A FIRST IMPRESSION WITH A FALSE ASSUMPTION
Years ago I visited a former classmate of mine in Lagos. She was so excited hearing that I was writing for Hints magazine. One evening, she copied my phone number from my column on Thrills and Boom and called me.
“Hey Japheth, how far?” she greeted. “Do you know who is speaking?”
Of course I didn’t know who she was even though the voice sounded very familiar.
“No,” I replied. “Could you tell me please?”
When she mentioned her name, I screamed. She was among the prettiest adolescents in my class in those days. I was not shocked when we heard that she had got married at seventeen. Her beauty was quite infectious. Her good manners and laughter too!
She laughed at the other end. “Yes o, I heard you are now with Hints. Someone bought a copy and gave me to read and I found your number in it.”
“Oh Japheth I am so happy for you o. I remember when you used to write on sheets of paper for us to read in school. So you carried this habit to this level. I am really happy and proud of you honestly.”
We talked for a longer period and she told me where she lived in Ajegunle. She explained how I could find her in the event that I happened to be around the place.
“I will definitely find you,” I promised her.
From the way she sounded, it was quite obvious that she thought of me as one ‘big boy.’ Of course it had to be because at that time working with Hints came with so much reverence as every adult in those days loved to read the magazine.
Not long after that phone call, I found myself in Ajegunle to see an uncle of mine and as I made it back home, it pricked me to see my classmate. She was ecstatic when she heard I was around.
Quickly she gave me the description of her place on the phone and in no time I was there at her place. I had a picture of her in my head with the feeling that she must have grown into a mother bee; bigger in size and everything. But I was shocked at what I saw. No, she was not big in size. She was not big in ‘everything’. She was poor and somewhat submissive to a fault. However, I was glad when I came and saw her busy attending to a few customers who came to buy food stuff from her. And she was forever smiling even though time and the devil had robbed her of many things including a shade of her beauty. She was no longer the pretty adolescent that I used to know. She was lean and covered in rags.
I was not happy within me to see her the way I met her. She led me into the house where I found old and patched furniture with glaring stroke of poverty written all over them. The only thing that was warm about the reception I got there was her smiles. She was poor but it did not affect her mood.
She quickly removed some dirty laundry from a couch and made me to sit on it.
“What can I offer you Japheth,” she said smiling.
“Nothing,” I shook my head but she left and returned with a bottle of Fanta.
“Please give me a few minutes.” She implored and disappeared.
And just as I was opening the soft drink, a boy of about four years old sauntered in carrying a very dirty sup in his hand. He looked like he had just been rescued from the rubble of a collapsed building. I knew he was one of my classmate’s children.
Our eyes met and he smiled. His nostrils dripped with catarrh which he wiped off once in a while with the back of his right hand.
“Uncle,” the child pointed at my drink, “na Fanta be that?”
I was angry at everything around him. He was scraggy. The cup in his hand was very dirty. He had a runny nose. And he could not speak English. Those were my thoughts when he asked me the question.
“My friend; speak good English,” I rasped indignantly.
“Okay,” he smiled, “is na Fanta is be this?”
“No,” I shook my head. My eyes were pinned to his but his were pinned to my drink.
When he saw that I was not playing to his antics, he drew closer and said;
“Uncle, I want tell you story.”
“Go ahead,” I responded.
He smiled. “Then aftor come and come. Then boss come and come again. Then aftor come and give boss Chinese kpisha kpisha kpisha!”
As he spoke, he kicked his foot in the air frenziedly improvising what he probably had seen in a movie. While he did that, I took the bottle from the table and raised it to my mouth.
He paused while I drank.
“Continue,” I said when I dropped the bottle back on the table. He sighed when he saw that it was still half full.
Again, he went on smoothly; “then aftor come and give boss another kpisha kpisha kpisha!”
I raised the bottle to my mouth again and he paused abruptly. His eyes were wide and piercing. They held still and gaped
“Continue,” I said placing the bottle on the table. There was still some drink in it. He sighed hopefully and continued with his story.
“And boss come and come again with vex. And he come and give aftor kpisha kpisha kpisha!” he was throwing his fist and kicking into the air. His back was turned at me this time as he improvised. I raised the bottle to my mouth and in a slurp emptied its whole content into my stomach.
By the time the story teller turned back, an empty bottle sat like a poor old childless widow on the table.
“Continue,” I said but this time he looked at me with fury in his eyes. He wiped his nose and mumbled with heightened indignation and irritation;
“I am not continue again. You be wicked Uncle..”
As he made for the door, I called him back and passed a new hundred naira note to him. I could see how in ecstasy, he beamed and thanked me profusely. He was out of the room in no time.
When he was gone, I began to wonder; will this child ever see the walls of a university? Will this family ever enjoy good life? Will they ever get out of this mess?
While I was still thinking, my classmate walked in still wearing that ever-glowing smile.
Funny as this story might sound; it taught me a huge lesson.
It all happened in 2002. By 2017 when I heard from her again a lot had changed for the family. The first daughter married a very rich man. The boy who begged me for Fanta is now in Ukraine pursuing a degree. I was told that he is marked for a first class. My classmate and her husband travel abroad every summer like people who go to buy food condiments from the market.
That is life! We as humans are not in any position to determine the future of our fellow human beings. Only the Creator who created them can tell what will become of them. The person you look down on today might be in a better position than you in the future. Again, I learned that suffering is just like a treated wound. Keep smiling cheerfully like my classmate because you will only feel the pain of a treated wound for a while. It will go. It will surely go. The scar represents the tale of our sojourn; a tale to inspire others to embrace hope.
I have not been to Ukraine but the Fanta beggar is there today making his family proud and leaving a lasting impression in my head that so long the heart has got a pulse in any human, he or she has got hope of a better future because dry bones shall surely rise again.
THE MAKING OF THE MAN
by Japheth Prosper