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By CHIMAMANDA NGOZI ADICHIE
My father was kidnapped in Nigeria on a Saturday morning in early May. My brother called to tell me, and suddenly there was not enough breathable air in the world. My father is 83 years old. A small, calm, contented man, with a quietly mischievous humor and a luminous faith in God, his beautiful dark skin unlined, his hair in sparse silvery tufts, his life shaped by that stoic, dignified responsibility of being an Igbo first son.
He got his doctoral degree at Berkeley in the 1960s, on a scholarship from the United States Agency for International Development; became Nigeria’s first professor of statistics; raised six children and many relatives; and taught at the University of Nigeria for 50 years. Now he makes fun of himself, at how slowly he climbs the stairs, how he forgets his cellphone. He talks often of his childhood, endearing and rambling stories, his words tender with wisdom.
Sometimes I record his Igbo proverbs, his turns of phrase. A disciplined diabetic, he takes daily walks and is to be found, after each meal, meticulously recording his carbohydrate grams in a notebook. He spends hours bent over Sudoku. He swallows a handful of pills everyday. His is a generation at dusk.
On the morning he was kidnapped, he had a bag of okpa, apples and bottled water that my mother had packed for him. He was in the back seat of his car, his driver at the wheel, on a lonely stretch between Nsukka, the university town where he lives, and Abba, our ancestral hometown. He was going to attend a traditional meeting of men from his age group. A two-hour drive. My mother was planning their late lunch upon his return: pounded yam and a fresh soup. They always called each other when either traveled alone. This time, he didn’t call. She called him and his phone was switched off. They never switched off their phones. Hour after hour, she called and it remained off. Later, her phone rang, and although it was my father’s number calling, a stranger said, “We have your husband.”
Kidnappings are not uncommon in southeastern Nigeria and, unlike similar incidents in the Niger Delta, where foreigners are targeted, here it is wealthy or prominent local residents. Still, the number of abductions has declined in the past few years, which perhaps is why my reaction, in the aftermath of my shock, was surprise.
My close-knit family banded together more tightly and held vigil by our phones. The kidnappers said they would call back, but they did not. We waited. The desire to urge time forward numbed and ate my soul. My mother took her phone with her everywhere, and she heard it ringing when it wasn’t. The waiting was unbearable. I imagined my father in a diabetic coma. I imagined his octogenarian heart collapsing.
Article read in Nytimes