Lord, I prayed about this. When I wanted to work my posting to Lagos, you gave me no peace. Look where my trust in you has landed me.
I stifled the cry that almost escaped my lips by covering my mouth with my hands but I couldn’t stop the tears already forming on my eyelids. It was with so much restraint that I didn’t tear my posting letter.
Chioma, my best friend had called me that morning from Lagos. She had been posted to work with the editorial team of The Guardian. Yemi, another friend who had barely made her papers found her way to a mega media house in Umuahia. But here I was, the best graduating student of Mass Communication heading for Agunda Community School.
What would I be doing there? My records are unbeatable. I am a major contributor to many well known magazines, I started the Joint Christian Campus Magazine and I had two novels to my name. Why should I be this unfortunate?
‘Girl, you have to find a way to get out of that place. You know what? I’ll talk to my father. He has a friend who works with the National Youth Service Corps.’ Mercy, a new friend I had met on camp said, as we stood at the entrance to the orientation camp.
I know the thoughts I think towards you. Thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.
I was the only Corp member seated in the vehicle I took to Agunda. The car stank of rotten fish and the women sitting on my sides smelled like they hadn’t taken their bath in ages. The driver got into the car and turned on the engine. It started then died. He shot his head out of the car.
‘Kayode, abeg push this car for me ‘ A young man strode towards the car laughing and mocking the driver, his mouth revealed a set of brown teeth.
Help came from some other men in the garage and the car sprang to life.
It was dark when we entered a thick forest. My heart raced. The car came to a halt in an empty field. The driver brought out a torchlight and with it he scanned the area.
‘We sleep here till morin.’
‘Where are we?’ I asked, alarmed.
‘Garage.’ He replied. The two women were already fast asleep. The driver suggested I move to the front seat which I quickly did. The Darkness scared me out of my wits and I struggled to push away frightful thoughts that crept into my head.
I can’t stay here, I muttered. I’m leaving this place as soon as possible.
Eyes wide awake, I imagined the kind of villagers I would meet in the morning- half naked children playing in the sand, women with firewood on their heads and babies strapped to their backs, men with hoes heading for the farm, young girls chatting wrappers tied to their chest with clay pots hugged to their side, students sitting under a palm tree, a blackboard propped against a tree.
But I was wrong. I didn’t see a soul as a taxi took me to the school, the place I was to resume duty. The village was dead silent. It was already 7am. When the taxi pulled in front of the school, I dragged my box out and headed for the entrance.
I was stunned to find beautiful bungalows occupying a large space of land. This was not what I expected.
There was a mango tree in front of the school, pregnant with juicy mangoes and pleading to be plugged. I entered through a large black gate and drudged in, hoping someone would at least show up. But I saw no one.
I placed my box at the back of one of the buildings and began my search. It was then I heard the voice of a child crying. I rushed towards the sound of the voice. In one of the classrooms, a boy was seated on the ground, chest bare.
‘Hello boy, what’s the matter? Where can I find the Principal? Where are the students?’
He raised his head and stared at me. I tried again.
‘What are you doing here alone? Where is everyone?’
He pointed to a photograph on the wall. I moved towards it and peered at it closely. Whoever this woman was must be beautiful even with the grey hair on her head. I wondered if she was a teacher or the principal. At the top of the photograph was scrawny written, ‘We love you.’ I stared at it puzzled.
I turned to the boy and he bent his head and resumed crying. It was then I noticed there were two sticks beside him. His legs were thinner than the body.
I hurried out of the gate, clutching my handbag close and walking down the street. It was then I began to notice the cars that lined the street. Then I heard voices. Sad , sorrowful songs. The same photograph I had seen on the classroom wall was scattered everywhere. I walked faster. It was then I saw a large crowd of people, most of them dressed in black. A group of girls sat, morose. I approached them.
They looked up.
‘Please I’m new here and I have been posted to the community school.’
‘We are students of the community school. Are you a new corps member?’ One of them said.
I was taken aback by the fact that the words in English had come smoothly out of her mouth.
I nodded. ‘What’s going on here?’
‘Miss Hannah is dead. She is the most important person in this village.’
My curiousity rose as I saw more cars pull into the square. Just then, a tall young man stepped out of a car and the people’s gaze were fixed on him. He got down from the car and walked towards the crowd. The villagers began make way for him.
He must be an important man, I thought.
By chance our eyes met and he stopped so sudden that all attention moved from him to the khaki dressed girl who was staring at the man with her mouth opened.
He moved towards me and my heart beat so loudly not just because I was surprised to see him but because of something stronger, something that words cannot express.
‘Uju,You were posted here? He asked, lowering his eyes to meet my gaze. For a moment, I wished I had slim fitted my khaki trouser that looked like I had been thrown into a big sack.
Before I could say anything, he held my hands firmly and led me to the front.
‘What are you doing here? Who are you? How did you get here?’
‘You ask too many questions Uju.’
I remained silent as we approached a table behind which some royal men sat. They rose up as he greeted them one after the other.
Who for goodness sake was Daniel? Was he the Prince or what?’
Throughout the ceremony, I was tensed and observant. Daniel must be in one way or the other connected to the dead woman. I was more curious to find most of the women wailing. The men too had tears in their eyes. I had to know more about this woman.
That evening, Daniel took me to the outskirts of town. He said he wanted to show me something. We stopped in front of a hut covered by bushes. We climbed down from his car and as I stood beside him, he didn’t say anything for a long time.
‘Who was the woman that died?’ I asked, breaking the silence.
‘She was my mother.’
I gasped. ‘Oh my God, Daniel, I’m so sorry.’
‘She raised me here.’
Daniel gestured for me to come with him. As we walked, he told me the history surrounding his birth.
When his mother had married the Olu of Agunda, they had not been able to get a child. The Olu had tortured his mother until she ran to an old lover, Aderogba, in despair and for some nights she had hid in his house. She got pregnant afterwards and was very happy. Her husband too was happy but Aderogba would not give up without a fight. He wanted his mother back in his life and threatened to expose her if she didn’t leave the Olu. Two months after he was born, Aderogba came to the palace to get his son. The truth came out. An order was given for the baby to be killed in the forest, while his mother burnt alive. But the king’s servants didn’t have the heart to kill the baby. They loved his mother so much. He was left him under a tree.
‘How did Hannah get to you?’
‘She was a young woman who had come for a six month mission here. She stayed in the mission house and was around when the verdict was given. She knew she couldn’t go back to the village with me so she stayed in this hut with a blind woman who had been driven out because she had been accused of killing all her children. Those were the two women I knew in my life.’
I didn’t want Daniel to stop talking. It had been that way since I met him at the Young Achievers Conference where he was the guest speaker. I still remember how everyone stood up stunned at his achievements.
I also remembered how people, especially ladies, swarm around him like hungry bees. I never expected to see him again until he walked in to my sister’s house. I discovered my sister’s husband was his best friend. He stayed a few days with us before returning to the United States. But I had never been able to get him out of my mind since that day.
‘I was almost ten when we were granted permission to get into the city.’ He said as we returned to the car. It was already getting too late and my luggage was still in the school. Daniel offered to help me pick it up and asked if I could stay in Hannah’s house. I agreed.
The house was crowded when we got there. In front of the house was a big hall. Daniel told me his mother usually had meetings with the women in the surrounding villages. The hall was still crowded with women who were singing and crying and praying. I could hear a woman’s voice from the hall.
‘Women of Zion, stop crying. She is in heaven rejoicing and we are going to see her some day. Stop crying.’ And then she herself burst into tears.
‘I have an idea. We can write a book about Mum and dedicate it to all the missionaries in Africa.’
He stopped and stared at me. ‘That’s a good idea.’
‘I have a strong feeling that this is the reason why God brought me here.’
He smiled. ‘I believe so. For this and for one other reason.’
‘What other reason?’
He smiled again. ‘How soon can we commence work. Let me know anything you need to hasten this. Tomorrow, I’ll take you to the library and the vocational training Center Mum started.’
There were a lot of people in the house as we climbed the stairs. He stopped in a room and introduced me to his Mum’s sisters. We moved to another room and he introduced me to some other persons before coming to a halt in front of a room.
‘This is my mother’s room.’ He pulled out a key from his pocket and opened the door. We stepped in. I could feel a strong presence in the room. There was something about the room that words cannot express. There was a big bible on a chair. It was as if Hannah was still kneeling there.
‘That was where she died. They found her kneeling there.’ My eyes scanned the room. Daniel walked to a shelf and pulled out a torn notebook. He handed it to me. This could help with your story.’
I looked at it and couldn’t bring myself to open it.
‘Let me bring your luggage in.’
‘Daniel’ He turned.
‘Why are you trusting me with this?’
He shook his head. ‘I don’t know. All I can say is that I am led to do this.’
Before I retired for the night, I sat on the bed and began flipping through Hannah’s notes.
January 10, 1980.
I cried tonight. Ayo and I went our separate ways. I told him I wanted to go for the REDP short Missions which was for six months. He said I should choose between him and the Mission that I was too intelligent to bring myself down to that level. That my mates were chasing careers and worthy professions. I got angry when he said that but I pleaded with him that after the mission we would get married. But he walked out and that was the last I saw of him. I was heartbroken. But I was sure of one thing, God wanted me to do this.
God gave me a son. Many thanks to Ireti who offered to breastfeed him alongside her new born daughter. News reached me that Yetunde, my son’s biological mother was burnt alive at the village square. Wicked people. Akin and his wife brought supplies from the mission house today. The Lord bless and prosper them. I’ll have to look for something profitable to do. I can’t keep living off other people.
God wants me to remain here. Its so hard. I miss home. Mum is worried too. Every time I take a step to leave, I feel restless. These women sneak in here to talk to me. Why do they love me so? Last month, we started a bible study meeting. Now we’ve grown from 5 to 70. The little space in front of my hut cannot contain us any longer. The women promised to come with cutlasses so they could clear some parts of the forest. I am happy, very happy.
I was full of despair this morning until I saw my son running to my side singing, ‘Jesus loves me this I know.’ The despair lifted. We jumped up and down singing. Now I have the zeal to write some more pages of my third book. I hope one day it gets published. To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.
I stood up from the bed and began to search for the manuscripts. I would do anything to get it published. A new fire consumed me as I frantically searched for the drafts.
Where could she have hidden it?
I made a mental note to ask Daniel about it the next day but as I walked back to the bed, my eyes caught a small box behind that special chair. I pulled it out and opened it, there were notes, some typed and others handwritten, I sat down and began to read. I didn’t know how long I stayed there but I heard the cock crow before I pulled myself forcefully away from the captivating words that sent fire into my bones.
When I came downstairs the following day, Daniel was discussing with some of his friends. I saw my sister, Sarah, and her husband too. I stood there trying to respond to their chat but my mind was far away.
‘Uju, ogini, why are you looking at us like that? What is the matter?’
Daniel stood in front of me. ‘Are you okay?’
I raised my head. ‘I’ll be back.’
I went to the back of the house where Hannah had been buried. I stood in front of the grave.
‘I will give all of my substance to have a two minute talk with you. Why did you leave before we had a chance to meet? I know you can hear me. I read your diary and your books, your words give me hope. God prepared me for a day like this so I could get those books out for the world to read. I promise I will. I love you even though I’ve never met you.’
My sister ran out of the house holding my phone as I returned to the house. ‘Your phone has been ringing.’
When I picked it up, it was my friend’s father. ‘Uju, this is Mercy’s father. I have gone through some of your articles and I must confess, you are exceptional.’
‘Thank you sir.’
‘Now, my daughter informed me that you were posted to a school in a village. I’ve already spoken to someone who will work your redeployment to which ever state you want. You can come worm with me in Enugu. Apart from the exposure you’ll get, a handsome pay awaits you.’
I hesitated. No force could pull me away from this place.
‘I’ve changed my mind sir. I am not redeploying anymore.’ Daniel stopped talking and turned swiftly to me.
‘Are you sure about this?’
‘Very sure sir. Thanks for your help.’
The three stared at me and I stared back at them. Sarah wanted to say something but she stopped herself.
‘I need to get to work right away.’ I faced Daniel. ‘Who was the woman who brought in supplies for Mum when you were a baby. Someone she called, Iya Shonekan.’
‘She lives behind the church.’
‘That’s our starting point.’ Sarah and her husband looked at Daniel puzzled. I stared at Hannah’s grave again and for one moment I wished she could just stand up and have a little chat with me.
‘Goodbye Hannah. Your memory lives on.’
Daniel was staring at me as I walked in. My desire and longing for him was the last thing on my mind. Hannah and all that I had read filled my mind. As I sat on the table in the room that evening, thinking about a suitable title for the book, one in particular stayed in my mind. I wrote it out in capital letters.
IN MEMORY OF A LEGEND.
I wasn’t exactly satisfied with the title but it was a starting point for me.
‘Let’s do this!’ I muttered excitedly. I raised my head to heaven. ‘God, ok, I get it. Your thoughts towards me are for good. You know all, Help me to depend more on you.’
Hannah’s words came to me again in a still small voice.
To do the will of Jesus, this is rest.