NO MORE STORIES TONIGHT, OR EVER

The evening breeze stings Ade’s bare chest coolly as he leans against the gate post. His multi-coloured, striped polo shirt carelessly hangs around his neck, threatening to slip off his neck. No attention was paid it and it didn’t slip off. Ade stares at the setting sun. Soon it would be time for Grandpa’s stories. His younger ones would crouch at Grandpa’s feet while he sits beside him on Grandpa’s favourite stool. He is Grandpa’s favourite, – being the first grandchild and grandson, – and depending on how he behaved during the day goes the manner of Grandpa’s stories.

Grandpa had called the family to the village the week before. He wanted to see everyone before he travelled, so Ade’s mother said. But she did not say where he was travelling to. Ade wants to go with him but Mother firmly says no each time he asks. He missed Grandpa’s twilight stories back in the city. No one tells stories in the city, talk more of reclining outside in the twilight. Everything is talks of insecurity, work, work, school, assignments and instructions to turn off the telly. Reading books. Musty, old dog-eared books, new books, books… books. Boring books that can’t compare to Grandpa’s wily crafted stories.

Ade sighs and squats. He flicks stones aimlessly.

Today, he had resolved to be a very good boy so Grandpa could tell them one of his very best stories. He did not run around just like his younger ones but sat at Grandma’s feet, helping her cut the spinach leaves for soup. In the afternoon, he caught Grandpa smiling at him, – his wrinkled face lightening up into a ruddy, handsome version like he had once seen in the black and white stacks of pictures in the broken gourd under Grandma’s bed. No, he was smiling absent-mindedly and looking through him. He wondered if Grandpa was thinking about tonight’s story. It must then be the very best story. Ade can’t wait to hear it.

From the gate, he sees his younger ones coming. They cut their way through the haphazardly cleared bush-path and tease one another with tipping the other’s gourd of water. Their excited giggles and chatters slice intermittently, through the almost deserted path, amidst the croaking and chirpings. They pass without saying a word to him, not even a greeting. Ola and Sope, Uncle Banji’s children, the only two at the rear, follow with a smirk on their face and their earthen pots in their hands, without water. That is what the civilisation in the city had turned them into. So disgusting! Ade spits at the remembrance of Ola, the inquisitive, loud-mouthed five year old, who had the effrontery to call Grandpa a liar because he had seen a tortoise on their excursion at the zoo and the tortoises on display couldn’t talk. And his senior sister Sope, seven, who didn’t kneel while greeting everyone upon their arrival but extended her left hand to everyone, including Grandpa. Says that’s what she sees on the Tv.

He wipes his mouth and shut the door; he padlocks and dips the key in his left pocket.

Grandpa’s journey suddenly comes to his mind. He would convince Mother to allow him go with Grandpa so he can sit beside him and he would always tell him stories. If she doesn’t consent, he will sneak off after Grandpa, he determined as he makes sure the padlock is tightly secure. He breaks into a run towards the main hut. It is silent, even his younger ones who had just made a hullabaloo as they passed. Something is wrong. But he doesn’t care! All that is on his mind is the story Grandpa would be telling tonight.

He makes a dash towards Grandpa’s hut. It is wide open and no one is inside. The thatched bed had been slightly rumpled as if there had been a little fight. It now occurred to him that he had not seen any body as he got to the main hut. Where could they all be? He head, undecided, towards Grandpa’s resting room, behind Grandma’s recently thatched hut on the right side of the compound. His younger ones are sitting at Grandma’s feet at her hut. They are all quiet.

He pass them laxly towards Grandpa’s resting room. The raffia curtain is slightly open. Grandpa is asleep but has two cotton-wools inserted into his nose. Ade doesn’t know what they are for. Grandpa lay rigidly, more like seriously. All the grown-ups are beside the bed, their heads dropped as if they had done something bad and Grandpa would beat them when he wakes up. May be it is because of the cotton wools they put in his nose. Aunty Rose, the lastborn screams and everyone, – Father and Mother, – rush to her side.

“It is okay,’ They pacify her severally. ‘Crying will not bring him back.”

Mother breaks into intermittent sobs. Father looks on, unsure of whom to attend to. Uncle Banji is beside Grandpa, head bent. He raises his head and locks eyes with Ade. He shoots up, advancing briskly to shut the raffia curtain properly.

A few minutes later he comes out, ignoring Ade’s eyes.

“I want to see Grandpa.” Ade blurts, stopping him in his track.

“You can’t see him.” Uncle Banji replied curtly.

‘‘Is it because Grandpa is asleep?’’

He crouched. Uncle Banji’s eyes are watery and glistens.

“You can’t see Grandpa because… because Grandpa is dead.’’

Ade stands, immobile. Uncle Banji leaves immediately for the main hut. He returns with a book and pen and briskly enters Grandpa’s resting room. Ade saw Grandpa’s face briefly. Firm and frail and those lips ready to tell a story. The last he saw of Grandpa. A hand touched him. He turned slowly to see Bimpe, his four year old cousin. She asks:

“Uncle, does that mean no more stories tonight… or ever?”

He did not know what to tell her because he had not answered the question himself.

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