“Boy Soldier- Tales from the war”
CHAPTER 1:- Cold Play
December 24th, 1966. Chill cozy morning with fogs creating temporary blindness for all and sundry. Enugu city had never witnessed the Harmattan period with as much intensity as this… Or so I was told. I, Kachi Austin Umunnakwe – or Caxton, as the Brits would rather call me – had just returned from a scholarship programme in London, where I had been for two years. Enugu seemed slightly different, less military traffic around our residence unlike when Colonel Umunnakwe was always entertaining high profile guests from the men in Camou.
Papa had been sick. Nwoke Dibia had stressed that a miracle would not be enough to save him. Our doctors said he had “Leukemia”, his blood was bad. It was either the sickness, or the fact that I had not been home for two years, but whatever it was, I found myself back in the ‘homely’ and ‘peaceful’ city of Enugu, two years shy of a high school diploma.
“You can be greater than Zik”, mother once said. Being President had never crossed my mind, our background made it all the more fictitious. Papa was in the Army as a senior Colonel, but the house we lived in, did no justice to his military status. In an era when Sergeants had inherited custom London-styled brick Bungalows, with some cars to complement, Papa had chosen the ‘wretched honest life’ as Colonel Imoh Ebot had put it. ” Fending for your ywo daughrers and your onry son, would require a yot ov money. You yon’t know rat(that) rese(these) rings(things) are very imporant”. He would say, his calabar intonation getting the better of him.
December 24th brought an end to all of that. Mama had woken up to the icy remains of Papa, lying under the grey king-sized blanket that he had grown to love. White, pale skinned with a wry smile brightening his face as he laid unmoved. He died happy.
The whole compound had been filled to the extremes with wailing women, children and a fleet of military troops in respect of the late ‘Leopard of Enugu’, as Papa was fondly called.
“He warned me last night oo!!” Mama wailed. “He predicted it. He said I should take care of Kachi, Nneka and Anwurika. I never understood. He talked of insurance, he mentioned his bonds and fixed accounts, but I was too sleepy to take notice. Ooh! Dim Oma, I gbugo m oo!!! Kachi! Take this, your father left this for you!” She placed a London-made time piece in my palms as I stretched forth. “Dee Umunna, why?! Why?!! Why?!!!” Though most of her wailings were done in perfectly styled Igbo, the message was the same.
Her emotions engulfed everyone with heavy hearts and forced the women into uniform wailings, while the men and the uniform could be seen to be shaking their heads in sadness, with tears welling up in the eyes of the ‘not too strong’.
I was 10 at the time. I don’t know if it was courage of my making or the shock of a London time piece, but here I was in the midst of pain, with consolatory words at the tip of my lips. I had to be a man for mama. I had to give her solace in this time when it seemed as though life had come to an abrupt end. Christmas was made black. Little did we know that God had retired Papa to rest and avoid the chaos that was in the offing…