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HERO

No matter how much time passes between, it was a loss that the boy would never get over and that’s for sure. Even though it’s been at least three years now, he still dreamt of her. The relationship they shared had been such an endearing one so that his dreams at nights were still pervaded with the woman’s appearances even till now. But three years ago he had found it impossible to relate the shriveled remains he saw lying on the bed, under a plain white sheet with that woman he knew so well. How could such bursting courage and will succumb to such decay? The reality of the woman’s death escaped him. The only thing he knew was that if he went back to that house where she had lived he wouldn’t find her there.

Every now and then, while walking along the road or sitting quietly outside the house, watching the world move by as people went about the mundane activities of this life, he’d catch a glimpse of her in some old woman’s face. It was such a recurring thing that happened both when he was in the market place amidst the rushing crowd or while pursuing a lonesome track. He usually came across an old woman that evoked the image of her late grandmother. And then the gates of memories would be thrown open on their large and easy hinges and he would be ushered without an effort down the wide and welcoming hallway of memories.

The strongest and most enduring of all that his grandma meant to him was sacrifice.

That would be the summary of all that the old woman lived her life for.

She was kind, strong and willing to invest in a future that her age would almost certainly not spare her to witness. Sort of a generational sacrifice. It was like taking something out of yourself and putting it away faithfully in a safe for future use, while this something is something that is part of your essence – your existence, your sustenance! Then as you put away that something, that part of yourself, you decrease bit by bit, whittling away and weakening. It was more than a price, it was a sacrifice.

Even in her very old age she still continued, never stopping for a moment. She went out very early and returned late in the evening. She was hunting for food, doing menial, demeaning, odd and end jobs, slaving away just so that the boy and his brother would not starve. Sometimes it was sitting for endless hours peeling cassava for a meager wage, other times it was frying garri in the factory. Then the boy and his brother would be in school. It would be hard for anyone to guess that the boy’s support was that old woman doing the menial job. He was easily among the cleanest, most good looking, confident and brilliant ones in school. Without a thought he passed for a child born with the silver spoon. And that was what he ought to have been, but for the vicissitude of life.

Perhaps like the spots on the leopard’s skin which were impossible for the rain water to wash off, the nobility of the boy’s background had stuck to him, so stubborn it refused to give in to simplicity. Except for vicissitudes he ought not to have been here at all. But then that was it, like the biblical Joseph sold into slavery by destiny, the boy too had to fight his way through this bleak tunnel and trust only on providence to bring him breakthrough someday.

The boy was playing his role. He was learning with a determination to be the best that he could.

Each night the boys awaited the old woman’s return which was the hope of their next meal. She would bring the garri and hand them some money to buy cooked beans. While buying the beans they urged the seller to add plenty of the watery portions, enough to soak a generous measure of garri.

The job grandma was doing was to have a negative after-effect. The boy and his brother knew it but their survival depended on it. Frying garri in the factory at such an old age meant getting a lot of smoke into your eyes and night after night she returned with the smell of smoke thick in her clothes and her eyes heavy and itchy from so much smoke. She was paid according to how much she did and how much she did depended on a lot of things.

It wasn’t surprising that towards the final end she had completely stopped to see. It was cataracts. It was the cumulative result of all the smoke she had endured while slaving her days away in the garri factory.

It upset the boy so much to walk into the room having to mention his name before the old woman would know that he was the one. It was not at all easy for him especially because he had taken for granted the fact that she had seen in the days before and he remembered it crisply and clearly.

All these things he had been thinking as he sat cross-legged on the bench outside his office in the government hospital, now finally a young medical doctor. It would continue to be a pain to him that this dream conceived off-handedly as a child had still been long out of reach when grandma had finally given up the fight and surrendered her soul albeit at a good grey age. He wished she were alive to see him now, how he was now a giver of help than the helpless he once was. He wished she could look back even if just for only a flinty second to see how much return her sacrifice and investments had at last generated. But now that that was only a fantasy, he could only imagine what she must be feeling if perchance she could still somehow see him.

Well, he would now live on solace. Solace in the fact that what the old woman did was really a generational sacrifice not necessarily for him. And that she had along the line passed the bulk onto the boy. The only regret that both she and he would have had is if he had not made good of his life, if he had not been a better man poised to give the coming generation such a leverage that was absent for himself.

One day he hoped to erect a monument; a monument in his grandma’s evergreen memories that would stand for everything that grandma was: kind, caring, plain, strong-willed, tireless and sacrificial. He would like to announce to the whole world what a hero he found in his grandma; at least she was and would always be his hero.

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