This was a bright and beautiful Sunday afternoon in 1998, I was in primary two. Not that Sundays aren’t often bright and beautiful; at least most are.
Can anyone possibly argue that Sundays aren’t the best day of the week?
Think about this; the beautiful dresses, the happy faces, the pleasant dishes and the best of wishes. But this Sunday wasn’t like any other; it was different. From afar, a sweet song, soulfully permeating the serenity of the environment; the song as though transported straight into the ears on a journey, through the wind.
Spending your Sunday in our neighbourhood meant that you were going to witness the influx of beach party goers. I always enjoyed being around these parties. Not just for the fun of sighting the beach and its waters, but the beautiful dresses, the birds, and the wind, they all interested me. This Sunday, it was a birthday party and my parents were going too.
The party had already started when we arrived; we joined the party. There were lots to eat and drink. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had more to eat than I could ever eat at a go; I practically tried my hands on anything I was permitted to touch and eat. At the party, Oma was with me. Oma had become a part of my life. From school to the church, from playgrounds to the market, whereever I went, Oma was sure to come. This time, I took Oma the doll and went to the beach side to build sandcastles; that was my getaway.
Oma laid quietly on the ground, totally nonchalant and unbothered, unperturbed about what happened around it. I was scared that the wind will blow it away for the wind was heavy and cruel.
“What is the name of your doll?” I turned, startled and surprised at the same time.
“Oma,” I answered; decoding the voice, matching the face and processing the question all at the same time.
It was a strange voice from a strange face and was from a strange source. “I like the name,” the voice said.
“My name is Jamila, and my parents just moved here, and what’s your name?” she asked.
I will try to describe the Jamila I met on that day. Everything about her was pink. From her little pink ball gown decorated with the white happy butterfly designs and which spotted a beautiful waistband that glittered with gold-coated petals, to her beautiful pink leggings, laced at the ankle with rose beads, and her pink shoes, she was the typical definition of a Cinderella.
“Can we be friends?” she asked. “I have no friends yet and my parents won’t let me meet people,” she added.
I was captivated by her confidence. There was something about Jamila. She wasn’t like any other little girl I have known around while growing up.
“Of course, we can be friends,” I replied. The fact was that I wasn’t doing well with the friend thing either. Coming from a completely reserved home, I wasn’t doing better at all. My parents vetted people who came around me. That in turn made me highly selective.
In hindsight, it is funny why she chose to call me Pam. In her words, “I called you Pam so you could agree to be friends with me.”
She was good at building sandcastles too. She was quite very good at different designs of sandcastles; in fact, it would be fair to say she was the world’s greatest sandcastle designer.
Back at the party, my parents introduced me to the celebrant’s family. Not that I knew anything about them, but the beach was just a place to be. I left that party without saying a word to Jam, whom I preferred to call Jam, having been pulled away abruptly by my parents who were visibly distraught by the fact that I was playing with a girl they didn’t know.
At home, mother was particular about reminding me of whom I mixed and rolled with. It wasn’t long before my father repeated the same advice. This had become a part of my growing up. However, this time, I told them I liked Jamila and thought we could be friends.
I grew up in a very moderate family. A banker father, who worked with one of the new generation banks and a mother who worked as a nurse with the Red Cross Society. Mother constantly watched my back. As the only child of their ten-year-old marriage, I was the apple of their eyes. They spent more time thinking about my safety than they spent thinking about making
We had a house help who was sent away when I was eight just for not holding my hands when I crossed the road. It wasn’t like I knew much. But I remember the screaming from pedestrians and commuters alike because I was nearly knocked down by an oncoming vehicle.
Esther watched the show staged by illusionists who were taking over the city. I never got to know what the fuss was about. Bunch of men who crowded over some cards and tossed them about. All I knew was that they were magicians. They were everywhere; bus stops, parks, front of superstores and malls, everywhere they could find a haven and not be evicted. I remember they said people won gift items for predicting things. I didn’t really know. But it could have costed my life and the reprimands from my mother on that day makes it difficult for me to cross busy streets to this day.
It was the next Friday after the party that our school closed for the session and I would be promoted to the next class. When the day came for closing, I wasn’t particularly enthused.
I wasn’t scared of failure and wasn’t excited about promotion because it had become a routine that I came first overall in each academic level I was in. I remember once I toyed over the idea of purposely slipping so I could see my parents’ reaction and also taste the feel of failure; an idea I laugh at today. Coming first didn’t bother me, but the great gulf between me and those that took the second and third positions was worrisome.
At a point, my parents considered taking me to another school because they felt I was too good for Heaven Nursery and Primary School. Statistically and evidentially, this school was the best in the neighbourhood and there was just nothing else they could do.
I was called in front of the whole school again. This time, I had the highest-grade point average in the school. Mother was at the gate waiting as usual as I casually walked towards the car, opened the back door and dumped my backpack.
“Mother, can we go home now?”
“Hey! Calm down smart one, what is it this time?” Mother asked, considerably bothered. I was certain she thought I had slipped somehow.
“Nothing mum; another term, another first position. This time, they said I beat everyone in the school.”
“Oh My God!” Mother exclaimed, hitting me in a soft shove while trying to navigate into the road with her left.
“Your father has to hear this. In another term, you will outperform the teachers.” Mother was jubilant and her face glittered with satisfaction.
One thing about my mother as I grew up, was that she was and is still my greatest fan. She was like my hype man. She was just there at every turn to praise my performance and nudge me ahead. Father would just make up with light praises and heavy gifts when he was in the mood.
When father eventually came back, mother was praying. From my room, I could hear her thank God for a smart baby girl, a girl with high morals and one who will make any parent happy. I knew when father came in and I pretended I was unaware. I heard him close the door and walk into the sitting room. And when mother was done praying, she came and joined him in the sitting room. I listened to them discuss my performance and, in a few minutes, father was walking towards my room.
I closed my eyes tightly and pretended to be asleep. I could pass for a drama queen. People often said I was too mature for my age. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I just saw myself figuring out things easily. I always heard people say to my parents, “You are lucky to have such a precocious child.”
Father tapped my shoulder in an attempt to wake me up. Imagine trying to wake someone who was totally conscious and aware up. I wondered how I always managed to deceive them.
“Baby,” he started, “I learned you beat everyone in your school hands down. You know your mother and I am proud of you, right?”
“Daddy!” I exclaimed, pretending to just be waking from my sleep.
“Good evening sir, I know you are proud of me. What do I get this time?” I asked, expecting a favourable response. When he spoke, he surprised me.
“Whatever you want, I will get it for you.”
Today, as I tell this story, I don’t know why I didn’t ask for everything I would have needed today on that day. But there were things that bothered a nine-year-old. I am certain most things we need as adults are just not part of it. At that point in my life, what I wanted the most was a bicycle.
And did I get the bicycle, I certainly did, and in the colour, I wanted it; a royal blue colour. I am certain you have guessed I would ask for a pink-coloured bicycle. Somehow, it is a known fact that most little girls want everything to be made in pink, some even wish their teeth were pink and I remember Jamila would always wish the tooth fairy would come to change her teeth to pink.
On another occasion, our proprietor had called on my father. She encouraged him to let me write the secondary school entrance exam at primary four. It was good news for me because I was already tired of doing little kid’s stuff.
What do kids ever want in life? Live a life of fantasy, play pretends, whine and dream of things nigh impossible. I did have such dreams and fantasies. I imagined myself in the cloak of Superman, that of Spiderman and in some cases, I even wanted to be the mischievous Jerry from Tom and Jerry. Not that I spent my life in front of the television; I even see more of the TV now, but I really had a wide array of imaginations. I think it was because I saw a lot of Barney and friends and was taken in by the song “Just Imagine.” Oh, lest I forget, I was Barney in one of the fantasies, cooing menacingly about in the Barney apparel while controlling the traffic; what an imagination.
Kids just want to be happy. They detest lack. They want something and are going to use every clue in the world including the dumb ones, to make you provide what they want. My cousin would lace the handle of every available door in the house with clues of things he wanted. One of the times, it nearly
got him into trouble. He had gotten a skateboard, but kids in the block and hood were getting roller skates. His father wouldn’t budge. He had even lied to his father that accidents were bound to happen more often on the boards because it had less control and could slip from under you at any
moment. His father had replied by telling him to drop the skating idea entirely. He would draw pictures of people roll skating and plaster it all over the place, until his last scheme which landed him in trouble and ended his skating career before it even started.
His father invited a colleague over and it coincided with the day he launched “Operation Final Hope” as he called it. His father was walking into the seating room when he stepped on the skating board which innocently zoomed away from the unwanted disturbance. This reflex sent his father crashing to the ground; this got everyone worried. Of course, everyone except Jide was worried. Jide found it funny with a scornful “Daddy, I told you,” coming out of his little mouth.
Angry and irritated, my uncle had squeezed the little skating board into a ball and flung it into the trash bin, never to be discussed again. In one fell swoop, Jide lost his skating board and every hope of ever owning a roller skate. It didn’t stop there; my uncle banned his son from ever roll skating for life. I don’t know if Jide would ever skate again, even as an adult.
You see, kids could also be very selfish with their desires, unwitty and insanely annoying. If not, tell me why a six-month-old baby would cry selfishly over an hour without any reason. They will tell you she wants attention and even when the whole family suspends every other engagement and decides to surround her cradle and toss every known toy into her feeble hands, she won’t stop crying. She will scream louder when you turn on the air conditioner and increase her pitch when you turn it off. She will squeeze her face when you try to breastfeed her and will cry more when you don’t. Tell me if that isn’t selfishness.
But call it anything you want, kids are beautiful and lovely. The mere sight of their feeble frame would melt even the stoniest of hearts. If a baby doesn’t melt your heart, you are lost.
I wasn’t such a kid. I imagined stuff and played it out in my mind. You would hardly hear me ask for things I fancied. Father made up for it by providing things he assumed I needed. Most of the times, I never got to know what I should have done with some things he provided. Father once bought me a wooden reading desk and placed it in a corner of his room; he wanted to watch his little bunny reading. I don’t think reading on one of those was a sure way to success. I had enough of them in school; I mean
the reading and the desks. Once I got home, all I wanted to do was imagine, and imagine.
People erroneously assume that I spend every spare time I have in reading. Some people call it hyperthymesia while others say it is an eidetic memory, others choose to argue it could be mnemonic. But whatever you choose to call it, I am certain that it cannot be totally defined by only one of those definitions.
I just have an ability to remember anything I choose to. Sometimes, they play back vividly as though they were happening at the moment. I know it accounts mostly for my excellent academic performances. All I need is to read the book or be present during the lecture, once I put my mind to it, I am certain to remember it once it occurs again. If I saw a face or a name years ago, I will remember it today and that includes where I first encountered it.
In addition to my new bicycle, I got a Sunday treat to the beach; my favourite location. Jamila was there too. I did wonder if she visited the beach every Sunday. She wore a pink scooby-doo kiddies T-shirt, on a pink short, a pink silk thread kids hairband. She wasn’t building sandcastles this time, she was holding an ice cream cone which she readily extended to me on arrival.
I watched my parents from the corner of my eyes. They talked to themselves and I was certain they talked about me because for every moment I looked at them, they waved back at me with an exciting smile. They sat so close together and cuddled intermittently. My parents were madly in love with each other.
For instance, father calls mother “MW” while mother calls him “HB.” I often imagined why mother would call father a HB pencil. Yes, father is persnickety; totally fussy with a knack for attention to details, but it doesn’t make him the HB pencil which in its prime and good day, can draw attention to the lesser details of anything. Why would father call mother MW? I was eight when I asked them what their initials meant. While the HB stands for “Heart Beat,” the MW stands for “My World.” That is the idea of how close they are. It still baffles me that till this date, my parents are totally into each other. Makes me wonder why people fall in and out of love and relationships like a frog, jumping in and out of a pond.
It was about this time, that father announced his transfer to Lagos. I have always hated to hear about Lagos. The way people described Lagos often bothered me. I had sworn never to step my foot in that city. Mother wasn’t
overly excited about it. One could deduce that she was worried. She prepared the evening meal in a lick and a promise. I knew she was trying to be strong for me. Father on his part, didn’t show any sign of stress. He seemed totally taken into the transfer. It was a promotion to add to the fact that having grown up in Lagos, he always wanted to be back. I detested hearing him tell me tales of his definition of a perfect Lagos life.
In my ‘just imagine’ mind, I couldn’t make a perfect imagination of what the Lagos life would look like. As hard as I tried to imagine, all I could come up with was the idea of a crazy city with cars running at neck-breaking speed, the money doubling illusionists over every corner and kidnappers, taking away kids on their way to school.
I remember the plans as they unfolded. Our house was going to be in Omotaa street which happened to be closer to father’s workplace. Mother had to apply for a transfer to the Lagos office because that was the only way we could be together. All mother needed to do was to threaten to
resign if she couldn’t get her transfer approved, she was transferred.
Princes and Princesses Nursery and Primary School in Abagi street was going to be my new school. Abagi street happened to be the street where father’s bank was located. That was somewhat comforting. Mother’s office was farther and she will have to drive to the island every day to work. She took it in good faith, but I couldn’t help hearing her tell father in shushed night discussions, how scared and unprepared she was. Father always responded by telling her that she is the strongest woman he knew in the whole world. That seemed to help a bit. In a small time, mother was buying up stuff and getting us ready to move.
In all these, I didn’t know who to disclose my fears to. Father would tell me that I will like it there and mother would tell me that it’s going to be alright.
Jamila who had become my best friend wouldn’t talk to me again after I told her that we were moving. All I had to talk to was Oma, my beloved doll. Hugging Oma as tightly as I could, I narrated to her all my fears and pretended she listened and talked back to me. It was heart-warming when I finished talking to Oma and felt better. It is funny how the heart fears and how we can manipulate ourselves to be strong and eschew fear.