He could have been known as an old retched wizard, but it is now left for him to decide the truth after a wealthy man dies…
My uncle lived most of the important aspect of his life at the other side of the day. He could have been the head master to the only primary school in the whole of Ekemwan village until the world ended and yet none of the teachers there would have ever remembered him because he drifted mindlessly across life in the mornings and afternoons. He sipped his morning tea very lazily like he was sure that the rest of his life would remain boring and then he moved like a zombie to work. His wife Oghosa or as I usually called her, Aunty, would look at him silently every morning and then laugh sarcastically before returning back to her tray of half peeled melons and busy hands. I do not know exactly when their marriage turned to this but I do know that she could count how many times he had spoke to her since I got here six years ago. He was really as tight as a coffin when it came to his problems.
His six foot something son, Osahon never bothered to laugh or even shake his head. He was one year younger and six inches taller than me. He did not waste his time with any problems he could not punch until they went away. He would probably be on his way to the river to bully children who were still bathing instead of getting ready for school. He was supposed to be done with primary school by now but no one here seemed to remember he was now four years late. People have gotten tired of reporting him to his father because he even barely listened as the parent whose child has been recently bullied by him talked on and on. My uncle was too busy looking forward to the only thing in his life that wasn’t anywhere near as boring as the thread mill of his work, that special thing that only happened at night.
He never told anyone his problems because he could look up to the stars and the moon if present and talk with so much hope and enthusiasm. He sniffed boxes and boxes of tobacco on those occasions that his nostrils grew wide and grey permanently. He sat on a mat, in the frontage that belonged to a very miserly Makku. He laughed a lot too with this retched and ancient old man that would never have made the friendship list of any sane person in this village. My uncle was rich enough to make mingle with the chiefs but he chose a man that couldn’t risk laughing so much or his lungs might explode.
Makku was very skinny and there was not a single dark hair left on his head. He was the only foreigner who lived and grew old here in the history of this village. He had mingled with the folks long enough to blend in and yet he didn’t. He had this aura of mystery that hung around him with sharp claws that scared friends away and probably made him so damn skinny. Nobody still knows where exactly he came from. He still had an accent that seemed to live in his nose as he spoke bini on those few occasions that he spoke.
He was known as a lot of things, a spirit, wizard, ghost, and very commonly, honest. The last quality was the one that everyone could agree on. People here did believe that he had never told a lie (not that he spoke very often) and he could never cheat a baby so anyone with a spare kobo could give it to him and not worry about it. He had a mountain of strange metal boxes stacked in the garage of his decaying house. I have never seen anything like those boxes before in my life. They small enough to keep two full loafs of bread. They looked so old and organic in that dull brown rust that covered them like a disease. I have had the opportunity of getting very close to one and I never saw any line of opening to show that these boxes could be opened and yet, whenever he had a new customer, he pulled out a fresh box and told them to put their own special mark on it so they could have their very own saving space. Everyone knew that he never forgot each of those marks. There was even gossip that this wizard had just as many of those boxes as there were adults in the village at any given time. He somehow bought everyone’s trust and made them feel like their money was safe with him.
He charged a low few of one kobo per three weeks for keeping any amount and that was how this old man made a living. Of course that fee was low enough to make anyone who was afraid of being robbed keep it with this man with a good reputation of keeping money for almost fifteen years now, and it was also low enough to make him very poor because there wasn’t a lot of people here who had that kind of huge money lying around. Still, he never minded the job.
My uncle talked a lot on those nights he sat beside him. I knew this because I had spied on him before at the request of his wife. It hurt me to see that his only hook to sanity was a limp old man who just seemed to only listen as my uncle blabbered on and on. I know his family was far from the nicest in the village, and Osahon could care less if he tripped on a stone and died on his way to work, but I did and I tried hard to show it to him. I tried to show him that I appreciated him deeply for picking me up after my parents’ death but he barely listened. It was like sitting beside a tomato plant in the dry season and promising it rain. My uncle just wasn’t interested or he never noticed.
All that did not matter today. All those nights he hurried outside the house like he had treasure buried somewhere was a dark hazy memory. I sat in his funeral and realize we never knew the man that lived with us. This burial ceremony was even more uncomfortable than those of both my parents. Every tear was gone now, so my eyes were just wide and blank.
People passed me with busy mouths and then stopped, realizing that they had to pretend to console me. I just stared blankly at them. Most of them could not even remember who just passed away and most of these guests were too high classed for us on a normal day. The whole village was here only because Aunty had thrown the biggest party in this recent time. There was so much to eat that it almost looked like a birthday instead. What made it the most uncomfortable was that we couldn’t afford anything here. She took a loan of fifty naira from the elders only to waste it on a party. The elders had given her that loan because it was their duty to help a widow continue to live well after her husband’s death. They told her to only pay back twenty naira and I am sure they are somewhere here shaking their heads.
I did spot at least one true friend among all the fake sympathizers here. It really touched me to see him here. Makku sat on one of the numerous plastic chairs with old eyes that looked so genuinely sad that I began to feel my heart quake. So there had been a kind of friendship between these two men. Perhaps it had been the strangest friendship in the world but it brought this weak old man all the way here. I quickly got up to at least say something to him, but then he did the same, clinging fully to his walking stick. He came out so rarely that I did not notice he was now bent. He walked with the speed of a snail to his scraggy bicycle that was definitely leaning on a wall close by.
The sharp eyes of Aunty caught him leaving. She froze in her dancing spot and quickly signaled Osahon to come. She had been having a good time so far. She was thirty naira richer, got to throw this big party, and had finally parted ways with the man she was forced to marry fifteen years ago. In this village, death was the only ground for a divorce. Maybe this was her telling the world that a burden had been removed.
I decided to go to her instead. Reality suddenly struck me that Makku wasn’t a man you could walk up to and tell anything. He barely answered my “good mornings” and I did not think this case would be any different. Besides what would a conversation with him change?
“He just ate our food and left” I heard Aunty Whisper to Osahon as I drew closer. They acknowledged me with a nod and I did the same. At least they did not “politely” send me away.
“You mean Makku?” Osahon asked sweating.
“Who else will I be talking about? I expected him to come out and say something-“
“Or tell us where my entire father’s money is?” Osahon completely frowning “mama we have to go and talk to him.”
“Let me change this wrapper” My aunt said “-oh, you can come with us Aiseosa”
I nodded. I knew my place in their home and they never forgot to remind me but that did not mean we were enemies. We were just the kind of friends who had a lot of boundaries that we understood very well. She didn’t have to scold and hit me like most step mothers did with their step children if I stayed out of the way and when she cooked and deliberately forgot to share mine, I was sensible enough to just forget about it. Right now, I wasn’t sure what my uncle’s death was doing but it wasn’t mending any old sores. I don’t even know if I would be welcome here after all of the party and chasing down Makku.
Ten minutes later, we were brisk walking to Makku’s forlorn home. We were looking away from each other like we just met. Even Osahon who was unnecessarily bold just resorted to whisling with hands tucked in his pocket. She knew that this was one act that was done too shamelessly and both of them were washing very dirty underwear in front of me. She had expected me to say more but when I didn’t, she looked half relaxed and half perplexed. I just hoped that our lives were not stuck like this forever.
“Your father should have almost two hundred naira with Makku by now” Aunty said re-tying her wrapper and still not looking at me.
“What are you talking about; he should have two hundred and fifty naira now.” Osahon said a little loudly. Apparently, he was terrible at hiding his feelings “Does he now think that the money belongs to him?”
“I will handle it” Aunty said quietly having heard enough from her son’s mouth.
My uncle had trusted Makku a lot. That trust showed in his friendship with him and the coins he tied in red cloth every month end as he went to his house on those nights. Those coins were worth a good one quarter of his salary and he gave it to him to keep. There was a lot of respect in his eyes as he handed it to Makku and Makku looked very well appreciated as he collected it.
We got to his house and Aunty knocked at the door. Not long, Makku managed to open the door very slowly.
“Yes?” he croaked like he was being disturbed.
“Well baba, you left in such a hurry-”
“What do you want woman?” He asked impatiently.
“My husband is Nosa!” she said very hurt and trying to hide her anger. I never knew that this woman could melt like this in anyone’s presence.
“He did not leave anything for any of you.” He said turning around to enter back into his house.
“My husband saved money with you tied in red cloth!” She screamed not able to contain it anymore “You cannot deny it. If you do not bring it out, I would report you to the elders.”
Makku stopped shaking his head. He turned around to look at her for a long time like he never had the chance to do it before. His wrinkled lips trembled as he tried to say something and then they fell silent.
“Well?” Osahon asked getting impatient “Where is my father’s money?”
He suddenly turned to me and I froze. I could not believe that I was about to approach this man a while ago. He looked as creepy as a ghost. Every wrinkle on his face looked like a deep scar and those protruding cheek bones did not help matters. His eyes were so sunken that he looked like he was already decomposing.
“He told me a lot about you.” He said. He spoke bini in a way that was distant and exotic.
“He did?” I stammered.
“What are you doing here now?” He asked very quickly.
“I came to-”
“Would you have come if he gave me his heart to keep instead?”
“This means war” Aunty assured “oya let us go home!”
All the while I couldn’t stop looking back.