200 and counting girls are missing in Northern Nigeria. They miss home. They miss school. They miss their families.
Our people say ‘better a child dead than a child missing.’ My hope is that these girls will come home soon and their parents will never have to dwell on this proverb.
I wrote this for the Dana Air crash a year or so ago. Today it seems my country has learned nothing.
Peace to you Nigeria. Peace and light…
He went missing on a cold Sunday morning; as if to remind the world that he was warmth itself.
But I did not need reminding. For he left, and no matter the many layers of clothing that shield me against the cold harmattan wind that blows from the North, warmth has failed to return to the part of my heart that was his.
The night before the morning he disappeared, he called me on the shiny new cellphone he had bought me on his last business trip from Cotonou. I was still getting used to the unfamiliar buttons on the handset so it took a while for me to figure out which one meant ‘answer’.
‘Ezinne.’ He said to me when my voice finally came over the line.
‘Odinaka.’ I answered with a smile on my face
‘How many more hours till I get to see your beautiful face? How many more minutes till I can hold you in my arms? Time spent away from you always seems so much longer that it really is. You have bewitched me, Ifunanya.’
I giggled and let him sweet talk me to a place where we were together, to a place where time and space meant nothing.
‘The cargo had been paid for. All I am waiting for is for the guys to set out with it tomorrow and then I will leave for home as well.’ He said to me.
‘Hmmm…Are you sure that is it or maybe there are some french speaking Cotonou beauties refusing to let you come home to me?’ I teased the man that was my future.
He laughed and reminded me of the tattoo my love had carved out in his heart; it could beat for no other woman, he assured me.
‘Good night, Ifunanya.’ He said at the end of the phone call.
‘Ijeoma tomorrow.’ I answered wishing him safe travels on his journey home from another business trip.
I dropped the phone and did a little jig in anticipation of his arms around me again. If I had known what I know now, I would have never ended that call. I would have stayed on the line and let my voice guide him home. I would have never let him go.
My people say a dead person is better than a missing one.
My mother tells me my heart will heal and I will love again.
My father will hear none of this talk of love for a man who never brought him kolanut or palm wine.
His mother stares blankly into the world that has swallowed her son.
His father grinds his teeth and mutters about how the gods have played him false. They have taken away his child in all entirety. They didn’t even leave behind body that he could bury, a grave he could tend and point out to people, to show them the resting place for his son.
We have sent emissaries in search of Odinaka, one after the other till there was no one else willing to go, no one else willing to hope. It has been three months and there is still no sign of the man I love.
Papa Odinaka has had wrinkles for as long as I have known him. Even the old photographs that line the fading blue walls of their house show a young man with more lines on his face than an un-ironed khaki trouser. ‘Laugh lines’, my Odinaka called them because his father was a man of mirth and it was joy rather than sorrow that lined his face.
But the lines that crisscross Papa Odinaka’s face these days tell a story of guilt and shame rather than of laughter. He has failed to dig a grave for his son.
I am alone in this outpost where I stand on the lookout for my Odinaka. Those that knew him have long lost hope of ever beholding him alive again. They have buried him in the soil of their memory, in the dust of their hearts.
But not me. I know better. My love will return; my heart assures me, my soul is confident; and my body begins to show the early signs.
His name will be Nnamdi; and with every cry, he will restore a smile to Papa Odinaka’s sorrowful lips. With every step, he will assuage his guilt. With every smile, he will restore laugh lines to his grandfather’s face.
Nnamdi-my father lives
Song of the day: Hillsong United – Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)