Growing up. We were not poor. And by this, I mean every word of it. I will be clear from here: I am talking about me, about myself, about those that gave me life, it’s about us, and about all those who can identify with my story. It’s not fiction. Our happiness was real, it’s still real. The memories are beautiful, of a childhood well spent, of fulfillment and of good tidings. Thanks to my mother, and my dad too, who made it possible. Dad was, and still is, a great guy. I am sure he never would have wished for a different wife.
Let me begin with my MAT memory. MAT is a multimillionaire. He is a business tycoon, he is one of the first major distributor of Nigerite Asbestos roofing sheets before many many other distributors caught wind of the business and flooded the market. MAT owned big trucks. All of them very big. We children called them Trailer MAT. And this is what they truly are! We would stand by in awe counting all of them as they retired to our street in Orile Agege to sleep for the night. The day’s work was done and their big big rocklike tyres walked into our world to complete our expectations before we ourselves retired into the night on our mats spread out in the nightly moon in attempt to escape mosquitoes and heat of our binukonu house.
Many of the trucks arrived before nightfall, so that Brother Peter could still wash them. Bro Peter was a giant, very tall, his mother was one old woman, whos face and beautiful look I still have in my memory till today. She sold pepper in lambebe and other aworobo in front of her house. She was such a gentle woman. A complete contrast to Bro Peter’s loud nature. Bro Peter was loud but not ruly nor unwarantedly rough. He would fight nobody if the fighting partner had not first found his trouble. I remember one case like that when we saw some new people washing the trucks that were normally carwashed by him. That was one day I will not forget in a hurry. His rage came with such loudness and roughness the people did not wait to see it land on tthem before they disappeared into thin air.
Later news spread that some people, apparently his foes, had gone to MAT to badmouth him there. They said he did not carwash the trucks clean enough. We all knew this is a wicked lie. Is it not Bro Peter who would collect Omo from his mother and fetch water without end to carwash these trucks? Trucks that drove intoin our streets very dirty and after which Bro Peter would carwash them so well that we see our pictures glister in their newness!? Why would anyone tell this kind of lie against our giant? Bro Peter was all tears as he carwashed his beloved trucks that evening. I never saw him cry like that, not before that time, and not again thereafter. We even heard that these new people did not even wait for MAT to decide the matter before they set out to begin carwashing the trucks that particular evening. It all infuriated Bro Peter even the more. It hurt him too much.
Many times, it was after Bro Peter finished washing that MAT himself drove into our street. Our street led to Abeokuta Street. Ours was Alhaji Raimi Street. He preferred connecting his house via our own street because it was wider than Abeokuta Street. He had a Jeep. His name was the platenumber. I am not very sure now, but I think he drove with a peculiar sound. We children knew this sound way too well. We needed no reminder who it was when MAT appeared around the corner into our street. All of us children on the street would burst into jubilation, praising him, shouting his name. I am sure he saw us through the fully tinted glasses of his Jeep. His driver always drove with extreme care because we were everywhere on the road, busy with all types of children games of our time.
We played Suwe. We played soccer. With unripe oranges. We played Rubber. We did TenTen. And we sang ChiChi O Emego! The bigger ones played table tennis and some of us hung around the table tennis table watching them play to win big bet monies. There were enough games to busy all the roads and streets so that the sound on MAT’s Jeep was actually a good thing, and the slowness was to safe us from accident. In anycase, we loved him so well because he was our multimillionaire. He lived among us. He was one of us, just like us. We would gather behind the Jeep shouting MAT! MAT!! MAT!!! How I so much enjoyed these times.
His first wife, Alhaja, was a friend to many women in the street. We heard his wives don’t work. And this is true. Because I was there once when Alhaja told my mother she had to go home before Alhaji returned from office. His wives called him like that. For us, he was MAT. She had come out of the house to tell my mother she would be buying a very expensive cloth that the women chose for an occasion. They talked about other trivialities before she left. I could not cease looking at her face. She was old and young at the same time. Her skin was fresh and she was softspoken. We used to know that MAT’s latest wife followed him in his Jeep in the morning and that they returned together in the evening. Each time when he drove past, different kinds of new rumour about him filled the air, passing from one mouth to the other, before we finally settled back into our many disrupted games on the roads and streets.
His fame only grew stronger when he single handedly pursued thieves with his double barrel gun out of our streets. The legend had it that MAT jumped down from the penthouse built like watchtower ontop of his storeyed house. He jumped right into the midst of the thieves and scattered them. The thieves could not wait. They took to their heels and he pursued them! He chased them all out. That was before he relocated to his new house in Okekoto Area. He left the old house for his first son, so we heard. He moved into a much bigger house. In my child mind, I agreed he moved into a mansion. And a big house it was indeed. We used to see the light from faraway Okekoto in our street.
Lest I forget, it was because of MAT that a powerline was brought into our area. So, those of us who were sure of the thickness of the wire that carried the powerline on the electricity poles would point them to those of us who did not know. I was awed when I finally recognised the thick powerline. Each time light went off, and MAT’s house was well lit, I concluded it was the powerline that gave him light. Also, when the other line in the powerline gave up light, standby generators took over, keeping the supply of electricty constant in MAT’s house. A legend had it that he left because the thiefraids on our streets were becoming too many and a nightmare for his safety.
Let me spare my first time experience in the hands of armed robbers for awhile and tell of many other blissful times in Orile Agege. There was one unforgettable one like that. It happened at Ile-Osa. We were a handful playing football on this open space, undeveloped because it was a sacred space. Its sacredness notwithstanding, we had not been able to deter people from turning this space into wastedumpyard. So, when we saw that day somebody coming with a big bowl on his head, we were all tensed, waiting to pounce on him if he dared to dispose his waste right before our korokoro eyes while we played. He pulled a smart trick on us though.
So, he came, and before our own eyes, removed the big bowl from his head and placed it on the floor. At once we gathered around him to tell him to carry the dirt immediately. We had barely gathered when he pointed our attention to something none of us had noticed before then. He shouted: “Look! Look!! Look!!!” And pointing his fingers while he did. We followed the direction of the fingers in surprise at this new thing we could not figure out. Out of curiosity, our gaze removed from the wastebowl in the floor, focused on the new unseen threat. Then, like play like play, this wastecarrier took to his heels in the direction of his fingers. We were still not sure what he saw there it was pointing at, but we were carried away long enough for him to run away leaving us with the wastebowl. When our consciousness returned back into our body, we were left with the stranger’s wastebowl. The stranger had long run out of sight. We could not stop laughing at our own stupidity. He got us was all we could say!
So, talking about the nightly moons. Those were beautiful times. I swear they were! If I ever was born again, I swear I would not hate it if I came back to that same street. At about 7pm, depending on how soon night broke or which family was first to bring out its mats, we all would sweep different spaces in our frontyard, spread our sleeping mats, and laid on them. We children moved from mat to mat, playing all plays imaginable, shouting our voices coarse for excitement. We told stories and sang songs. We recaptured the day’s occurrence, individual or common experiences. If there was any act of valour, we relived them again in the night, we talked and laughed about how many of us lost their afternoon food to the game of Kelegbe.
I bet, nobody would think it fun when a friend just happened on you and caught you and your afternoon food pants down! Imagine this: your friend caught you with your favourite food in your hand, or anything valuable, and you must give it up, because you both had an earlier gentleman agreement that either of you, who in that moment is caught without a piece of broom hidden somewhere in his hair, so that he can counter you with “Motayo!-response” when he charged at your possession with a Kelegbe!-declaration. So much fun we had playing our fun games. This and many more busied our night. We jested, we fought, we smiled, we laughed and told Ijapa stories abd many more. All under the moonlight.
I am coming back tomorrow to tell you of the story of The Dog who hid His Mother in The Sky although it was agreed that all animals kill their mothers for meal due to the famine in the land. But let me tell you first of our deep freezers. The joy that entered our whole house when the deep freezer arrived. It was on one afternoon like that. None of us children suspected mother was going to buy one. We would have been caught unprepared all the same to welcome such a huge change in our room, but our surprise would have been lesser. Mother caught all of us unprepared. It was not a Tokunbo. It was brand new ThermoCool Deep Freezer. It was a playmate who pointed my attention to mother stepping out of the transporter and the people dragging something towards us. The whole house erupted into ecstatic jubilation. Mother was being praised from right left back front and centre. The next day, I carried my books to school in the packagebox which had housed the electricity stabilizer. The stabilizer was bought alongside the deep freezer so that irregular power supply doesn’t spoil it. I placed it proudly on my head and walked to my primary school.
It was in this same house we shared our sorrows together. Like when Wasiu died. It was like we all died. We sorrowed like there was no tomorrow. Same way we jumped and ran to the hospital when we received news of Aunty Muji’s accident, or when we heard Bro Nojimu had fallen off a bus. He was a busboy. We were more than happy to receive him back into our midst. Our love and attention nursed him back to health. We were immeasurably happy when the wife of the younger brother of Bro Semiu put to bed. We all went to the hospital. We all trekked, talking loudly. We were happy. Very happy. We were simply being us. She brought home her baby and she became part of us, growing up with us in who we were!
Before I forget these two, let me drop them here: (1) the night we heard the bakery at the other end of Abeokuta Street invented a new bread. Solo Bread. We stormed the bakery, bought so many, ate them. And bought again. And ate them all. Because we could afford them. It was such genius. The Cocacola Company had just brought a new product into the market. The Solo Coke. The name and price inspired the new bread. We enjoyed the hotness and freshness of the bread. And we enjoyed the idea even more. I am not sure how much a piece sold for, but I bet it could not have been costlier than one Naira. (2) The night an adult brought the new one Naira coin and other coins in lesser denominations home. They were new. Babangida had just killed our beloved one Naira note and many more. We comforted ourselves in the newness we held in our hands. We passed them around. We all wanted to have a look.
It was not all fun in Alhaji Raimi Street. We had our differences. We fought each other. As in bitter fights o. But our bitterness never outlived the night. We resolved them. And I mean every word of that. The adults did. The children did. We all did. We were bigger than our bitterness. We never allowed that to destroy us. How else could our unity despite our differences be nade evident other than 1991/1992. The years that preceded the Hope ’93 project. Iya Funlola was the SDP in the house. She was the lead vanguard of the people’s party. We couldn’t have enough parties in the house. Whenever Iya Funlola returned from The Airport where she worked for FAAN, the whole house would be agog with praise and singing of all songs imaginable in support of Chief MKO Abiola and The Horse, the symbol of the party.
On the other hand, Baba Shamu, the man in charge of NRC in our house, not to be outdone, would roll out songs, invite more than enough people from other streets to join us in celebrating the victory of The Party with The Bird as its emblem. Chants of Egbe Eleye loni competing to outdrone voices of Egbe Elesin! In the middle of all these were us, children, living our happiness right there as it happened. We did not know the difference. We were only happy. And we lived it.
End of the year. I remember two spectacular occasions. One was super cool, one was not. The bad one first, and that very short. We went for a watchnight service. On our way back home, the high tension wire on poles began this terrible spark. We did not know what triggered this sparkling. Thank Goodness we escaped. I held mother’s hand as we ran away from the sparkling high tension. It was such a thin escape that we were not struck. Now to the good one. I dont know how it started, it sha started. We were at our backyard in our street. Was it Iya Tope or Iya Omopenu who had killed a chicken and we were all gathered to look at the defeather-ing process, to be followed by the careful cutting into small pieces. Someone fetched water to fill his empty drum somewhere close to the kitchen. Some bathed their children while some did nothing in particular. Iya Funlola’s voice joined the song blaring from a stereo in one of the rooms. It was the traditional end-of-year-song. Then, one of us joined. Another joined. Yet another joined. Until we were all singing and rejoicing that we were going to see the new year! The revival that descended on the househouse lasted hours. Iya Funlola only stopped us at imterval to feed us with more reasons why we must be thankful. And we indeed were. We raised our voices and sang even louder. Our religion never mattered. We were just all happy and thankful for the new year.
I can continue to tell of many many beautiful times while I was a growing. They were great times, for real. But I don’t want to bore my readers so I will stop here for today. I will continue tomorrow. Then, I will tell of that armed robbery experience. It was a trauma, no doubt, but many other memorable moments far outweigh it. Times that cannot wait to be told. I will tell of these good times and memories. And many many more. Tomorrow.