It started with the phone call. My first sister, Chidinma (or Da Chi as we respectfully and fondly referred to her) had stopped breathing. Mother was worried and she called Nkechi. It was 5am and I was asleep in her house. She burst into my room and shook the entire wooden frame of the bed in an attempt to get me up, fast. What is wrong? I asked. Da Chi isn’t breathing. I panicked. Still sleepy, I got down and moved to the living room. Nkechi was back in her room on the phone talking to my sister who is a pharmacist, Nneoma. I prayed. Jehovah please help Da Chi, please help mummy; whoever needed it the most.
Nkechi came out with tears in her eyes. A doctor had come over to Mother’s house and it had been confirmed. Da Chi was dead! I slumped on the couch in shock, total shock. Yes, she had been sick, Tuberculosis, Diabetes, and Epilepsy. She had been through it all, expensive drugs and a father unwilling to assist. I was far away in a boarding school and my sisters and mother had stepped up to the plate as much as they could, especially mother. She gave Da Chi her all, trying every herbal remedy she had learned, feeding and housing her. Da Chi was getting better, she was looking better; she had a lot more energy. She was in her early thirties. Now, she was dead. I was in shock.
I went back to my room and picked up my phone. Five missed calls. My other sisters Ahunne and Eby were trying to get a hold of me. It began to ring and I picked. It was Sis A. Where is your sister, Eby? She is not picking my calls. She is at daddy’s house. I’ll call her. I didn’t. I was still in shock. Eby, my immediate older sister, was 2 years, 2 months, and 2 days older than me and was about to turn 20. She visited Da Chi every day whenever she was hospitalized and bought her medication with her own pocket money. How could I tell Eby?
Get dressed, we are leaving now. My sister was back in the room. I hurriedly put on the first outfit I could find. I did not brush or shower. I waited again in the living room. Nkechi was pregnant, heavily pregnant. We were heading over to pick up Nneoma, then traveling to the outskirts of the city where my mother lived. Nkechi cried in the car and I cried too. It was nearly 7am. Call Ik, she said. Ik was my only brother, spoiled rotten from conception and different from all 6 of us, girls. He and Da Chi had fought several times, intense combats. They never saw eye to an eye on any issue. He was too stubborn, she was very strict. Call Ik.
Hello Ik, where are you? Ah ah, what kind of question is that? Did you see my ghost in Lagos? He replied with his usual humor. Ik was at school in Kwara state, a considerable distance away from where we were. I was trying to break the news to him without causing any casualty. Ik, my voice cracked, Da Chi is dead, I said almost in a whisper. Ik began to cry. Ik, Ik, Ik… He never got back on the line. I had never heard my brother cry. How do you fight with someone all your life and cry immediately upon news of her death? I can’t believe this, Nkechi said. We began to cry
We picked up Nneoma. She was calm. She encouraged us to get some food as we had not eaten breakfast and the same could be assumed for mother. We stopped at a fast food joint and got snacks, cooked meals, and drinks. She told stories from growing up with Da Chi and we all laughed. We ate, packed Mother’s food and continued on our journey.
It was afternoon when we arrived. 3 out of 6 girls were there. Mummy was weeping uncontrollably. Nneoma went in to Da Chi’s room, and then came out. She began to cry. The house was packed. I was annoyed. What were all these people doing here? I did not know half of them. They were a mix of mother’s neighbors and friends. I wanted them out. I listened to mother answer over and over, the question, what happened? It was a seizure. Da Chi had them occasionally when she slept. The seizures came; she made a few noises and some minutes later got up to use the bathroom before going back to bed. That was the routine. That night, mother heard her trembles. She waited for her to get up in a few minutes. The minutes turned to hours. She didn’t wake up.
Eby was here. I was so glad to see Eby. We were inseparable and cried together. Now that she was here, I summoned up the courage to go to Da Chi’s room. We sat on the carpet and cried. Da Chi looked asleep. Both of us shook her vigorously. Da Chi, Da Chi, wake up! We yelled. She looked asleep, yet didn’t wake up. Nneoma came in and took us away. Men from the mortuary come to pick her up. She would be buried in 2 days. We stayed up all night, 6 of us girls and Mother and talked about her. My cousin, Oge was there too. He was like a brother to us. We laughed, we cried, and we slept off one after the other.
The next morning came and mother was cooking. I could not believe my eyes. She said she had to feed the sympathizers arriving. I was enraged, but who was I to speak as the last of the 7 children. I really wanted them all out now. I just wanted me and my family here. Ik came. He cried, and cried, and cried. We all started to cry again. All around mother’s living room were pictures of Da Chi. It took just one person to get all of us crying. I still had not showered or brushed my teeth. The funeral was the next day. I had to clean up.
Ahunne brought us clothes to wear for the funeral. The casket had been bought and the cemetery plot booked. Mother wanted her buried in her compound, but no one would have it. I understood that. What I could not understand was why they did not want mother to be at the graveside. We went for the funeral. Her casket stood by the podium. People stopped by to look and left. My family sat in the front row, my father sat in the last row. Nonsense! Eby and I got up to view Da Chi one last time in the casket. I was angry. She looked awful. The talk began. We cried. I composed a poem right there and then:
Let it go let them flow
Tears for the loved one who is six feet below
Her love and hatred are all no more
And never would she have any cause to sorrow for.
This five-letter word has a distant bearing
Until a dear one slips into its tunnel spinning.
Like a train rammed into your chest is the impact of the pain
While grief and sorrow pour out like rain.
However, I shall not grieve hopelessly,
Why? You may ask curiously.
The God of all comfort extends a promise:
Life in paradise that would never cease!