However, in secondary school, the car you went home with was a matter that was openly discussed and commented on. I got a lot of grief for that Merc. Things got so bad, that I much preferred to be dropped a few minutes from the school gates and walk to school. Our house was close enough that the illusion of my having walked all the way, was cooler than my being seen in that blue Merc. I remember once my mother came to pick me up from school in that car. Imagine my horror when I saw her driving into the school compound. Who had let her in?
"Chibundu," she said, beeping at me. "Can't you see me? Enter the car."
I could not disown my own mother. Head down, I crawled into the front seat. I could hear my class mates laughing in the class room. My mother is not the most skillful of drivers and the Merc is not the most skillful of cars. As she reversed, the car stalled, the laughter doubled. It looked like I was going to have to push start the car. It looked like I would have to change schools. Thank God, the car started and I was saved the inconvenience of resuming at another school half way through the term.
That day perhaps, I wished most fervently that my father was a richer man. After all he was Igbo. He could have become a trader and been a tycoon in no time. He could have sold electronics. Alaba was just down the road. Anything but this respectable medicine which left us with a very unrespectable car.
I have grown older and have come to realise that there are more important traits for a father to exhibit than stupendous wealth. My father is an honest man and he is a man of integrity. The opportunities for being crooked in medicine abound, as I have learnt over years of eavesdropping at doors. Time and time again, my father has lost business rather than pay bribes to get patients referred to his hospital. Perhaps it a foolishly scrupulous piece of integrity in an industry awash with corruption. But he has taken his stand. Patients with kidney problems should be referred to the hospital that will provide them with the best care. Not to the highest bidder.
My father is a generous man. I never had a room of my own when I was growing up and it was not often that I slept on a bed by myself. My cousins from the East when looking for a place to stay in Lagos, flocked to our house and my father turned not a single one away.
Lastly and most important to my development as a human being, my father taught me about God. Every morning, for the first fourteen years of my life we had morning prayers in my parent's room. Sometimes, I resented these intrusions into my sleep time. There were mornings I just didn't feel like singing, "Morning has broken," but I look back on those years with so much love. The whole house would gather in his room, domestic staff, cousins, siblings sometimes up to ten of us would be in that room. We would start by singing hymns from Mission Praise. Each person was allowed to pick one, a fundamental human right my mother defended against my father's attempts to sneak in a second choice. After singing, we would read a passage from the Bible, each person reading a few verses. Then my father would teach. Not in an authoritarian way, we were always allowed to ask questions and give opinions, perhaps this is why to this day, I am at ease discussing with people a lot older than myself. Then we would pray. My father would always start his prayer with,
"We give You praise,
Ancient of Days
The Author, the Ruler and Possessor of our faith."
So I will close with this.
We give You praise,
Ancient of Days,
That Okey Onuzo is a year older today.