Sitting in the derelict building with the bunch of hood boys, he drew a whiff of smoke from the rolled substance and choked and coughed. No one seemed to mind him. Everybody was in their own world. Their life 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 nor friends who cared for them. But in this little community of sharing the rolled substance, they found family, they found companionship, they found comradeship, they found succour.
Patto had just come back from the big city. He had gone to visit his paternal uncle. The encounter was not pleasant.
“Chief, we cannot have your nephew with us. We barely know him.”
“I understand, but he will be staying in the boy’s 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 worse?”
“You do not know Augusta, it might be that, this young boy, is the spark they will 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…”
Patto barged into the dining room, where his uncle, Chief and his wife were having a conversation during morning breakfast.
“Good morning uncle, good morning aunty.”
“Good morning Patto” chief responded. “Did you sleep well?”
“Good morning Patto” Augusta answered.
“Augusta, we shall conclude the conversation when I come back from work.”
As Chief was making his way to the car, Patto joined chief.
“Uncle, I would like to go back to the village tomorrow.”
“Why the rush Patto? I have been thinking of how to support you?”
“Uncle I need to go back to help grandma in the village.”
“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. Since the demise of his parents, he 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 reject him. He still remembered the numerous relatives that used to come and visit their home, when his daddy was alive. Their house was a beehive of activities. Sometimes as one relative was leaving, another 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 about 11pm and straight to bed he would go because he has 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 poisoning. His body was released to the family for funeral. After the funeral, his entitlements were paid to the family. Afua’s brothers conspired with the company and took the money – 23 million naira. They did not give Augusta, Afua’s wife a dime. Augusta went into shock after the husband’s death. One event led to the other that culminated in her demise. She left behind three children, Patto being the eldest. The children moved from one relative house to another as a flock without shepherd. Nobody wanted to take them in. Excuse upon excuse. The head of the family, Odiase who collected the money from RAC would not take in Patto’s children nor offer any kind of support for them. Patto was too young to engage the man in a fight even though he knew that money was given to uncle Odiase. The key word for them was survival.
Patto packed all his siblings, Odion and Iyase and they went back to the village to stay with their grandmother who was stricken in age, though strong and agile. She had a medium sized cash crop farm. This she used to support her grandchildren. Patto and his siblings all worked in the farm. They attended the village primary and secondary school. 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.
“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.
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.
He had overheard the conversation between his uncle and wife. He knew that the problem would be with aunty Augusta. He had offered himself that dignity to leave chief’s house before he would be ejected. He felt good about this decision. Before he left, chief had promised him that he will support him through university financially.
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.
“We know say you sabi book” 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.
“Any may you come out successful in your endeavours and bring back the golden fleece.”
“Since Aluede 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” Odion and Iyase chimed.
“Children we never pay back evil with evil”
Odion and Iyase were sobbing. Patto has been like a father to them. They all understood that he was going to be gone for good.
“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 alone. 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.”
Four years seemed to fly by. During holidays, Patto spent it with Chief. It was his way of saying thank you to Chief. Chief would usually use him as his personal assistant, to run 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.
The children of Chief 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 they didn’t like Patto and they knew that their father preferred 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 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 uni. Any little money that Patto made was sent for the upkeep of his younger siblings and maintenance of their grandma who was ‘frailing’ now. Age was catching up with her and age related ailments like arthritis were on standby.
It is commonly believed that Lagos is the land of opportunities. It is the commercial nerve centre of Nigeria. Patto put in applications everywhere he knew for a job and nothing worked. Nigeria has a teeming population of about 170 million people. About 20 million youth are looking for job opportunities. Jobs come mainly through whom you know.
Patto had 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 success but he didn’t want to feel like he has failed in the upbringing of his 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 and 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 nose, 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 will not win this war, so he gave up 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 a 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. The cruel realities of life. This was carefully orchestrated by Augusta. 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 uni. If not because of their father’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 masters’. 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 heart broken that a child 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.” When will things exactly be okay with him. Chief had been hearing this song for about 8 years.
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. Dennis was coming to the US to visit Patto. While at uni, Patto had a 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.”
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 had 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 uni 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, that 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 introduced me to the higher power.
Ikpo* – marijuana
Mba* – Igbo word for no
Isee* – so be it
Uwem Mbot Umana©2019