In May, 1967 I watched the red, black and green flag with a golden rising sun over a golden bar in the middle, dance to the rhythm of the wind. Udoh had squeezed my hand gently as we stood side by side, our eyes both focused on the rising sun imprinted on the flag, the rising sun that told us that there was hope, a better day, a new dawn, a new nation. He turned to me with so much excitement and gladness in his eyes, one I had not seen in the past six months. I hoped for nothing more than this spark within him to remain forever. He deserved to be happy; he deserved to finally feel safe.
‘We’re home’ he whispered into my ears and I couldn’t agree more.
Nnem, my mother, used to say, ‘home is not where you build your house and make a family but where you find peace and comfort, and where you know is a safe haven’. That was Lagos city for us; the busy city which over flowed with human beings, a city which played the disturbing music of many voices, like the buzzing sound of flies hovering around ones ears, that was where we called home. Udoh was one of the many literate Igbo men; he was a lawyer who had been opportune to study at one of the universities in Britain. It wasn’t uncommon to see many Igbo men who could boast of such extraordinary educational achievement. Somehow the easterners of Nigeria had managed to take over every form of business and job in the country and had taken education very seriously.
It was a Sunday morning when Udoh stood in his dark green khaki uniform; I woke up to the humming of our new anthem ‘land of the rising sun’. The night before had been our very first night we slept in anger for each other.
‘It’s our nation we are talking about here…’
‘and it’s your life I am speaking of Udoh, what do you want me to do, celebrate that you want to leave and fight in a war, a war where so many have died’.
‘Which war is fought without the death of people Uju? Other women will stand behind their husbands and bless them as they decide to create a new life for their people, they would crown them brave men, why must you be different?!’
I kept silent, quietly sobbing in the dim room. I focused my attention on the burning candle which stood at the corner of the room, just beside the only bag we had filled with our clothes; the clothes we had managed to pack before we became prey to the monsters in human form. Just like that candle our peace and happiness had burnt so fast overnight.
The image of Kelechi’s body lying on the street had never been flushed out. It was the street which we had once called peaceful, where we had first laughed at a fight between a prostitute and her mother, where we had first become friends. She was one of those women who never got involved in fights and had a way with words; she trained her daughters well and taught them to be respectful. She was what we would call Ezinne, good mother. As her third pregnancy developed each day I always teased that she would have another girl.
‘Mba, no’, she would reply with all certainty,’ this one is going to be the opara, first son, of the house’.
Like a cow being killed without remorse or feelings, Kelechi was cut opened by her own security man and his friends. Her foetus was yanked out of her belly, her daughters ganged raped by these northerners who had gathered hatred for us- the people of our identity.
People would say it was the jealousy for the prospering Christian Ibo people, especially, which led to the bloody violence by the northerners. It was more of a political and economic tension between the east and the north. The coup d’état by some eastern military offices and its counter coup d’état executed by the northerners which had taken place in the past one year had spoilt the taste ofan already soured soup. In multitudes we were slaughtered, eyes were plucked off, arms chopped, human beings clothed in kerosene and painted with the flames of fire turning us into ashes, girls were raped and given to gangs of lepers to be raped as well. We, the easterners, had become nothing but human sacrifices pleasing the anger of the others. We were no longer welcomed as Nigerians; in fact Nigeria had become an enemy to us, it was no longer a safe haven… and so we the survivors journeyed to our new home, the land of the rising sun –Biafra.
‘I’ll be back for you’, he finally said in a calm voice, ‘Uju, you’ve always been a strong woman, you’ve always believed that we will conquer, you’ve always said that in our home we will find happiness, but this won’t be so if we, as men, don’t stand to fight for our land. Please let me go, let me fight for us, for the likes of Kelechi and others who were brutally murdered. Please’.
That ended the discussion for the night and in the morning Udoh hugged me as he sang the words of the Biafra anthem ‘but if the price is death for all we hold dear, then let us die without a shred of fear’.
Days passed, and months went, each day had taught me to enjoy the taste of thin air and water as food. Children were starving kwashiorkor became their playmate, mothers were weeping. Our ‘great currency’ could do nothing for us. People had turned to unlucky lizards, which couldn’t flee so fast, and used them as meat. We became walking corpses, endowed with rib cages fighting to run from our inside as they clearly displayed they’re shape. But we still called ourselves Biafrans till the war had been called off.
On the 15th of January 1970, I waited for Udoh to return as he promised; night after night I had heard his voice in the cold, invisible air singing the Biafra anthem. He never came home, neither did his body. Udoh was gone, just like that burning candle, just like the red black and green flag with a golden rising sun and a golden bar below it, just like his favourite song ‘the land of the rising sun’, Udoh was gone. After all these years I still hear him sing that song and I smile…for even though we had lost the war, we had kept our pride. The land of the rising sun, as we knew it, had somewhat become a safe haven.