The evening weather appeared rather friendly. The noonday sun had receded. The heat had gone a few notches down the scale. The cloud was moonless as well as starless, probably was rather too early to expect the mild dominance of these heavenly bodies with their amazingly beautifying presence. We somehow feared we were about being gifted with the showers from the heavens but they remained what they were. Fears. Earlier in the day, I had been snowed under with tasks at my desk at work. I always say I love my job and it’s true. I was neither transferred to my present desk nor was I asked to relieve someone. I asked for the job. And, fortunately, it was given to me. With all the deliverables and tasks now behind me, I needed something else. A little relaxation would do a whole world of good to my aching body. Well, might be some distraction too. Something to take my mind off the many life’s challenges that I often think about would be truly welcomed at that time. It was then Papa’s call shook my cellphone into beeping. Papa has been an old trusted friend of my parents. Mum revered him. And, he was not like a big brother to my late father. He certainly was. Father, I was told, ran to him whenever there was adverse weather and he never failed to rise up to my father’s need for him at anytime of the day. With him in my father’s world, my old man literally shut it to all others. My father used to say with friends, the fewer, the better. Experience has taught me my old man was right. Between Papa’s children and us, there was not much of friendship. It was all to the age-gaps. His sons are like uncles to us as his daughters are like aunties. You see!
Papa had come on one of his many trips to Lagos. Papa retired about a decade and a half ago to his village to begin, like he often says, his final sojourn on earth. His work years were spent in the Railway Corporation. He started as a coal-boy but he rose through the ranks to a train-master. He wowed everyone around with one of his last statements during his sent-forth to the land of his birth. He wouldn’t give in easily to death for he knew nothing about the ethereal world. The one above has given him so much joy and so much pain too. The agonies, sorrows and pains of living, he informed, were much better than the joy of dying. In fact, there was no joy in living six-foot below the earth. He has yet to meet anyone who informed him there was something to look forward to in the eerie world of the dead.
‘Tony,’ Papa called, directing me to a bench behind the house. A very modern one built by one of his many grandchildren. Papa has gone beautifully grey. The last time I saw him rushed at my memory. It was five years ago. Then he had some strands of dark hair left. Papa does not exactly know when he was born but he reckoned he was at least ninety years. In the days of his birth, there was nothing like registration of birth in his village – somewhere in Northern Delta. Papa would always say he has seen it all. Truly, he has. Papa often says there is no distance left to cover. If living was a trip round the perimeter of a rectangle, Papa has done the journey at least a time and a half. ‘Sit here,’ he ordered, pointing at a spot. ‘An old man flat on his back sees farther than a youth regardless of the youth’s aid,’ he added, with a small smile hiding around the corners of his mouth.
Papa, like many happy old men, could be mischievous at times. If he thought he had given me a puzzle, I never gave him any sign that I found myself in one. I sat down a few inches away from him. Papa was swigging beer from a glass cup. I have known Papa all my life. He was there when I was born. In fact, my late father and Papa were at dinner when a call came that my mother had given birth to me.
‘See you tall and a bit lanky,’ he called, observing me. ‘Today’s man was yesterday’s boy in my palms,’ he added, laughing. He continued: ‘I can see some black hair turning grey, Tony.’
‘Papa, I want them,’ I blurted out. If he thought I would fight ageing, I wanted to shock him, show him I was ready for the ageing journey.
‘Hmmm, good, good,’ he hummed, nodding. ‘Our sole aim in life is survival and all our wisdom and efforts should be focused at achieving that,’ he advised, breaking into my thoughts. Papa has remained my tank of knowledge and wisdom. I often don’t miss the chance to be under his cloud. Papa fascinates me and I can tell that something about me fascinates him too. It’s mutual. ‘It’s one good reason the tortoise is regarded as the wisest of all animals even across all cultures and with all people… that animal knows so well how to survive,’ he informed, before tapping my right shoulder and adding: ‘I think I have done well on that scale.’ He paused. His deep disarming brown eyes were on me. In my estimation, they were his finest physical possession – deep, penetrating and honest, always revealing his true feelings. He coughed. It was a bit loud. ‘I treated cough the local but more effective way and, your generation?’
‘My generation?’ I returned. Wondering. Confused
‘Your generation is always in a hurry to dash to the pharmacy for chemicals that in the end ruin the body,’ he informed. ‘Not all white-man’s stuff is good but you’d never admit.’
‘Papa, I know,’ I assured. Inter-generational comparison, huh! ‘But not everything about us is good also.’
‘You see, that’s the way the white-man has impacted your generation but I will say more of ours and less of theirs because we are close to nature.’
‘Really?’ I let out loudly.
‘If I have lived rather long…’ he paused. He took a somewhat long look at me before he continued: ‘I still intend to do more for there’s something particularly sweet about a century of years on earth…’
‘Papa, you will hit that mark for your fountain is still running strong, bathing us with some rich insights,’ I cut in. Luckily, it didn’t meet with his disapproval for Papa doesn’t like to be interrupted in anything he does – sleeping, talking or even thinking. He never interrupts anyone too.