When I was 10 years old, I left home for the first time to enroll in a boarding school. While I felt absolutely blessed to have such a fantastic opportunity, I was terribly homesick. Three weeks into school when my mother came visiting, I cried the whole day until she left.
At the end of my first term in school, 60 students from my school died in a plane crash. I have memories of some of those who died- Zikora, our school head boy, was very good friends with my “angel”, Piriye. (every incoming student was assigned a senior student, or an “angel” who was personally responsible for their wellbeing).
Another deceased student, Immanuel Loolo, was a classmate who comforted me when I got homesick. One day he told me “Alheri, stop crying, you know times flies, and very soon you’ll be home”. Clearly he was speaking into his own life because he really is home now.
I remember Obongawan’s lovely dance steps during our Xavier House independence day cultural dance performance. I remember how Obioma always read Harry Potter before our Continuous Assessment tests, yet, she still performed better than most of us.
I personally lost 4 classmates, one of whom was Stephanie Nwoko. Stephanie was the most interesting person I had ever met. She walked backwards to know how it felt. She sometimes walked around with her eyes closed to understand how the two blind students in my school felt. She refused to give out her cardboard paper at the end of the first term because she wanted to save it for the next term. Needless to say, this infuriated a number of my classmates who were in dire need. When exams were over and we spent our “end-of-term” playing and looking forward to the holidays, Stephanie was somewhere studying ahead of the next term.
One evening, Stephanie and I had gone for our catechism classes. As we stood on the senior block balcony after classes, Stephanie told me that she couldn’t wait to be a senior, and then graduate from Loyola. She always spoke about her older siblings- two sisters and a brother, or was it a sister and a brother? It’s been a while, so I don’t really remember.
As was the custom in our school, the luggage of all those flying home was taken to the airport a few days before the official closing day, to minimize the stress of transportation. I remember helping Stephanie carry her suitcase to the front of the dining hall. I kept asking her the name of her airline. Sosoliso. I asked a good number of times because I had never heard about that airline before and I thought the name was very weird.
On Saturday, December 10, 2005, Stephanie woke me up from sleep to say goodbye, as she was on her way home. A sneaky thought crawled into my mind. “What if this is the last time I’ll ever see her”. I called her back, but that’s a weird thing to say to someone- “What if this is the last time I’ll ever see you?”. So I limply said goodbye and watched her walk away.
That was the last time I ever saw Stephanie. The Sosoliso plane carrying 60 of my school mates crash landed in Port-Harcourt a few hours later.
Yesterday, 24 April, would have been Stephanie’s 21st birthday.
And as I was preparing to publish this post, my friend Aderike told me that another school mate, Alex Ukwu, had died.
I wished she were cracking a joke, but her face was too sullen. As I struggled to steady myself afterwards, I couldn’t imagine the pain of his family.
Two nights ago, I was very sad and stressed about school work, and as I prayed for strength, I thought about my parents and how the worst thing to happen to them right now would be losing me. I prayed for strength, just so my parent’s efforts would not be in vain.
So you can imagine my horror when she told me that Alex Ukwu was dead. Dead. That word has a finality that I detest. Dead. Gone. Forever.
When I went online, I was particularly pained about the impersonal tone of the articles. I wanted to scream at the reporters “he is not just another teenager“.
He is Alex Ukwu! He is not a statistic. He is the culmination of the dreams and aspirations of his parents. He is the light of his family, and the hope of his household. He is their starchild. He is their pride. He is their investment. He is a brother, a classmate, a friend, someone’s crush.
But he is dead. And in death, to some, you become a statistic.
But you will always remain precious to those who were privileged to know you.
Oh death, where is your sting? Death, where is your sting? Death, where is your sting?
We refuse to mourn, we will celebrate the impact Alex made in his short life. I will write about the impact of Stephanie’s short life.
Death, you are a loser. You may have snatched Alex away before his prime, but you are a loser, and you will always be a loser.
Stephanie and Alex and all the children the Loyola family has lost, are not, and will never be statistics.
Because to live in the hearts of those you love (and who love you) is NOT TO DIE.
Stephanie and Alex will forever live in our hearts.
Image from here.
P/s. I promised to write about my favorite Bible character, but this came up, so yeah.