‘Soni is missing,’ so starts the novel my partner, Toni kan wrote in his fast selling crime story, The Carnivorous City.
Toni’s book is fiction.
In reality, people disappear every day, in this city, in this country; people just vanish into thin air.
I remember when my friend’s brother went missing years back when we were still in school at Jos. This brother had travelled from Lagos to Jos via public transport; the eight-seater bus he boarded at the park in Ijora had been duly recorded on paper by my friend who saw his brother off. He recorded the vehicle colour, model, registration number and the name of the driver – a precaution their mother taught them to observe anytime anyone was travelling or going by public transport.
So when word came from Jos a day after the brother was expected, that he hadn’t shown up, the family knew something was terribly wrong. It was also not the era of GSM.
They were later to discover the bus had been involved in an accident somewhere at Mokwa, in Niger State; they checked the recorded note against the damaged bus and driver’s name, all matched; all persons in the bus were accounted for…except my friend’s brother. Survivors claimed no one disembarked along the way and yet, no one could tell if he survived and wandered off, dazed from the effects of the accident.
My friend’s family travelled the road more than five times, stopping at villages; showing his pictures to the people around…perhaps someone saw him. They combed all the mortuaries and hospitals that lined the road from Ibadan to Mokwa and even beyond, they searched the bushes, they talked to people at the garages, they got the police involved and when the police rested the case, they continued… his dead body would have brought tremendous relief to them…they got nothing to date. The Yoruba saying, ‘a dead child is better than one missing,’ is so apt here.
When a son is missing, a father is missing, a friend, wife, daughter is missing; it strips you of your vulnerability. You find yourself asking over and over again; are they dead, have they been involved in an accident or hurt and abandoned in some hospital and lost their memories and can’t tell anyone how to locate their loved ones or could it be that they have been kidnapped or did the ground suddenly open up and swallow them whole?
Over the weekend, I watched Angelina Jolie in that old movie, Changeling, a true story adapted into a movie -produced and directed by Clint Eastwood. In it, Jolie’s character is a mother who’s nine-year-old son, Walter goes missing. Her insistence on getting the corrupt LAPD police to find her son results in the police forcing another boy on her and when she persists that her real son is still missing, she is thrown into the madhouse.
Two things I took away from this movie; first off, corruption in the police system is everywhere, there are just levels…not an excuse for our boys here, though.
Secondly, when a loved one goes missing, their families are scared to stop looking, they’ll keep searching till they die.
I know a former colleague who just upped from her home here in Lagos and disappeared…it’s been more than 12 years now. Before she left; she had just been married for some six months or thereabout, was about three months pregnant, her husband was in the bathroom that day and a pot of moin-moin was on the burner in the kitchen.
No one should ever wish to be in the shoes of the victims nor their loved ones; I won’t claim to know all of what families of people who have disappeared feel but I got a tip of it when my son was missing for a few hours at a party. I died a thousand times. I would gasp for air at intervals as if my nostrils weren’t wide enough to suck in air. My head pounded incessantly, my stomach churned painfully as horrible images of my son flashed through my mind and I heard voices in my head, taunting me, vilifying me…only a few hours…I never want to go through that ordeal nor wish it for anyone.
So what happens to families of victims who go missing for days? Months? Even years?
You call the victims phones; you call a few friends who perhaps may know their whereabouts, you don’t get answers. Then you begin to get angry and wonder why the victim hasn’t called back to let you know he or she is fine.
Afterwards, that anger dissolves to panic, an irrepressible panic that causes the heart to stop pumping and start again, the stomach churns painfully as mad thoughts race through your mind!
The pain of never knowing is the worst of all.
Never knowing what truly happened
Never knowing how far or near to search.
Never knowing if your loved one is dead and or alive.
And above all, never knowing when to stop searching.
This will gnaw at your insides for the rest of your life.
Incidentally, I’ve been reading books about people who went missing and the pain their families are subjected to. It is made worse with a police force that seems uncaring or mostly just ill-equipped to tackle cases of missing persons and offer creative solutions to prevent more loss.
For instance, my former colleague’s family was told by the police to invite a Babalawo to help find her. I think they did, the word I got years later was that she was summoned by a ritualist, never to return.
As for my friend’s brother, his family say they believe he might be dead, it’s more than 20 years now.
The truth is, when a person goes missing, someone knows what truly happened!