We were six in number, but we are now reduced to five.
My mother’s first born, our brother is gone!
Nobody knows how bro Gabriel died. All we know is that he went abroad, the UK, to study engineering. He promised that when he finished schooling, he would work and sponsor the rest of us. He did not finish school. Instead he sent mama a letter through a friend that he
was coming to Nigeria that he had met a Nigerian girl who is studying nursing in the UK and that they plan to get married.
Bro Gabriel did not follow the plan we all had about him finishing and sponsoring the rest of his siblings. He did not and we will never know why.
According to his friend. He met a Nigerian girl, (she is not from our side.) He said the girl helped our brother because her family is rich. He said they lived together and that she was even pregnant. That is how the next thing we knew, Bro Gabriel sent word that we should go and do introduction in the girl’s house. That we should carry the necessary things to her family to tell them ‘our son is interested in your daughter.’
We did, even though mama was very sad. Mama asked Bro Gabriel why he did not first finish his schooling before talking of marriage. I believe the girl had turned his head. He was no longer talking like a rational man. All he was saying is that when she finished schooling, he would be the one to take care of their child and she would work and when the child is old enough, he would go back to finish his schooling. Is that one the talk of a rational man?
Anyway, let me continue my story.
They had a baby girl. Yes, in the UK, they never even talked of coming home. All my brother was talking about was his wife this, his daughter that.
One day, I couldn’t bear it any longer, I said, Bro Gabriel, what of your poor mother? What of the woman who scarified everything for you to go and school abroad? What of us your brothers and sisters, waiting for you to fnish so that we too can do some schooling? What of the family you left behind?
But my brother just said I shouldn’t worry that he did not forget us, he said he had big plans for us.
Hummn, I said, ok, o. I did not see how those big plans involved us.
Then something strange happened.
One day, mama and the rest of us were in the kitchen cooking. Usually, when mama is cooking, all of us must be there. boys and girls all of us, mama will say if you can eat the food, you should at least know how it is cooked.
So, that day, we were cooking egusi. And mama can take time to cook o. She can cook one pot of soup for two hours.
That day, we were all very hungry. In fact, we were just praying mama would cook fast so we could eat. But as usual, she was just taking her time. Boil meat…let it get soft…bring cray fish, bring stock fish…let it boil and get soft…bring this, bring that. That is how mama cooks.
Even at that time, my elder brother Euzebus had made one full bowl of garri ready so that when the egusi soup was done, we would just give mama our plates and we could start eating. You know how anxious kids can get.
Hummn, then finally, at long last, mama said the soup was ready and we should bring our plates to be served the soup. That time, our kitchen was at the back yard in an open space but with a roof.
Yes, we had three stones that held the big pot over the firs. Yes, that was the kind of pot we had. So, we were all set, garri ready, soup ready. Suddenly, out of nowhere, one huge lizard landed inside the fresh pot of egusi soup!
This kind of thing has never happend to us before. Where did the lizard come from
Mama screamed. She dropped the big spoon she was about to use to stir the egusi to begin to dish into our plates. All of us were watching in horror as the lizard tried to escape the hot soup, splashing this way and that way…then it died inside…our soup was ruined! Our soup was gone! Who will eat this one?
Mama just began to cry. She was wailing, like she was mourning. It was as if it was more than a lizard falling into a pot of soup. I heard my brother Euzebus tell mama, “Just remove the lizard and scoop off the top and let’s eat the rest.”
Mama did not even hear him, she said, ‘Something terrible has happened to me, an abomination has occurred.’ She was stamping her feet and pulling her hair.
You know, at that time, we were young, we didn’t know what she was saying or what she meant. Even me, I just thought, mama remove the lizard and let’s eat this soup.
But mama was crying, she asked us to pour the soup away!
Trouble! Pour which soup away? Soup we’ve been waiting for in the past two hours! We were hungry that day because mama just became inconsolable…
Three days later, we got the news, bro Gabriel was dead!
It was his friend who came to give us the news at home, he was called by another friend who was in the UK and was instructed to come and tell mama her son was dead.
Ask me how? N’ekwam!
Was he sick?
They said the wife said he was sick briefly.
So, briefly she could not contact his people that he was sick?
She said it was pneumonia.
That’s how my brother died. Till today, and this happened almost 18years ago, till today, mama has not fully recovered o. She said she knew something bad had happened when that lizard fell into her pot of soup.
We knew suffering for years after that. We went hungry for years, we suffered. But there is always a light at the end of the tunnel.
Mama died recently but she lived well, all of us took care of her. We are all doing well in our different endeavours, yes. I didn’t do much schooling, I stopped at form five but look at my shop, I sell textiles and market is good. As for my brother’s daughter, one day she will come to Nigeria to know her people, we are waiting.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)