Every time I think about my father, the first thing I remember is how he died. Crime in Nigeria is and always has been high but no one ever thinks that they will get robbed. The house I lived in was very big and “Nigerian Thieves” liked big houses. To prevent theft, my house was adequately fortified: six dogs, Alsatians of course, a seven-foot gate and bars on the windows. I thought that no one would ever break into the house. That was until it happened.
Four armed robbers broke into our house at three in the morning. Demeji, my older brother, heard them first and he ran into my room to wake me up but I was not there. I had woke up minutes earlier and was using the bathroom. “There are thieves in the house,” he said from the other side of the door. “Get out of there quickly and meet me in Daddy’s room.” I rushed out of the bathroom and ran to my father’s room where I saw the rest of my family trembling with fear. Dimeji and my father were looking out the window. The four robbers were in our front yard and they (my father and mother) were arguing whether they should or should not use the gun my father had bought. Dimeji wanted to use it but my father suggested otherwise. This was because only a week before, one of our neighbors had fired his weapon at some armed robbers and, after he ran out of bullets, the men broke into the house and cut off all his fingers.
Richard, my younger brother, and my cousin Peju were hiding under the bed but Dimeji and I could not fit underneath. My father ran to the windows and started screaming. “Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole! Ole!” (Yoruba for thief) he shouted, and did not stop until his voice was hoarse. When he saw that no help was forthcoming, he turned to us and told us to remain calm. He assured us that if we were cooperative, we would all live. We believed him so we sat and waited for the men. After about five minutes of waiting, we heard the men coming down the hall. “Where are you all?” one thug asked. “We are here,” my father said back to him,
They turned around, saw us and then advanced toward us. They entered the room and looked at the four of us. (Richard and Peju were under the bed.) My mother and father were sitting the closest to the door and the men while Dimeji and I sat at the back of the room praying (with our eyes open) to God to spare our lives. The men looked around the room and then focused on my father. They told him to stand up and when he did, they shot him once in the stomach. He fell back on the bed and screamed. My mother grabbed some bed sheets and tried to wrap my father’s wounds up while the men ransacked the room.
Over the next half-hour, they emptied the contents of all the drawers, pulled out all the clothes from the cupboards and then began checking under everything. When I saw this, I remembered where Richard and Peju were: under the bed. I stared to move from my position to try and lie down in front of the bed. One man saw me moving toward the bed and he screamed at me to stop moving. He threatened me and when he saw that I was not listening to him, he began to strike me with the butt of his gun until one of his men had to pull him off of me. Although I was battered and bruised, I took some satisfaction in the fact that I had saved Richard and Peju from a possible violent attack.
At four o’clock in the morning, they left our house. As Peju and Richard crawled out from under the bed, my mother ran over to the neighbor’s house and had my father driven to the hospital while she recovered from her own shock.
My father died a week later from multiple gunshot wounds. After my mother told me I went into my room and started punching and breaking everything. I cried for days and days. It was so unfair. He never did anything to anybody.
Two days after his death, we were visited by a police officer. He talked to us and asked us if we could identify the men if we heard their voices or saw them again. My mother quickly said, “No” and asked the man to leave. When he left, my mother sat in a chair and buried her head in hands. I asked her why she was so frantic and she said:
“That police officer was one of them.”
I always assumed my dad would be around to see my children. The world didn’t stop when he died. Nobody else cared that he was gone, I thought people would take time out to help. That’s when I realized that no one is going to look out for me except for me and my family. If you don’t move on from these situations they will eat you up.
I thought I was going to die that night. I thought my time had come, that this was the end. I was too young to think that and I try to live my life to the fullest these days. I don’t have a lot of what ifs about that night because if we shot first I wouldn’t be talking to you right now. There was no reason for them to keep us alive. Everyday I am grateful just to be alive.
I came to America a month after my father’s death. We left everything we had, we left our past there. We all moved into my brother’s apartment in West Philadelphia. I had to sleep on the floor. I felt worthless. I had nowhere to go. We weren’t those people. We weren’t sleep on the floor people. We shouldn’t have been doing that and we were forced to do that. I had no idea what was going to happen. I just sat there and thought about the situation everyday. It was so fast and so slow at the same time.
I didn’t let things get the best of me. I know that that was not what my father would have wanted. I finally got into a high school and it was a pretty smooth transition. It could have been a whole lot worse. Germantown Friends School (a private school in Philadelphia) was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I went from the floor to school everyday, but it was nice to just have friends again. It was night and day between my new life here and my life in Nigeria. My new environment was great; my new friends helped me out and made life a lot easier.
In some senses I know I will never be who I would have been if my dad had been alive, I’m a completely different person. At times I feel selfish because my life is a lot better now and that I traded my father’s life for this. I know he is looking out for me because things have been O.K. He would have done anything for us and that’s what he died doing.
My father died for us. He died trying to save his family, he gave us life and he gave us reasons to fight. He is my motivation. He is my motivation to make it and to do something. No matter what there is always going to be something to fight with in life and he is my motivation through that, he is the reason I am where I am. Everything has two sides, I will never be the man I thought I would be, but I might be the man who my dad thought I would be. Since he died I feel like I am living for him now. He is me. I have become the person who tries to find the good in everything because I know it can be a lot worse, things can get better if you stay and fight.
-Alan, Philadelphia, May, 2007
Labels: We Fly With Our Own Wings