I am going to tell you my story.
I have a neighbour. He is an old man. People say he is well over a hundred years. We call him Pa Akpuruka. He is as fit as anyone. He is not blind, he hobbles about with a stick and speaks with a tiny voice that sounds like a whistle that has water inside it. He lives with his young granddaughter, Ella. Nobody really knows how old Ella is. My sister always tells me that Ella is an old soul. Very little is known about them. Ella moved to our compound a few years ago. Few months later, she brought pa Akpuruka too.
Everybody adores pa Akpuruka. He likes to sit outside in the evenings, all by himself. I have never spoken to him. I always observed him from afar, afraid to go too close. In the evenings Ella would heft his heavy reclining chair on her head and march across the length of the compound to pa Akpuruka’s favourite spot –near the mouth of our compound’s gate. He likes to watch the children play. When it gets very dark and the children stop playing, pa Akpuruka would fully recline back and proceed to stare at the moon.
I got a mail today. My scholarship application has been turned down, again. Papa came home earlier in the afternoon today wearing a long face. My sister whispered to me that she overheard him telling mama on the phone that he has lost the car. The bank had dragged papa to court last week over a loan he had been unable to settle. He couldn’t raise the money the court had ordered him to provide within 24 hours and his old car was given to the bank for sale. Papa has no money to pay my fees. The scholarship was all we were hoping on.
As usual pa Akpuruka was already seated on his favourite spot this evening. I had no one to talk to. I made my way slowly towards where he sat and set my stool down gently. I joined him to stare at the moon until my neck began to hurt.
“We are the same”, Pa Akpuruka began.
“Sir?”, I enquired. Unsure of what he meant or what else to even say.
“You see the moon, son? The way he shines? He does not mind that the sun would appear tomorrow and he’ll be gone. But he knows he will always be back”, he said.
I pondered over it and looked up at the moon again.
“You are the moon, son”, he continued. “When life decides to go rogue on you, remember the moon. No matter the harshness of the sun, it will always shine when his time comes.”
“It is so Papa”, I agreed
He stopped talking and returned his gaze to the moon. After a long time, he got up slowly and called for Ella as loudly as he could. She shows up and patiently helps him to his feet, hefts the chair on her head again and marches off to their apartment while he trudges slowly after her.
The next day I joined Pa Akpuruka again. He teases me about my beard that are recently beginning to sprout reluctantly. He continues to tell me about his days in the army. He tells me about the civil war. I listen patiently. Finally, he is exhausted with the excitement. He tells me to be patient with life. He points his chin at my scrawny beard and compared life with them.
“We do not all grow them at the same time”, he said. “But they always come when they are ready”
We both laugh. He has no strength to call Ella. I help him carry his chair into their apartment. It is very dark inside. Ella has lit a candle already. As I make to leave Pa Akpuruka extends his arms to embrace me with great effort. He tells me to be strong.; that only the strong can be patient. I thank him and take my leave.
For the first time in a long time I felt truly happy. I felt a sense of purpose. It didn’t matter what life threw at me, I’d always remain strong.
The next day, early in the morning, I received another email of apology. My denied scholarship was a mistake. My application had been approved. And I was among the winners. I quickly rushed off to process my acceptance. I returned in the evening, took out my stool and waited for Pa Akpuruka to show up so I could share the news with him. He never did show up. In fact, he would never show up. They say he died peacefully in his sleep. I miss him.
I am currently in my final year in the University. Ella moved out shortly after Pa Akpuruka died. Sometimes, I reflect over my short experience with that mysterious old man and can only conclude that he must have been an angel from God for such a difficult period in my life.
I realize now, that, influence does not require a long time before it occurs. Even the briefest of encounters are enough to set the wheels of change in motion in our lives. I regret not warming up to him earlier. But then, I still appreciate the much I got from that old man. I hope to see him and thank him someday.
This entry was submitted as part of the Nigerian Voices competition organized by YNaija.com.
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