“C’mon, Ejike. We’re almost there.”
The soil was warm under our feet as we followed the narrow path that led deeper into the farm. It was mid January and the balmy harmattan air was hot on our faces as we ran. On both sides of the path were molds of dry leaves heaped together for burning in preparation for cultivation, some to be left to decay and be used as manure. Besides that, everything else was green. We ran past them till we came up under a tree. I was the first to get there. We stopped and gazed upwards. The smooth yellow skins of ripe udala stared back at us.
“How did you find this?” Ejike asked.
“Magic,” I answered.
He rolled his eyes. I giggled.
We began to search the ground for fallen ones. This had become our ritual. We both attended the same primary school, a catholic mission school built inside a church. Since the new priest arrived, everything had changed. We now went home by noon everyday. Not that we were complaining. Going home by 4PM never quite allowed all our adventures. We would eat then sneak out to either play ball on the clearing behind Ejike’s house, or run to the farm to pick fallen fruits. And when I discovered this one, I knew I had to show my best friend.
I wouldn’t say I remember how we became friends, Ejike and I, or why. We were as different as day and night. While I was skinny and fair skinned with dark brown eyes, Ejike was sturdy with large dark eyes, his skin the colour of brown chocolate. Our heights differed greatly too though we were both ten. I always teased him about how short he was. He would feign being angry and chase me around, until one evening when he just sat and stared straight ahead. When I teased him again, he turned and said, “It’s a good thing you’re tall. When I marry you, we’ll have tall children.”
“How do you know that?”
“I know things.”
I wanted to laugh and say that I would tell on him for eavesdropping on adults but my Mama was already beckoning on us to get inside the house. She never objected to our friendship, my Mama. I was this child who never socialised and she didn’t pushed me, not once. The first time Ejike showed up at our house, all sweaty and dirty, she had smiled at him and given him my piece of cake, which I hated but forgave anyway. I loved her too much to hold a grudge and I loved Ejike too.
It was almost late afternoon when we finally left the farm and headed home. Ejike’s legs were dry and white from the harmattan. His lips were also broken since I had refused to share my jar of Vaseline with him. He always forgot to make use of his and I liked punishing him first. We got to their house shortly. It was a big bungalow protected by a tall fence and a large gate in front. Inside the compound, by the left, stood a tangerine tree. We raced towards it and began to climb. Ejike was fast, as always, and was perched on a low branch in no time. I joined him and we both sat on it, swatting tiny yellow insects.
The gate opened just then. Fearing being scolded by Ejike’s mum, we began to scramble down like monkeys. I must have slipped, for the last thing I remembered was the excruciating pain as I hit a part of my body on one of the blocks placed round the tree, before darkness enveloped me.
When I opened my eyes, it was to a bandaged left arm, a pair of huge dark eyes peering into my face and small but strong fingers pulling my cheeks.
"What took you so long?"
This piece is a combination of fiction and none fiction – something I like to call faction. My childhood was filled with running around naked and climbing of trees. This is just a sneak peek of it looked like. I’ll leave you to decide which parts are real and which parts are fiction.
Udala is African star fruit.