Izukanne sat still on the muddy ground amidst the gathering crowd . Her father’s lifeless body sprawled out before her. Someone in the crowd sighed loudly, others cried, but none caught her attention. “Izu… Izukanne, stand up from there, child”, said the fat woman who lived in room five. “It’s not proper that you remain out here like this, this is not a sight for a child to see…” But, Izukanne only sat tight holding onto her father’s remains. Her siblings, Afam, Uju and Dubem were sent off to a neighbour’s room. They were too young to see such a thing… but she was old enough … Or was she?
Izu, as she was fondly called, was only seven when she lost her mother to malaria fever. Dubem the last born was seven months old too. Uju was three and Afam four. Mama was given all sorts of concoction to drink, each prescribed by different people. There was Baba Ijebu, who claimed that the bark of the tree he brought from the village could cure mama’s malaria. Then there was sister Ejiro, the self-professed local nurse who brought a green like substance that smelt like shit. Every day someone came calling with something new, but mama didn’t get any better. Soon, they all lost interest in her and went away. Some had even said the fever had gotten into her brain and she was incurable, but Izu knew better. They were too poor to pay for good medical help or was it that papa was too proud? She had overheard Papa lamenting to a friend the night before that he wished he had the money to help mama and being a man of integrity, he felt it was beneath him to beg for money. However, when mama’s condition took a turn for the worse, papa was forced to borrow money to seek medical help, but it was too late. One fateful morning as they prepared to take her to the hospital, she died.
The Odunze family; Izu’s family lived in room three. Theirs was a one-bed room flat of a crowded block of flats popularly called face-me-I-face-you in Orile Igamu, a suburb of Lagos. Papa worked as a gateman for a small company and barely made enough to support the family. Mama, before her death was a petty trader, who sold fried groundnuts and chewing gums. Izu was the oldest of four children. She was light-skinned, oval faced with thin lips. Papa described her as mami-water because of the sparkle in her eyes and the dimples she revealed whenever she smiled. After mama’s death, that sparkle faded. Izu smiled and talked less. She became saddled with the responsibility of taking care of her younger ones. After mama’s death, Izu saw herself as the mother figure and had to mature beyond her years. Taking up this burden saddened papa a lot and he resolved to give his family the best even if it meant borrowing. He worked extra hours and denied himself everything to get his children good education. Izu had on that fateful morning talked to papa about the State Secondary Scholarship Examination she had sat for six months ago. “I hope I get it papa. It will go a long way to help us. I heard that if I do exceptionally well, I could gain a scholarship into secondary school…and papa, I want to go to the university. I want to become an accountant”, she said as she put off stove with the boiling pot of water. “Don’t worry my daughter, I’m sure you’ll get it. I’m happy you applied for that scholarship. I remembered your teachers insisted that you did, you’re intelligent and hard working. Be patient,” Papa said as he polished his worn-out brown shoes. “I hope to be able to apply for your younger ones too when the time is right,’ he had replied. “I have to go see Obiora, the bicycle repairer in room 9. I gave him five hundred naira three months ago and each time I ask for my money, like the tortoise he will dodge me, but this morning, ehh…. I must collect my money. Prepare your younger ones for school. I’ll soon be back.” Ten minutes after he left, Izu heard a loud cry. She almost dropped the pot of hot water she had lifted on her feet. Rushing out of the room, she saw papa on the ground. A big stone lay beside his head stained with blood. Izu walked in a daze towards her father, she bent over his body, whispering, pleading, begging him to respond. An excited crowd gradually increased, everyone trying to catch a glimpse of the incident. “I… I didn’t mean it…” Obiora stammered. “I… I didn’t know the stone was behind him… I pushed him…he fell…it was an accident.” His words were lost. They had gotten into an intense argument over the non-payment of the money. The argument turned violent and in the cause of their struggle, Obiora pushed papa, he tripped and hit his head on a big stone.
“Excuse me”, a woman said as she pushed through the crowd and walked towards Izu. It was her class teacher. In her hand was an envelope. She knelt beside Izu and in a gentle voice she said, “ I got this yesterday, I was hoping to surprise you with it at school today”. Absent- mindedly, Izu tore open the envelope. In it was an official letter from the State Ministry of Education, it read, “Dear Izukanne Odunze, SCHOLARSHIP AWARD. For your outstanding performance in the State Scholarship Examination, we are glad to inform you that you have been awarded a scholarship from secondary school up to the tertiary institution of your choice. Congratulations. Yours faithfully, Mrs. A. Adeoye. Secretary.”
Just then, the faces of her siblings flashed before her eyes and staring at her father’s lifeless body, Izu, burst into tears.