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Memory Lane

by Okorie Fabian Ugochukwu

As a child, I cried a lot. I cried not only when my needs were not met. I also cried even when they were superabundantly supplied. I would say that crying probably gave me a sort of inner pleasure. I must have been four or five then.

I cannot now say I was cantankerous. In fact, anybody who had seen me playing with my siblings and other kids in our village neighborhood and laughing with them would have never believed that there were tears locked up in my eye sockets. Whenever I was amused, I would laugh and laugh until my whole body felt the vibes and each organ began to laugh individually, especially my ribs. At such times, I believe a melancholic stranger nearby would wish that my merry mood was infectious so he could have a share of it. He might even be tempted to give me a gift for succeeding in making his day joyful.

But then, whenever the devil came, a slightest provocation by anyone even in the midst of my euphoria would kill it. Instantly. I would then begin to cry as if I had never been happy all my life. Sometimes my immediate elder brother, Nedum, would tease me and ask, "Are you normal, Ugo? You were just laughing, and now you are crying." But the frequency of this question in such occasions had dulled my sensitivity to it.

My parents, especially my mother, had grown weary of spanking or rebuking me for crying too much. What my mother did at some point, if she was not busy in the house, was to leave the room and go outside and wait until I was done with my crying. If it happened that I started crying when we were outside, she would leave me there and enter the house with an injunction that I should not join her inside until my wet eyes were dry. She would however be helpless if I started crying when it was raining or late in the night or very early in the morning. At these times, I would be like a housefly which has perched on the eyeball, and which can be driven away only with extra wisdom and caution.

Although I cried frequently, my siblings were sometimes my source of irritation. For instance, if we had a piece of meat to share after a meal or were given a gift of biscuits or such small items, my siblings would want to cheat me by giving me the least portion, saying I was the lastborn, as if being the lastborn was an aberration. I still remember one incident of such unjust treatment. That was at Christmas. My maternal uncle, Ndu, had called on us with four big balloons, each a different colour, and had shared them with my siblings and me. I was too weak to go out and play with mine on that Christmas Day. But before the day ended, my sister had burst hers as she was blowing it up, and my eldest brother Ugwunna had lost his to fire. But Nedum was still lucky to have his intact. The following day, in the afternoon, I saw Ugwunna playing with a red balloon in the air outside. It was the colour of my own balloon, so I rushed to where I had kept it. But it was not there. I hurried outside and told Ugwunna to give me back my own balloon. He continued playing with it, laughing, ignoring me. I got angry and lunged at him. But he evaded me and began to deride me. As I made a move to rush him again, he threw the balloon high into the air and ran out of the compound. I felt triumphant at having forced him to surrender. Then I lifted my hands up and followed the balloon to catch it. But a few inches away from my grip, it burst. I cried like a woman who had lost her only child. My father had to come out of the house to give me money with which I went to a shop nearby and bought another balloon, though one smaller than the first as there were no big sizes there. On occasions such as these, my cry was not unnecessary. It was purely a defense mechanism, a call for justice.

But as time went by, the increasing frequency of my cry got on my parents' nerves. I knew this because I overheard them saying they were tired of my cry, that though I was the lastborn, I was giving them a terrible headache with my cry. My mother said none of her children had cried the way I did.

One Friday evening in July, during school holidays, my father came home with an exercise book and sat on a couch in our living room, his face scrunched. I had never seen him like that and was about to ask him what had happened when he said, "Ugo, this is your register. Anytime you cry in this house again, it will be marked. At the end of each day, we shall count how many times you cried, and at the end of the week, we shall add up everything. When I am not around, Ugwunna will help to mark it. Did you hear me?"

My siblings listening answered the question for me with a burst of laughter. My father's face relaxed. I was not sure whether I really understood what he had said. But his intention began to dawn on me the evening of the following day when he brought out the register and called me and my siblings to count the number of the ticks there which represented how many times, I had cried that Saturday. Ugwunna started counting them and when he reached the last number, he shouted, "Twenty-two." Everybody turned to me and started laughing.

When their voices petered out, my father said, "Ugo, you can now see that you cry a lot. You waste your energy in crying. Today, Saturday, you cried twenty-two times."

My siblings could not stop laughing. I became sulky, and as I wanted to resort to my habit of crying as a form of protest against their rapturous jeers at me, my father picked up the register to mark it. I swiftly held my lips with my palm and suppressed the cry. This act provoked another round of laughter from my siblings. And I felt my mouth bridled.

For two days I did not cry, because each time I contorted my face to cry under whatever circumstances, my father or Ugwunna would rush to the register to mark it. But I would immediately press my palm on my lips firmly until I was able to squash that awful lump that usually hung in my throat at such time.

My father did not check the register on the weekdays that followed, but the next Saturday evening, he called me and my siblings as usual and checked it. "Wow!" he said. "Ugo, this week, you cried just two times."

My siblings looked surprised. Nedum said he could not believe that I had not cried more than two times.

"I didn't cry more than that," I heard myself protesting without prior intention to do so.

When my father checked the register again at the end of the following week, he nodded, smiled, looked at me in the face, and said, "Ugo, you are now growing into a man. I can't believe that you didn't cry this week."

"Daddy, I didn't cry. I didn't cry at all."

There was a hilarious uproar in the room. Everybody began to congratulate me on my achievement. My mother called me many sweet names that made my head reel with pride. Nedum gave me a thousand thumps-up. The man of the house, my father, would not be beaten in this effusive display of approval, for he promised me a watch, which, two days later, decorated my wrist.

Before school resumed, I became a new creature; and the old thing passed away.

Submitted 10/26/2023

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