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Friday, March 1, 2024

Uprooted, by Onome Olive Etisioro

He just had to.

Emeka prepared for the absolute worst.


With each step he took closer to his farm, his hands shook, and his heart pounded. He could barely lift his feet each time. He was a man on autopilot, moving and being without any express effort or thought on his part.

Which was rather funny, seeing as all his thoughts were geared towards his and his family’s being. What would he find at the site of his farm when he got there? Pest eaten crops? Wilting plants? Or uprooted stalks? These were his nightmares, ones he hoped he wouldn’t have to see come true before his very eyes.

Emeka would rather not envision such despairing things, but he couldn’t stop himself from doing that any more than he could stop himself from walking forward even when he dreaded the very place he was headed to. He never thought he would ever see the day he would dread returning to his farm, but that day was here, and that day was today, apparently.

His wife and son had wanted to come along with him, but he couldn’t stomach the thought of seeing their faces when they got to the farm, and everything wasn’t as it should be. Fear and hopelessness already shadowed their every action for the past two weeks of the lockdown due to the global pandemic sweeping through many nations and taking lives as it went.

And that was the thing. Emeka was much more terrified of coming face to face with the realization that his source of livelihood has been destroyed than he was of contracting this virus. Without his farm, there was no way he and his family would even survive, so what was the threat of some invisible and rumoured virus compared to that? He wasn’t even so sure this virus was in the country in the first place. He had a sneaky suspicion that it was nothing but government propaganda, as always. But whatever he thought of this whole pandemic business and resulting lockdown, he knew one thing: he had to prepare for the worst as he returned to take stock of his farm.

Back home, he knew his wife was wringing her fingers together in worry; he was certain she was too worried to function or do anything else, and even though he knew that all this wasn’t his fault, he couldn’t help but feel responsible for it all. He already felt bogged down by what he would say if things didn’t turn out alright on the farm. He couldn’t even imagine what he would say to them if everything was totally destroyed, and there was nothing to salvage. Should he have sprayed his farm with the cancer-causing herbicide that was so popular in the market? No! He was determined to learn to use biological means of countering the pests.

Where would he even start from? Where would he even begin? No matter how much he thought about it, he couldn’t find any silver linings whatsoever to look forward to. Even if his farm wasn’t in dire straits now, it will be later, and very soon, in fact. Even if hoodlums looking for food in these times didn’t attack his farm like he feared they would, he was still at risk of losing almost eighty percent of his dry season investments. Ever since the nationwide lockdown, all he’d been able to use was the organic manure his father had always favoured, and while he knew those worked best, they’d also been insanely expensive. Even more so with the lockdown so he knew he wasn’t using as much as he should have been using.

That was mostly the backbone of his worries; he had been totally unable to enrich his farm as much as he needed to. Whatever he was going to find when he got there would all be due to that dire inability of his. With the looming threat of yet another lockdown on the horizon, Emeka was well aware of the fact that he and his family might be approaching the worst times they’d ever encountered yet, and he wasn’t at all confident that they would be able to weather it as much as they’d done in the past.

Because even if his crops were in salvageable conditions, and even if he could harvest anything, it would mostly be for his family’s use, and then what about other needs? Needs that were met by selling his crops as products to traders? What about the income he relied on to survive day to day? How were they going to make do? The government enforced lockdown also made it virtually impossible to transport foods or goods to other parts of the country. He could not bring himself to think of using the toxic herbicides and chemical fertilizers that were now even very expensive because of the border closure and travel bans.

Even if he wished to use them, he could hardly afford them. And the regular supply of seeds they as farmers usually received were slow in coming this year; he was yet to receive any packages. So even if he planned to replant, he had nothing to plant with. This was never the case when his parents used to save seeds and even obtain seeds from neighbours.

Whatever route he chose to follow, he would still end up stuck in one position.

That knowledge alone was enough to drive him mad.

Emeka paused and took in a deep breath. Maybe he was thinking too much about this. But what else could he do? What else could anyone do, when stuck in limbo, neither moving forward nor going backwards? And what else could he do when there is the possibility that, when this limbo is lifted, he would only be going backwards with thoughts set around his head like an ill-fitting halo he neither wanted nor could throw away.

When Emeka stepped onto his farm, what waited for him made him freeze.

Literally. He even hoped he was dead. Or dreaming.

And then he was crumpling into a bone shaking heap on the soil, his body humming with an electric kind of shock, the type that made him want to leap up and down. At the same time, his body was loose with such relief that he found that he really couldn’t even move.

Yes, the relief flushed through his entire body, from the crown of his head to the ends of his slipper clad toes, making for a rather curious sensation as both the sharp sparks of shock and excitement charged through his blood at the same time. The relief flowed over him with two distinct emotions at war in his body.

But what else could he feel, honestly? What else but this strange mix of elation and muscle melting relief that made him just want to lie there amidst the stalks and take a nap? A really long, well deserved nap for all the stress he’d let himself go through these past weeks. And what of his wife and son? His heart swelled inside his chest as he imagined just how overjoyed his wife would be — it is going to be a feast this night.

This was something worth celebrating! Because his farm – was doing just fine! Here he’d been, worrying his head off about coming to meet a ruined farm and a ruined livelihood. What he met was a miracle; his crops were growing exponentially well!

All his previous worries were no longer of any importance. He no longer needed to rely on those so-called improved seeds that the government supplies or have to pay through his nose to buy those toxic herbicides and chemical fertilizers that he frankly didn’t trust. His farm was faring rather well, and he wasn’t going to let the lockdown deter him from making sure his farm continued to run smoothly, even if it meant returning to the old ways of his fathers. In fact, he rather looked forward to heading backwards if that is where true progress was.

Emeka was ready for the absolute worst. Now, how would he handle the best? He had come here dreading to find that there would be nothing left. Nothing. He’d come here expecting to find his entire life upended from beneath the soil by forces he couldn’t control, uprooted from the very roots.

What he’d found instead, was that the roots of his fears withered away in a moment while he stood grounded.

Completely immovable.

Etisioro is a lawyer, novelist, and prose poet with a love for literature and food

“Uprooted” is extracted from “A Walk in a Curfew and other Pandemic Tales”, a 2020 publication of HOMEF

Readers can download the full eBook at www.homef.org

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