LIFE FALLS APART
It was early morning and the cock crowed to announce to the world that it was time to awake. The village soon came alive with the sounds of an African forest waking up, as the sun began to peep through the clouds. The day made unspoken promises that it would be better than the one before. However it never quite managed it. The promises were usually empty, and a better day only ever proved to be as evasive as a mirage.
Obi was born in this remote village which was east of the Niger. His father Chima was a poverty stricken simple farmer, who spent most of his life struggling to provide for his family. Life was exceptionally tough because Chima had three wives and fourteen children as well as himself to feed. Each wife had her own hut where she and her children lived, and depending on his mood, he flitted from one hut to the other. As hard as he worked, and as tired as he got, he always had time and energy for his women. They were his one enjoyment in life and the reward he felt he deserved, for working so terribly hard to continuously try and make ends meet.
Time flew quickly and the in tense and suffocating heat of the afternoon had disappeared abruptly, as the sun had gone down for the day. In its place was a gentle breeze that played teasingly with the leaves of the trees in the compound. Even the chickens headed back to their pen. Obi sat on a mat spread out on the ground in front of his mothers hut, watching the wonder of nature prepare for the night ahead. His thoughts however were miles away as he indulged himself, day dreaming about another life somewhere else. For such a little boy, he was fed up with the hardship of life. Instinctively he knew there had to be more to life than this. His little heart ached for a better day. He longed for the day he would have enough food to eat, nice clothes to wear, and a chance to play with his friends.
As he pondered these things he watched the lizards playing and chasing one another. The rainy season was cruelly delayed and things went from bad to worse. Chima’s farm failed miserably, and was therefore unable to produce the crop he had hoped for. As a result there was hardly anything to sell at the market and consequently his family suffered. Some nights Obi had to go to bed hungry as there was just nothing left to eat. He learned early that the sooner he went to bed and fell asleep, the less his belly hurt with hunger pangs. Eventually things got so bad that it was painfully obvious that something had to be done to preserve life, which would otherwise ebb away.
In a desperate attempt to divert the inevitable disaster of death by starvation, and ease the terrible burden, an urgent family meeting was called. After careful consideration, Chima proposed an idea that he thought would work. He believed it could turn out to be the perfect solution, and the salvation of them all. After much deliberation it was decided that seven year old Obi should be sent away from the village to the city to work, to bring in some much needed money.
Adaku, Obi’s mother felt an unspeakable anguish in the very depths of her soul, but held her tongue. She knew better than to oppose her husband even though she couldn’t imagine her baby boy leaving her side. Adaku was well aware that as Chima was the head of the family he had the final word on the subject. Besides it was more than that she reasoned with herself. The truth was that if she objected there would be no family left anyway. This particular hardship was overwhelming and they would surely all starve to death. She had not been able to come up with any other inspired revelation regarding a solution. She had wracked her brain but remained unable to suggest what would be a better course of act ion. She resorted to literally biting down on her bottom lip in an effort to keep her mouth shut, and her objections to herself. It took everything she had, to focus on stifling the powerful maternal instinct she could feel threatening to engulf her and take over.
Adaku couldn’t bear the thought that her fine boy would no longer sit chatting with her in the kitchen, watching her cook. Up until now it had been her job to guard him jealously, and she had always done her best to discourage him from any activities that might hurt him. Now however because of unfavourable circumstances, things were literally being ripped out of her control. She felt as if she was being made redundant, and there was absolutely nothing she could do about it.
According to this master plan Obi would become a servant, ‘a house boy’ to another family and receive wages. His job would consist of cooking, washing, cleaning, going to market to buy household supplies, and being a general dog’s body in any way the family required. It was agreed that these wages would be kept safely for him by his employers, until he was old enough to handle the money himself. When there was enough of an accumulation, it was hoped that there would be enough to help feed his starving family. This seemed like the ultimate answer to all their problems. Perhaps there would even be enough money to do repairs to the family mud houses. They could build back the walls that had begun to crumble, and fix the many leaks in each thatched roof! It was a miracle that the huts had not collapsed yet!
All the relevant enquiries and arrangements were made as soon as possible, even before Obi had time to get used to the idea of having to leave home. He was leaving so much behind, his mother, his siblings, and the village he had never left before! As harsh as life had been for little Obi, at least things at home were familiar. Now he was going out into the big wide world all by himself, and smack bang into the unknown. As he was just a seven year old child he had no say or choice in the matter. Ofcourse there was no question of him not doing as he was told. He didn’t have a clue what to expect so he felt scared and very much all alone.
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