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Literature

Our Other Story – A Short Story on the Pains of Our Dreams and Realities – O. N. Michael

  • November 21, 2023
  • 11 min read
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Our Other Story – A Short Story on the Pains of Our Dreams and Realities – O. N. Michael

We used to live a good life, but just right ahead lay our downfall.

I picked up the call when the phone rang the third time.

“Hello…”

Papa’s voice sounded as cold as death. He only had one thing to say.

Come home…

After five years, I was finally going back to my family. Even when the beeping phone slipped through my fingers and fell to the concrete floor, I still had yet to move an inch from where I stood. What kept me frozen wasn’t the reality that I was going to be confronting the people I once called family after five years of hiding, but the memories of the past as they gushed through my subconscious like a raging flood, replaying one after the other like a horror story.

This horror story, I rewatched as I packed my things for home.

It began with Papa. Most of the time, in Africa, and most especially in a country like Nigeria, the story we had to tell – our stories – began with our fathers. Mine was no different. I remember the memory of a long time ago, such far-fetched memory that beyond it, there was nothing but empty space. I was perhaps four years old at the time.

We lived in the ever-dynamic city of Lagos in a rented apartment not so far from a pharmacy Papa ran alongside Mama. He wasn’t a pharmacist, but he always wished to be so he always had one on the counter to run the business. This was the prologue of my story and it was all about the blissful life I lived. We were a comfortable family and being a child, everything I wanted I got. I spent most of the time with my elder sister, watching movies, reading novels, and creating comic characters. We never thought outside the box.

If I should tell the story the way it played in my head, I saw the fortune of my father in my exquisite room, beautiful clothes, polished shoes, luxurious items, and a comfortable bed one night. I fell to my cozy mattress and rested my head on a soft, puffy pillow, asleep.

I woke up on a mat, on a rough concrete floor with my head pounding and nothing in the room but a pair of shoes, clothes stacked in a corner, and school bags hanging off nails hit into a wall yet to be plastered. I remembered the story that way but there were years between the two occurrences, a transition that changed our lives forever.

If only Papa had been an educated man, perhaps the story would have been different, because the story of our poverty began when Papa signed off his entire fortune to his “best friend.” The devil that deceived Papa with fake smiles and disgusting companionship went by the name – Idahosa. At least, I got to find out about this as I grew older. Nevertheless, ever since Papa made the mistake of his life and lost to the man he had once trusted to stand by him, we had been thrown to streets like gluttons at a naming ceremony.

As I said, Papa began it all.

It then happened that we needed to work at the right, hustle at the left, and strife to make both ends meet. Nothing was working out as planned. Papa was in a marriage with a woman he loved and stuck with five children, me being the second. 

We resolved to farm.

Papa gathered lands from different individuals who had bought them and left them to lie fallow and worked on them. In no time, we had up to eight plots. We would wake up as early as six in the morning, I and three years younger brother, say our prayers in tears, and leave with Papa with hoes on our shoulders, cutlasses in our hands, and sleep in our eyes. The job of creating ridges, pulling out stubborn grasses, and stabbing cassava stems into the ground will begin afterward and continue until noon when the son was too harsh and my brother and I were fainting. 

We continued this way for a long time.

It was in the middle of this moment that Mama became the center of our story.

It began with the cursed day Mama chose to “contribute her quota” to the family’s struggles. She began the business of smoking hake fish and selling them at a major market. The more she smoked the fish, the more she took into her lungs the weapon that tore her health apart.

The danger of what Mama was doing never occurred to any of us. Even Mama never showed a sign to make any of us suspect something would go wrong. It just happened when she collapsed on a sunny afternoon, after smoking the fish and piling them in a bucket to take to the market.

We thought we were going through the hardships of poverty until the crisis of health came into play as well. Now we weren’t living from hand to mouth. We were living on our hands alone. There was nothing left for the mouth as we carried Mama from one hospital to the other in search of the miracle doctor that would cure her of the destructive disease of her damaged lungs. Papa was too poor to afford the level of treatment that Mama needed. He called out to all the people he called “family” – people he was related to by blood, people he had taken under his wings, people he had trained in businesses – but got no response.

It changed Papa…

He became a shadow of himself and was locked into his own reality that he forgot just how much his children needed him at the moment. Sister left soon after in search of greener pastures and a way to cope as she grew into womanhood. I was present as the man of the house to look after my three younger brothers but soon, I began to feel my stronghold break as well.

I left…

It was at this point that I became the center of my story. Thrown into the deadly streets of Lagos, a life I never imagined began for me. It was all my worst nightmares coming true. I wanted to be the man to return with a change to my family’s story so I strived. I worked day and night, serving one master after the other but could never gather anything to make a difference.

It wasn’t long before I realized that I couldn’t keep working for others. I had to become the boss of my career. It was during this phase of my life that I tried to learn a skill that would bring me the independence I needed.

Still, there were no opportunities available to me to learn such skills in the wild streets and when I couldn’t find one, I joined the line of kill or be killed again and struggled to work under people who had established themselves.

Who knew five years went by so quickly?

Standing now in front of the hospital that matched the address I was given, I realized that after five years, all I had acquired as my properties were lessons.

I made long strides into the reception and greeted the woman I met over the counter. When I made a description of who I was present to meet, her welcoming, all-out attitude turned to a cold, gloomy stare. She directed me to proceed into the corridors of the hospital. At this point, I could not think straight. All I had in my mind were questions as to why my father had texted a hospital address and not home. 

There was another part of the story I dared not move my mind to.

As I turned with the directions the nurse had given me, I froze in awe as I stared into eyes I had grown up staring into.

Papa…

He had changed so much. He had aged so much. 

I felt the awkward silence around us as we kept the stare for what seemed like an eternity. Papa was the one who looked away first. It was at that point I became conscious of what lay in my environment and of the tearful murmurs coming from the room behind Papa.

Papa now had his head bowed, unable to look up at me again. I couldn’t tell if it was a product of shame or disregard. I was just as ashamed of myself as he could ever be of himself. What drew me in now was the room behind him. As I drew closer, Papa took a posture that gave me a space to look in. 

Standing by the door, I found Sister. She was with our younger brothers, each of them looking all grown as they wept together, clutching the unyielding woman that lay on the bed.

Mama…

My mama.

Sister had caught sight of me by the door, but turned away, too focused on weeping.

Like a frozen human, I turned away from the sight and staggered through the way I had come, not sure if I was really existing or perhaps, I was only in a dream.

It was at this point of my trance that the theme of my story – the story of my family – dawned on me. As I heard my family wail and weep, I knew who to blame – the country.

There and then, I saw a light; another version of our story, rewritten with a happy ending.

It began with the poverty of our father, and if more people would not end up like him, more people needed to be sent to school. If Papa had been an educated man, he would have known what something as irrelevant as a signature would have cost him.

The government shouldn’t be so far away from the people. The people of the country were willing to work; Papa was, I was…

There was a need to create more employment opportunities for people who wished to work. Perhaps, Papa would have been able to cater for us and we wouldn’t be so distracted with the farm to forget Mama. Maybe if Papa was working, Mama wouldn’t have needed to contribute anything. Mama may have found a job as well and never begun the career that would throw everyone to dust.

I kept building the other story…

If the prices of things in a city such as Lagos didn’t keep inflating, perhaps, despite the little income that got to our hands, we could have lived through every day. At that point in our lives, even a government program that shared meals for those who couldn’t afford one could have gone a long way in righting our story, but there was none.

If poverty was inevitable, Mama’s situation could have been remedied. If the hospitals offered the best quality services at affordable prices, Mama would have been cured. The government needed to strengthen the healthcare system; occupy it with a workforce willing to make sacrifices to save human life, and not one passionate about what they stood to gain alone. There should be programs reaching out to people with health conditions, reminding the masses that their lives mattered more than the money that came into the system. Just a medical program that offered free treatments to people with lung conditions would have saved Mama’s life.

Then came the part where I would never forgive myself – when I left. If I had the skill I needed to be there for my family, I would have never left them in search of greener pastures.

The government needed to remind the youths that the greener pastures dwelt within them. A skillful, financial, and educational empowerment program could have made me and Sister into the children of salvation we wanted to become.

There were so many tendencies…

If more people would not end up like Mama, what needed to be done, must be done.

About Author

Okpala Michael

"Behold He Whom You Shall Call King..." WRITER| MODEL | POET | AUTHOR | NOVELIST | THESPIAN At Your Service. Follow and Link Up!

2 Comments

  • What a grief… A motherland where grief is a surname to all citizen… Powerful Mike

    • It’s only God that can stand for Africa now. Thank you, great brother!

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