September came quickly and I was yet to understand a thing about Lagos. Mother had taken me to work for a while. I had no friend, I had no beach to go to and Lagos was still terribly unpalatable. We soon met the neighbours who were conspicuously nice. The man who said he is a pastor had a moustache that irritated me. It looked unkempt, its features were rough, tattered and dusty. His face spotted dark acne; a cavalry horse would find it difficult to navigate the contour of wrinkles on
I was taught that we are the perfect image of God, so I wouldn’t say he is ugly because God cannot be ugly, but I cannot say he is not ugly either.
The woman didn’t do well either. She was too fat; so fat that the elephant may be scared of her. You know how people complain of being suffocated by fat people inside tricycles and commercial transportations, this woman should be barred from ever getting into a public transportation.
As I got to know them better, I realized she was gluttonous. For every time I saw her, she had something to eat. This time, she was clutching on a meat pie and I considered that stupid and uncultured. To come on such visit eating; that was the height.
The man was a pastor and a civil servant and the woman managed the family grocery store. She was always sweaty and appears short of air. I was always scared she would have a panic or heart attack at any point in time; thank God she never did for all the years we lived together. About four years ago, I learned of her death. Guess what she died of? Cardiac arrest. Tell people to mind their lifestyle and they will not.
There is something about gluttony. I believe that there is a correlation between gluttony and obesity. Not every case of obesity is gluttony related, but any obese person who is gluttonous is digging their grave. This is because the more you eat and the fat is stored in the adipose tissues and there is no way the body can use it up, there is a problem. The more the body adds weight, the more you are required to eat, to satisfy the body weight and its longing for food.
I would love to talk about their kids but who am I to judge a kid? Isn’t it the responsibility of the parents to take care of their children? Let me bury this hatchet. When the school resumed, I hoped for a favourable outcome. In a short while, I would be on my way to high school.
Lagos is called the city of hustlers. Everyone is always on the go. I wonder if people sleep at all. By 3:00 am, people have hit the road. Lagos is the city where kids grow up calling their father uncle because they only see
them during public holidays. If you are going to or from the mainland to the island and you do not leave early, you are bound to miss your appointment or at best, turn up late. People walk as though on a sprint and
sprinted on the double. Lagos? I would like to write a whole chapter about Lagos. Any time I try to write about Lagos, I feel held back by some invincibly suffocating strong arms; a dark force, a hindering aura. But Lagos is not for the faint-hearted. You are either smart, pretend to be smart, or dumb.
Now, there are two definitions of smartness in Lagos; you are either genuinely smart or you are a crook; there is no middle ground. Father was in the first category. But the street urchins are of the later class. There was no limitation to what can happen in Lagos. People parked their cars and returned to see their tires or battery gone.
Once, people ignored a man who was screaming because his right front door was yanked off. Streets started forming vigilante groups. A group of young men whose sole duty across streets was to secure people’s properties. You may think it made the situation better. It never did. Father would argue that the spike in burglary events was a conspicuous evidence that our vigilantes were the crooks.
I still prefer Abuja on any given day. The decorum despite the occasional hold-ups along major roads, the smartly built motorways and the fact that everyone seemed corporately brushed up. But before I talk about high school, it would help that I tell you that Princes and Princesses Nursery and Primary School was nothing special. I didn’t get to like the school until I graduated. Why not just name the school ‘Prince and Princess Nursery and Primary School’? What was the necessity of pluralizing the name? I couldn’t lay my hands on it. Every pupil had the prefix ‘prince’ or ‘princess’ to their names, depending on their gender. You
would think that the name was all that made it impossible for me to get to like the school; it wasn’t. I have grown up, having my mother pick me up from school every day. I looked forward to that like Christians look forward to the second coming of Christ. But in Abagi, I had to either trek to school
or join the school bus.
Wouldn’t you wonder why I chose not to join the school bus? Oh, please wonder about it. Cast your mind to having to seat for the whole time in the bus and listen to the pupils, brag about what and whom their fathers were, what was on the table this morning, what movie they saw at the cinema
last night and which wrestling maestro is the best among equals. I would roll my eyes every time they start bragging and some other times, I just imagine.
When I complained, father volunteered to shuttle me to and from school every day. I still missed mother’s style.
The teachers were busybodies. They related with us according to the size of the vehicles our parents drove and the amount of money they received as tips from our parents. You wonder why Nigerian politicians are sycophants and corrupt? You can trace it to the teachers at Princes and Princesses. There was a water fountain in the middle of the school. It poured out meters of water high into the air. Whistling pine trees lined the drive way. It was as though one was driving into a botanical garden because lining the spaces between each pine tree was a different brand or specie of flower. The proprietor was likely a botanist because the school was said to spend a lot of money in maintaining those flowers.
The lawn was made of artificial tuffs they bragged were imported from Israel. No one was allowed to step a foot on it and though they maintained it, I guess it was for exhibition. I continued in my feat of beating everyone academically and though I tried to make friends, I didn’t really succeed in that department.
Friendship for me is more than having someone to talk to. I would say that what I had in Abagi would probably pass for an ‘Entente Cordiale.’ On God’s best day, I would not for the life of me be friends with any of these pupils in my class. It was more of getting along for the sole purpose of not getting pranked on. There was this fat Kunle in the class who prided himself with the moniker of’ prank prince.’
We heard his father was a big government official; never really got to mean much to me until I grew up and realized how lucrative being a ‘big government official’ is. Kunle was a terrorist. With the proliferation of
terrorist cell groups all over the world, I would hazard that he may have joined up with one. What baffled me was that he seldom got caught. The few times he got caught in the act, he will cry his innocence so loud and pitchy, that you will even apologize for accusing him in the first place. He had a crew of like-minded ‘juvenile felons’ as I would prefer to call them. Either by design or by coincidence, they were conspicuously dark, heavily fat and rudimentary mischievous. Their team had a man Friday
that I will refer to as the ‘stray black sheep’. He was nothing like them in physical appearance, seldom engaged in their rough plays, often got punished for all their wrongdoings, and I wondered if he tagged along so that he doesn’t get a piece of their bullying. I would meet an all-female replica team in high school, but I wonder if they were ever this bad in primary school.
Princes and Princesses wasn’t quite a distance, so I got to sleep until at least five in the morning. But mother, who had to travel to the island would wake as early as three in the morning. I am a light sleeper and have always been this way. So, though mother would deliberately tiptoe around this house by this time so that I don’t wake, it didn’t really help much. I wake up as soon as any movement is made in the house and though I pretend to be asleep or hope to fall back asleep, it never really happens.
If there was anything I missed the most, it was Jamila, my cute pink Cinderella. Our bond grew quite close and I now missed having to build sandcastles on the beach. Yes, I also miss that beach till date.
After we met and became friends, Jamila changed her school to mine. We were all cozy and free with each other until the exams came and went. The closing date came and we were hand in hand all over the school. People called us ‘the pink-blue seal.’ I never knew what it was but it sounded cool; such was the bond. So, when the results were announced and mine was as usually expected, Jamila left school without uttering a word to me. I tailed her all the way to her mother’s vehicle, trying to find out what the problem was, she never spoke to me.
As I found out later, her problem wasn’t that she didn’t take the first position, but the problem was that I was the one in that position. And that is human nature for you. They say you get a mixed feeling when your friend attains a better position than you. Momentarily, you are happy for them and the next moment, you remember that they are better than you and you become sad. I was sad for her too. At least, she could have come in second behind me, but she came in the third position. I am sure she could
have also felt sad for me if the reverse was the case. But in life, you just have to succeed as much as you can. There is no emotional sentiment in the race for success. If you begin to consider how your friends would feel because you are more successful, you will end up a failure and they will
abandon you because success rolls with success.
Schooling in Abagi was a routine for me. I detested it, but because I had only one session to spend there, I stopped complaining. Mother and father had both agreed that I didn’t have to be put through primary six because it was an unnecessary routine. Was there any primary six pupil in Lagos that could beat me in a competition? I doubted that very much.
I was preparing for my high school entrance examination when I got the news. Mother was pregnant. Father grinned from ear to ear all weekend. He wouldn’t even let mother cook, nor do the dishes. Father is a great cook. Though he bragged more than he cooked, when he did cook, it was cuisine.
I don’t know where he gets his recipe, but when he cooks, you don’t want the meal to finish. I was ten and about to have my first sibling in a decade. I had concluded that it would be a boy; at last, a baby brother.
“Calm down Pam, you can’t tell the sex just yet,” mother would say.
I knew very well that within father, he wanted a boy too. He would say ‘he’ when he referred to the foetus. I am sure mother would want a boy but she always said she was eternally grateful for the gift and therefore was unperturbed by what gender the Lord decided to assign to the baby.
Months passed and I watched the bump grow. I would measure it with my mental ruler and conclude that a bump so large had to be a boy. Father never returned from work without buying stuff for the unborn baby. I don’t know if he was this excited about me when mother carried my pregnancy; I wouldn’t know because I wasn’t there. Mother would rather say, “Baby, that is your father for you.”
Five months into the pregnancy, father would insist that mother stopped going to work and take care of the pregnancy at home. Mother was as dedicated to her work as father was to his. Before we moved to Lagos, most of what she did was administrative jobs until there was an emergency that required Red Cross to attend to. But in Lagos, the Red Cross Hospital
catered for everyone. Mother couldn’t bear staying at home because she was pregnant.
“HB, no way,” she would scream, amidst her characteristic soft smile, father would kiss her bump and the both of them would giggle.
There had been a scan and I was told that we were expecting twin. Mother didn’t ask the doctor for the sex of the babies because she believed it would be an act of ungratefulness to the one who had given her such a beautiful gift. Father never really argued with mother. He believed that mother was the best judge of things he has ever met. I was enthusiastic about finding out the sex of the babies and even had dreams where they were both male, both female and a boy and a girl. I think that put an end to my worry. One day, they will come out and we will know.
We had a children’s day celebration. I wasn’t going to participate in any children’s day celebration with Princes and Princesses. In fact, I missed Jamila on that day because we could have rather gone to the beach and complete a five-storey block of sandcastles. I was alone at home. I tried my hands on the networks that showed cartoons and they were boring. I tried to look at CNN and they wouldn’t stop whining about George Bush, just as NTA wouldn’t stop talking about Obasanjo. I abandoned the television and stormed into my room in frustration, to read one of the old novels I must have read uncountable before.
Father drove into the compound, rather turbulently. Father doesn’t drive this rough. We lived in a two-apartment compound; the other apartment inhabited by the dirty and unkempt moustache, Mrs. Obese glutton and
their children, who I insist not to describe. The two buildings are independently detached off each other. I cannot forget our charismatic Uwem the gateman, who responded to everything, with his characteristic “don’t talk about.” Uwem had a perfect idea of everything in life. Most times, his theories were nothing short of joke. However, he believes them and we do
him the courtesy of not arguing with him. Once Uwem stops comprehending whatever you are saying, he drops his “don’t talk about” and that will be all.
Father ran straight to the house, into mother’s room and before I could ask what was happening, he had zoomed off again; I wondered if he hadn’t noticed me and my questions. I assumed mother was having the babies. I was in ecstasy. What bothered me, however, was that he wasn’t taking me along. The plan had been that the family will be together when the time comes. Maybe it wasn’t the baby after all. I had my doubt though because I knew already by then that a woman had to carry a baby for nine months. I was sure it wasn’t up to nine months.
A few hours later, I was brought by my dad’s colleague at work, to the hospital to see mother. I had hoped to see our twin boys. I was shocked at what I saw. From the protective glass barrier of the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), I could see mother, trying hard to stay alive. She had oxygen tubes in her nose, that was an addition to a few other tubes that were stuck in different parts of her body. She seemed to have laborious breathing and it was hard to look at.
Father was lost in thoughts. He paced about the corridor, an untold pain registered predominantly on his face. I couldn’t bear to look at him at all. I wasn’t sure about what was happening, but whatever it was, wasn’t good. Doctors and nurses dressed in the same way and had a particular type of shoe will intermittently pop in from nowhere and check her, then leave.
Father wouldn’t talk to me or any other person at all. He was in more pain than I have seen in my lifetime. He paced menacingly around the corridor. From this door to the next.
“Daddy, what is going on,” I asked.
“It is my fault baby, it is my fault,” was all he could mutter.
After a week, I could talk to mother. She had lost the babies in a car accident that almost took her life too. She was driving to work and stopped at a fuel station to buy fuel. She was hardly out of her car when a trailer
that lost breaks rammed into station, crashed through her car and tore it to shreds. I think it was providence that kept mother alive. My family never really got out of that shock. All the time she was in the hospital when father wasn’t at the bank, he was at the hospital and when I wasn’t in school, I was at the hospital too. I realized how good my parents had been to people.
There were lots of goodwill from friends and family. By the time I was ready to go to secondary school, mother was out of the hospital and father had gotten her a driver. Father was naturally proactive. But with an event as terrible as this was, retroactive action wasn’t out of place.
Though she had to walk with crutches for a while, in less than four months, she was taking baby steps again. It was a miracle that brought us closer as a family and the family got closer to God too. My parents were overprotective and this event brought a huge cage over me.
Father would never forgive himself for letting mother out of the house and into harm’s way. No matter how much mother tried to let him know that it wasn’t his fault, he just wouldn’t agree.
I had a relatively easy transition into secondary school. Mother was a role model I had copiously followed. She was never late for anything and that influenced the whole family. My grades got better as I entered secondary school. I did progress in mind too. Mother had prepared me already for most of the things I encountered while growing up. By the time I had my menarche, I was prepared for it and expected it.
Most parents do not share this information with their children and when it happens, they are lost. Some parents feel that teaching sex education at home would spoil the minds of their children and expose them to ills. Most girls in my school cried on the day they had their menarche. Some felt they were going to die and were inconsolable. Most girls grew up with the idea that talking to a guy or having any form of physical contact with a boy would get them pregnant, even when they were not mature to reproduce. This misinformation does more harm than good.
Every girl child and indeed every child deserve to get trained on their body and reproductive health from their parents and teachers, so they don’t get the wrong training from peer groups. The truth is that one way or another, these children are going to hear about these things you don’t want to talk about to them. It is better they hear it from you and you guide them into forming a positive opinion, than hearing it from people whose sole aim of talking sex with them would be to exploit their naivety. Mother did this for me and for this I thank her sincerely.