THE PROMISE by Enwerem Chukwuka

I lit the cooker and sat the pot on the fire. I put in the rice and set to do the dishes. I was battling with the dish and sink when my 7-year old niece rushed into the room.

“Your baby want to die…” She said breathlessly.

“What?” I asked.

“She want to die..” She threw in a cryptic reply and she was gone.

I darted out of the kitchen and went after her. We bustled out of the house with great alarm.

My name is Enwerem Chukwuka from Isuikwuato Abia State state. The place was Ikorodu Lagos and it was on February seventeenth, 2016. It was a day I still wish never came.

I’d just come to Lagos earlier the previous year. I met this baby who belonged to one of our tenants. I nicknamed her ‘My Baby’ because I didn’t really know her name. Well, the name stuck.

She was two and as lively as a vegetable garden on a sunny March morning. A full fluffy cheek with two firm dimples graced her oval-shaped face. Her skin was as light complexioned as a well-ripened paw paw while her hair cascaded down her shoulders like ripples. Her eyes were as dreamy as one of those off Oresegun Olumide’s artworks. Her skin glowed with a touch of glass undertone- glassy not fragile and her laughter was like a string of romance heard under the udara tree on a moonlit night.

It was as if our meeting was written in the sky so clear that everything just balanced right between us with little or no effort. Within a short time, we were strolling hand in hand touring round the neighborhood under refreshing evenings, savouring the gently, caressing air of Ikorodu. Ikorodu smelled of nature, of freshness and life.

She was like the beautiful rose that perfected my garden whose innocent smile sat engraved in my mind, helping me bear any misfortune. An angel among human whose mere thought of made my every night short.

She’d wake up every morning and race straight to our apartment. She’d bang on our door in greetings. She had nothing to say, but to let me know she’s up and running for the day. Once I was free for the day, we’d have all the time in the world to spend together.
She was a fun fellow whom you wake up every day hoping to hear her laugh, see her smiles and watch her grace the neighborhood with her lively charisma.

One of my favourite memory of her was watching her join everybody else and try to correctly pronounce ‘uncle Henry’ I waited patiently for the day she would be able to say it correctly.

I knew she had a lot to tell me. I knew she had a lot to ask me. I knew there was much more we had in stock for the future and I waited eagerly on that future with the minutest excitement. Until that fateful February 17th…

As I and my niece arrived at their apartment, I was greeted with one of the most overpowering sights ever; my baby lying helplessly in her grandmother’s arms. In those excruciating minutes, I knew pain. I’ve never felt so helpless in my life that I was ready to scale any mountain to make her survive. But it was hopeless. I prayed to God to restore her health and wondered where my prayers went.

I could see it in her eyes, the last-minute blinks that would close a gate to a once lively soul.
The last gaze she gave me, a weary tired look that carried so much promise and regret with it was a sight I could never forget. In her pain, she was still trying to pronounce ‘uncle Henry’ correctly. And I knew if she could, she’d have done anything to live. I refuse to watch her breath her last so l left. I Left with all the good memories of her. With the new pain swelling within me and raging with helpless abandon.

Sleeping became a big deal with her face rippling before me with each shut of an eye and blink of the eyelids. I see her smile, the last pain she bored on her face and the melodious cracker of her tiny voice reverberating in my head. It was a mixture of torture and sweet sweet memories.

The regret of my inability to lift a finger of help to her while she was alive and the guilt of having to live through more phase of life without her was overpoweringly weighty.

“She died,” her mother told me later with her eyes soaked in hot tears, “your baby is dead.”
I sought for the best words of consolation for this young mother who had lost more than me, but I found none. But even if I had found the right words, I couldn’t have trusted my ability to say them for my strength too had failed me.
All I remember telling her was, “let me know when she returns.” She didn’t ask questions and shortly afterward they moved out.

February 2017 I was in the kitchen again when my niece now aged eight rushed in to announce that my baby’s mother was back. I stepped out to see her carrying a two-month-old baby. When the baby saw me, she opened her arms invitingly and gave me that peculiar look of trust. She was my baby’s carbon copy alright and the way she held to my finger came with the old touch.
I had no question, I had no doubt. All that mattered to me was that my baby is back. I could feel it and she was there staring right at me. I knew my baby’s promise had been kept and I knew she had returned…this time, healthier and more determined to live. Like a dream come true- a promise fulfilled.

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