It was a moderately sunny Wednesday noon. Just the kind of climate that gave one the confidence of stepping out of the house for one’s businesses without the fear of being bedraggled by rain, or being burnt by heat. Very early in the morning, my father had given me a thousand naira bill to get him a bunch of unripe plantain.
He also gave me the instruction of making a porridge out of the unripe plantain and he left for his store where he sold electrical appliances. Due to his health, he had been on diabetic foods since mid-September last year.
When I was done with scribbling the poem that I was inspired to write, I left the house, intent on purchasing the unripe plantain for my father. To my rudest shock, I got to the trader’s store only to find out that the bill my father had given me was missing. I groped my pockets and even turned them inside out, searching for holes through which the money might have fell, but I found nothing of the sort.
I couldn’t believe that a twenty-year-old like myself could be so careless with money, and I was sure that the trader from whom I intended to buy the plantain from was also gravely disappointed. She had every reason to be; I was not going to buy the plantain from her anymore. I explained to her that I had lost the money I was given, but that I would return if ever I found it. With that, I left her store and walked back to our house. I rummaged the rooms in search of the bill, but there was no sign of it.
I knew my father would not be happy to hear such a news. In fact, he would be enraged and nag me for the rest of the day. How much I hated working him up! Soon too soon, even tide came upon us and my father was home, holding his walking stick in one hand and a bag in another. I hurried up to him and took the bag, uttering a greeting to him. He returned the greeting with a hearty smile. He looked happy.
The bag had fruits in them: oranges, a full watermelon, and pineapple. I smiled and took the bag to the kitchen, carefully taking out its contents and placing them on a tray. I returned to the sitting room where my father sat on a couch, eyes closed. I tapped him awake and asked how his day went.
“Very blessed,” he beamed. “Someone paid the debt he owed me.”
“That’s good news, Papa!” I smiled and sat on a couch opposite the one he sat. I was thinking hard about how I could break the news of the lost money to him.
“That’s the best news, son,” he replied and took the case of toothpicks that was on the centre table. He took out one of the picks and began to chase holes in his teeth.
“Papa, tomorrow is Independence Day. How are we celebrating it?” I asked him. I didn’t want to get started with the bad news immediately.
He chuckled. “Is it worth celebrating?”
“Of course! Let’s go out and have fun that day,” I suggested.
“You know when I was younger,” he began to say, the toothpick still in his mouth. “Independence Day in Nigeria was more relevant than what it has been made to be today. It was not a day to catch fun, but a day in which we had reflections. Then, over the radiogram, I would hear the Head of State making an official statement about our dear country’s problem. We still do the same today. Those problems are still with us. I know it is a good thing to inherit something from your predecessor, but you should discard any bad behaviour from your ancestor and carve a better niche for yourself. Don’t you agree?”
At this time, I was slightly distracted from what my father was saying. I was looking for dirt in my fingers.
“Kachi, are you paying attention at all?” My father asked.
“Yes sir,” I affirmed looking up at him. “I agree with what you are saying.”
“Almost every one who got the chance of ruling this precious country made the promise of building good roads. We are turning sixty by tomorrow, and all the agenda we have had is to build good roads. Now, tell me: how long do you think at most it would take to tar the road that leads from this house to the main road?” He asked. That was typical of my father. He scarcely enjoyed a discussion if he was the only one doing the talking.
“My friend who lives at the 4th Avenue said that it took the constructors 3 days to finish tarring the road.”
“Those constructors are lazy. The ones that tarred the road to the Main Market did it in one day. The point I am trying to make is: it doesn’t take so much as sixty years to have major roads in this country tarred. Yet, many of our major roads are hardly tarred and every single political agenda we ever had has included the construction of roads,” my father said.
He paused, picking his teeth for a while before continuing, “Listen, what my friend paid me today was thirty thousand naira. If I had such a sum about fifty years ago in this country, I would have been among the richest in my community. Where has our value gone?”
“Papa, you are just bitter,” I told my father. “That is the more reason we have to go out and catch some fun tomorrow.”
“Are you independent?” He asked me and took the pick out of his mouth. He narrowed his gaze on me; those two hooded, black eyes of his searching me out.
“Papa, what do you mean? I am only twenty,” I protested, pouting my lips.
“I am not nagging you, but you have a girlfriend, don’t you?” He asked, raising his eyebrows.
Hesitantly, I nodded. Papa leaned back against the leather chair, his hand returning the pick into his mouth.
“And you take three bottles of beer a day,” he said.
“In two days,” I interjected quickly.
“Nigeria’s yesterday is lost. No matter how we bend knees and pray to have the past back, we wouldn’t come close to reliving a bit of yesterday. Never!” Papa said, the last word falling off his lips a bit louder than other words.
“So, what do we do?” I asked, still intent on making him see that there was something wrong with this old-school behaviour of his.
“Even today is done for!” Papa boomed so loud that I flinched on the couch I sat. I was yet to know what had gotten into him. I eyed his suspiciously as his eyes went wide. A deafening silence lingered for a moment and he continued, “We can only save tomorrow. We can only save you. The fathers I knew are gone. The fathers you know today will soon also be gone. We can only let your children know better fathers.”
Not a single point of his made sense to me, but J listened nonetheless. I wasn’t sure if I was interested because he was acting up. He continued, “The kind of youth you are today is the kind of leader you will be tomorrow. My beloved may have been battered down only by the tyranny of her today’s enemies, but by the morning, there will hardly be a life left in her when today’s babies turn giants.”
“Papa, you are despairing,” I told him.
“I am not, my boy,” he said, jerking his head at the window and the darkness beyond it. The remnants of the sun had all gone behind the horizons completely and the night was a moonless one. “There is still hope for her and you are the hope,” Papa said, returning his eyes to me.
At the moment, I became sincerely worried. What was he talking about? I couldn’t tell. Ever since my mother passed away, Papa gave me the creeps.
Drawing a sharp breath, he said, “Go and boil water for me. I want to have my bath.”
“Papa, I am very sorry, but I lost the money you gave me in the morning,” I said, shutting my eyes, expecting a yell from him.
Shrugging, he said, “Your problem. Some years ago, that would have been a heinous crime. But now, that amount isn’t so valuable anymore. I hope things get better and fast.”
Opening my eyes, I climbed to my feet and concluded that all he said were not things to get worked up about. It definitely wasn’t. Papa would stay alive for me and that was final!
Johnson Onyedikachi is an eighteen-year-old Nigerian creative writer who has unpublished manuscripts of poetry and plays. He recently picked interest in crime fiction and in August 2019, enrolled in an online course where he gained proficiency in article/journal writing including the use of referencing formats (MLA and APA style). He is hopeful that he will be successful in writing.