This story has remained flamboyant in my memory bank and even more vivid in my dreams. I don’t have many personal stories that intrigue me as a writer, ones I would want to write about, but this one however has had several parts to play in the shaping of my life and how I have managed to turn out. Let me indulge you on this reminiscence, on a propitious day where the skies burst out white in its glory, dividing to let the rays of sunlight fall on our already charred skin. Ikotun Egbe housed the slum that I spent a good amount of my childhood in, and was bursting with so much excitement that day. The helper, Okuchi, had been responsible for us on a daily basis, especially when our mother was still at work.
At the time, Mama was as good as a single mum and worked at Julius Berger as a Junior Associate. I remember how mama had left her scrawny barrister wig at home, and how I had pranced about the corridor in my underwear with it on my head, ignoring the way it made my forehead itch. Okuchi was cleaning up the kitchen floor and wiping the cabinets, and Chi my elder brother had two power rangers fighting each other, controlling their movements as he held each in both hands. The red ranger was missing an arm, one I had hypothetically bitten off a couple years back even though I think these people just liked to use my name to lie anyhow, for lack of better phrasing.
“I want to go out to play.”
Okuchi had given me the eye with the look of irritation on her face, the one we hated and responded to with fear, her voice a little too high pitched to be normal.
“You peepo will not sleep. You will not observe sieessstah. Then you will eat but na so so rice go come remain. Your mama come back na, she go dey complain. You want to put me in trouble?”
She asked this question all the time, as if I really had an honest response to it, as if I could even be bothered about whether or not she got into trouble because of me.
“But I want to play. I’ve done my homework.”
“My friend shut up. No dey make noise, go wear your dress abeg. Your mama come soon oo. Why you dey walk around naked?”
Although I was about six (seven?) years old then, I had come to master the knack of avoiding arguments with Okuchi. Technically, I really couldn’t disobey her because she had rough hands. They were irritatingly hard too; they hit your body and you were left with vibrations and a numbness not even a “Sorry noww” can alleviate. I frowned and walked away, my supposed-to-be white underwear pulling under my buttocks. I saw Chi with his rangers in his hands, sitting on the living room dining table, something he perpetually got into trouble for.
“Let’s go and play.”
His eyes shot open like I had just offered him a platter of beans (for some reason, he really loved beans) and he dropped the rangers immediately on the table and hopped off with no questions asked. You see, that was my brother for you. Half of the trouble he got into was due to my irresponsibility and devious tactics, and although he was two years older than me, he still saw himself as my little protégé. I was better at school, quicker than him, smarter than and probably even better looking than him. I was also taller than him at this time – Haha. (And if you’re wondering, I’m not taller anymore but I’m still better looking. He looks good too but only because he’s an athlete and tall. I mean.. he’s aii to be honest *shrug*).
We snuck out, ingeniously so even though the sword-mouthed girl stood there cleaning, half aware of her environment. Once we were out of the gate, we spotted our friends under the almond tree and screamed their names, waving, running toward them with so much glee our hands flailed carelessly in the air. Chi’s shorts were pulled up to his waist and he had a white shirt tucked in, one that my uncle had bought him from America. He was the only fully clothed person there, the rest of us were either half naked or almost naked. Fortunately, I did not know what shame was at that age. As a matter of fact, shame and I were like two lovers on a very long distance relationship.
Anyway, that is not the point of the story. We played games and then plucked ripe almonds from the tree, a ton of it, and shared it amongst ourselves, eating gleefully and watching the sun set. I waited for Okuchi to come running down the red dusty road with a spatula in her hand, her countenance that of a masquerade, but she never came. She did not notice we were out of sight for at least an hour – but you know that many things can happen in an hour. Chi was fretful, annoyingly so, and urged us to go home after about 30 minutes. No, dumbass! (That’s not what I said, but my shut up! pretty much implied it).
Then the most dramatic thing happened. Now, being able to physically witness an event like this was like a dream come true for every child that lived in that area, it was like an event to look forward to. You had to experience it or you hadn’t quite lived as a child. It was something that we talked about in school, boasted about, and jeered others about like it was some sort of honor to live it, like seeing it made you ten feet taller. Indeed, it was every little girl and boy’s dream to watch a robber being chased down the streets by a bunch of angry looking blood-thirsty neighbors. Whether the thief stole fish, or milk or something as insignificant and unimportant as a bag of freaking water, you wanted to be there to scream and run along with the crown, chanting “ole ole ole”.
So that was what happened. And I probably should have known better, but I didn’t. I didn’t have any pockets to put my fruits in so I tugged at my brother’s shirt and stuck them in his instead. Before he could say “No” (and trust me, he was going to say it. That boy was always a kill joy), I pulled him toward the crowd and started to scream on top of my voice. At first it was just a bolus of jargon that spiraled out of my widened mouth, but only because I was too excited so the thrill of it all had me speaking in tongues. When I could finally contain myself, running as fast as my legs could carry me, pushing other kids and adults alike away from me; I threw my hands in the air and yelled the biggest “oleeee” I could exhale. Mine was a bit prolonged than the rest of them, who just continued to chant “ole” “ole” like they didn’t understand there was a skill involved and to enjoy the process of this happening, you had to harness that skill.
My brother loosened up eventually (HA!). He started to scream ole along side with me, running in his kito sandals and trying to keep up with my little frame.
Suddenly a hand pulled me by the hair and I, with anger, used my elbow to nudge it away. I was ready to let out a full outburst when I noticed that the suspect, my brother, was in front of me teary eyed, trembling and looking up not directly at me, but past my eye level, past the back of my head. There was someone behind me.
I turned around and immediately recognized the black shoes, the grey on grey skirt suit, the neatly curled hair and the picturesque red tattooed lips.
(Obviously I wasn’t going to finish what I was saying; I mean what was I even thinking?)
I don’t remember what happened but I was gravely interrupted with pain. Yes, pain.
It could have been her arms, or her legs, or maybe her shoes but I know what my body felt, and it was undeniably as a result of fury and masked resentment. I remember getting pulled by the ear after I was able to recover my senses, Chi on mother’s left hand side, his neck imprisoned in the strong grip of her arm.
“You’re both idiots!” she screamed on the top of her lungs, skidding through the now dying crowd with us tightly bound to her hands. “You’re Fools. You will not kill your mother. I did not kill my mother so you will not kill me!”
I cried a lot that night and went to bed without dinner, and my brother avoided me like a curse for a long time. However, what was really great about this experience was how I went to school the next day, with a long bruise on my arm where the cane had hit and a back sore enough to leave me sulking for the rest of the day, and told my friends the story of how I had chased down a thief the day before.
Even more exhilarating and self-fulfilling, were the oohs and ahhs that followed after my story was done.