When I heard my name from behind the house I quickly dropped the gun I was holding. I had made it out of a piece of wood my dad had left behind after making Nene’s cupboard. I wiped my hands on my shirt and ran quickly to answer the call. If I was late I would be knocked. I had been knocked severally. I think the knocks remained in my consciousness so much I couldn’t afford another. Through the curved backyard of the house I appeared before my mother. She looked up and saw me. She did not look surprised. She inspected my hands and saw that they were clean.
‘What were you doing out there?’
I studied her face to see if there was any trace of anger so I would know what appropriate answer to give to her question. Hers was a straight face, but not of anger.
‘I was playing, ma’ I uttered.
‘Playing. Playing. Don’t you ever get tired?’
I remained quiet. I stood there for some more minutes and she threw away the water she was washing with.
‘Go to Nene’s house. Tell her your mum sent you for your dad’s money. What did I say?’
I looked up at her and saw the eager wait not to falter.
‘You said I should go to Nene and collect papa’s money.’
‘I want you to mention my name. Nene would not give you that money unless she knows I sent you on behalf of your father. So repeat what I said.’
I swallowed saliva so much that my throat became tighter. I opened my mouth to recite what she had said but words would not come out. My heart had started pounding. My mother moved some steps closer to me. I moved two steps backward.
‘You are getting older. And I am sure God has not given you a coconut head. You should be able to recall what I just told you. It’s simple. They are words that you are used to. Or is any one strange?’
I maintained some quiet.
‘I am asking you, is there any part of the message that is strange to you?’
I nodded. She looked at me keenly.
‘So tell me, what part didn’t you understand?’
I coughed to be sure I was not dumb.
‘The part where you said I should tell her that you said I should tell her that I am sent to collect papa’s money and that you sent me.’
‘Ehen. What is confusing there? You just narrated all I told you but in a longer sentence though. So what is the problem?’
Tears fell from my eyes. ‘Nene’s place is far. By the time I would get there I might have forgotten the message. I think it is long. Maybe you should make it shorter.’
She smiled. I knew she was not amused but upset.
‘Shorter? How shorter can that be? You are to collect your dad’s money from Nene, telling her I sent you instead of telling her your dad sent you. That’s all I said oh. And you, a 5-year old would not cease to be confused. Chai! Wonder shall never end. Now before I close and open my eyes you had better delivered that message or your dinner would be ten strokes of the cane’.
Before she opened her eyes I was gone. No one waits for mama to open her eyes. I sang the message and walked the long distance watching the birds and some careless squirrels that cross my path. Along the way I saw a tree with no leaves but nests. Weaver-birds made all the noise. I admired their community and wished I could be invited to fellowship with them someday, and learn of the usual chirping.
I greeted those I met on the way and they waved back at me. Those who didn’t know me asked fellow pedestrians and I heard them say I am the son of that carpenter. Some continued the gossip. Others admired my head; it’s uniquely large shape and smiled along. I smiled also and walked on. I eventually met some peers who were playing football. They were not much. About four or so, but they definitely needed an extra leg. I joined. I played until someone kicked the air-filled balloon of a football and it exploded. I waved them goodbye and went to see Nene.
I eventually got there drenched in sweat. I knocked on Nene’s door and she opened. When Nene opened the door I knew I was dead. I could not recall a word of all I had been singing all along. She stood there, awkwardly looking at me. I tried to recall the rhythm of the song-message but nothing came to my head.
‘So why are you here?’ she asked.
‘I came to greet you, auntie.’
Then she smiled.
‘Oh, why didn’t you say so? That’s so good of you. You are a great son of a carpenter. Nice. But I will be going out in a second. But for your kind gesture, hold on. I shall be back in seconds.’
I waited thinking of my mother and all the warning she had given to me. Nene appeared through the door and handed me roasted corn and a single but well roasted pear. She blew the dust off it and handed them to me. I thanked her sincerely but could not cry since I knew I had been there for a different purpose. Nene walked away to her destination and bade me farewell. I sat by her door and munched the corn and the pear. I enjoyed it but I didn’t forget that I would have to cry it out when returned to my mother without a message or her money. As I chewed I could recall mum’s drama. By the time the corn and the pear were finished I had recalled the rhythm of the message. Life beamed in me. But when I ran to reach Nene she was gone.