It was early in the morning. Lori answered the phone and handed it to me. My father’s voice.
“Uche…there’s been a terrible…”
“Uche…you should know…”
A pause as gruesome guesswork played through my mind. I wanted to hear rather than continue imagining, but did I really want to hear? He drew a constricted breath, and it came in a wave before his voice broke.
“Uche, Chika died tonight. Imose died tonight. Little Anya is just barely hanging on…”
Died. Died. Barely hanging on.
In early 2006 Lori and I went to Mbang’s wedding near London. Her sister Ubu was my closest cousin. We’d spent summers at each others’ homes. We shared a lot of that sense that comes with being the eldest of three that life is full of responsibilities, that in these lie many trials, that in those lie many joys, with the whole caressed in deep serenity.
We both felt the same thing and characterized it differently. Ubu was a strong, evangelical Christian who did a lot to keep that current strong within her family. I ditched Catholicism the moment I could. I’m a carefully-considered agnostic with a sense towards brahma—towards immanent connectedness, but in a style incompatible with the idea of spirit, which seems pathetic fallacy. I believe having lived a moment is to have consummated a purpose. Whatever glee or sorrow may lie in moments to come has no power over the blessing of that consummated purpose. The arrow of time is a doom, and a salvation.
Ubu fagged unbelievably hard for her sister’s wonderful wedding. Lori and I knew something was wrong, but we figured it was exhaustion, despite a detail I’ll never forget—Ubu and dem sisteren surprising Mbang with an energetic, impromptu serenade of Method Man, “You’re all I need to get by”.
Lori and I didn’t join the trip to Nigeria for the traditional wedding.
Arrow of time.
By the Nigerian wedding it was probably too late for Ubu. She died under some of the best medical care anywhere. There are many accomplished doctors in my family.
Arrow of time.
Had anyone guessed early enough it was disease and not fatigue, Ubu probably would not have died.
Does calling it the arrow of god change anything?
Yes. The vehicle of comfort. Nigeria is an oppressively religious place. Mbang and brother Onebieni were surrounded by piety. They find comfort in expecting to see Ubu again.
And me? Considering how young Ubu died, she was a veritable ocean of consummated purpose. Price and available flights made it impossible to attend the funeral in Nigeria. It was probably just as well, considering my very personal, if vigorous reaction to her death.
Later that year, on 1 December 2007, when the call came, I was just over thirty-eight. I’d never been to a funeral.
I didn’t say much to my father. I asked whether I could speak to my brother, Chimezie. I had no idea what I would say. That conversation is the part of the night I remember least.
Onebieni and his girlfriend, now soon to be wife, Tolu, had just come to visit us in Colorado. Part of a trip around the world. He’d almost not been able to graduate, suffering from the loss of his sister, but he’d persevered to become the newest doctor in the family. After visiting us he visited Chimezie and Roschelle in Cleveland. They went for an evening out and left the girls at home with babysitters. The fire started in a baseboard heater. An unfortunate succession of events did right away for Imose and Chika. After Chimezie I think of Onebieni.
When I got to Akron the Children’s Hospital was choked with relatives and well-wishers. The nurses had never seen the like. It was a loud, Nigerian, Christian melee. I knew that would suit Roschelle, an evangelical herself, but what of Chimezie, who’s like me except with a readier ear to the East? Tao Te Ching. I’m very sympathetic to Tao. Chimezie lives it. We were conjoined with the throngs in the hospital, bless them, willing Anya to live while mourning her sisters.
I needed quiet. I needed reflection. I abhorred formula. I needed to stick my fingers, raw and dripping blood, into the jagged complexity of the whole tragedy. I needed to strip off my flesh working for my brother. I remembered Ubu at the wedding.
Anya succumbed three days later. As my father put it at their funeral (yes, my first funeral was a real doozy), “I’ve been to war, and I’ve never seen a soldier fight as Anya did.” Chimezie’s remaining child, his young son Chidi, had come from Houston with his mother and stepfather just in time to say goodbye to his sister. Lori had come as well. We’d given my eldest, Osita the choice of whether to attend. He declined. Overall, he dealt with the event with a quiet, alert reflection that perhaps reflects his father.
I’m one of three boys. Lori and I have always wanted girls. We have three boys. My parents always wanted granddaughters. Chimezie and Roschelle seemed the only ones who could provide. Three girls by 2007.
Arrow of time.
My youngest, Udoka (“Peace reigns”) is a fireball, but even he used to find Chika a handful. Till today he’ll often spontaneously say “Chika is always pushing me”.
Chimezie and Roschelle have persevered heroically. They renewed their vows and had another daughter, Ngozi (“Blessing”).
I sometimes wonder whether tragedy could strike my own household. I live what I’ve shared with Ubu: My responsibilities today are consummated purpose that will survive any tragedy, even when it takes the young.
Purpose can work beyond a self into others, thus cheating the arrow of time. This doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a salvation, however you frame that word.
Beatitude beyond all time and all understanding. Such a gift from four people departed so young.
✄ ✄ ✄
29 Comments copied from the former TNB site »
Your nieces were so beautiful. And this is such a gorgeous, heartbreaking tribute to them. And to your cousin.
My heart goes out to you and your family.