The Bridge to Safety


Obododimma Oha

This is one experience in my life that I will always remember, but, each time that I remember it, I shiver greatly and wish that I could forget it. It happened when I was a child, very many years ago.

There is one very fertile part of our town called Ogada. Many people flock down there every year to gain from that fertility in their farming. My mother was one of those who tried to benefit from Ogada one year. But I also tried to gain narratives from her and her Ogada experiences. She told of how wild animals would just come out while she was working. They would ignore her  and start playing around, in fact, taunting her. Spur fowls, guinea fowls, antelopes, grasscutters, you name it.

I lost my head.

Imagine all these animals courageously coming out! Imagine. Just because mother went alone! Where is my catapult?

So, the next morning, I announced that I wasn't going to school but would follow my mother to Ogada. My mind was made up. No logic would make me change my mind. If our teacher's cane was beginning to weigh too heavy, he could put it down!

It would be wrong to think that my reason for not going to school and following my mother to her farm instead was that I wanted to help her. No! I was only trying to see if I could help myself through her stories. I wanted other schoolmates to envy me when they heard my story and to wish they had the opportunity. I had them in mind. 

So, I went for adventure but didn't know that it was some kind of arrangement for my life to be linked more fully to that of my mother, for me to know part of her life and sacrifices. 

Yes. We went. It was a long way from home and I liked it. We got to the farm in the bush, put down our farm implements, but ate as part of getting ready. Then, she showed me the portion I must weed. But I was thinking of the animals. I was already on and with them.

Not quite long, they started emerging from their places and I was greatly excited. I was weeding the farm but I was with the wild animals playing around. At a point, I called on my mother: "See, they have truly come out," but she hardly showed interest but continued working. However, she did not stop me when I wanted to attack the creatures. She only said, "Oh, my friends," and continued working. I chased the animals but couldn't kill any. I wasn't interested in shedding their blood, anyway. They became my friends, also. 

It appeared that they noticed my overture to friendship and became freer with me in playing the game of"leave our farm. " It was as if we humans were the ones trespassing, for they became audacious and  screamed at us. I interpreted their various cries to be that rebuke that we should stop trespassing. 

For a brief moment, I was lost in my thoughts. We should go away? We are trespassing? Which farm? Their farm? But where is it? 

Then, I thought about my mother. So, this is what she had been experiencing? She was all alone in this isolated place, with wild animals? And she told no one and did not complain! Imagine! She even spoke of the whole thing as fun, for me to come and witness, giving up school for that day!

Then, the skies changed suddenly. My mother came and told me it was going to rain shortly. In fact, just as she predicted, it started drizzling not long after. The animals retreated, in fact, disappeared. I know that some hid in holes, some in nests and were watching or listening. But certainly, they were alert and ready. The bush is still a bush. 

In our own case, my mother quickly made a makeshift tent from cellophane and leaves and we took shelter there. There were no houses close by for us to run to. We were exposed in the wild and had to make or use any shelter, just like the wild animals. 

I knew the animals must have been thinking of us: "Look at these two apes. Let's see what they will do. Oh, they don't even have holes, neither do they know how to make nests with leaves. Teach them a lesson, rain. They left the bush. Now, they are back." 

The rain seemed to have taken sides with them, for it did not subside but increased its pouring. Our cellophane shelter was just useless as we were gradually wet all over. Later we managed to eat again but could not continue working. Mother suggested that the best thing was to leave immediately before the flood was too high for escape. I did not understand what that meant until we were on our way. 

She quickly packed our things and we started going. But I was thinking of those left behind: the animals. For them, the bush was home. There was no point traveling and looking for another home away from home.

Then, we got to a crossing. There was water everywhere. Two or three sticks were placed at an entrance to mark the head of a bridge. I was scared.  I wished I was with the animals. The flood water was obviously angry and wanted us to go back. But we had to go on, to cross and go home. 

It was as if the flood water was sent to show us a boundary. 

The flood was clearly a challenge. If we wanted to go on, we had to cross it first. The water behaved as if it was not aware of any human presence and giggled and rushed on to God- knows--where. We had to cross. That was the next task before us. 

I didn't want to climb the wooden bridge, for I was completely afraid. My mother wanted it because she thought it was a way of keeping watch over me. But I preferred being led. That meant she couldn't keep her eyes on me. She didn't like it one bit. So, what she wanted was not what I wanted. It was a big dilemma that caused a big delay. 

Finally, my mother agreed to let me follow after her, but that was only on one condition: I had to have one body with her. When she eventually stepped onto the wooden bridge, I had to wrap my hands around waist from behind, stepping wherever she stepped and close enough to her archilles' heel. I felt the wooden bridge sag under our weight, and my heart sank, but we made progress. Eventually, we crossed! I couldn't wait to step on solid ground! Crossing was like traveling to eternity. At a point before finishing the journey, I simply held my breath. 

Were we really crossing this angry water? A little mistake, just a little slip and we would be in and gone for good. But we crossed! It was more than a miracle! Something must have carried us across. No. We didn't cross. We couldn't have crossed on our own! Maybe the requests of those waiting at home touched Heaven. Maybe. But we couldn't have crossed that angry water everywhere. 

On getting to the other side, we simply collapsed and were on the ground for long. But finally we got up and headed for home. 

But I was thinking all the way. So, this was what my mother was going through to get to the farm at Ogada and back? So, she looked death in the eyes? I couldn't believe it. I had stories in Ogada story to tell my friends at school.