Fireflies

I retrieved my debit card from the ATM and stuffed the $20 bill into my wallet. Just as I crossed to the other side, a big bug drifted towards my face and I stepped back quickly. It was getting dark so I couldn’t make out its features to decide if it was harmless.

I squinted in the dim light as it made another sweep towards me. I waited calmly, then it glowed momentarily — a firefly. It had been long since the last time I saw one, but my mind went back to one of those vivid childhood memories.

We had been sitting on the verandah talking. NEPA had just struck and the entire street was shrouded in darkness. Big brother Chi was telling me a story, while Uche toddled around, giggling at something that interested him. I turned to look at what excited him and saw the blinking bug that had alighted close to him.

Its light came and went in a slow rhythm and i was fascinated by this morning.

‘Mommy,’ I asked. ‘Where does the light come from?’

She didn’t know, and I wasn’t any the wiser when I looked it up in the encyclopedia the next day — it said there was still much debate on it. Two special chemicals were at the rear end of the firefly and when they mixed, there was a glow. The light was however, a mystery because it produced no heat and scientists were still trying to figure out how the fireflies kept the chemicals from mixing when they weren’t producing light.

“There’s a battery in the ‘yansh’,” our neighbour Nonso who was slightly older than my elder brother announced importantly.

“Where does the battery come from?” I asked, suspecting there wasn’t any — my Dad’s torch didn’t blink on and off the way the insect did.

He shrugged and ran off with the other children in the neighboorhood.

That night, I watched them longingly as they collected fireflies in glass jars and ran around in glee. My mom had forbidden us to join in.

“You’ll be killing the innocent insects,” she said. “They eventually suffocate inside the jars and die. That’s cruel.”

“But mommy,” I countered. “If I collected enough we could have light in the house instead of using lanterns when NEPA ‘takes light.'”

Trust my mom, she wouldn’t budge. The next morning I found out she was right — all the fireflies, crowded in the jars, had died that very night and they had to be replaced constantly. Of course, they weren’t used to light any houses, but the children had fun with them.

The bug drifted past me as I walked on. I saw a lot more that night before I reached the dorms. They’re much bigger than the ones I’m used to — and far fewer. This is one of those moments I wish I were back home.

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