“How old is your boy?” I asked Naomeey.
“How old do you think he is?” She asked back.
“I don’t even want to think about it,” I said turning to look at the light skinned toddler kneeling on the living room floor, bent over an iPad. He made funny noises, muttering excitedly to himself and it was clear he was having fun.
I had watched as he turned the iPad round to face himself, then dragged his *pudgy finger across the screen, an action he repeated four times before he had it unlocked. He had pushed the menu button, and then touched parts of the screen till he had navigated to the page he wanted. When there, he had again pulled his index finger across the screen before releasing it and then mimic the “wheee” sound of something flying through the air before exploding in a shower of bricks.
“You better commot for de back!” I said as I took aim, wound my right arm in circles till it became a blur and I felt surely the hand was going to come off, then I pulled the arm back and let fly. My pitch went hurtling through the space between us very fast, and he barely had time to jump clear as the can I tossed which had veered wildly off course narrowly missed his knee. My frustration grew.
He gingerly picked up one can from the two I had managed to knock off earlier, cocked his head to the right, shut his left eye as he took aim with his right, swung back his arm and let fly. I do not know which angered me: the noise as his can connected with my ‘pyramid’ of cans, the clattering as milk tins flew everywhere and tumbled down, or the huge grin on his face!
It took me a long time to realise his pyramids absorbed the impact of my hits because they were sturdy – we started with the same number of cans, and while I concentrated on building high to the sky, he doubled or tripled his ‘foundation’; then there were the wild tosses as a result of anger, frustration and a need to put as much force into the throw to knock down his structure, while he calmly and carefully took aim and picked off my cans one by one.
Those were the days when “child’s play” was serious business.
My personal favourite was table soccer. I was never one for really physical games, still am not, but when it came to table soccer I was game.
During school holidays, especially around World cup season, the only game worth getting into trouble for was table soccer.
I grew up in an area of drinking parlours, hotels/brothels with their coloured lights, and soft brown earth.
Before the tournament starts, we had to ‘register’ our teams. I always chose Italy, Jigga’s favourite was Nigeria, and so each kid had a preferred country, yet we had to come and formally declare it at no fee.
Wilson was the artistic one; he would carve a replica of the World cup out of coloured candle, or make one from Jik bleach bottle topped with a small plastic ball and wrapped with gold foil from the many empty packs of cigarettes we would find lying about in front of the house where our maigadi sold such wares off his nylon covered table.
Then we would line the field. This was my forte, me and Othuke – I liked free hand sketching and he liked precision. Taking the long ruler his mother kept, he would outline the edge of the field, the touch lines and the 18 and 16 yard boxes at both ends; I would squat within the rectangle while he drew and faintly mark out the semi-circles for each 18 yard box, the 90degree angles at the corner flags, then following the line dividing the field in half, the centre circle. And then I would soak the chalk in water to properly outline these sectors.
Armed with black nylon bags, we would walk as a pack up and down the street to all those drinking places and pick as many bottle crowns as we could find. Each person picked matching crowns for their team – this took care of jerseys. Five or six of us, un-bathed and in varying degrees of clothing, wearing whatever slippers we could find: left and left, left and right, blue and green, black and green, oversized or undersized. As a child I hated cutting my hair so with bushy hair growing into my eyes and mouth, dusty knees from kneeling on the field, chalk streaked forearms and legs, I would walk as one of the pack in search of ‘players’.
When we had found enough for a team and reserve, we would wash them at the tap just over the gutter in the compound and then leave them out to dry.
Next came the numbering.
Back then, calendars were strictly for wrapping new textbooks at the start of term, but with the school term over, we would unwrap the books and cut out the numbers we required and desired for our players. We would then stick these numbers to the top of the crowns using chewing gum. Nothing else worked. We had tried glue, but when it dried up, the numbers fell off; with cello tape, because it had to go under the players, it affected movement. So we settled for chewing gum, the same chewing gum we rolled into balls. For balls we had experimented with the white spools in cassettes around which the tapes were wound, but they were too heavy and required us knocking the players down to make them sturdy enough not to bounce too far whenever the ball made contact. Plus it did not move like a sphere. We used beads too, but they could be too bouncy, so we wrapped some chewing gum around them.
We fashioned goal posts from either St. Louis or Unicorn sugar boxes, notebooks or bits of bamboo knocked together with mosquito netting.
The referee either whistled through his teeth, or bought a plastic whistle and we observed 90 full minutes of play, extra time and all the other rules of football at the time. We did everything – almost everything. We never could find someone to run an interesting enough commentary!
Passes were weighted in order not to be overshot, shots were taken hard or soft depending on what was required, we learnt to put a spin ‘yirobo’ on certain plays to ‘confound’ keepers and we learnt players with slightly upturned parts were good for lifting dead balls over defenders.
This was science, and it was art. The only thing was, we didn’t see it that way. We were just having fun.
I watch children these days reach for the calculators on their phones at the slightest mathematical question.
Growing up, mental sum was a test of mental alertness. A teacher would walk into my class, ask everybody to stand up and then fire arithmetical questions at each student. We had less than 15 seconds to provide the answer or else the cane would come down hard and fast on our heads. It was not the fear of the cane that made me take these things seriously. Ok there was always the threat of the cane, but there was also the “olodo rabata, oju eja l’o mo je…” chant for the last kid standing.
Standing there watching Ayomide, I realised that at roughly two years old, he could work the iPad better than me and, who knows what other new fangled technological device?
This is the world I have brought my son into, the time he will grow up in, this 21st century. A time when technology has made almost everything possible, and I am happy for him. My only fear is that humans have replaced speech with written words; written words with abbreviations that do not always completely make sense. Even these are slowly being replaced with pictures. Maybe by the time his son comes, they would have returned to smoke signalling and things.
Who knows? Surely not I.
PS: Like his father before him, M.O.N.C. is taking the phrase “laid back” literally. We are trying to get him to sit, and would he do it? Yes, but only long enough to slap the floor with his palms a few times in glee, then he would gently ease onto his back and kick his stubby feet in the air and gurgle, showing his milk stained gums. A sight that always melts my heart and pulls me next to him on the floor. I would tickle him and he would gurgle some more. I would whisper in his ears “Daddy loves you,” and he would turn and look at me out of those dark brown eyes as if to say “I know.”