“Grandma, Grandma, I think the world is coming to an end!” My ten-year-old grandson exclaimed with his trembling hands reaching for mine. The fear in his eyes was begging me for answers. I knew it was time to retell the tale of the first red sun and the dark earth.
Malaria got him stuck with me for the day since my son, Dung, and his wife had to be at work. They saddled me with the responsibility of taking care of him; I had to pamper, cajole, and do everything in between.His innocent assertion about Doomsday got me laughing hard. I tried to explain to him that we were experiencing a total solar eclipse but his feeble mind was far from understanding.
“What is an eclipse?” he asked.
“A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, thereby totally or partly obscuring the image of the Sun for a viewer on earth.” I painstakingly replied even when I wasn’t sure if he understood half of what I said.
“Is that why we have a night at this time of the morning?”
“It’s not a night, my dear. You see, this is happening because the dark silhouette of the Moon completely obscured the intensely bright light of the Sun, allowing the much fainter solar corona to be visible,”I explained.
My explanation didn’t seem to dissipate the fear in his innocent mind. His blank stares suggested that something was horribly wrong with the universe and we might be swept away any moment. A glance at the calendar hanging on a nail on the wall revealed that today’s date is March 29, 2006, and which makes it the second time I would be experiencing a total solar eclipse in my 70 years of sojourn on earth.
My precocious grandson took me down memory lane on how I had my first experience when I was just 11 years old at that time. I remember getting vague answers to my stupid and inquisitive questions. Thank God for how the world has evolved technology-wise and we now have a better understanding of phenomena like this.
It was not so on May 20, 1947, when some folks were lynched. They were accused of being the reason for the sudden darkness in mid-day. The Chief priest insisted that the sun had to hide its face from earth because their sins were so great. They took the blame for enraging the gods and bringing such a calamity on the people. They sadly were not given a chance to say even a few words in their defense.
The decision to narrate the whole event to my grandson took me back to the wide-eyed 11-year-old girl I was almost 59 years ago.
We were still under colonial rule then. My mum and dad were peasants who earned their living by toiling the soil. I was the only child and my mother would always tell me tales of how she had lost three pregnancies before conceiving me; I was a miracle. It was a very trying time for my parents as a couple. They were such doting parents and did all they could-even as impoverished as they were-to provide my basic needs.
We were at the farm on that late Tuesday afternoon, when we felt like the blazing sun had suddenly become wary of us. At first, we didn’t understand what was happening; we thought it was the usual scenario where the clouds would obscure the sun briefly, and then it would be over immediately. But we were wrong this time around and the darkness seemed unusual and eerie. It didn’t feel as if it was only the clouds that had partially covered the sun as we thought, but something else was happening.
“Kach, it’s like the gods are fighting. Please let’s run home before we get caught up in whatever is happening,” My father said to my mother in words dripping with fright.
We were all terrified and fled home. It was chaos by the time we fled from our farm as we discovered that we were not the only terrified people; everyone was terrified. The people selling in the markets had abandoned their wares and fled to their homes. They were too afraid to even think of wasting a moment to gather their wares. Those at their farms fled as well.
It was pandemonium as cries of children mingled with the shouts of mothers calling out for their children and family members looking for one another filled the atmosphere. No one knew what was happening and so, there was no plausible explanation for why the day should be abbreviated with darkness in the middle of the day.
We were so engrossed in running that we didn’t notice that whatever had happened had happened briefly and passed without our knowledge. We had gotten home amidst confused voices all around us when we discovered to our dismay that it was day again. For how long, we didn’t care.
There was the incandescent sun as if nothing had happened. We were later left to wonder if we had imagined it all. We would have agreed that it was just a figment of our imagination if the King’s guard had not stormed to our neighbour’s house and dragged the entire family – the man, his wife, and their three children- out to the palace.
The family kept pleading that they were innocent while they trashed and tried to wiggle themselves from the strong grasp of the king’s monstrous guards. But their efforts were futile. The guards kept dragging and whipping them.
My dad who followed at a distance returned home when evening had deepened, to narrate a sad tale of how the entire family was lynched as a sacrifice in the full glare of the gods; a gesture to appease them for pouring out their fury on us by blocking the sun for few minutes.
Dad narrated how he had tried all he could to know what the man had done to incur the wrath of the gods that attracted such heinous punishment for the man and his family from the King, but no one told him anything. I sadly watched how the whole episode gnawed at my dad and he suddenly became a shadow of himself. He blamed himself for his inability to rescue the unfortunate family. It took a while before I saw the glint return to his eyes.
It was like a jigsaw puzzle that I couldn’t put the pieces together until several years when I got to know that no gods were offended. That singular event piqued my interest that I had to read a lot about solar eclipse when I had the opportunity. I later realized that it was just unfortunate that the family was crushed under the wheels of ignorance and communal discord and sacrificed on the altar of lies, injustice, and resentment. They didn’t do anything to deserve losing their lives the way they did.
“Grandma, you are crying,” Pera my grandson observed.
I didn’t want to break his young heart by telling him that I would carry to my grave the image of how terrified the man and his family were that frightful evening.
I urged Pera to thank God that he is enjoying the gains of technology now, which has made things easier for everyone, and he should never take things for granted. The same total solar eclipse we experienced not quite long is the same as what happened in 1947, but we now know better. We now neither know that no god was angry, neither is the world coming to an end nor was someone responsible for it.
I told him that it’s this same city, but it was like a village at that time with very few houses, no cars, no electricity, and no tarred roads the way we have now. He was marveled and asked how we survived back then. I laughed at his innocence. “Don’t worry, the world is still evolving and you will be shocked at the things that are yet to be invented,” I told him.
“Time to watch a cartoon!” I prodded as I tuck the appalling memory at the farthest corner of my fragile heart where it belongs.
Roselyn Sho – Olajide works with an Audit Firm in Jos, Plateau State. She loves reading and writing and can be reached via firstname.lastname@example.org