Chike’s grandmother was an avid lover of nature. She was fascinated by pristine water gushing from dirty rocks, dwarf plants bearing fruits larger than footballs, the whistling of dry grasses and the rada dada da sound of rain hitting the zinc roof of her late husband’s bungalow.
Chike was the son of her only daughter, Utobem, who eloped with her lover after having him in an undisclosed maternity home. She had heard about his birth from the mouth of a notorious gossip. In disbelief, she ran to the location and found Utobem, unashamedly sleeping with her still-protruding belly.
Although it’s been eleven years, she remembers how scared she was on the day of his circumcision when he wouldn’t stop bleeding. She had lost her only son to circumcising but here he was, twelve and affable. He never stops talking about his love for football and dreams of becoming a Dortmund striker.
But she wanted him to become a scientist and find a cure to aging. She wanted to be present at his 50th birthday party, to know how he eventually turned out. She always saw him as a little boy whom the cruel world was waiting to pounce upon. If she could protect him from all these by becoming a superwoman, she would go the full hug.
However, old age was fast creeping her. She was sixty-three and recently, her doctor talked to her about hypertension. She wasn’t compliant with her medication and he feared that she might suffer a stroke, if she didn’t improve. Her bones have become weaker and she now walked with a stick.
When he wanted to be naughty, Chike would mimic the way she walked and joke about the deep and saggy wrinkles on her face and brown spots on the white of her eyes. She would smile and pout her cheeks for him to deflate and release a bang. They are a happy duo, when he isn’t being defiant.
One afternoon, she slept off on the couch and did not hear her alarm ring for Chike‘s football match at the school football field which was adjacent her house. He ran out of the bedroom with his Nike boots in one hand and a bottle of water in the other. He left through the back door and zoomed out of the compound.
He had expected her to say, ‘be careful, Chike’, like she usually did but he was already too late for his game and could not go back to ensure that she knew he was leaving.
He heard a familiar voice humming a song in the bush along the track that led to the football field and ran towards the direction of the voice. Alas! It was the gardener. His grandmother’s flower hedge was so big that it would take a gardener working seven hours a day for the 365 days in a year to keep it in good shape.
He beckoned on him to come but the little boy was wondering what he was doing there all alone. On his way out, he had seen someone pruning the flower hedge and wondered if there was an impostor in their home. He made to run back home to fetch his grandmother but she had warned him severally never to interrupt her sleep.
He dropped his boots and water bottle and ran to the Gardener.
“What are you doing here?” he asks.
“I am just enjoying the cool breeze.”
Looking up, Chike pulled at the gardener’s overalls and said, “Take this off. Aren’t you feeling hot?”
The gardener flashes a dark smile at him and pulls out a stick of cigarette from his breast pocket and lit it with a lighter. Chike watched as he sucked on the cigar and puffed a thick cloud of smoke into the air while broadening his smile.
The old man told him to run along with his friends and leave him to enjoy some serenity but Chike remained adamant. He wanted some of the gardener’s cigar. Although the smell of the burning cigarette made him choke, his curiosity got the best of him.
All his life, he had never seen the gardener that content and happy. He knew him as a grumpy, old man who complained about everything. The gardener noticed the manner in which Chike’s eyes fixated on his lips and let out a shrill. It was his attempt at laughter but ended up sounding like the kind of yelling that makes one’s heart jump into one’s stomach.
Chike sensed pandemonium as his friends rushed towards the tree trunk where he sat with the gardener. It was quite unexpected because they never sought after a missing teammate. It was when he heard his grandmother’s voice that he knew he had fallen into a sack of trouble and wriggling himself out of it was not going to be an easy task.
She was furiously walking towards him with her stick in hand and pulling a scared, little girl in the other hand. Her eyes were red from crying and phlegm ran down her cheeks. A dirty sling bag sat across her chest and bits of leaves were scattered all over her blue dress.
“I have done everything I can for you but you don’t want to leave this little boy alone,” his grandmother started to say as soon as she got to the spot where they sat. Her feeble voice wavered as she spoke.
Chike wanted to stand but he was seeing double images of his grandmother and everyone else. He staggered to the ground and lay there like a log with a half-burnt cigarette stick in his hand. His grandmother kicked it out of his hand and ordered the boys to jack him up.
“You are the cause of your misfortune, old woman,” the grumpy gardner said. He detested his life but had to push himself to get by each day because of his daughter. He was Chike’s grandmother’s youngest sibling.
It was rumored that she had sent her sister-in-law to her early grave after she hit her with a ladle during an altercation. The little girl was her niece but she preferred to relate with them as total strangers.
After his wife died, he insisted his sister took over care of his family but with yen backing of her husband, she refused on the grounds that he was an unambitious lowlife and should be made to face his responsibility.
He wasted all the money she sent for their upkeep on gambling, drinking and smoking, soaring nothing for his daughter’s education. To keep him under close watch, she invited them to live in her matrimonial home after her husband death and before Chike was born.
All he had to do was prune the garden but somehow, he managed to force his daughter to do his job while he continued his mission of wasting his life. Now that she caught him giving her grandchild cigarette to smoke, the battle line had been drawn. He would be under twenty-four hours surveillance, and any bad move will land him in the custody of the Isikoji Vigilante, who are known to be more brutal than Amadioha, the god of lightning.