My Celestine Ukwus Ije Enu Memories

After reading the “Philosophical Mind of An Igbo Musician: Celestine Ukwu” written by Ugwu Hillary Ike and published in on Tuesday 27th May, 2008, I cannot but agree totally with his views about the musician. Listening to Celestine Ukwu’s music is a balm in every situation. Sometimes when I am writing articles, his music is the inspiration I need to keep me going even when I am tired or totally worn out after a rough day. But listening to ‘Ije Enu’ evokes a very powerful message to many people. That particular track is as philosophical to some, as it is inspirational to others. Anytime I hear that particular music by the brightest of his time; I felt nostalgic about an event that I live today to give thanks and praise to the Almighty Father. I am always thankful to God, for sparing my family and me from death through an avoidable motor accident. So every time that particular track is played, the memory comes flashing back. The memory was reinforced in my head from that time on and I grew to totally unravel the whole thing that happened based on my siblings’ accurate accounts. It seems like yesterday! I cannot believe that it’s been 35 years ago. I have been known all my life for having a very powerful memory. That fateful day started like every other day. It was precisely in 1973. I was 3 years old and still struggling to shake off the fact that I am no longer the baby in the house. My younger sister, Uju, was about 9 month’s old baby and it was hard to come to terms with the fact that all attention went to her and not me. At the time, I used to draw attention and brought joy to the family as I was born immediately after the “No Victor, No Vanquished” pact was signed. In the war my family lost everything so my birth gave joy to my parents and the rest of my family, who though lost much to the war, they were happy that they survived. My family’s Biafran story and the circumstances of my birth is a story for another day. It was during that time that our dad fell sick and was rushed to Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha. My mom had to go with and stay with him in the hospital. As I have never seen my dad sick before and for the fact that I never believed that grown people could be sick too, I was wondering why he was sick.
To my mind, my dad was a superman, it is not possible! My mom had never left home without coming back same day. It was rough in our house without them. In my little mind, it was enough punishment to go another day without their presence. However, my mom alternated with my elder sister as my mom had to come home like every three days to stay with us. After few weeks in the hospital, it was a big relief to me that the whole family would go to Onitsha to visit him and see how he was faring. We have a big family and it was kind of stressful for my elder brothers and sisters taking us little ones with them. My younger sister as I said was 9 months, my immediate elder brother was 6 years old and the one before him was eight. They would not have taken us to little ones to Onitsha had my dad not specifically requested that he wanted to see all of us. My mom was relieved that he was getting better, but when he wanted to see all of us, she was kind of concerned that it might be the sign of his end! She was alarmed. But since my dad insisted on seeing us all, she had to oblige him. Moreover it might make him feel better, she must have thought. At that time, to go to Onitsha was like going to America.
Though I don’t know what America was like, but I figured both Onitsha and America must be big places. On the appointed day, we all dressed in our Sunday bests. I believe it was on a Sunday since we ate rice that afternoon before heading to Onitsha. It was a smooth ride as we did not wait long to catch buses from our hometown via Awka, then to Onitsha. When we disembarked, my elder siblings paid the necessary fees for them grown-ups as we some of us were excluded from paying due to our age. We headed straight to the hospital led by elder sister. As she already knew how to navigate her way to the male ward where my dad stayed; she led the way and we followed. When we got to his ward, he was sitting on his bed trying to take his medications. When I sighted him, I rushed and give him a big hug. My dad was still weak but was in high spirits. He was delighted in seeing all of us. In fact, it was a tunic he needed to get better. We stayed with him for hour and that was the day I tasted hospital food. Though I was still young, I still remembered that their food tasted very good. As it was approaching evening, we decided it was time to head home. We were all happy that dad was doing much better and that very soon, he would be discharged from the hospital. “I will be home very soon, ok” he said, waving at me as I kept looking back. “Ok” I said trying to hold back my tears. We left the hospital and headed to the main road. The first bus passed us and did not stop as we kept waving and motioning the bus driver to stop. When the second bus came by, it stopped for us. As we were about to board the bus, the conducted said, “oh they are too many, driver make we go”. They drove off despite our protests for them to carry us. My elder siblings were yelling and we were all disappointed that we had to keep waiting for God knows how long. Fifteen or so minutes later, that seemed like an eternity, another bus came and told us to enter. All of us hurried into the bus, all relieved. “Chukwu gozie gi oo-God bless you”, was chorused by my siblings to the driver. “Thank you” he said. Our bus took off and we headed to Awka. As we were settling down, the driver tuned his radio to a station where the music of Celestine Ukwu was blazing. “Ije enu, ndi na-akwa, na-akwa, ndi na-anuli na-anuli….” As small as I was I liked the song. We were all happy listening to the music. About twenty five minutes later in our journey that involved ‘pick and drop’, probably at Ogidi, behold an accident in front of us! I could hear wails and cries. “Jesus that was Uchenna’s bus” said the driver and stopped abruptly and jumped out to help. Commotion was everywhere. Everyone on board was dead! Bystanders and everyone around were running helter-skelter. Axe was used to separate the vehicle in order to take mangled dead bodies out of the wreck. My siblings started to weep. “That was the same bus” they chorused. “You see the ‘Uche Chukwu Mee’ written on the side of the bus”. It was unmistakable even to me. It was the same yellow bus! Everyone remaining in our bus hurried out when our driver pulled to a side. My elder sister would not let me leave the vehicle as everyone else. I was standing up but was only able to see a glimpse of the wrecked bus. It was the most horrific thing I ever seen in my life! My sister wiped her eyes quickly when she remembered that I was trying to help myself with the ugly spectacle. She covered my eyes with her palm stopping me from further seeing the dismembered bodies being excavated from the ill-fated bus. “That would have been us. That would have been all of us. We would have been all dead!” my sister was hysterical. I was so confused. I did not understand what she was saying. I was struggling to free my eyes from her hold to be able to see what other rushed out to see. Our music was still playing in the bus. At the time, I was just contented with the good lyrics, as the message was too ‘grown up’ for me. After about 30 minutes, the bus was taken out of the main road and traffic started to flow again. Our driver came back to the bus. “Peee peeeee” blazed the horn. All the passengers came back including my entire siblings that journeyed to Onitsha. My other siblings were visibly shaken. The driver was very sad. He could not even drive fast enough. He said that if not for us passengers, he would have called it a day. “This world is vane” he muttered. “I just saw Uche about 10 minutes ago. He just passed me when I stopped to put some air in my tire. Just see how life is” As I was too young to understand what happened, I knew that it was a very bad thing that happened. As we were driving home, they started talking and other passengers came to learn that our whole entourage would have perished had the driver been a little patient with us. “You all must be grateful to God that you are still alive, that accident was the worst I have seen” said an elderly man in front. “It was the army man that was at fault. Uche was driving in his own lane”. We came to learn that it was a head on collision and the military truck was driven by soldiers who believed that the road should be clear of ‘bloody civilians’. The soldier was on high speed, left his lane and came abruptly to the other side of the road and hit the bus. It was when I was getting a little older that I came to get the full gist of what happened.
The story about that particular accident has been the most popular survival story of my family. We went home and everyone came to hear about what happened. We were happy that the bus did not take us. At the same time sad for the passengers of the bus, including the ‘wicked’ driver who did not want to carry us because of the size of our ‘entourage’. So anytime since that day, whenever I hear Celestine Ukwu’s “Ije Enu” it had always been a mixed feeling to me. Anytime the music is played to this day, I remember the gory sight. A feeling that many lives would have been saved had the military man had not been cocky and full of disregard to human lives always run through my mind. Also as I grew older I came to appreciate that God loves my family and that was it was the hand of God that saved us from boarding that vehicle. It was His hand that hardened the heart of the driver of the ill-fated bus to abandon us. At time I used to associate that song with that ugly sight. I detested hearing that song. But as I grew much older, I was able to see the prophetic message of Celestine Ukwu’s “Ije Enu”. I came to see the real meaning of that particular song.

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