Story by: Ejine Okoroafor (Part 1 of 6)
‘Hello, hello. Gogo, are you there, can you hear me?’ I heard the worried voice of my brother, Ndudi, inquiring from the other end of the phone line. He feared our phone connection had dropped but nonetheless had continued to shout, ‘Gogo, hello, Gogo, hello, are you there?’
I heard him clearly but was unable to respond or assure him that I was still on the line and could hear him. I gripped the phone tightly, pressed to my right ear while trying to hang on to the conversation and maintain my balance at the same time. I was dizzy. My mind was muddled. I struggled to comprehend the dreadful news that he had just relayed to me. I felt dazed, transfixed with shock and unable to move or talk. My spirit seemed to have exited outside of my body, leaving me hollow.
It was difficult for me to come to terms with the news that my younger brother had imparted to me. Maryam is dead. Maryam is dead, ricocheted again in my head. The mother of my beautiful daughter, Kaka was dead. She killed herself. She had willfully tied a rope around her own neck and hung herself. This devastating image zigzagged through my mind like a stab of electric shock. I was numb. The worst part was that it was entirely my fault, my fault. I had disappointed her and caused her to take her own life. I should have known better than to ignore her, refusing to talk to her for over 3 months.
How could I have predicted that her reaction might be so dire? That Maryam could react to potential rejection by taking her own life? She was so strong. My Maryam was strong. My beautiful Maryam was gone.
She had left Kaka too, my beautiful 3 year old daughter who I was yet to meet. Ndudi had assured me that Kaka was fine. Maryam had left Kaka in her mother’s care before she went to the bushes to hang herself. Kaka was fine. She didn’t know about her mother yet.
‘Hello, Gogo, Gogo?’ I heard Ndudi repeat, ‘Are you still there? Are you okay?’
I was unable to respond. I opened my mouth but no words came out to reassure him that I was still on line and could hear him. I had temporarily lost my power of speech.
‘I think the line is cut.’ I heard Ndudi mutter resignedly to no one in particular before a subsequent sharp click indicated that he had hung up the phone. He couldn’t tell that the line was still open and that I could still hear him.
I finally dropped my phone and sunk to the floor of my room in anguish. I was wrecked with tears and sobs. Maryam was dead. She hung herself. It was my fault. Those haunting thoughts continued echoing in my mind as I wept, wishing I could have foreseen this devastating aftermath and been able to avert it. What have I done? I lamented helplessly, weeping uncontrollably while curling up to myself on the floor.
I should have told her the truth. I should never have stopped calling her or sending her money. I should never have let her believe that I didn’t care for her or Kaka anymore. I should never…….
I contended with a thousand and one lamentations. Things I should have or shouldn’t have done. Things I wished I could have said that I didn’t say and those that I might have said that I shouldn’t have said so that Maryam would still be alive. I might still have been able to ultimately bring her and Kaka over to America.
How many times have I imagined driving down I-95 North expressway on my way to the JFK airport to pick up both Maryam and Kaka in my own car after they would have finally arrived in the USA?
I imagined how she would have regarded her new environ on disembarking from the plane to touch the coveted soil of USA. I could visualize her eyes brimming with that wide unassuming innocence of hers and childish delight as she regards and marvels at everything. I even imagined her quipping refreshingly, “Gogo, the air here even smells fresh!”