Anunti - Death and Reality

As his eyes adjusted to the dichotomy of lights crisscrossing through the auditorium, a mishmash of high beam power illuminations, followed by pitch blackness and then low vision evening bulbs, Anunti cleared his throat and continued his speech.

“… I grew up under the same conditions that millions of African families, who live below one dollar a day, experience. It may have been a little more grim and challenging for me, being that I was not born into it, but flung into it by the strength of the ever prevalent African culture.
I was born into a middle class nuclear family somewhere in the south-east of Nigeria. We were nowhere affluent or wealthy, but we had food on our table, cloth on our backs and a roof over our heads.”

His eyes scanned the row of seats where his mother and some of the friends he had flown all the way from eastern Nigeria sat. He could not help smiling, they looked as ridiculous as dressed up monkeys for a show, but he had insisted they came. He was no-one without them, this was also their moment. It was their victory too and even if they had no idea what was going on around them, they will be celebrated. Taking a deep breath as if the next words tackled him in a physical match, he continued.

 “Our ordeal started when my father, a railway engineers’ assistant with the railway corporation in Enugu, took ill. I was barely seven years old, but I remember it like last night’s premier re-runs …”

It was the deathly presence that infused the atmosphere that made themost palpable impression on him, even though he could not explain it, yet it was very tangible. The white washed walls and the heavy scent of disinfectant were the next in line, followed by an assortment of human sounds; moans, sighs, heaves, bedside murmurings, groans, whimpers, which blended together to form a background noise; a canvass on which every now and then, a sharp cry of pain from a patient or a wail from a recently bereaved family would paint a picture of intense agony, a bond which everyone in the hospital shared in common.  Chukwuka, Anunti as he would later be known, sat on the floor playing with his imaginary friends; Oti and Stella. They kept him company in this place that had become his second home. It’s been three months that mama would bring him here straight from school and he would sit on the floor beside papa’s bed and play with his friends, sometimes singing, sometimes arguing and even quarrelling. Before, he was allowed to run around the floor, until he needed a rope to tie up Oti to prevent him from escaping. He had borrowed the rope from the bed of the nice lady down the hall who sleeps all the time, like his daddy does now. A few minutes after he had tied Oti, pandemonium broke loose in the ward as doctors and nurses rushed to the bed of the nice lady and started beating her frantically on the chest.

Anunti ran to his mum, grabbing her hand he pleaded, “Mama make them stop, mama make them stop beating her”

After a few minutes, the banging stopped and there was calm again. Moments later the scary man in white coat came to their bedside holding the rope he had borrowed from the nice lady’s bed. He spoke very harshly to mama, something about her son removing the pipe to the oxygen mask on the woman in coma and nearly killing her. Mama pealed his back with water cain, and from that day, he remained by his fathers bed, in the company of his two imaginary friends.

 Every day he asked the same questions “mama why is papa not waking up from sleep?” and his mother would answer with patience, “he is resting dear” and he would ask “when can we go home mama?” and he’ll get the same answer like clockwork “soon, baby, soon”

He paused to take a sip of water, the audience listened intently. He thought about how the images in his head as a child had actually kept him from going insane in that hospital, month after month, just listening to the rasp of his father’s laboured breathing. He lifted his eyes and focused again. Ojukwu, his chubby childhood friend, who had turned out to be a heavy set short man was sitting closest to mama and had been diligently following the spinning lights in the auditoriumwith his eyes, rolling his head to the motion of the rotating redhead bulbs. Anunti feared he would either get hypnotised or throw up as a result of the constant rolling. He must be bored out of his wits, Anunti thought, poor guy. Taking another sip of water, he gently dropped the crystal glass beside the microphone so he could reach it easily and continued

 “Events took a turn for the worse when after almost ten months in the hospital, Papa passed away…”

It was like any of the days that Anunti had gotten used to, he could neither remember how long it had been going on, nor could he remember any other life apart from the triangular movement; school in the morning, hospital all day, and home some nights with aunty patience. He was beginning to retreat more and more into his imaginary world, only resurfacing every now and then to answer mama’s questions about school, which now came fewer and fewer.

On that faithful day, he was busy arguing with Stella and Oti in their imaginary conference room, on who had the right to eat the chicken head on Christmas day, an argument Anunti was sure to win, when he noticed a certain eerie atmosphere within the ward. It was as if there was a moving presence that he could not explain. The hairs on the back of his neck stood like the Nigerian army on parade, and he felt goose pimples spread through his body like chicken pox. He tried desperately to focus on his friends, who gently faded from his vision as the presence grew stronger. Immobilised by terror, he lost all grip on his motor skills, and letting go of the contents of his bladder, he felt the warm liquid embrace his legs and feet as it spread in a pool where he sat. As quickly as it came, it lifted and everything went back to normal, apart from the pool of urine he sat in and something else that was missing from the atmosphere. It took him a minute to realise what it was, it was Papa’s raspy breathing, it had stopped and he lay very still, very, very still. While Anunti stared at his father, he felt mama’s presence behind him and then the silence was broken by a deathly shrill, it sounded like mama, but he didn’t care, he was transfixed, staring at his father’s face, because for the first time in over ten months, it was without pain.

The auditorium was as quiet as a grave yard, you could hear a pin drop, and Anunti realising he had started tearing up again, motioned to his assistant standing a few meters from the podium to give him a handkerchief. He dabbed his eyes gently and apologised for his emotions.

“In most African cultures,” he continued “the death of a father spells not just the loss of a loved one, but in most cases, a traumatic abuse of the family of the deceased, and in our case, it was an ordeal that changed our lives for ever…”

The next few days after they went home from the hospital was a blur of shouting and wailing. There were all manner of people coming to the house with different kinds of expressions. If not that they mourned, Anunti would have found their dramatic expressions comical. On the third day however, an average heavyset, thickly bearded man stormed into the house. He was as dark as night, wearing brown faded African prints and worn out sandals. There was a woman with him no better dressed than he. Anunti was with aunty patience trying to eat when the man stormed in. She jumped up to greet him and made a feeble attempt to introduce Anunti to him

 “Dede you remember Chukwuma, brother Ebuka’s son?”Pulling him by the hand she made him stand in front of the man. Anunti stared into the face that would change his life forever. The man stared back at Anunti for half a minute as if he was a failed scientific experiment before walking away without a word. In tow was the woman that came with him.

As he walked away, he bellowed “where is that witch that Ebuka married, tell her to come and explain to me what happened to my brother”.

Anunti may have been young, but instinct told him at that point that the loss of his father was the least of his problems...

Kanayo Aniegboka

Kani is a writer, entrepreneur, blogger, public speaker and an all-round knowledge junkie who likes to view life from different angles.

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