Merchants-of-Memories (MoM): This Is Growing Up
This Is Growing Up. I was playing outside, playing ball with other friends, I can’t tell how many exactly now or who they were. Of course, if I had to guess I would immediately think of Jelili, Biodun aka Agbako, Saburi, Wasiu et al, who played with me on that day. We had an unripe orange as ball, and we kicked it around until it was no more playable, then we got another or engaged in other activities.
I am sure what I did exactly at the moment mother came to call and informed we were moving. I had both my hands on the ground, rested firmly on my palms, I wanted to sommersault, I laughed while I did, apparently enjoying myself. I saw mother coming from behind through my bent head which could see what went on behind. ‘Come, lets go’, she said. I did not ask why. I followed.
I changed into another clothe. Mother had cooked beans, not exactly my favourite, but since I did not have to eat immediately, I was less concerned. She packed it into a bag, we carried few bags and set out for our new house. I made the journey with mother, my sister and an aunt my age. I am not sure now if my brother came with us, but this I am sure of: Mother did tell me what would happen to our clothes, furniture and other things in the room that had housed us since I was barely five. I know for sure now because I asked her what would happen to our loads. She responded: ‘Akin and Alfred will bring them tomorrow for us.’
We walked to the bus-stop, about three kilometres from our face-me-I-face-you-house. We had always walked this way to connect omnibuses when we had to go to church, to LBSS, to General Hospital or to visit friends and families who lived faraway. We walked this route again so we could enter a bus to Oke-Odo. The buses queued in rows of two, waiting for passengers to fill up their empty seats. We walked past Orile-Agege Primary School, Saka-Tinubu High School and past Orile Agege Baptist Church, in front of which was a transformer. That transformer used to be like a giant each time I walked past it. Maybe it still is, I think my child-size magnified it in my eyes. Even now in my memory I still see it as the giant transformer.
We walked past the poffpoff seller. She had her market not too far-removed from the transformer. Whenever we walked to church on Sundays, I was sure to hold on, patiently hoping mother would buy us some hot poffpoff. If she did not, I wept the rest of the way. If she did, my joy knew no bound as I devoured the delicious sugar-fried flour-balls as if nothing else ever mattered.
We crossed the busy road and walked the few metres, barely 300 metres, into a waiting bus. There was a Y-junction just before we reached the yellow-with-black-stripes omnibuses. On the left were the omnibuses, the road on the right led to the palace of Oba Orile. I looked with wonderment each time I went past the palace gate. Memories. Memories. Memories. I hope I would be patient enough to tell you all. I must not forget to tell you this very quickly: Just opposite the Baptist Church, on the other side of the road was Ile-Esu-Orile. The small shoplike room housed a particular deity. The deity is sacred and must not be moved or destroyed, so she stood at that spot gidigba. Any construction work that had to be carried out must find a way to accomodate her space. Well, lest I stray too far into many things I want to tell you, thereby killing you with too many unstraightened memory, let me return to the journey at hand. I will tell you later of Igbale Egun sited three houses away from our house. I will tell you too of Ile Osa right beside our house, which doubled as our communal football field and mini waste-dumpyard.
Boarding a bus was not always fun especially when we had to maximize a space of one to accommodate four persons. One needed be prepared to meet the anger of the busboy. We met that of our busboy, but with the help of other passengers, we succeeded in calming him. So, one passenger carried on her lap my sister, my aunt sat on the engine in front of mother. I sat on mother’s lap. I am sure I was very excited to sit on mother’s lap. With this arrangement, we paid a fare for a passenger. After this, we had two other buses to join before we reached our destination. The story was not less different- unfriendly and angry busboys who thought, and that rightly so if I may add in retrospect, that they were being unfairly cheated.
It was night when we reached our destination, our new house. Once again we walked from bus-stop home, this time around, it lasted less than three kilometres. Unlike busy roads and bustling activities of Orile Agege, Ijoko welcomed us with a nightly serene I have come to cherish till today. This is in no way to say I cherish any less the ever bustling life we lived in Orile Agege before we moved. If anything can be relied upon to remind how much I enjoyed growing up in these two places, then my memory is.
Now, let me talk of our arrival.
We arrived. There was a burning shakabila two plots away from us, it was from Baba Ile-Keji who henceforth with his family of eight became our only close-by neighbour. His house was a modest hutlike one room house, he was sure to build the house big enough to accommodate his big family. More on Baba later.
Mother, accompanied by my aunt made their way to Baba Ile-Keji’s house. In what happened to be a coincidence, Baba had called one of his sons to follow him to our house. He said he heard unusual movement and sound from our wallside of his house, so he wanted to check that it wasn’t thieves. He was pleased to come out into mother’s arm and that of my aunt. ‘Ma’a Sunday, it is you’. He had a bush cutlass in one hand, a torchlight in the other, his son had a lantern. They all came over to us. We greeted. Bringing out the cooked beans, Baba sent his son home to fetch gaari. He came back with his mother and Sister Basira, Baba’s eldest daughter. When it was time to eat, the gaari leebu they brought was a perfect match for the beans we had brought all the way.
Before food, we lit candles and spread clothes on the floor. The breeze of the night behaved like a good breeze, it cooled our traveled body. Once in a while, lizards in the ceiling broke the silence that ensued when no one talked. They ran here and there in that part of the house. Later, we believed they were no more lizards but runaway cats who have grown into big dangerous wild cats. Baba and his wife and his two children left after we ate. They were visibly delighted a neighbour arrived. We thanked them for welcoming us. The tiredness from our journey returned, sleep overtook our overwaka-limbs, we laid on the spread clothes and slept. I woke up in my own pool of pee when morning broke. It was such a night!
So, before I continue with Ijoko-Ota, I will tell you of the three or more memories I touched on already. Fairness demand I do. I love and hate suspense like kilode 🙂
Palace Oba Orile. The palace was right in the middle of Oja-Oba. Two market kiosks away from the palace were chicken sellers. I was always delighted to see the chicks. They looked beautiful and innocent. The joy in my eyes made my heart race fast whenever I saved enough to buy one of them. There was even a time I was able to buy two! Double joy!! Come and see my happiness!!! I (actually, not only me) would raise the chicks to become real big chickens. Anyone who cared could touch the pride in my eyes. So strong was my sadness too whenever we had to go throwway dead chicken because gutter rats had chosen to kill them with their sharp teeth when the chicks slept at night. Really, we tried all we could to keep the rats away, but like any human endeavour, success was not always guaranteed.
Past the palace led a road to Mrs. Siwoku’s house. Mrs. Siwoku owned a post office box. So mother would send Tunde to go collect Dad’s letters from London. I used to be very excited whenever he allowed me to follow him.
On the doorpost of a one-storeyed house was an inscription, it read: ILE ABENI ILORI. I was sure to look at the inscription each time we went past the house, as if to be sure it was still intact. Years later when my Yoruba subject-teacher taught us the importance of sign-placement in order for our written-thoughts/sentences to be so understood as intended, I could not stop laughing; my mind brought back the inscription on the doorpost of that house when I used to accompany Tunde to collect Dad’s letters.
The road to Mrs. Siwoku’s house was gully and rocky, the earth was mud-red. So, enough about the palace and its memories. At least for now.
The only thing I remember about Ile-Esu-Orile is this: Close to it was fruit-tree. People sat under for shade. I passed the shrine to deliver mother’s errand to her friends.
Ile Osa was sacred land. It belonged to the gods and must be left undeveloped. We did not only play football here, we sometimes dug out old bottles and metals which fetched us good money from merchants who dealt in this business. Once in company of friends, we attempted to make money from lizard-head. There was a myth that lizard-heads dey turn money, one only had to do the ritual well. When after three days nobody talked about the lizard-head we buried for money-sake, I concluded the ritual did not work for us. To be sincere I thought one of us probably outsmarted the rest in that he went earlier to dig out for himself alone the money we had all wished on the lizard-head when we severed it from the rest of its body. We had buried the head not too faraway from the goalpost, the body we threw into the smoky fire that burned wastes dumped in that space which was meant to house the gods.
Igbale Egun. Apart from being the spirit-yard from where human beings, turned masquerades, emerged in colourful costumes with scary heads of different shapes and sizes, we were often told anyone who entered without permission go die mysteriously. This held my curiosity under control. The closest I got into this yard of ancestral spirits was few steps past the open gate one day like that. It was masquerade festival period. I was damn scared to go beyond the gate. It was horrible enough that the masquerades scared the hell out of us when they moved around streets with whips and sticks. The whips, we used to believe, were poisoned, anyone beaten with it, would need special intervention to avert ominous end. There was a rumour that one Alfa, once beaten by a masquerade, stood his ground, beat up the masquerade, and unmasked this rude masquerade. The story had it that the spirit being disappeared when it became impossible to prevent Alfa from desecrating him. I did not witness this event. I wished I did each time this adventurous encounter was narrated.
So, now that I have unburdened these memories, I will tell you what happened after I woke up in my own pee. E ma ba mi ka lo.
I packed my wet sleep-clothes, changed into another and went outside. I heard mother and aunt talking at the backyard. Looking up, I saw guava tree. Birds chirped at ripe fruits. I breathed in fresh air, the freshness was touchable, the air smelled strongly of it. I walked to the tree. On the sandy path were guluso-moulds, I scattered some with my legs, some with my hands, I let others be. There were neatly dug holes too, small, and plenty. Aunt showed us later we could trick out the caterpillar-like insects that lived in these holes. So, when we saw any, we cut juicy yet-to-mature part of this yeriyeri-grass and inserted it into the holes. The caterpillars in this earth always bit the thing and we dragged them out without delay. Sometimes we killed them, other times we let them be, at times we simply looked on in wonderment.
On the guava tree, I spent a pretty good part of the morning. The birds all flew away when they saw me. I sat on a branch and helped myself to as much I could. I plucked and filled my pockets. When they filled up, I let them fall on the ground. I was going to gather them when I got down the tree. I went home when mother called out that food was ready. I adapted to my new life seamlessly.
In the afternoon, Brother Akin and Brother Alfred arrived with our loads. Two more uncles accompanied them. They began unloading at once. We helped them while they did.
New home. New life. New friends. New families. New memories to make.
Pastor Akinleye was a carpenter. I got to know before we reached his house. He had helped with carpentry work in the new house. That was how mother happened on him. Since, he has been very supportive. The road to his house became the road I walked very often in my sojourn in Ijoko-Ota. It led to the houses of my new friends. Mother took me along to pay him a courtesy visit. Following Sunday he came with church members to pray on our house. That was a week or two before the house warming ceremony.
I have told somewhere of the sacrifice mother offered when we moved in. It wont be out of place to repeat it here. It confirms the Yoruba proverbial saying of faith/Western religion not forbidding participation in the traditional Oro cult. This is what I was able to spin from the little hearsay I remember today: Mother was afraid, or rather unwilling to move into our new house. She thought she had it too easy! Imagine a woman building a 3 bedroom flat with such a big expanse of land to join! That was 1995. Unbelievable! So, for fear of this-or-that ills, she did not want to move in fiam like that. She confided her fear in her brother, who in turn told their father. Baba Igashi acted swiftly. ‘Iyabo, it is bad omen to finish a house and not move. It is not good!!! Have you forgotten Lagbaja Omo Lakasegbe who built a house and refused to move on time!? You have to move into your house, even if not complete yet. We shall consult the oracle to know if need be for a sacrifice.’ This way Baba Igashi was able to convince mother it was time to move. The oracle advised we sacrifice a big goat. We slaughtered a big goat when we moved, so people had enough to eat during the house warming ceremony.
If I had thought religion was a big part of my life in Orile Agege, then it became my very existence in Ijoko-Ota. The church and her members did not only play a very active role in my growing years, the mosques in and around our street contributed in no little way to my interculturalness and acceptance of you-for-you- you might belong to a different religion, but you are first human! How else does one survive in a community with a potpourri of all possible religious confessions and colourations. Of particular interest was Baba Laila. We did not know his real name, he got his nickname because he would say this word times without number when he talked. He was a Muslim. Many thought he was not completely sane, but I wondered what yardstick we measured sanity with. If the words Baba Laila spoke were a yardstick for sanity, then he was not mad. In his many rants it was clear he detested hypocrisy and intolerance. He spoke good English too. For me, Baba Laila was neither Muslim nor Christian, he was a bit of both and a traditionalist at the same time. This old man spoke wisdom almost all the time. So, when we returned from church, it was the mounted loudspeakers of the muezzins’ call to prayer that welcomed us. When Mukadam, the young Muslim cleric beside our house began holding night vigils in his Quran school, I began to rethink many things I had hitherto thought were only common to the Christian faith. I will still talk about Quran recitation feasts celebrated to showcase successful attendees of the Quran school; it was a necessary rite of passage for devouts of the Muslim faith. I witnessed many of them. Just be patient with me, I will tell you all about them. Trust me, I wont forget to tell you too of many Baptismal classes and Holy Ghost Services plus Special Services held to eat The Lord Last Supper; they were all part of me.
There was this big fight between Baba Ile-Keji and a land-urchin, popularly called Kwara. Among land-urchins, he was least-liked. He could be loud and unruly. Overtime Baba Ile-Keji became a land-dealer too. One thing one thing, it happened that Kwara felt Baba’s landbuyer was a former potential landbuyer that Baba snatched from him. I did not know how it all began but it became real messy at the end. I saw Baba Ile-Keji high up, bourne in Krawa’s hefty hands, landed on the bushy footpath. I am not sure if he intentionally dropped him at this spot so he did not get killed. Baba Ile-Keji sprang on his feet and ran home while two of his sons scratched and tore at Krawa’s flesh. He pushed them off with fists thrown in all directions. Baba’s voice did not stop being heard on his way home, he shouted instruction to his children not to let Kwara escape. Apparently, he was coming back. And back he came! He came with a small chord. I saw him held the thing to his tongue, licked and spat at Kwara, then cursed! The curse-words were better left unsaid, I swear. Kwara would take none of this charm-shakara! He dashed at Baba Ile-Keji and landed him a hot slap on the head, then back-sent the curse. This were his words: Igi ti arigisegi base ori are re lo fi nru!
When we saw the fight was not going to end in peace and on time, we dispersed one after the other. With nobody to voice-separate the fighting duo, the fight ended.
Another crowd-puller was when Alfa was caught red-handed in the act. I was coming from Thursday Revival Hour when I noticed this strange figure on the rooftop of a church in front of Orolu’s house. That strange figure, silhouetted by night’s darkness became Alfa when street people gathered to see the face of our rooftop-thief. We did not know what to do with this familiar thief. Alfa was once an influential landseller, his family owned our street before he and his sibling sold the whole land plot by plot. Mother once told of a time when Alfa and family whisked away large chunk of money in baskets, and when there was not enough baskets they wrapped hard-earned monies in their dansiki and carried them away. In short, Alfa was rich until another family won a court case and claimed Alfa’s gold-shitting donkey.
We were children and women who had caught Alfa. Pity almost rescued him until Baba Anu appeared. I had seen him running towards us, he must have heard that his distant relative was caught stealing roofing sheet. With a tight fist, he went straight for Alfa’s face. Successive fist punches landed on the thiefman-face. Alfa was heard shoutcrying for mercy under this fistrain. ‘Shanu mi! Shanu mi!! Shanu mi…!!!’. This is the truth: Where I grew up, a thief is not among creatures to be pitied. We beat them till they bleed or die! I will tell you why. Just hold your breathe first 🙂
I was barely 7 years old when thieves came to Alhaji Raimi Street. The following day, different stories filled the air. One story in the mouth of all was that of Omo Alhaji. She had returned from Mecca few weeks. They wanted gold. Some version had it that she had first flown to London, then routed her flight to come home via Mecca. In short, news of her expensive trip must have reached the thieves who held us hostage in our own houses that night. Not to long the talk sha, Omo Alhaja aka Madam Custom died two months later from post-thiefvisit trauma. Doctors confirmed that her condition could not have survived such a shock! She was pregnant, she died with her foetus.
The drama that accompanied this thief-night was horrible and funny. Imagine. Married men shat in their trousers, toddlers clamped to their mothers howling their throats dry for fear. Different scenarios of thief-stories stared me in the face. I was terrified! Scenes of rape, handcutting, correct beating, outright killing, Naija-style humiliation, all of them flash-flash my head in an instant! I died and ressurected, all the nightmares came rushing back! We were cramped in the passage and rooms. Mother scooped the money she had and gave Brother Bayo. ‘Tie it inside nylon and drop it inside drinkwater-drum. Stomach dey turn me!’ Our hell hot hotter with bullets. Only when day broke were we sure of our safety. Such a nightmare!