A wise man once told me that life is all about fighting successive and unending battles. And nothing else. That we plunge head-on into them, drawing courage from the hope of obtaining a glorious victory. That the very minute one battle ends another starts. This we must continue till we breathe our last.
I’m forced to incline with this man. For heaven knows I’ve been fighting one particular battle since I was a little kid. A battle I can’t run away from even if I want to. Every day I feel the thick cloud of doom circling over my head. Somberness licking my bones like a tongue of fire and sucking away any remnant of hope left in me. How do I battle what I do not feel nor touch and expect a victory? What possibility is there that I will win a battle I didn’t choose to fight? I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions. But one thing I do know for sure is that: as long as blood keeps flowing through my veins I’ll not give up.
Not to something as insignificant as a mere guava tree!
As a little kid I had a strong penchant for fruits. I loved eating them more than anything else. I preferred them to real food anytime, anywhere.
Dad said the reason I loved fruits so much was probably because mum loved eating them when she was pregnant with us. It could be possible. After all we ate whatever she ate. So it was likely we took to fruits after being fed with so much of it while we were still in mum’s stomach. I didn’t agree with dad though. Because if it were to be true, Ebuka would have loved eating fruits like I do. In fact he preferred banana to others, whereas I ate anything tagged fruit. And Ada said banana was mum’s least favourite.
Anyway, Dad made sure we never lacked fruits in the house. He worked in Benin and whenever he was returning home he carried with him a heavy bag filled with assorted kinds of fruits. Those moments were like Christmas for me. I wouldn’t have any other thing but the fruits. I would pounce on them, munch them with gusto, smacking and licking my lips till they were completely devoured.
In as much as I loved eating fruits, I loved planting them the more. Whatever seed I could lay my hands upon ended up being buried in the soil all around our house. Our house was a four-room structure surrounded by an expanse of fertile soil. There was much space for my numerous seeds to germinate. Every morning I would water the whole compound because I couldn’t keep track of where I planted them anymore. I would nurture them like a mother nurtures a child. At the first sign of a sprout my joy would know no bounds and I would envision what they would look like they grew.
Unfortunately, my twin brother would not allow them grow into maturity.
Ebuka and I had a very complicated relationship. We hardly agree on anything and we pretty much fought over everything. He hated whatever I liked and I liked whatever he hated. So while I loved planting seeds, Ebuka loved uprooting them, especially the ones I planted. He developed this annoying habit of tracking any seed I planted around the house and uprooting them before they got the chance to mature. Hell would be let loose whenever he did that. I would charge at him and we would start our legendary fight. We fought so often that our elder sister grew tired of trying to separate us.
Mum had died while giving birth to Ebuka and I. That sort of made our elder sister the mother of the house, causing her to have an envious influence on dad, which sometimes didn’t sit well with Ebuka and I- the only thing we ever agreed upon. Dad listened to practically everything she said. We were forced to too because she was much older than us and dad wouldn’t take it lightly with us if he ever heard we disobeyed her. Just the mention of dad would get us scurrying to do anything she wanted. But it never worked whenever we were fighting and that used to piss her off. In order to minimize the fights, she told dad to stop bringing fruits home. And dad gladly complied.
I was devastated. I carried a long face for days but my anger wouldn’t solve anything. I pleaded with dad that we wouldn’t fight anymore but he wouldn’t budge. I blamed it on Ebuka and he blamed it on me. We both became bored. There were no more seeds for me to plant and Ebuka couldn’t find any plant to uproot anymore. We sulked within ourselves and silently directed daggers at our sister.
“Boys! I’m going to the market. Who wants to go with me?” Ada announced one morning.
Ebuka turned to me. “I thought you don’t like going to the market.”
“I don’t want to stay alone in the house this time.”
“You, liar too!”
“Ada, don’t take him with you. He’s up to something.”
“It’s you who’s up to something!”
“Enough, both of you! If you want to go then go and get ready or I’ll leave both of you behind.”
With that we scampered off, dragging ourselves and aiming to be the first person to enter the bathroom even though we always took our baths together.
We got dressed in a matching outfit and followed our sister to the market.
I never liked going to the market. I’d gone with Ada once and it was a terrible experience. The place was too rowdy and dirty. Some of the marketeers wouldn’t stop rubbing our hair as if they’d never seen identical twins before. I’d vowed never to return to the market after that day. I had to this time for one particular reason: to get seeds to plant as the seeds I used to see lying helplessly on the ground earlier had all vanished, gone when they were needed most.
On our away around the section of the market that sold foodstuffs, I saw a half-eaten guava on the floor. I stepped back immediately, picked it up and pocketed it. My pocket bulged a little. To evade capture I had to put my hands in my pockets as we moved around the market.
The moment we got home I surreptitiously buried the guava in front of our house. I watered it each morning before anyone else woke up. This I did till the guava seed sprouted. Then I prayed really hard that Ebuka would allow this one to grow.
Alas! My prayer wasn’t answered.
I woke up late because I had played Sega all night. When I remembered I hadn’t watered my plant I ran off with a jar of water to water it, only to see Ebuka smiling mischievously at me, a sprout dangling in his right hand. It was my plant. Raw anger ceased me immediately. I dropped the jar on the floor and charged at him. Within moments we were rolling on the floor, punching and biting each other. We fought till we got tired of fighting. Ada vowed never to take us with her to the market again.
The next morning I dawdled to the front of the house to mourn my plant. To my surprise the guava was still rooted into the ground. At first ecstasy blinded me to reason. Then I began to wonder how possible could that be. I was certain Ebuka uprooted it yesterday? Maybe he reburied it to mock me? I squatted and carefully examined it by giving it a slight tug. It was firm on the ground and didn’t look like it had just been buried. I stood back up. Maybe Ebuka uprooted the wrong plant? I shrugged and then watered it.
My guava grew as I grew. Sometimes I compared its height with mine. At first it grew really fast, faster than I grew. Then it stopped growing and began bearing fruits. Even though I loved the fruits I wasn’t that happy. It didn’t grow like I thought it would. In fact it grew into the weirdest guava tree I had ever seen.
I stood at 4.7 feet tall, pretty short for a 10-year-old yet I was taller than the tree. Its bark was as dry and rough as a whistling-pine tree. It had few yellow-tinged leaves and produced very few fruits. However, the fruits were very big, as big as the size of a big avocado pear and were very tasty. The first day I plucked it I was so happy that I even shared it with Ebuka but he refused.
Ebuka was afraid of the tree, something I couldn’t quite wrap my head around. He claimed he’d uprooted the plant several times but it kept growing. He also claimed he saw the tree walking in his dreams. He’d tried everything within his power to convince dad to cut it down but I’d stood my ground. Nobody was going to cut down my tree. My guava tree!
On a Saturday morning six months after I plucked the fruits, I woke up to find the tree gone. Disappeared. Vanished without a single trace it had ever been there. If I hadn’t been the one that planted it and watched it grow, I would never have believed a tree had been standing there. In its wake was smooth and untouched sand. Such phenomenon was a rare experience to me. Thus I didn’t know if I should feel confused or scared. I ran back inside and told Ada and Ebuka. They thought I was joking and rushed outside to verify for themselves. When they couldn’t find the tree their faces took the shade of horror. Ebuka was the most affected. He perspired and became hysterical.
“I told you! I told you that tree is evil, that we should cut it down but you won’t listen. You want to eat guava! Oya eat guava!”
I stared at Ebuka, speechless. How could a tree just vanish like that?
Ada immediately called dad on the phone and told him what happened. He didn’t believe it. He told us to remain calm till he got back. But it was difficult to. Ebuka wouldn’t stop shaking. His body became hotter and hotter with each passing moment. Ada gave him drugs but it only seemed to worsen the illness.
“Ada, is he going to get better?”
“I hope he does.” Ada covered him with a blanket. “Stay with him I’m coming.”
“Where’re you going to?” I asked, frightened.
“I’m coming,” she said and ran out of the house.
I looked at Ebuka, hot tears dripping down my cheek. He was shivering uncontrollably. Beads of sweat dampened his forehead. I shook him lightly. “Ebuka! Ebuka! Ebuka don’t die! Please don’t die!” I wiped the sweat from his forehead with a cloth.
Ada came back with our neighbor, a short swarthy man with a large face and porky nose.
“Good evening sir,” I greeted him, rising to my feet.
“Evening. What’s wrong with him?”
“The tree in-”
“He suddenly fell sick,” Ada cut me off.
“And he’s been like this since morning.”
He moved toward Ebuka and placed his hand on his forehead.
“His head is burning. We need to take him to the hospital right away. Let me go get my car.”
He turned and left.
He returned with his Peugeot car. He lifted Ebuka on his shoulder and carried him to the car. We got in and he drove us to a nearby hospital. Ada and I slept at the hospital with Ebuka.
That night I had a terrible dream.
Our house was gone. Instead I was standing right where it used to sit, facing a scary old woman. She was standing at the very spot the guava tree had stood and was leaning on a walking stick. A full moon hung above, bathing over us and giving the old woman an increased sense of macabre. Her head was bald and her skin was shriveled like the back of a dried cocoa pod. All over her dead skin ran bulging green veins. She reeked of death but her eyes were as sharp as that of a hawk’s. They were trained on me, boring into my soul and draining it out of my skin. I felt my entire body shaking. I could neither move nor utter a word. She pointed a crooked finger at me and opened her mouth, revealing tobacco-stained teeth. Instantly, a groundswell of fear slithered down my spine. At that moment I thought I was going to die, that she was going to kill me. My soul had already fled my body. But she merely said thank you and disappeared with the moon. That was when I woke up beside my brother’s bed at the hospital, my heart beating so fast the sound could be heard from across the room.
We never returned to our house after that incident. We were all too scared to. We lived for a few days in our auntie’s- dad’s sister- home before Dad put the house in the market and took us with him to Benin.
Benin got to be a good place to live in, better than Orlu. We blended in and set about a normal life, trying not to allow the memories of the mysterious incident to haunt us. There were no more disturbing nightmares. Ebuka recovered fully. Ada got admitted to Ille-Ife and visited home often. I made new friends and vowed never to plant trees anymore. Things returned to the way they were before I planted the guava tree.
It wasn’t until the last quarter of the fifth year of our stay in Benin that the tree returned.
Copyright © 666BC-3666AD by Nwaokafor Fran6.