I once wrote a book which, for love of Latin, I called Miss Turris. I tell people when they ask – ‘oh basically, it’s a story about friendship’. But I’ve heard a different take on it which I found quite interesting. One reader’s comments has helped me re – discover my novel. Just an excerpt from Miss Turris to begin with –
Alex had taught her the act of manoeuvring and now the situation called for it. She stood up quietly, and walked stiff – necked to the window which overlooked the small garden. Her body all straight and stiff, she gazed at the plants, looking and seeing through them. Those plants knew her as much as she knew them – she spent her leisure pruning and weeding them. They knew her tears and her frustrations. They had listened to her questions and to some of her joys.
She stood like that in silence for about two and half minutes and was almost giving up the act when she heard light footsteps behind her. Her grandpa was coming. A smile lit up her face for a fraction of a second and was quickly replaced by a blank expression; she remained still and waited.
Of course, he knew that she was putting up an act. After all, he was once her age. Even more, he was her grandfather. But, he decided to play along and in the end, indulge her as always. He counted himself lucky that he had a sensible girl for a grandchild. First tantrums; now this. ‘Some progress’ he chuckled as he stood beside her.
One look at her face and he almost burst out laughing. Anyone who didn’t know her would have been deceived by her expression, but definitely not him. He decided to start a conversation.
“The plants are beautiful, aren’t they?” he asked
She almost cried. This wasn’t what she had expected to hear, but she managed to keep her cool.
“The flowers even more so” she replied. “See how pretty that pink Anthurium looks.”
“Still thinking about the ‘hair’ issue?”
“No” An easy lie. It was part of the act – to pretend as if it didn’t mean anything to her, anymore.
He smiled and commended her inwardly. “May I ask why?” he asked
“Well”’ she allowed herself a shrug “because I’ve learnt to take whatever you decide, as law. You know, what an elder sees sitting down, a child will not see it, even if she climbs a palm tree”. She said, quoting him. Another lie.
Not wanting to push further, he said “Permission granted”.
“To do what?” she needn’t ask because she knew the answer, but it was part of the act to do so.
“To start growing your hair; I’ll put no objections in your way.”
The greater part of her wanted to hug him tightly and say a big thank you, but that would mean breaking the rules. So instead, she replied,
“You‘re too kind … to me”
He sighed “And you are a good actress, my lamb”
“Oh! Grandpa,” she said, giggling and hugging him tightly. “You always manage to see through me, no matter how hard I try.”
‘She’ is Pamela, my protagonist. She’s a granddaughter whose family consist in one person – her granddad. And the loving, tender, relationship between him and her is one of the main themes in Miss Turris.
It’s the kind of relationship I would have liked with my grandma – a sweet one as most grandmas are. And we did have it to the extent that the distance and language barriers allowed. She spoke only Igbo; I spoke bekee. She lived in Eastern Nigerian; I in the south 4 hours away. She called me her nnedim – mother of her husband. Everyone who knew the true nnedim said I was her look alike.
Once I went with my grandma to one of our palm tree plantations. She must have been about 70 years old then. We collected some dry sticks for the fire and a medium sized bunch of palm fruits. She tried balancing the bunch on my head. Uff! City gal. I couldn’t bear the weight and I staggered, almost dropping the bunch. On the way home, I had to walk beside her with the light load of sticks while she proceeded gracefully with the bunch on her head. Strong woman!
Dear grandma, you kept our large family going after the death of grandpa. And now 17 years later, you have gone to join him. We buried you today. I can imagine how it went. I can see you smiling at us, resting in peace. Keep watching over your nnedim. Keep watch over us all.
bekee – one of the igbo words for ‘English’.