the water-walk

by ahjotnaija

We rolled tyres in sheer abandonment, in company of children from i-don’t-know-where. Only the moment mattered, we were happy to be alive. We sang. Songs we never knew how they came to be. We heard them sung and we joined in, they became part of us, and never left us. Whenever I sing, I remember my childhood, and my growing up is brought back to me. Hear me sing of three children accosted and abused by a soja.

Awa meta lanlo. Loju titi. Apade soja. Oni awawe. Alawa o we mo o. Ofowa leti. Eti mi o. Eti mi o. Bisi ba mgbeyo. Oko Bose.

Songs accompanied our daily living. The song of three children accosted and abused by a soja accompanied us once we were out in search of water. We sang as loud as we could. One late afternoon.

We went through a narrow path. Mechanics littered the path, it was their workshop. Hot silencers. Firewood. Charcoal. Burnt metal. Thick air. Master called to Apprentice. Apprentice ran over with the Master’s bidding. Fearing for no apparent reason. Hoping he brought the right tools.

We walked past them, and there in a corner sat men. Not too far away were women, mothers and wives, babies strapped to their backs, bare-chested girls, wrapper-tying women, two or three plaiting hair, talking away the hot afternoon while the day gave way for the arrival of the night.

And the sitting men. They played ayo-olopon. One of the men lived in our house. was one of them. His wife complained about him. He would not look for work, how would a man not look for work!?

We came to a wider road with open gutters. Buckets and bowls dangling. We carried no water yet. My small bowl in my hands had its back to my stomach. The journey was just about to start.

We went past The Photographer’s shop. I peeped. The doors were open, but the curtain shot out outsiders. One or twice we had come to the studio. The Photographer took us family shots. Sometimes he came to our house, into our room, and took us shots. Mother would have arranged his coming, so that hours before he came, we would be busy wearing clothes, choosing and unchoosing our best of clothes. Sunday clothes. Occasion clothes. Or just Readymade. His arrival often met us unfinished, unprepared for the shooting.

I remember one of the photographs, very cute it turned out to be. Mother sat on the blue chair, the chair was placed so the window could be seen, my sister stood beside the chair to the right, my brother to the left, and I stood in front of my brother. I wore my cherished somodobo and a t-shirt. My lovely t-shirt. My red canvas from Bata. My sister wore her gown of evening dreamlike pink, somewhere around the waist a small bag. Mother was in her best, the headtie covered the jerrycurl in part. My brother’s t-shirt was with yellow stripes.

We were instructed to smile. The Photographer could have spared us this instruction. It made it harder to get the smile out of our happy faces. We smiled but before the click of the camera happened, the smiles fled our faces, too scared to withstand the camera-click. When the picture was brought, my brother had his lips supressing a smile. When we knew the picture was to be sent to Daddy, we dotted more on it, it became one of our most treasured possessions.

We went past The Photographer and joined a tarred road. On the road we were joined by other water-searchers. They in their group. We in our group. We talked in our group, and they talked to each other. Then we increased our pace, wanting to outwalk each other. When the walking gave neither group an edge, we ran until we scattered. At the end of the road, we branched into Mr. Jerry’s street. We had been told there was water there. The queue was long.

We heard screams. I came before you. It’s a big lie. You cheat. You liar. Get out. Get in. Leave my bowl alone. No I will not. A fight broke out. Solidarity. Peacemakers. Onlookers. Laughter. And more laughter. The queue moved a little. The fighters finished their fight, and brought back their bowls, and we moved back to where we were.

After the fight. Then the talks. Bad water. The water we fetched was contaminated. We must boil it before we drink. Or not drink it at all. We could bathe with it, wash our clothes and cook. We would boil it before we cook. THe boiled water in the orange bucket back home began to make sense. Mother had boiled water and instructed us not to come near it. It’s very hot. If you do, you will be burnt. Stay away. Mother must gave heard the contaminated water-talk.

It was our turn. We fetched water. The sun had retired for the day, cool breeze blew out the heat, walking us back home as cold water fell in lumps. We made to balance our walk and the water on our heads.

Walk gently. You. If not. You will get home only with empty bowl. You. You will not come with us tomorrow. You. You don’t hear word. See. You. You are running. That’s why the whole water is pouring away. Take it easy. You. You see. You have just wasted a whole day’s queue.

We walked past the roads and their many people. Before we knew it, we were home.