The broken staircase creaked as his feet moved across the wooden structure faster than ever before. With his ratty black bag flung hurriedly over his shoulder and his ripped shirt billowing in the breeze like tattered kite, he made his way to the dingy apartment…his home
“Nana, Nana” he called out, pushing open the rusted zinc that served as their only form of security. His lips was stretched in a smile and excitement flowed in his veins, he couldn’t wait to see Nana. He couldn’t wait to see the smile that would spread across her face. Hastening his pace, he clutched the white envelope tighter in his hands as if it would slip and made up scenes in his head of what his dramatic nana would do.
He laughed softly, like every normal Nigerian grandmother, her first words would be
“Kamil Tanko Ladi,” She would stretch his full name as embarrassing as that made him with her hands akimbo and a playful frown on her aged features. “How many times have I warned you not to go around running?” she would re-tie her traditional wrapper as she spoke, the faded one that she wore all the time with the pretense that it was her favourite, Kamil knew otherwise though…she could not afford more.
He would hide his laugh at the familiar dialogue, knowing fully well she would do this tomorrow and then attempt to look remorse. “I am sorry Nana”
Every parent expected that…
“That is what you will be saying. Just remember, I don’t have money for burial so if you kill yourself, you are on your own!”
Biting his laugh, he would say “I was so excited to see you Nana, is that a crime”, raising his head to look as cute and sheepish as he could afford
She would then tap her foot against the wooden, pretend like she wasn’t moved by his flattery and then minutes later she would open her arms wide for an embrace
It worked….every single time!
Oh God, how he loved his Nana.
Picking him up at the doorstep of her rickety home had been the best thing she had ever done for him. With a rich dad that did not want an illegitimate child stain on his white reputation and a mother that preferred clubs and drugs over her own blood, Nana taking him in was the best thing to happen to him. Biting off the urge to smile like a creep, he walked into the room they lived in. A measly one room apartment that had everything squeezed into it.
One mattress, stripped bare laid at the far right of the room holding two bags that made up their wardrobe. A beaten down radio passed down to him by Grandpapa laid on the window sill receiving air as his Nana would say. The tiny window that stood proud on the left was covered by a flimsy wrapper, already tugging off at the strength of the wind. It wasn’t something to be proud of but for Kamil, it was home.
“Nana” he called out, the house was too quiet…where was Nana?
Maybe she was out cooking, he thought…to avoid fire, she had created a little shed and made it their kitchen outside.
Throwing his bag off his shoulder, he ran out again and headed straight for the backyard. He couldn’t hear her sing offhandedly or murmur in Hausa about the ladies of the night that lived across and that got him worried. Ignoring the chills that made its way down his spine, he walked faster…
Nana had to see this, he clutched the envelope tighter
She would be so proud, he made his steps faster
The sight before his eyes ceased his thinking…what exactly was going on…
Why was Nana lying on the bare floor…she never liked dirt.
With his heart hammering hard against his ribcage, he walked slowly to where she was laid,
“Nana” his voice was barely above a whisper
Did she fall asleep again…?
Lately she had been falling asleep randomly, was this another episode.
He walked to the pot beside her and put out the fire but not before peering inside.
Tuwo Shinkafa…she was making his favourite again.
With a brief smile, he walked over to her and tapped her shoulders lightly “Nana, wake up”
She was a light sleeper, she would wake in seconds
“Nana,” he tapped her again, adding more force to his fingers.
She barely turned…
“Naaaaaaaana” he shouted this time, pushing her hands that laid out carefully.
“Nana, now” she did this sometimes, pretending to be in deep sleep. “I have an important news for you, wake up… this sleep drama of ours is stale”
She didn’t even blink
His heart rate quickened and his fingers trembled.
“Nana please,” his imagination began to race, hitting corners he didn’t dare think about
Why was she not waking up…?
He could hear his thoughts in his ears, Nana was old and frail and always made expensive jokes about leaving this plagued earth…is this what it is…?
No, Kamil…you worry too much.
“Nana,” he called her name in a singsong manner, already impatient. “Nana, this is not funny again. The Tuwo is getting cold, wake up. I have good news”
Feeling frustrated, he stood and walked towards the next house to them, maybe if he called an adult, she would be embarrassed and stop her drama. Dragging his feet, he walked to door and rapped on it lightly. The house wasn’t any better than theirs except in size.
Minutes later, a tired looking lady popped out, her worn out dress hanging off her shoulder.
She was Tambara, one of the ladies of the night and the one always touching his cheek and calling him fine boy. He stepped back slightly to avoid being touched and stay clear of the stench that exuded her tired lips.
“Fine boy,” she slurred “what are you looking for here”
Her yellow teeth scared him but he needed her help. “Nana is lying down on the floor and she doesn’t want to stand up”
She stared up at him weirdly, looked back inside the house and then closed the door to follow him. She walked too slowly for his liking and it irritated him but once again he reminded himself that he needed her help.
Getting to Nana took longer than necessary and when they got there, the air had started to smell weird. He noticed the look that flashed before her eyes but he said nothing. She leaned closer to Nana and put her left ear to her chest.
Why was she doing that? She should just wake her up.
He noticed how her steps faltered as she stood to her feet and how Nana was still not waking up.
“What happened Auntie?”
She was quiet and her face had paled, her gaze falling all around except on him.
“Have you woken her up?”
She bit her faded red lips and wrapped her hands around her shoulders.
“Kamil,” she called his real name this time, then she walked closer to him and put her hands around his shoulders. “What do you say we go to my house and eat some biscuits?”
What was she saying?
“Why auntie, are we going to leave Nana on the floor sleeping?”
“Sleeping?” her eyes widened and she scratched her neck with her cheaply painted nails that had broken unevenly at the edges. “See Kamil, ehm”
“What happened now?” he was becoming impatient. He should have gone to meet DanLadi, he would have helped better.
“How old are you, Kamil?”
He eyed her incredulously but answered her anyway “I turned thirteen last month,” he stated proudly, thirteen was a big deal in his school and for being the first to clock thirteen in his class, he was given the utmost respect.
“Thirteen eh,” she held his shoulders tight, blocking his sight of Nana “Do you know about…ehm, death”
He looked confused…
Tambara had never been one good with emotions, she was unerringly blunt and straightforward and did not believe in dilly dallying but how did one tell someone that he had just lost a loved one so bluntly. Not just any loved one, the only one he knew. Poor boy was only thirteen, how would she explain it to him.
“Kamil, I need you to hold unto me and be strong,”
“Strong for what” his eyebrows creased and he was on the verge of pushing her away and leaving. Not only was her alcoholic stench turning his insides but she was saying rubbish and wasting time.
“You know that thing that happens when…ehm” she rubbed her forehead “Nana is…kai! Who knew this would be so difficult” she murmured under her breath.
“Look, ehn” she gulped and took in deep breaths “Nana…is…Nana is dead!”
Why so blunt! Her subconscious scolded.
The boy stiffened and pulled away from her
Kamil looked up at her and frowned “What are you saying Auntie, dead…who is dead”
“Kamil,” she started…he shook his head rigorously
“You are joking Auntie,” he stepped back and began to laugh, “Nana always does this, she always pretends to be in deep sleep. You just need to shake her and she would wake up. I know my Nana, I know my Nana” he whispered the last part to himself.
He walked back to Nana,
Tambara reached to stop him but stopped, it was better he found out himself.
“Nana” he shook her,
“Nana” more rigorously
“Nana” a tear dropped down his eyes
“Auntie is saying rubbish, stand up. The Tuwo is cold but we would manage it” another tear dropped
“Nana” her hands were cold and stiff, he could remember when Grandpapa died. He was six and when he had touched his body, it was cold and stiff. Nana was cold and stiff but she wasn’t dead, she could not have died.
“Nana” he screamed, pushing her body, “Nana please,” tears began to spill faster, he could feel Aunty Tambara touch his shoulder, she tried to pull him up but he withstood and held on to Nana.
His subconscious told him to believe Auntie but he couldn’t, Nana promised not to leave him. As they poured sand on grand papa’s grave and he asked her when she was leaving, she said never…she would not leave him. Auntie did not know of the promise, if she did, she would know that Nana was not dead.
“Kamil, let go,” she begged him but he couldn’t hear her, he could barely hear anything.
One time when he had played rough with Rafiq and Hassan and had joined them to climb the mango tree. Inexperienced as he was, he fell down, five feet to the ground, landing hard on his back. He could remember how the impact had knocked out the air from his lungs and how he had laid struggling to breathe until Nana had appeared.
The familiar feeling crept back, he could feel it now. It was different now, thrice as painful.
Difficulty in breathing, inability to speak, body rigid as a board, head shaking in disbelief, limbs paralysed, mouth opening and closing, gibberish spilling out with the speed of a machine gun.
Focus on me, Nana had told him
He tried it but she wasn’t smiling at him and patting his back today, she was lying lifeless on the dirty ground.
His pain doubled, his heart twisted, his insides turned…he needed to throw up, no, he needed to breath first. It was too much for his brain to comprehend, nothing was making sense.
“Kamil,” a voice whispered, who was that?
He was not seeing anything again, his vision was blurry…why was the voice distant, why was his ears so itchy. Bewildered, he scrambled to his feet but fell immediately, his knees too weak.
He stood up a second time and held up unto the hand that stretched to him.
Eyes darting rapidly back and forth, temporarily incapacitated, he looked around him, everything was in a blur “I need to leave” he murmured to himself.
Voices bounced in his ear drums,
There might have been more people, he could barely see
Was someone crying?
Why was someone crying?
Something was on his cheek, something wet and salty
He pulled away from the hands that held him, he could feel his legs a little.
He touched his cheeks, water was there…was it raining?
Screams, shriek…who was so loud?
His mouth was opened, why was his mouth opened
Was the scream from him?
He bit his lips and shook his head frantically, everything was closing on him. He was suddenly claustrophobic, his heart rate increased and everything felt tight. He needed to breath, why wasn’t he breathing.
He pushed away from the confines and started to walk away…
One step, two….ten and he ran…
Like he had never in his life, he ran like his life depended on it….
Omemu Esther, a student of Mass communication with passion for telling the stories of others and the realities of life. She is very interested in the African story because no one tells the stories of Africa outside corruption, abuse and the era of colonialism. There is more to Africa and this young writer wants to be a part of telling that story.