I watched her die. Not on the bed, nor the floor, but right in my arms.
Make of this what you wish but some memories are excruciating to the heart. The days preceding the action were normal. It had no hint or mint of misfortunes hovering around it. The moments were laced with bickering, chattering and some form of bonding.
But it came, the force we can’t control, sneaking up on us like a thief and making away with a prized asset. The apple of her parent’s eye. Chidera. The second true friend I’d have in my entire life.
Left to me I wouldn’t tell this story. But memories — flashbacks have a way of sneaking up on you. Sending to shatter your garrisons. It did this evening as I managed to beat the traffic. I got home exhausted. Curled up on my bed. My phone, firmly placed in my hand.
Then it happened. The DJ across my street made a scratchy sound on his ton-table. And before I could say jack. Music blasted through his speakers. Old school. “Ekwe ” by the stereo man played first causing a smile off my face, then “Ifeoma”. It was after “ifeoma”, I heard the next song; “Ifunanya” by P-square. My heart stopped in its tracks. It became heavy as memories flashed before me.
I had deleted that song on all my devices but every time it played accidentally. A Flood of tears stung my eyes.
It was 2007. We had just finished our west African junior examination. My set had two months plus to stay at home. And I loved money. So I engaged myself in monetary ventures like picking palm fruits, weeding people’s farms and fetching firewood for sale. Those monetary ventures made sure we stayed apart for three weeks.
It was during this time that it happened. Chidera was my classmate in primary school. Even though we attended different secondary schools. We still kept in touch. In touch because we were birds of the same feathers, curious and always eager to learn. Her school was ahead in almost every subject but lagged in two. So we usually meet to sort ourselves out. This continued for three years. My grandma and her mother got acquainted in the process.
But the life. they say, is a sea, ready to drown victims, eating the whole up.
For those of you who know Ozubulu, the land at one time, two years ago, murdered its offspring. Chidera’s house was situated along the road facing the Castle Microfinance Bank. A stone throw from Amakwa Central Primary School.
News travelled with a speed of light the day it happened. I arrived from my wanderings and met my grandma seated outside. Her snuff-box in hand, the thumb guiding a heap of tobacco into her nostrils. As she sighted me, she heaved a sigh.
“Kedu ihe mmadu mere uwa?” the question was directed to me.
“Hmph? Nne, isi gini?” I asked, taking a seat beside her on the bench. There was a moment of silence as she shook her head. A cock crew. And As if on cue, grandma cleared her throat. And told a tale. A tale I found hard to believe. A tale I have heard a couple of times but never really believed it true.
Seeing how hard it was to grasp what she was saying. Grandma patted my shoulder and said, “A gbara Chidera pin… Chidera has been inflicted with pins.”
My mouth gapped, words formed but there were no sounds.
“Her mother came in search of you today.’ She said, “Chidera is asking for you.”
“Mama, I meanuru ihe a? ke ubochi o mere… when did it happen?” confusion pegged at my face.
“Eh! Nnam. Ubochi abuo gara aga… Two days ago,” she replied and tried to pacify my spirit.
I bolted from her, raced into the room to freshen up. During my preparation, my mind kept lingering on the words grandma said, “Agbara Chidera pin”. Being inflicted with pins was a diabolic act. A disease meant for one person. Where the victim feels prickly of a thousand pins on their skin. People usually caught it in farms or compounds, especially if the name mentioned has something to do with you.
It was rated to be equivalent to elephantiasis. A condition is only given to supposed enemies.
How did Chidera get this?
Who has she offended to be punished like this? Was it her father or mother who erred? Or was this just pure coincidence? Questions ruled my mind until I fell out of the house and rushed to her place.
Standing in front of their house, I called out her name. There was no answer save for her mother’s voice. A voice that broke into a sob immediately saw my silhouette.
“Somtoo come in. Bata n’ulo nwam.”
I heeded her voice and stepped into the house. A house that reeked of happiness and laughter once before, felt gloomy. The gloom hovered as I sighted Chidera sprawled on the bed. A bed that replaced the table in the centre of their sitting room.
She was pale. Awake. Her eyes were flaccid ink in her socket. I looked at her skin. They were coarse. Her beautiful embroidered gown, an article of fitted clothing she loves wearing every time her confidence bubbled over, looked so hollow on her.
Destabilized and disoriented, I screamed,
“Jesus! Chidera, what happened to you?”
Her mother took the initiative and narrated her ordeal. How she was cooking on Sunday evening and needed pumpkin leaves. How she left the garden and went to the farm adjacent to her uncle’s compound to pluck the leaves. The rest was how she ran home screaming, “Ntutu adugbu mo!..I’m pinpricked!!”
That was two days ago. I screamed another Jesus because she was like a stick, a nightmare I’d never wish anybody.
“Nne, kedu ka I mere? How are you?”
She heaved and smiled. I returned the favour. she stretched her hand, I took it and she stood with me, grimacing at intervals as we walked to the door. Her smile had returned but she was weak.
Her mother was shocked, she hadn’t stood in two days. That was evident from the stench in the room. So she asked where we were going, “Eligwe! Heaven!” Chidera said.
We scrambled out, her frail body against mine as we journeyed to the front bench. Our favourite spot. There, we talked. We talked about life, about memories, the strategies we used against our teachers and headmasters back then, outsmarting them most times. We even talked about her admirers, the guys that wooed her and thought we were a thing. This conversation dug up laughter and giggles that we even forgot about her illness and chattered.
From her admirers, we proceeded to dreams and then music. Our favourite artists and songs. She chose P-square while I chose 2Face Idibia. All these while we argued who was better. She gave her reason while I did mine too. We were at loggerheads so I asked her to sing her favourite song from P-square and if she misses the lyrics I will correct mine. She lost.
With hands entwined, she began singing “ifunnaya”. Her mother’s frame was behind the curtain but I ignored and listened to Chidera.
That was when it ended. As she busied herself in singing the chorus of her favourite song.
“ ifunnaya. Ifunnaya. Onye m bu n’obi…”
Her voice, sweet as the nightingale. It was that second that he struck. The reaper of souls good and bad.
A cough blocked her vocal cords. She tried to cough but the pains of prickly pins returned with a wave. As she coughed, she jerked, her body quivered and her mouth emitted a foamy substance. I hadn’t even called her mother when she arrived, grabbing her cheek and trying to wake her.
“Chidera! Chidera! Emekwala m ihe ojoo. Biko nne kuñie, mepe anya gi… Open your eyes, my daughter, please.”
I was lost for words, for action as her mother’s tears poured like rain. Chidera went limp. Stiff. And right there in my arms, she became lifeless.
“Ifunnaya!” The last word that left her mouth.
There you have it, the reason tears stung my eyes whenever I hear the song “Ifunnaya” by P-square.