My Big Secret

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Something amazing, yet shocking, happened to me yesterday. You might want to get a seat for this one. I’ll try to make it short, though.

I had travelled to my hometown to see my parents last weekend. So yesterday, I was about travelling back to Lagos when I stumbled on my Mom and Dad having a quiet conversation. They were in the sitting room and had not heard me walking along the hall way. When I walked into the sitting room, they quickly stopped talking. I could see the shock in their eyes when they saw me.

“How long have you been standing by the corridor?” my dad asked, with shock-filled eyes.

“I wasn’t standing there,” I answered, wondering the essence of the question. “Is there any problem?”

My dad shook his head. I could see the insincerity in the way he shook his head. And then I spotted an old-looking black and white picture in his hand. As I made to have a better look at the picture, he quickly tried to hide it under the throw pillows on the sofa.

“What is that?” I asked, my heart burning with curiosity.

“Nothing,” my dad said.

I knew he wasn’t being truthful. So, I persisted with my queries. When my dad saw that I wouldn’t flinch or leave until I got a response, he told me to sit and listen to what he had to say – just like I told you to get a seat at the beginning of this post.

The black and white picture my dad had in his hand was that of my paternal great great grand father, Obong Ime Udo Ekpo. In the picture, my great great grand father was in a tobacco farm, surrounded by some white men. There were other black men in the picture too. Those ones looked to be cultivating the farm. My great great grand father appeared to be supervising them.

My dad told me that, my great great grand father was sold as a slave to the white men. He worked on a tobacco farm in North Carolina as far back as 1860 (my dad wasn’t too sure of that date, though). According to my dad, my great great grand father stood out from the other slaves due to his hard working nature, thereby making the white men take some liking to him. They quickly made him the head of the slaves on the tobacco farm. My great great grand father was also given some privileges that no other slaves were given. One of such was to take a wife. Well, they didn’t really call the woman he chose his wife – she was just a fellow slave which they allowed my great great grand father to mate. But my great great grand father called her his wife.

I can’t really remember the details of my family tree the way my dad was recounting them. Every information he spewed was just too odd and surreal for me to believe. I could not comprehend them all at once. He just kept talking and talking. And then when I asked him how and why we came to be in Nigeria, he said his father (my grand father), moved back to Nigeria after the country gained independence in 1960. He also said his father was a devout Christian who tried to erase the unpleasant family history (that my great great grand father was a slave). That, at the time, people who had a slavery history in their family were ridiculed by the local community. Some were even used as sacrifices for the gods. So, my grand father did all he could to destroy our family slavery history.

“So does that mean we have ties with America in our family?” I asked my dad.

He was silent. And then, he looked at my mom, as if to prompt her to pick up from where he stopped. I looked at my mom too. She heaved a deep sigh and then said, “Your father moved to the United States in 1985 in a curious bid to trace his family history. It was there he was able to access this black and white photo of your great great grand father. Your great great grand father had changed his name to Jefferson McDowell Harold, in a bid to please his masters.”

“What? Daddy travelled to America? And I…We never knew?” I asked my parents in shock. “Did you go with him too?”

There was a frightening lull in our conversation. The room we were sitting in appeared to be spiralling in my head. Everything appeared to be roving in the air.

“Yes, I went with him,” my mom said.

“And?”

“I was pregnant with you around that period…You were born in North Carolina…”

“Wait, what?”

“Yes, you were born in America…but before we could process your American passport and obtain a Social Security Number for you, the Immigration Officers deported us…”

I collapsed at this point. Not literal collapse, but my knees became weak at this point and my body was shaking. I was born in America? I am an American citizen? And my parents never told me this after all these years? Why didn’t they tell me this? Why is it such a BIG secret? Why did they let me stay in this God-forsaken country all my life and suffer all this sufferings?

You can imagine the shock I was in on receiving this information from my parents. There was thick silence in the room for almost ten minutes. I guess we were all trying to process the heaviness of the information just divulged. The one question I wanted to then ask my parents was if, I was born in a hospital and whether a birth certificate was issued.

“Do I have an American birth certificate?” I asked.

My parents were quiet.

“Mom, dad, where is my real birth certificate?”

No response.

“My American birth certificate?”

No response.

“Mom? Dad? Where is my American birth certificate?”

As I kept asking that question, everything in the room appeared be turning on its head. I’m not speaking figuratively now. Everything was actually turning upside down. Even my parents started appearing to be moving away from me.

And that was how suddenly, I felt someone tap my shoulder and I heard the person say “Oga, you are snoring in court.”

I woke up to see my face covered in a pool of my own saliva on the court room table.

***

This story was first published on my personal Facebook wall.

Photo Credit: Google.

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