When I was a child, Daddy always wore a suit. The trousers were baggy. They were regular daddy trousers. The type that all daddies wore. Dad and Mom would reminisce about the good old days when they were young.
“He wore baggy trousers with a T-shirt tucked in and some Aladdin boots. His Afro was always shiny and immaculate,” Mom would say.
“When he smiled, the girls would blush. They all had their eyes on him”
“And I had my eyes on you,” Dad would say, embracing Mom with soft kisses. She would giggle and I would watch them feeling giddy then I would proceed to play till I was hungry.
This was the first phase of Dad’s trousers, when we were, all three of us, together. James, Janet and their handsome boy, Jude. This phase marked the happiest time of my 16 years alive. A blissful era. A short one too, as the poignancy, like vinegar in a delicious plate of jollof rice, arrived in the form of a malignant brain tumour. Of course, I wasn’t told. I only knew that Mom was sick. For the longest time, I thought Mom had malaria (the only illness I knew).
“You must treat your wife with love and kindness,” Mom would say as she held me to her bosom in the hospital bed. She looked so frail, so fragile.
“Put her first, protect her, defend her, care for her, listen to her, respect her and guess what…she’ll do the same for you,” she continued.
She would always tell me things like this. Giving me advice I wouldn’t need for years. I didn’t even like girls. Not then anyway.
“Be hers and she will surely be yours.”
“Do you understand me, Jude?”
“Yes, mama,” I would say, sniffling. She would hold me tighter but I didn’t dare hold her the same way. I was scared I might hurt her. She was so frail. I think Mom knew…she knew she wouldn’t win this fight. Dad disagreed. Though we were rich at the time, Dad spent all our money and then some, trying to save Mom. It wasn’t enough. And so ended the baggy phase.
Mom died 10 years ago. I’m 16 now. I will be going to the University of Jos in a few weeks.
I walk down the quiet street trying to be as inconspicuous as possible, which naturally means I feel as conspicuous as possible, like dodo in egusi soup. The heat of the sun is merciless and unforgiving.
Finally, I arrive at Uche’s shop. He looks up from his work and sees me. He immediately hands over the package and I pass him three thousand naira in a barrage of denominations. Uche — always the businessman — counts the wad of cash to the last ten naira. When he has confirmed the agreed price, he smiles at me.
“My man, Jude,” he says, pocketing the money. He has an innocent face…for such an untrustworthy profession.
It feels good to finally have the package after 3 weeks of saving every spare change I could get and another week Uche required to meet the specifications. I know it will feel even better when I get home, so I take the package under my arm and start my long walk back home. I hope the olofofo’s don’t call my father before I get home. That would ruin everything.
After Mom passed away, everything went downhill. Dad had accrued tremendous debts trying to save her. We lost everything; the business, the houses, the cars. We were poor. Dad did his best, he was strong for me. We missed Mom but we had to survive now. Dad managed to keep me in my world-class albeit expensive school. He sacrificed a lot to give me the best. This was the Fela trousers phase. The rich kids had coined the name after seeing dad in the snug jumping trousers he wore (like the late musician, Fela, used to wear) when he dropped me off at school on his bike. “Your dad’s devotion to Fela sure is admirable. Does he wear that everyday or only on school days and …er…weekends?” they would ask, their lackeys sniggering at the sly digs. Typical of rich kids. Only they would spend time finding subtle ways to insult you. The kids back at the face-me-I –face-you house we stayed at would say “How far na? Make your papa try buy another trouser na! They use jumpay curse am? Shoo!”
I didn’t care for any of them but I hate to admit it, I felt embarrassed by Dad’s choice of wardrobe. It was hardly a choice though, that was the only pair of trousers he had.
“Why can’t you get another pair of trousers?” I asked my dad.
“’Cause I already have one,” he said amiably, mending my bad shoes.
“But — but — people think it looks funny,” I said
“People think or you think?” He asked, looking at me. I couldn’t meet his gaze. I felt shame for being ashamed of my father.
He sighed. “Son, don’t let people influence you so. Just live and let live,” he said. That’s Dad. Simple man, he is.
“Besides, I love this pair,” he added, smiling and running his hand over his bald head. I smiled too even though I knew he was lying. Dad only rubbed his head when he wasn’t being honest, like when he told the landlord he would pay the rent the following day. Why was he wearing trousers he didn’t like? This was the second phase of Dad’s trousers. I hated the Fela phase.
The other phases passed by fairly quickly. As I grew, the length of my father’s trousers’ seemed to decrease.
There was the three-quarter-trouser phase. I was in my final year in secondary school. The students were not as mean. Now, they pitied us. It was worse but Dad never stopped smiling, neither did I.
It was a Sunday when Dad’s phone rang and he was in the bathroom. It was our tailor. He was probably done with our clothes. I picked up the phone.
“Hello, James,” he said.
“Hello, Mr-“ I started
“It will only be enough for shorts o” he interrupted.
“What?” I asked
“Jude is growing tall very fast, the material won’t be enough for three-quarter trousers anymore. If I make his trousers for him, I will have to make shorts for you,” he said. He must have thought he was speaking with Dad.
I cut the call feeling numb.
Dad had been doing it for me! It seemed my dad had a fixed budget for clothing and as always he sacrificed to give his son the best. It seemed so obvious in hindsight. Of course that was why he dressed as he did. Of course he would do this for his son. I should have known. A part of me thinks I did know, I just didn’t want to acknowledge that I did. I wished I was short. I prayed to God to stop my growth. He didn’t answer my prayers. He never did.
The shorts came, heralding another phase. It made me sad. It seemed a small issue to bring me down so much but when one feels as powerless as I have felt all my life, the little things bother you. It was one thing to be bullied by major obstacles and another to be humbled by these little things that we should have had some dominion over at least. I’d had enough. I couldn’t fight the big fights but I would do something about this. This little thing.
I arrive home to find my father listening to the radio in front of the house. He has on boxers and a singlet. He immediately notices the package under my arm.
“Ah Jude, have they given you, your award for excellence already? I thought the ceremony was on Thursday” he says, shuffling his legs. He’s worried the ceremony is over. Dad has never missed a single awards ceremony of mine. I’m always best in class. At every ceremony, I take my award straight to him as I receive it so everyone knows he’s the father of the most brilliant and handsome student. Dad cries every time.
“Wow, that’s your son?”
“Every single year? What a brilliant boy!” The other parents say and in those moments, no one notices his Fela trousers or shorts, no one pities him. They envy him.
“It’s still on Thursday dad,” I say quickly assuaging his fears.
“I got you something for the ceremony,” I say holding the package forth.
“Son, where did –“ he starts
“I got it with the money I’ve been saving for weeks.” I interrupt him
“Don’t worry, I didn’t starve myself. The girls in school usually buy my lunch plus I’ve paid the tailor already and he doesn’t do refunds. So I can’t return it,” I add, countering what he’s about to say.
Dad smiles taking and unwrapping the package. It’s a dark blue attire with rich patterns and designs. The shirt is short-sleeved and the trousers…the trousers are baggy. On cue, Dad begins to cry. He’s a crier, he is.
“This is — this is –,“ he stutters.
“This is like excess stew in a plate of rice. It’s wonderful,” he says.
I smile. I want to tell Dad how much he means to me. I want to tell him I appreciate all the sacrifices he’s made for me. I want to tell him he’s been doing an excellent job even though he doesn’t have Mom around to assist him. I want to tell him I will work as hard as ever to ensure he reaps the fruits of his labour. I want to tell him lots of things but I don’t quite know how to start. So, I take a leaf out of his book of simplicity.
“I love you, man,” I tell him.
“Yeah. I love you too, bro” he replies.
He hugs me. He’s a hugger, he is.
I’m happy. I feel it right in my stomach. The baggy phase might not be back completely but I know it will surely come. Baggy. The future looks baggy.
“I just want to know one thing,” Dad says
“The tailor? His name is Uche. He –,“ I start
“No, not that, I want to know about these girls buying you lunch,” my father says smiling mischievously. I smile too as I start to give Dad the gist.