Thursday, 14 June 2007
Exactly how much is one supposed to pack to take home to Lagos? I understand you can get great furniture there but am being encouraged to go down to John Lewis and purchase everything I feel like I'm getting married and am writing a wedding and gift list.Was also told to buy three spare of everythinhg as NEPA was likely to blow stuff up.why the preference to buy from abroad? would it be price or quality issues or do we just purchase from abroad by habit.I am also told to pack as much washing powder cereal tea coffee and as much dry food products as I can fit in to my container.Erm what about rats and other vermin do they travel on the high seas?
So do I pack everything including the kitchen sink, how about a spare husband !I was also told to keep a close eye on him as he is prime chowder for the Lagos girls.
As they can spot that he has just "arrived" Pray how can they tell? Can they see it written on his forehead has someone stuck a post it note on his butt?Heeelp.
Friday, 8 June 2007
On seeing me enter she lifted him out saying "see e be like fish" and before I could fully process what I was witnessing she dunked him again. I pushed her aside and grabbed the baby. I saw a glazed look in her eyes. She had finally broken down under the immense pressure of caring for this child all day and when he woke at night.I forgot my direct relationship with Christ and as I pounded his back I recited my hail Marys over and over again praying that she, The holy mother, would revive this child.He came to spluttering and gasping for air and then I remembered to thank Jesus. I wrapped his shaking form in a towel and dried him off as she brought out fresh clothing nonchalantly as if what I'd seen had been a figment of my imagination. Putting on his clothes he seemed to be fully recovered and was giggling and gurgling as usual on my knee as I rubbed Vaseline into his soft hair. Oh how I wished it had been a figment of my imagination as i did not know how to deal with what i had seen.
I should have never been up there ,my father had warned me not to go visiting peoples houses when they were not in. My mother, hard at work, expected me to be downstairs doing my homework and helping with the care of my own two brothers who were coincidentally in the care of our own house help. It also dawned on me now why my mother never let the house help, or anyone in that fact, put her children in the bath when she was not present. Had she imagined such a scenario herself? Our househelp drowning my brothers in the bath? I sat with my maniacal friend quietly observing her behaviour and wondering what to do next.I knew what time her madam came home so I decided to wait till her car pulled into the drive then hand over the baby I was protecting and run down the stairs to the safety of my home were I could pretend to be a child again. Surely nothing could happen in the five minutes it would take the madam to walk up the stairs?. As the baby fell asleep on my lap exhausted by his unknown fight for life I wrapped him in his blanket and put him in his cot in the living room where we were sitting. As I called out to my friend she reached over and changed the channel on the TV that she was watching except it wasn't on. Oh dear. I got on my knees next to her and holding her hands said God would forgive her her sins today if she prayed with me and asked forgiveness but if she killed the baby she would never see heaven or her mother again. She just smiled blankly it seemed she had disappeared into herself and could not hear me. As she continued to stare at the blank screen I watched with her and saw her swimming in a dark green river,her long braided hair glistening in the dappled sunlight coming off the lush vegetation around her I prayed she would return, the water bringing a renewal of her soul.
I left out of the back entrance as madam's car pulled up and ran down the stairs to check my brothers scared that the madness that was upstairs had seeped through the floor like the excrement had previously done. As I watched my youngest brother asleep in his crib I wished for the little one upstairs to be as safe as my brother was.I asked God to reveal my friends madness so her madam could return her to where she belonged in her village of rivers.
With the household packed we headed for a leafy suburb in Ikeja. As we parked outside I noticed my mother's face light up.She had wanted so badly to move from Surulere for a while,she was fed up with living in what she called a concrete jungle. The house was in a secluded spot in a cul-de sac with a beautiful front garden with mature palms and shrubbery with fragrant hibiscus framing the front door. I could see her out there everyday pottering around planting new flowers. It had been awhile since we had all seen so much greenery. There were lots of empty plots of land which made the whole estate look quite park like, my brothers and I looked forward to exploring all this unknown territory. A few weeks later my father presented my brother and my self with brand new Chopper bikes. We spent the summer combing the streets on them, stealing fruit from our next door neighbours dwarf tree and making camp fires on empty plots of land to roast the cocoyams we had dug up. On one of our many trips out my brother and I ran out of water. The heat was quite intense that day and we were too far to return home so we stopped off at a ramshackle house next to a mechanic's workshop to ask some children for water. Our thirst quenched we pulled out into the dusty street. A young girl dressed in stripey trousers and a brown top, with surprisingly messy hair for a black girl said in the most prim and proper English accent "Do you often make a habit of stopping off at stranger's houses to ask for water?" "Yes", Said, "and what of it?". "They are my neighbours" she replied and their house and water supply are filthy". "My stomach is as strong as cement and my little brothers even stronger" I retorted. As we biked back home I found myself intrigued by the girl with the oh so English accent I had cast mine off years back with lots of practice as I wanted to fit in, I only spoke that way to my mother who would have it no other way. This girl however had held on to hers and I wanted to know how long she had been in Nigeria and what her transition from England had been like for her . I wanted to perhaps touch some of her Englishness that used to be my own.
The following morning I sought her out. I could smell burning beans as i knocked on the door of their small duplex house. She didn't look surprised to see me so I suppose she knew we be drawn back into each others company as we had so much, yet nothing, in common. We began to feel each other out. She trying hard to maintain her Englishness, me trying so hard to be Nigerian. She had arrived the same year as me with her three brothers two of which were older and one the same age as my own brother, Tim, and hated most things Nigerian. Her life spent at public school in the genteel green belts of the English countryside totally unprepared for the roughness of life she was experiencing. She chose not to associate herself with what she called "bush people", i.e. the ones who had never been to England. I sensed I might be an even bigger disappointment to her as I had been to England but was fast becoming as bush as you could make them. She was black. She didn't have to work so hard at defining herself to people they knew what she was as soon as they saw her unlike myself who had to work harder by way of vocality before I got my respect in the neighbourhood or indeed anywhere I went. My colour then to me was a constant barrier to immediate integration with my people.
She hated the food and would eat nothing but plantain. On one of my many visits to her little oasis of Englishness I found her listening to the Archers a programme on the BBC World service as I tried to pry her out of the house to go biking she asked me to stay and listen. As I listened to the quintessentially English accents on the radio I remembered the things i had left behind, biking through the countryside, strawberry picking in the summer, travelling round churches in the south east of England making brass rubbings with my parents which today still hang on our living room wall and I realised that as much as I was trying to win her into the Nigerian way of life she did not want me to forget where I came from and take pride in it.Whilst these things were wonderful I could not live in past glory and was much more interested in the here and the now .
I quickly discovered she had a brand new bike parked in the boys quarters in her compound. She said she did not bike out much as she was afraid of getting knocked into one of the huge gutters which lined all of our streets. I told her it would be half the risk if I rode behind her. So began our sometimes uneasy alliance over my new summer in Ikeja.I was more used to the company of boys. They were what I was used to as I did not have any sisters. I also found the girls in the neighbourhood too sedate and ladylike to want to get into the scrapes I involved myself in with their more interesting brothers who I picked up daily to add to my bicycle train.I would feel their eyes on me, cool and disdainful, as we all pedaled off on our adventures. I didn't care. I had it good. Boys rarely had tantrums, they didn,t cry when they fell off their bikes or out of the trees we were pilfering from. Communication was mostly without any language rather with gestures and grunts which were handy during raids on various neighbours gardens disarming them of ripe paw paws,mangoes and bananas. This suited my temperament at the time but Temi seemed different. There was a depth within her and I knew she had stories to tell so I decided to overlook her less boyish tendencies and took time to tone down some of my more colourful verbal and non-verbal language when we were together as I didn't want to frighten off a potential interesting female friend, and determined to show her how I lived my summers.
The sun shone hazily as we rode with our two brothers towards Airport hotel. It was a particularly warm day and the lure of their huge swimming pool with various diving boards we could throw our self off made us pedal even faster. Our walkmans, hung round our necks for convenience, banged against the handle bars as we skidded to a halt at the entrance. We paid the gate man and hastily parked our bikes on the green metal fence, stripped down to our costumes and jumped in to the cool blue waters and swam lazily back and forth. The hotel pool was almost always empty and with the sounds of birds singing in the trees that surrounded the pool I would always pretend I was swimming in a tropical paradise though my imaginings would be frequently ruined by my brother attempting to dunk me as I floated on my back.
Dea reader, that is it for now. I will continue this later in a book. In the meantime I will focus on other topics (like the small matter of packing up the family and moving back to Nigeria. Again)
Wednesday, 6 June 2007
The box set was called "Finding A Friend In Jesus."My Catholic roots begin to disintegrate as I read through the books. I did away with my hail Mary's and weekly confessions, as I realised that everything came directly from the father and to get to him was through Jesus Christ. I believed and it worked as I realised that Jesus was not just housed among the cold statues and incense in the musty church where I prayed,he was alive and at home with me. Giving my life to Christ at the age of ten fundamentally changed my thought patterns and my way of thinking,I was no longer bound by religiosity,rules and various regulations. I could pray and express myself however I liked,there were no more boundaries in my communication with Christ.He answered every prayer I ever uttered and where I was burdened he would carry my load.
The rest of the Christmas was spent visiting relatives,my favourite being my uncle Ibe,who always had time for us.Taking us on drives into parts of the city we had never seen and who always had a couple of Naira in his pocket for "Coke money."His wife with her face always painted to perfection was a popular caterer to the "Lagos big boys." Her food always tasted so good it was almost as if it were charmed. She would always cook up a storm of various dishes for our arrival,there would be pots of ofensala, jollof rice,chicken ogbono soup and pounded yam;She always cooked like she was expecting an army.Christmas was also the opportunity to eat as much chicken as we could get,as on regular weeks we could only get chicken on Sundays as a special treat.
With the roads getting busier and busier and our neighbourhood changing from a quiet suburb into a thriving mini metropolis my mother raising her beloved Alsatian dogs,and three of us wanted to live somewhere quieter.My father was also fed up with having to wake up three neighbours in the morning so they could move their cars out of the very narrow compound were the all the vehicles were stacked up one after the other.I looked forward to the move but would miss the hustle and bustle of Surulere which I had begun to know like the back of my hand.I would also miss the bright and shiny supermarket at the top of the road called UTC,going in there always reminded me of England,they had all the imported toys and books and a well stocked magazine and paper rack outside which I would browse until I was asked to pay for something by the shop assistant.On a good day I would time it to about forty five minutes in which i could read five comics,read two chapters of a book I could not afford but was almost half way through, and when her slippers would start to shuffle under the counter I knew it was time to make my purchase which was usually two comics usually of the supernatural variety.I Had also struck up an unlikely relationship with a mischievous and slightly psychotic house-girl about the same age as me who lived upstairs with the toilet flushing lady and her husband,she looked after their twelve month old baby called Junior.On arriving back from school I would tear up the stairs to find out what she was doing.Although she was supposedly eleven years old she appeared and acted slightly younger than me she could not read and did not attend school which I thought was strange at the time.what I found even more baffling was that she was left at home all day with a little baby.Her treatment of him was at best rudimentary,she would whip up all manner of foods to feed him with which in my eyes did not look to appetising ,his cerelac always looked to lumpy and she forced it down him adding intermittent spoons of water into his mouth for his digestion saying "na so madam show me" as he choked and cried trying to spit up the revolting mess being shoved down his throat.On finishing she would change his cloth nappy,I stood back with bated breath praying she would not stab him once again as I had seen her do many times with the large safety pin for his nappy.With the weight of the unmentionable amount of cerelac she had stuffed down him he would immediately fall asleep,we would then proceed to the kitchen were she would throw random things in the pot to cook so she could eat before madam came home, she often complained she never got meat to eat only bones ,I quietly mused that God must be taking away her meat in punishment for the way she treated that really beautiful baby surely she must know better.She wasn't a very good cook and nothing ever came out of that pot that tasted good.I felt sorry for her as she missed her mother who had sold her when she was eight to a calabar lady who had then passed her on to her madam.She often wept as she tidied up the remains of her unsuccessful meal and began to chop efo and grind crayfish for her madam to prepare when she returned from work late in the evening.I would also worry about the baby,as she would take out her sorrows on him with kicks and slaps,just as her madam had taken out her sorrows on her.I think this was the reason that drove me up there again and again,the baby was so small and vulnerable he would cry in pain as he was hit but when the pain subsided he would coo and smile at her not fully registering what she was doing to him but I was sure it was leaving an imprint.When I was there she was happier less likely to hit out at him,I was her break from the monotony as she was never let out except on short runs to the local shop for basic provisions.She would tell me stories about her life before she came to Lagos,spent swimming in the waters of Rivers State were she was from being told stories by her grandparents and having her long hair braided by her mother,hair which had now been shaved off by her new owner.I would bring her sweets and read to her my comic books and wonder why even if she was a slave she had to be mistreated,but there were always yells and screams from the children being beaten in the compound there heads being conked and their ears being twisted it seemed that this was the way my people parented their children.
I was late for my regular afternoon visit as we had extra lessons at school that day ,as I ran upstairs to the flat I had a dry metallic taste in my mouth,the front door was open and I heard her laughter and splashes,coming out of the bathroom I walked in on her drowning him under ice cold water she had filled the bath with......