“Ikenna!” “Ikenna!” yelled Mazi Kanu, chewing stick dancing furiously between his lips.
“Where is this boy?” he muttered to himself, breath condensing in the air.
It was some weeks to Christmas and the harmattan was on its usual beat, stamping its authority with the impunity of a Nigerian policeman, drying skins, chaffing lips. Red coloured earth swirled to the chants of restless, windy ghosts. On trees, emerald had turned to rust. Filigrees of dust coated the world. However, the old man in his consternation was oblivious to the swinging baton of the harsh weather as he called out for his son.
A gate in one of the bungalows that littered the compound creaked open and a young man staggered out. He was bare-chested, bare footed, and his only piece of clothing was a ripped short that must have once being a trouser. A river of dried saliva decorated the corner of his mouth streaking towards his left ear.
Ikenna, rubbing his head and stretching, yawned out, “good morning Papa.”
“What is good about this morning Ikenna, gwa godum; tell me, what is good about this morning! You went out drinking again with those good for nothing friends of yours last night, okwa ya. Your brother has been up since the first cock crow visiting the poultry and you are just waking up after the sun had started its ije, journey.”
The young man mumbled something under his breath while his father shaking his head in disgust walked off towards the goat pen at the back of the compound.
“Papa, I have something to tell you,” Ikenna said shuffling his right foot in the sand.
Mazi Kanu stood and looked back inquiringly, “yes….what is it?” he replied in a gruff voice.
Ikenna looking down, mumbled, “Papa, I want to go to Lagos.”
“What! I can see the palm wine you took last night is still performing atilogwu dancing in your system. You want to go where? Ikenna, onye meregi ihe, who did this to you? You want to leave all these and go where?” His father retorted, hand making a sweeping gesture around the compound, eyes red with indignation.
“Young man, you are not stepping an inch away from this house! That is my final decision on the matter!” Mazi Kanu stormed off.
“Papa, I am going oooo. I also want all the money you have been saving for me over the years especially for my college and masters tuition. I want to go and take the Jamb exams in Lagos. I have made up my mind to go to University of Lagos.” This time Ikenna’s eyes caught his father’s and stayed. Mazi Kanu saw the rocks of resolve in his son’s eyes and his heart dropped. It was a show down, a clash of the will but the man made up his mind not to back down. Heart heavy, he went to attend to the feeding of his goats.
A few nights later, the man sat outside in his veranda. PHCN had plunged the world into darkness and he did not have the patience to start pouring fuel and changing oil, so he decided to sit in darkness. Flapping his wrapper around legs he was shaking vigorously, his gestures mirrored the disquiet in his soul.
The door opened and his wife joined him sitting on a stool. “Nnanyi, I think you should allow Ikenna go to Lagos. He has been on a hunger strike since you said no to him. Biko, please give him what he wants before he dies on us, Biko, please!” Mazi Kanu did not say anything; he kept staring into a night filled with the chirping of frenzied crickets.
The next morning, he called Ikenna and gave him a cheque. The boy shouted in over enthusiastic jubilance and ran off, even forgetting to thank his dad. He did not even notice the tears of heartbreak that rippled in the old man’s eyes. The man had tried his best to make sure the boy had the best in life but Ikenna had wanted otherwise.
Before dawn woke to the alarm of the cock crow the succeeding day, Ikenna was off, walking jauntily without a care in the world. As the Luxurious bus made off from Ahiara junction, he reclined on the leather seat, smiling to himself in euphoric bliss. His dream had come to pass. He did not spare any thought for his family or the village he had grown up in, not even once. That was the past, the future beckoned like the arms of a new bride.
His friend picked him up at the Ojota Park in Lagos; they hugged and knuckle smacked before he rushed into the car. He had lied to his father that he was going to stay with a cousin. Now no one would be able to trace his whereabouts. He felt like a prisoner whose chains had been removed after aeons of incarceration. His spirit was so light, his steps bouncy. He was tired of his father’s do and don’ts commandments. He had had it with the staid ways of his self righteous brother. He could not stick his mother’s over pampering one day longer. He was made for the bright lights and not for the backward ways of a forgotten village in Imo state.
Ikenna felt at home as the car was washed in the brilliant glares of multiple billboards moving from the park towards Gbagada. His eyes were as round as saucers as Lagos baptised him in its sights and sounds. Before they got home, his friend decided to give him the first taste of the city by taking him to a night club where they downed all sorts of cocktails.
So started such riotous living that even people who had grown up in Lagos could not match. From nightclubs in Victoria Island to Strip Joints on Allen Avenue, he became a household name. Bars where shut down just for him and his friends sometimes and he picked the bills without reservation. He was a big boy! Thing was he had a point to prove, to gain acceptance amongst the city slickers he mingled with, he spent money like water. Jamb was forgotten instead he burnt the midnight oil under multiple sheets with different ladies. Ikenna was in heaven, he did not believe such enjoyment existed on earth.
Back at home, Nkiruka noticed her husband pining away for their lost son. Mazi Kanu was normally a boisterous man but he had become so taciturn, lost weight and become a listless person. Recently, his mind always seemed so far away and most time he was seen looking beyond the gates to the road leading into town. The lack of concentration was impacting the family business negatively. He had some shops he usually patronized around his home but these days he made regular trips to Ahiara junction for his supplies and usually in the evenings. His wife knew that the trips were made out of a faint hope that he might encounter his son returning home on one of the giant buses. Hope grew dimmer and dimmer by the day. Shoulders hunched more than ever, the old man’s head suddenly developed a preponderance of grey hair. He loved the boy so much even with his prodigal ways that no one else could fill the void in the father’s heart. Nkiruka knew the burden of love was weighing her husband down dreadfully. She heard him a few nights muttering Ikenna’s name in his sleep.
The money started petering out and finally Ikenna ran out of cash. All his friends left and he had to go get a job for peanuts. His fair weather homies eventually threw him out but fortunately, he was able to squat with one of the few remaining ones in a BQ around Agege Penn Cinema. With the passage of time, he got a job in a piggery in Iju. He had to walk to work and back every day. When push came to shove was the day he had to taste the slurp the pigs were feeding on to stave off the distraction of hunger. He was almost wearing rags now and scabies decorated his skin from head to toe. The lotion that would have helped clear the infirmity that plagued him was beyond his financial reach. The young man was in dire straits.
He started thinking about the destructive path his life had taken and came to a realization. It was a moment of epiphany and his eyes opened up. Nedum and Dili, his father’s hired hands were fed daily by his mother, at least twice a day and here he was, dining with swine. Things had come to a head, his life had derailed. He would go home and assume a contract staff’s position. At least, he would have some change to play around with and free meals come every day. He did not believe for a moment that his father would accept him back. Even he would have disowned himself bearing the circumstances of the way he left home in mind. His days of self deceit were over.
Mazi was taking a walk that evening when he saw a figure shuffling in the distance. The movement of the person looked familiar. No, it could not be, or could it? It was Ikenna! The man ran like an athlete twenty years younger in age. Ikenna had hitched free rides in trucks coming from the toll gate in Lagos to Owerri. Sun and rain had extravagantly meted out terrible punishment to him. The young man could not believe the fathers love as Mazi Kanu wrapped him in a warm hug, drenching him with tears. The old man was impervious of the filth that clung to the boy and the thick robe of odour that enshrouded him. His father even brushed away his apologies. Crying with his son in his arms, Mazi Kanu kept shouting, “Ikennam, Ikennam, my Ikenna….”
The party held in the honour of the Returnee was astonishing, food was in excess and drinks flowed like the Imo River. Ikenna washed and dressed in clean clothes still did not feel at home with the celebration going on for him. He was quite uncomfortable. The whole thing was incredible. He kept looking at his father wondering if the man was in his right mind…what kind of father loves like this, who loves this way…….
This is a contemporary version of the story of the prodigal son. What gets me all the time here is not the flagrant act of wasteful living as prodigious as that is, but it was the fathers love…
Such is the Father’s love for us…No matter how far we stray, no matter how much we break His heart; He just never gives up on us. He keeps scanning the horizon, hopeful that one day we will come back home. His is love so amazing!
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©2015 Ekpo Ezechinyere