Coming to Lagos
I definitely wanted to go with Sister to Lagos, but my willingness was not decisive in the matter. I was not even asked. It was at Sister’s discretion; of course, she consulted with Baba to decide my fate. But I was not deluded in anyway to think Baba would make the final decision. She had the final say. Informing Baba was formality. Baba would not have questioned Sister. He readily blessed anything she did. I did not know when she talked with Baba; not that I bothered to ask when she asked me to go prepare for the journey.
I was wearing my best gown. I didn’t have much, so I told her on the spot I was ready. Smiling, I spoke my mind, “What would I have to prepare about myself again? Nothing!” Only speakers of our language would understand the tone of finality in the “nothing”. It was that of assured finality. With my best gown, full of hope and expectations, I was extremely happy when I left to prepare for the journey.
I could not say proper goodbye to my friends. I didn’t think there was need for that. What better goodbye was more than the many nights, in which we talked about our dreams and wishes to leave the village behind? Those were enough goodbyes. I was sure nobody would be mad that my own dream was suddenly realized. And since I could not even decide if I would be going or not, there was really nothing I could do about the suddenness. I simply had to go. I wished my friends and all those I was going to miss in the village understand. Fate had the upper-hand in this case. I was anxious.
Recently, Baba was appointed chief. Sister’s visit was primarily to celebrate the traditional rite of appointment- three days of ritual and merrymaking. Upon announcing Baba’s appointment, I had a feeling his appointment would bring me new luck, but I did not know how the luck would come. This feeling refused to leave me. I was happy it was there.
Beyond being happy that I would eat endlessly during Baba’s Iwuye, I was restless since it became public knowledge the ceremony was going to be held. Whenever I was that endlessly anxious and restless, I was quick to recognize something might be about to in my life. In the past, whenever I felt this way, I hardly was tired.
This reminded me of Eniyanlesu, our goat, when her water broke. I never believed she wasn’t going to die, really. Eniyanlesu laid on the same spot in the yard. She was in pain. I pitied the poor animal and prayed she would be delivered of the kids soon enough; I simply wanted the agony I saw in her face to leave. I was anxious and terrified.
Eniyanlesu was not the best of animals. She was a goat, so it wasn’t that I expected her to be particularly cool-headed, but Eniyanlesu’s stubbornness cried into the heavens; she was a real terrible animal. Seeing her in this horrific painful state, I could not even think of her terribleness. My stomach tightened. I was probably too anxious to help, but I could not.
Notwithstanding my fear for Eniyanlesu’s life, something told me she was going to be fine. I was right. She delivered four beautiful kids. It was as though she shat them. Finally, I breathed relief. Seeing the kids slip out one after the other, I could not suppress a smile. The visible pain on her face gradually gave way. Spontaneously, I walked to the animal. My hands trembled when I touched the kids.
A similar feeling of anxiety was what I felt when Baba’s appointment was announced. I worked more than usual and I hardly tired out. I ate too much. I did not even know if I was satisfied or not. I carried heavier loads from the farm. For days, I simply exaggerated everything. With Sister’s decision to take me to Lagos, I was right again about my feeling.
Baba had had two wives so far. Both dead. Sister was a child from the first wife. The first wife had five children before she passed away. I didn’t know what killed her. I supposed my older siblings knew the cause of my stepmother’s death.
I am not sure if it would be right to refer to Baba’s first wife as my stepmother. I was yet unborn when she married Baba, gave him the five children and eventually died. I didn’t meet her. I simply don’t know her.
Her death necessitated Baba to take another wife. Relatives were quite helpful after the death of my stepmother, particularly in taking care of the children, but there was a limit to what they could do. Baba’s main job was to take care of the farm, while a mother took care of the children. With death killing the woman, who had cared for them so far, the responsible step was to shop for a new wife and mother. This brought my mother into Baba’s house. She became his wife.
Not only Sister talked well of my deceased mother. Almost all the villagers praised her to high heavens. She was of a strong character. She treated her stepchildren just like her own. She was big hearted. Her humanity was not in doubt.
I didn’t know the cause of my mother’s death too. I was but happy to know she did not die in child labor. Not few mothers died during childbirth, particularly at that time when I was born. Such children would bear the stigma for a lifetime because it was believed they killed their mothers.
“You did not kill your mother”. That was all Baba told me when I asked to know what killer her. “She died in peace and she did not die of hunger.” I did not press further.
My mother had six children. Then death took her. There was hardly enough time for me to know her. My memory of her was faint. The little I knew was from my grandmother. She had enough memories in store with which I refreshed my faint memory. She never stopped talking about her unique daughter, my mother.
Bringing in the third wife into Baba’s house was not uncontroversial. Sister was not absolutely against the idea, but she wasn’t a strong supporter. Her reason: I, being the youngest of Baba’s children, was not so small that I would not survive without a mother. Besides, my grandmother could as well play that role. I certainly needed a mother, but not so much as to warrant a compulsory marrying of a third wife. The third wife did contribute to my upbringing, no doubt. But if she was not married, I still would have survived. I suspected Sister did not want Baba to marry a new wife that would bear more children. Her objection was not unjustified.
I was a child, but I knew the mood in our house was tense. I knew it must be about a serious matter when adults talked till late in the night. They did that many nights.
Normally, objection against a marriage were not meant for the ears of a wife or wife-to-be. Somehow the new wife-to-be got wind of it. She waited to be brought into Baba’s house. Upon becoming a wife, she immediately sought audience with Sister.
“My wife”, she started. She called Sister her wife because Sister was traditionally the first mother and wife of the house upon stepmother’s death. “Am I so dirty you don’t want me to give Baba children? What shall be my portion in the family if I am without children? I plead with you, please reconsider me. Don’t be annoyed with me, but I would like to have children with Baba. With your blessing. Please have mercy on me”.
She did not as much as look Sister in the eyes. Were Sister’s heart made of steel, the plea would have melted it. She hugged the new wife heartily. This way, the matter ended. The third wife had three children together with Baba
We had to leave at dawn, long before the first cock crew. Chickens who slept on tree branches and in cages were disturbed. I was sure the sleepy chickens were not too pleased that we were up before them. They were not used to being woken up so early. Actually, they usually woke us up with their morning cry So the incoherent sound they let out could only have been irritation- irritated at being disturbed before the break of day.
After the communal breakfast, the omnibus-driver started the bus. In no time, we were on our way out of the village with full speed.
Sister told me later, “The journey would not have been a real journey if that did not happen. You have never embarked on such a journey before”.
True, I have never traveled on a bus or car before, let alone a trip to Lagos. we went everywhere in the village on foot- to farm and to school. So the journey was my first real journey which was not made on foot.
The driver drove and drove, the faster he drove, the wider the express-road. I thought the speed caused the widening of the road. It was like a journey to eternity. I was already nervous before the journey. My nervousness worsened. My head began to spin. Sister did not know I did not eat my pap and bean-ball served in the morning before we left the village.
It was late in the afternoon when the driver stopped at a tank station. I felt hunger for the first time and I wanted to eat. Many roadside sellers ran over. They offered their goods. Sister bought eggs and gave me.
It was not difficult to remove the shell. I ate two eggs in no time. The terrible thing happened when I drank water. Hardly did I finish the water when I vomitted the whole thing. The driver had ended the break. So we were already back on the express-road when I vomitted. Sister acted very quickly. She wiped my face with water, cleaned my messed up gown and threw out the vomit from the window.
The driver did not stop on the express-road. It was too dangerous. Armed robbers might be in the bush. He was not ready to risk an attack. Nobody would have insisted he stopped with a possibility of an armed robber attack, but his refusal to stop could be better brought across. He was very unfriendly. Sister was annoyed, not because of the vomit. She was annoyed with the unfriendly driver.
My head was stretched out the window. The fresh air helped. The spinning stopped. I coughed. When the cough stopped, I vomited a little more egg. Sister wiped my face with more water and cleaned my gown with her scarf.
Although she had reacted very quickly when I started to vomit, my gown was ruined. I continued the journey with my ruined gown, a relieving nervousness and a feeling of fever.
I did not want to sleep because I wanted to see everything seeable while the omnibus traveled the road. I resisted sleep, but resistance was futile. My eyelids closed against my will.
The change from a resisting-me to a sleeping-me progressed quickly. My nervousness must have followed me into sleep because I saw many things that threatened to ruin the sleep. If my nervous state had nothing to do with the things I saw, then it must be the forest. The trees in the forest looked terrible already. The speeding omnibus only made them more terrible. They took on different shapes and monstrous sizes while I looked at them. They multiplied. They had heads I could not describe. I wished I was not asleep.
Unfortunately, I did not wake. I fell deeper into sleep. It seemed as though I fell into a dark hole. As much as I wished, I did not stock in this hole. I was brought further into another place. The space seemed abandoned, a deserted land. I was almost able to grab the quietness in the space. The stillness was defeaning. Even a cemetery could not have been so quiet. At least in a cemetery, birds would twitter. Insects would fly around. Bush rats, tree squirrels and rabbits would disturb the peace a little. The quietness into which I was brought defied description. It was beyond dead silent.
I did not trust my ears. “Am I not deaf like this?”, I asked myself. If I was not deaf, then I probably did not put my ears on the ground enough, I concluded. Following this conclusion, I strained my ears a little more. I placed my hands on my ears. I wanted to confirm if the noise meant for my ears escaped them and I did not know.
It paid off. I heard something. I strained my ears more. I wanted them to guess what kind of noise it was and who made them. Was it coming from an animal, human or just any being? At first it was a mystery.
I looked over my head and saw bats. They were the creatures making the noise. The mystery was solved. They flew past me, just a little above my head. Their flight seemed as if they stayed put in the air at some point. I held my breathe. One flew towards me. I lost my balance when I saw the bat at such close range. I was terribly afraid. My underskin was hot. It was as if I was going to vomit my heart via my mouth. I fell to the ground.
Instinctively, I struggled to get up immediately. In my struggle I faced up to see a company of more terrible creatures, such I could hardly comprehend even after I was awake. A voice in my head told me runnung away was senseless. These creatures were too many to escape from.
Notwithstandung this urge to give up, I stood on my feet and ran. Fast as my legs could carry me. I remembered we used to say the whole body must be at alert if one has to escape a life-threatening danger. My hands did not stop to move swiftly, in agreement with my fleeing legs. My eyes opened wide. My hot underskin was still hot and my heart raced. In short, my whole body was wildly at alert. I was not going to give up easily.
Sure, the creatures would have overtaken me if Sister had not shaken me. In anycase, I had not intended to give up without a fight. She announced our arrival in Lagos. That way, she ended the terrible dream. Sister had just rescued me again.
The sun was high up in the sky. “So, this is Lagos”, I said to myself. I followed Sister very closely behind.