I read something on your website about the yuletide period being the period many people are depressed or are mourning.
Yes. It is true.
It’s funny how some people gear up to enjoy the season and others just want to curl up and die somewhere. This is life.
I lost my daughter one Christmas season many years ago.I say lost because I have no idea whether she was kidnapped or drowned or is lost…no idea; this is why every Christmas season is like a reenactment of the beginning of my pain.
I don’t even know how to start my story but let me say, my husband left me with three kids; he wanted a male child but I was just giving him girls he said, so he met a lady who gave him a son and before I knew what was happening, he had moved in with her and we never saw him again.
Now Grace was my first child and in the house we lived, a four flat story building, the neighbours were fantastic people; when they found out what happened to us, my kids and I, they rallied around us, they baby sat for me when I had to work late; they gave food to my kids when I had nothing in the house, until I found my feet again.
But that Chriatmas, I think, about four or five years after my husband left us, they invited me and my kids to join them at Lekki Sunsplash. Come o. You do remember those days of Lekki Sunsplash, don’t you? Late 80s early 90s, it was years before GSM, before Davido, Wizkid or Tiwa savage and all the music sensations we have today, then we had Fela, Evi Edna Ogholi-Ogosi, Alex Zito, Blacky, Daniel Wilson, even Lagabja.
That time, music concerts were budding ideas. Anyway, they asked me to come along with them and their kids. There were actually two neighbours who were going, the third had travelled to the east with his family, so I joined them. My kids and I were excited. My eldest, Grace was 12years old. I had a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old, those, I knew I had to keep my eyes open for but Grace, she was always with one of the daughters of my neighbor, Dunni, a 16year old. There was nothing to stop us from going, we went in three cars.
We packed food, drinks and made extra, just in case!
Now, I asked you if you knew about Lekki Sunsplash? If you do, you will recall that it was usually a two-day affair, but we went on the 26th of December 1990. We had fun that day, I kept a firm grip on my two younger daughters while my neighbours minded Grace for me even though all she wanted to do was keep swimming in the waters, I allowed it for a while as I watched her but after a while, I dragged her away from the water.
We ate, drank, danced and when we decided to go home, the chaos began.
Now, you all know how chaotic beaches can be during festive seasons, so we had agreed to leave earlier than most people. We got there early, say 11am, after 5 to six hours of fun, when a lot of people were streaming in, we decided to leave. We packed up and began to load up into the three cars; we came in a convoy but the way things turned out on our way out, there was no way we could leave in a convoy.
By chaos, if you’ve ever been at the Lekki Sunpslash, you will remember that many fun seekers didn’t get home until the following day because of the traffic logjam.
Anyway, we hadn’t realised the trouble we were in when we set out. I was in one car with my two younger ones and Grace was in another with our neighbours and the friends that came along with them and of course a third car; so there were spaces in all three cars.
Then this monster of a traffic began shortly after we managed to crawl out of the parking lot; there was no proper organization by the authorities, so people parked anyhow, trapping many vehicles with theirs and at a beach, how would you find who owns what car?
The car I rode in was in the car park for four full hours…that is after we had loaded up to go, we were trapped behind several badly parked cars for hours. My neighbours had managed to crawl a bit ahead, though they too were later trapped by other vehicles.
Like I said, there was no GSM, so we couldn’t monitor ourselves, we would come down from the car and walk to the other cars to check on one another; after several hours, the others had managed to move ahead of us.
We weren’t the only ones caught in the madness. Several other people had also decided to leave early and were also caught, with people milling everywhere and the general dis-organisation; to get out of the beach to the gate was hell, outside the gates was also hell!
That day I began to regret the decision to come to the beach even before we left the environment; it was just madness. Thankfully, we still had food in the coolers, we passed food around as we all waited and waited and waited. Four hours, five, six…midnight, and there were millions of people still around, hundreds and thousands of cars on the road, many broken down…
One of my neighbours cars had gone ahead, one was way behind us, the one I rode in was in the middle among several other cars and we were all at a standstill, some drivers tried to maneuver and got stuck in sand, others just drove like mad men and managed to move just a few feet forward.
To cut this story short, we didn’t get home until about 2 a.m of the following day, the car I rode in! The last car crawled in at about a few minutes past 3 a.m
Then my nightmare began!
I thought she would come with the last car, they all came out and Grace wasn’t among them.
Where was she?
My daughter Grace was missing. How come? I saw her following Dunni, my neighbours daughter, they both boarded the car in my presence, how come they didn’t bring her home?
They told me Grace came down, said she wanted to wee, of course in all of the chaos, people, headlights, cars, she was looking for a dark spot. Dunni was said to have followed her a distance and said Grace told her she wanted to ride in the car I was in, went back to their car assuming Grace had found me and was safe with me.
Like the rest of us, Dunni was also said to have fallen asleep when she got back into their car, except for her dad who drove…
I never saw Grace!
They said they assumed she was with me, while I assumed she was with them. We had no GSM to confirm who was where beyond ensuring all the kids and adults that left the house were all accounted for when we all boarded the vehicles.
I became a mad woman that early morning when it dawned on me my daughter could still be at Lekki!
Maybe she went back to the water, maybe she got tired and fell asleep somewhere. I decided to head back to the beach to find my child that morning; the adults followed me. We went back, it was still somewhat as chaotic as before; the music had stopped and there were still a few hundred people around, some were still sleeping, some were just looking at the sea.
I became a mad woman! We searched everywhere, we went back to the shacks, we went back to the carpark, we went everywhere, these were almost deserted by now, we went to report at the police station, they said maybe she went back to the water and drowned, maybe she got into the wrong car, maybe she was kidnapped, maybe she was…
By dawn, I was a lunatic!
I went back to the beach, if she had gone back to the beach, lets even assume so, where is the washed up body?
She must have been kidnapped, at that time, kidnapping wasn’t so common as it is now, so ok, maybe she was kidnapped or entered into the wrong vehicle or met someone who lied to her telling her he could help locate me.
I waited 5-years in that house, hoping someone would come back with my daughter. I waited, though that house became like a haunted ground for me, I waited in the hope that my daughter would find her way back home.
My neighbours? I started by saying they were wonderful people. They went through some of these things with me. I don’t think they wanted to do me harm, no. After Dunni left Grace, she went back to the car and fell asleep, so did her mum and her brothers, the father said his mind wasn’t even clear, he too was half sleeping on the wheels and he assumed Grace had simply joined me. So looking back now, it was just a situation that went wrong, I think.
I blamed them, though, I blamed Dunni even though I know Dunni loved Grace like she was her little sister. We became estranged after sometime and they moved out. I couldn’t because I was waiting for my child!
So every Christmas, more than 30 years after, something tells me Grace will return.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)