Patto had just returned from the big city where he had gone to visit his paternal uncle. He was there for only two days. The encounter was not pleasant; it left a bitter taste in his mouth for a very long time. While there, he had overheard his uncle and his wife having a conversation about him.
“Chief, we cannot have your nephew with us. We barely know him.”
“I understand, but he will be staying in the boys’ quarters.”
“Chief, he will be a bad influence on our kids.”
“What influence are you talking about – Ronnie is already lost, Edna is not doing so well…”
“So must we bring in somebody that will make them even worst?”
“You do not know Augusta; it might be that this young boy is the spark they need to sit up in life.”
“Mba* Chief, I disagree. I do not want this boy in our house, period!”
“Well, in that case I will have no option than to go and rent an…”
Patto barged into the dining room, where his uncle, Chief Ignatius and his wife Augusta were having the conversation during morning breakfast.
“Good morning uncle, good morning aunty.”
“Good morning Patto” Chief responded. “Did you sleep well?”
“Good morning Patto” Augusta answered faking a smile.
“Augusta, we shall conclude the conversation when I come back from work.”
As Chief was making his way to his car, Patto joined him.
“Uncle, I would like to go back to the village tomorrow.”
“Why the rush Patto? I have been thinking of how best to support you.”
“Uncle I need to go back to help grandma in the village.”
“Why didn’t you think of your grandmother before you decided to come here?”
“I am very sorry uncle, but I have to go.”
“Well, if you insist.”
As Patto took a long drawn inhalation from the rolled substance, the hairs on his head stood and his head spun. That scene kept replaying in his mind. It was clear that he was not wanted in his uncle’s house. This uncle was a near relative; he was the immediate elder brother to his late father. Since the demise of his parents, Patto had been to about six relatives’ houses and he had been rejected by all of them. He was yet to understand what crime he had committed that made everybody to reject him. He still remembered the numerous relatives that used to come and visit their home, when his dad was alive. Their house was a beehive of activities. Sometimes as one relative was leaving, another one was just checking in. It was so draining. He had to constantly share his room and toys with cousins and distant relatives. He didn’t have his father to himself. He was always trying to catch his father’s attention. As soon as his dad returned from work, there was this stream of people waiting to see him. His dad had one weakness. He didn’t know how to turn people away or ask them to come back another day. His mother would have done the job for him, but his dad would always insist that the people be allowed to have access to him, even at the expense of his life and family. He would usually be through with the last guest at about 11pm and thereafter go straight to bed because he had to wake up for work early the next morning.
Afua, Patto’s dad was a chartered auditor with Royal Accounting Corporation (RAC), based in Lagos. He had travelled to Lomé, Togo to audit a company that had retainership with his company. A massive fraud in the company was about to be uncovered. Afua went to sleep at his hotel room in Lomé and never woke up. Post mortem examination revealed that he died of food poisoning, but the source of the poison could not be ascertained. His body was released to the family for funeral. After the funeral, his entitlements were paid to the family. Afua’s brothers had conspired with the company to take the 23 million naira. They did not give Ebele, Afua’s wife a dime. Ebele had gone into shock after her husband’s death and she needed a lot of money for her treatment, one event led to another that culminated in her own demise, leaving behind three children. Patto was the eldest. Patto and his siblings had moved from one relative’s house to another as if they were a flock without shepherd. Nobody wanted to take them in. Their relatives had excuse upon several excuses to give.
The head of the family, Odiase who collected the money from RAC would not take in Patto and his siblings nor offer any kind of support to them. Even though Patto knew that money was given to uncle Odiase, he was too young as at that time to engage the man in a fight, plus he had always known that his uncle was diabolical. The keywords for him and his siblings were safety and survival.
Patto took his two siblings; Odion and Iyase back to the village to stay with their grandmother who was stricken in age, even though strong and agile. She had a medium sized cash crop farm and this she used to support her grandchildren. Patto and his siblings all worked in the farm. They attended the village primary and secondary schools. They helped their grandmother in the farm after school and Patto did extra work on weekends to support the family. He would often go to the big market and cart goods for traders and shoppers on a rented wheelbarrow all day for a fee. He would be exhausted at the end of the day, and he often wondered how his fellow wheelbarrow pushers coped with the day to day rigours of the job. He was forced to ask one of them about this important trade secret.
“Akeem, how do you guys do this job all day and not get tired?”
“We take soja*. Soja keeps us going.”
“Ikpo*. Weed. This keeps us going.”
“Aren’t you too young to smoke weed? That’s dangerous to your health.”
“Hey listen, I am here minding my business and you come to ask me how we get the energy to work all day and I told you and now you want to preach me a sermon on what’s good for me, eh?”
“You better be sorry for yourself.”
Patto remembered his first drag of weed and how after that day he got hooked. He had found a new set of friends who had accepted him for who he was; a wheelbarrow pusher. They did not discriminate against him. He felt loved. He felt loved for once in his life; he felt wanted and grew up with these co-smokers as his allies. He was proud to be a member of their association.
After passing his GCE and University Matriculation Exams, he decided to try his distant wealthy uncle, whom his dad had helped at some stage in life. He was scared of being rejected again; however, his dream of attending university pushed him to see this distant well off uncle. But when he overheard the conversation between his uncle and his wife, he knew that though his uncle wanted to assist him, the problem would be with Augusta his wife, so he offered himself the dignity of leaving Chief’s house before he got ejected. He felt good about this decision but before he left, Chief had promised to still assist him through university. However, he asked Patto to give him a few weeks to settle the home front. A few weeks became one full year! But as fate would have it, luck shone on Patto after that.
As he sat with his barrow friends and smoked, he announced to them that he would be leaving for the big city to attend university in the next one week.
“Eeeeeeeeeh! Yes o, yes o!” They yelled, bursting with excitement.
“We know say you sabibook*” Kenoski announced. “We happy well well for you, But this book thing no be for us.”
“Yeah my guy, we wish you well. Me I know say you go make am. But make you no forget us o. You know say we still dey here dey push barrow. We go dey wait you bros Patto” Ipi said.
Kenoski handed Patto, five thousand naira. “Take, this na from us to support you. We no say, no be big money but at least e fit help buy you smoke when you dey study.”
They all cracked up. “Patto no go need joint* when him dey read those big books. Na after him don read the big books, him go need the joint to relax him mind. I don tell you say, your head na empty head, nothing dey inside this your empty head.”
Patto was moved to tears. He accepted the money. It wasn’t the money that moved him to tears. It was the fact that this was the only people he had in his life. They had accepted him and given him a sense of belonging in life. When all his family turned him away, these guys let him into their lives. For this he was so grateful.
The night before his departure, his seventy five years old grandma sat the three of them down for a meeting.
“Odion, Iyase, you know that Patto is leaving us tomorrow to the city to start the big school. I pray that our gods will go with him and guide him through his stay at the big school.”
“Isee” they all chorused.
“May you walk only in the light.”
“Isee” they chanted.
“May the evil eyes never see you.”
“Isee” the chorus continued.
“And may you come out successful in your endeavours and bring back the Golden Fleece.”
“Since Ignatius has made this dream come true, may his path never dim.”
“May his wife Augusta and children prosper.”
There was a pause here in the chorus. Augusta who did not want Patto in her house, how could they wish prosperity for her? Their grandmother noticed their hesitation and cautioned them.
“My children, we never pay back evil with evil” she said.
Odion and Iyase were sobbing. Patto had been like a father to them. They all understood that he was going for the good of all.
“Odion, Iyase, you know since we lost papa and mama, grandma is all what we have. Please continue to help grandma in the farm and don’t leave her to do the work all by herself. We pray that our gods will keep her strong and healthy so that we too will be able to give her some support at old age.”
“I am old jare*. I just want to see you my children doing okay in life then I can depart in peace.”
Patto studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Lagos; he went to school from home all through the duration of his study because his Uncle’s wife didn’t want her husband to waste money on hiring a room for him at the students’ village. She also thought it best for him to go from home so that he could help out at home, and he was made to spend his holidays in Chief’s house so that he could render more services to the family. According to Augusta, working for them during the holidays was a good way to say ‘thank you to Chief.’
Five years seemed to fly by. Chief would usually use him as his personal assistant, to do errands here and there. Even though Augusta did not like the idea, she liked how serviceable Patto was. She knew that her own children could not be trusted like Patto. Patto soon became the trusted ally of Chief. He handled chief’s personal transactions. Chief sent him to the bank to withdraw huge sums of money for him. Chief loved Patto and wished that his own children would turn out like Patto. Augusta tried to counter this by making Patto to do a lot of house chores, and Chief had to remind her a million times that Patto was his Nephew and not a servant and that they had a hired housemaid for all those chores.
Chief’s children lived a wasteful life. They partied and spent money recklessly. They were irresponsible. They were not doing so well at school. Patto was producing excellent results and graduated in a record time. Chief’s children had extra courses to complete at their various universities. There was an unspoken hatred and jealously between Patto and Chief’s children – Ronnie and Edna. They were civil to Patto but deep down, they knew that their father preferred Patto and so they didn’t like Patto.
Patto was happy to have a place to lay his head. After his graduation from the university he looked for a job. His vision was to work in an oil company or a top conglomerate where he could build a career and advance in his studies. He had his younger siblings to look after. They also deserved a chance to go to the university. Any little money that Patto made was sent for the upkeep of his younger siblings and maintenance of their grandma who was now frail. Age related ailments like arthritis were catching up with her.
Though Lagos the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria was commonly believed to be the land of opportunities, Patto put in applications everywhere he knew for a job and yet nothing worked. Nigeria had a teeming population of about 170 million people. About 20 million youth were looking for job opportunities. Jobs came mainly through whom you knew. Patto made up his mind that if he couldn’t secure a job he would travel to America to attempt the American dream. He shared his dream with Chief who concurred that it would be a brilliant idea.
Chief knew that if Patto travelled he would make a huge success but he didn’t want to feel like he failed in the upbringing of his own kids. When he mentioned the idea to Augusta, without hesitation, Augusta suggested that Chief should send Ronnie to the US as well.
“That’s not a good idea” Chief murmured.
“What’s not good about the idea? You sending your nephew to America while your own son is right here, is the good idea, eh?”
“We both know that Ronnie is very irresponsible. Here he is under our own watchful eyes and he cannot manage himself. What will happen to him when he gets to a place where there is no support or guidance for him?”
“He will survive. Maybe that will make him sit up” Augusta declared.
Chief knew too well that he wouldn’t’ win this war, so he gave in and agreed to send Ronnie to the States. Ronnie did not have any game plan. He didn’t have a clue what he would do when he got into States. He was sent off nonetheless with 20,000USD as start off money to enable him settle down.
Six months later Patto left for the US with only 500USD. Despite all the assistance Patto rendered to Chief, he was rewarded with a ticket to the States and BTA of 500USD.This was carefully orchestrated by Augusta emphasizing the cruel realities of life. Patto, on the other hand was grateful that he had been offered a ticket and helped with his visa procedures. He knew he had that dogged determination and knew that he would make it. It was just a matter of time. As far as Augusta was concerned it was a matter of ‘my son must succeed’ by crook or foul means. She couldn’t stand seeing Chief bestow all his confidence in Patto. She knew too well that Patto was of immense service to the household whereas their own children could not be trusted as they lived irresponsible lives and squandered the wealth of their parents. Their children’s education adventure was a mishap. They all graduated with third class degrees after spending extra time in the university. If not because of their daddy’s wealth, there would have been no hope for them in life.
Ronnie got into the US and continued with that life of delusion. He got entangled with the wrong crowd and before long his life was in a mess. He was always ringing home and asking for money. His life in America was like another conduit for draining funds. Chief could barely cope with his incessant demands for funds with the promise to sort it out once he got settled.
Patto did not have a soft landing like Ronnie. In fact he had a very tough time when he first arrived the States. He worked as a security guard during the night and in the tills during the day. During weekends, he attended a local community college to improve himself. After spending three years in the US, Patto earned his first master’s degree. After seven years, in the US, Patto naturalized as an American citizen. He had secured a good job in Texas and was working through his career and studying for his second master’s degree. All the while, Patto was struggling to stand in the United States of America, he never for once forget his family back at home. He sent money to them for their upkeep and for their education and his siblings were both doing well at home. Ronnie, meanwhile was running from pillar to post, being embattled with child support for his baby mamas. Chief was really getting fed up with him.
Patto invited Chief to come and visit him in Texas. Chief was heartbroken that a boy who was not his, whom he sent off to the States with only 500USD could within a space of eight years send him a ticket to come and visit him while his own blood was still requesting for assistance from him. It was always a case of ‘this last chance dad, everything is going to be ok.” Chief has been hearing this song for about 8 years now. He wondered when things will ever be okay with Ronnie.
While studying at the university, Patto had formed a strong friendship with a contemporary of his – Dennis. It was a union that stood the test of time. While at the university, Patto maintained his habit of smoking weed. He smoked weed all through his stay in the university. Dennis always admonished Patto to quit the habit and Patto would only remark with a smile and the phrase “Dennis you would not understand why I smoke this weed. Someday I will tell you my story.” Dennis had become a successful Mechanical Engineer who worked with the French government and while on an official engagement in the States, he seized that opportunity to fly into Houston to visit Patto.
It was at the balcony of Patto’s home in Houston, Texas. They had savoured a favourite meal of grilled salmon, steamed vegetables and grilled plantain. They were now washing it down with a glass of Spanish wine and having the evening air soak them.
“Dennis, you remember I promised you that one day I will tell you my story?”
“Yes you did.”
“Well after my mother and father passed away, I was shoved from one relative to another relative. All of them avoided me as a plague. They did not want to have anything to do with me. I ended up in the village with my grandmother. I started smoking weed. The people I used to smoke weed with accepted me. That became my new family. I smoked weed all through my life in secondary school up to university when I met you and you influenced me to stop smoking weed. I never told you. But I admired how you walked alone back in the university days. How you were so focused. I told myself ‘here’s Dennis he doesn’t really have friends and he’s not smoking, so I have no excuse for smoking weed. But I am aware that, it was that association with the smokers, which gave me some social life and made me pull through life. So to cut the long story short, it was this ikpo that saved me throughout my days as a youngster till I met with you and you told me to embrace the greatest high*, Zoe.”
“So sorry buddy, I never knew you had such a rough upbringing, but nevertheless, it is not an excuse for you to ruin your life with cannabis, it could lead to some mental illness you know.”
Patto shook his head in disapproval “It’s like you still do not understand my friend.”
“I don’t understand what? That you lost your parents early in life and that you and your siblings struggled to make it in life? Well, I’ll say that you were even luckier than I was in so many ways.”
“How do you mean?”
“You had parents that stayed with you for some years in your formative stage in life; you even have a grandma and two siblings who love you, but me, who do I have?”
“What exactly are you talking about?” Patto asked, frowning.
“You still don’t get it? Well, I am an orphan, I grew up in the orphanage and I don’t know who my parents are.”
Patto’s mouth fell open “You don’t say!”
“It’s true Patrick Osamudiame, alias Patto, the only thing I know about my past is that I was picked up from a refuse dump by a good Samaritan.”
“Good gracious! See my guy; you deserve to smoke ikpo more than anyone else on earth right now.”
“So when are you quitting?”
Patto paused for a while and took a good look at his little stack of cannabis sitting neatly on his kitchen table. He remembered how he used to sit in the derelict building with the bunch of hood boys, how he drew a whiff of smoke from the rolled substance every now and then and choked and coughed. No one seemed to mind him. Everybody was in their own world. Their lives depended on the rolled substance. They started their day with the rolled substance, took the substance during their break time and finished their day with the rolled substance. There was something that the rolled substance gave to them, it was companionship. The rolled substance put them in a world where they belonged. They had no family or friends who cared for them. But in this little community of sharing the rolled substance, they found comradeship, they found succor.
He remembered how difficult it was for him to quit smoking for all the duration of time that he was with Chief, he had another high* then, it was not the rolled substance, it was determination, a determination to redeem the long lost glory of his family and help his siblings become successful in life, a determination to take good care of his aged grandmother who had done so much for him and his siblings and a determination to eradicate poverty forever from his lineage.
Finally he said, “I am not an idol worshipper Dennis, but I am proud to call you my savior.”
“Hmmn, your words are pregnant with meanings Patto, as usual, but will you ever quit this substance?”
“Yes I will.”
He got up to pick his stack of cannabis, “right now my friend, this very moment” he said, throwing his little stack of cannabis into the waste bin.
Ikpo* – marijuana
Mba* – igbo word for no
Isee* – Amen or so be it
Sabibook* – a Nigerian slang for someone who is educated
High* – used in this regard to mean an influencer or an intoxicant
Cannabis* – also known as marijuana among other names, is a psychoactive drug from the Cannabis plant used for medical or recreational purposes. It can be used by smoking, vaporizing, within food, or as an extract. It has mental and physical effects, such as creating a “high” or “stoned” feeling, a general change in perception, heightened mood, and an increase in appetite.