My eighth birthday present from my dad came bouncing to me as I sat crafting a wire toy lorry at the threshold of our house. I grabbed the sparkling white football before it could hit me and smiled appreciatively at my father as he stepped after it across the rusty metal gate to our little compound. He has promised me a surprise, but I did not readily believe the ball was for me. As unfamiliar as they were, the thuds of the ball reached the kitchen and the din there stopped. A pan in hand, my mother stood on the door, lofty above me, a distraught look clouding her face. “Where shall he play it?” she asked my dad. But there was no answer. She went back to the kitchen, to complete baking a cake for day. I had never seen her so incensed.
I carried the ball into my room and hid it under the bed, fearing that mum would get rid of it. She never did. She just warned me not to play inside our little compound saying it would be dangerous to our chicken and even I. I was at liberty though to play it with my peers on a public pitch a mile away during weekends. Being so drawn to play the ball everyday, I obeyed her only when she was around. Little space for me to play freely in the compound was a real tragedy. Our wooden house stood on the larger part of our compound and to play my football in the 2 by 6 meters space left in front of it, I had to disturb chicken which were kept in cages at the far corner. I could kick the ball to the cages, and it would bounce back to me. Never before had my mother laid her hands so severely on me but when on a Saturday evening, coming from shopping, she found a broken glass on the window in the front side of the house, she spanked me hard and long with a stick. My father came to my rescue when he arrived home later from his garage. That night, as I moaned over the beating, I overheard him tell my mother I could be the next Maradona. However, fearing another beating, I became extra careful in my play.
One a cool Sunday morning, alone again in the compound, my ball bouncing about and chicken running riot in their cages, I heard my mother cough behind me. In a desperate move to conceal the ball I stepped on it. A light flashed before my eyes as I crashed down. I was in great pain so I was sedated on arrival at the hospital. When I again felt myself in the hospital bed, my mother was beside me. My broken hand was now heavily bandaged. “Why don’t you listen to me son? You could have lost your hand,” she addressed me, letting her freely flowing tears fall on the blue sheets on the hospital bed. She told me she had burned the ball.
My hand healed. At 15 and in high school, I was dazzled one day to when my father handed me the ball again. “Your mum and I kept it away for you; try to be a good boy with it now.” Tongue tied, I held on to my ball and managed only a faint “thank you” whisper to my dad. Though there were no hard feelings between us, memories of the rage I felt for my mother when she used to restrain me from playing the ball in our tiny compound now disturbed me. “It was your mother’s idea,” my father went on. It was perhaps late, but I realized she was not against my happiness as I had thought. My mother was such a loving disciplinarian.