My dreams wake me up much too early so that I have to sit up in the dark and in the stink of the overcrowded room, waiting for the day to break. It is annoying that our room holds a certain smell like okro soup turned sour for three days. Most of the adults here hardly take a good bath The water supply to our camp is poor. But if you ask me, I’d say most of the people here are probably convinced that after wading through the almost drowning floods for hours before getting here, they have had a good enough bath to take them through the next few weeks.
I am hoping we do not have to stay here that long. Daddy has been making a number of calls, I think my uncle who stays in Kaduna is making plans to help us get a better place to stay. Or we may just have to make a trip to Kaduna and put up with him, for a month or two. At least it would be better than living in this sad camp where squalor and the memories of our tragedy mock us in the face, aside from having to be crammed up with three other families in this small, very impolite room, Mother had remarked.
She was hoping we would be back and settled in a new home before the holidays are over, and I had to return to school.
The sad truth though is that I do not want to have to stay even a day with my uncle in Kaduna. The reason is, he has two grown-up sons who I feel very uncomfortable being around, and an austere-faced wife that makes me feel she would rather have me as a slave girl in her house.
She enjoys sending me on errands to collect her change from Anty Hauwa’s kiosk on the other street, or to take my cousin’s, Agaba and Agoche, their meals in their bedroom.
Agaba always wants me to stay longer than necessary in his room. He’s always wanting to be tactile, tickling me or hugging me too tight. His younger brother constantly passes comments about how beautiful I am and how I am becoming a very big girl.
I think I’d rather stay wary of them, especially since Agoche said the next time I come, he would like to show me something interesting. Why that sounds very shady, I am not sure. But I am very confident I do not want to find out. In school, every Friday, there is this forum for female students where we are taught to be careful around male adults, even our relatives.
One of the young women who came to speak to us told of when she was a girl of about our age, and how a male neighbor’s friendly smiles and harmless gifts had concealed an ill-motive.
She told us how he had lured her into doing some really shameful things. Things that I cannot bring myself to talk or even write about. Many of us girls pressed our hands to our ears while she talked. We didn’t think we should be made to know such things. But she told us ignorance was not powerful enough to change reality.
It felt right though, the way she spoke to us freely. It made us ease up and many of us gained the confidence to ask some disturbing questions we had buried away, for fear that our parents might kill us.
I can’t even tell mummy that we are taught such things in school. I am scared of my mother. She is hard to understand and difficult to please. I have only known her for fourteen years, but for the most of it she has been very unhappy.
I think she wishes that she had more children, as I never seem to satisfy her. Some other times, it’s as though she concludes within that since I am the only choice for a child, she would make me the child of her dreams. A venture which I feel can be likened to trying to iron to silky smooth, a Scottish skirt made of tweed fabric.
Apart from her constant nagging about the way I ought to do things, her cloying clamour for religious things makes me fall ill with Malaria; like the one I was about to fake on Thursday morning when, unfortunately, the rain the brought the flood started.
“Abigail, you’ve been getting set for an hour thirty minutes now o. Get out of there now! It is a youth bible meeting, not a fashion week.” That was my mom on the said Thursday morning.
From the room where I listened, I rolled my eyes and remained silent. I intended to lay here under those blankets until she came in to find a daughter who would not be going for youth bible meeting because she had a fever and a pounding headache.
It wasn’t long after that the sound of raindrops began to thump on the window pane like distant drumbeats, and rattle noisily on the rooftop. I knew God – the one I was evading – had given me a reason to shout Alleluia!
“Mummy, this rain is heavy, we can’t go anywhere now! ” I called out to her above the sound of the heavy downpour.
Obviously annoyed, she told me that once it subsided, we were leaving immediately, because the meeting would last till 4 pm.
The rain did not stop that day. It fell steadily with the occasional recess of three to four minutes and went on again.
When Daddy returned home in the evening, he complained of the flooded roads and reminded mum that the news went round that the rains would be unusually very heavy this year.
“Hadn’t they worked on the drainage in preparation for this? The rain should better not affect business.” mum didn’t hide her anger, as she had a store where she sold fabrics.
All the same, it was a call from her shopkeeper that woke my parents up the next morning. Flood had submerged the entire building, in fact, the whole area sat like diced food in broth.
By the time my parents hurried out of bed, hoping to get prepared and drive down to the scene, they found an ankle-deep pool in our kitchen and living room.
Daddy’s exclaim was actually what startled me from sleep. I rushed out to meet an unfriendly swamp causing unintended but certain damage to our properties.
“The floods would be worse than we expected,” dad pointed out before asking us to gather a few things into the car so we could move to safety, just in case.
He had intentions of making a few calls to see how some more of our properties could be moved out of the house. We carried official documents, some food items, a few clothes and sensitive electronic gadgets into the car.
But we were too late. We had only covered a very short distance when we realized the water had risen so high and cut off our entire community. Our burden laden vehicle was almost inundated in the flood. The tires couldn’t move along anymore. It rolled and rolled like a lottery wheel, splashing water around.
“We need to get out!” Breathing noisily, my father’s eyes darted all over the place, thinking of a safe escape for his family.
“Peace.” He called out to my mother. Daddy hardly ever called her by her first name, so much so that when I was in pre-school, I was too confident my mother was christened Honey.
“Onyeche,” he called out to me. There was a tremor in his voice. I had never seen my father as pale as he looked that morning. I tried not to act scared, but tears were already stinging at my eyes.
The muddy water had reached up to the car windows, and at the same time, found it’s way in from beneath the closed door. I felt like we were sinking into our inevitable end.
“Listen to me!” my dad’s voice caused my head to shoot up. I looked back at him. But he was talking to mum.
“I’m going to lift you on my back, I need you to hold tightly to me. Okay? We’ll be fine. We will walk through the floods until we get to dry land. Stop that..!” My father snapped at Mummy. She was becoming frantic, speaking in tongues and hitting her hands on her head.
She swallowed the remaining “bra, bra da bra,” though she still trembled slightly. I could see the quivering of her hand that now gripped daddy’s wrist firmly.
Daddy softened. He understood her fear, “I need you to hold yourself in one piece, please. If God will help us out of here, it won’t be by starting a Holy Ghost Service in this vehicle. Now take, tie it around you.” It was one of the mother’s shawls that he had firmly secured around his waist.
Daddy reached out for a few things he could get his hands on; a suitcase where we had locked in important credentials and one or two extra clothing items for us. He bound it up in a nylon bag and tucked it under his arm. Most of the things we had stashed in the boot were as good as gone now.
The fifty minutes that followed became the most traumatic moments of my life, as we waded through the overwhelming and unending waters, clinging to one another. We fought the tide and held our heads above the water, gasping and surviving against all odds because we wanted to give one another a reason to.
There were times my hands got tired of holding to Daddy’s. Sometimes his tired shoulders slacked. And I would find most of my faced buried in the water, shutting my eyes tightly, I would desperately beg to snap out of the nightmare. But it went on and on, and even now still haunts me.
My sleep is now a watery trap where I slip off daddy’s back, falling into and drowning in a bottomless darkness, gasping for air, but getting choked by this murky dark waters infused with fear and death.
Coughing and breathing heavily, I would awaken to another nightmare. But this one does not lurk behind my eyelids. This one does not go away. This one has spread like an epidemy upon the consciousness of everyone here.
You can see it in the lack of zest in their conversations. The way they drag and fight and clamber over one another to get a share of the food and clothing items that are shared to us.
You can mark it in the hushed tones of Mr. Adams and his wife as they have heated arguments in the midst of three other families – strangers who have been made to become non-renounceable witnesses of their private lives.
I jolt and turn to see who just whispered. It is Angela, Mr. Adams’ grown-up daughter. I like her a lot, she always wears this placid smile on her face and when she greets you it’s always with this glint in her eyes. She seems estranged from the stints of mirthlessness that is king here in our relief camp.
“Nightmares,” I respond.
“Do you want to sit out with me and let’s watch the sunrise? I’ll play my guitar.”
I smile; I nod.
Angela spends her day with a guitar slung over her shoulders, writing songs and playing the strings to them.
Outside, the day has begun to break, an eerie, imparticular dark bluish hue yet conceals the features of the day.
“What do you dream of?”
“The flood.” I frown.
“Aren’t you tired of dreaming such?”
“It’s hard to forget all that happened”
“The flood destroyed everything my family had. When you wake up one morning to a reality that has no resemblance to your experiences of the past or your plans for today, tomorrow becomes the only thing you can preserve. It becomes the only chance of life you have left.”
“So what do I do?”
“Onyeche, there are some dreams that don’t get wet. Dreams of the future don’t get flooded and it takes any picture you want it to.” And she begins to pluck at the strings of her guitar.
The day breaks.