. Death had strolled across our streets and unfortunately took him by his hands to cross the bar.
We have always believed that no one can die a natural death. It’s either his chi took him or he must have quarreled with the spirits of his fathers; maybe the one whom he had refused to pledge allegiance to.
Eleven years old Chika, my candy crush too had woken up. Mama’s last born. He crawled out of the mat with fear on his head like a pitcher. There was still dried saliva on his cheek like an arrow leading to his ear. He was terrified by the noise the birds made on the roof which was now getting even louder. I drew him abreast and gave him a reassuring long tight hug to keep him calm, not minding if he felt the weight of my breast.
I looked at the clock, it was only 12:30am. Not too late to return to sleep yet, too early to forsake the message the birds were trying to pass. I patted his back and he soon fell asleep on my shoulders. I laid him back to bed and summoned temerity to go outside. It was cold outside and the dew were just standing up to fall.
Fear rent the air. Anxiety ruled the night. Trouble smeared.
Just as I got closer to the barn, he was already dying. He was struggling for life, but life, that moment, was miles away. He began stretching his limbs. His limbs became stiff till he gently closed his eyes in utmost surrender to the surreal clarion call of his ancestors, giving up the ghost. I rushed to him to discern what had transpired. I checked it’s mouth, but it hadn’t eaten the forbidden leaf. It was dark. Why would Billy be outside by this time? Didn’t Chika send him to his barn before going to bed? He struggled for life right before my eyes. I watched my most loved pet die in my presence in that ungodly hour of the night. My love for him grew even much more at the scene. I forgot it was late or that it was even already dark when I screamed in tears. I guess it was my voice that woke Mama from her sleep.
“Nne!” Mama’s soprano voice called me from the most enclosed part of our house. Papa had built his house in a way that if one was shouting in the room, it would not be heard outside… meaning that Mama had been calling me.
I managed to get up from that scene to answer Mama’s call. Different things went through my mind as I plodded back into the house. The thought of how Chika would starve himself should he hear that Billy had died weakened me. He would think and cry all day and perhaps mourn him for days. He was Chika’s playmate and had mastered his smell from a distance.
Whenever he was returning from Blessed Memorial College, only seven stone throws away, Billy would bleat as though he was saying, “Welcome.” He fed them with just anything he was eating. Although we all loved our goats but the love for this particular hegoat was in excess and Chika, Mama’s last born, loved him the most. There’d been a friendly relationship between them both. But to now think that Chika’s playmate is dead was indeed a bone in my neck.
“Uju!” Mama called again. This time, she know something was wrong. My lips were too heavy to explain what my eyes beheld. She had to come and see for herself. Papa was awakened too. Mama broke down in tears at the sight of Billy. The wrapper that barricaded her chest was now almost loosened. She didn’t even care. She wailed as though she had lost her only son. Papa only gave a deep breath after listening to my narrative of the whole scene and went inside. I thought he was going to sleep when he returned with a shovel. He dug two feet into the ground and buried him.
“When I see goats parade out of their barn into the streets…” Mama began. “… to toil for their dinner themselves, I’d like to think they’re of age. But who poisoned you Billy? Didn’t Chika give you enough cassava? Uju fed you corn in the early hours of yesterday. Why? Why did you bring us this fate. Now you have taken away our peaceful night and had killed our love for our neighbors. Who did this to you?”
I’m sure the neighbors would have been disturbed by Mama’s cry and rhetorical questions. That was Mama for you. Too emotional. Too dramatic. Too serious. Chika was still enjoying the breeze of the night, except for the little disturbance by the strangeness of the night which made him turn side to side almost every minute. His spirit wasn’t at rest—his friend had left him. Unnoticed.
The night was pale and sickly for me. Mama didn’t sleep all through the night. She was restless and was awoken by the slightest noise as she wasn’t sleeping deeply. Papa summoned courage and tried to accept the fate. He had always believed that the most unwanted visitor would come unnoticed.
Chika woke up in the morning to the news of Billy’s death. He wasn’t sure whether to shed tears of pain or of sorrow, but because Billy had left him to a world of unfriendly friends; he quickly made a choice. It must be tears of sorrow. Sorrow from the abyss of a troubled heart. He wondered who would sip diluted palm wine with him and listen to his tales when the moon was full. He wondered who would laugh to his jokes even when they were dry and sour. He wondered in who else he would find a friend.
Little wonder the birds perched so intentionally on our roof that night. And in our village, anytime one was awoken by the perching of birds on one’s roof, it is known that such is in for doom. It had been like that even before our forefathers were born. We grew into that style of death arrival. And our children shall walk into it.