This was an experiment. I had no idea where it was going till I wrote the last line…
When you finish training up a child in the way that he/she could go, remember to factor in love for the times they will not measure up to your expectations. After all, look at us, children of God, yet failing Him time after time…still He still loves us.
It was his father who had taught him about growing old. And, as with everything else, Nnadi was right.
‘Papa, how are you today?’ Cornelius remembered greeting the old man one sunny morning a little while ago.
‘It is going to rain today.’ Nnadi answered, matter of factly.
Cornelius had laughed and pulled apart the curtains in the old man’s room to show him the sun and how it looked like a warrior whose battles with dark clouds and rain was long won and forgotten.
‘Hmmm,’ Nnadi responded as he slowly got out of the soft four poster bed his son had requested specially for him from Obodo Oyinbo. He hated the bed but he loved his son who thought the white man had a cure for everything, even aging. He missed his straw bed back home in the village and his raffia mat where he sat to rest in the evenings. He missed the quietness of his small farm and the birds on the Udala tree that would suddenly take up a song and shake him out of whatever reverie he had fallen into. Most of all, he missed the river and how it served to calm his blood pressure in ways Cornelius’s doctors could never hope to do with all their medicine.
Lagos was too noisy, too fast, too shiny but he loved Cornelius and until such a time as Cornelius’s doctors assured hi son that he was strong enough, Nnadi was willing to stay caged in this prison with its bright lights and noisy inmates .
The rain had started to fall not even an hour later, just as he predicted. It was a storm of monumental proportions and when Cornelius looked at him incredulously, all Nnadi could do was smile.
‘Are you a rain maker now, Papa?’ Cornelius asked his father as he readied the older man for his doctor’s appointment.
‘I am an old man. My old bones can tell the weather better than those people in your shiny box downstairs,’ Nnadi had responded.
It seemed so long ago and yet it was only a few months since Cornelius received that first lesson on aging from his father. He had not thought he would need it any time soon but life had a way of preparing you for the future, even if it was only through the playful words of one’s father.
The sun rays were beginning to filter into the bedroom he shared with his wife yet Cornelius couldn’t shake the thoughts of rain from his head. Nnadi had said something about feeling the rain in his old bones and Cornelius wondered if the fact that he felt the rain in his heart made it any different.
Beside him, his wife stirred from her dreams and Cornelius said a silent prayer of thanks for the gift of slumber. She had stayed up these past two nights and it was a relief to see her finally resting.
It is going to rain today, his heart whispered to him again, as if to dare the rays of sunlight that had pierced their way even deeper into his bedroom. He wanted to get out of bed and shutter the curtains against the sun but he feared that the noise would wake his wife so he stayed in bed a little longer and thought about his father and his son.
Where had he gone wrong with Tochukwu?
He had baptized the child, dedicated him to God, driven him to church for masses every Wednesday and Sunday, sent him to the best private schools along with his three sisters, fed him, nurtured him, hugged him, scolded him, loved him… He had done everything a father could do to set his child on the right path.
Yet here he was, waiting for a dawn that would usher the hearse bringing his son’s corpse home. Today he would receive the body of a child that was said to be a feared overlord of a cult in the university, a child that had died in a gun battle with a rival cult on university grounds, a child that people described and Cornelius wanted to ask who it was that they spoke of.
For that was not the Tochukwu he knew. That was not the boy that hung on his every word as a child. That was not the boy that tried to lift him up every time he returned home for the holidays or the boy that teasingly called him ‘Popsy!’.
His child was no monster. His child wore glasses and played chess. He loved books and had read Tolstoy. His child did not rape women – why would he? He was handsome, blessed with his mother’s good looks and always had more than his fair share of female attention. His child was not a murderer; the boy was a vegetarian, refusing to eat meat or fish because ‘It is murder, Dad. What did the poor chicken ever do to you?’
The sunlight filtering into his bedroom was becoming unbearable so Cornelius got out of bed as silently as he could. He took the stairs one at a time. He knew if he listened carefully, the house would reveal secrets to him, something he had missed about Tochukwu, something all of them had missed and in so doing failed the poor boy.
The house stayed silent except for a pale looking man on the weather channel going on about snow storms in the North East. Cornelius smiled bitterly at the screen.
‘I can tell the weather better than you now.’ He whispered to the man sadly.
When the pale man failed to respond, Cornelius turned off the TV.
His father didn’t know yet about Tochukwu. Cornelius wanted to be the one to tell the old man. He wanted to look into Nnadi’s eyes and tell him how he had failed him. He wanted to ask his forgiveness for not being a good father even though he had had the best father himself. He wanted to apologize for not recognizing evil in the brown eyes that were exactly like his grandfather’s. He wanted to say sorry for refusing to listen when Nnadi had pulled him aside during Tochukwu’s naming ceremony and asked him why his son wasn’t named for a saint.
‘Tochukwu doesn’t have a Roman Catholic name, Cornelius.’
‘Papa, these are modern times. Seth is a good Christian name. He doesn’t need to be named after a saint.’
‘How about Saint Cyril? Or Valerian?’ His father had insisted.
‘Papa; it is too late. I already handed over the names to the priest.’
They were still been arguing when someone called out to say the priest was ready for the ceremony to begin.
Who knew; maybe if he had done what Nnadi wanted and named the child after those patron saints of storms, it would have been enough to help Tochukwu overcome whatever storm raged within him, whatever storm, Nnadi – fisherman and storm survivor himself, had foreseen for the boy. But Cornelius had named his son, ‘Seth’ and left the boy with no protection from the storms of life.
When he was done apologizing to Nnadi, Cornelius would place his head his father’s lap and cry. He would cry until he felt his father’s tears mix with his, until it was impossible to tell where his own sorrow ended and where Nnadi’s began. And when they were out of tears, he would tell Nnadi about how he had been right after all about this aging business. He would tell him about how he too could now tell when it was going to rain, about how he was an old man now as well, maybe even older than Nnadi, because he had lost his child and if anything could age a man prematurely, more than time, the death of his dreams could. And what were one’s children, if not dreams turned flesh and blood?
He heard the first drops of rain as he watched the hearse carrying one-fourth of his dreams, pull into the driveway.
Song of the day: B-Witched – Blame it on the Weatherman