When our father brought the old blue rickety thing into the compound, the grin that smeared his face knew no bounds, our father’s smile was so wide, I could see his brown gums and the space between his last premolar and his first molar. He had been saving for the thing his entire adult life. My brothers and I stood outside the door watching the entire compound felicitate with our father. Although we understood that the cost of having the blue thing may mean that our rice would go without any protein for a while, we all felt a sense of pride within knowing that we would now join the league of the few who arrived at school chauffeur-driven. We knew that come Saturday, Papa would sit with his head held high rather than with his shoulders slouched when all seven of us arrive Uncle’s house for the year end family get-together.
For anyone who cared to listen, our father took his time to explain the importance of having a car as though he had been riding one all his life. He gave lectures on the different parts of the thing emphasizing that the piece of metal that adorned the front of the thing would prevent other cars from damaging it. He immediately became better friends with Emeka’s father and Buchi’s father who had cars of their own and their discussions shifted from issues such as who had not paid the water bill to who had not become a man!
I had never seen our father happier than he had been those few days. He was so happy he named the thing Anuri meaning Joy. I forgot so soon how our father had refused to pay my elder brother’s school fees because of the thing, or how he had ignored how bobo my youngest sibling ran around the compound with no slippers on or how he had said to me “ask Nnukwu Nne your grandmother for some of her old clothes” when I told him that my clothes were either too short or too tight. I forgot so soon that we might not be able to comfortably eat a meal in a day because of the blue rickety thing.
Three days after Anuri came into our lives, the men of the night came visiting, our father panicked, he picked up his keys and fastened it to the white handkerchief he got from the last miracle service he went for and squeezed himself under the bed the older children slept on. We could hear the men of the night in the other flat demanding money from Sisi our next door Yoruba neighbor. Our father hoped that Sisi would cooperate with them and give them some money. She was the wealthiest member of the compound judging from the different wrappers she wore to the women’s meetings and the different cars that often dropped her in the mornings, Sisi however was equally the one member of the compound that never paid any bill on time- Papa feared that she may be stingy with the men. When our father heard Sisi crying out loud, he slipped out from underneath the bed, untied the handkerchief and dropped the key into the pot of okro I made that morning- we all heard the key make a silent clink sound as it sank to the bottom of what was left of our supper.
A few hours later, the men of the night had still not entered our room. My siblings and I spoke with our eyes and hoped in hearts that our thing be safe. School resumption was just a few days away, the majestic day we would pose with our thing! When the first rays of light hit our flat, our father rushed outside to confirm that Anuri was still there. We all heaved a sigh of relief as we caught a glimpse of her however our smiles soon turned into ugly creases.
Although Anuri was there, the men had dismembered her- She no longer had all four legs & eyes, they had carted away the battery that powered her, they forced out the wheel that steered her- worse, they had found a way to remove the metal that adorned her.
That marked the first day of the rest of Papa’s life. Papa forced out all the seats Anuri was adorned with and placed them beside mama Buchi’s kiosk; every evening, papa would jest about the fickle nature of life & things with his friends over a huge jug of palm wine.
He suddenly became lighter as though a weight was lifted off him- he did the best he could and made a joke about what was left.
Every time he passed Anuri, he had a smile not only on his face but in his heart.
Anuri remained his Joy.
This updated version of “Our Father’s Thing” was inspired by my friend and probably my oldest fan- Dipo Oginni
Photo Credit: Junk Cars