It was an unusually sunny day in early spring. I had just succeeded in putting the kids to bed for their routine afternoon nap. It was a tough job as they preferred to play rather than sleep especially when the sun is up in the sky and other children are running around cheering and laughing.
As I sat on the dinning table reflecting on what had just taken place between us, my eyes were glued to the to the blossoming flowers on the window. I was lost in thought momentarily as my mind wandered away.
It was many years ago when I was with my grand mother in Afube, our tiny village. I had tried to engage her in a conversation as I wanted to hear her once again tell me stories, stories I and my cousins had listened to times without number. Yet, we were never bored to hear it all over again.
Each time, she re-told the story with a new vigour and enthusiasm. She also didn’t seem tired to tell it over and over again. And if someone joined later, it was not a big deal for her to start from the very beginning, she enjoyed such memorable times and lit her wrinkled brown face with a smile; displaying the scanty yellow teeth.
We listened to different stories but she had a favourite which she often began with except we protested and asked for a particular story instead.
The only time I had seen her worried was the times she told us the story of the Biafran war. She was often happy and sang traditional lyrics even when it was evident that she had not had a decent meal in days, yet, her joy knew no bounds.
Adaku and I had confronted her on her constant happiness and the secret behind it.
‘ I am in-between life and dead; I have lived long enough and any time death calls I will gladly answer’
She also explained that she had gathered her life baskets and one of her legs was already with her ancestors while the other remained with humans. This amazed our young minds and we wondered how any human being could reason that way as though she was calling on death to hasten up and take her to the great beyond.
Over a hundred years old, our granny was the oldest woman in the village and we were glad to have her around and equally prayed for her to live longer so we can at least enjoy her rich collections of folk-tales despite the fact that we doubted the authenticity of most of the stories. Yet, it was the best way to relax in the evenings under the shinning moonlights.
Her angelic melodious songs often reverberated all over the compound and everyone would leave whatever he or she was doing to listen; her sonorous voice left the listeners asking for more. She thanked her Maker for the longevity and said she was ready to meet Him any time He pleased . She was particularly grateful for surviving the war which claimed millions of lives including that of her family.
They lived in the northern part of the country with her seven other siblings and parents, being the only girl, before the war broke out. And before they could gather some of their property to escape the war-torn state, three of her brothers were already slaughtered, before their very eyes. They had attempted to confront the Islamic fanatics who stormed their house in the early hours of the morning, the same way they searched other houses in the neighbourhood looking for ‘infidels’ to kill. It dawned on them they could no longer wait to sell their father’s shop but must run for their lives.
They scampered for safety and as soon as they lost sight of the assassins, they left the city. Just as they were about to board the overcrowded train, another group of fanatics who chanted some religious songs landed and struck again, killing a handful.
Eventually, only my grandmother, one brother and her father made it back to the village alive and empty handed.
She said the war didn’t get to Afube as a huge mountain hid them from the rest of the villages. They were safe but the prevailing hunger and famine did affect them in great measure.
I noticed her eyes were saturated with tears as she concluded her story; obviously, she didn’t want to weep in front of her grand children as they might be frightened or even join her. She was ill at ease on her low plastic chair. She wanted to get up but her aid, the walking stick, was not in sight; Ebuka took it and was playing with it at the back. I called out to him to return it and we helped her to her feet and took her back to her little hut.
The next day, I brought her lunch and and sat with her as she ate the delicious breadfruit . I had become her favourite grand daughter as she found me helpful and always within reach.
I had asked her questions about her youth and if she was able to fulfil her dreams and life aspirations.
‘I almost achieved the goals I set for my self and would have done much more had the civil war not broken out and my dreams were shattered’
There was a feeling of regret on her tired face; she seemed to go down memory lane in her mind’s eyes.
I searched her face and noticed she was in deep thought so I let her be for a while. I also tried to imagine how it must have been for her and the whole family during those trying times.
A few minutes later and she didn’t seem to have recovered ; her eyes stared in to the air without a blink nor body movement.
I became nervous and wished I hadn’t put the question to her in the first place. Her frail body and heart must have been truly hurt for reminding her of the past she most likely desired to do away with, forever.
‘Mama nnukwu’, grandma, o gini, what is it, are you al-right?’
I inquired, terribly alarmed.
Her eyes blinked and she let out a weak smile but said nothing.
I repeated the same question and she sat up and looked at me intently. I felt guilty and looked away. My eyes gazed at the unfinished lunch on the mud floor and then back to her.
Her voice was now cracking as though a lump was on her throat.
‘My daughter, dreams are what keep us going in life and we must have visions of what we want to achieve, else, life will be meaningless. Yet, we must not blame ourselves for not reaching our goals particularly when it’s beyond our control’, she said.
She began to cough and I ran outside to bring her drinking water.
She wanted to continue her story but I begged her to rest for the day; I have given her enough headache and any further attempt could be fatal.
I convinced her into resting on the mat which she obliged without hesitation.
I left the next day to the boarding school in the city; that was my last conversation with the old woman. I never saw her again until I learnt she passed on two years later.
Yet, our last discussion remains fresh in my memory.
As I looked from the glass window that afternoon, the spring sun that shone in my face reminded me of the days we gathered at my grandma’s hut with the moon as our only source of illumination.
I sure miss those days and whenever I listen to kids chanting nursery rhymes, she comes alive in my memory.
And just as she had advised me -unknowingly her parting words, I will continue to dream even if some of it do not materialize.