When we were young, up and coming, in a dusty village deep within the hearts of Anambra state Nigeria, everything seemed so small. The village was small, Hope was small, we were small and dreams were small too. Escape had been spelled out to us by our parents “Gain enough grades and go to university or you’ll remain stuck in this town”, so back then in class there were three kinds of students;
First there was, the extremely brilliant ones who were on their way to Gaining admission into professional courses like Medicine and Surgery, Engineering courses, and Law. Up next was my category, Students who didn’t mind whatever course they would study as long as they got as far away from this village as possible, and then there was category number three; ‘Ugochukwu Mba’.
Ugo, as we called him, was by far the strangest kid I had ever met, a Short scrawny looking kid, he rarely talked, he was one of those friends in a clique that you didn’t notice till you needed an oddly favor that no other kid was willing to help you out with. Ugo placed no demands on life, he wasn’t the smartest in class, he wasn’t the strongest either, and the simple things of life were enough for him, He was blessed with the gift of artistry, Ugo was the earliest to school and Last to leave every day, He sat at the back row by the window of our classroom, on his drawing book, staring out into the sky, He would Paint the sky when the sun rose and paint it again when the sun set, we saw this as a waste of time, our parents had made us believe such stuff is for kids with no future, and that was what Ugo was to us, “the kid with no future”, and while we schemed endlessly and tirelessly on how to leave this village, Ugo never for once spoke up and quite frankly no one bothered asking why, to us, he didn’t matter.
It wasn’t until one fateful day, Ugo earned our full and undivided respects and quite sadly I realized Ugo may not have any plans to make it out of this town, We had illegally snuck our way into the local school principals house to pluck some fruits and somehow our getaway plan had failed, the only escape route was to jump over the fence, Ugo who had reluctantly come along with us after we persuaded him, volunteered and stood bent over, hands on knees, as Six boys twice his size stepped repeatedly on his frail back to jump over the fence, He was caught after we had escaped and suspended for two weeks for refusing to name his accomplices, No kid dared sit on Ugo’s seat in his absence for fear of being beat up by the rest of us, In that vacant seat we stared at our cowardice and shame and it stared back at us, It rained mostly those weeks and I often wondered if the skies had felt lonely in Ugo’s absence.
Towards the end of secondary school some of us had gained admissions to Universities, others were going to be apprentices to Rich business men at Onitsha, Ugo stayed back at the village to nurse his sick mother, who passed on a year later, before she passed, she had begged Mr Ikeme our fine arts teacher to make sure Ugo never stopped painting the skies.
In our third year into University, we had all planned for a reunion back at the village. On arrival I heard Ugo had won a full scholarship to the Academy of Fine Arts Verona, Italy. Mr Ikeme had entered one of Ugo’s paintings for an international competition and he had won, he left for Italy two days before we arrived. I stood in front of our small classroom giving a speech at our reunion party, it was quiet and I smiled as I felt the tears gather in my eyes, everyone had left Ugo’s seat empty, it was bright and sunny, and I wondered if Ugo, half way around the world at that moment, was staring out the window, painting the skies again.