Flying is not my job, it is a way of life. So flying pays my bills, puts food on my table, petrol in my generator and clothes on my back; but it still is not my job.
My job, my real job, my non-paid non-paying job, is driving a sort of school shuttle on the mornings when I do not have an early flight.
While this job does not put a single kobo in my bank account, it pays my head, mind and heart in spades.
I live in a compound of relatively young people. The average age is around 36 years, and because of this we get along fairly cordially, without the pressures of a ‘Baba landlord’ or ‘Madam landlady’ giving instructions on how to live in their house.
Of all my neighbours, I get along famously with two couples. There is a third though, but our converstions are limited to football – he is an Arsenal fan while I support Manchester United. What they all have in common are kids, a total of seven children, four of whom are in school. It is these children that I drop of at school when I can.
They are Efo and Osa, Don Erico’s boys; Bubu, my favourite kid and Ayomide the only girl of the four. She attends the same school as Bubu. Whenever I am not working an early flight or working at all, I volunteer my services as a driver.
Now, in their first year in school their parents had paid for the school bus to pick them up and drop them off, but after the third week, they concluded it was a waste of money; the bus either picked them up early and drove all over town with them to pick up other kids so that they got to school after assembly, or the driver picks up all the other kids before coming for them at past 8. The school is less than a ten minute walk from the house, so it was decided that they would walk to school in the morning, and come back by bus after school. With nothing better to do on those mornings, I offered up myself as a stand-in drop-off driver.
I like my flying job, scratch that, I love my job flying but this job right here, there is just no compare!
One morning we were set for school, they were, I was just dressed in a t-shirt, pair of cargo pants and pair of flip-flops I borrowed from Jigga; we had gone through our usual ritual of hi-fives, toss-ups, excited and not-so-excited screams and, the kids settled in the car, I backed out of the compound and on our way to school.
The drive itself was uneventful and we were quickly at their school. I got down to get the passenger door for Bubu and Ayomide, I had just helped them with their backpacks and lunch boxes, and was exchanging last minute hi-fives with them when my knees buckled and it felt suddenly very airy around my thighs. Hi-five forgotten I grabbed my shorts before it rode down any lower and pulled it back up, only then did I turn around to investigate.
A ball of energy had just slammed into me! His head only just made it past my knee which explained why his reach was only to just below my waist. In a bid to hold himself up, he had pulled on my shorts which obeyed gravity and went south. Good thing I was wearing boxers underneath.
When I got home, I brought out all my boxers including the ones I had held on to for sentimental reasons, and put them through the elasticity test. All those that failed got tossed because I could not get over what would have happened if I was wearing one of them that morning and it had gone down with my shorts.
Recently, on a drive to school, there was a bit of a scuffle in the back seat. I reached to my left and made sure the windows were wound fully up, and the doors were locked and carried on driving.
Osa: Stop beating him nau.
(A few seconds of silence passed, then the scuffle resumed)
Efo: Yo.. you see, hee..e is beating his own back.
(I turned the music up a little not completely drowning out Efo’s stuttering, knowing what would follow)
Osa: Uncle Frankie, Efo is beating Abdullah.
Efo: H..he..Shebi he beat his own back?!
(Silence from the driver’s seat)
Ayo: You will go to hellfire.
(Said in a sing-song)
Bubu: I will not play with you again.
Ayo: Ehn, you will still go to hell fire. My auntie say if you lie you are a child of Devil and you will go to hellfire.
(I struggled to keep a straight face)
Bubu: I will uth my Ben 10 wath and change into an alien. (He said in a subdued tone, his lisp more pronounced than usual)
Osa: My daddy will take you to hellfire!
(My head shot up and I looked in my rear view mirror, amazed at his quick u-turn. He was in Bubu’s corner a few minutes ago!)
Bubu: Uncle Frankie, Ayomide thaid I will go to hellfire
(At this point, not even the music could bail me out)
Me: I don’t know about going to hell fire. My plan is to take you to your schools, that is what I told your parents and that’s where I intend dropping you off. All of you.
Bubu: Ehen! Good for you (in a sing-song voice)
We arrived at Efo and Osa’s school and when I opened the car I heard my name. Who knows me here? One of their class teachers who had come to meet the car said “I have finally met your Uncle Frankie that is always giving you sweet.” I looked up at her, smiling a guilty smile while sizing her up. “Nah, nothing doing,” I said to myself. She did not look capable of teaching me a lesson if ever I was naughty.
The rest of the ride to drop Bubu and Ayo off went with both of them playing “I spy”.
Another day I was going to drop Bubu and Ayo off, Efo and Osa were staying home, when Bubu was asked to move so Ayo’s mom could join them in the back. The young man would not move.
“Bubu move a bit so Mommy Ayomide can sit down,” I said turning around so he would see I was serious. He would not budge.
“Oya Ayomi push him jo,” her mother said. As she made to touch him, Bubu moved. And he made sure he moved till he was pressing against the opposite door. I did not think anything about it and drove off until Ayo’s mom asked what was the matter.
“Abdullah does not want a girl to touch him.” Ayo said. “Why?” Her mother asked.
“Because his aunty say boys cannot touch girls and girls cannot touch boys.” Ayo said matter-of-factly. I almost drove into a car parked on my side of the road!
These kids are barely four and their Aunties are telling them what? It only went to show me how much things had changed from when I was a kid.
Back then, I got into arguments with friends and teachers based on what Mama told me. My unwavering answer to back up my point of view during every argument then, and I got into quite a few, was “Na wetin my mama tell me!”
Now kids turn around and tell their parents “My aunty said so.” It just shows, I think, how much of our children’s upbringing we leave in the hands of complete strangers.
There is also Arafat, Ayo’s sister. At under two years, Arafat has the biggest, whitest corneas I have seen in a while, and at her age she already knows how to put them to use. She is the kid who wants to ‘go’. As long as there is a car, a driver and another kid or two, Arafat wants to go. On some days I let her ride with us to drop the others off. On those days when I say no, she opens her eyes really wide, and somehow manages to pull off this confused look with her mouth slightly open and her upper incisors showing. Anybody just meeting her would want to slit their wrists for her if she asked them to. She sort of reminds me of Puss in boots of Shrek fame.
Then there’s Ben, Efo’s brother also under two years. I have no idea where he learnt it, but the young man sags his pampers! We have all given up on him.
Another thing, he loves shutting doors: wooden doors, metal doors, gates, any door. Whenever I open the car door and he is around – which is almost every morning – I rush my business and vacate the car before he gets to it. He just leans his entire weight on his pudgy palms and pushes. Anything in the way gets slammed by the door. The funniest bit is, he does it and then dusts his palms as if to say ‘job well done’. The first time I saw him dust those palms, I almost died.
I have just returned from one of my school runs and I am lying here on the floor of my living room, sprawled in front of the tv with the volume turned down really low and I am smiling, wondering, considering, contemplating.
As per usual at 07:25 I leaned down over my balustrade and hollered “Neighbour, no school today?”
“Eh, my baby’s uncle, there’s school o. We are almost ready.”
That was my cue to get dressed and go downstairs. The first child I saw was Ayo in her blue cardigan over her uniform. She had her lunch bag and water bottle, and was wearing powder. The way the powder covered her face, only her face, told you straight away she ‘rubbed’ it herself.
“Oya, say good morning sir.” Her mother said.
“Good morning sir, Uncle Frankie.” Then she smiled her dimpled smile, showing pointed canines.
“Morning dear, how are you? where is Bubu?” I asked looking through the door to where his mother was bending over his seated form. “Is he just wearing his sokoto?”
“Sokoto is trouser,” Ayo chimed in smiling. “I can speak ‘oroba,” she said bobbing her head, chuffed. “S’o ti jeun? is have you eat?”
“Yes, have you eaten?” I corrected her gently.
Abdullah joined us as I was checking the water and oil levels of the car. He was squinting so I asked if he had something in his eyes. “It’s the robb I put on his face.” He has always had a stuffy nose from when he was born. His mother said gently.
“Good morning sir.” He greeted. “How are you? Hi-five.”
Set to leave, Arafat pulls her look and next thing, she is riding with us.
Bubu’s mom had been unable to make breakfast so she had asked me to buy him something from the school food vendor. When I opened his Ben 10 branded lunch bag, I was impressed by the obvious care, love and attention put into packing his bag. Everything had a place and was in its place.
A water bottle to the left, his capri-sonne pack top and centre, the meal bowl just below the juice, and a spoon on it. All of this covered with a pressed and carefully folded cloth napkin. I took out the plate and after buying the food, I took my time re-arranging each item as I had found them.
This here gave me hope for mothers and children too. In today’s world where fathers and mothers are caught up in the rat race called the hustle and grind, there still are mothers who take their time to ensure the care of their children is not left to a random house-helps.
So I am lying here replaying all of these in my mind and I smile knowing that my son had as much love on his side, because not all of today’s women have lost it and his parent’s love come with a lifetime guarantee.
PS: On Sunday he turned exactly three months and, like his father before him, he was named according to our custom.
It was an intimate affair.
Since he came into my life, I have tried different looks for responsibility sake and have reverted to the original – I am comfortable like that.
I have taken to leaving work as soon as I am done. No hanging about for chit chat.
I break into a smile and feel a warm marshmallowey feel in my stomach whenever I talk about him, and an aching in my heart when people ask after him. I yearn to be the best father for him, I fear I may never be enough, I trust he will know the difference – he is my son and my blood flows through his veins.
I go back to look at his face, the curve of his lips, the arch of his brows, the shape of his nose, the frown on his forehead and my heart quickens. I look at him and it is an eerie feeling – like looking at myself in miniature. Again I feel the swelling in my chest, that now familiar constriction in my throat.
On Sunday he turned exactly three months and, like his father before him, he was named according to our custom. We called him M.O.N.C.