But that was not the only bad news that evening. While the family mourned the death of one of their own, a call came in to inform Ijeoma that their supermarket had been set ablaze by cultists. They later discovered that the café equipment have all been destroyed by the cultists too. They came in, shot OluChukwu at close range, dispersed the customers with continuous shooting into the air, and then destroyed all the computers and other assets they could lay their hands on; after which they left before the police arrived. Witnesses could tell they were cultists because of their uniform and continuous hailing of their slogan – Black Wolves! Black Blood! – It was a day that brought their world crashing down on them in a way they never imagined nor thought when they had woken up that morning.
At the gathering of condolence after OluChukwu had been buried, Carol, standing by the window, heard a couple of people discussing their misfortune just outside that window. ‘How sad for the family; who could have imagined such great misfortunes in one day?’ said one woman. ‘Very sad, my sister. One would think that with their religious life they would never fall so dismally’ said another. ‘It was like God turned His face away from them for only a moment and their ship capsized in one sweep of the wave’ this time a man. ‘You are right, it takes only a second’ the first speaker said again. ‘God knows what they did to deserve this’ she concluded. ‘Indeed, my sister, who knows what they did to get rich in the first place. After all when God gives, it is permanent. But see their case, everything, gone!’ the second speaker supplied again. ‘Well,’ the man added, ‘it could also be what they did not do’.
Carol did not expect to hear praises from eaves dropping, although she had not intended to eavesdrop. It was also good to know the thoughts of people in your sad moments.
That evening, after all had gone to their homes, the family gathered in a meeting. Carol had to convince Jeff to leave too because of the need for this quiet reflection by the family. In order not to be considered a pest, as Carol’s insistence of him to leave began to make him feel, he left feeling sidelined from the family membership. It was normal that when you have made your marriage intension known to a family you become part of that family. But she was delaying in accepting his proposal and this bothered him with doubts which he always endeavoured to dispel.
The meeting started with a prayer said by Papa, who gave thanks to God for those of them alive, and then offered their late son to His care for eternal rest. ObiChukwu still had few bandages, and all looked gloomy. Papa began the speech, ‘My family, what has happened has happened. God gave us our OluChukwu and took him …’ and Papa began to cry. It used to be just slight tear drops from red eyes since the news of the death. But now he was yelping in tears, his face and whole body shook and he appeared to have shrunk into more years older. And then Mama’s wails eventually found the opportunity to unleash again, ‘God, God, you have finished me! You have remembered my sins and punished me severely! You are blameless Lord, it is me. It has to be me. Please forgive and spare the rest. Forgive, please forgive’.
Their children gathered close to them and consoled them with tears in their eyes too. After a while, all became calm again and Papa continued his speech. ‘We have to think of the future. Almost everything we have is gone because we had just filled up the supermarket and upgraded our assets in the café before all these happened. We don’t have much to recoup …’ and he was not able finish his words.
Mama appeared to have recovered from her agony already and with the required vigour she supplied for the rest of Papa’s intended speech. ‘Children, we don’t have much to recoup on but we’ll try little by little with what is left. We cannot just give up on life. Oge, you and Obi will have to change to another school to complete your education …’
‘And how is that possible? I am in my final year and Obi in his third. We can’t just drop out’ Oge protested, upset.
‘Do you want to kill me? Eh, Oge, I say do you want to kill your father and I? Is OluChukwu leaving us not enough for you?’ Mama began to cry again. Papa leaned his back on the couch’s head rest, sighed and squeezed out more tears.
Carol cut in, ‘Let’s all calm down now. Mama, the school authority has expelled all the members of the cult …’
‘How do you know they have all been dismissed? Do you know all of them by face? Are some of them still not at large?’ Mama reproached Carol.
‘Mama, most of them have been caught and jailed’ Carol answered.
‘So? So? Does that make the others disappear?’ Mama’s anger built up.
‘The school authorities know their identity and …’ Oge tried to add.
‘Did that stop their threats? Did they not send another threat just yesterday?’ Mama continued. ‘Look, it is over my dead body that you two return to that school. In fact, you should concentrate on reviving the family business and forget finishing your education for now!’
And all became so still you could hear a cockroach crawl. With eyes, the siblings signaled to one another not to continue the argument and all sat back to relax.
‘I’m not done yet.’ Mama pressed on, ‘As for you, Carol, thank God you have a rich fiancé. We only hope you two fix your marriage soon so he can assist us with capital to revive our businesses’ She blurted pretending to be unashamed of her own words.
All the children, but Carol, called out in surprise, ‘Mama!!!!!’
Carol sighed calmly as it dawned on her that her mother was contemplating making her a sacrificial lamb to get rich again. She looked at her father, and this time, tears of shame, not for his wife but for his assent to her proposal, ran down his face. Her parents were finally afraid of this poverty she had been afraid of all this while for their sake, and they had discussed and resolved that she would be sacrificed. Carol stood up, calmly still, and went into her room, retiring for the night.
‘Mama! Papa! How could you? She hasn’t accepted his proposal now!’ Ijeoma grumbled.
‘But she should. Or what is she with him for, to just be lovers without sacramental union? Mba kwa! Tufiakwa! That’s not for any of my children’ Mama finalized.
Angry, Oge said, ‘Papa, Mama, some of your children are men. I don’t see why you treat Carol as a breadwinner who has to make all the sacrifices to cater for the home’.
‘Ordinary to leave school to make that provision as a breadwinner, you are complaining. And now you are also complaining of not being treated as a breadwinner’ Mama frowned.
‘Mama!’ Ijeoma became furious. ‘I think we have had enough talk for the night. Let’s all go to bed’.
Carol was not able to sleep at all throughout that night. Her question had been answered and she now knew what to do. As she lay on the bed it dawned on her that by her own making she had portrayed herself as the savior of her natal family and that was how her parents saw her. They totally depended on her and undermined the rest of their children. They had become imposing on their children because of their own fears and she was afraid that this would ruin her and her siblings’ future choices; instead of each chasing and living their individual dreams and purposes, they would live assuaging their parents’ fear. She caused it all, she thought, and so she would put an end to it. Subconsciously, she perceived that her siblings looked up to her as an example to emulate; therefore, doing the right thing would make them follow the same step.
Early in the morning Carol went for mass in the Catholic Church as she often did daily. It was the church her family had been attending since she could make sense of attending a church, and she came to love and accept its faith and doctrines. On this particular day she heard the priest preach the lessons of the gospel of Matthew, chapter 8, verse 21. It was on how Jesus calls us to follow him but we always come up with excuses to bury our dead and make priority of other affairs. The priest reminded the congregation of how the love of God caused a worthwhile division between us and our loved ones in Luke chapter 12, verse 53. And it seemed he was aiming the entire homily at her.
After mass she chatted with another priest, her family’s spiritual director, Fr. James. She gave him a message to her parents and did not return home from the church. She had eventually decided to follow her vocation there and then, lest she changed her mind at the sights and temptations of home and loved ones. Her heart burned for the Lord, and so, she traveled out of town from the Church.
No one saw this coming and, no one saw her again until seven years after when she was allowed out of the monastery for a final visit to the outside world.
© by Ifeanyi Oluwafemi Chukwudi – Jan 06, 2011