Fiction week… Enjoy!
Uncle Deolu was far from perfect but he was one of those people who affected your life in a perfect way. He had a drinking problem but it wasn’t the noticeable feature about him.
He had a large nose and big eyes like my father who was his older brother. Every time he visited, there was always something different about his appearance. He changed his style frequently because he said life was too short to remain on one spot.
While I was growing up, I remembered him as the uncle who showed up every Christmas family dinner and he helped my mum and my two Aunties in the kitchen while my Dad and other males remained in the living room watching TV and talking about the bad government and good sport.
Mum and aunties always agreed on Uncle Deolu seasoning the chicken and seasoning the jollof rice because he always insisted on helping them. He would slip in tiny pieces of chicken in my mouth while the others weren’t looking.
My father usually disapproved of me staying with the women cooking but Uncle Deolu would let me do whatever I wanted.
“If he wants to learn how to cook let him. Must every boy be watching football and talk about Obasanjo like you do?” He would say and my father would give up.
The thing was I didn’t exactly like to watch my mother cook or I wanted to learn how to cook but I always wanted to stick with Uncle Deolu. He was the opposite of my father and I loved him more.
He took life seriously but at the same time not as seriously as my father did. He mastered the art of balance in everything he did.
Uncle Deolu was also a good listener. He listened to everyone else talk about their issues as a family and he would support them or give them advice when they needed it. Whenever he was around in my parents house, the whole room erupted into friendly family discussions and arguments and laughter. He taught me how to ride a bike because my father was fed up of trying to teach me because I always fell off the bicycle he bought me.
He bought me comic books and story books every month and patted my hair whenever I hugged him thank you.
But because he was such a good listener listening to other people’s problems, he never talked about himself.
We knew he didn’t have a wife or kids. When I asked Uncle Deolu why he refused to have his own family he said
“Because I want to stay true to myself”
“What does that mean Uncle?” I asked.
He said he would tell me when I grew older.
Although I was the ten-year-old who was very quiet for a boy and was basically still a kid, I was always a good observer and I wanted to know the reason why Uncle Deolu never got married.
Because he spent a lot of time with us, I was his favourite nephew. I had known every other thing about him that nobody seemed to notice. I was the only one who knew he was a struggling Alcoholic.
Uncle Deolu was always good at hiding not just the bottles but also his truths. He didn’t know that I knew he was an alcoholic. He was sort of an open book but with torn chapters no one had access to but him. He showed the world just enough and slowly crept back into his comfort zone when the day was over.
When I found out about his addiction, I was almost eleven years old.
Uncle Deolu was said to be staying with us for a few weeks because he was having financial problems and he needed a place to stay. I didn’t object to the idea, in fact I liked it very much.
At eleven, I was finally wearing long trousers as my school uniform and returning home by myself without my mother holding my hand.
On the third day of being a secondary school student, I had to go home because I was feeling a headache. So I finished from school earlier than expected. Part of me was glad too because I knew Uncle Deolu was home and not my father.
When I walked into the living room, he was with another man lingering and talking quietly as though they were surrounded by other people in the living room.
When Uncle Deolu saw me, he shifted uncontrollably from the other man and stood up to meet me. I had never seen my Uncle that flustered, he ran his fingers through his hair and asked gently why I was home that early?
“I was having headache and I couldn’t wait in school.”
“It is okay Remi, let me get you food and paracetamol” he said, patting my hair.
“Who is that?” I asked when we were alone in the kitchen.
Uncle Deolu sighed and said he was a friend of his from Lagos. I didn’t ask any further questions because I noticed Uncle Deolu refused to look into my eyes. It was as though he was ashamed of something – something I could not explain.
The man left while I was eating Uncle Deolu’s jollof rice and dodo, he waved goodbye to me but his eyes were teary and his voice he managed to control from shaking.
After the man left, Uncle Deolu went into his room and didn’t come out. By evening, when my parents were back, he came out with his luggage and said he was leaving.
“I thought you were staying for a few more weeks” Mum said, looking worried.
“Yes, but a business opportunity just presented itself and I have to go. I will let you know how it goes.” He said.
“Okay Aburo, make sure you call us o” my father said.
While he was going, Uncle Deolu told me to follow him to the park. We walked in silence amidst the noisy street of Oshogbo.
“When are you coming back?” I eventually asked.
“I don’t know Remi. I need to get my life together.” He said.
“But your life is already together.” I said. This made him laugh for the first time that day and he patted my hair again.
“I know you’re too young to understand some things but I hope you grow up to own yourself and not lose it, like I did.”
“I will” I said even though I entirely didn’t understand why he said so. I didn’t know his regrets. He had a drinking problem but he could always get better. But I promised him I would stay true to myself.
I didn’t see him ever again. He still called and sent me birthday and Christmas presents but he didn’t show up at my parents’ house again. I heard through my father that he decided to leave the country to start a family.
I grew older and I realised why Uncle Deolu was lingering with that man, why they spoke in whispers and didn’t stop looking into each other eyes, why the other man left with tears in his eyes that day. Why Uncle Deolu refused to marry, why he stayed hiding and why he drank every night to keep him from thinking too deeply.
I finally understood everything but I wished I did before he left. I wished I told him he didn’t have to hide, I wished I told him I knew he drank and I wished I told him it was okay if he didn’t want to marry a woman he would never love.
However, all I could remember was the last thing he said to me before climbing the bus that took him to Lagos,
“Don’t tell anyone Remi, what you saw. Please, I promise to be a better person.”
It was the finality of his words and how wrong he was that haunted me, he was already a better person and he would always be.
Thanks for reading.
I figured I should make this week a fiction writing week.
Don’t tell was loosely inspired from stories of those who live a life of lies.
See you Friday.
PS: I’M RESUMING BACK TO SCHOOL ON SUNDAY. THE NEXT THREE WEEKS WILL BE SO BRUTAL BUT I DON’T THINK I WILL STOP WRITING BECAUSE OF SCHOOL EXAMS.