A Tale That Must Be Read.
EMEKA AND THE WAY AROUND THE VOLCANIC MOUNTAIN
My name is Emeka Izunna. I grew in Pikholm, near River Niger. I could swim since boyhood, and make money too. We boys took every opportunity provided by marine transport. We carried things, we fished, we rowed people over the river and ran errands. From childhood we understood that without money there would be no firewood, charcoal nor any other fuel; also, we would not have clothes. Because of our poverty, sometimes we wore dirty, torn or discoloured clothes. Our toys were handmade, since our lifestyle of always being outside and playing brought the desire and need for them.
There was work, but not enough; so the prices we were paid reduced. A rule had to be made before the prices stopped falling, since no one of us settlers liked punishment. We were like dogs struggling over a little morsel. That was why I decided to do something else. My father had once said to me that people did not pay for what they did for themselves; He said that people paid for what one could do for them which they could not or would not do for themselves. Hunger, sufferings and my father's word motivated me to start thinking deeply at a young age. I wanted to show that I was not a poor, smelly boy, as those in better neighborhoods believed. I thought I was a special boy who was not using his brains rightly.
Before I say what I did, let me tell you about my family. We were four boys and three girls. I was the third boy and the fourth child. The girl that came before me was Chidimma. She was very caring and protective, but we both usually quarrelled. My mother was so thin that her veins and muscles stood out. My father was not different. He also seemed to be angry anytime he enters the roofing-sheets-made house we lived in -- a two rooms apartment by the river. He did hit us and our mother. Thoughts of him did not bring us happiness. It was so bad -- his behaviour -- that I even wished he were dead. I thought that then we would have a happy life. We could work, eat well and make our mother happy. But despite his erroneous living, I had wanted to win his praise. It never worked. But he always cursed and scolded me ninety-nine percent of the times I did not meet his expectations. But he praised those I surpass who were not his children. It affected how I saw myself. All my playmates made use of the weak points this created, except one. Odinaka, whom we called Ody.
My best friend then was Ody. He always wore only his flesh on top and one of his two knickers below. He wore a pair of flip-flops each time -- scavenged footwears. One thing he was known for -- or that was at the back of my mind among all else I knew of him -- was that he never ran out of footwears. He even got inspired by styles of footwears that he bought leather and made those of his own. We would sometimes sit together making footwears. He was better than me at it. Mine was like a joke for a footwear each time. He sometimes used cartons, and then called them images. Given to the fact that the rich discarded their used things in bins destined to confer with vehicles that would in the end visit our location for dumping, there was a variety of rubbish to explore. You never knew what you might find -- especially if the dumpers themselves failed to get those things first. It was awesome. It was one of the adventures that added joy to our lives.
Ody's father was a boat mechanic. Never ask me why his family was so. You should ask him by yourself. But words flew about that said he had a demanding girlfriend. A fat married woman whose husband was both a bricklayer and a drunkard. I had no certainty concerning this, but I believed. We would go to his workshop in those days. The shop had the sky for a roof, the river bank for a floor and the bare air for walls. The noon sun there was only bearable because you as a boy could wade into the shallow part of the river and swim. He had about ten big tool boxes and a cart. He kept them at friend's drinking shop up the stony river bank every night. We would sit around there on a stone or some layers of carton each afternoon after school and later try to fish, sharing the spot we chose with those who came to pray at the river. Their perfumes and incenses always drove me into a polite restraint of sore nausea.
We went to a small school -- Pikholm Central School. A school where politicians came to give the community a reason to vote for them. They would paint the walls, build new houses that befit the kind of pupils that schooled there, get us textbooks that we could not read and shared money to enjoying teachers who complained about everything from the weather to having to come to school to teach five days a week and who used us as unpaid servants many times. One thing about our school was that everyone liked playing. We would get sweaty, fart silently and fall asleep in the too populated classes, but break time was awesome. Even the teachers were glad each time to get rid of us so they could eat and gossip in peace. I even suspect now that some of the farts that disrupted the freshness of the air in those days had belonged to the teachers. Why else would a teacher be indifferent when such smells soar the air and rather continue doing what she was doing or tell us to stop making noise? Well, we thought that only we students could fart in the class. I do not remember imagining that a teacher could fart. And besides, would you suspect your teacher? She might notice by looking at you. Scary.
Our school uniforms were not all bad. Some came from better houses, but not I and the likes of my friend. Our mothers had many children and seemed to nearly ignore the juniors in matters of good clothing. They even nearly ignored the older boys. Girls were their priority. The juniors ate better; seniors got clothed better. We juniors did not care much anyway, except when we saw people in good clothes. We could remove all our clothes, both boys and girls, and run about to anywhere we liked. It was great. You have to try it. We were as free as kites.
Hungering to go to university, I decided to apply my father's philosophy. I had no way to earn big sums of money, because I could not find where to do so. I also had no capacity for such. I needed training, but also had no money. So I thought of something and it worked. I was twelve years old then. I decided to pay Ody's father a visit each afternoon as usual, stay around and help him with his tools and to ask questions about the kinds of engines he worked on. At first I was wondering what he might be thinking. I did not have a good relationship with my father and had not been near a grown man in that way, so I feared sometimes and got very sad when he scolded me. Sometimes I wanted to stop going, fearing what might happen. Nothing happened. He rather took a liking of me for a reason I did not know. Maybe he was glad that I came that close to him and was willing to learn how engines worked. It seemed even exciting to him to teach me. His two apprentices there did not have the interest I had. I wanted to understand all the parts of the engine, but they were there just to learn how to repair some of them. Those things he did not know about an engine, he sent me to someone who knew and would teach me. Each of them minded his field, but I was obsessed. I drew engines on my book and wondered why something was made with a particular material, worked in so and so way and developed so and so fault. His friends were happy to have me. It seems I was a lightsome, innocent boy. I was a student, so they took it that I would not do the trade or that my learning was just for school work. Who would teach you for free what others paid to learn? I do not know how they saw me, but I might have looked like a good boy. I like to think of that. It is sad that I have lost my innocent face to age. That boy seemed he could have gotten whatever he wanted. You could look at his face, kiss it and even give him your life. An exaggeration. Also, that face did smell.
Later I could repair minor faults and damages on my own. I would work for hours on Saturdays and even get money for lunch from Ody's father -- not to mention that some customers would give me money for biscuits as a boy that helped to repair their engine. I started chatting with marine taxi drivers. Each of them respected me because I knew what they did not know; I had what they did not have and they paid me what I said. I discovered that knowledge was the best ware anyone could have. No one could take it away from you. You held it forever. Insight kept one man ahead of the other, and humility and trustworthiness and understanding drew it out from the owner. My friend knew a lot about his father's trade, but not as much as I did. He was mostly interested in crafting things. He had no hope of going to the university, and I did not want to share my dreams with him lest he killed my morale. One of the things that stopped a man was discouragements of different shades and mockeries from others. But my friend took up apprenticeship to a building engineer. He wanted to become a builder. I was proud to have him as my friend. He moved forward at least.
To be brief, as I want to be soon occupied with a different task, I registered for admission into a technical secondary school. If one had no money to do big things like entering a private school equipped with good teachers and the needful equipment for practicals, he should at least improvise and find a way around the mountain. Some are blessed with getting served on the table while others had to earn the food, earn the fuel, use their wisdom to cook the food and then serve it to themselves. Surely it is a long process, but any step forward is a demonstration of hope and courage. Those who lie down lie there. They might get lucky, they might not. But he that took the longer route has a store inside him that the other cannot imagine. A store of experience.
At seventeen years old I left home, since I could pay for a room apartment and feed well and wear average clothes. I had a chat with few owners of boats, trying to secure the post of being their official repairer. One accepted. He kept a good relationship with me. I was earning more than many of my age in those days. Yet I did not spend like them. I rather bought books and searched for a place to work for a steady pay. The money was not my main pursuit. It was the knowledge, the excitement of learning new things. Servicing and mending can be boring, but not new insights and discoveries. After secondary school, I knew I had to work to save money for secondary school. I found work at a company that dealt on aluminum pipes. I worked there for the money, but visited Ody's father on Saturdays and helped him out. I worked for four years before going to the university. You might say that those of my age were ahead of me. I agree; but I was coming behind them. I was coming, four years behind, determined. Wheresoever could be trekked to could be trekked to. Before engines on wheels, men used their toes and heels. I went to university -- that was what mattered. I went to learn the little they taught in my location. To know the foundations of the future things I wanted to read about. It worked. I wanted to make engines, not repair them. I wanted to design them, not just admire them.
I must stop now. If I am alive by next time, I would like to hear your questions. I want to sleep. My children are grown and all past middle age. So I am an old man. Surely you would not suffer me to labour further at the paper -- and oh, I have a big company now and make my own engines. But I wish I could live longer. There is much to do.