Creative Nonfiction Funny Kids

“Uncle, can you turn on the TV?”

Uncle Jerome's eyes crinkled. “Why, my boy, of course,” he said, before picking the black remote that hitherto lay on an equally black couch. The TV came to life in his living room, and through my window(it was more like a rectangular space in a wall of concrete), I watched the latest update on Covid-19.

Before the lockdown, or should I say quarantine, (I don’t know if it’s either or both, but it’s definitely not neither thanks to C-19), visiting Uncle Jerome every Thursday was a ritual. Other people from different compounds often came to watch TV too, mostly because they were amused by the “strange thing”. 

Our native compound, Amaudo, was the wealthiest(not richest) in Amauche. It was wide, adorned with colorful scenery, courtesy of Madam Molara’s evenly-spaced fruit farms. The people in Amaudo were fairly educated too, children included. Education entailed being informed, and Uncle Jerome made sure we were. Being the richest man in Amauche, he owned the only television in the village. It had a liquid crystal display monitor and through it, the chaos in the world was not lost on us. 

Uncle Jerome was munching on his chewing stick, a superior brand no one in the village had. He was shirtless and supine on a furry mat. He called it a carpet one time I asked. My eyes shifted back to the television. Our president, Mr. Yugari, was saying something about making donations to citizens so we won’t starve during this period. 

“Uncle, will Mr. Yugari really make those donations?”

He sighed, frustration lacing his tone.

“I’ve told you, Uche. He’s not ‘Mister’, he’s ‘President’.”

“Does it matter? It’s not like he can hear me.”

“I know he can’t. But you have to get used to calling him by his rightful title, so you don’t make any mistakes in your exams, or worse, in public.”

It was my turn to sigh. Exams were the last thing on my mind. Adding theatrics, I fell back on my straw mat, instantly regretting it as undone weaves poked my back with their scratchy hands. By now, I would’ve been lying on Uncle’s carpet, its soft bristles tickling me. 

I sighed again before raising my voice, so he could hear me despite not seeing me, “Will ‘President’ Yahari Yugari make those donations, sir?”

Uncle laughed a throaty laugh that matched his old age. “You should call me that often.”

“No, I won’t.”

“You should. We’re—”

“—not related, I know, Uncle. You’ve said that many times. It doesn’t change that fact that you’re my special Uncle.”

He barked a laugh that startled me into sitting up. Uncle Jerome had sat up as well, his white twenty eight exposed, his diastema looking deceptively wider with his head thrown back. I resisted the urge to grin. Uncle Jerome hardly laughed around other people, only throwing a polite smile here and there. I shook my head, refocusing on the TV. Mr. Yugari’s face had been replaced with a reporter's. She announced it was ten in the morning before explaining the situation in Iagos, the state that experienced the first case of coronavirus.

I heard when Uncle wheezed to a stop. He adopted his signature honeyed tone before speaking. “Uche, my boy, what am I to do with you?”

I didn’t look at him when I said, “Nothing, except answer my question. Don’t think I haven’t noticed you’re evading it.”

He cleared his throat, but didn’t say anything. For an unnervingly long time. I finally gazed at him; he was staring at the bags of rice displayed on TV, a wistful ghost in his left eye. I could only see his profile, but I was familiar with the cataract clouding his other eye. He puffed his cheeks and blew out a breath. It sounded like opening a keg of palm wine. 

“My boy, I don’t know, and I don’t think it matters. At least not to the people in this village. They’re not interested in the happenings of our world.”

“And they’re stupid like that.”

“I’d remind you your parents fall under this category.”

My caramel skin flushed with embarrassment. Partly because of Uncle, who rarely sounded strict; partly because I’d unintentionally called my parents stupid. I furtively surveyed my recently-tidied room, looking beyond the open door into the dimly-lit hallway. No sign of papa. No sign of mama. Phew! 

“I didn’t mean that,” I rushed, facing Uncle Jerome. “I’m sorry.”

To my relief, Uncle relaxed into a smile. “Good, Uche. No one is stupid.” He took out his chewing stick. “We must not judge them.”

I rolled my eyes. As you’d imagine, initially, when Amauche heard of the Covid-19 and its official entry into Bineria—on February 25, 2020, if I’m not mistaken—the village was torn between fear and doubt. Some people shut themselves in their homes almost immediately, even before the government’s mandate. Others twisted their faces in pretend scrutiny, coming up with absurd songs and conspiracy theories about coronavirus like everything was a big fat joke. Unfortunately, Papa and Mama were in the second category.  

Regardless, one thing these two groups had in common was they stopped visiting Uncle to watch TV. I, alongside Uncle Jerome, formed a third group. We wanted to know more. So, as per my ritual, the old man never missed me on Thursdays, until the Government gave and enforced the order to stay indoors.

Men in army uniforms filed into our village like a sandstorm. I could only see how ironic it was, that the Government would send people to a rural place like ours to actually “bully” us into hiding in our homes, but they wouldn’t come down themselves to help us develop like the cities. Getting them to provide us with electricity and pipe-borne water in the first place was war for Uncle. At first, they’d ignored all his letters, but he kept writing. Finally, when the Government responded and agreed to schedule a meeting, they cancelled at the last minute and on many occasions without bothering to explain why. Frankly speaking, I didn’t expect he’d win the war, but thankfully, he did. No one in the village was as smart and persistent, however, to fight for good roads and other facilities. And Uncle Jerome was too tired for another battle. As he’d said that sweltering afternoon, two years ago, “I’m battle-scarred, my boy. They made sure of that.” My Papa was with me at the time, and his dark expression put meaning to Uncle’s otherwise vague words. I rarely discussed the Government with him after that. 

Nevertheless, as reality evolved, so did TV time. 

I chewed on my lower lip, spreading my palms on the vertical sides of my “window”. “Uncle, I don’t think those donations would reach us. Or anyone.”

“Don’t be so cynical, Uche. You’re young.” He stood, waving his chewed stick. Half its length resembled the undone weaves of my mat. “Let me dispose this.” The dustbin was in his kitchen. Luckily, it adjoined the living room, so he wasn’t going far. The TV still rambled in the background, but it wasn’t my focus anymore.

I shouted after him. “I’m a sixteen-year-old boy who for one has experienced ill treatment at the hands of government. You’re always saying it’s not by age. With that, you can say I’m as old as you are.”

Uncle didn’t need to shout. Somehow, I heard him say from his kitchen, “I see. Maybe, you’re right. But then, haven’t we all experienced some level of unfairness? Let me brew some tea, my boy.”

I groaned. If I were in his house, he would’ve made me tea. Only Uncle Jerome had expensive things from the city, thanks to his children who thrived well there.

“Uncle, how are your children?”

“They’re fine. Wara just had a baby boy. When she told me, I joked to name the child Corona.” He barked another laugh. I hissed. This old man.

“I hope they don’t get the disease. Her family is in Iagos, abi?” I asked when he stopped laughing. 

He emerged from the kitchen and set a mug on the wooden table that stood in the center of the room. He reclined on his couch. “Yes. But they’d be fine. I’m worried about Joseph, if anything.”

Joseph was a doctor. “He’d be fine.”

The old man’s bushy eyebrows rose. “See this boy. I thought you were all pessimism this morning.” 

I shrugged. “I can be rainbows and sunshine too, sir.”

He chuckled before raising the steaming mug to his lips, a smiling eye on me. As he drank, I eyed him like a man in the desert dying of thirst. 

The mug left his lips. “Don’t worry, my boy. When this storm is over, I’d make you a nice mug of Lipton tea.”

I didn’t withhold my smile this time. “Well, let’s hope it does blow over.”

Uncle Jerome laughed, sunshine to my nimbo. “And he’s back. Let’s watch something interesting, please.” He held the remote. 

“Okay, sir. Mama gave me two hours today, thank the Heavens.”

“Your parents are fine?” He flicked through channels.

“Yes, sir. They’re yet to believe this is the world now, though.”

Uncle sighed. “You should persuade them to watch TV with you.” 

“Don’t you think I’ve tried? They’re as adamant as—"

“—It’s okay, Uche. Just… greet them for me.”

I swallowed my words and nodded. He didn’t see it, he didn’t need to. 

The rest of my time with Uncle was spent watching one comedy after another. Even before C-19, Thursday had always been the highlight of my week. With this new development(if one could call it that), it only became more so. Not because of Uncle Jerome’s television, of course. We both knew it was simply a means to getting what we really enjoyed: each other’s company.

April 22, 2020 13:12

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