Father had been very angry all day. It is so clear that mother must have said something to upset him again, like she does again and again. You could see his effort to stay in control of his emotions, not to do anything rash, to be polite and keep a smile on his face. It always gave him away, every time.
We had a flat tyre and stopped behind a parked lorry on the highway. I saw the little monkey too, as it swung and played beside the huge lorry’s doubled rear tyres. It was swinging from a rope which was keeping it fastened to the lorry’s roofless wooden cargo-hold caging. The monkey made a grotesque picture against the amateurish painting of a fighter jet spread across the lorry’s big rear door. That notwithstanding, it was a sight to savour; and if father hadn’t need of my help with the flat tyre, I would have gladly enjoyed the sight more than I had.
The large nuts tightly holding our vehicle’s flattened wheel were rusty. Father had to ‘tap’ some oil from the car’s engine to lubricate them before he could finally loosen them. In between the wait, I had to help Sani ease his six years old bladder beside the highway and back inside his wide lonely back seat again. Sani and I had made silly noises at the playing monkey before I hurriedly returned round, to help father with the flat tyre.
I remembered seeing Sani toss pieces of his lunch-bread at the monkey, through the open rear window he was seated beside; his window was on the other side of car, away from the sparingly moderate traffic that sped past our car in seemingly endless hurry. Their speed gave such force to the gust of hurled air that blew at us in short busts, as it literally shook our stationary car, while we worked at changing the flat tyre.
Father had dirty hands after the flat tyre had been changed and I held up a bottle of water for him to wash his soiled hands. We both eased ourselves beside the highway too, in front of the car, in the small space between the parked lorry and our car, by the edge of the graveled highway side-walk. Then we hurried back into our front seats and father drove us off home. It was my first holiday back from my new boarding school. Father had come along with my younger brother Sani, to pick me up.
Twenty quiet miles later and we were home. I got out of the car first and was opening the huge metal gate to our house when I heard father’s shout. Sani wasn’t in the back seat! We lost Sani that day and twenty long years later, the pain and regret of that single incident killed father. It is still a mystery to this day and every single possible theory had been discussed and pursued to its logical human and orthodox end, all to no avail.
Mother blamed father and he agreed. He had accepted that his absentminded state had made him less vigilant. The anger in him had made him lose his little boy so strangely. Nothing we did brought Sani back to us. Mother changed her thoughts much later, rather belatedly. It always feels good to recollect that she made father’s last few years less painful with her support and love. But for father, all through those twenty miserable years, there was no worse crime in the world than to be angry:
Yearning not out loud,
Judgment does complain.
The verdict is yet proud,
Its picture coloured in pain.
Wisdom suddenly goes up,
Patience flew its balloon.
Decision flirts with hope,
But it’s still so much alone.
Restrain the wild stallion,
With a branding hand about.
Hurts enough to melt iron;
As penned up heat cries out.
Tomorrow returns somehow,
Mindful of its joyous winning.
And consequences whistle now,
So it all sits to wait for morning.
On my wall now, as just before I got married, is a picture of Sani. It was taken earlier that same year he got lost. The family had mourned him for so long; for too long. As the only child ever again, I knew just how much he was missed. In those long twenty, laughter-less years of an endless stretch of mournful sore existence, the three of us mentioned Sani like he was still there with us, through the nearest open door, in the next room.
I have since grown up to fully comprehend all sorts of feelings like pain, joy, disappointment etc. Most of my experiences had been of the kind that renders the mind skeptical of happy possibilities. Those that question every sad event with a resignation that says it is just fate. Life became a vast open field under an ever mobile parade of tears filled clouds and living is a ceaseless downpour of pain and timeless rain.
I have lacked so much, that I have come to miss my family so much more now. They had all left me alone on my own. First it was Sani then father, and mother is most recent. It isn’t strange that I should remember her least of all, she being the last one with me. Her death was weird in a sense. Though I did cast soil into her stuffed grave like I did father’s too, I was completely unprepared in her case. One moment she was nagging about my childless marriage and the next moment I was fully parentless.
But then she was always just my mother. Unlike my dear wife, who is more of the finest breed and is so inappropriate for me or her family; which I never got along with. She is as different from me as an Ant is to a Spider. She is the ever searching, busy and industrious type but I am not. I scheme and wait. Most times I wonder why she had a thought for me. On this one point I agree with her folks wholly, for I had been brought up spoilt and calmly bred to take things as they come and wait forever for fate and destiny. She faces her fate and makes her destiny.
Mild as milk yet sharp as acid, my life and mind respectively contrast the existence I grew in. I had naively conspired to be wrongly trained in a neglected field that it seems my inherited intelligence was being wasted. In my wife I found purpose and direction; most of all, patience. These were both comforting and conforming as I trove mentally and to a great extend, spiritually.
Her simple smiles spoke in invisible words that showed and said her daily looks of profound angelic niceness wakes up mean vengeful gods in fair moods. Her face steers nature’s soul with its uncomplicated beauty in a mythological sense. Her eyes lit sceneries that warm every heart that meets them, know them and experience the internal simplicity they mirror.
It was like a joke of some sort when my Best man gave my wife and me a puppy as a wedding gift, right there at our wedding guests’ reception. He had the puppy brought in just before he made the customary toast, which he choose to conclude with the cheeky lines; “The little pup is now about; May the little Bob soon pop out.” So when my wife named the puppy ‘Nisa’, meaning ‘Far’, I guessed she saw the dog as a symbol of our union and made a statement with its name to all and sundry, that our marriage will go all the distance. I guessed wrongly.
Nisa became the little ‘Bob’ that hasn’t popped out yet. But it filled our early years of coupled existence with fun, love and joy. The dog turned out to be a witty, disciplined, smart and dedicated animal. He was just a dog to everyone else but to me and especially, to my wife. She and Nisa were practically together all day long and if I didn’t love the animal too, I would have really had enough reasons to dislike him.
Some of our regular guests had sworn the dog was more human than canine. He has been known to sit in his four legged way beside our two rooms’ front door for hours without moving an inch because he noticed we were both out of our modest abode and had forgotten to lock up. He once incredibly guided a desperate visitor to a nearby house where my wife and I had both gone for a neighbourly chit-chat.
Not a trained dog by any means conceivable, it incredibly had an almost human like intelligence. He ate everything he was fed, never stole or sat close to anyone eating, like local dogs are fond of doing. He would dutifully guard a tray of meat or fish laid outside to dry or cool off, barking away interested lizards, chickens and other dogs with as much dedication as any of us would. Built like a prized sheep, he had a beach-sand coloured thin hide that looked almost faded yellow in visibly poor light.
When very lean months soon engulfed us, as it is usually the case for most people of average means, I became so ill from malaria that my wife feared the worse. We had no money for food or drugs and she was at a complete loss of what to do. She called Nisa into our inner most room and he came in reluctantly. It was the first time he had entered any of our rooms, ever. I was barely awake but I could hear her whisper to him that she was going out to borrow some money for drugs.
As silly as I thought it must have sounded, even to her obviously confused mind, she still went ahead to converse with him. I knew they were quite close but as a matter of fact, I doubted her sanity at that instant. I watched them in a bemused pain induced stupor, as she further instructed him to come and look for her if I got any worse. I called her back, as she was about to leave and a very brief one-sided argument ensued.
As we spoke I would have sworn Nisa was following our exchanges with much more than his eyes and head. She retuned a couple of hours later; I was barely conscious and moaning in pain when she entered the room. She had been unsuccessful and broke down in tears as soon as she saw me twisting in pain beside a tensely still Nisa. I tried consoling her but it was such a pathetic attempt. She ran out again and sped into our empty compound in the huge cosmopolitan low-rent, many tenants building we resided in. She was in one big panic as she dashed about, hoping for assistance from any of our many neighbours.
Everyone of our fellow tenants was home that early evening hour, yet the best they could all do was give her a small cup full of raw rice and lots of kind words of encouragement. She somehow cooked up a miracle dish with the cup of rice, throwing in some left over fungus infested spices and some old forgotten dried fish. It smelt nice and it must have tasted good too, but I couldn’t swallow anything but warm water.
Her tears spoke to me words that hurt and I feared for her like I never thought possible. As death wooed me for that brief point in time, I momentarily was selfishly glad that I wasn’t going to see her leave me, like I have always dreaded. In the quiet mazy-whirls of my mind I saw my father dieing again and my old questions all came up for answers again;
Baba, mutuwa na da wuya?
Mun amince duniyar ka da wuya.
Father, is it hard to die?
We acknowledge the hassles of your world.
With life’s wards always roams a lie,
We all are reproductions of its mould.
Choking in the presence of its grip,
The inscrutable crux not familiarized.
Do we sit out the stages of its trip
Like your peaceful love that wasn’t recognized?
From the weep the baby wails
To the whip’s lashes life hails,
These tastes we own and inherit.
Say oh father, is there better to merit?
The strangest thing happened. My wife sang a prayer as I took in long deep breaths. Nisa stood up on all his four limbs from where he was half sitting. He gave a curt bark and licked her arm before running out. He kept barking inside the compound and no one could shut him up. My wife hurried out impatiently, cursing him for not knowing better. Nisa came at her swiftly and tugged at her wrapper with his teeth.
She didn’t call him her son for nothing, she recounted was her very thought when the urge to let him lead her on overwhelmed her. She followed him; filled with curiousity, as he walked on determined and unhesitant, head down in a solemn meditation like posture. He led her to the local dog-meat butcher’s stall, where he folded his limbs and laid still on the soft ground.
She came over to his head with her eyes instantly tears filled. He closed his eyes firmly and licked at her hand as she patted his motionless cone-shaped face. It was such a very pathetic and uncommon sight that it lost the dog-butcher lots of dedicated patrons later. She was paid handsomely by the unrepentant meat merchants because he was a fairly big dog. Though she didn’t see Nisa slaughtered, but we were told later that he ‘cooperated’ fully. That word had never sounded so inappropriate.
The next morning I woke up feeling much better. The drugs she had bought and given me the night before had worked well for me. She cleaned me up and fed me a hot, sweet smelling and good tasting breakfast as she sang a popular funeral hymn. Still in the dark about Nisa’s strange demise, I was quiet all the while until I saw the single tear drop float out of her eye and run down her cheek. Then I tried to ‘break the ice’ with a joke. I asked her if she was rehearsing for my funeral. She replied, with so much feeling, that she was not rehearsing, but was singing for real. I guessed she meant I had died and was ‘reborn’ again, after our ordeal the day before. I guessed wrongly again.
This time she didn’t keep me in the dark for long. She couldn’t hold back her tears as she told me everything. It was then I learnt that she had named him Nisa in memory of Sani, my late and only brother. She knew from the stories we told that a big chunk of our lives disappeared with Sani and in her own way she preempted the family’s preference for a name for my future male child and named the dog after Sani, without desecrating our memories. There it is, as it always is and will always be. Life congregates us in one loving hub of family and friends, wooing us to have and share love for one another, as it educates us with the knowledge of our inevitable end and final separation. But it never empowers us with the secret of bearing its insipid emptiness and harsh betrayal. It is cruel and just not fair.
This we can only experience; life comes and then it is gone also. Like all those I have come to accept as mine, life will all too soon be eventually gone. It is discomforting to know the endless list of those gone is never ever complete, one way or the other.
They had all gone,
I only heard how.
They made the home
That I have now.
They met my sun
At its very dawn.
Made day my own,
As their night’s done.
They are all gone,
I saw them all go.
Where they’re borne
I will come to know