2011 Doris Gooderson – First Place

A Time When Trees Walked The Earth by Susan White

It was Saturday and Usman sat on his trusty wooden bench outside his house in the old city of Kano.  You could tell the days of the week by the old man’s habits.

Usman sighed.  He looked up and down the alley that he knew so well.  The walls, red sand and sinking sunlight gave the whole vista an aura of that of an old sepia photograph resplendent of the colonial days.  Usman sighed a sigh that was even deeper.  He looked down with disgust at his old and tired body, his sinewy hands and his drooping bosom and remembered a time when this body was strong and resilient.  He was famous in the area for being able to carry a full oil drum on his back.  He remembered fondly with a chuckle when he would catch the women sneaking looks at his muscles out of the corners of their eyes.  Now, it took every ounce of strength to lift a cup of water to his lips.

He looked again up and down the alley and at the children running with a tyre and stick.  A pure water bag tumbled past him in the wind – a sure sign that the rains would soon be coming.  How the rubbish in the street disgusted him.  When did Nigeria lose its pride in itself?  Kai!  He surely was old.

Just as his mind was searching for another topic to explore, his youngest son, Isma’ila, came out of the house and sat at his feet.  He touched the boy’s head with true affection.  Of his 22 children, this one, born of his second wife, was surely his favourite.   There was something in the boy that reminded him of himself.  Usman believed that every so often, a special child, capable of great things was born and his gut feeling said that this boy was one of those special beings sent as a gift from Allah for a life well served.

Isma’ila stroked his father’s feet.

‘Bapa, tell me one of your stories’.  The boy said after a while.

‘Which one would you like to hear?’  Usman asked.

‘One I have never heard before’ decided Isma’ila in a determined voice.

Usman searched his mind and a comfortable silence followed during which he remembered a time when, as a small boy, he too had sat at the feet of his beloved great-grandmother as she passed on the traditional stories in a soft lyrical voice.  He was one of 41 children born to 4 wives of his father and he had been her favourite.

‘Tattaba-kunne, you are the one with the gift.  You are the great story teller.  You alone, can pass on the stories of our ancestors and you alone, will find the channel to pass them on again. It is like the sap in a tree’.  Yes, he thought, Isma’ila is the channel.

‘I will tell you why trees have roots’.  He said.  Isma’ila settled himself.  He had an amazing gift of remembering what Bapa said almost verbatim.

It may be so, it may not be so, began Usman.  But in a time before time had any meaning, trees walked the earth beside the humans and the animals and they all existed together side by side in harmony.  The trees gave freely of themselves to the humans.

Every year, there was a festival in the village on the other side of the river.  The humans could not cross the river because they would be eaten by the crocodiles so the trees opened up their braches, lowered them to the ground and cupped the humans who sat in their branches in order to carry them to safety on the other side of the river.

The humans sat in the branches enjoying the fruits and sheltering from the sun under the canopy of leaves.  Some trees even grew flowers to adorn the humans and provide perfume for them to enjoy.

…and so life went on with the trees, the humans and the animals living in peace until one day, the King of the trees started to complain that the trees gave of themselves but the humans did nothing in return.  A meeting was called in the village and all the Elders of the tribes, the trees and the animals were ordered to attend.  Lion was called upon to mediate between the two sides.