It is true, what a grownup sees while sitting, a child cannot see it even on a tall tree. Yes, I could not have imagined that my brother Tari would die. And it would be blamed on our kind neighbour who has always been our best friend. He told us stories, sang for us, played football with us and even danced funny dance-steps for us.
Our compound is a fenced one. No other children easily came in to play except when their mother or father brought them to see us. It was only Uncle who played with us whenever he was not busy. He gave us funny village names; sometimes Mummy put up weak protests while laughing at the concept of the names; at other times she just smiled. Imagine. Names like Brigidi, or Kirimaki, or even Odongho – which he explained was a spider. Sometimes too it was Olotu, a champion; or Otiti, a kind of bird. We also called him by these names and he would smile. Anytime he saw us, he became happy too, and we told him what we had just eaten.
‘Really?’ he would say.
‘Yes, Uncle,’ we would answer together.
‘Then, you guys won’t need food again for one week?’
‘Yes,’ Tari would answer.
‘No,’ I would say, ‘seven,’ counting my fingers, ‘seven days are too many. Somebody can die o.’
‘Yes, somebody can die.’ Tari now took side with me. He likes repeating things I say and do, and I hate it.
‘Oh, that’s interesting. But I can fast for one week,’ Uncle would say.
‘What is fast, Uncle?’ I would ask.
‘Ah, there you go, boy. Fasting means staying away from food.’
‘Ah, that means I even know what fasting is,’ I rejoiced.
‘Smart boy!’ he remarked.
Yesterday afternoon, Tari and I went out into the compound to play football. Mummy was fast asleep in the bedroom. Daddy had travelled but was due to return. With the ball clutched under my armpit I ran out, leading the way. Tari followed. Outside, we found Uncle dinning on some attractive-looking meal. I forget about the ball and found myself in front of the meal. It was noodles. Well prepared. And Uncle ate like he really was enjoying it. My eyes followed as his fork took the always-slipping delicacy into his mouth. When his mouth opened, I saw Tari’s mouth open up too, and then I closed mine.
I asked to have some for Tari and me.
Tari stuck out his hand and opened his palm. Uncle used his free hand to push Tari’s hand down. ‘Go and play football.’
‘No!’ we retorted together.
The sweet smell of the meal constantly stuck out like a finger and poked my nose. Uncle just kept munching and closing his eyes. He even rubbed his head. I hated him immediately.
He began to hum a tune. Tari was ready to keep standing there. I was not ready for such. Bad man, I thought, see how his goatee jumps about with the food in his mouth. I took Tari by his hand and was going to walk away with him. But rather, Tari wrenched off his hand. I was angry. I left him there and went over to the entrance to our sitting room and sat, watching him.
Uncle finished everything, gathered his plates and disappeared into his room.
In the evening as we watched Ben 10, Daddy arrived. Mummy was in the kitchen. I ran out to greet him and carry his bag. When I met him at the door, he asked for Tari. I explained that he was in the palour. Before we got to the palour, Tari was walking slowly towards us to greet Daddy. Daddy carried him up to his bosom.
‘Daddy, welcome,’ he said coldly.
‘Ah, this boy is running temperature!’ he observed.
Mummy also came out to greet Daddy. I carried Daddy’s bag into the bedroom. When I returned, they had sat Tari in our cushion, and were checking him. They asked him if he was hungry. In reply he said he needed a drink of water. Mummy brought him a glass of water. I sat in the chair across him and watched. I knew Tari had been upset since the time Uncle did not give us his food. After Tari had taken about three gulps of the water, he began to throw up, spoiling the cushion. Ah, I thought, this serious? Daddy had left for his bedroom when he said he needed just a drink of water. Now he came back, looking surprised when I announced that Tari was vomiting. Then Tari began to behave as if he played a dying man – roving his eyes strangely. Daddy was there in time to see this. Daddy grabbed him and started shouting his name. I was confused. In another while, he seemed to have regained himself. Mummy was already praying and crying.
She turned to me: ‘Did anyone give you something to eat outside?’
It was obvious Uncle was not at home, he would have ran into our house now like he did the day Mummy was rushed to the hospital when she gave birth to Tari.
‘It was Uncle who refused to give Tari his Indomie’ ‘Shut up! How are you sure he did not give him when you were not there?’
‘I was there, Mummy, he finished it even when Tari showed he was hungry.’
‘I see – ‘ Her countenance changed from allegation back to fear.
This morning we returned from the hospital. Tari was fine now. Uncle had noticed that we did not sleep at home that evening. He called me to himself, and asked what the matter was. I told him of the sickness of Tari, and the question Mummy asked me about him.
‘Ah, please, tell me what you told her!’ he demanded of me.
I saw an apprehensive reaction to Mummy’s question written in bold letters on his face. I could not put all these together.
‘But Uncle, you didn’t give us your food na, did you?’ I meant, actually, to accuse him.
‘Sorry, I didn’t, Sammy.’
‘It’s OK. But why didn’t you? Were you afraid of my mummy?’
‘Not really,’ he said calmly; and reflecting, he said: ‘My own mama taught me to be careful with giving food to other people’s children.’
‘Why?’ I asked further.
He looked at me in the eyes. ‘You don’t want to know why Mummy asked you that question about me, do you?’