AFTER THE NIGERIAN Civil War, popularly known as the Biafran War, Eloka could not find his feet anymore. He had run away from home and bluffed his way to the front where he miraculously survived. By the time the war ended however he had learnt all those slippery gripping things which are most dangerous to learn in those teenage years.
A drug addict, possessed of fits of violence and passion, and unable to focus his attention on anything serious for any considerable length of time, he became in the post-war years a source of sorrow and heart-ache to his parents and family. He was the fifth and youngest child of his parents, their baby and most beloved. His mother shed innumerable tears. His proud and stately but gentle father, a high chief of their people, bore it with a grim silence.
And then, somehow, someone hit upon the disastrous idea of sending young Eloka to America; for some reason they indulged in the logic that, at school there, far away from home, Eloka would be moulded into a man, forced to become self-controlled, responsible and mature. – And so, off he went to America.
But even many a stable and level-headed adult has been turned and broken by America, that distant continent, not to talk of this unsettled youth. Reports have it that he indeed at first attended his courses at the university, but with time Eloka gradually eased away from contact and eventually disappeared from sight.
Full of concern and agony, in which was mingled a stab of self-blame, Chief Ogbonna – Eloka’s stately father – contacted all known relatives and friends in that giant continent-of-a-country, pleading with them to help find his Eloka. But look high or look low as these people did – even with the help of police and private detectives – Eloka was nowhere to be found.
Sorrowfully his parents resigned themselves to the certainty that death must have overtaken him. Eloka’s war-torn nature, they lamented, had broken out again and done him in. Oh… that war! – Eloka’s mother’s tears flowed again, night after night, as she called his name into the unresponsive wind. And Eloka’s father again bore these times with a leaden heart of silence.
But then, as life always shows itself to be running differently from what we think it is, Eloka suddenly appeared again, not in America, but back in Nigeria. But when Chief Ogbonna gazed into his son’s eyes he saw, not the son he once knew, but a harassed stranger. And the Chief openly shed tears. And whilst others thought they were tears of joy, in truth they were tears of pain and loss. Now he really knew that his son was gone from him for good.
The others, however, only celebrated his return. His mother, though she sensed the absolute change in him, refused to acknowledge it as she clung unto her love for her returned son, and proceeded to go through the motions of being a happy mother.
But, truly, nobody knew the real reason why Eloka had suddenly and miraculously returned. He had simply been on the run from other gangsters who were after his life, and had fled to his native country to wait out the heat.
The heat did cool off, as Eloka established through telephone conversations, and then, just the same way as he had returned, Eloka whisked himself back to America.
Let me not disclose the renewed sorrow that descended upon the Ogbonna family. The years went by. For a long while nobody heard anything from or about Eloka. But then, slowly, pieces of news about him began to painfully filter through: wanted by the police here, fleeing from the law there, etcetera.
To say that all this added to the quickened deterioration of Chief Ogbonna’s health would be an understatement. Slowly he withered mortally away…
Meanwhile, on that strange distant American continent, Eloka began to slowly come to a better understanding of life and himself. The works of great philosophers slid through his fingers and across the canvas of his soul and he discovered his buried I. He began to study and to read and to think. Reading wrought a strange change upon his spirit and suddenly, as though with new eyes, looking about him he found himself surrounded by works and people that had the capacity to inspire him, and all of a sudden the country seemed like a whole different place – a land of opportunity. And then he began to think about his life.
It became clear to him that he had nigh on senselessly wasted over two decades of his life being less than he could be, less than his parents had brought him up to be, less than his father had all along been waiting for him to become. His father. His mentor. His childhood hero. He remembered the gulf that had yawned between both of them when he last saw him that time he fled home fifteen years earlier. Remorse gradually took hold of him and the urge to close this gap that had opened up between his father and himself.
To this purpose at the age of forty, Eloka’s life began anew. He turned away fully from crime and, over the next couple of years, settled his cases with the law, left the bars permanently behind and eventually worked himself into a job as a writer of newspaper articles. He wanted to step before his father as a respectable and capable son. – Once or twice he considered writing a letter home, but never did so.
But this period of transformation had not yet ended when the heavy, fateful news suddenly and abruptly filtered through to Eloka that his father had just died after a protracted bout of illness. A wild pain, laced by regret, tore through Eloka. Suddenly his life lost whatever meaning it had recently and newly found again. His only star, only beckoning light, was gone. What was he to do now? Could anything be done? Eloka was tired. For although he dearly loved his mother, his brothers and his sisters, it was his father who had always been the owner of the deepest love in his heart.
Yet why did he not even now return home? Or communicate, or something, anything, to make the pain in his heart, and in everybody else’s too, go away a little. – But, no. His life was empty now, his destiny altered. There was nothing more to strive for… – wispy thoughts that stung at night.
Yet must credit be given to Eloka however. He did not revert back to crime, nor did he ever contemplate suicide. He simply drifted on in that old new world and completely forgot his old homeland, a stranger in a land of seekers and dreamers.
Unknown to Eloka however his father was still alive and, in fact, hale and hearty. Chief Ogbonna was not dead., neither was his mother. It had been a case of misinformation, accidentally or deliberately. Both his parents lived, resigned to their loss and newly resolved to making the best of the rest of their lives. In this spirit, the Chief had kicked against the dejection that had been slowly killing him, and returned to life.
They lived over ten more happy years together and then the old Chief, in his nineties, was the first to close his eyes to a rich and many-sided earthlife. And, in accordance with the customs of his people, an Igbo village in Eastern Nigeria, though his body was interred immediately, the public funeral ceremony was fixed for a distant month.
Hardly had his body been buried, however, than private investigators in America, constantly hired over the decades to seek out Eloka, found him at last. They communicated this piece of news to other relatives of his who also lived in America and these set out to meet him.
Great, and not to be fastened in words, were the emotions that suddenly surged up in and overwhelmed Eloka when he opened the door of his apartment and gazed into familiar, long unseen, loved faces, gazing back at him.
Tenderly, ever so tenderly, they broke the news to him about the recent death of his beloved father, Chief Obinna Ogbonna. But they did not know the reason why Eloka sat so still after hearing this strange, startling piece of news. Eloka was dumbfounded, perplexed, thunderstruck, silent. Very silent and very still. But his soul was in tumult.
The realization that his father had not died over ten years ago like he had heard, like he had all the while thought, but had been alive all this time! All these years, years in which he, Eloka, had finally, even if almost nonchalantly, achieved that which only the longing to meet his father again had awakened in his heart some fifteen years ago now. To be a respectable son and capable, independent, balanced man. Years in which he could have visited the old man as often as he pleased. Ten years. All gone. For he had believed his father dead all along. Now history.
Why had fate misinformed him years ago? But whose fate? And who’s fate?
Eloka’s thoughts floated back to his childhood, to the time before the war, before that haunting turning point. How many evenings had he lain beside his father, listening to his breathing? During how many meals had he sat by the loving man’s side, pilfering solemnly slices of fish and roasted chicken from his plate? How many times had his father tickled him, made him laugh and then made him proud with tales of their ancestors, and then made his heart tremble by telling him how eager he was to see what his boy would be when he became a man. How many times had he longed again and again for his father, his father for him?…
And so, Eloka, now in his mid-fifties, who did not visit his father while the man yet lived, and longed, boarded an American plane in that distant month to go and visit him at his funeral.
– Che Chidi Chukwumerije.