Once upon a time in the faraway Eastern village of Akabo-Okechi, there lived a boy, Louis. His family was a large one, larger than the meagre earnings his trader mother and mason father could cater for.
From the moment he was old enough to wield an axe, he was sent off to an uncle in Jos to ‘gba boi’, ostensibly to serve a ‘master’ and learn his master’s trade till he gained his ‘freedom’. A different fate from his older brothers who were engaged in their mother’s puff-puff and akara business as sellers.
Although he wanted to go to school – he was very taken with the white men he saw, their language and their lifestyle, and was in awe of his peers from privileged homes who frequented the whitemen’s quarters – he knew he had obligations and a family to fend for so he set his mind to learn quickly, learn well and be the best he can be. He was only 12 years old.
It was a family norm for anyone who had somewhat found his feet in life to take on responsibility for another. So this change in his status excited him.
From the bits he planned to save during his ‘boi boi’ days, he intended to turn his life and that of his family around. The child already had his life mapped out. He knew how he wanted his life to look like when he finally returned home after his freedom and ‘settlement’ by his master.
Jos was a dream come true for young Louis. He was enamored of the city and its people. The cool weather a huge difference from the scorching sun he was forced to farm in back home. In his young mind, he had arrived. He was living the dream! That was until Mama Junior, Oga’s wife, returned from a quick trip East to see her people. Very quickly he learnt the difference between dream and nightmare, and he lived his nightmare every single minute of his day.
It wasn’t just about the strenuous house chores she assigned him, nor the less than five spoons leftovers she kept open on the dusty kitchen floor making it fair game for the rodents who played house with her. It wasn’t even about how much he missed swimming in the village stream, or stealing mangoes from Papa Cy’s compound; neither was it about the fact that he hardly ever went to shop with Oga to learn the trade that had brought him up North to Ugwu Hausa. It was more than all of this.
Mama Junior was a top heavy woman with a low self esteem and a lower IQ whose fashion style rivalled the mgbekes, the wanna be fashionistas he left back home. She looked like an upside down spider, and dressed like a black widow, and young Louis had just walked into her web.
For every sneer and taunting comment she got from the world, he got twice that amount in cane strokes on his already half-starved frame. He endured all manner of physical abuse from this insecure woman who felt she owned him. There were times he entertained thoughts of telling on her but he also knew letting his uncle know about the incessant beatings would only result in more non-stop thrashings, young Louis knew very well the folly of the action.
So it continued. Weeks crawled into months and time seemed to pass in slow motion. Over time his hide and spirit became hardened and immune to her beatings. On a particular day, she did not use use her hands, or her chunky heeled akpola shoes or even her husband’s belts. She used her pestle. Not the medium sized one she used to pound banga for her favourite meal – banga soup, she used the larger one she reserved for pounding akpu, the cassava foofoo her husband loved, and proceeded to pound his brains out. But for the intervention of a neighbour, young Louis’s brain would have been beaten to pulp.
This time Oga could not feign ignorance. Everyone could see that the once wiry Louis was now a shadow of his former self, looking kwashiorkor stricken. It took less than a week to semi-settle the 15 year old and bundle him in a rickety gwongworo truck Eastward, bound for an’igbo.
Back home, his mother’s puff-puff and akara business was the only job he had experience in, so he delved into it ferociously. With the little money he got from his master, he expanded the business.
He was going to succeed he vowed to himself, all it would take was a bit more time. Everything was going to turn out alright.
With little more than the clothes on his back and hope in his heart, he played a hunch and moved out of town to start a business.
He was driven by the overpowering stench of poverty in their two roomed mud house and a deep-seated fear of a future that seemed bleak.
As part of his grand scheme, he apprenticed under a man with more experience in business and contacts everywhere that mattered. In less than eight years, he was ready to go at it alone. And with money he had saved up and contacts he had cultivated over time, he made his move.
At the time, it would seem all his blessings were tied to that one decision to go solo. Floodgates opened and he was beset by a deluge of blessings.
This was where he wanted to be: Comfortable and still able to afford certain luxuries. He remembered the vow he made years back and took in his twin brothers. They were now his responsibility.
The next line of action was to settle down. He took a wife from the neighbouring village of Okpuno – a pretty, young woman with brains and an eye for style.
Years flew by, and so did their lives.
Four kids – two boys and two girls – later he was complete. Then fate played a hand he had not seen coming.
Barely ten months after their last child, they had a huge falling out. She was helpless about her situation and needed him to bend just a little more. He wouldn’t compromise, didn’t believe he was trying enough and so they parted ways. She went home to her parents, while he gathered his children and returned home.
For the first time, he had no plan; no clue whatsoever on how to raise a child, let alone four. All he knew, was what he wanted for those children. THE BEST.
The price they had to pay? Follow his rules, even if the rules didn’t make any sense to them: no frolicking in the dust like the neighbourhood children, no leisure outings of any kind, friends visited only when he was away – he figured they had all they needed in that 3 bedroom bungalow on the edge of Street 6, in the little town of Tiko.
He loomed large like a god in their minds; flogged them at the least sign of indiscipline and, when he felt too burdened by their ways, reported them to God during prayers.
“…God why is Chidinma so stubborn? Please teach her to be calm because she is a girl. Teach her how to cook and clean because no one will do it for her in her husband’s house….”
He taught his children discipline and respect. He taught them to be patient with people and to be straight forward in all their dealings. His favourite maxim “Cunny man die, cunny man bury am” was the family motto. He was a jovial man, everyone that came in contact with him said so, but the children. They only saw his frowns and felt the sting of his cane.
He was a great dad…is a great dad.
He taught them love did not need vocalizing to be real. That even though you never got to hear it, you had to look beyond words to see genuine care in the eyes of people who wanted the best for you. He taught them to trust God, and to live life with the word of God as a foundation.
Once upon a time in the faraway Eastern village of Akabo-Okechi, there lived a boy, Louis. Now he is a man. He is my dad. He taught me the value of a good education – something he missed out on. He even bought me my first ‘real’ book- The lion, the witch and the wardrobe.
So here’s a toast to the greatest man I know – and to all fathers everywhere. May their joy be complete in the accomplishments of their children.
Happy Father’s Day!