Nedu raised his head for the first time in four hours bearing that unmistakable cherubic smile, the kind Muna was sure in a few years time, would capture almost any woman’s heart. His eyes sparked with enthusiasm, and his demeanour betrayed his artistic nature. For the first time ever, Nedu’s smile did not cause Muna to smile in return. She stared at him absent-mindedly, and turned away just in time for the torrential tears to gush out.
Nedu could not seem to understand women these days. First, it was Titi and Tope at school, and now Muna. Why were women always crying? “Women sha,” he mused. He had heard that phrase severally from uncle Kola, their neighbour, who was always quarrelling with his wife. But his mum was different. She never shed a tear.
Two weeks ago, Nedu had bounded home excited, hardly able to contain his news. The makers of a leading brand of noodles had come to his school to sponsor an arts competition. Pupils aged six to ten years were required to send in hand-made representations of their superheroes. The more interesting part was that the winner would be sponsored on a family-of-six trip to Ghana for five days during the forthcoming Christmas holidays, in addition to N200, 000 prize money.
He turned seven years only last month, and he wanted the prize as badly as any of the other eligible children in his school. He hadn’t given his mother a chance to ask how school was before updating her on even the unnecessary details, like how he, Nedu Adili, was going to give ten-year old Bambi (best Art pupil three years running) a run for the prize. He took a deep breath only after he had spoken to his heart’s content. His mum had made him eat lunch and do his homework first before trying to put him to siesta, but he was too excited to shut an eyelid. Seeing that Nedu’s sleeping was no longer an option, she had cuddled up with him on the bed now strewn with pieces of paper and they had deliberated for an hour on what superhero was the most amazing. She had suggested superman, and although Nedu thought it was so drab, he didn’t say so. He figured out that was probably the only superhero she knew. He preferred Spiderman. His favourite scene was where Spiderman hung upside-down and kissed Mary Jane. Anyway, that was by the way. Again, he didn’t tell his mum this.
The next day, his mum bought him a dozen marvel comics, and he spent the next two days with them trying to make up his mind.
By the third day, he had made his choice.
It was now three days to the deadline for submission of their exhibits, and Nedu lay sprawled on the rugged floor. He spent some time missing his mum. She didn’t like to talk about his dad, and well, he didn’t like to bother her much. He thought about the things he liked best about his mum. How on earth was she able to turn out an excellent meal in twenty minutes? He was only a young boy afterall, but he knew his mum would sacrifice her life for him. He, Nedu, was drop-dead gorgeous (Adaeze, his seat mate had described him with those same exact words, aside all the adults that usually complimented his good looks), and he gave credit to his mother for that.
Nedu wasn’t quite certain his choice of a hero would impress the judges, but he was sure thinking out of the box. He had drawn his mum sporting a unique superhero costume on which was a rhomboid bearing BM for Best Mum. She was carrying him soaring high in the sky, and far beneath them were the thousands she trumped. It was quite hard to decipher her cape, because now and again, it looked like an angel’s wings. Nedu smiled at its ambiguity.
Mrs. Adili had excused herself from her office to rush down to Balogun market to purchase a surprise outfit for Nedu. He had been chosen as one of the school’s orators to render a poem, and he was reciting Christopher Okigbo’s “Labyrinth”. She also thought it would be nice to see Nedu receiving the prize for best exhibit while dressed smartly.
So she had made an excellent choice, and boarded a bus that would take her home. As they neared a police check point, the bus was flagged down and there was an intense vernacular exchange between the police and both the driver and conductor of the bus. Tempers flared and one of the two policemen raised his rifle threateningly. The conductor hanging above one of the passengers against the closed door of the bus laughed scornfully, and two blasts in quick succession cut him short. Mrs. Adili, seated just beside the conductor slumped forward, a pool of blood gushing out from her neck and immediately drenching her shirt. The thin woman to her left let out a piercing scream, and went limp upon Mrs. Adili’s body. The policemen took to their heels.
Muna received the call by 6.14 p.m, and by 9.00 p.m, Enitan Babalola, the newscaster on the local network news announced, “Police stray bullets kill one, injure one late this afternoon in a clash at Oshodi.”
Nedu’s eyes still shone with palpable exuberance at his accomplishment. “Muna,” he called out in almost a whisper, “can you hide this away for me in your room? It’s for mum and it’s a surprise.”
… for the unsung heroes; the ones the world would never acknowledge; the heroes that become only statistics at death.