By Efe Ukpebor
When I was growing up, I thought holidays to be the best thing ever. Either of these three things would happen: my cousins would visit us, we (my siblings and I) would spend the holidays playing Power Rangers at their house; or we would all spend the holidays at Big Mummy’s house.
There was a fourth option though – my cousins would go to visit their grandpa in Benin, while I would seethe in jealousy, having never left Lagos Then. Those holidays spent with siblings and cousins were the absolute best. We would run around the compound till we exhausted ourselves and flopped on the floor, panting.
Another favourite past time was twirling around a pole embedded in cement. We would hold the pole and run around it as fast as we could. To what end, I presently cannot recall. We would only stop when Big Mummy yelled at us to sit still.
Being my mother’s older sister, Big Mummy technically is my auntie, but that’s what we all called her. We called her husband Papa. He was soft-spoken, and was usually in his study, reading. When we were feeling reckless, we would tiptoe to the backyard, each of us feeling slightly afraid of the quiet and the shadows cast by the many trees, and each of us unwilling to say so. If she felt we were being too much of a nuisance, Big Mummy would keep us busy by pulling out a bucket of beans for us to sort. That mindless task usually put us straight to sleep after about 10 minutes.
Besides getting to play and visiting Papa’s library, what I loved the most about Big Mummy’s house was the soil. Yes, the soil. It would give off the beautiful, rich smell when it was about to rain. I would smuggle grains of beans from our sorting exercises, push them through the dark loam that was everywhere, and faithfully water them every day. For a child that had grown up around concrete floors, there was no greater magic than watching those seeds germinate.
Although my beans didn’t grow a stalk arching to the heavens, my success in growing them got me very excited and I wanted to see what else I could plant. Oranges would take forever to grow, Big Mummy said, so I took out some grains of rice from the bag in the store. I would plant and water, but no sprout would come up. Out of desperation, I visited the poultry cages Big Mummy kept, and wangled out some chicken poop with a couple of broomsticks. Manure, you know.
Someone found me determinedly watering the rice seeds and mercifully told me that the rice grains were already parboiled, so they wouldn’t grow. I really was relieved to know that I wasn’t really doing anything wrong, so I focused my energies.
Afterwards, I stuck to planting just beans and the occasional grains of corn. With the chicken poop, my new secret sauce, my seedlings grew taller than everyone else’s.
I remembered this story recently, and it helped to put things in perspective. I had been feeling a certain exhaustion, like I was being pulled in too many different directions at the same time, and so it hit me. I had been putting all of my energy into planting grains of rice that would not germinate, while the grains of beans lay there untended.