My biggest tree is a cashew and it died overnight. The crack came at 3am. There was neither wind nor rain. I came awake, unsure of the source of the noise that roused me. I walked through my darkened house. The doors were fast. The noise was not a broken door, or the first act of a burglary.
By 4am, a robbery did kick off on a distant street. The robbers had probably found a stock of bullets on the cheap, for the night popped with firecrackers. This is life, I suppose: my bedroom reclines in silence. There is not even the grumble of a generator. From this bed of peace, the gunshots changing the lives of my neighbours sound like fireworks. I scrolled down my contact list and called a duty Assistant Superintendent. This is a useful number to have in your address book. Armed robbers are operating here, I said.
Is that so? he replied. Eiyaa, and I am on a special assignment far away.
He seemed bored on his special assignment so we chatted some more. Phone the patrol team at Traffic Light, he said eventually. There are two teams there. They will come and help you.
I don’t have their number. Can you phone them or give me their number?
Try them, he said, as though I had not spoken. I would have come myself, but there’s a nail in my tyre. I can’t move until my vulcaniser wakes up.
I did not suggest his spare tyre. It is clear that a nail on special assignment would have punctured it as well.
By daybreak I looked out of my balcony and saw the broken tree. I ought to know the sound of a breaking tree by now, anyway: last year I also lost an orange tree overnight. But that had happened in the middle of a ferocious storm. This cashew had died on a windless night. (I understand that ‘died’ might sound histrionic in the light of what happened: a split trunk. But most of the tree is gone and the remainder is doomed. This is like thirty states seceding from a thirty-six-state Nigeria.) This untimely death will be mourned by children from the school opposite, for it was the most fecund cashew in my yard. Its 2017 harvest was still mostly in the future. I finish my amateur autopsy: like the orange tree murder of 2016, termites are the assassins.
There is a colony of termites at work in this compound, like the class of termites eating up this nation. They are harder working than I am, because, whereas I go to sleep, like armed robbers, they are gnawing away all night. But while they are ruthless, they are also a little bit dim. They could have fed on the small branches and leaves to their hearts’ content and left the tree to feed generations of termites. They could have subsisted on the interest on capital. But no. They go for the trunk itself. They go for the principal. Yet, I do real termites a disservice to compare them to the human marauders of nation: real termites eat only what they see. Termites of nation eat up everything they see, then they take trillion naira loans payable by future generations… and eat them up as well. They cannot rest until they bring trees to their knees and nations into ruin.
My day begins. A tree that has served three generations now waits for a buyer of firewood. I have planted younger trees of course, though I might never enjoy their fruit or shade. Yet, we live this life with optimism only if we live for our children as well.
And there is a bigger tree to save… have you signed up at www.bribecode.org/signup yet?