• Vol. 07
  • Chapter 01
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When an island is not an island

When my uncle said he lived on ‘this tiny island,’ I imagined him floating in the middle of a mass of water surrounded by land. I grew up in Enugu where all you could see were hills rolling into hills rolling into hills.

Last year, two days after my sixth birthday, my uncle came and swooped me off to Lagos, to his home on the island. I imagined the two of us floating in the middle of water, and I didn’t want to go.

But I was six and the world had fallen apart. Day, my uncle said, had turned to night and Enugu was no place to leave a little girl who had just witnessed what I had and where would I live without my mother and father, whose bloated bodies had been dragged out in front of me. We had gone picnicking at Nike Lake – my mother, my father and me. My father had gone swimming, ‘A quick swim and I’ll be out.’ But we heard him shouting and my mother said to stay where I was, that she’d be back with him soon.

I was afraid of water, of being surrounded by it, and how would I play, uncle? Do we eat underwater? 'I’ll look after you,' my uncle said. ‘You have no reason to fear.’

I am seven now and I know better. My uncle’s ‘tiny island’ is a massive house on Victoria Island with a backyard and trees for me to hide in. Now I know that words do not always mean what they say and there’re worse things to fear than water.