You see this picture below? It is the mother of all throwbacks. I can’t even remember when it was taken, but as you can see, it was in the age of cameras and negatives and printed photos and framed pictures, before smartphones came out and made it so that every memory is just a quick click away.
This is my maternal extended family – my parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins. I have grown-up cousins who make noise on the social media these days whose conception hadn’t even been thought of at the time this picture was taken. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Uzo, lol)
We were all so young and so close and so full of vitality. This was my grandfather’s house, a place we used to visit a lot. When I look at this picture, I remember too many memories – of games and fights and weddings and dinner tables filled with family and food and joy. I remember moments like the night we, the children, watched this all-time favourite horror film called Evil Dead, and we were shrieking with such fright that my grandmother stomped out of her room into the parlour to command us all back to bed. Easy for her to say: we got to the long, dark corridor – whose light bulb was bad – that led to our bedroom and were too petrified to go on any further. No one wanted to be the first to go, in the hands of whatever evil lurked in that corridor. No, siré! It took an older second cousin fetching a lamplight for us to go on to our beds that night.
I’m writing this, dear Diary, and I’m smiling wistfully at this reminiscence. There are so many things I remember about my grandfather’s house – like his dog, a rangy, black-and-white greyhound named Timmy. This dog was, to my childlike eyes, huge, ferocious and faithful to just one person – my grandfather. Maybe then, my grandmother, sometimes my uncles and aunts – but never the grandchildren! I just don’t know what that dog had against us. We’d visit and he’d place himself next to my grandpa, regarding us with cold haughtiness, those liquid dark eyes of his seeming to tell us that he’s only being civil because our grandfather is present, otherwise he couldn’t think twice about making mincemeat out of us.
And it wasn’t just us, the grandchildren; it was all the children in the environment that made up my grandfather’s small estate. Timmy simply didn’t like us, with our precociousness and our tantrums and our free-spiritedness. And he made sure to let us know exactly his feelings toward us, whenever we played in the compound and he was in the vicinity, free and roaming, as he was often wont to do. We always had to ask for him to be locked up before coming out to play, because if he was free, he’d always chase after us, with bristling hackles and snarling teeth.
I remember my personal episode with the dog. It was a sunny midday, and my grandmother had instructed me to go fetch something from my grandpa. He was in his home office, which was located outside, a terraced room that adjoined the main building. This meant I had to go outside to the porch, across the yard, up the pavement and into the office to deliver my grandma’s message. Easy enough, right?
My brother was the first to deliver the bad news to me. “Timmy is outside.”
My heart dropped three stories to my intestines when I opened the front door slightly to confirm that the furry terror was indeed outside. He was sunning himself several yards away from the porch, his great big head propped up over his front paws, his floppy ears jerking every now and then in idle protest of the flies buzzing around his head.
His eyes were shut. But the moment I edged the door open, they snapped open. Just that. He didn’t move his head, he didn’t rise; his eyelids just opened and instant malevolence sharpened the gaze he settled on me. It was unnerving. He was far away from me, and yet I could feel the heat of his silent warning.
Don’t even think about it, he seemed to be saying.
I swallowed hard. My brothers giggled behind me, evidently enjoying my trepidation.
“What are you going to do?” one brother asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied sullenly. I couldn’t ask for the dog to be taken inside, because no adult was at home but my grandparents. And my grandma wouldn’t have the patience for that, I was sure.
“But you have to go nau,” the other brother observed.
“I know,” I snapped.
My grandma must have heard me from upstairs, because she barked, “Uchenna, i ka no ebe ahu n’eme gini?” (Uchenna, what are you still doing down there?)
My brothers giggled again, but their mirth turned slowly to horror when they saw me turn and pull the door determinedly open.
“Uche, what are you doing? Timmy is there!” one brother gasped, his eyes bugging with alarm.
“What do you want me to do?” I rounded on him.
He shut his mouth.
“Seriously, what should I do?” I said again, this time with a pleading tone.
The two of them stared mutely at me. I felt trapped, caught between the grandmother and the big bad dog.
“Maybe he will not chase you,” the other brother offered hopefully.
I opened the door wider to confirm his suggestion.
This time, Timmy lifted his head.
“Ghen-ghen!” my brother chortled. “Osetiela!” They began giggling again.
I looked at the dog.
He glared back at me.
My grandfather’s office was situated on my right, and Timmy was on my left. I began mentally calculating the chances of my success in getting to the office, dissecting the Pythagoras theorem of the distance the dog will cover to get to the porch, multiplied by the distance it will take me to get from the porch to the office, divided by our individual energies spent in the impending game of ‘Catch me if you can.’ When I got my answer, I liked my chances.
Timmy seemed to sense that I was about to dare him, because he began slowly baring his teeth, a low growl working its way out, as his hackles slowly rose.
I took a deep breath, committed my soul into the hands of God, and launched myself out into the dearest run of my life.
With a snarling bark, the dog bounded to his feet and leapt forward after me.
Just so you know, the distance between the front door and the office is very brief; it takes less than a minute of fast walk to get there from the front of the house. And I was running – so, I’m talking ‘seconds’. But those seconds stretched like an eternity as I ran, my small legs pounding the earth, the loud barks of the canine behind me filling my ears. I could also hear my brothers chanting merrily, “Uche, run, run, run!”
Those rascals! I was running for my dear life, and they were acting like they were watching the Olympics.
My heart was beating crazily and my chest had tightened with the exertion of my running. I was screaming for my grandpa: “Papa! Papa! Papa!” as I imagined that any second, the dog’s paws would snatch at my back, knock me to the ground, and he would proceed to eat me.
“Papa! Papa!” I screamed as I ran.
Behind me, the canine was barking wildly a she gave chase.
I saw a shadow move in the office and my grandpa came to the doorway of the office at the same time that I went from Usain Bolt to a long distance jumper. I propelled myself up into the air, jumping forward, and dropped into a heap on the pavement.
Then I turned in time to see Timmy draw himself to a halt just beyond the pavement. He didn’t leap onto the pavement with me. He didn’t even snatch at my leg which was mere inches from his snarling teeth. It was as though the pavement was holy ground he couldn’t dare trespass. It was surreal, my first time witnessing the discipline my grandpa had instilled in his dog. He just stood there, glaring at me, his whiskers bristling with impotent rage around his bared canines.
And I sat there, hurting from my fall, and smiling smugly at him, this time with my own message: Nonsense dog, try it! Just try it and see!
Of course he didn’t try anything. Power wey pass power was at the office doorway, silently watching over me.
“Uchenna, get up from there,” my grandpa gently instructed.
I got up and dusted off myself, wincing as my hands encountered the bruised skin of my legs. The dog and I exchanged one last look during which he said: Shebi you’ll soon finish with him. I’ll be waiting. And then he turned and walked away.
When I turned to my grandpa, the first words out of my mouth were: “Papa, will you please walk me back to the house after I finish telling you what Mama said I should tell you?”
The man began laughing as he waved me forward.
Timmy eventually began to age. We knew when this happened, on the day we went outside to play, and he was there, and he did not get up to chase us away.
I am @Walter_Ude on twitter