19th March, 1998.
“Nma, you know you are a special person, right?” Dede asked aunty Nma for the umpteenth time. It was a cool evening and he was sitting on his recliner with his transistor radio beside him. Dede was my grandfather’s brother but I grew up with him acting as my father. I used to stay with him in the village until I got admitted into the university. He had been terribly ill for a while. The doctors in the village were complicating matters. He had several old-age related sicknesses. The doctors, (or do I call them caregivers?), kept giving him pain relievers and anti-malarial drugs in instances when he should have been given blood pressure medications. Aunty Nma had to request that he be brought to the city to receive treatment. He had been at aunty Nma’s house for close to two months. He seemed to be getting better so we were preparing his bags for him to go back to the village.
22nd March, 1998.
Within a couple of days, he was all set to go back. Dede’s health was almost perfectly sound. Aunty Nma had bought a large supply of his medications. My aunty Nma was a very nice woman. Tall, beautiful in and out. She was just perfect. And my Dede was one good-looking old man! Even in his old age, you could always see that he must have been a looker when he was younger. He was gap-toothed and had a smile that was so lovely. One thing that still baffled me was how Dede did not get married. Stories had it that he had been quite selective in his youth and the only lady that had met his standard had been betrothed to the prince of the land. Hence, no marriage for him. That is story for another day. When Aunty Nma came into the room to check on Dede, he beckoned on her to wait awhile. I knew it was going to be one touching moment, so I moved to a corner of the room.
“Nma,” Dede called her. She smiled and looked at him. He patted a place close to him on the bed and asked her to sit.
“Nma,” he called again. “Do you know what you’ve done for me? Do you?” He was obviously struggling to keep his normally shaky voice steady. “If I was supposed to die soon, you’ve extended my life a little more.” He paused to catch his breath before he continued. “That I am living today is because of you. I owe my life to you. You are one very selfless person. Thank you for not leaving me to die. God knows I can not repay you for your kindness. I honestly can’t. God will repay you for this. Nwa’m, Chi’m gozie gi. God bless you.”
Aunty Nma was just smiling. She couldn’t say anything. Well, she finally found words. “Dede, it was nothing. It was really nice having you around. The kids and I will miss you when you go back. But, don’t worry, I will bring them to spend the easter break with you. And in the next six months, you will have to come back for check-up. You even need a break from the village from time to time.”
Dede was laughing at this point. Aunty Nma had to ask him why he was laughing.
“So it is this old man you want to be coming for holidays. I am too old for that, biko.”
“Dee, I do not want to hear that. You have to come back here. You must come back. You must.”
Dede just smiled. ” I will be back, Nma. Don’t worry, I will be back.”
15th September, 1998.
I was in class when Naeto, my cousin, called me. Being that Naeto wasn’t the kind of person to make ‘check on you’ calls, I was really anxious to get back to him. What I heard after the third ring was, “Hello, Kam. Dede is dead.” I really couldn’t comprehend what I had heard. My world was spinning on it’s axis. How could my Deede be dead? After a while, I was able to gather myself. I called aunty Nma and told her what Naeto told me.
“He said he would come back. He couldn’t keep that promise. Hmm… Kam, it is well”, was all aunty Nma could reply.
Preparations for Dede’s burial began in earnest. Everyone was going home for the burial. Except me. I had exams that period. Aunty Nma wasn’t going too. That was surprising. Her husband said she was expecting a child. Who knew she was pregnant?
20th October, 1998.
Dede’s burial was today. I kept calling everyone at home to know how things were going. We really missed Dede. No one I called wasn’t crying. Except me again.
Aunty Nma went into labor this morning. And while Dede was going into the earth, aunty Nma was pushing forth her son. While people at home were filling up the grave, the sound of a baby’s cry filled the room.
When I was finally allowed in, aunty Nma was resting. As I saw the baby boy in her arms, I finally shed the tears that refused to flow since Dede’s death. They weren’t tears of sorrow but of joy.
Dede did return. He kept his promise.