The door cracked open and Olanna poked her head in.
Ihuoma was sitting on the floor, with her back propped against a wall that had long lost the definition of its colour. Her eyes glistened with tears that were yet unshed and stared ahead, and at nothing.
“Ndo, nwannem.” Olanna soothed. She had lowered beside her. “Sorry, my sister. His death was a shock to us all. I am yet to believe that he is gone. Chei! Onwu! Death! You are no respecter of man.”
She jerked up her shoulders in a shrug that bespoke amazement. “So, Udoeze is gone. Ewo!” Another shrug was accompanied by a hiss. “But what killed him? I saw him only four market days ago and he was as fit as a fiddle. No ailment. And now, he is dead. What exactly killed him?”
“Death.” Ihuoma gave the answer without shifting her gaze from the nothingness she stared into. “Death killed him.”
“Death.” Olanna echoed the word as if it was an astonishing phenomenon. “Okwa onwu? So, death killed a great man like Udoeze? Death has no fear. No, it has no fear. It comes and goes without announcing itself. It enters without knocking and awaiting invitation. And it takes without asking permission. Death! Hmm.” She gave her head a shake, hissed. “Who can escape it?”
Then as if she recalled her duty to the bereaved, she shifted closer and gave her a pat of sympathy. “It is well, my sister. God gives and God takes back what is his. No one can question him.”
So it is God now who has taken and no longer death who came in without announcing itself. Ihuoma thought the switch from blame to acceptance was ironic. We would blame death and accept, without daring to question, God’s will. But is the giver of life not the bringer of death too?
“Ndo.” Olanna soothed again. “Don’t cry anymore. Tears cannot bring him back. Nothing can bring him back. So, wipe your tears.”
Wipe her tears? And with what?
Were not his hands her handkerchief when she cried?
Were not his shoulders her pillow when her head drooped with the burden laid on her by life?
Were not his words solace when her heart grieved?
And his smile a ray of light that promised a better day?
Wipe her tears. With what? And for what?
“Ndo.” It was as if her silence required a repetition, so Olanna repeated herself. “Ndo, nwannem. You will be fine. Ife ga di nma ozo. Things will be well again. Trust in God.”
Trust in God? Trust in the one who gives life and then lets death in to snatch back that life?
“God has dealt me a heavy blow.” The words trembled out of Ihuoma.
“Mba! It is not God who dealt you the blow. It is death who came like a thief in the night and stole your joy.” Olanna disputed.
So, it was back to death bearing the burden of blame. Again, ironic!
“Udoeze!” Ihuoma cried the name once, blinked, and her tears fell.
What does it matter who took Udoeze, God or death? What does it matter if death came of its own accord or if it came as a messenger of God? What does it matter if she accepted or cast blame?
Udoeze is gone and he will never again return.
*** ~~~ *** ~~~ *** ~~~ ***
Sometimes, I wonder, especially when death seems so untimely, who is the bringer of death… God, or is it on a journey of its own will?