I get home from work a bit earlier than usual, seeing as there was not much to do at the office. As usual, I find my son playing outside with his friends, all of them screaming at the top of their lungs.
"Daddy!" He cries the moment he sees me. Then he runs to hug me. As always, this is a sight worth coming home to. The joy that lights up his face when he sees me return. I can't trade it for anything in the world. "Welcome, Daddy."
"Thank you Junior." I reply, ruffling his hair after our hug. "It's good to be back. How are you?"
"I'm fine. And I'm playing with my friends." He turns to return to them.
"Where's your Mum?"
"She's inside." He throws the reply over his shoulder as he runs off to be with his friends once more.
With a shake of my head, I walk into my house and am warmly greeted by my wife. I freshen up and then go to sit in the verandah while I wait for dinner.
Our verandah overlooks our compound where Junior and his friends are playing. They are screaming, laughing, talking, running and jumping from one place to another all at the same time. Watching them, I get confused. I have no idea if they are simply having a discussion or they are playing a game. Or if they are just doing both. It's all so confusing.
During my time as a child, a time when there was nothing like social media, so your realest friends were usually the ones in your neighborhood or the ones you went to the same school with.
I smile at the memory. Unlike Junior's generation who wore slippers during play, we never wore slippers those days. Always barefoot, running fast across the streets on the hard ground. We always got scolded by our mothers, but the very next day we appeared to the playground barefoot once more. Till today, I still don't get why it felt better to play that way.
We just didn't care that we could get hurt, maybe step on a nail or a broken piece of glass... We were kids, things like that were myths and legends to us. Just like personal hygiene. And if we got such injuries, we wore it with pride. And a lot of pain.
I remember a time I had stepped on a rusted nail while playing hide and seek. Back then, we lived in Ilasa-Maja area of Lagos state. And at that time, it had not been developed, so there were lots of bushes around. That was where I got injured.
Crying uncontrollably, I limped home. My friends following me sadly. Play for the day was over.
The night, my mother treated my wound with a mixture of love and anger.
"I bought the slippers for you to wear! Not to store it!" I remember her saying. I only cried in response. I was also given injections to fight off infections and drugs to dull the pain.
Four days later, and to my extreme joy, I stopped limping and I returned to the playground. And despite my mother's warning, I still went barefoot.
That was a time when we cared about little and we were able to get away with it. As children, our biggest responsibility was to do our homework, so our school teachers won't embarrass us in front of our friends.
And our greatest worries were when we would eat our next meal and how much time we could spend playing outside before we got called in.
But then, childhood brought it's intrigues and mysteries as well. Like how could people fit into that small box my parents called the TV? Why does methylated spirit hurt so much when put on an open wound? Why did Daddy have to go out all day when he could stay home and play with me?
These and a lot more questions ran through my mind, but my parents were not the talking type and they put my questions off as childish gibberish. So I had to find out for myself. And from who? My friends who were also children.
"My mother told me that my father goes to pack money everyday." One of them had said, "she said he is doing it for me and my baby brother so that we can go to school and become leaders of tomorrow."
"My Uncle said that the spirit pains us because it's a good spirit that goes to fight the bad spirit in our wound. If the wound continues to pain you, the bad spirit is winning. But if it stops to pain you, the good spirit has won." Another child explained.
"My Daddy told me that the people in the TV are called actors." Another of my friends said.
"Okay, but how did they enter the TV?"
He looked blank for a while, then shrugged, "when he comes home today I will ask him."
As you can guess, none of the answers were satisfactory. The only way I got correct ones was with time and age. As I grew, I matured. And maturity came with a price. A price called reality.
Reality answered all my questions. It made me realize that wearing footwear all the time was important. It explained the mystery of the methylated spirit and why Daddy had to go to work everyday. And reality made me accept the fact that one day I would be in such a position and I wanted to be the best father and husband out there.
Nothing seemed mysterious anymore, everything worked with logic. One plus one equals two. No more, no less. And this took the fun out of it all.
And now, watching my son play with his friends, I feel a sense of yearning for the old days. Those days when someone else had to worry about the bills, the laundry, health and all that tiring and boring stuff.
And during this era of social media, when one can be in Nigeria and have a close friend in Canada, it is hard to know who is real and who is fake. Children don't care about that though. But they would, very soon. As they grow older.
For now, let them enjoy these few years of bliss. Where nothing is more important than having their Mummy and Daddy at home, food in their belly and time to play. They deserve it. Every child deserves it.
"Honey." My wife calls from inside, "dinner is ready."
"I'll be right in." I reply without making a move to get up.
"Come with Junior, okay?"
But I relax further in my seat, eyes still on the children. And I take another trip down memory lane.