There had been no light for almost six weeks now. This was not an occurrence uncommon to us but it was definitely worse than what we were used to. The drinks in Grandma’s fridge could burn one’s throat, but customers could not complain as we were all in the same situation. Every night still, men would gather in front of the structure that managed to serve as a shop, where Grandma sold beer and peppered meat, downing bottle after bottle of beer. I’d sit on one corner of the floor listening to gossip flowing from their alcohol oozing mouth. Men gossiped worse than women. Later at night, grandma and I would laugh at what a sight the men made. We didn’t really think about where they got the money to spend on alcohol when the entire community knew whose pants had holes in it and who couldn’t even afford pants. Yesterday, Victor from the structure beside our own abode had fainted and the neighbours had struggled to gather grains of garri to force down his throat with a little water. Most of the children walked around all day in pant. Clothes were for extremely special occasions like leaving the neighbourhood which rarely happened, or when it got really cold. Even on cold days, parents would force their children to sit indoors under cloth wrappers. Uniforms were the only other things we wore and they were treated like gold.
I splashed through mud on my way home from school eager to see grandma and share the good news with her, trying not to consider the fact that no light meant it would be another night of heat. Heat meant we would leave the doors open so we could have a little oxygen at least and that in turn meant mosquitoes and a full view of the waste riddled water that served as the foundation our house sat upon. I cringed thinking of the smell. Urrghh. God, no. A barely recovered Victor walked with me moaning once again about hunger. “Shut up, Victor! I’m trying to think. I’ve not even been living here as long as you have and I’m already used to the hunger pangs.” I cut him off mid-grunt.
“You aff come agen wit dis your grama. Because you come from big place you will be doing yanga wit englis”
I sighed. “Idiot” I muttered under my breath and increased my pace. We were about 15 minutes from home. Eight other children were running around us, playing a game of ‘police n thief’ and I was trying to keep an eye on them while filtering through my thoughts. I was the oldest of this bunch, and grandma always charged me to be responsible for them. The thought of grandma made me smile again and I thought of the package in my hole-ridden bag.
Victor was right. We had found ourselves here three years ago after my parents died in an accident and left me with grandma as my only surviving relative. We were not particularly rich prior to this but I had gone to a good school and had a good home and good food to eat. They died deep in debt they had kept hidden from my grandma and soon after everything they had left was taken from us. I don’t know the details but I know Grandma had taken what little she could, carried me and moved here. I still heard her sobbing some nights for her daughter and son-in-law but she never wavered in front of me. Not in the three years we’d been here. She was 66 and she moved like a 40 year old hiding the pains I knew she had in her joints.
We got home and Victor, having realized I was not going to say another word to him, stalked away. Everybody would go in to get out of their uniforms then come back out to play away the hunger until mothers came in from shops to cook what they could.
I removed my uniform but remained in my boxers and singlet. Grandma would never let me walk around the way the other kids did.
I walked to her shop and saw her sitting outside, scarf loosely knotted on her head fanning herself with the bottom of her wrapper. There were no customers in the shop. The men hadn’t returned from the day’s struggle. Business was slower during the door. “Good afternoon, Grandma” I greeted prostrating.
“Welcome, Kola. How was school?” She said smiling.
“Great. I have something to show you”. I stood up and opened the bag I hadn’t dropped at the house and brought out the little square box.
She jumped from her seat. “Eh, Kola! Where did you get this?!” She shouted. I know she’d never accuse me of stealing so I did not get offended or angry.
“Calm down, old woman. There was a visitor from another school in my class today and she gave me for my last school result.” I laughed removing the phone from the box. It was a small camera phone with ‘Techno’ written on the head.
She relaxed and sat down back smiling.
“Thank God. But what are you going to use it for, Kola?”
“I’m not keeping it grandma. I will give my class teacher back tomorrow to sell it. I trust her enough to give me the money. You can follow me.”
She drew me close to her and hugged me to her sagging breasts. “Omo daadaa. Omo mi. Olowo ori mi. You are the reason I know we will survive this”
I hung on to her for all I was worth. This woman was my life. I knew I had done the right thing deciding to sell the phone. We would use whatever amount came out of it to live. Maybe move out of this dump.
I pulled back. “Let me take a picture of you with the phone, Grandma.”
She smiled through her tears and leaned back on the door of the shop. “Okay”.
“But I have to read through the manual first sha.”
“When you’re ready.”
Minutes later I stood in front of her and said “smile joor, Grandma” and even though the smile was indulgent it was the most beautiful I had ever seen. I would ask my class teacher to print it for me before she sold the phone. That smile on Grandma’s face. The most beautiful smile I had ever seen.
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