Memoirs of Good Friday, Easter and Early Life in Igarra

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Niyi Egbe

Why call it Good Friday Mama? I cannot recall Mama’s response as she hastened to church and had me literally running after her. I was merely seeking answers for what was bordering my young mind. It appeared that for mum, today was not for questions. The moment was not ripe and it was obvious that mum who had always been there to answer my questions and offer explanations was in no mood for such. I took it in its stride, believing that someday she would.

I always trusted Mama. She was there with fairy stories and did wonders introducing me to Igarra folklores and tales. There were stories around so many animals. Some about Tortoise and its tricks, Rabbits and it’s speed, strong Tigers and Lions, and of course frightening Gorrillas! It was largely from Mum that I first picked up Igarra names for animals, and then later in adult life, guide to manhood from Dad whose pre- occupation seemed to be minding the family farming business if we must all get fed. He busied himself more with times with his brothers and cousins. I never got to know what they always discussed neither was I bordered. I always had more than enough to fill my day.

I grew up understanding and to accept that for Daddies, there were more things that needed the attention of men than kitchen affairs and rudimentary attention to babies. He was not alone. It was the norm. It didn’t imply lack of love or attention to his family. Definitely not and I recall an experience to prove. It was in one of those meetings they planned a coup for me.

I can’t recall whether it was on the index or middle finger that I had a whitlow on. It harassed and caused me much pain. It disturbed my games. I recalled how several times amidst football, the nerve wracking pains would arrive. I’d be forced to leave all, running home to mum. I’ll cry and ask her for water to cool the finger. I’ll bury the finger in water till I got sufficient relief. This went on repeatedly till the pains literally got out of hands. I moaned night after night. I can’t recall Dad being there or been as available mum to console me, but then he had a plan.

One evening after farm work, he was again seated with his friends and family at their usual spot in the house next door. At this time, the whitlow had fully developed. There was a band of mucus laden under the finger’s skin. I did everything to protect it from abrasion or the slightest touch as such would send sharp and enduring pain. Everybody in the house felt for me. I had suspended virtually all games. It was undoubtedly the most frustrating and painful moments in my childhood.

I didn’t expect that a thing was amiss. I went to meet Dad to announce to him as usual that food was ready. I observed however an unusually larger number of men, but not significantly different from the usual setting, safe that Dad called me to come closer as if he had not heard my message. I go closer, oblivious that I was responding to a game plan. Before I could say Jack Robinson, two or three men grabbed me feet, hands and trunk. Whatever was the matter? I couldn’t decipher. Was this a kidnap? Certainly not, after all, my Dad was around. All I recall is that they went for the finger with the whitlow.

I cried and tried as I possibly could to wriggle myself off grip. It was foolhardy. How would a six year old break free from able bodied farmers? I involuntarily yielded as they gently felt the finger. They tried as tender as possible amidst my attempts to get free. I felt pain and rolled out curses, describing them as wicked. They cared no hoot. They simply went about their mission.

Unknown to me, a native physician was amidst them. There was a Hospital in town but in the judgment of my parents, the “Doctor” was capable. I didn’t know him, I hadn’t met him. I guess experience had taught my parents that he could safely handle the case. The “Doctor” reached for a sharp object. There was no way I could see it. If I did, I would have struggled harder. In wisdom, they benevolently kept my gaze away till I felt a sharp object cutting through the diseased finger. I shouted, cried the heavens and deployed whatever strength to get free. They were prepared for me. The doctor went about his business. He squeezed out pus upon pus amidst my loud weeping. I could hear mum at the background requesting that they take it easy with me. So, she was part of this plan? How could I know when she and Dad discussed and are now hatching the plan! What wickedness I bemoaned. The entire plan was executed in about fifteen minutes. The Doctor approved my release after thoroughly washing and cleaning up the spot and applied some leaves to soothe the pain. Of course I gave all of them a piece of my mind describing them callous and mindless. They didn’t give a response. They obviously could empathize with me. They also knew from experience that it was all in my interest. So true!

I had never slept as deep for nights as that night of that encounter with the Doctor. I woke surprised that the pain was largely gone. What magic! I told Dad my experience, really excited. He just teased me. “But you were cursing and abusing yesterday”? I apologised profusely. He instructed me to go to the Doctor and thank him which I gladly did. I also went about thank every one of those benevolent relations or better still coup plotters who delivered me from the harassment of whitlow. I got healed in about two weeks and gladly resumed my games and plays with friends.

Back to my question for mum – what would be good about this Friday? From teaching in the children church and all I had heard about Jesus, He was a good man. Why would someone subject a fellow human to such pain? So inhuman, that those pains resulted in the loss of His life! From every evidence, He appeared innocent. I was also told in church that He was well above board. He would not tell lies. He preached love for one another. He hardly talked during His ordeal. Wonderful, somebody slaps and kicks you and you would not deal harsher retaliation? He was undoubtedly a very strange man indeed. I also learnt that he kept going about healing the sick and opening blind eyes. I tried imaging what being blind looked like. I closed my eye. It was all blackness. Suppose someone gets blind. It would all be dark. How do you cope with such a situation? I quickly opened my eye, frightened and praying fervently that I never go blind. How come that a man that helped a helplessly blind man is one that would be killed? Couldn’t they have allowed him to live on so he would get anyone who ever got blind seeing? Why did they have to kill him and then go on to name that would-be sad day, Good! What can be good about such a day? These adults!

I pressed mum further, yet he wouldn’t answer me. She was used to my question and inquisitive mind. She had always answered. Was she as unhappy as I that Jesus was killed? I guessed so. She had worn a sad look all day. Much earlier, she had prepared the mind of the household that as a mark of honour to a suffering Jesus, no proteinous animal containing bloody would be eaten. We agreed with her. It was okay to take snails if we must eat meat. After all, they don’t bleed. What is a sacrifice of meat compared with a sacrifice that cost the life of Jesus?

Why was mum avoiding my question? She had always afforded and offered answers to virtually all my requests. I recall a time when we were going to church. I admired some young lads about my age mate who were putting on rain boots. “Mum”, I called out. When I was sure she had my ears, I placed a request: Please buy me Rain boots. She responded positively and assured that she will not only make it Rain boots but as well Sun boots. I was so happy!

Why wouldn’t she answer this one? Why would they kill Jesus and call the day good? That is virtually an endorsement of the act too. I thought about death and was frightened. I couldn’t imagine dying. I knew that they bury the dead in sand. I kept wondering how the dead coped with having sand continuously poured on them till they got completely covered. How then will they breathe? I became afraid and ran fast to mum. I wouldn’t die at all, otherwise men could also bury me in sand.

Mum and I were heading for church through most of Utua, Igarra from Abuba my ancestral home. The destination was The Apostolic Church located near Ufa in the Eastern part of Igarra. Mum told me about how she got to become a Christian. Her Dad, Asemah was a convert to Islam. I didn’t know him, but he obviously was a detribalized man. There were Ibos in his compound. I never saw Hausas in my maternal home but suspect their impact because Onyi Okupo my Grand mum was into die business. There were die pits on rocks behind the house. According to mum, the arrival of Apostolic Church Missionaries marked the end of Islam in her home. She told me that the missionaries came in attractive white dresses. They preached the love of Christ and miracles that Jesus was capable of doing. The same Jesus that some wicked people framed up and killed. Their message so impressed, that my Grand mum and the whole of my maternal household – the Asemahs which hitherto didn’t really embrace Islam became Christians.

The Asemahs were so persuaded about the Christian faith that they enmeshed themselves in it. They were committed to the church, built the Church I guess as far back as the 1940s and took prominent positions in the church. My Grand Mum went through the ranks, Mum and her sister became Deaconesses – the highest posts women attain in the church. One of her brothers even became a Pastor. Virtually all Asemahs including my mum were rested in Graves offered by the church.

Despite her conversion to Christianity, mum always dutifully took for her Dad, his prayer mat to the then very little mat. For whatever reason, the Igarra community refused to embrace Islam. They embraced Christianity as evident in the entrenchment of The Catholic, Anglican, Apostolic Church and Christ Apostolic Church up till the early seventies before the arrival of the Pentecostal churches.

As for Dad, he was a Catholic but died without much faith in the church. He was positive that most Pastors were merely deceiving their members. I was among his youngest sons. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to find out from him reasons why he abdicated the Christian faith. He even had James as his baptismal nomenclature. His first son Michael would even boast that he was so committed to the Catholic Church that he was a Mass server. My mum had great influence on her daughters and of course his last kids, my younger brother Ojo and I. We accompanied her to the Apostolic Church.

Mum didn’t answer my question – just why call this day of blood and ill-treatment of Jesus Good? However, Easter was always festive in Igarra. I recall that Christian adherents avoided meat around Easter. I remember a peculiar plant, a tender broad leaved rhizome that had white and red spots on its leaves. We children called it Jesus plant. Churches had evangelical activities all furnishing details about the excruciating pains Jesus had to suffer on the cross from most wicked of hearts. We heard sermons on Easter Day. Although Easter wasn’t as festive as Christmas day, we wore good dresses to mark the day.

Easter Monday was also special. Believers sang round the town. They envisioned the resurrection at Galilee. When I first heard about the resurrection, I was happy and expected that when I followed Mum, we would arrive Galilee somewhere around Igarra from which Jesus would ascend unto the skies. It never happened at Igarra.

Although Mum didn’t answer my question, I heard so much about a troublesome devil that is behind all evil. No doubt he it is that influenced greedy Judas and Jewish rulers to plot the assassination of Jesus. I had a game plan. Some day, I would grow up. I will take a sword and with the help of Jesus, terminate the devil – that wicked man that killed Jesus. As for adults I’ll leave them to their folly calling a Bad Friday, Good Friday. Aren’t they really funny people?

Egbe, a Pastor, Agriculturist and Media practitioner, lives in Lagos, Nigeria. Email: niyiegbe@yahoo.com