Nigeria's leading fictional story blog - Papa, bulky Sharp Television, One Christmas day, Enugu, father.
I remember it vividly…very vividly despite being very young - just four years old. Playing with my best friend, I fell off the front porch and crashed into the waiting ground with my face making an unpleasant contact with the tough, unfriendly surface. Before I could get a good look at my wounds, I let out a yell that aroused the entire neighborhood. Helplessly, my dear friend looked on. I could see sadness hugging his face with a cold, eerie touch. “I am sorry,” he said as if it were his fault that I forgot I had reached the edge of the porch with my back to the waiting depression below. A quick scrutiny of my face and head with a brush of my hand revealed blood, which could only mean pain. As I bellowed for help, Papa ran as fast as he could. He was always on hand. Gently, he scooped me up in his strong arms and consoled me. Soon, he fixed up my face with a warm, gentle wash and plasters. Armed with a cup of ice cream I cooled off on the couch with my best friend, Chisom, as we peered intently at our old, bulky Sharp Television.
Rambunctious best describes me as a toddler. One afternoon, I went on one of my many climbs up the mango tree in front of our house. From ground, I had sighted some ripe, succulent mangoes. They beckoned at me with luscious, inviting looks. Without hesitation, I was up in the trees climbing quickly towards them before my younger and older brothers could see them. I could not help thinking of each of them disappearing tastefully in my mouth as I negotiated each branch towards my goal. Then, I sighted a snake. Fear took over my young little body and mind. I shouted as if I had been shot. I jumped from one tree branch to the next in a frantic effort to save my dear life. The snake was just as scared. It crawled quickly among branches as it sought to save its neck too. I kept yelling, “Papa!!! Papa!!! Snake!!!” As always, he dashed out of the house to my rescue. He could not even wait to find the snake.
He had to get me to safety first. “Jump…Jump I will catch you!!!” He shouted, stretching forth his hands like a resilient blanket. Why not, I thought. That is Papa, he won’t let me fall, I thought to myself. I let go. I was not sure when the snake would get to me, so I let gravity take over like a leaf falling from a tree. Within seconds, I was in the safest pair of hands I knew…In my Papa’s hands. Surely, he caught me and hoisted me to safety. He was not done yet. Fearlessly, he went up in the tree and scared the snake so bad that it took a dive to the ground. Papa went after it and smacked it to death. He could not risk having it there…his boys were bound to return to the tree, so he had to eviscerate the enemy. Through the window, I watched proudly as my hero secured my most important treasure – the mango tree. He returned with a reassuring smile on his face and three ripe mangoes in his hands. Looking into his eyes, I knew he would always be there for me.
Another time, I woke up with fever, Papa and Mama quickly rushed me to the hospital. As I lay in bed recovering, they promised me all that I could ever dream of. The look on their faces said it all – they were worried. They would move mountains to keep me safe and well. One Christmas day, I began to feel a sudden intense pain in my abdomen. The pain intensified by the minute leaving poor, little me in tears. Needless to say that I ruined everyone else’s Christmas. I had been gulping down bowls of guava pre-Xmas. In an attempt to beat my siblings to more guavas, I swallowed the hardy seeds and the succulent tasty parts with little or no chewing. I ended up filling up my appendix, only to go down with appendicitis on Xmas day. Soon, I was in hospital for surgery. For some inexplicable reason, the anesthetics failed to work on me. “Does your son drink?” The bemused doctor asked my mother and father who looked on with concern glaringly written on their faces. Mind you I was only eleven years of age.
Mama and Papa looked at the doctor as though he had fallen out of space. “Drink?” They shot back at him in disbelief. “I can’t think of another reason why our strongest anesthetics would not work on him,” the doctor explained. Well, years later the same thing happened to my sister, so it was concluded that the trait was genetic. That was not fun for me because I had to watch the doctor cut me open while nurses held me down. I punched and kicked with vigor, expending every ounce of energy in me as I strove to break free from the evil doctor (so I had thought then, even though he was trying to save my life). When the agonizing surgery was over, I was drained – literally frazzled, both emotionally and physically. As they wheeled my bruised body to my room, I caught glimpse of Mama and Papa. They could not hold back their tears. They had been listening from outside the theater as I put up a feisty fight against the medical team during the surgery. “I can’t believe you let them do this to me Mama and Papa,” I had yelled out in excruciating pain with each cut the doctor made. They both rushed toward me asking how I felt. They apologized profusely. “It had to be done to save your life,” they explained. My eyes were hiding behind a wall of tears, but I could see the love and concern that their caring faces reflected.
It was about 7:00 am. I waited for him to leave the bathroom. “I have yet to pay my tuition, and exams start today,” I explained to him. We had talked about it two days earlier and he promised to do his best to raise money for my tuition before the exams. “Is it today?” He asked. I nodded. My fears had come true. I was going to miss my exams for not paying my tuition. He had been doing his best, so I could not really blame him. I saw worry contort his face into a frown. He was worried as much as I was. “Go to school, I will catch up with you there,” he said. The chances were slim, yet I hung unto his words…he had never failed to be there for me after all. Sitting in front of the exam hall, I tried to study, but the thought that I would not be allowed to take the exam tormented me beyond words. I stared blankly at books that made no sense to me. I had less than an hour before my first exam. Deflated, I went and sat under a tree, away from my classmates who were revising anxiously.
I prayed for succor…any form of help would do. As I looked up, I saw him. His feet were thoroughly covered in dust. He must have been walking all morning and afternoon in search of where to borrow the money for my tuition. His eyes were scanning the vicinity. He did not want to let me down. He was looking for me keenly. As I looked at him, I knew he’d do anything for me…anything at all. “Papa,” I called to him. He smiled in relief. Eagerly, he dug his hand in his pocket and produced the money for my tuition…all of it. I hugged him…and I told him I loved him. And I meant every bit of it! I wondered how many miles he walked to find that money and how many doors he knocked on…how many times people had said no to him, yet he kept on going. “Thank you Papa!” I said “Go and pay right now. It is not too late right?” “No, it is not. I will do that right away and get a receipt before the exam starts,” I said elatedly. He hugged me firmly and turned to leave. “I love you Papa!” “I love you too my son,” he replied. “Do your mother and I proud in the exam, okay?” “I will do my best Papa.”
“I really miss you,” he said over the phone. “It has been long. When are you coming home?” I had been away…living abroad for a number of years while I studied. “Next year Papa,” I said. My voice was laced with warmth and excitement. I could not wait to see my parents and siblings. I was already counting the months. He and I chatted extensively about the things we’d do together when I returned. We would east roast yam and plantain with palm oil like we used to, we had planned. “I will take you to go and see Enugu…it is so beautiful now compared to how it was when you left the country,” he said. I grew up in Enugu, so he knew how much I loved the city. “And I would love to ride the train with you,” I chipped in. As children, we traveled extensively by train with our parents. I’d sit by the window and soak in the beauty of the countryside from Enugu to Agbani, Ishiagu to Uzuoakoli, and Lokpanta to Umuahia. My father worked with the Railway Corporation, so we traveled at subsidized rates.
About three weeks later, I got a call from my mother, “You father has passed away,” she said. My world fell apart. Pain…depression…anger…sorrow…sadness…no word can really explain my feelings. For once, life felt empty and meaningless to me. I thought I was going to take my own life. Papa meant the world to me. He taught me what it means to love. He showed me how to treat a woman. He taught me kindness…he gave his all that others may be happy. His words kept ringing in my head, “I really miss you!” Even till today, I still hear those words in my head. I still crave his jokes and advice. I miss him beyond words. I refused to visit the mortuary when I returned home. Doing so would mean seeing his lifeless body. I did not want to accept the reality that he was gone forever. I was still waiting for a miracle...like the day he saved me from a snake up in the mango tree.
When I finally saw him lying in the casket, my heart broke to pieces…It is still broken. Years have gone by, and each time I see his picture or think of him, it feels like it was yesterday that I got that call from Mama. I wonder what she is feeling inside. Each time I see her, I hug her firmly…because I know Papa always did. I put my pains aside to bear hers. She knew Papa even more closely than I did…I wonder what storms she faces every day. I tell her that I love her twice each time we talk. One for me, and one for Papa. I can never bring him back, so I am still learning to live with his loss. I guess all I can say is, “Thank You!” Thank you for all that you gave up that I may have a better life than you did!
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