‘But don’t you think you are getting engulfed in this ocean of debt?’
The cashier asked with his eyes fixed on the letter delivered to him by the frail looking old man before him. The old man kept staring at the floor like the answer to the cashier’s question would erupt.
‘Baba, I mean, how do you intend to pay the debt you owe this organisation?’
Again, the cashier asked as if to clear an ambiguity. This time the old man managed to raise his head up. Beyond his appearance was a frail man – his yellow eyes were revelation of years of awaited comfort that was destined not to come. His shaky hands and legs were evidence of his battle with something beyond the stress of old age. His feeble semi-skeletal structure was concealed in a faded garment which years of usage had endorsed with tears and patches.
For almost 40 years, Baba, as he was popularly called in the village had been the guard at the only missionary school in the village. He was the father of Akin, the boy washed away by the fury of the village river. After Akin, Baba’s only hope remained Ini. Though she was not his biological daughter, Baba sure deserved all the dividends of parenting Ini. Ini’s story was a sad tale in itself yet it couldn’t rival Baba’s yearly ‘waiting on the Lord’ every Sunday at the village church. What had Baba not done? Weeks of fasting induced by lack of resources and the humiliating dance among agile men with the hope that the Lord of the dance would perform wonder. Moments of fetching fire woods and clearing bushes for money are not left out.
Baba replied with the last ripple of hope in his dying voice.
‘Please, consider my status for the sake of Ini, my little girl. I am ailing and my kidneys are failing. The white man at the clinic asked me to pay a few thousands, I need your help. I know I am indebted, even Ini would inherit the estate of debt. Please, let me push her up so that she can clear my debts. Let the disappointment of dying unfulfilled end by my demise. With an act of kindness, let me leave to break this ancestral curse.’
‘All right, I will look into your matter and check at your place to give you a feedback.’
After minutes of thanking the clerk, Baba made to leave but he slumped instead.
Opening his eyes at the village clinic, he saw little Ini looking lost in the world she found herself. She had braved the cold night and the insect bites to watch over Baba on his death bed.
A lady entered and faced Ini, ‘baba is dying, we need move him to the city. Who can help you with some thousands?’
The apparently lost Ini could only grab the words but not the message. Sensing this, the lady dashed out. Then with his hand, Baba beckoned on Ini to move close to him. He whispered something which obviously only Ini was destined to hear. The little girl ran out of the clinic and made for the school where Baba worked through the bushy path.
She got there and went straight to the clerk’s office. ‘Good morning sir, Baba asked me to come back with the little you can help us with.’
The bald-headed clerk seemed lost in thought for a moment and replied indifferently, ‘when baba slumped here, I slipped it into his pocket. Go back and check.’ The poor girl got back to the clinic and related the outcome to Baba. At that point, he could neither move his hands nor legs. He managed a whisper and Ini picked up his agbada from the wooden chair. After some minutes of struggling with it, she finally located the pocket. She stood still staring at its content like the audience at a magic show.
‘What is that?’ Baba struggled to ask.
‘The thing in your pocket’, said Ini who burst into tears as she ran towards Baba on his death bed. Baba managed to look up. In Ini’s little hand was the letter of assistance Baba wrote to the clerk…
David Oluwasegun Ogundipe