By Tikum Mbah Azonga
There are times when despite the feelings parents may have for a child, they still wish they had not brought that particular child to life. Such was the case with Jonas Bikwibili and his son, Moses. He was the first of seven children Jonas had with his wife, Judith.
Moses was 13, and now in Class Seven, the final class in primary school. If all went well, that is, if he passed both the First School Leaving Certificate Exam (FSLC) and the Common Entrance Exam into Secondary School, he would gain a place in college. It was his father’s greatest wish that the boy should pass the entrance in List ‘A’ in order to gain an automatic government scholarship. If he didn’t make it, things would definitely be difficult, for his father depended very much on his coffee farm. But for some years now, harvests had been poor, and it was clear he would not be able to afford the boy’s school fees.
The two hardly ever saw eye-to-eye, for, Jonas often said of his son that he had ‘a certain madness’ which he didn’t like. He called him a devil and an unworthy son. Perhaps this was because being a hard working man himself; he couldn’t bear to see a lazy son. Moses’ “madness”, Jonas said, consisted of wasting valuable time, carving he knew not what out of wood which his mother would have used for cooking.
But the boy always said he was “producing” a bicycle. He carved two wheels, a large one for the back of his bicycle and a smaller one for the front. Several times his father smashed the bicycle before it was completed. “Is this not madness, for God’s sake? Aren’t you just stupid? Have you even seen a bicycle made of wood? Instead of revising your school work, or helping your mother, or even looking after the younger ones, you keep carving nonsense!”
But disapproval from his father never dampened the boy’s spirits in his craft. It is true that he never really gave his school work all the attention it needed, although of course, he always passed his exams. But his teachers just like parents, were deeply concerned about his performance. No doubt his teacher had commented on his end-of-term report card: “an intelligent boy who could do better”. Clearly, his bicycle business was like an obsession although his father beat him every so often. Moses would steal himself away to work on the bicycle. As might be expected, because of the repeated threats from his father, he moved his tools away from the latter’s compound to a thicket near one of his mother’s farms , situated about a kilometre away. Once she had run into this hiding place of his, but although he wasn’t there at the time, she hadn’t any doubt that this was a place of her son’s making. But she never mentioned this to Moses or his father. She had a soft spot in her heart for her children whom she said she had borne all alone. “A father can bear to beat a child the way he likes, for he knows not what bringing forth one involves”, she would say. All she told Moses was that he should do his household chores and take his studies seriously.
The time for his exams came and he sat for both the FSLC and Common Entrance. The schools broke up for the long holidays. If all went well, he would be going to college, and hopefully on government scholarship when the new academic year started in three months’ time. Even so, his father had great doubts about his prospects. How could a child who spent his time on pointless and fruitless activities ever do well in his exams, he wondered aloud. Moses’ mother for her part, in her heart of hearts had one prayer: “Lord, you made me and you gave me this child. If what he is doing is right, let him continue; if it is wrong, may you stop him.”
During the holidays, Moses worked even harder on his craft. But he made sure he did his chores such that his parents had no reason to complain. When he completed the bicycle he took it out for testing. It was on a Sunday evening when there was some laxity in practically all families. This was the day on which no one went to the farms, but on which inter-family meetings of all sorts took place and during which children were free to play together. Moses was with Teboh, his immediate younger brother, aged 11. He needed Teboh to push the bicycle uphill so that it could be ridden on its own. As far as the bicycle was concerned, the village was ideal because it had a long stretch of some four kilometres of low gradient road. When Moses was ready to embark on the downward journey, he swung the bicycle round and asked his junior brother to jump on the back seat. Moses held the steering frame firmly, and then released the foot brake and his bicycle started rolling down.
“If Moses doesn’t pass the Common Entrance in List ‘A’ and therefore doesn’t obtain the government scholarship, what we shall do?” his mother was asking his father back at home.
“That’s a good question. Well, I suppose we’ll keep him at home so that he can try again next year, because I honestly don’t see how we can afford the eighty thousand francs he needs for the year’s school fees. And there are the other children who also need fees, books, uniforms and all the rest. They are still in primary school, which fortunately means that they don’t need as much as Moses, but then we have five in primary school; excluding Mary who is only a year old, which still makes the total amount substantial.”
“Don’t worry. God will provide”
“That’s what you always say. Anyway, let’s hope he will.”
Just then, Moses and Teboh came running into the compound. No one can say how long it took them to cover the three kilometres to the compound. They themselves couldn’t say. All Moses knew was that they r-a-a-n! They were out of breath, but he manages to speak.
“Where is Papa? Where is …”
“What’s the matter, my child? You have both been running! Was anyone chasing you?” Judith asked as she caught Moses in her arms.
“Where is Papa?” He repeated.
“Yes, Moses. What’s the matter? He responded, emerging from the sitting room.
All the boy did was to remove a bundle of CFA bank notes from his pocket, which he held out to his father.
“What! Where did you get all this money from?” he asked, overwhelmed.
“The wooden bicycle”, he gasped.
“The what? What is the meaning of all this, Judith?” he turned to his wife.
“How should I know? Why don’t you ask him?”
“It’s the wooden bicycle, Papa. The white man who owns the large shoe company in town bought it. He was here and saw Teboh and me riding the bicycle, and …”
“What bicycle are you talking about? That thing I destroyed?”
“Yes; I made another one”
“What! And he bought it for eighty thousand francs?”
“No, he asked me how much I would sell it for and when I told him one hundred and fifty thousand francs, he did not argue. He told me I should bring my father to his office tomorrow morning where the remaining seventy thousand francs will be paid”.
“I can’t believe this”, he said, counting the money. “My son, tell me how it all happened.”
“I was descending the Mbon Hill with Teboh at the back when an approaching car stopped. Then the white man got out of the car with a white girl. They looked at us ride past with a lot of admiration. Then he asked us to stop. He got the bicycle, rode it, examined it closely and said to the girl: “This is great!” He told us that his daughter had come from the country on holidays from America and that she was doing a project on children’s toys in Africa. He offered to buy the bicycle so that his daughter could take it home and show it to her university.”
“Wonderful! Is that so, my son?”, Jonas exclaimed. Meanwhile, Moses’ mother, brothers and sisters who had heard everything were singing and dancing for joy.
That night, Jonas couldn’t sleep. He thought hard. Was this thing true? At one point he decided to go and ask the boys whether they hadn’t stolen the money and then made up the story they had told. He went to their bedroom but changed his mind. It was past midnight and he couldn’t wake them up. He returned to his bedroom, restless. “Aren’t you sleeping?” his wife asked as she had noticed he couldn’t stop turning himself over and over.
“How can I?” he replied.
The next morning, Jonas and his son were at Mr; Tom Scott’s office two hours earlier than expected. Jonas couldn’t contain his excitement. When Mr Scott arrived, he immediately recognized Moses and guessing the elderly man who accompanied the boy was his father, said to him:
“Papa, Na your son this?”
“Yes, sah”, Jonas replied. “Na my son, sah. My own son, sah. My son I born for my own belly, sah.”
He took them into his office and explained to Pa Jonas how he had discovered the exquisite piece of craftsmanship.
“This son intelligent plenty!” he said to Jonas.
”That is true, sah. Na my best son, sah.”
At this juncture, Mr Scott counted the remaining seventy thousand francs and handed it to Moses’ father.
“Thank you, sah. Thank you plenty, sah. This is too good, sah.” he said effusively.
“Don’t thank me, thank your son. And if he has any more such carvings, do let me know.”
“Yes sah. I go tell you, sah.” He then turned to his son and assured him that if ever he needed any help to produce more wooden bicycles, he should not hesitate to let him know. He kept praising Moses throughout their trek home.
Both Jonas and his wife were in high spirits. She particularly kept thanking God whom she said never slept but kept watch over those who needed him. Now they were happy that even, if Moses did not win the scholarship, they would still be able to send him to college “by their own means”. But when his results came out, not only did he pass the Common Entrance exam in the coveted List ‘A’ and as a result, obtained the scholarship, he also passed the First School Leaving Certificate with distinction.
THE WOODEN BICYCLE was one of a collection of ten short stories first published in 2003 by Patron Publishing House, Bamenda, and later in 2009 by Langaa, Bamenda.