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Nkpulu-oka in igbo means ‘corn seeds’. It is also the name of a popular African wrapper design, what we would call ‘Ankara’. Nkpulu-oka, the wrapper, has corn seeds arranged in an orderly pattern and it comes in different colours; black, green, yellow and red. Until I was about ten years or thereabouts, I knew only the white and black Nkpulu-oka design, I would have argued that there wasn’t any other colour. The reason for my blind confidence was my knowledge of what the black and white Nkpulu-oka signified in my immediate society.

Growing up, anytime I saw my mother don the Nkpulu-oka, I knew she was going for a service of songs programme in church, especially if it was on a Thursday evening. Nkpulu-oka, was the attire the Catholic Women would wear to the service of songs of a dead member or a bereaved member. They also wore it whenever they went to pray in the home of the deceased, usually days before the service of songs.For me, it became the uniform of death. Anytime I saw that wrapper, it kindled a moment of remorse…more like a sober reflection. For me, Nkpulu-oka was synonymous to death and its cousins. There was nothing fashionable about it.

Some years back, I attempted giving a symbolic meaning to Nkpulu-oka. All I came up with was this; just the way we plant seeds of corn to yield harvest, sometimes, humans have to die for posterity to take place. My analogy?it doesn’t entirely make sense, except you see humans as organic fertilizers.

Two days ago, I was on my way to see some friends when I saw some women in Nkpulu-oka. That feeling raised its ugly head again. I just started thinking about death. I was arguing with myself. A part of me felt that it was an Aso-ebi for a wedding, another was so sure that someone had died. So, I decided to overcome the dilemma by walking up to the women and asking them the reason for their attire. They told me that a member of the church had died…and they mentioned her name. Alas, it was my friend’s mother.

I had seen her in Church on Christmas day, just after the mass. She was so excited to see me. She even prayed that we’d all see the new year. “Don’t worry, before you know it, you would be a graduate” she said. “You are blessed my son. Have you seen your friend? He would be excited to know you are around”. She has always been that way. Making sure that we (myself and her son) always kept in touch. We were classmates in primary school..best friends even. But we went separate parts afterwards, but we communicated infrequently.

Her smile, was so candid, her excitement was pure. I would have hugged her longer if I knew it would have been the last day seeing her. Our last moment was a good one, I just cannot imagine the pain she must have gone through before she died. She was a beautiful soul. I have tried so hard for days not to think about it, I have not even visited my friend because I know that in trying to console him, I would break down into tears. Well, the inevitable happened lot of times, while I tried to write this down. I still had to let the tears flow. I didn’t even want to post this. I hope her soul enjoys eternal bliss.

Appreciate the ones you love. Let them know you love and care for them. Do not wait for birthdays or the end of the year before you tell them you love them. You might just miss the chance to..


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