On the 28th of August, 1967, in the thick of the war, a Biafran commander came to our house. He knocked on the door persistently and I came out and opened it, standing close to the jamb.
“Good morning sir,” I greeted. “How may I help you?”
“I am looking for Ike,” he said, powerfully towering over me. “Is he around?”
“Yes, he is,” I responded. “Any problem?” I felt uneasy. I did not understand why a Biafran military commander would be looking for my brother in the searing hot sun of the afternoon.
“Go and call him for me.” He ordered without uttering another word, his menacing mien accentuating the husky timbre of his voice.
I left the door ajar and ambled into the yard, returning to the frontage with my brother.
“Good afternoon sir,” my brother greeted.
“Good afternoon Ike. How are you?”
“I’m fine, sir.”
“Let me have a word with you. Come.” The soldier circled his arm around my brother’s shoulders and took him several metres away from where I stood.
He significantly lowered his voice while addressing my brother. All I could hear were sibilant whispers. My heart suddenly began to beat faster and I felt ill-at-ease. I found the whole visit and their clandestine conversation disturbing.
By this time, my family had come out and we all stood outside looking at them with anxiety.
After about ten minutes of subdued conversation, they both came back and stood in front of us, speechless. My brother hung his head and the Biafran commander coldly searched our faces.
“What is happening?” my mother asked, her voice spiked with tension.
Ike took a deep breath and loudly exhaled. He lifted up his face and gave my mother a level stare. “Mama,” he called, “Papa died. Federal soldiers kill him last night.”
“He did not die a coward,” the soldier followed up. “He died fighting. He died with his enemies. Biafra will be proud of him and he will always be remembered.”
My mother theatrically removed the stole spread across her shoulders and covered her mouth with it, muffling half-born tears. Emotions overwhelmed her and she slumped to the ground and cried. I went down and consoled her, tears moistening my own eyes. My sister, Ezinne, and my two young cousins, Obiora and Chidera, joined the crying. We were all devastated. My father had been our hero, the one we all looked up to.
“I told him, I told Osita but he would not listen.” My mother cried, her eyes blood red and her lips trembling.
My brother Ike did not break a tear. He looked mysteriously into space and clenched his teeth, unskilled in the art of consoling.
“You all have to stop crying,” the commander said. “He is dead but you people have to stay alive. First, you have to leave this house. It is not safe. The Nigerian troops are advancing this way. Gather your clothes and everything else you can put together, I will send my driver to come pick you all this evening to one of the best refugee camps around. Your safety is now my priority.”
My mother had found a way to stand up from the ground with my help, and she leaned on my shoulders although still sobbing.
Ike left us and went inside. He came out after five minutes with a box in hand.
“Where are you going, Ike?” I asked him, extremely worried about what he was up to.
“Err, you see, Ike has decided to join the Biafran army.” The commander hesitantly dropped the bombshell. “He has convinced me beyond every reasonable doubt that he is ready for the war. This is his wish, and I cannot stop him.”
“Ike!” I exclaimed in mesmerized horror, my eyes wide open.
My mother gently lifted her head from my shoulder, went on her knees and stretched out her two hands–desperately imploring my brother to change his mind. “Please, don’t go.” She cried.
“I am going, Mama.” Ike passionately replied. “I have to avenge Papa’s death.” As far as my brother was concerned, no stricture, no fiat could thwart or stifle his unbending resolve.
My mother said no more. She stood up from the ground and fresh tears rolled down her eyes. Her face was overcome with sorrow. She gave my brother one last look, covered her mouth and tearfully shuffled into the house.
I never knew what went through her mind, but I knew she was tired; tired of lying awake night after night and wishing the ones she loved were okay; tired of shivering at every sound of LMGs and fighter jets; tired of begging the men to stay. My mother was a strong woman, courageous in her own way, but she was tired.
Excerpts from “Home is a Distant Dot” by Collins Offiong