From the place where fairytales are conceived and myths and legends are born; the place of folklore and fabled tales, a place where embellishments run riot; from thence comes this story. Just as it was told to me will I tell it to you.
The story is told of a boy, no more than two years and six moons. With wide eyes and an impatient eagerness he stood beside his father’s stool while the latter ate supper. Nna, as he called his father, fed him little bits of fish from his soup plate, after first mashing it between his fingers to make sure there was no bone to catch in his throat. Nna had a guest who was sharing his meal, by itself not a strange occurrence as relatives seemed to flow through the house like water through the gutters outside the house when it rained.
Today was different though because this guest would not stop talking, and Nna had to go and respond to everything that was said with the result that he had to wait long moments between fish morsel.
Something must have possessed him at that moment because he plunged his hand into the now lukewarm bowl of soup, took a piece of meat and was going to put it in his mouth when “What do you think you are doing?” his aunt who doubled as his nanny was just coming to take him for his evening bath. Startled by her question, he ran off as fast as his pudgy legs could carry him. Past the rooms and out through the kitchen door he ran.
When the adults recovered from their shock at what had just happened, Nna called out to him. Silence. He exchanged looks with his guest and then called out again, still silence. “Go and get the child.” He said to the one who had spoken up a moment ago. Out she went, calling out as she did. She returned five minutes later, alone. She could not find him.
This was just before 5pm, and the house was thrown in turmoil. There had been news of ‘gb’omo gb’omo’ activities in the are, but no one expects a kidnapper to be bold enough to strike at dusk in an area as populated as Apapa. Midday maybe, as most adults would be out and kids would be running the streets, but not after office hours right in the yard.
Everybody who lived at #28 Akogun street, and some others from neighbouring houses had heard: Oga’s son was missing. People converged in the parlour to share themselves into search parties: Fulanis, Igbos, Ijaws, Urhobos, it did not matter. This was oga’s son.
The nanny, confused and distraught, went out to the backyard to collect in the bath things she had set out to bathe him. She picked up the basket containing the bath things and slung it over her left arm, took the small ‘kitchen chair’ in her left hand, then bent down to lift the overturned aluminium basin the kids usually stood in while being bathed.
Everyone rushed out when they heard the shout. The atmosphere was tense as it were, any sudden moves or noise got immediate reaction(s).
There, curled in a foetal position, left hand still clutching the piece of meat, and right hand supporting his head lay the ‘missing’ child. Sweat ran down his face, his side dusty where his t-shirt had ridden up exposing bare skin and his belly button. He looked so peaceful in sleep. When his father lifted him off the ground, his hand opened and the meat fell out and his eyes flew open. “Since wey my mama born me I never tiff before, na today wey I come tiff, even the meat sef I no chop.”
Then he closed his eyes and returned to sleep.
PS: It’s over thirty years since that day, and as I mark my birthday my aunt still swears that’s exactly what happened that night. Mama has no recollection of that night beyond the extra pot of soup and pounded yam she had to make to feed the neighbours who had come to help.
As part of my birthday gift to my aunt, I will stop sweating her about it and just accept it really happened like that. As for you, all of you, this post is my birthday gift to you.