Breakfast is ready. Breakfast is ready… Hello son, breakfast is set… This was one of those times you were dreaming, and you were aware of it. I was aware of it. Only that as the dream stretched I began to slowly get conscious of my environment, and realize after all that it wasn’t a dream. No I wasn’t dreaming.
“Good morning, son.” She said to me.
My eyes were still shut, trying to remember my last thoughts, but I was half awake now. She must have watched my bulky eyeballs wiggle underneath my thin eyelids, like a baby eagle struggling to break free from the thin membrane beneath its egg shell.
My eyes popped open. I managed to smile, because she wasn’t the one who brought my travail upon me. She deserved more than a smile. The old woman I meant.
“Good morning ma,” I pushed forward my archaic pleasantries, taking in the whiff of the aroma that permeated the air. I saw the blush on her face. The blush that would have been there had she been white. Her face swelled at the courtliness of my words. I don’t know how, or why, but if I were to make a guess, I think it would be because not many people called her ‘ma’. Not in these days. Her name when she first told me, as we got off the train was Rosemary.
“Breakfast is set, and the hotter, the healthier for your innards.” She sat by my bedside still. I wondered for a bit, at my chance. The old woman was my lifeline, a shelter to keep me from the rain… ouch.
She pinched me. “How so fast your mind wonders, son.”
I sighed. She knew that I had escaped for a brief thought of my own. She must have seen it in the distance in my eyes. I smiled coyly at her.
I sat up and promptly obeyed her wishes. Not that I wasn’t hungry, truth was, I could have eaten in my dream if I had the option; I just couldn’t help but wonder at the chance I had gotten. What if I hadn’t smiled?
Or worse still, what if she hadn’t smiled back.
Rosemary, the name she preferred I called her, had watched me from the moment I staggered unto the pavement of the train station two nights ago. Rather than the fear I thought she had felt when she first saw me, it was an affable state of compassion that made her constantly look my way. Not that I looked like an alien who just dropped from the sky, but she knew I needed help.
Without asking, she had come over to my seat, and swiped her chipcard to pay for my ticket. She was sure I was actually alien, when she asked me for my destination, and I couldn’t say. So that night, she had brought me to her home.
The first meal I had taken since I returned to the future- apart from what those legis fed me with- was a large bowl of hot soup with a lot, lot of diced meat and chunky vegetables – this was close to what we used to know as pepper soup from my other life. The spice had its effect on both my throat and my eyes. She had said it would help bring back my senses. And she was right in some sense. I felt more. My ears worked better- sort of heard clearer. My jaw became loose, almost to the point of getting permanently slacked. The soup worked wonders.
Rosemary was patient with me, although I could see it in her eyes she wanted to know everything about me. The only thing she seemed sure about was that I didn’t come from what she referred to as the other side. “People there never get lost. Life there is lived under the watchful eyes of the Big Brother.” She had smiled wryly as she said that. I had thought about it for a moment before I asked the expected. Again it revealed to her that I wasn’t even as enlightened as those of them who lived in this part of the country deprived of modernity. She was getting information without even asking.
I told her my name was Eli. Yes. That was the only way I could have stayed away from being linked to Sam. “Eli what?” She had asked that night after she opened her door to me.
I paused at the threshold, deciding if I was supposed to tell her who I really was. No. I had said to myself. “Let’s just leave it as Eli for now.” She must have seen the plea in my eyes, because she went into her house and left me standing outside. “We have mosquitoes on this side of the city, please.” I was smart enough to know she had meant I should come in quickly and shut the door behind me.
Yesterday, she had given me a cursory tour around her tiny, antediluvian living room, with every single picture on the wall representing different times and seasons of her life. It reminded me of my father’ house. One thing I noticed was that she didn’t speak intimately of any one from her past. It was as though she had sealed off some wells of emotions, never to be opened again. I saw it in her voice. To me, she seemed better off with her life as it was. And that only made both of us.
And so the unofficial marriage between me and this old woman who must be somewhere around her seventies, was mutually secretive, as long as neither posed any form of danger to the other.
Rosemary, as I guessed must have been a chef in her prime, because her culinary exploits seemed to have re-sprouted out of the need to share and give of her altruistic nature. She longed for it. The way I sipped the morning soup from the bow, and tore at the lean flesh of meat hewn around a weightless bone put a smile on her face. Well, if this was what brought her joy, how come there weren’t anyone else around? How come I see none of the children in the street play around her door? I thought people naturally gravitated towards free things. Or maybe there weren’t free after all.
I ate the soup and porridge plate-clean, and gave her a rewarding belch that made her smile even wider. She laughed.
Rosemary had an ultra-dimension TV she hardly turned on. At least not in the two days I have been here. I loved it that way, at least there was a slim chance she had heard of me in the news. I wondered what must be happening in the other part of the city right now. I thought of the beautiful Dr. Islo and I certainly thought of my primary mission here. How was I supposed to get back to my family?
Dr. Islo had said something as regards my death. Sam’s death. There must have been a lot of controversy around it. I wished I could learn more about it here without drawing attention to myself.
Outside the house was a totally relatable environment with my other life. This looked like the ‘hood’, the suburbs of the city. Kids played around, skating, cycling, and the sound of laughter was real in the street. I figured out that today must be some kind of public holiday, because it seemed the men also were home. Nigeria never got hold of her love for public holidays, did she?
After breakfast I followed Rosemary to the kitchen to continue the slow conversation that was typical between grandmother and grandson. Though a little slow in tempo, she proved to be a healthy conversationist, allowing me throw in some responses here and there.
Outside her kitchen window was a garden that had blossomed way past its beauty spot. It was now well overgrown with thick grass, suggestive of a second generation of weed succession. A third one which wasn’t far away would have the piece of land renamed a ‘forest’.
“That used to be where I spent my time when I still had the strength,” Rosemary gesticulated with her ambidextrous hands at the garden below. “Ron, my little gardener friend left for the main city nine months ago. Since then, it has been hard for me to do it alone.”
I watched the garden through the space in the window blind. Squirrels and monkeys would soon start to habit the place. I smiled at a thought that tugged in my mind, and when I looked at Rosemary, she was looking right into my eyes. I couldn’t help but smile. She had perfectly read my mind, and she brimmed with delight. “Yes, I would clean it up. With your help of course, because I know next to nothing about gardens.” I said.
“Don’t worry, I’m a good supervisor.” I wanted to think deep about what that could mean, instead I let it go, and laughed at her attempt at humour.
An hour later, I was ankle deep in the loamy soil, rooting out stubborn grass, and water leaf that used to serve as a cheap source of vegetables back in the day. Rosemary had provided me with a pair of garden gloves, boots, and a few farm tools to make my work a bit pleasurable. I definitely remembered the old saying that goes ‘eyan o’n wa si’le agba lasan’. I mustered up all the energy I could draw from the porridge and soup that had earlier gone into my ‘innards’, and began work. The last time I did something close to this was during my days in the high school.
The sun came out blazing, the sweat poured down, but I kept my hands in the plough. “I believe this would do.” Rosemary called out from the top of the kitchen stairs where she supervised. I looked up from my labour and saw her waving a raffia hat at me. That raffia hat. Lord, I remember from way back in the day, those hats woven from raffia and worn by sugarcane sellers, and the popular Ikebe Super soup hawkers. This future life of mine was beginning to take a different toll on me, as I felt as if I was back in my normal life but still had a borrowed face on.
I wiped off the perspiration from my temple, as I donned the cap and immediately continued the till. Rosemary was about reminding that I be careful around the thorn of the roses when the doorbell sounded. I looked up at her as she wondered who could be visiting. The frown on her face said she wasn’t expecting any body. “I’ll be right back, just a sec to send those JWs back on the streets.”
JWs? I thought. Oh, yeah JWs. Apparently they had become another legacy that was as old as time itself. I remember when they would come to my father’s house on Sunday mornings when everyone was expected to be in church. They were sure to always find at least one devil-possessed person in the compound to preach to.
I continued my work, hoping to soon call it a day. I began to think about how to learn of Sam’s death in the most unsuspecting way. But what if I came open before Rosemary, could she be of help? Would anyone belief if I told them that the supposed dead Sam Akinfe was alive; and not only that, but I that wasn’t Sam but Eli, Sam’s grandfather.
I stood the prong in the heap of weed I had gathered aside, thinking for a sec. I wouldn’t even believe that if someone else told me.
“Hey.” Someone called out from the top of the kitchen stairs. That wasn’t Rosemary’s voice, perhaps she had given in to the incessant plea from one of the JWs, who had now taken things a step further in coming all the way to the backyard to extend greetings to his peasant self. But… Hey?
I slowly raised my entire torso to a standing position and leveled my eyes to great the bringer of Good News. My eyes locked with the man’s. A guy in straight faded jeans and heavy rubber-sole boots with loose shoestrings stood arms akimbo by the kitchen threshold. Across his dusty-brown dirty fitted shirt that emphasized his chiseled trunk, was a bag strap. His legs stood apart, reminding me of those Texan movies of the late nineties, except that he had no hat on. His skin was toned, almost burnt, and his belt head sat conspicuously below his abdomen, as if to cover some exposed pubic hair.
“Hey.” I replied with a tired grunt in my voice, and as if lately considered, I pulled my prong from the ground and saluted him.
Where was Rosemary? I neither heard her voice nor her footsteps on the kitchen floor. I waited, eager to return to my work. I looked around the portion of the garden left to till, while I listened to the strangers boot land on the stairs, descending towards the edge of the garden.
Where was Rosemary?
“You work here?” He asked me. I looked up again, narrowing my eyes as if squinting from the intensity of the sun. I looked at my soiled glove hand before I figured out what to say. “I suppose.”
“Hmm,” he was deciding to come closer. I wondered if I bore any form of threat to him. Who was this guy? I looked around me, all around were farm tools. A number of them. He… He had this one leather duffel bag which’s content I was clueless off. I was about to call for Rosemary when she appeared at the tip of the kitchen door. Her demeanor somewhat dampen.
“He is my new gardener; just started work today,” I could hear a slight buffer in Rosemary’s voice. This guy was apparently no JW; neither was he a stranger around here. I knew I had to be patient, but what went through my mind were thoughts of how guarded I was from any danger. This guy approached with so much effrontery, so little words, and so much scrutiny in the eyes.
“I bet he is.” The thirty something years old guy was acting like a Hollywood boss. He was checking out my physic. I began to wonder if he knew me. If he knew Sam, or found me slightly familiar. I stood my cool, not breaking a sweat from his stare. I hoped that in any way, the hat must have concealed my appearance a little.
“You do a pretty good job. How long have you been on this?”
“About an hour, or so.”
“I mean on this career path… this peasant job.”
“My father was a gardener. My mother was a weaver. I’m not sure I remember how long I’ve been on this job.”
“You don’t look like you are from here.”
“No, I’m not. I’m from far, far north.”
“So where you from?” I asked. Attack was the best form of defense.
He stared at me with eyes wide open, as if he couldn’t believe I just asked such question.
“Eli, that’s my son. My son, Sloane.” I could hear a faint tremble in Rosemary’s voice. Sloane didn’t like his mother helping me out; it sort of killed his joy.
“Please to meet you, Sloane.” I stretched a soiled gloved hand for a shake but slowly dropped it. I figured out that he was merely being protective of his mother, a single, vulnerable, old woman. I smiled to allay his fears, and waited as he scrutinized my features further.
He suddenly turned back, and climbed up the stairs; still snorting as he passed by his mother by the kitchen door. She followed after him, moving her fragile body as fast as she could.
I couldn’t hear the discreet conversation that ensued between them, but the tone from Sloane sounded reprimanding. I heard my brow again, this time with my gloves. I wandered a little around the piece of property. I couldn’t be certain if my face struck Sloane as familiar, I was only sure that he was feared by his mother. His mother.
I went back to work, and began thinking how I would have to spend the night with this man. That would only be possible if Rosemary was able to employ her magnanimous nature to mellow the menacing countenance of her son. I had to begin to make real plans at getting back to my family. It’s been about a week now since I got back here, what would Sally and her grandma think of me now. I sighed, and I went back to work.
Sloane Jegede stood in the tiny living room, his head only a few metres from touching the ceiling. This wasn’t the first time he looked taller when upset. He seethed through his space between his teeth, trying hard not to raise his voice. He looked at the old woman with the disgust one would have for a creepy insect. He looked at the miniature dining table, and it was as if he was going to lose his cool after all. “You gave your gardener food on this table. Why?”
Rosemary in her servile demeanor thought well of her words before she spilled them out, not because she was afraid of her son, but because she was afraid of his temper. “He was hungry, and I thought I needed company.”
Sloane’s eye narrowed to a scowl. “You don’t need company. No. I have told you this a million and one times. What you need is safety. And on this one time, there is no safety in numbers. You only become vulnerable.”
“I disagree. I think this,” she waved her hands around the house, “is what makes it all vulnerable. What harm could there be in giving a drink to a needy person?”
Sloane paused, a little dumbfounded at what he just heard. He stretched his neck and retracted it again like a swimming duck. “You also…”
The table phone rang with a very distracting alacrity. It seemed the caller’s eagerness reflected in the high pitch tone of the ring. Sloane needed to continue what he was saying. He hated been cut short. Rosemary on the other hand had moved towards the phone. “I’m still talking.” It was a bark, only that it was hushed. Rosemary stopped at her tracks, and took one step back closer to where she initially stood. She waited for her son to continue, determined not to interject him again with anything in the house.
Sloane wiped the spittle that had smeared his mustache. He was determined to speak calmly now. “Sorry. I’m just concern about your safety. You know you are the only one I got. And these people around, I… I don’t have to tell you the world is less safe than when you folks first landed on this freaking planet… Whatever.”
Rosemary held firmly to the wooden rest of one of the two dining chairs. She was sure all this was going to be over soon. “Thank you, son. I still gat some soup in the pot, would you like some.”
Sloane had remarkably calmed down. “No. I not staying, just came to check on you.”
“Your mother is safe and fine.”
Sloane breathed heavily, like something bothered him greatly. He opened his mouth and wanted to speak but it was obvious he changed his mind. He looked suspiciously at the window, then moved across to it. He shifted the blind slightly to observe the gardener that tilled away the soil. “My partner is dead, mum.”
Rosemary was truly startled at the instant she heard the word ‘dead’, but she had to think for about five seconds on who his partner was; whether it was any one of those she had once met. His job demanded that they changed partners as often as deemed fit. This was one occupation where partners were changed faster than dance partners at a ball.
“Do I know him? What happened to him?”
“McDen. I said he was shot.”
“You said he died.”
“Most cops don’t die from heartbreak, do they? He was shot dead in the line of duty.”
“Oh sorry for the loss of Mc… what’s his name again? When was this?”
“Night before.” He answered only the last question.
“So thoughtful of you. That’s why you came to check up on me?”
Snort. “Something like that. But mainly to come tell you I gat to be away for some time.”
“Away? You hardly come to this side of the city.”
“Exactly. Listen. I will be away from town all together.”
“Is anyone after you? Why don’t you tell you boss?”
Snort. “That is why I have come here to warn you.”
“They are coming here?”
“Stop. Listen to me, mother!”
Exhale. “If any one comes here to look for me, tell them you haven’t seen me in months.”
“Perfect. And let that damn gardener of yours be gone before noon.”
“I love you, mum.”
It was as though Rosemary’s throat was knotted with a thick thread. She couldn’t remember when she last heard those words from her son. Her eyes instantly clouded from the mushy feeling. “I love you, son. More than anything.”
“Goodbye.” Sloane bent his head, stepping past the main door to the outside, as he had done countless times before; never saying when he would return. Never calling, never mailing, never leaving a contact.
Rosemary walked to the door as she watched her son put on his dark glasses and pull off the drive way in a blue sedan; disappearing down the street.
Tear rolled freely down her face; her vision slowly went blur.
When Rosemary finally returned to the garden, I was seated on the stairs, cleaning off the soil from the tools. I had managed to clear about half of the garden. The other work left to do was clearing the other half, and then pruning the flowers that had spread in all direction.
I looked up at Rosemary, and I saw that she had been sobbing. She sat beside me, and we managed to share an assuring smile. She didn’t ask if I heard the conversation between her and her son, neither did I tell her that I knew something wasn’t right. I hugged her the best way I could without squashing her.
The neighbourhood had gone a little quiet, apart from the few dog barks in the street. I could make out the sound of the TV from a neighbour’s apartment, though. I looked at the time, it was 10pm, and Rosemary had said her goodnight about an hour ago. I think she suffers from somniloquy, but I didn’t bother to confirm.
The TV sat idle on the top of the drawer where it must have been, undisturbed all year. I stood up from the sofa, and moved toward it. Not sure how to make it come on, I rubbed my fingers around the circumference to fill for any button. Nothing. I remembered the more advance gadgets I had seen at the laboratory, this was a far cry from that, but apparently I couldn’t even find a way to turn it on.
“TV screen green.”
I turned sharply to see Rosemary by the door of her bedroom. I didn’t understand what she just said. By the time I looked back at the screen, it had come on. I stood back in amazement. Rosemary walked into the living room and sat on the sofa.
“I can’t sleep. I’m worried for Sloane.”
“He will be okay, I’m sure.”
“I pray.” We both sat down as the TV first went green then blue. “NG 24.” Rosemary said casually, and the TV promptly obeyed. I was impressed by the only modern thing in the house, which to them was even outdated. We watched the news for about ten minutes, by the time Rosemary had began snoring softly.
I was about to wake her up to help her to bed, when the news presenter began another headline. The image that played over the voice was very familiar. In seconds, I knew exactly where that was. The lab facility where I had woken up into the future; where Dr. Islo worked.
“Dr. Islo is currently in intense care; and the assailant, one Lanre McDen Momoh was found dead in her lab at the DiVivo facility. Dr Ethel Islo’s fiancée, Thomas Oshogun spoke with NG 24 that he was sure his fiancé would make it out alive.”
“Meanwhile the head of the department, Dr. Lucman Reuben has guaranteed his unit’s full cooperation with the police authorities to get to the bottom of the case.”
I looked at Rosemary. She was well asleep, head flung over the top of the sofa.