I had a dream which I could barely remember as I rose. Only flashes of them came, once, twice and then there was none other. They were of my childhood in the heart of Lagos which no one barely talked about. It was as much as I cared, a ghetto, filled with kids of various colours from brown to chocolate and in between, running around the streets where cars rarely plied and with litters of nylon everywhere.
It had the smell of a can of tin shut in a box void of air for years – that chocking smell that reached out negatively to your brain and nerves at the same time. On other days when it rained, it had the smell of stored up layers of debris and mucus spread around the vicinity as the rain washed up the layers of the black waters in the gutters. Saturdays always had the peak of activities with women lined up at the few grinding stores with their buckets and pails of beans and pepper in hand with which they would prepare ‘akara’ for their families. They would wait patiently for their turns but will not fail to chatter away and gossip about the fair, rich lady whose husband had just returned from America or the young lady across the street, approaching thirty, but without any hope of getting married anytime soon.
They would discuss in short sentences and undertones, pausing here and there and bursting out in laughter at other times. And there would be, on the other end of the road, men and young boys washing their okadas near a spot that sold water to the neighbourhood. The only one around as at that time. They would also discuss the week’s activities, how the policemen at Mushin would stop them for bribes, how Kunle had fought with the most notorious ‘agbero’ in the area and got killed the following day. They would not fail to also mention and boast of how many ladies they were able to woo even with the little money they made from their okada businesses and how many bottles of beer they had on Friday night.
It would be surprising to my mother that I had knew all of these as she never let me or my siblings out except she was not far from us or she left us in the care of her niece. She would, at intervals, caution me when I attempt to raise my voice whenever I felt cheated in the games we would play with the neighborhood kids. It was easy to spot my siblings and I in the crowd as we would be the only ones properly dressed in our shorts and top, and sandals never bathroom slippers like the other kids. Some of the kids would even come out in the pants shifted to one part of their buttocks revealing the fleshy part on one side, and stained singlets. But all those didn’t matter to me as all I cared about was having fun with them the few times we were let out to play.
My father and mother were always filled with regrets for settling in the neighbourhood after they had been married and lost much money to the fraudsters who posed as expatriates claiming that they were introducing a new business in the area. My parents, being early investors in whatever they thought would yield good income later on, put in their money. How they were swindled, I do not know; those guys must have been experts. My parents lived in the tush part of Surulere before they had little or none other to sustain themselves there as the cost of living was high and therefore had to cut down on cost, including rents, which made them move to the vicinity.
I never cared. I was only a child who was out to have fun and go to school on weekdays, my mother’s shop after school, church on Sundays and back home. I lived a triangular life but nonetheless, my siblings and I were extremely intelligent and outdid the other kids in class which made my parents proud. Even more was that we had accents which were foreign to the neighborhood. I wasn’t surprised we had foreign accents as we never really mixed up with the kids as much as we wanted and we attended the best school in the area at that time which most other families couldn’t afford; more so we were locked up with my mother who had the American cum village type up of upbringing; spoke like an American, worked like an African.
The few times I had the opportunity to play was when my siblings and I were asked to fetch water from the spot where it was sold and where I had learnt about the gossip stories the men told. I remember we would go out with our 5 or 10-litre cans, walk very fast to fetch water and on our way back, walk more slowly than normal. This bought us time as our mum would never suspect we were either watching the other kids roll tires or play ‘suwe’ on the road. I was only allowed to fly kites with them for 40 seconds or less as my sister, the eldest of us would never let me roll tires. She had my mummy’s blood which angered me at times. She would skip with the other girls and play tinko which I found irritating. My brother, the youngest of us three would just find his age group where they would play with toys cars made out of sardine tins and papers. As if it were programmed in our memories, at almost the exact time, we would give ourselves signs that it was high time we left else mum would suspect. And like little saints, we would arrive home at the right time and turn our kegs of water in the big drum, hoping mum would ask us to go again which we would happily oblige to. To her we were hardworking kids but deep down in our hearts, we considered it an escapee moment to enjoy our lives.
Those were the memories of my childhood; and those were the only flashes of the dream that came back to me. Each time it did, a nostalgia swept through me and I longed to experience those moments again but would never be possible. I again remembered the yellow and black-stripped danfo buses I entered which lit up the streets of Lagos whenever I had the opportunity to go to the market with my mother. The drivers were very rough but that didn’t bother me as my mother was always there to protect me if any eventualities occurred. Oh memories, sweet, sweet memories.
I sat on my bed, mumbled some words of prayer as was the custom in our house before lazily rising and waking sluggishly out of the room. I walked straight to the dinning room to have a glass of water to drink. I saw all the others, my mum, dad, my younger brother who was on holidays and our little cousin that came around to stay with him. I flung a greeting across the room and waited for no reply. I think they did reply but that was none of my business. I wondered why they were all seated there so I glanced at the wall clock and realized it was some minutes past 10a.m. I overslept. I felt good anyways as I had to enjoy the best of my weekend. I just wanted my glass of water and have my morning digest of the day’s newspaper which was always delivered by Mr. Okafor, the dispatch rider.
I looked at the headlines and screamed “what nonsense!” Everyone turned in my direction perplexed and scared at the way I shouted. I looked away and walked straight back to my room, glass cup and newspaper in hand, not caring to apologize for what I had just done. I was fuming and annoyed at what I saw. I mumbled to myself “this big eyed Tinubu has come again with his nonsense policies”. One would have thought it was a more serious issue. Not that it wasn’t a serious one o but I had taken the seriousness to a whole new level. The headlines read “Lagos to be stripped of danfo buses in weeks to come”.
“Who was this clueless governor and what gives him the right to do this?” “Does he know the level of damage rather than good he would cause?” I had thought of how many families survived from the money made by drivers and conductors on a daily basis; and how much transportation was aided by danfo buses. I was concerned but that wasn’t the real reason I exclaimed the way I did. It was because he was about to strip the precious memories of my childhood right before my very eyes, in my lifetime. “No, this cannot happen”, I said to myself.