PLEASE, COME WITH ME!

Hi all. I’m ashamed for doing the first thing last (but at least I’m getting it done, LOL). I would like you to join me on my domain – damilolaniyi.com

A lot as happened between my last post here and getting the domain and my weekly posts. Perhaps you heard of The Contest… I apologise for all the trouble i may have caused making you search for my posts.

To continue to get interesting posts, please subscribe. That would bring a smile to my face. Thank you!

Oisi, The Electric Photographer

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From his vantage point behind the camera lens, Oisi certainly sees a lot. After working with him on location for a photo shoot, I knew there was more to this corporate photographer and delving into his world reveals as much. I drew this Mr Quiet out of his shell in the ensuing interview:

What’s your business about?
My business is about wedding and lifestyle photography. This means I basically create lasting photographic impressions for my clients on their big day. I also do the well known general photography which can range from portrait photography to fashion, commercial photography etc

Tell us about yourself, growing up and education
I am Godwin Oisi Ibrahim. The first of three kids for my parents. My growing up was really a modest one. My parents were disciplinarians and so we grew up as kids having to be serious children especially with academics. I graduated from the Federal University of Technology, Akure with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical/Electronics Engineering and a Masters of science degree in Information Technology Security from the University of Westminster London.

So where does science meet art?
Well to me science is art and art is science. Just kidding.  Art for me had always been there, hidden down in my heart. I remember then in early secondary school, I was always eager to help my friends with their drawing/art assignments. I simply loved the fact that I could create something with my hands. And even as science came along in school and all that, the artistic part of me was always looking for some form of expression. Even though I didn’t take it seriously I knew one day I would return to it.

So how did you get started?
I started playing with cameras in university; I had a small compact camera then. I graduated and got a job with a financial institution and had to go through a class based training for some months. During that period, I was the go-to person for class pictures and my colleagues liked what I was producing and encouraged me to put some effort into formal photography training. So without a proper professional camera, I started reading about photography, I stockpiled several literature on it and I only got the much needed training and exposure when I was in the UK for my masters program. I saved some money at the time and bought myself a mid-range professional camera. And the real professional journey started from there.

What inspires you and your work?
I get inspiration from God who is the source of all knowledge and also things around my every day life. I do lots of research especially works of great photographers and they inspire me a lot too.

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Who have you worked with and on what projects?
Because of the nature of my genre in photography, I have worked with several couples planning their weddings. I have worked with some fashion designers, some corporate organizations who I may not be permitted to name.

Do you have mentors or icons in your field?
I do have icons and people who inspire me greatly. Sue Bryce, Sal Cincotta, Susan Stripling, Kelechi Amadi Obi, Lee Varis, to mention a few.

What’s the best part of your work?
The best part of my work has to be the excitement and satisfaction I get to see when my clients receive their finished work from me. It is such a fulfilling experience to know my job is appreciated.

How would you define your work?
Refined, soft, contemporary

Tell us about the challenges you’ve faced.
So many challenges I must confess. A few of them include lack of business support and training as a new business owner so I had to learn on the job. Also getting people to appreciate and pay for the kind of job I do is a challenge. This I believe is because there are so many “photo snappers” who have devalued the job of some of us who are professional photographers. Then photography is a capital intensive venture and to consistently produce good results, you have to invest in equipment, training a whole lot more. That’s not so easy for a small business owner.

How have you been able to cope despite these challenges and the pressures of work and family life?
When you really love what you do you just get along no matter what. I do love my job, the passion to keep getting better drives me  everyday. I also have a supportive family so it’s easy on that part.

Where do you see your establishment in the next few years, say 3 years?
In 3 years, my brand should be a go to brand for most things photography, media and multimedia. I also hope to expand my services beyond Nigeria.

Okay. What would you do differently, anything?
I will probably prepare well for the business of photography. The business is a lot more than taking photos, it’s about knowing the right clients for your type of work, creating relationships with them, expanding the client base etc

Is there any particular job that stands out in your mind?
Many I must say but a recent one is a wedding I shot in Abuja in August. It was the wedding of Ernest and Comfort. Everything went as I planned it. The clients were super supportive too.

What’s your personal mantra or philosophy?
My life has a purpose and that purpose has to be fulfilled rightly and excellently.

Advice aspiring entrepreneurs
For aspiring entrepreneurs, it’s important to follow your dreams. No one will spoon feed your dreams to fulfilment you have to do it by yourself. There will be challenges on the way, but the more challenges you overcome, the greater your chances of becoming who you dream of becoming.

Contact details
Email :info@godwinoisi.com
Phone : 08094832786
Instagram : @GodwinOisi
Facebook : Facebook.com/GodwinOisiPhotography
BBM : 7915D0E6

The Queen of Dessert, Yemisi

For one who is coveting Genevieve Nnaji’s wardrobe, who has two degrees, and is confident she has found a niche in confectionery, Yemisi is certainly on top of her game! She says there’s nothing she’d like to change because she’s in a good place. Here are the highlights!

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Tell us what kind of business you run.
I run a cake and confectionery business.

What does it involve, day to day?
It involves baking cakes and catering for desserts at weddings, corporate events, birthday celebrations and so on.

What is your outfit called and for how long have you been in business?
Yelashcakes and Confectioneries. I have been in business for about 2years now.

With all the competition in this field, what made you decide to branch into it?
I have always loved baking and cooking. I was always in the kitchen with my mom when I was little watching her cook and helping with the dishes. My decision to start a business in cake making was formed due to an issue I had after I completed my m
Masters degree. I found myself out of work and it was a difficult time in my life. Then one day I was watching a program on TV, Come Dine With Me, a program where four or more strangers cook and bake for a price. A thought came to mind for me to try out some of the recipes I got from the show and since then I haven’t looked back. I got my first paying customer in November 2011. I officially started Yelashcakes and Confectioneries November 2012.

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So looking back, what challenges have you faced as a small business owner?
I started the business while I was still aboard and was able to build a client base. Since moving back, my major challenge has been Awareness. Most people are afraid to try new hands and so it has been hard to break into the business but I am positive that will change soon.

Tell us about yourself, your background was not in catering…
My name is Oluwayemisi Ladipo- Ajayi. I can describe myself as a middlevert-a bit of an introvert and extrovert. LOL! I am very principled which some describe as strict(rolling eyes). My background was not in catering but I have about four years in customer service. I have a first degree in Mass Communication and second degree in Advertising and Marketing. I have done a few trainings on cake making and decorating as well as specialised dessert making.

That’s good. So with your qualifications are you better able to deal with the challenge that awareness poses?
Yes, I have started working on it already. I have seen improvement in the last few weeks.

Now as a lady, how are you able to deal with attention from the opposite sex?
I encourage it because I am still very much SINGLE. Some don’t come with intentions of dating you and you just might learn a thing or two from them. As for those that come with the intentions of dating, I know from the first conversation what their motives are (every lady knows). If its good, I give it a go and if its bad I shut it down fast!

Does the Nigerian economy support SMEs? Your answer with reasons.
SMEs are important drivers of growth in most economies. I would say the Nigerian economy today doesn’t support SMEs because SMEs in Nigeria are still faced with issues in their operating environment. For instance, the poor state of roads increase the cost of transporting both raw materials and finished goods to and from markets. Poor supply of electricity has affected many SMEs and caused them to shut down operations. Licensing and registration often creates barriers to their smooth operations. 

How have you coped inspite of the economic situation?
It has not been easy but with God everything has been working in my favour. Initially, I discovered that I wasn’t making profit due to some of these challenges but I have over time built a good business relationship with some suppliers who supply materials to me. On the issue of power supply, I have invested in a good generator to service the business when there is no power supply. On licensing and regulation, my lawyer friends have been of  great help in educating me on what needs to be done so as to be in the good books of the government.

Sounds like you’re sailing a smooth ship. Aside from confectionery, do you have any other business interests?
I have done a lot of selling prior to cakes and confectionery. I have sold clothes, shoes, jewelry and in my undergraduate days, I even had a home video rental business. (I am not jack of all trades though, LOL) I think for now I have found love in making seriously delicious cakes, pastries and desserts. I love every moment I spend baking. Maybe in the near future I may expand into sales of baking utensils.

After 2 degrees and trying entrepreneurship, will you accept a secular job/paid employment now?
Emm, I actually have a full time job at the moment. The reason is because my mom couldn’t just comprehend me been a full time entrepreneur. When I moved back, it was a struggle to get  clients to order cakes plus I did not have enough capital to start the business the way I wanted it. So I had to get a job to support myself and the business. Today, I have a staff of three working for me and I get to come back home to make sure orders are ready to be delivered the next day. Stressful? Yes, but I can’t complain.

So where does mass communication meet baking?
There isn’t any relationship between mass communication and baking, however I have been able to use the skills I have learnt from studying mass communication to promote my confectionery business.

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What then should we expect from you in the next three to five years?
You should expect unique cakes, lovely pastries and yummy desserts. Yelashcakes and Confectioneries will be on the lips of every sweet tooth and we will be ahead of other players in the confectionery business.

I hope you have your strategy mapped out… I just  might do a repeat interview then. What advice will you give would-be entrepreneurs?
Yes, I do. Its going to be a walk in the park with God’s grace and favour. Advise for enterpreneurs: Stay focused. I like this phrase I hear on ‘Moments with Mo‘ – If you can think it, you can do it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure is a process of learning. Take risks in business.

What inspires your work?
I get my inspiration from research. I spend long hours surfing the internet, reading up on new trends and educating myself. I have been self taught for the major part of this business.

Do you have mentors or icons in your field?
Yes I do. I have always followed and admired the works of Buddy(cakeboss), Mary Berry and Aisha(Saycheese cakes).

Do you have any personal philosophy?
Business is a marathon, so make sure you can survive the race. Stay focused and work extra hard.

Contact Yelash:
Yelash cakes and confectionary
info@yelashcakes.com | hello@yelashcakes.com |
http://www.yelashcakes.com
08188636751| 08023104177
http://www.facebook.com/yelashcakesandconfectionaries
Instagram: @yelashcakesandconfectionaries

SAP NIGERIA, AYECI AFRICA PARTNERS TO SHAPE THE FUTURE OF THE NEXT GENERATION OF IT PROFESSIONALS WITH CAREER MENTORSHIP PROGRAM

SAP NIGERIA, a leading provider in enterprise software, partners with AYECI AFRICA to shape the future of fresh school leavers through the SAP Career Mentorship Program.

The SAP Career Mentorship Program is part of SAP Nigeria’s strategy to engage the future while driving the present.  “In order to engage the future, we must look to the younger generation and begin to drive activities that are value added to their present and future”, says Ayokanmi Ayuba, Channel Development Manager, SAP Nigeria.
The Program is designed to help high performing students from disadvantaged backgrounds develop the skills, knowledge and experience necessary to becoming future leaders in their respective careers. A key driver of this commitment is an enriching workplace mentorship experience which supports students through the process of navigating career choices, gain valuable workplace experience while in school and transition from college into a mutually-rewarding career with reputable organizations of their choice.

SAP’s partnership with AYECI AFRICA (an NGO focused on developing key initiatives for youths) around the week-long mentorship program for fresh school leavers aligns with a shared focus on education and skills development especially for disadvantaged young people in Nigeria.
Twenty-Five (25) fresh school leavers, selected based on their outstanding performance in the recent secondary school certificate examination (SSCE) are expected to benefit from the pilot phase of this program. The students would be placed in different SAP Partner Companies to receive an enriching workplace mentorship required to help them better understand the various career pathways and opportunities available to them.

What is interesting is that this mentorship program is not just focused on exposing students to technology based careers. Along with the opportunity to be exposed to careers within the SAP Partner Companies, students will also gain employable soft skills.

While SAP is spearheading the program, Ayo, emphasizes that “the goal is to achieve critical mass that will generate significant impact. Our approach is to work with our local partner companies harnessing all the resources to have the greatest impact on the next generation of professionals over time”. Currently supporting the program is C2G Consulting, Accenture, Hartford Green Consulting & Serve Consulting.

Following the week-long mentorship program, mentored students are expected to showcase the outcome of their mentorship experience during the Program finale billed to hold at the SAP Nigeria Office, using learning materials provided by their corporate mentors.

The SAP Career Mentorship Program will begin on the 17th of November and continue till the 21st of November 2014.

 

WATCHING ALZHEMIERS PLAY OUT: MY GRANNY’S STRUGGLE

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As the night came to an end, we could not understand the change that came over her. While we snuggled deep into our bed clothes burrowing into the sofas as we told folk tales, she struggled to tie her headgear with feeble limbs. She was past caring what she looked like and I did not blame her much. We looked so healthy and young and in contrast, she was pale, feeble and dainty however strong willed. As she dressed in near darkness, my mind was flying through all sorts of possibilities. Next, she slipped her feet into her sandals and beckoned my brother to open the door and accompany her to the market. It was 10:12 pm! That was how I knew something was wrong. She could not remember his name and although her eyes were focused, she seemed to look right through us.
As she patiently explained that she had to purchase food items for the party my father was throwing the next day, our youngest started to cry. She didn’t really understand what was going on but she knew something was not right. It seems a cruel way for someone so kind and nice to be treated. It seemed as if God picked at random those to be tortured and then as a puppeteer, pull at their strings any time the fancy caught Him! My family was religious and I tried to understand the basic teachings that taught that God was kind not cruel and seeing my grandmother like this made it a bit harder to grasp. Thankfully, that night passed uneventfully. We took security seriously for fear that she could walk away, disoriented, without our knowledge someday. To forestall that we took to bolting doors and locking the gate at all times.
A few days after that incident, I was in charge and I fell asleep reading a novel while minding her. The house was quiet and she had been quite calm. Something told me to rouse from my slumber and I saw granny sitting on the waste basket she had upturned, urinating into it while she rummaged through the mess she had created right there in the dining room! I had to hold in my tears, it was of no use. Granny had lost her marbles and it was still too hard for all of us to take in.
Many weekends after when we thought she was having one ‘good’ day, my parents invited guests over and they wanted to see her. As they were welcoming the guests in, I walked into the living room to find my granny stark naked. This time I could not help the tears that flowed and I called for my mother to help dress her. Father had to engage the guests with needless questions in the passage.
For weeks, I have engaged myself by making research. I read up every available material accessible on the internet. Admittedly, one cannot always be patient but I feel sorry for her, for all the times that I lost it, for all the times I was grouchy and for all the times I wished her dead even if it was to save her that cruel fate. Some people still live in ignorance claiming that these folks are witches and wizards whose bad deeds have caught up with them. Of course we all had fears as a family but knowledge helped us through the dark spots. It was not always easy to be patient.
Granny is now late. And till she died in her sleep one morning, her ‘light’ still shined through…

YOMI TIJANI: “I’M NOT SELLING PANTS, I’M SELLING EXPERTISE”

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He migrated from the world of mass communication to fashion where he now reigns supreme. The sokoto expert talks to us about building the client’s trust and continuity. It is not hard to see his love for fashion reflected in every single stitch. Since leaving secular employment, he has found fulfilment and more focus and allows this passion to drive him. He obviously knows what he’s talking about and he shares details of how he began.

Tell me about your business
I’m in the business of fashion but I make only one article: pants. It was borne out of the need to satisfy people, male and female, who have the peculiar problem of ill-fitting or problematic pants. My business is bespoke or what some call made-to-measure. That way, I can address the unique problems that individuals have.

Do you have any plans to go into fashion on a wider scale?
If you mean do I have any plans to expand my label to a full-fledged one with other categories of outfits, then of course the answer is most definitely. The decision to begin with just pants is a strategic one. The result of that decision is to ultimately be seen as an expert in that area so that I’m not simply selling pants, I’m selling expertise. That expertise will deliver the customer’s trust. Once we have that trust, then we can gradually and systematically introduce a full range of different clothes, from shirts to suits and everything in between. Also, we can introduce a children’s line. But first the grand strategy is one of earning the customer’s trust.

How easy has it been setting up a business with the “Nigerian factor” at the back of your mind?
Obstacles are not a Nigerian factor. That is something that is common to businesses all over the world. To answer your question, it is never easy setting up a business obviously because you are on an eternal journey of overcoming the obstacles you alluded to. But overcoming challenges of whatever nature is what makes business worthwhile. One of the challenges I had to overcome was one of knowledge. I didn’t always know how to make clothes, namely to cut and even sew, for example. So I was always at the mercy of tailors that I paid. This didn’t seem wise to me and I knew I couldn’t sustain my business that way so I had to learn. Of course, there are now other challenges, including how to get the best out of staff who don’t understand that what will help us satisfy customers and earn their trust is if we give them the best all the time. So it’s never easy. But once you’ve made the decision to be in business you understand that it will not be easy.

How have you been able to cope with challenges?
I’ve had to do whatever was necessary. Acquire knowledge, manage people, customers and expectations.

Do you have other business interests?
It’s just fashion. That is my life, the only thing I’m really interested in.

What is your label called?
Sokoto By Hesed.
That’s Sokoto, as in trousers

Have you showcased your designs at any fashion shows?
That has not been a priority. Fashion shows are not in line with our strategy. Maybe sometime in the future it’s something that we will consider. Our target customer doesn’t necessarily attend fashion shows. His buying behavior is not influenced by that. And that’s very key for us: what is it that makes our target buy? For our customers, it is not fashion shows so it would not be a wise way to spend our tight marketing naira.

For how long have you been in business?
Off and on since 2004. But I just really organized things as a business like 2 years.

What platform have you used to spread the word?
The most effective for us has been word of mouth. We measured this by result and found that a bulk of our business has been coming from referrals. Our customers love our products and feel the need to share with friends and family. And so there has been an incredible buzz in that regard. Because I’m coming from a corporate background, I appreciate the value of a platform like LinkedIn. I carry on an engagement with many of my contacts on that platform and the result has been amazing. Twitter, Facebook and other online avenues have opened up more possibilities. We are looking at 2015 as the year when we fully launch our online presence with our website, which is under construction. That will also drive our e-commerce activities.

That sounds like major work is under way. So how has leaving paid employment to become an entrepreneur turned out?
Absolutely. It’s been the best thing for me, to be honest. I’m doing something I want. My destiny is in my hands. I can finally reach the peak of my potentials. With paid employment, I never felt this fulfillment. I always felt like something was missing, I wasn’t at rest, didn’t feel secure. Of course it has its challenges as we established earlier. But I’d rather have that excitement than an 8-5.

Have you been able to harness that energy into your work? Are there not distractions that come from having your time to yourself?
Focus has been a primary driving force. There is so much to accomplish and I’m constantly working that there is no place for distractions. Where I take time out, I find that it’s not really time off because this is my life. And I have a business lifestyle so if it’s not adding to the bottom-line, it can’t distract me.

How easy was making that decision?
Not easy at all. It required all the courage I could muster. Imagine leaving the seeming security, certainty and comfort of a monthly salary for what a lot of people call ‘the unknown’. Except that for me, I was launching out into the ‘known’. I knew very precisely what laid ahead. I knew it would be rough but I also saw clearly the possibilities that business had for me. In the end, that clarity of vision and faith eased the difficulty of the decision.

That is impressive I must say. So in the next three years, where do you see your company?
To start with, our target for next year is to make a minimum of 5,000 pants. And very possibly, a minimum of 5,000 polos which we are simultaneously working on. To create partnerships of value, like the one we have with a dedicated blogger like yourself. To deepen the customer relationships we have right now.  When we do this, we can then look at growth, diversifying our product offerings, opening up new markets and ultimately owning the number 1 spot for pants in Lagos. And that’s a vision that transcends the next three years.

Who do you consider your fiercest competitor?
When it comes to competition, Sokoto By Hesed is in a special place. We have been lucky to occupy a position in the market and the customer’s mind that we created. What other label do you know that has the mission of providing a solution to problematic pants? It’s just us really. So there is no direct competition right now for what we do. Having said that however, we have found that we have to work to dislodge mostly foreign labels that people have become accustomed to. They are not really the best providers of pants but that is what was available. So that’s the position that we have set out to claim because we make better pants. Our pants have the best fit, they do not shrink, the colors don’t fade. We are the best available now. And Nigerians deserve the best.

Very interesting. Your competition must be tightening their belt by now. Do you offer apprenticeship programs?
It’s really interesting. No apprenticeship programs right now.

Any plans for that in the near future?
It’s something that we can certainly consider.

Do you have any advice for budding entrepreneurs?
Well… to be patient, humble and listen with an open heart.

I must thank you for your time.
It was a pleasure

Contact details:
10, Ola Street, Obawole, Ogba
08037200811
E-mail: iskandar_ng@yahoo.com
Twitter  @sokotobyhesed

MEET I.T, THE FIRE OF HER CREATIVITY SHINES THROUGH!

While I spoke to this young lady, I realised what I missed…  An undergraduate at the University of Calabar, she combines work and education and still manages to strike a balance to be an Honour student. Get thinking and be inspired! Read on to find out what she’s about: 

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Tell me about your business.
I design and make clothes, female clothes.

For how long now?
About three years now.

Okay. Tell us about yourself.
My name is Itohowo Pius,a native of Akwa Ibom state.I’m the third in a family of four. A third-year student of English and Literary Studies in the University of Calabar. I grew up in Calabar and attended Saint Christopher Nursery and Primary School and later, Limelight Secondary school.

Where does fashion meet English?
Fashion meets English where there is love for creativity.

There are a lot of people in this business, why did you decide to join this lot?
It wasn’t a decision,I just flowed into it.

You must have gotten your creative streak from someone in the family…
I learnt my grandmother was a seamstress…she didn’t stay around long enough to tutor me though.

As with any enterprise, there are challenges, what challenges have you faced?
There’s the basic financial challenge, and of course the fierce competition out there.But where passion is involved,there’s no challenge at all.

How have you surmounted this challenge?
Where competition is concerned I try to stay unique and original. I make a statement with simple pieces. And as for finance, I am gradually overcoming it though it’s a tough one.

Fine, do you offer training or apprenticeship?
I do.

What training sessions have you fine tuned, how frequently do you train and what is the duration of  such trainings?
Okay. My trainings are for six months and a year. It depends on which the trainees can afford. I start with the basics: how to paddle a machine, thread it and all that. When that has been done to perfection the next step is to learn how to cut a fabric for a particular design. This is where sewing is hinged not in the paddling or threading. Once the mastery of cutting is attained there’s almost nothing left to learn.

With your studies, how do you manage a business?
I work before, between and after lectures and mostly at night. It’s really hectic but worth it.

Is there any satisfaction to be gained?
The ultimate satisfaction is the expression on my clients’ face when they put on the piece they had made.
I treasure every second of it.

What should we expect from you in the next few years, say 5 years from now?
By the next five years I’ll be a force to reckon with in the fashion industry. I intend to take the industry by storm with pieces that speak.

Given the opportunity, what would you do differently?
I would have taken up a course in designing four years back.

And now?
Right now I’m letting my passion inspire creativity until I get around to studying it.

Do you have any other business interests that you’d like to pursue?
Presently I make ankara bags, bangles, clutch purses, necklaces and earrings for commercial purposes. Other interests may yet set in.

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Ankara creations

Have you showcased any of your designs in any shows?
No, not yet.

As we approach the holiday season, ladies scramble for the nearest dress maker, how do you deal with disgruntled clients?
Humans generally are a tough bunch to deal with. So whether my client is right or wrong I make sure they are pacified. Besides where business is concerned the client is ALWAYS right.

Thank you for your time.
The pleasure’s mine.

“DANGOTE… BETTER WATCH OUT!”

This interview brought some things into sharp focus for me and I realised that I didn’t know it all. Here are some things I learnt for the first time:

What kind of business do you run?
I’m into haulage of goods.

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with the term, tell us what it entails.
Haulage is transporting goods by road or rail for other companies or for one’s own company. In my case, it is by road. I have large trucks that move goods all over Nigeria for various companies.

For how many years have you run this business?
Well, this will be my fourth year in this line of business.

So you have been able to study the lay of the land. Who will you say is your fiercest competitor?
I will say Dangote. LOL, because he has everything on point. Actually, I see him as more of a role model but he better watch out!

Nice, so how many trucks do you have?
Presently, I have two trucks running steadily. I have plans for expanding my fleet.

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Do you have any other business interests?
Yes I do. I am a business man at heart and I am definitely looking into expanding into other profitable sectors.

For example?
Well I want to go into agriculture. Aquaculture and snailery to be precise. I have done a lot of trainings and research in these fields and I see it as an untouched but very profitable venture both locally and on the international level.

Good choice. I’ve also heard that quails are prolific breeders. Heliculture is another good choice. So do you have a farm already?
I’m presently in construction mode having just acquired the land which is to be the farm. The structures are in the making and in the nearest future, we shall open officially. I picked up the interest from my mum who has a mini farm and I realised that it is very profitable if you know how to go about it.

That’s nice. So in the next few years, what should we expect from you?
By God’s grace, our name will be on the lips of everyone both locally and on the international field.

How easy has it been setting up a business in the Nigerian environment?
Well business in Nigeria has been challenging to be honest. There is no encouragement from anyone, the government inclusive. In the transport sector, we have terrible roads and the risk factor in the conveyance of goods is always present. Again, the ‘Nigerian factor’ is always present in all you do. But still the success at the end of the challenges encountered makes the whole exercise worthwhile.

Given the opportunity, would you do it all over again given the odds? If yes, why?
I will do it again. These are my reasons: firstly, I am a Nigerian and there is this certain ‘never say die’ attitude of ours that makes us keep going. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. Again, you must know that a life without challenges is not a meaningful life. Also we have to make a difference when the odds are stacked against us. It is what keeps the nation alive. Better to be a boss in my land than a boy in someone else’s!

Hehe! Is there anything you would do differently if you are presented the opportunity to restart your business?
Yes… before you can say you’re a success in any field, you must have made several errors and mistakes. If I had the chance to start all over again, I would remedy those errors. Then I would really listen to people already in that field because in some instances I did not. I chose to do things my way and got knocks for it. Also, I would not delegate much work to people that aren’t necessary to have around. I will do things myself.

You realise you cannot do everything yourself, right?
I do but one should delegate only the necessary. It is a business where you have to be present on most occasions and do things yourself if you want it done right.

You’ve not told us about yourself. We would like to know who you are.
My name is Afolabi Akiwumi, an indigene of Abeokuta in Ogun state but I am a Lagos boy. I’m in my early 30’s.

Most people in the haulage business are diabolical, any merit to this?
We are in Africa, being diabolic is a part of our culture as some believe. In fact I think it is not limited to the haulage sector. Nigerians attach diabolism to all aspects of their lives which is for those who believe in it. But personally, I wasn’t brought up that way so I don’t believe in it. And my religious upbringing forbids it so it is a No-No. All you need is effort, diligence and determination coupled with God’s grace then the sky is not your limit but the beginning.

Any advice to those who are thinking of becoming entrepreneurs?
Don’t ever limit your imagination. Think big and work hard for what you believe in and never give up. Pray.

You sound religious. Are you religiously inclined?
Yes, very.

I must thank you for making the time.
The pleasure is all mine.

Contact details:
Qc intergrated services
25, obafemi edunjobi st , Akowonjo,Lagos.

akiwumiafolabi@hotmail.com

08056505221| 07030503565| 09098845790

“I AM NOT A PROFESSIONAL COUNSELLOR”

 

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Onome Francis is one person that I’ve always found interesting. I was so sure she was going to be a miner and then write all about gems. She comes out of her shell and talks about herself; she’s more of a listener than a talker. Here is what I found out about this ardent video game lover:

Tell me about yourself.
My name is Onome Francis, I was born in Warri, Delta state and I grew up in Lagos. I am a graduate of Biochemistry from Lagos State University. I love writing and I have been doing that from an early age; since I was 8.

What other hobbies do you pursue with the passion you have for writing?
I love reading, different types of books. My favourite foreign writer is James Patterson, while Chinua Achebe is my favorite locally. I also like surfing the internet. I also love traveling, adventures and meeting new people.

You have a blog that focuses on relationship matters, how was it born?
Well, i realised that there are actually a lot of people that have issues, especially relationship issues bottled up inside and some of them spoke to me about them. I guess it’s because I’m a good listener, because I am definitely not a professional counsellor or relationship expert. But sometimes you don’t need a relationship expert, you just need to talk to someone about it and hear their perspective. I also do the same when I have such challenges. So I thought,  “okay, I like writing, I’ve heard relationship stories,  why not create a blog dedicated to that and see what happens?” And that was how the blog came about.

onomes blog

Has the stats from your blog encouraged you to continue blogging because at the back of every bloggers mind is readership which translates to stats.
Yes it has. I have a lot of readers from around the world and it encourages me not only to keep going but to make sure I put my very best into my content.

Most bloggers/writers I know are fashion conscious, what does fashion mean to you?
Fashion is a popular way of dressing and I often like to go with the latest trends. However, I also think the way one dresses gives a hint of their personality. But if the latest trends don’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t go with it. Generally, I like classic looks, looks that don’t go out of fashion.

Are you planning to write a book or what are you going to do with your writing skills?
Oh yes, I would love to publish a book soon; a thriller, and I want to collaborate with the talented Miss Damilola Olaniyi. It would be brilliant,(winks)

so watch out!

I’m flattered, thank you. So far with your ‘agony aunt’, do you think you have been able to help some?
Yes I do. I have received feedback from readers who said they found my stories and advice interesting and helpful to them. I hope to reach out to more people as time goes on.

That’s great. So what else should we expect from you in the next few years?
More from my writing, because I can never stop writing. Books, blogs, leaving my mark in the world of literature and I can only get better. (Laughter)

Good, we would look out for you. Advice for young talent?
My advice for young talent is, keep doing what you have a passion for, practice makes perfect. Believe in yourself and give your best. Never, ever give up.

I must thank you for making the time to talk to me.
Thank you for having me.

My pleasure.

Contact details: 08022955312,  francisonome@gmail.com, 7A6DB74C
http://www.relationshipsandadvice.wordpress.com

MAC-JANE: MY FAVOURITE PLACE IN ANY HOUSE IS THE TOILET

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Mac-Jane Chukwu is a blogger and she was a hard one to track given that she has her fingers in so many pies; a bundle of energy! With her bachelor’s degree in International Relations, she is now pursuing her masters’ in this field with a dream of specializing in National Security Affairs; she hopes to become the first youngest female president of Nigeria.  With her background in media production, Mac-Jane is equally interested in building people, hence her involvement in projects that encourage positive change. She is the Executive Vice President of the International Student Cultural Organization (ISCO), currently the Graduate Administrative Assistant with the career services at Troy University, and founder of Tower of Hope Teaclub, a foundation to help troubled street girls. Like Joseph in the Bible, Mac-Jane wears a coat of many colours!

Tell us about you, what we won’t find on Google.

Hmm… well, there’s a lot not on Google but I’d tell you that I’m a pretty reserved person. My favourite place in any house is the toilet, if it’s fancy though. (Laughter) I love the mic. I used to keep a collection of cute baby pictures especially twins. LOL. I make one of the best pancakes anyone has ever tasted. LOL. I’m ever ready to learn, I sing but I can’t dance and I love my family so much. I talk to them every day and oh yeah, I’m in love with Snickers bar but my friends rather think I’m addicted. Yeah, that’s a lot.

How did you enter the world of writing?

Well unlike most people who would probably say “I’ve been writing since I was born”, writing for me was not something I thought of any significance in my life. I started writing in elementary school and my favourite part of any assignment was “How did you spend your last holiday?” But after a series of short stories I wrote, my mom felt that the world needed to read my books and that was when she encouraged me to publish my first book. After that, I realised writing was a passion for me as I began to write everywhere I went so long as I was inspired. It could be in the church, toilet, restaurant, anywhere; as long as I had a writing pad.

I know you have a blog, what informed it?

Well a friend of mine thought it would be a great idea for me to have a blog so he went ahead to create “The world according to Mac-Jane.” And it took me a while before I finally decided to start publishing my stories there instead of Facebook. Today, I’m grateful for that push as I have readership from all across the globe.

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That’s encouraging. Tell me about your published book.

Open Secret is a novel that talks about high school relationships, sex and HIV/AIDS. It is a mixture of my personal experiences as a child and fictional imagination. Everyone should read it since it is a first-hand experience of what goes on in the minds of young adults and how growing up really is.

What else should we expect from your stables?

I hope the world will see more of my books. Aside from writing a lot of research papers which isn’t so much fun sometimes, I hope to publish my next book soon. Look out for that. More seriously, I hope to share with the world a females perspective, what women really face in diverse cultures and nations and I pray that through my works the world will see Jesus through my eyes.

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A lot of writers have diverse views about religion, what’s your take?

Well religion for me is not just an institution, it is a lifestyle. I try to live what I believe. I don’t judge others for whatever they believe. I deal with people every day who are members of various religions but all I try to do is live the truth and let my life reflect Christ. I don’t want to be called a Christian and yet be known for hurting other people. Jesus showed love and that’s exactly what I try to do: show love to everyone irrespective of religion, culture, race, gender.

Where can we find your book and what genre do you favour?

My book will soon be available on Amazon but if you’re in Nigeria I have contact people you can buy from and those in the U.S can just contact me. I write mostly Christian romance fiction and real life experiences.

Advice aspiring authors.

Get a notepad, keep a pen handy or rather ensure whatever device you have has a notepad or journal app. Write, write, write! Whenever you get the urge to type something, do it. Start small, do a little at a time and before you know it you would have a book finished. And more importantly, read, read, read! Read the works of other people, get information about all things, watch the news not just fashion and style(laughter), and know a little of everything!

I must thank you for your time.

Oh no, it is my pleasure. Thank you.

BLOOMIDO: WE LOVE PROJECTS THAT BLOOM!

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Right before I interviewed the rep of Bloomido, I didn’t know about brand management companies (at least in Nigeria). The conversation that follows will show that it not only educated me but enlightened me. I had so much fun during this interview. Here are the excerpts:

Please introduce yourself.

I am Onisokumen Egwu. I was born and raised in PortHarcourt. I had my elementary and secondary schooling there as well. I had to go all the way to Niger state for my Bachelors. I majored in Industrial Chemistry but I currently work as an IT consultant with MTN Nigeria and as a brand management specialist with Bloomido Solutions.

How was Bloomido born?

Bloomido was born from the idea that we(I and my partners) love projects that bloom, hence the name Bloom-I-do. It was founded by three equal partners Muna Egu, Chibuikem ‘Mg’ Ihebom and myself. We were registered in 2012 as a partnership by the CAC.

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Nice. But… Industrial Chemistry to graphic design, what’s the correlation?

I will like to say I am not a graphic designer per se. I am an entrepreneur. I did Industrial Chemistry for my bachelors because in all honesty, it was the easier way to gain admission into school. In the course of my bachelors, however, I had to develop myself- learning a lot that will enable me live my dream of becoming an entrepreneur.

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I stand corrected. What then makes your establishment different from others?

Our objective and mission as an organisation stands us out from others. We have a collective mission which is “to constantly improve the human experience”. This motivates us to harness ways and methods that drive our customers and clients to success. We like to think that we do not strive to satisfy our customers but we push for their success. THIS makes us different. More so, as an organisation we are governed by a culture duly informed by our core values. We strive for success in mind blowing service delivery, we are adventurous and creative, we exude passion and determination, we are honest and open in communication, we work hard and play hard, we are happy and humble people. These are values that govern us and give us that extra drive to always remain on top.

I like the sound of that. What has been your greatest challenge?

Publicity. We have lovely projects but getting the message out is pretty expensive and difficult.

How have you been able to overcome this?

We are still in the process. Thank God for social media. We find Facebook especially helpful. Family and friends have equally been helpful in spreading the word.

What personal philosophy do you imbibe?

A very simple one: hard work pays. It may not be immediate but it will pay off.

Well said. What new frontiers are you hoping to conquer in say three years?

In three years, we are looking to become the major ‘clinic’ for small, micro and even medium scale businesses in Nigeria. We will love to be their source of inspiration and the cause for the growth of their businesses.

So I’m correct when I say you’ve found a niche and you’re feeding it…

You’re very right.

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How hard do you play?

Not as hard as it sounds, but just about enough to strike a balance between responsibility and fun!

Advice to younger entrepreneurs and those still in the ‘dream phase’.

For the record, I am equally a pretty young entrepreneur myself. My advice is that anyone dreaming of being an entrepreneur should do all he/she can to live that dream. It is the best thing that can happen. Be ready to make sacrifices and then read, develop yourself.

Finally, tell me something you’ve never told anyone.

I am not that much of a secretive person.

Here’s how to find Bloomido 

Contact Info:

M Close, 21 Road, Festac Town, Lagos

Phone: 0805 4197 935

Mail: info@bloomido.com

BBM: 7F3ABD3F

http://www.bloomido.com

Egwu, Onisokumen

+234 805 419 7935, +234 706 649 3854

“I FEEL A STRONGER DEMAND TO WRITE”

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It was difficult to get a hold of the gentleman who was the subject of this interview. The traditional form of interview appeals to me so I had to get him to make a pact. Anyway, the recipient of the Farafina writing award spoke to me about his foray into writing.

Give me a little background.
My name is Chijindu Umunnakwe, a graduate of University of Nigeria, Nsukka, where I studied Microbiology.

Tell me about your foray into the literary world…
It started in my days as a literature student. We drank from the fountains of great authors like William Shakespeare, Daniel Defoe and Chinua Achebe, not forgetting Charles Dickens. My dad was my number one motivator in writing and availed me of some of his books including Canterbury tales by Geoffrey Chaucer and some collections from African Writers Series.

At what age did you start writing?
I started writing at the age of twelve, writing about the stories that always fluttered in my head.

Which authors served as models for you?
Chinua Achebe, Cyprain Ekwensi, William Shakespeare and Daniel Defoe. But more recently, Chimamanda Adichie.

What do you think is lacking in African literature?
The platform for developing the art of writing. A good market sells itself. When you have a good work, it goes a long way to speak for itself. Many books are in the market but only a few are written with the dexterity of literary creativity. People need to learn more about the craft called Writing. Another point is the lack of literary agents in Nigeria who can compete favourably around the world. These agents help discover talent, support their works and groom talents to world class standard. But such platforms that assist writers are not very much here.

You recently won an award in writing, tell me more about that.
I won a place at the keenly contested Creative Writing Workshop. More than 1070 entries were received from which twenty-six of us were selected. The workshop was organised by Farafina and sponsored by Nigerian Breweries. It proved to be a great experience. Chimamanda Adichie was the facilitator.

For how long did the workshop last?
It lasted for 10 days with a literary evening that was open to the public. The literary evening was held at Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Did your experience at the recently concluded workshop help you to form new impressions?
Of course. I loved it because I was almost saying goodbye to fiction. As the publisher/editor of a magazine, I do a lot of journalism than on creative writing. So when I met young people from around Africa who were excellent in writing, I opened my mind to learn more. The way a soup can be unique with spices so also can a work of writing be garnished to make for beautiful reading and understanding. A lot of people do too much telling and not showing thereby making their writing bland. But one can get better by reading extensively.

What awards have you won as a result of your writing?
Three awards. First was in 2010, 50 stars at 50, a national essay competition organised by Intercontinental Bank. But earlier in the year, I was one of the top ten winners in the second National Orientation Agency Essay competition for Nigerian youths. We were hosted by the agency in Abuja in May this year. And more recently, the award given by Farafina.

How do these awards make you feel?
It makes me feel a stronger demand to write. When you do something out of passion and it is appreciated, then you know you have to step up your game. I am making plans to write more and inspire many with my works.

Where then is the meeting point between microbiology and creative writing?
The meeting point between microbiology and creative writing is passion.

I must thank you for your time.
It is my pleasure.

Find him on facebook http://www.facebook.com/chijindu.umunnakwe 0806 428 4852
e-mail: mail2chijindu@gmail.com

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“I HAVE A PASSION FOR PAINTING”

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Although the weather was inclement, I still had a chat with Omolola Olukade of Nexus Beauty Makeovers as planned. The rain almost sent us packing but she was pleasant company and we both braved the weather. So here is what I discovered about her:

Tell me about yourself, a little background.
About my background… I was born in Ilorin, Kwara state. I was raised partly in Kogi state at its creation and had part of my primary and all of my secondary education in Kogi state. I have a degree in Linguistics from Adekunle Ajasin University, Akungba akoko, Ondo state. I am the last of six children. I am from Kogi state, Ijumu Local government area.

I know you’re an entrepreneur, a makeup artist. What stirred your interest?
Painting has always been what I like, fashion in general right from my childhood. I remember riffling through my sisters’ makeup and painting myself with magic (red) lipstick! That earned me a name in Yoruba- e je kin se farii mi. That means allow me to do my fashion. (laughter) So I grew up with that interest and when I saw it become professional, I thought ‘why not’! After all I had a love for it and a passion to match.

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Interesting! But then, doesn’t the thought of competition make you think twice about it? Perhaps you would do better in another field…
No! The truth is, there are so many people in that line and still more will troop in. Some are in it for the money, fame or passion. For me, it has always been passion. And that’s why when I do a makeover for a client and see the transformation, the satisfaction in my client’s smile, the beauty I behold; I feel accomplished and want to do more. This in itself has served as advertisement for me. My clients tell others, they see it and request my services. I always settle down to do a good job for my clients and it shows in the end result.

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That’s nice. So what new frontiers are you hoping to conquer in the next few years?
Ha… I have so many dreams that I will see to reality. I’d tell you just one- creating my own makeup (product) line. For now, I am currently working on a few fashion shows with runway models and I believe it can take me places by Jehovah’s grace. (smile)

What challenges have you overcome?
Hmm! Finance was the first because I had always wanted to train with House of Tara makeup school and I couldn’t afford it at first because I had just finished my Youth service and I had no job. But I was persistent and optimistic because I wanted to get the best training and I felt so sure that I would get it there. So I patiently saved enough money for the training and the products I would use to practice. Another challenge was setting up because shortly after I graduated from the training school, I got a job that takes almost all my time. But the passion for artistry makes me determined to set up my business and I can say I’m doing well in my own little way.

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Persistence pays! You did business while in school, did it not make it difficult for you to ‘find’ yourself?
I have always believed in humble beginnings. Back in school, I started a business selling male and female clothing. That gave me a heads up for business today.

You must be proud of what you’ve achieved. Tell me, what is your personal beauty routine?
Yes I am! Eating balanced diet and drinking lots of water. I also eat a lot of fruits to help rejuvenate my skin and then make sure to wash off my makeup before going to bed. Finally, two or more times in a month, as time permits, I get a facial to remove dead cells and a lot more. (laughter) There’s really no ‘secret’.

Do you have any advice for would-be entrepreneurs?
My advice is that you do what you enjoy doing, focus, be hard working and never give up on your dreams. Even when the money is not flowing as you expect, you will still want to wake up to that job, that passion, everyday!

Contact details: Facebook page: Nexus Beauty Makeovers
Email: phebianlolly@yahoo.com
0818 598 0950, 0703 165 8383

IT’S MORE THAN JUST FASHION!

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It was a windy evening when I met with this designer whose clientele remain anonymous for security reasons. I had heard him relate how he was being frisked by security to reach some of his clients. Some of his stories bother on being hilarious, he being a natural jester. I decided to ask about his foray into fashion and here’s the excerpt of our interview.

Tell me about yourself.
I was born in Lagos where I had my primary education. I had my secondary schooling in Port-harcourt, Rivers state. I had my first and second degree from University of Abuja. I am the fifth of nine children, the second boy. I am a native of Bayelsa state, Sagbama local government.

How did you get into fashion industry?
I went into fashion during the prolonged ASUU strike of 2002. I was tutored by a designer who was then sewing for the Obasanjo’s and since then, I’ve been on a roller coaster.

Okay so would you say that you’ve carved a niche for yourself in the fashion industry? There are so many dress makers…
Yes I have. My styles are unique and my clientele, wide. Most of my old designs are currently in vogue for men’s fashion. As old as eight years ago. So I can rightly say I am a pacesetter.

What makes your establishment different from others?
Originality. We have learnt to think outside the box. We have had twelve years to do that. We keep things fresh!

Wow! Twelve years…
Yes, PCL (Perali Clothing Line) has been around for twelve years.

Where do you see your establishment in the next few years? Say five years…
Like the dakova of those days, Perali will be a household name.

Along the way, it can’t have been smooth all along. What challenges did you face?
You’re right, there has been challenges. Getting capable hands to assist is the major one. I practically have to retrain my work force. Again, the issue of capital is another. Fashion is capital intensive and getting people to invest is like learning to walk on tight rope. (laughter)

Kudos, you braved the challenges. What personal philosophy do you live by?
For me the word IMPOSSIBLE doesn’t exist. All in all, I have God to thank. Besides I don’t see myself as being there yet, there’s still a lot more to achieve God giving me life.

How do you relax?
Watching movies, swimming and hanging out with friends.

Any encouragement for young entrepreneurs interested in fashion?
Love the job, rewards will come later! At Perali, it’s more than just fashion, it is our way of life!

Contact the designer: pereali@yahoo.com, 0806 521 5071

Charity Begins at Home

 

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A very popular saying but then, knowledge is power. I agree with that. But you see, flashy things have a way of drawing us; the glitter, the shine… So, this leads me to ask-

Do you patronise ‘Made in your country’ products? Or you think that they are not good enough?

Let me explain why I asked. If you are reading this now, you must be a lover of words and by extension, books. But do you only read books based on the Name of the Author, the colour of skin or worse yet, the authors’ gender?

Sadly, some book lovers I know select books based on those criteria but is your next read as good as skin colour, a popular name or gender? I am personally offended when I meet a fellow book lover who says he cannot read a book written by a woman! I would not pitch Chinua Achebe against William Shakespeare nor will I pick Longfellow just because of the name! Each writer has his/her own unique style. Black skin, pink skin, yellow skin; it does not matter!

On the issue of gender, permit me to dwell a little. Sidney Sheldon was a wonderful writer, no dispute. Agatha Christie, on the other hand, is just as good a read. If I would read a John Grisham because his law thrillers keep me wanting more, then I would most certainly read a Danielle Steel whose tragic romance has me addicted! Sefi Atta, Patricia Cornwell, Luanne Rice, Kathy Reichs, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, J.K Rowlings; all these women will stand their ground against their male counterparts Tom Clancy, Wole Soyinka, Robert Ludlum, Helon Habila, any day!

So answer me this: do you read that Nigerian author only because it was prescribed as a Literature text? Do you spend your last kobo on a novel written by a foreign author but you cannot buy that book that has your countryman’s name on it? you have to review your preferences- without bias!

Thanks to Cheap Mobile Devices

 

While updating a post, I experienced this exhilarating feeling that comes from being able to make corrections and adjustments on the go! Many thought that the introduction of mobile phones in Nigeria was going to be unrealistic; after all the country has so many things on its to-do list and a lot of failed projects under its belt. Project infinity you might call it. Yes, that’s the sad truth.

Sometime in 2001 though (against all the skeptics), mobile phones were introduced and the monopoly of a single service provider evaporated! POOF!!! And now, with such a small amount it is available to everyone and it is no longer a luxury. The good news is that bloggers like me can rejoice in the fact that our readers can view posts anywhere in as much as we too can write them on the go!  Gone are the days of desktop computers…

Yaay for cheap mobile devices! Just how did we survive before their invention?

CHAPTER 9: A POT OF SURPRISE

I woke up with a start the next morning in my clothes, in a strange bed. It took me some minutes to remember the events that had landed me there and I had to rush to brush my teeth and hurry to the kitchen in search of a broom. I found something I could use to sweep the glittering tiles and thankfully, I did not need to wake Madam up for that. I finished cleaning and she still had not come downstairs so I returned to my perch on the stool where I had fallen asleep the previous night and I finally allowed my mind to wander. I was lucky to have escaped those evil people and even more to be offered a ride by a kind Samaritan. But how was I sure that his wife was not crazy because she acted strange the night before?
That thought was bouncing around in my head when she came downstairs into the kitchen. She looked delicate and normal in a nightdress that did not cover much. I could see the outline of her body and I lowered my eyes because it was embarrassing.
“Good morning Madam”, I said.
“How are you, my dear?” she asked absent-mindedly. Her eyes were darting from one object to another as if she was searching for something.
I stood to one side watching. She touched one shiny equipment and before long, she put two steaming cups of coffee in a tray that looked like polished wood. I spoke up as she placed two tins of milk on the tray and a green and white tiny container. It looked like nothing I had seen before.
“Madam, what will I cook for you?” I asked.
“We usually eat a light breakfast but don’t worry; I’ll come down shortly to make Oats so that you can watch what I’m doing. I will take this upstairs so go and take your bath; I will call you when I’m ready.”
“Yes ma”, I said and curtsied. She went upstairs and I tried not to watch as she left since she was wearing almost nothing. I went to the bathroom but all the fittings looked strange. The bathroom I shared with my father and many other tenants did not have a tap much less a sink/ wash basin. One tap had a blue knob, the other was red. I did not understand what the fittings were all for especially the ones in the bath. The bath itself was like a glass enclosure with nozzles and knobs and all the fancy fittings but there was no bucket. That was strange. What bathroom had no bucket! Well I was used to fetching water from a public tap for everything except when it rained and the rainwater was clean.
I turned one on the taps and the water came out at a funny angle, like needles. It was unlike the showers I usually see in home videos. I took a small tablet of soap from my bag and put a small size of toothpaste on my toothbrush. I took my bath in a rush because I did not want her to come into the bathroom while I was inside. I was looking for something presentable to wear, still in my now damp wrapper when Madam bumped in and dumped some clothes on the bed.
“They should be your size. Get dressed and join me in the kitchen, the driver is taking us out.” She left me and I moved closer to inspect the clothes. The clothes looked like works of art, the craftsmanship was detailed and the clothes could be worn inside out since they looked so neat but for the labels. I wore the first one I picked and smoothed it down with both hands. It felt kind of good and it was my size. I felt… but then I had never worn anything new new except when I sewed clothes which was rare. Could she have know I was coming somehow? I worried.
She showed me how to soak the oats and cook it at the right consistency. She warmed some moin-moin in the microwave and I watched which knobs she pressed as the interior lighted up. The plate was turning and it fascinated me, she laughed.
“That is how it works young lady. When it is ready, it makes a noise so you will know when to remove it. Don’t forget to wear this”, she handed me a padded hand glove.
“Yes ma.”
She served Oga and me. I peeled some oranges for her and sliced the apples she gave me and arranged grapefruit on a plate for herself.
“When the driver comes back, he’s taking us to the hospital. Eat”, she carried the tray and refused to allow me take it.
“Sorry Madam.”
“We are going to the hospital to examine you.” She left me alone to think about what she had said.
I sat eating the Oats that was sticky like okro even after I had added milk. I swallowed each spoon without tasting it and worried that I was not sick so I wondered why she was accompanying me to the hospital. I finished eating and washed my plates and then I went back to my seat by the kitchen balcony where she found me.
“Let’s go”, she said as she dumped the plates and trays.
I had to speak up. “Madam, I am not sick.”
“Who said you were sick, let’s go jare!”
“Then let me wash the plates before we go ma.” I needed any excuse so that I could have a little more time. Maybe she would shelf it or forget it.
“You can wash it when we return.”
She led the outside where the driver was waiting. I murmured my greetings and sat in the front with the driver. We got to the hospital and she went in with me to the doctor’s office. She was all smiles as we sat. She did the introductions.
“This is Doctor Oludare”, she told me. “Doctor, this is my cousin’s step-daughter, her name is Tokunbo. She will be staying with us for now.”
“How are you Tokunbo? Its good to meet you.”
“Fine, sir.”
Turning to madam, the doctor asked, “So what brings you here?”
“She needs an examination. I promised my cousin that I would look after her. So I want to make sure she is healthy.” She did not even give me time to be shocked since we were not related in any way. I wondered if my drunkard father or my estranged mother, the one I had not even met was her cousin.
“Alright madam, you can wait for us n the waiting room”, he said as he gestured to the door. She stood up and he led me to the examining table that was in the corner, I moved to it with shaky legs and he held me up as I collapsed against it. “Easy”, he said with a smile. The table was cold as I gripped the sides and even his warm smile did nothing for the cold I suddenly felt.
“All I’m going to do is a routine examination, no fuss”, he explained. I just wanted it to be over and I was gripping the sides of the table for dear life. When he was through, he sent me to the laboratory and someone took my blood sample and I was asked to urinate in a bottle. I was relieved when it was time to go.
Madam took me shopping for more clothes and then we went out to eat. I wanted to ask her why she told the doctor we were related but I lacked the courage. She ordered a pack for the driver and we went to the supermarket afterwards. It was huge, the largest one I had ever been to. All the ones beside my house were small and most doubled as chemists. We filled two trolleys and we pushed them to the checkout counter. She was still yet to tell me why she had me examined and she only made small talk while we were shopping. We headed straight to the kitchen as we got back. She showed me how to skin chicken.
“Would you really still like to find your mother?”
Even though she could reject me yet again. “Yes, Madam.”
“In that case, we will do all we can to help you. If you have more information it would help. And stop addressing me as ‘Madam’.”
“Yes, Madam”, I replied.
She laughed. “Aunty sounds better”, she said. She didn’t look like anyone’s aunty. She looked like someone who was often in charge, I wondered if she had children.
“I don’t have any children”, she said as if reading my mind. She was telling me things about herself even though we were not close. It was either she was free or she was starved of company. I couldn’t tell which it was. Dinner was the same as the previous night and I cleaned up. She showed me how to lock the doors and I went into my room to check the things she bought me. I was so tired that I did not bother; I just left all the bags there on the floor. I lay on the bed after a quick shower and I was just dozing off when I heard the door open even though I had not heard Madam’s footsteps. She stood by the door for a second and shut it behind her. Only it was not madam and she had not left.
I felt the bed sink as he sat. He touched my back and I froze. “Are you asleep?”
I was afraid to breathe and he felt it. “You’re not asleep, I can feel it. But I don’t blame you, you set out for something different and you find yourself here with total strangers. But I’d tell you a little story, one that… Anyway, for the past sixteen years, we have been married but we don’t have any children. My wife and I desperately want children yet each time we think she is pregnant; it turns out to be false. She was pregnant only once and miscarried. She has fibroid and the doctor has told us that she cannot get pregnant at this stage. There is simply no excuse to be made for this but all I can say is that I am prepared to offer you whatever you want within reason. You know what we are asking… There is nothing else left to say. Good night.” He stood up and left.
I couldn’t not think about what he said even though I tried hard not to. I lay awake for most of the night.

BRINGBACKOURGIRLS

BringBackOurGirls is the trend. We sorrow over the abduction of our gems. They are the flowers we nurture every day. They represent our collective struggles and days of hunger. We struggle to send them to schools – with the hope that they will soar and do us proud. They will come to pay back. They will remember us and their country. We hope that they will become good ambassadors. But this is a country where lives are like matchsticks. They have enslaved our daughters. We are still searching for the moon in the eye of the sky.

I ALSO SING

I also sing of BringBackOurGirls
in a house where bombers are
popular tenants

I also sing of BringBackOurGirls
in a country where bullets are
weevils that burrow the bellies
and murder the moon of a sad night

II

So I learn to write poems for those
who die without coffins
in a country where leaders
loot and litter the streets
with bones and blood
of those who forget their
names in the market of memory

Rafiat, a woman dies with her
children watching how they
pack their mother with blood –
robed attire –
as they carry our experiement
on the burnt bodies of those
with lost fingers, lost heads
and chopped legs

Julius, a shoemaker
struggles to nail the shoes
as the bombs bury shops
and streets

May they all rest in peace
together with their dreams

III

I also learn to hold roses
to the cemetery where
dust to dust is a slogan

even when the young die
dust to dust is still a voice
to be heard

IV

So if they bomb houses
where poets live

tell them to remember the books
they may not be able to turn into
ashes –

for we live in death

                          ***

So if they bomb the houses
where poets live with images
of their families

flipping
as they remember the country
that promises to award cups
of tears to us

as they remember the days
when lives are buried every
second as the precious faces
bow like tendrils in the path
of the wind.

So if they bomb the houses
of the poets

they will not be able to turn
our words into posters
beneath the stoves

LOVESONG (For Hazizah)

your gleaming eyes speak to me
as I read the letter of love
on the table tonight:

your voice, your hair
your pink lips

everything about you touches
my heart till it melts like a candle

II

So I will turn love into poetry
turn poetry into rain that will
fall on your roof

I will turn love into words
turn words into feelings
that will engulf your heart
till you paint my body with
your tender touches

I will turn your fingers into
sketches of poems yet to
be written by every poet
I have seen in my life…letter

SONG OF A SAD POET

On these tombs I read the
stories of men who die
searching for what to eat
in a country where leaders
build an empty house by
telling us the tales of shoeless years

On these tombs I see portraits
painted with blood gushing
out of broken thighs;
I see mangled bodies
and hands searching for the
bones of their relatives

II

In this city I see how they
sweep truth and tow lies
into the rock where heads
assemble to break the bar
of justice

I see how they bomb schools
and how they fill the pages
of histories with names of our
dead children

and tonight a poet sings with
a flute drenched in the tears
of abducted female students in Borno.

Lola’s Lagos

            When I sit to think about it, I can lay claim to this city. Although I was not born in this city I will attempt to tell you a bit about it. Akowonjo, Ipaja, Egbeda, Ikotun, Oshodi, Ikorodu, Iyana-paja, Agege. That is my Lagos. In my Lagos people enter into each other on the streets, bump into each other deliberately, are passionate about little things, try to avoid throwing dirt out of moving vehicles but do not quite succeed in resisting their impulses, take up causes for their brain children and curse at the government.

            When I was a little girl, I used to have dreams of a Lagos so exquisite that it puts New York to shame but of course that has long dissolved like soap suds. In my Lagos, garbage is the king of the road, struggling artistes spotting dreadlocks’ and afro rule, the beggars are champions of the traffic, the one-eyed man is the director of the transport scheme, the miscreant is awarded a prize, the lazy house husband is the organiser of the neighbourhood draw, restaurants are on every street corner, okadas are limousines that tread the roads with the confidence of an angry bull. Yes, this is my Lagos!

            Confidently, I tell you my personal Lagos is interesting. There is never a dull moment. My view of the city has only changed slightly through the years with constant travel; albeit slightly. If you are not polishing a war wound- okada, bus or keke– then you are a foreigner. Molues are not extinct in my Lagos, they champion the road.

            Now the Lagos without Eko o ni baje is not mine. The Lagos without mini-buses, without conductors hanging in the doorways of their buses, the one without bukas that serve amala and gbegiri into stainless steel bowls is foreign, the Lagos that serves ofada rice into glass plates with cutlery wrapped in tissue is not mine, that Lagos without passengers racing behind buses is foreign. The Lagos that parade half-naked women as epitome of beauties is a shame to my own Lagos that spots the man dressed in fila abetiaja (dog-eared cap) and kembe with his woman dressed in oleku made with aso-oke.

            Today in my Lagos, I saw a soldier show affection to a woman who was struggling to put her baby on the back. Yes, in this Lagos women still strap their babies to their backs, bricklayers still eat ewa agonyi and agege bread, pure water is still sold in traffic sweating for all its worth!

My Alter Ego(s)

            Image

             You might find it hard to believe or it might sound a little strange. Even as I form the words it feels foreign to me. My. Alter. Ego. With an additional‘s’ to show that it could be more than one. This however is not an excuse for you to avoid me. I assume this stance when I am under pressure. Let me tell you how my mind works.

            I was on a motor bike some days ago when I noticed that I was different from the ME I knew. I dragged the fee with the bike rider and hailed him in motor park language which made the rider give me a second look. I understood his stare. I looked chic dressed in skinny jeans and a cropped top which accentuated my slight figure. I smelled like a flower not a tout and so I understood his stare. I did not look the part. My sister had to tap me on my shoulder to make me revert to my ‘regular self’. Okay.

            It is only proper to tell you about the ‘regular’ me which is usually dressed primly in tailored well-known designer labels hunting for a job and speaking Queens’ English without the Nigerian accent. During the day, I am patient and polite carefully pronouncing words in my practiced accent.

            Alter number two. This alter appears when I am frustrated with Lagos. It snaps easily, speaks market English and yes, does not pay for transport sometimes. Funny but true. This alter knows almost all the touts at the motor parks and hails them accordingly.

            Alter number three is very docile and rarely comes out. The frustrated Lagos life does not affect it. this alter is so kind that it assists old people to cross the road, checks up on them as frequently as time permits, is polite and courteous no matter what, dreams of working in an air-conditioned office but it is not the one friends and acquaintances miss.

            And so I might look a little bit strange when next you see me on the street but don’t let this taint your view and make you biased about the next pretty girl who hails ‘Union’ leaders. It might just be her alter acting up in the sweltering Lagos heat!

CHAPTER 8: Awash With Shame

She just sat with a look of concentration on her face. If only I knew what was going on in her head. She sat still and watched me until I finally spoke up.
“I can’t ma, I would rather leave”, I replied. With all the scenarios in my head, I had never once thought that I would be raped by woman and this in such an odd manner too.
“I can help you if you want. Just close your eyes”, she offered from her perch on the bed.
“I’m sorry ma. Let me go now”, I said even though I had no idea where I would spend the night. I was thinking of my chances if I was on the road at night and my thoughts were not kind. Was it better I stayed and be raped by a woman although I had a roof over my head?
“You said you had no tattoos and I want to confirm. I won’t touch you, I am not a lesbian”, she replied with a smile.
I stressed my hand behind my back and unzipped my faded dress. I let it drop to the ground as I pulled down my under skirt which grey and elastic bare from over washing. I stood with my eyes closed when my under skirt followed my dress in a pool at my feet. The elastic around my waist that held my panties up was slack but it still held a little. Of course my brassiere was old as well and it was the only one I owned. I was hot with embarrassment even though the fan was on; no one had ever seen me in this state of undress.
I did not notice she had come closer till I felt her breath on my skin and the light from my phone pierced my closed eyelids.
“You will have to stop picking your face. These blackheads are horrible on your skin”, she said conversationally as if we were discussing something interesting and I was not standing in my underwear.
“Raise your armpits”, she said. I did as I was told.
“Gosh!” she exclaimed. “This won’t do.” I was on fire from anger but I tried to hold it in. “There’s a forest in the making there. Come with me when you are dressed so that I can give you shaving sticks. You must remember that you are a lady. Get dressed”, she said shortly. I pulled on my clothes in no particular hurry although it felt strange for someone to be checking me out.
“Panties, bras, clothes, pads, deodorant”, she muttered as if making a note.
“I’m dressed”, I said watching her chew her bottom lip.
“Let’s go”, she said snapping out of her bubble. I was scared that she was mentally unstable.
She took me through the house showing me where everything was. She told me there were other rooms upstairs but she did not mention anyone else there besides her husband. A part of me started to feel sorry for her, she must be lonely. She left me in the kitchen and went upstairs returning with a transparent purse that contained soap, the shaving stick she had promised, tissue and other things. I thanked her and took the purse as she briefly described how to use the shaving stick, telling me the areas to scrape. I took them in a hurry to my room so that I could prepare dinner although she had not mentioned it.
“Madam, what will I cook for you?” I asked her as she banged pots and pans together.
“Don’t worry for tonight. I would show you how I like my foot prepared. Okay?”
“Yes ma.”
She was making spaghetti and stew (she called it sauce) and showed me how to use everything in the kitchen. Everything looked shiny and new and she even had A.C in the kitchen. She was lucky indeed to be a rich woman. She served me in a glass plate and I carried their food to the table. I had never been treated so nicely and I enjoyed my meal alone in the kitchen forgetting her queer inspection momentarily. The food was delicious and I used my index finger to lick the plate till it shown. I dropped my plate in the sink looking very clean almost like if I had washed it. She followed me to the kitchen when I cleared the table and exclaimed when she saw my plate.
“Tokunbo!” she exclaimed bursting into laughter. “You must never use your finger to lick a plate or God forbid your tongue. Understood?”
“Yes ma. I’m sorry ma”, I curtsied.
She left me alone to wash up the plates and after searching for the soap I called her attention.
“Madam, please where is the soap I would use to wash plate?”
“It’s right there on the sink in that white bottle”, she replied.
Chei! I had been standing there for about 5minutes hunting for Kongi soap, the round white ball I use to wash my koko irin and cooler after my daily sales. All t while the liquid dish soap was staring at me. I used too much of the green liquid which smelled lemony and I had to rinse the plates repeatedly till the foam stopped. But the soap smelled good. I sat on a stool in the kitchen balcony which opened into a garden and listened to the night creatures’ call to each other. I had no one to call to and so I prayed hoping that God would hear, wondering if He was even listening. Perhaps he listened only to rich people who dropped lots of tithe money. I slept off on the stool and Madam woke me up to go to my room. I dropped on the bed like a log of wood.

CHAPTER 7: The Inspection

I turned the card in my hand repeatedly looking at the name and all the phone numbers on it. I only wish I could read something on it other than what was printed on it. Unfortunately, the e-mail addresses and phone numbers said nothing to me. The driver finally handed me his phone and he still did not say anything to me. He was mute as a statue and I wished he would at least hum a tune so that I would… I did not know what I would do. I dialled the first number on the card and a woman picked it up sounding very polite as she transferred my call to his office.
“Good afternoon sir”, I said.
“Yes?”
“It’s me Tokunbo.”
“Yes, go on”, he sounded distracted.
“I’d take the job sir.”
“Oh yes, the job. I knew you would make a wise decision. Alright dear, give the phone to the driver”, he said. This man must be very forgetful I thought as I handed the phone to its owner, pointing to indicate the boss was still on the line. He answered in monosyllables and finally dropped the call. Then he spoke to me for the first time since I entered the car.
“Let’s go”, he said shortly and stepped out of the car.
“Thank you for letting me use your phone but where are we going?”, I asked without standing. I didn’t grow up without Lagos sense in my head! He just stood watching me till I finally stood up from the car.
“Canteen”, he answered finally with a look of impatience. I closed the car door and I didn’t see him press a remote but I only heard a ‘click’ sound. This was the first time in my life that I stepped into a private car. All my life I had hopped buses but it didn’t bother me.
Oga won’t you lock the doors?” I asked as I trailed behind him.
He did not reply as he walked in front of me unhurriedly. Alright, I told myself, I would ask no further questions. He did not appear hostile nor did he appear friendly and I could not place him. He also did not talk a lot maybe just when necessary. We got to the canteen and he picked a table at the farthest corner. As soon as I sat he stood up to get food and I tapped my foot under the table praying that he would not order beans as part of my food. Thankfully he got me rice and plantain with beef and I said a silent prayer in my head. We ate in silence and returned to the car to wait for the boss.
The kind old Samaritan strolled to the car and I had the opportunity to observe his features. He had a pot belly that made his buba and sokoto fit. I sat in front on the drive to my new house abi oga’s house praying that I was safe. The driver clipped my seat belt which was foreign to me and I held on to it tightly for fear that it would choke me. I saw him smile from the corner of my eyes for the first time and I turned my head to look outside the window till we got to the house. I waited outside while the boss went in and he sent for me shortly after.
“Good afternoon Madam”, I greeted with a curtsey. She looked at me from head to toe before responding.
“Afternoon dear. How are you?” she asked. She was well dressed in light pink lace and her dress was shining with studs. Her perfume was sweet too and I smiled as she gave me the once over.
“Fine ma.”
“Go and drop your bag in the first room by your left just down that hall. I’m waiting for you here”, she pointed and I left them alone.
I was wondering what to make of her. She looked distant and yet I was not so sure. I knew she was going to interview me.
“What is your name?” she asked when I had returned.
“Tokunbo Toromagbe ma.” For sure her husband must have told her but I did not turn to see the expression on his face as he sat watching quietly.
“How old are you? Have you done this kind of work before?” she asked before I could answer.
“I’m twenty-two. I have not ma but I can work.”
“What kind of work did you do before now?”
I hung my head because I did not want to see the expressions on their face. “I sold ewa agonyi in my area.”
She was quiet and when she did not ask any other questions, I raised my head and found them staring at each other. “Come closer”, she finally said.
I moved close to her and my palms where sweaty where they were folded behind my back. I was confused when she stood up. She turned on the light on her phone although the lights in the parlour were all on.
“Open your mouth”, she said.
I stood watching her. “Are you deaf?” I opened my mouth and she examined my teeth, I wondered what she was looking for. Was she a doctor? Was she normal? I thought. When she was through inspecting my teeth, she looked at my face closely without comment while her husband still watched.
“Follow me”, she said when she had finished her inspection. She re-tied her wrapper as she went down the hall. She opened the room where I had dropped my bag and I closed the door behind me, standing close to it. She sat on the bed and I watched her movements wondering what she was going to do.
“Do you have any tattoos?”
“No ma”. This would count as a weird interview because I thought she was going to check my bag. I could leave the next morning since it was evening already, that is if I did not like it.
“Remove your scarf”, she instructed. I pulled it off and she just stared at me.
I wonder what she saw and then she stood up from where she sat on the bed and walked toward me. I thought she was going to touch my hair but she stretched a little above my shoulder to turn on the fan and sat back on the bed.
“Now I want you to remove your clothes”, she said so softly that I almost did not hear her. I shook my head. I must have walked into a horror movie…

CHAPTER 6: One Good Samaritan

Talking is therapeutic for me. As I narrated my experience, it sounds like a story even to me but it calms my nerves. I tried to keep my mind on the road but it flashes past so fast that I cannot remember anything because the stretch of grassland looks the same. The man was nodding as I spoke, either out of pity or understanding or sage wisdom, I cannot tell. We took a turn off the major road at some point and I stopped talking. Was a bit scared since all I could see on both side of the street we were on were long metal gates with tall non-descript buildings behind them. I looked left and right so fast to try to gain a better understanding of my environment and I almost sprained my neck but the man was quiet. I wondered where we were since no noise could be heard through the closed windows except the soft hum of the engine.
“Please sir, where is this place?”, I asked with a little tremor in my voice.
“Ohh… I need to do a little office work first”, he said as if that explained it.
“Okay sir. Please I need a description on how to get to the park. I need to go if I am to go to Cotonou at all today.”
“Yes, the park”, he repeated as if he had forgotten why I was even in his car in the first place. I was beginning to move from gratitude for his help to anger gradually but I was working hard to make sure it did not show on my face. I realised I could not have walked the distance the car had just covered. I have never been sarcastic in my life and I believed (till now) that I did not have a sarcastic bone in my body but I was doubting that now. I had to clamp down on it so that it did not rear its head and I realised he was talking.
“… clear up a few things”, he concluded.
“Sir?”
“I need to clear my desk for the week and I was wondering if you would like to work for me. My wife needs help around the house and you might like working for her but if not you are free to go. I know it is a lot to take in at once, you escaping and all that and then the offer of a job out of the blue”, he waved his hand dismissively and trailed off.
Thoughts of everything spun unbidden in my head. What if I was kidnapped by him? For the second time. I knew nothing about this man except that he had helped me get far away from where I was. What if he was making things up and he was a ritualist in reality? What if he was taking me to where I would be slaughtered? What if his wife was disagreeable? All the what ifs rioted in my head with no traffic warden to direct the flow. Why would he even offer me a job? It’s not like if he knew me and I was more familiar with struggling on my own than having to depend on someone which is what it would come to if I accepted the job. And then he voiced my fears.
“What if you don’t find your mother? I mean you have only a picture and a description of her last known address. What if you somehow find her and she doesn’t accept you?”, he paused to allow it sink in as if he found my search for my mother impossible. “Besides, it would take you a long time to find her with just a picture and I assume you are short on cash so consider this as an opportunity to make more money. You don’t have to accept but I would advice you to take the offer while it stands. I am not a ritualist nor a kidnapper. I won’t sell you out and I assure you that my intentions are honourable.”
He had addressed all my concerns before I had a chance to even ask. “Emm…can-“
“I can give you my business card if you want to think about it later”, he said as the gates to wherever we were opened and allowed us in.
I was going over all the options in my head as we manoeuvred into a marked parking space. This meant that he was a big man in the company if he could have a parking space clearly reserved for him even though the parking lot was filled with cars squeezed close together. The dashboard said it was 10:43 and if I did not hurry (if I was still to go), I had to make a decision. He sounded genuine and he had voiced my fears as if he knew what the trouble was. While I was debating, he opened the door on his side and stepped out of the car.
“Let me know when you have made a decision”, he said and closed the door behind him. I just sat there staring dumbly at the card he had given me. My head was aching gradually and after a while I noticed the driver had turned off the A.C and wound down the windows. He was giving me furtive glances through the mirror and I thought perhaps he was trying to tell me something. After a while of trying to avoid his gaze, I spoke.
“Please kindly let me use your phone”, I said with a sigh.

CHAPTER 5: NARROW ESCAPE

I had no idea where the footpath led but as far as I could see, there were no turns off it, so I forged ahead. I knew that the so-called ‘man of God’ could find me if he wanted since he was familiar with the neighbourhood so I walked very fast. The advantage I had was that he was attending to his new arrivals and would not even think to find me till he was through. I knew they were going to prey yet again on another unsuspecting passenger then I came to the realisation that my greed had almost caught me red-handed. I would have appreciated a little extra money and I thought that that was God’s way of answering my prayers (after all I’ve been told he works in mysterious ways!) Don’t judge me! If you have lived a life of struggle where you continually have to fend for every single need (plus one mouth) and hardship becomes your way of life, then you would probably understand.
Life is hard but I don’t need to tell you that because you already know. But sometimes, when you suffer you become a chairperson in the suffering committee that you think every opportunity is a good one. Even if it is just slightly different from what you are used to or on the other hand, you might become pessimistic toward everything happening around you. But I walked along that footpath alone with my thoughts, hardly thinking past the fact that I somehow had to get out this whole drama alive. Like every other person- I had dreams, even though I was scared to dream too big. I wanted to finish my education and maybe get a job that would keep me in one place till the end of the day because believe me, hardship is not something you wish on your enemy.
I know at first, I must have sounded like I did not care for my father at all but that is not the case. Besides, you don’t know him like I do. I liked him because he opted to care for me when my mother decided to opt out and he did not dump me a an orphanage either. But as I grew older he started drinking so much so that he usually slept out leaving me to take care of myself. An eight year old all alone. At around that time too he started picking up women (and God know where he took them) but he never brought them home but when they made him angry, he took it out on me. I knew all this because my father never bothered to wear perfume since he did not buy any but he usually came home wearing one cheap perfume or the other. So I knew it had to be a woman (or women). Father did not contribute to anything that had to be done and I gradually took it upon myself to pay the rent when he slacked off. You see, homelessness was one of my worst fears and I tried hard to ensure that I had enough to cover the rent. I was just happy that I was not ajebo because it would have been a lot more difficult if we were comfortable and this hardship befell us.
I really tried not to dream too big so that I would not be disappointed but you cannot tame your dreams. There is no subsidy on dreaming after all. It took me a while to clear the footpath and in order not to give myself away, I was silent as I walked fast. I did not hum a tune or whistle even though I would have liked that to keep myself company. The fear of being captured was real and I did not intend to be meat for anybody! The bushes had to be dangerous with the illegal activities I had witnessed earlier on. As I cleared the footpath, I walked straight on and came to a T-junction. As I listened carefully, I found that I could hear the sounds of the road and I was torn for direction to take. I decided on the left since it appeared that the sounds were louder towards that direction but as I walked towards the end, I found that thick bushes covered an industrial gutter so I had to retrace my steps. As I stood thinking, I heard a sound from the bushes just a stone’s throw from where I stood.
I don’t know how best to explain this but I died ten times when I heard that sound. Almost immediately, I heard footsteps and I ducked into the bushes and bent down. Unknowingly, I stepped into the train of some red ants and ha! My legs suffered my mistake. I was stung a million times but I could not cry out for fear of being discovered. It was a baby’s cry I heard and my heart went out to it. The footsteps were coming in my direction but I managed to remove my leg from the ants’ path only to step into something unpalatable. From frying pan to fire! There is no better way to say it- I stepped into shit, yes excreta. It is as disgusting a feeling as it sounds (so don’t try to imagine it). I tried my best to be patient till I heard the footsteps died away. I was praying that it was not the child they came for but found I was wrong when I finally went there to check.
My heart was heavy but I still had the dirty foot to worry about. I used flat grasses that had been trampled on to clean my leg and slippers as best as I could all the while wondering what I would have done had I still found the baby there. I knew that I had to means to care for a baby nor did I know the first thing to do with one but it hurt nonetheless. I took the right turn at the T-junction and found myself at the major road, finally. Cars were zooming past at top speed and even though I was scared because of the incident I had just passed through, I knew I could not walk to Agbara and so I summoned up courage and started flagging down cars.
It took a while for a kind hearted person to stop and I willed my legs to walk up to the sleek, black car that had stopped. The windows were wound up and the car was gleaming as the engine hummed. My heart was thumping very fast. (So much for thinking I was tough!) The rear window slowly came down as I stopped where the car was parked and I stood facing a white bearded middle-aged man.
“Good afternoon sir”, I curtsied.
“My dear, this sun is hot. What are you doing walking out here all alone?”, he asked.
“The taxi I boarded dropped me here and refused to continue with me. Please are you going towards Agbara or even the next bus stop?”
“Come in through the other door”, he invited.
I walked behind the car to reach the other door. I sat inside the air-conditioned car directly behind the driver and I almost hugged the door. I sat with my bag on my leg. I saw the man and driver exchanging a look and eyeing my bag and I shook my head, I would rather have my bag handy since it contained all I had.
“Okay young lady, relax and tell me what happened”, said the man turning to me.
As the cold air touched my skin and cooled it, I sank into the chair although I was still alert. The cold air was refreshing and I cleared my throat to narrate what I had just witnessed…

CHAPTER 4: Epileptic seizures

I was not hypnotized but I felt transfixed by the whole drama. Something told me not to join their prayers so I just bowed my head without saying any words. I do not recall for how long we were there but it seemed long enough to make me impatient and I was eager to continue my journey. Without realising it, I started to tap my foot impatiently and since we all linked hands, I was swinging our arms. The fat lady jerked her hand so suddenly that it hurt me and I turned to look at her from under my lashes and she gave me a hard stare. Something was definitely not right and I thought I had done something wrong although I had no idea what it could be.
After the lengthy prayer, I took a step back while the ‘man of God’ continued to talk. He was probably giving advice but I was not interested so I paid no attention. I suddenly remembered why I had left home and abandoned my business: to find my mother with hopes of a better life. But here I was in the bush with total strangers whose vibes were dark and dangerous. It was while I pretended to be listening that I remembered that one of my customers had mentioned something that sounded exactly like this and he had even explained in detail. I was not in a daze but something seemed to have switched off in my head for a while. Thankfully, NEPA had restored power back in my head and I booted, thinking of a plan to escape without releasing a dime to them as I realised where the story was ultimately heading.
Suddenly I fell on the floor writhing with seizures and convulsions and the ‘man of God’s’ story quickly changed into a prayer to deliver me from the epileptic spirit that plagued me. I rolled around trying to secure my purse while he casted and bound the spirit within me and just as suddenly, I lay still; panting intermittently. I had somehow managed to secure the purse tightly to my wrist because it contained all my savings and to lose it was to go back to square one. I opened my eyes slowly where I lay in the sand and I saw them all looking at me, disappointment plainly written on their faces. I knew I had gotten them or at least I hoped so. I have not lived in Lagos all these years without learning anything!
“Sorry my dear”, said the front passenger stretching out his hand to help me up. He appeared to be the kindest among them. I nodded giving the impression that I was weak and talking was difficult.
“You should lift her up gently. All that tossing around weakened her”, the ‘man of God’ said sounding fatherly with concern.
The thief and the front passenger helped me sit up and then asked if I could walk. “Yes”, I whispered. As I stood up, I buckled and the men helped me sit on a wooden bench close by. The thief hissed and I apologised (although I understood his disappointment).
“So like I said, each of you will contribute what you have so that I can buy the materials needed to break the spell.”
“Okay”, they all chorused. The thief was the first to drop money and he turned his pocket out so that its lining hung like a limp tongue. After they had all contributed, they turned in my direction with some hesitation and I said in a small voice,
“I don’t have much money because I ran away from home so that my father would not marry me off to a sick old man today”, I lied. “I have very little and I would even appreciate it if you people have any job to give me so that I can get some money to take care of myself.”
“Anything you have, just contribute. Remember that the money is in dollars. Dollars”, emphasized the ‘man of God’.
“Okay”, I said. I put my hand in my purse and came up with N200. I squeezed it like the others did and threw it into the black nylon they stretched out to me.
“Man of God, I go leave this geh fo yu make yu treat am. I no cari her again”, the driver announced.
“But driver, I go pay yu complete na”, I protested. “I dey ok”.
“Then find another vehicle. I no cari yu”, he said opening the car door to bring out my bag that I left on the seat.
“Don’t worry my dear, I will treat you and you can stay here for a day or so. I will deliver you from this seizures”, the ‘man of God’ said. “Bring the carton”, he commanded.
The driver opened the boot and produced an old Peak milk carton but I could not see inside the box. He seemed in a hurry to leave now. “When should we come back?” asked the thief.
“I will call you. You can go now”, he told them.
They all got into the car and the driver zoomed off. Shortly after, a phone rang and the ‘man of God’ picked it. From his end of the conversation I gathered he was talking to either the driver or the thief who sounded angry that I had wasted their time. I heard ‘wrong passenger’ several times and I figured they were referring to me. I was thinking of a plan to leave when I heard another car coming in the distance. He quickly ended the call with,
“Make Victor bring better fo me. He don show.”
I yawned till tears came out of my eyes while my stomach growled. I had given them my money for food and I was mildly upset with myself even though I knew I did not have a choice. The man told me to take my bag inside and make myself comfortable when he saw me yawning. I was plotting in my head as I stood up from the bench. As he stood watching the road with his back turned to me, I quickly slipped around the side of the house with my bag and hid it in some bushes. I entered the shabby house and saw the remains of his half-eaten breakfast on the table. I ate the rest of the akara balls and tore a huge chunk of bread for the road and wrapped it in my scarf. I climbed out of the wooden window that was wide open, it had no netting. What made this dubious ‘prophet’ think I was going to trust a total stranger? I thought to myself. I picked my bag and set off on the trail that led out of his backyard…

Chapter 3: A pack of lies

I did not want to interfere and it appeared that as they were dragging the conversation, we were going to stay awhile without making progress.
“I go pay yu extra, just dey go.”
“How much evrytin go come be?”
“I go giv yu N500”, answered the thief. “Time dey go na.”
“N500!”, the driver exclaimed. “With the box wey you carry for boot, the money tu small.”
“Na 500 yu call small moni abi? Na thief yu be! No be yur fault!”, the thief said with a loud hiss. So far, none of us had interrupted as they continued their argument.
“Na yu be thief”, the driver replied hotly. “Abeg make una help me see this kain tin. This man enta from before tollgate and I no know say the box wey him put for boot na dollars dey inside. Infact, we dey go police station”, he said making a pretense of starting his car.
“Em driver, drop us where we are going before you go anywhere because-“, the passenger in front started. The thief cut him off.
“Abeg no shout o driver”, said the accused covering his mouth with both hands. “Wetin go apun be say we go share the money-if yu no cari me go police. I run comot one woman haus when I si say she wan cari me do ritual. She say she dey fain houseboy and I apply but this morning she lock me insyd rum make I take am as ‘sugar mummy’. She tok say if I service am well, she go do me well. As she comot go wok na hin I run comot wit ha money.”
“Okay as yu don tok true, wetin go apun be say we go share the moni. Yu go take 50% and me wit the remaining passengers go share the remaining 50%. Yu gree abi yu no gree?” the driver asked him.
“I get choice? I gree but e get one red rope with some shells wey dey inside the box…”
“Na juju na. which kain problem be this?” said the woman sitting in the middle to my left, speaking for the first time. She spoke as if it were her personal problem.
I was yet to speak because everything sounded too good to be true but the story sounded plausible enough so I sat quietly. Thinking. So this juju was going to bar us from getting the money I thought to myself. It appeared that it was now a collective problem and so they wanted my opinion.
“Aunti wetin make we do as yu no tok? Abi yu no go share fo the moni?”, asked the driver sarcastically. I did not know that he wanted to find out if I was in or not.
“Errr make we carry the moni go where them dey change moni…”, I trailed off miserably not knowing what to say.
The man in the front seat spoke. “I suggest we get a man of God that can help us break the spell.” Spell? Where did that come from I thought. It seemed as if some parts of my memory were wiped or that I had been in a trance. But the thought of getting dollars for the first time in my life sounded appealing and it was coming at a time that I really needed money. Perhaps, this was God’s way of answering my prayers.
“Okay if all of us gree make we go”, said the driver. No one objected and he kicked his car and we left our spot.
All the usual alarm bells in my head were turned off that day and I failed to ask how the driver would know where to find a ‘man of God’ around that area. All we had been passing for miles was grass and herds of cattle. I figured that even if a car broke down where we were, other motorists would not stop as evidenced by the way they all sped past us without bothering to slow down. The driver turned on to a narrow track that was covered on both sides by tall trees. Because of my life I was accustomed to the dark but that did not mean that I was comfortable with it.
The road looked dark and when I looked back, the sunlight coming from the major road did not enter the track we were on as bright as it was. No one spoke all through the drive and it still did not click in my head that the driver knew the road so well. I looked from one passenger to another to see if they were worried or tense but all I could see were their faces shrouded in darkness, blank. I could not guess what was going on in their heads. We drove in silence till we got to one uncompleted building and even before the driver parked, one middle-aged tattered looking poorly dressed man came out and stood watching us. As soon as the driver parked, he and the thief alighted immediately at the same time. The fat woman sitting down by me pointed to the door and I opened it so the rest of us alighted together. The ‘man of God’ stood looking at us and started his own pack of lies.
“You”, said the man pointing to the thief, “you did a bad thing and ran away. True or false?”
“True.”
“We need to pray to break the medicine or else that money would be useless. You would not be able to spend it and the curse would be on you. But”, he paused, “I can help.”
“Please help me sir. Help me.”
“I will, first let us pray then I will tell you what is needed to break the curse.”
He started to pray and I could not make out the words as the others dragged me closer so we could form a half-circle. I was drawn into a web of lies that has had not ended. What next?

CHAPTER 2: The journey

As was usually my routine I woke up early but I lay still on my bed to absorb the sounds of the room. I may not see this room again, I thought to myself (and it won’t be too soon!) I had barely spoken to father last night which was not unusual since he was in one of his drunken states although he had come home by himself-unaided- which meant he was not totally under. No dinner for him and he did not even ask. He was frail, becoming a sack of bones and I had long since stopped feeling pity for him. I was not hard-hearted if I may say so for myself but father had conditioned my mind unknowingly and I did not know whether I was going to turn out better for it.
I had surreptitiously asked my favourite customers directions on how to get to the border although I did not know if I could follow their directions, gambling my money away if the directions were wrong. But what choice did I have?! I had no intention of waking father who had always been indifferent to me and since I had no friends to miss me, I felt no need as well to inform my nosy neighbours. I lay on my left side and closed my eyes to better see the view in my mind’s eye. I saw a different place in my head, beautiful and clean and I looked nicely dressed and neat with proper shoes. I did not want to dwell on it so I quickly snapped myself out of my day dreams and stood up from the paper-thin mattress to get dressed. I wore an old flowery dress that had faded from over washing, it was threadbare in some places and I comforted myself in the fact that it was at least clean. I patted it down over my bosom although the dress hung on me. I wore new ‘dunlop’ slippers and pulled the straps of my bag over my shoulder, my purse in my other hand and I left the house just before daylight. I also held a rumpled piece of paper that contained the directions I had been given and it was damp from my sweaty palms.
The directions read the Agbara route which was Ogun state and when I trekked to Egbeda bus stop I asked directions from an agbero (tout) who told me I had to get to Sango first. I took a direct bus praying all the while in my mind that the money I had would be enough to take me to my destination. I decided not to buy anything along the way to ensure that I had enough to tide me over till I found menial job to do. You see, I did not want to be a burden to my mother when I found her. I would buy pure water though and at that thought that it would be empty, my stomach growled and I decided that I could buy Okpa in addition to the sachets of water.
I got a bus easily and I sat by the window in the danfo bus I boarded looking out of the bus like a lost child. The air was chilly and I looked up into the sky watching a storm gather. That dampened my mood because the clouds had picked today to gather and when they released their cargo, my bag would be soaking wet but I took my mind off it since I could not hold the rain. As I watched the clouds gather I filled my lungs with plenty of air as I ran my fingers through my cornrows- I loved to plait ‘all-back’ because ‘shuku’ made my small head appear smaller. It was such a relief not to tie a scarf today since I had left my old life behind along with its sufferings (or so I thought) but still, I draped a scarf around my neck should I need it.
The traffic was neck to neck or should I say bumper to bumper and as sweat dripped from my scalp to my neckline, it pasted my dress to my skin. From the tollgate to Gateway Hotel which was a stone’s throw, we spent thirty minutes in the traffic and with every jerky stop my stomach growled. I attributed it to jitters. The three lane road was now forced by impatient motorists to become five lanes making it possible for me to see the bits of food stuck to the beard of the guy sitting by the window in the bus to my left. He was so light skinned that he was red in the face-an escaped albino- although he had black hair and his eyes were not shifty the way albino’s were. He was munching something I did not see with such intensity that I was expecting the muscles in his head to protest!
The traffic was slow moving and we finally broke free of it. I was so relieved that I heaved a sigh that made the passenger sitting next to me to turn up her brows at me and I smiled to myself. I was a Lagos girl but I hardly experienced traffic jams even as clogged and overcrowded the city was. The farthest I had really gone was Agege to buy beans and dry pepper; I bought charcoal around my neighbourhood since I could not use wood fire in the compound. I had no friends to visit so my outings were limited only to the market. I got to Sango and alighted from the bus with my bag back on my shoulder. I walked under the bridge till I got to the park. The fare was N500 and I heard another passenger say that other taxi’s that pass just ahead of the park would charge N300 for the same distance so I walked a little further away from the park.
Shortly after, a taxi came to a halt and we all hurried towards it but I got in before anybody else. I waved to the woman who had given me the hint and asked the driver to open his boot for me to drop my bag in it. He did not stop as he told me that it was a short drive and that he was trying to avoid the police so we might all have to alight in a hurry. It was not uncommon for motorists to drop passengers without stopping completely. Such was Lagos life. Loud highlife music was playing and I was trying to memorise the names of the bus stops as we passed but I soon gave it up when the taxi slowed and then gradually stopped. The driver turned back telling the passenger sitting directly behind him to drop but no one interfered as we watched the driver play out.
“Wetin happen now?”, asked the passenger.
“You tell me say you go drop since and you no tok. I no go again, come down make you gimme my money”, answered the driver.
I wondered what the issue could be if the passenger paid him his complete fare regardless of wherever he alighted eventually. If only I knew it was a planned conversation…

CHAPTER 1: In retrospect

It sounds cliché – ‘black is beauty’. I was dark-skinned and beautiful. But not anymore. I mean I still like to think of myself as beautiful but my skin colour was now ‘coke and fanta’. I had patches on my skin from various sources. My feet for instance was lighter than my leg from a hot water incident that happened years ago but that’s a story for another day.

My name is Tokunbo Toromagbe and my name implies that I was born outside Nigeria but my reality is far from whatever you might think. I was born to a man I was not interested in calling father and a Benin Republic mother. So I was born in Cotonou (abroad as some might refer to it). I have not met my mother before and I decided it was time to search for her. I lived in the Akowonjo area of Lagos and I was familiar with my neighbourhood only because I sold ‘ewa aganyi’ (beans and fried stew) from street to street in an iron pot carefully balanced on my head.

I did not have any siblings (at least to my knowledge) but even so catering for myself mostly was no fun. I had to provide food for my father too (but not anymore since I have left home now). We lived in a one bedroom apartment in a face-me-i-face-you building that had one bathroom and one pit toilet for its ten rooms and I usually took my bath in the evenings to avoid the morning rush. I struggled hard to put a little food on the table but whenever my father had some money, he spent it on cigarettes and shekpe (hot drink). I always slept with my purse firmly attached to my waist so that he would not steal from me. I was wiser and smarter now thanks to him.

All of my worldly possessions fit into a small Ghana-must-go bag and I never bought anything extravagant, in fact I never thought about it to avoid the aches and pain that comes from thinking about my situation. I told myself it was my destiny but I am not even sure I believe in destiny anymore. I pray, at least that is one thing I have not given up yet – my belief in God (although I get angry at Him sometimes). My best sweet is any sweet that has menthol like vicks blue (popularly called baba blue) because my voice is almost always hoarse. I have to announce my arrival in every street almost like a town crier.

My life was so routine but what choice did I have! I had to wake up early to cook beans and prepare my feet to walk. I walked everyday from one street to another so that I now had cracks under my feet. I sometimes sold beans to ‘posh’ girls in salons where they were having their feet scrubbed and scrapped by someone else and I wished I could have a job where I sat down all day. That would be an improvement to this one. It was tiring but it was all I had to look forward to day after day. It provided escape from my father at least.

Even though I looked forward to going out each day, it had its downside and I continually had to fend off some men who thought they could have their way with me just because I hawked their streets. I tried to be strong and I can proudly say (or write) that I have not cried myself to sleep in months. I had to stop my schooling when competition made it impossible for me to school, study and trade at the close of school hours. That meant no food since father was not providing. But that fateful Thursday morning, I decided to take my life in my hands in the hopes that trying to find my mother would bring a better life and an improved standard of living. All I had was her name and an old picture of her father hid a long time ago. I failed to ask myself what kind of woman leaves her child to a nonchalant father. I did not want to wonder what I would do if I did not find her. I tried to push the questions to the dark recesses of my mind so that cobwebs would make them obscure and I had plenty of cobwebs in my mind.

So one Wednesday night, I re-arranged my bag since it was mostly always kept in the same way. Not minding that I had a busted lip from my last confrontation with my father, I took a shower even spending an extra fifteen minutes. Little did I know what awaited me the next morning …

those days

poverty

i lived in the days of lorries

yes wooden lorries

that said ‘God bless you’

but these days

our trailers say ‘I’ve got swag!’

what  a shame!

 

i lived in the days of coins

when they were worth their metal

yes mint coins with our Nigerian logo

these days are notes are polymer

no polymer is worth the wallet it fades in

what a shame!

 

i lived in the days of sisi pelebe

yes sisi pelebe and ika gowon

sweets made of groundnut

honey too

but these days

our sweets are made with artificial sweeteners

aspartame and acesulfame

what a shame!

 

i lived in the days

where chickens roamed free in our yard

in those days

the hawk was one of the chicks reared in my yard

the snake was the rolled up nest

that cushioned the fowl’s thirty day wait less two

but these days

subsidy chicken and seven pointed eggs rule

the hawk lives on the barbed wire

waiting to be let in

yet swooping down at will while my chicks whimper

what a shame!

 

back in those days

my grandmothers wrapper covered us all

and i went to the stream  without fear

no clothes on, just panties

no shoes either

these days our clothes are skimpy

made out of tiny handkerchiefs

eight inches clad our feet

and we wobble at the sound of Ajoke’s car horn

we fear a common foe

the kidnapper and the neighbourhood pedophile

even from our living rooms

what a shame!

 

ha let me tell you

iya Sikira’s buka was enough to fill our stomachs

we even went to the farm for her

these days our foods are extremely fast

fast foods: fast digestion

instant everything

cultured seedless fruits tagged ‘short life expectancy’

such utter shame!

 

THE END OF A BLOOM

Image

The innocence beheld is only to be had by a young girl
Thoughts of the mind and feelings of the heart kept pure

From the influence of the outside world
She bares a beauty so fine it could never be denied
Her mere presence turns heads at every waking moment
Until one day…
Just as the flower reached its full bloom a thorn comes along
It comes with promises of feelings so blissful and divine
Feelings that could ascend even higher over time
This fresh bloom so naïve it does not feel the threat
With milk behind the ears she’s still wet
The thorn says love me and I’ll never let you go
But the real motive she just doesn’t know
It only takes one time and she falls for the trick
In the trap as fast as fire blown from the wick
The time comes and she’s convinced to release her nectar
The word was spoken and a lie was not told
She really did ascend to heights untold
But in the days to come her nectar began to dry
The caressing and the tenderness starts to disappear
The thorn accomplished its goal and no longer needed her near
The sun became dark clouds that constantly gloomed
No sign of sunshine is what she began to fear
As time progressed she realized what had happened
Her innocence was taken and her bloom was at its end
Never to come back and never to be seen again
The garden is now shut down and the flower is dead
Attention from any other source was something she dread
She remembers feelings inside and words never said
The one single moment is all she keeps in her head
Any ounce of pleasure to keep her from folding
All the while trying to forget the after affect of “love” dwindling
The flower moves on and so does the thorn
Until it comes to another world that it deems to be torn

Contributed- Keandra D. Gray

Should i love again?

lovesick1I remember the days of love
When I soar higher than a dove
When my lips sparkled with honey from the promised land
When I felt electricity as she held my hand
When my fair maiden brought light to my eyes
When she reminded me of God’s promised paradise
Her hair like soft silk in the wind
Her brilliant smile made my head spin
When the sound of her voice sounded like gentle whispers
Her blue eyes like emeralds glittered
Shall I find such Beauty again?
My yearning heart in the past remains
Shall fear hold me captive till forever is here?
Shall I be blinded and not see the love that is right there?
Oh love let not my heart revive
Don’t hasten to make my soul alive
Shall you awaken these feelings of long ago
Should I allow you ?
I truly don’t know
My dry lips crave much moisture
But I tell them, wait for there lies a grand future
My eyes have darkened with little hope of light
Shall you bring me more delight
Oh love do not play
Let me go on my way
Stop whispering such soothing rhythms to my ear
Please do not try to take away my fear
This Shepherd boy is better in slumber
He forces himself not to remember
Oh love stop hunting for my soul
To again hold me captive is your goal
I see the maidens passing, I hear their calls
Should I catch one lest she falls?
Oh love please stop let me go deaf
Do not provoke me I have no power left
I strongly suggest you allow me to expire
For to awaken me would set an entire woodland on fire

Contributed- Jason Jules

Confused

I woke up this morning not too sure what day it is
Have I finally reached my breaking point?
No, no, no please
Morning came sooner than ever before
At some point I thought Celine Dion was knocking on my door
Sighhhhhh
I tried my best to get up from bed
But my neck felt such pressure to hold up my huge head
Oh lord make my head smaller, I prayed silently
It’s killing my neck relentlessly
I finally stood up and tried to call for room service was late
But ummmmm wait
I am actually in a house all alone
Deep inside I silently groan
I looked in a mirror and look what I see
This ugly puffy eyed big headed fool looking at me
I tried to wash my eyes so he would go away
To my dismay this ugly man stayed
Maybe I need some stronger meds
Because its a constant drama each morning I get up from bed
I want to make one final request
To all friends who truly wish me the best
Pray for me that my mental health will one day be perfect
And please don’t laugh for you’re not free of defects.
Sincerely,
a confused poet

Contributed-Jason Jules

Sugared sauce

That Thursday morning, Tinuke was in a hurry to leave for work. Two days before then she had had words with her landlady and she hated that they lived in the same compound but there was nothing she could do about it except pray that the months fly past so that she could leave as she had no intention of renewing her rent. The woman was a geriatric and so it felt good to terrorise her tenants since she didn’t have anything to occupy her otherwise so she constantly kept busy picking faults. As usual, Tinuke’s alarm went off by 5a.m and she grunted before she sat up so that she was in no danger of falling back asleep. Then she knelt by her bedside to pray and read her daily devotional. She was in the bath fifteen minutes after and she took a hot bath. One of her siblings was living with her and she usually slept in which was no surprise since she stayed up at all hours. The universities were on strike again and there were no casual jobs so she stayed in and tried to use her creativity wisely since she was a second year student of architecture. Tinuke constantly came home to meet cardboard debris and glue tubes in funny out-of-the way places.
Tinuke was thinking of a way to get her geriatric landlady off her back and the idea came to her when she was enroute work. She sent a text to her younger sister to get some items from the mall close to the house- some vegetables, chicken and minced meat. Tinuke was going to make pasta and white sauce and present the offering to the woman since she was never satisfied with what her help served her. She was quite hard to please. She would be glad to be rid of her troubles when she moved as she was already house hunting. At the close of work she hurried home and undressed from the doorway. Her sister got her a robe to wear as she set about with dinner preparations.
“Aunty, what’s the hurry? We aren’t usually this early in making dinner”, her sister Tife stated.
“Well this evening is the exception. I want to be through before seven if possible”, Tinuke replied.
“Hmm”, Tife said and went to the living room. The lazy girl was content to sit and wait for dinner to be served to her.
“I’d need your help Tife so let’s get to work on all four burners”, Tinuke shouted to her sister who was already in the room.
“Yes ma’am”, Tife shouted in reply.
Tinuke set to work immediately as if she were in a competition. She rinsed he chicken laps and started boiling on one burner, put the spring onions, carrots, peas, runner beans and green pepper in a bowl under the tap.
“Boluwatife!” Tinuke shouted from the kitchen.
“I’m coming”, came Tife’s response. She sounded petulant like a spoilt child but I was not going to give her the opportunity to be lazy tonight.
As soon as she entered the kitchen, Tinuke put her to work slicing the vegetables. “I want the carrots in strips dear, everything else chopped.”
“Okay.”
Tinuke got a pack of spaghetti from one of the cupboards and brought some water to the boil on another burner and then added the spaghetti after breaking it, splashed a little olive oil and salt and cover the pot after lowering the heat. She searched the spice cupboard for corn flour that would the sauce and arranged all the spices she would need and then she searched for another chopping board and then joined her sister in cutting the vegetables up. They finished just as she drained the spaghetti and spiced it with peas. She set to work making the sauce but distractedly, she had brought out the corn flour pack where she had poured granulated sugar. Tinuke absentmindedly put two tablespoons into a mug and mixed it till smooth and added the solution to the sauce and started to slice a lap of chicken to add along with the vegetables.
“Arrange the chicken in the microwave and set it to grill”, Tinuke instructed. “Check the sauce it should have started thickening.”
Tife put a spoon in and called Tinuke’s attention. “It’s not thick at all sis. Take a look”, she said and put a spoon in and allowed the soup to pour back into the saucepan.
“That’s strange! Lemme see”, Tinuke said collecting the spoon. Then she tasted it and found that it was sweet. Sugar sweet. She smiled to herself and went back to the spice cupboard to get the right corn flour and quickly mixed two and a half spoonful’s into another mug to dissolve it in tap water. She added some more salt. She added the mixture into the sauce and left it open and reduced the heat.
“Aunty is it this water we are eating with our spaghetti? Spaghetti and chicken stock! Ha!” Tife complained.
“Hush!” Tinuke said still smiling without letting on to Tife.
Tife kept quiet but she still murmured under her breathe but Tinuke continued her slicing. She added the vegetables and chicken and stirred it lightly. Tife was looking at her strangely because she was still grinning to herself but she continued with what she was doing as if she had not seen the curiosity on her sister’s face. She turned off the burner and served some food into a casserole and gave it to her sister.
“Take this to the landlady and tell her it’s from me”, Tinuke said.
“Okay”, Tife said and marched off.
“Whew!” Tinuke said to herself in the hot kitchen. She checked her wristwatch and it was two minutes past seven. She had hit her mark with just a few extra minutes.
Tife came in with a question. “Sis, care to tell me why you were laughing?”
“Okay but over dinner so get a plate and let’s go sit in front of the television”, Tinuke said getting herself a plate of food.
She went to the living room and plunked down on the couch. “Please bring a cup and orange juice”, Tinuke shouted out in the direction of the kitchen to Tife.
“Yes ma’am”, Tife answered.
Tife sat cross-legged on the floor and turned to face Tinuke who then told her what she had done.
“So we’re eating sugared sauce! Tastes yummy”, Tife said.
They both laughed till they had tears streaming from their eyes. Even minutes after, Tife was still laughing and when the landlady called to say thank you that the food was sweet she burst into fresh gales of laughter making it impossible for Tinuke to respond with a straight face.

One Legged Babe

Nkechi was late yet again! She felt bad about it because she had started getting set an hour before she was due to leave home. Yet she had gotten caught in day-dreaming and she had lost track of time. Finally, she hurried and made it out of the house with just minutes to spare. She sighed when she did not see and keke to take her to the bus stop and she started to walk carefully down her muddy street. She balanced carefully on 3 ½ inch block heels and was dressed in a splash of colours-orange blazer, purple camisole, light blue skirt, grey bag and sandals which were a mixture of white, black and fuchsia pink.
She squinted her eyes because she had forgotten her sunshades in her hurry. With the sun out, she was sweating and she used her handkerchief to dab at the beads of sweat forming on her upper lip. Sweat trickled down between her breasts and down her armpits to the band of her skirt. As she stood waiting at the bus stop a heavyset woman passed limping under her own weight. She was panting and her tongue was stuck between her lips and she wore a Lycra dress that clung to her like a second skin. It was animal print (aww…poor choice) and because of her size and shape, the back appeared shorter than the front. As she walked past Nkechi, Nkechi turned following her with her eyes amazed that the woman should wear something like that. Her buttocks were shaking like pap that had been cooled and left in the pot to separate and as she followed the movement in shock with her eyes, her left heel snapped from the inside just as one keke stopped right in front of her.
She was laughing so hard as she boarded the keke. Even when she alighted, she had tears streaming down her face as the first attendant welcomed her giving her a quizzical look when she walked to him limping. She could not help bursting into fresh gales of laughter as her mind replayed the Lycra-animal print-dressed stranger.

man-of-a-kind

He rode me like a horse
The length of the course
Even though ȋ̝̊̅ said No
He said ‘but of course!’

Like a beast of burden
In pains and drudgery
And when ȋ̝̊̅ winced in bravery
He said ‘you’re no more a forgery’

So over me came a cloud
Even with all my clout
So ȋ̝̊̅ could no more shout
And bore the bounce

Worth of an Icon

(For late Mrs Stella Obasanjo)
You are a paragon of beauty
Yes, a maiden of honour
Your steps are held true
In limelight of media

Your translucent fair skin
Held many an eye
Your strawberry-coloured lips
Captivated, salivated many hearts

An icon of substance
Of the Abebe breed
The worth of your simplicity?
In Aso villa lives.

You are a paragon of beauty
Yes, a maiden of honour…

The stronghold of that rock
The mother of all
Mother of few
The eyes of one,
All have eyes.

Tick-tock, tock-tick;
Your clock tocked at sixty
Sixty awesome years
Beautiful, inspiring ones

…your steps are held true
In limelight of nations.

One final TOCK shook Nigeria
Green-white-green
Lay still on the floor
Sixty seconds flat
Sixty awesome years

Dragging nothingness to your grave
O fair lady brave
Nothing did you crave
So much as perfect beauty.

Yes, a paragon of beauty
Truly a maiden of honour
Your steps are idolised
Sweet Obasanjo’s bride…

My Uncle, No Mercy

My uncle is wise
And will be accorded no mercy
Snaked his way
To work with the government
And now,
He is twice his normal size

My uncle,
You are wise
But the law pursues
The overly wise and cunning.

My uncle now has a car
Bought on government money
That he cannot ride
Sprawled is his mansion
Residence is nil
Because the law is
At his heels

My uncle,
Time heals all wounds
But time cannot heal the deep gash
You cut on our minds

My uncle is big
With a nice pot belly
He has grown
At the expense of people
Supposed to be dear to him.

It is amazing
That we have come a long way
And yet,
We smile with our teeth
And not with our hearts.

These are things to be said
Because he who dines with the devil
Needs a long spoon
But your spoon is short
And now,
The devil has caught hold of your hand
It’s payback time!

My Surprise Package!

All along, I had tried to be a good girl. I knew I was not perfect but I did not know what I had done to offend someone to have ‘them’ wished on me! Perhaps, God was upset because I often failed to say my prayers before going to bed. Maybe. Just maybe or what else could it be! Or was it because I snapped at my kid sister for being too clumsy? This thinking was gradually giving me a headache. I was thinking of every conceivable thing that I not done properly.
This ‘them’ were two girls whom my company had newly recruited. As per company policy, they offered houses to top members of their staff or those who had done favours and worked for them or those who needed a place to stay and could afford it. I welcomed these new additions to the company warily. The last time some of my colleagues were laid off, I felt bereft because I was attached to them. I tried to make sure these ones did not worm their way into my heart but I should not have even thought that had I seen the future.
I hardly remembered them when one afternoon, a colleague in the housing department came up to my office and greeted me cheerily.
“Udeme o, Udeme o, Udeme o, U-de-me”, Clark sang in his singsong way.
I smile broadly. “Oh Clark, stop that!” I said half-heartedly. He had given me a signature song within the company that everyone knew me, whether or not I had met them. He came to my desk and I hugged him with my left arm while I continued to type with my right. This was one workmate I was fond of. We hardly ever quarrelled and the few times we did, he would come to me at the start of a new day bearing candy or chocolate or frozen strawberry ice cream to placate me even when it was me who needed to apologise. He always teased that my face looked stormy whenever I was upset and that a brewing storm had always scared him. What a comparison!
Still, he was funny and nice. “What brings you to my lair?” I teased him. He moved to one of the chairs lining my office and toyed with a coiled-spring cartoon character on my desk from his chair.
“How is your house? Hope you like the place now that you’ve adjusted?”
“I should know that it is only houses that interest you”, I sighed dramatically. “Do you have a better one for me? Of course I’ve adjusted and the environment is as quiet as befits a GRA.” Still, I typed looking up occasionally.
“I’ve news for you”, said Clark in a voice that made me stop typing to look up. He dropped the cartoon and stared at me.
“Okay, go on. I’m listening”, I intoned gravely. What could it be? I wondered. Maybe, he wanted me to leave the house. That should be it, I thought.
“You’re going to have new house mates”, he paused. “They move in tomorrow.”
“Clark! Is that why you almost scared my pants off! ” We began to laugh. He seemed to be holding back.
“I just think you won’t like them. I was afraid you would say no and continue paying for the whole apartment like you do. And right now, there’s no place that even has an inch of space that’s why I came to you.”
“No problem Clark. Give them a key and let’s see how they turn out.”
“Better than I expected”, he winked at me and stood up.
I typed a while and then I grew thoughtful. I asked myself all kinds of questions. Maybe I was looking for my once-upon-a-time flatmate who was of good breeding. She had been more than a flatmate to me and I had refused any others since she left. My eyes welled up as I remembered the day she told me she was resigning from the company. She had been my companion and friend. I sighed wistfully.
The next day came and when it was time to go home, I was so tired that I forgot about my new flatmates although it had been at the back of my mind all day. Now I wish I had gone to a friend’s house to spend the night! When I tried to unlock the door, I found it was slightly ajar and I pushed the door in. I saw a sea of clothes in the living room and the stench I perceived from their bathroom shamed my air freshener. Heh! I dashed to my bed room before they could see me and I leaned against my door panting heavily. I finally calmed and locked my door, stripped and took a cold shower.
I went into the kitchen much later to prepare a meal and I had to put on a smile as if I was happy to have ‘pig’ companions. My kitchen was a mess! I dished my food in a hurry and ran back into my sanctuary. I did not come out for the rest of the night even when they knocked. I did not want to be familiar with these grown adult women pigs! When I went into my kitchen in the morning to warm my food, the pot was empty and they did not even bother to wash my pot and the plates they ate with.
By weekend, I hosted cockroaches and I realised I had a big problem on my hands. There was bubble gum on my walls, sanitary towels on the floor in my living room, there were people living in my house that I didn’t know, their electric cooker was in the living room where they cooked along with pots and dirty plates and they had burnt a part of my sofa and ripped my fashion magazines with blades. My kitchen was devoid of any good thing, and since they had used up all my spices I refused to cook, the balcony off the kitchen was piled knee-high with dirt that they never emptied, and they never locked the door!
I took to wearing sunshades into the house and a nose mask and when they asked, I replied that I had sore eyes for sighting unbecoming things. These beautiful classy women who wore expensive perfumes were nothing more than dirty pigs that only looked fine on the outside. After all was said and done, I could not bear it any longer. I fasted for inspiration told them I needed the house for my intended groom. They were the worst kind of surprise!

Joy’s Tale

It seemed like eons ago when I awoke in the quiet and comfort of my room, eager for the day’s activities given my intense lined up schedule for the day. I cleaned my room, dusted all the appliances in it and moving to the living room, did same. The kitchen was my next point of call – I made breakfast, washed the dishes and cleaned until everywhere was immaculately clean.
At the office, my day began at 9 o clock with getting ready several memos for my boss. Then came three different time-consuming meetings, interspersed with the daily running of the office. Before I knew it, the day was already far spent. And Alas! It was time to go home, back to my comfy home. Here I can rest and unwind for another activity filled day. All that was yesterday.
Today I am hit with a whole new reality. My beautiful two bedroom flat is to be shared by extra occupants. At the thought of having people in the other room, I was elated, at least the quietness will abate and I will have companions to chat and relate with at home.
Little did I know my happiness will be short-lived. The new occupants are anything but companions! What I see are lousy, ill-mannered, loose and dirty persons in the guise of women. This shocks me the more because I still remember mummy’s constant reminders of the behaviour for a woman:
“A woman must always keep her home clean. She must never be seen as dirty or unkept.”
“A woman must make her home a haven.”
“A woman must always keep her dignity and hold her head high.”
Always remember: whatever you do at home, you will one day take outside.”
My whole life, I remember mummy’s countless do’s and don’ts. At the back of the mind is the incessant and conscious need to be prim and proper, to keep a home, to take care of what is entrusted to me. For like mummy puts it: “he who is faithful in least will be faithful in much.”
So, I can’t understand how a “woman” will take pleasure in making her house unkept. This is the new face of my once beautiful, tidy and homely living room. It has now become the dump site for shoes, clothes, bags, plates, empty cans, litter, nail polish, pads – my God! Even pads?! Yes, pads and their wraps.
The kitchen is an eyesore! The sight that greets you as you step into it is a huge pile of dirty dishes in the sink, scattered kitchen utensils everywhere on the floor. Also easily sighted is pepper, stocked cubes, macaroni, onions, tomatoes, rags, plates, spoons, etc. {all on the floor}.
God in Heaven! What manner of “women” are these? I’m speechless. Even men would behave better, not to talk of girls.
On the outside you see very tall, fair, elegant, beautifully clad and pretty ladies. With well-arranged dressing, impeccable makeup, head turning heels, beautiful gait and un tainted speech. Indeed eye-catching! One look at them and you are astonished at their beauty. But please, just come home and you will receive the shock of your life.
To make matters worse, these “women” thrive only on people’s belongings. What would you say about/to people who take your possessions without permission? Persons who take things left for safekeeping without permission. Even when you draw their attention to it, you seem to be talking to trees.
Now I take comfort only in my room, when I walk through the living room, I pretend blind to the sights I see. When I enter the kitchen, I do the best I can to make it habitable for my brief stay and then fly back to the comfort of my room.
I do not even know what other stunt they will pull tomorrow, and God knows there may be worse. I have seen plenty for the present. All I say is: God, please help me!

Contributed: Dodeye Omini

You Are Poised

(for Dapo Adeniyi)
As the sun is shining on you,
May it not set
On your dreams

For you are
Polished with an air
Of reservation

Outstanding
Yes excelling
Among colleagues

Simple
Yet savvy
An interesting fellow
Arousing the mood

Intelligent
And though
You out manoeuvre rivals
You steadily position your moves

Tactful and careful
Competitors envy you your suave skills
As you strive for the top

Ingenuity-yours
We wish for
While we gap
As you surmount obstacles

Orator,
Crowds are speechless
At your mastery
Of the language

Numinous are you
For without this
Strength can be sapped
Away from your ever-increasing glories.

As the sun is shining on you
May it not set
On your dreams
The aspirations you nurture
Shall not cake
Like congealed fat
May your headways
Stand you out
Among peers
Truly,
You are poised for excellence!

Living with Multiple Personality Disorder

This is my story: I am 29 years old and I have lived with multiple personality disorder for over twenty years. Getting treatment was difficult as any available money the family had was spent on upkeep.

I grew up in a family of four, in Ibadan, capital of Oyo state. I was born in Abeokuta, in 1981 the second child. I spent most of my time with Mother who was disturbed when at age three; I had not spoken a single coherent word. Finally, at five I called ‘mama’. My legs curved into a bow and finally straightened after some time.

CHALLENGES

It was a challenge to act normal because I never knew what started me off. I had to attend school and sometimes, my ‘other me’ came out. I had no friends and had the rest of the children screaming out of fright. The class would empty and they would all peek at me from the doorway until the nurses came with a sedative and this made me constantly out of my wits with all the grogginess from sedation. I began to face rejections from schools since no school wanted to admit me. My education ground to a halt in July 1993. Although my mates were well ahead of me, I never learnt how to read till I was 15. By then, I still had not gotten treatment. Since my mother was a single parent, she had to work. While she did, she would lock me in a room of the house until she returned. Even my siblings I hardly saw and as a result I sank into depression. My skin became translucent until I felt that my veins would pop out one day.

TREATMENT

I was turning 23 when I finally got treatment. My older brother’s fiancé is a doctor and she finally got me the help I required. My brother tried to dissuade her but she was like a dog with a bone that would not leave it until she got what she wanted. Her persistence got me a medical grant that helped pay for my treatment from some kind of memorial foundation. I had to be taken all the way to India for therapy for a month. Hypnosis showed that I had five personalities, two of which were violent! I had multiple cuts and bruises on my hands and feet to prove that. Some had to be stitched during my treatment. I had one who acted like a child, another like a grown man, and the last like an infant. When I came back after 1 month, I was normal and stable although my siblings were still wary around me for a while. Mother had changed things around my room but it felt claustrophobic to me and besides, I did not need memories of painful times. I had to continue a part of my therapy in Lagos and so, my family moved. It was not so difficult aside from the fact that I had to see a psychologist to work on boosting my self confidence since I was still so shy around people.

PRESENTLY

I had to look for a job to support myself after I learnt how to read. I started supplementary classes to take some necessary exams. Mother has been so supportive and I hope to be able to support her fully some day. My two younger siblings are almost through with their education and I had the pleasure of being my sister-in-law’s maid-of-honour. I work a 9-5 job now and take classes on weekends.

FINALLY

I honestly look forward to the time when I would regain everything I lost. I never knew that my story would impress anyone, least of all, a magazine. Remembering all that has happened is really painful for me, but at least, I am here to tell the story. My family has accepted me again and they are now more supportive than ever before!

Forgotten Love

Trips
Endless trips
Days of playfulness
A time of no regrets
And then…
Like Nigerian home video,
Disaster struck!

No prelude,
No interlude
No thunderous applause
Hmmm…no postlude
The sound of the theatre
Quiet, noise less, the curtains fallen
And my lover
My lover
Has left me
To weep alone
No one to console me
No procession at my side
No crown adorning my head
My heart is in turmoil, twisted
And my lover has left me!

“A Day to Die” by Abiola Oni

Jalada

F17 adayfordying


Daylight steals past the thick drawn curtains of my bedroom and pries my eyes open. It usually annoys me, the sun forcing itself through the clouds, marking yet another day that I have lived to see, yet another day I have to live through. But not today. Today is a good day. A day to die.

I slide to the other side of the bed, closer to the night table. The other side is cool and empty, it has been for years, but I no longer think about that. At least, not when I first wake up. I wrap my fingers around the wrought iron stead and pull myself up. My arm wobbles, the whole bed wobbles. I swing my legs – one by one – over the side of the bed, my toes touching the cold wooden floor.

Inside the drawer is a small glass bottle of Vladirvir, half…

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Uchay Joel CHIMA

a view from my corner

THE EARTH AND THE PEOPLE THAT LIVE IN IT
A few weeks ago Ugoma Adegoke asked me whether I could write a brief introduction for the catalogue of Uchay Joel Chima’s new exhibtion. Uchay is an old friend and an artist I respect, so, I agreed happily.

Blokes, strings on canvas, 42inches by 42inches, 2015Crafts and ordinary objects, no matter how skilfully executed, are rarely able to communicate with the viewer or user. Instead, with good works of art, it is possible to connect. If the viewer looks and listens attentively to them, she can discover what they quietly say. The more complex and richer the work, the greater its capacity to permit different levels of interpretation and allow multiple readings.

Yellow Sisi Dey For Corner, mixed media, 36inches by 36inches, 2013.Uchay Joel Chima’s works on canvas might look simple enough at a first glance. Probably, some viewers will be happy with it and not go beyond a superficial reading of them. Those conversant with Uchay’s experimentation…

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DRIVE

The cool breeze stings his face as he leans against the half-opened side glass. His head vibrates gently against it and the bus glides onto the Third Mainland Bridge at 180. The greenery, hasty humans and houses blurs and merges into each other, creating an endless stream of hazy backdrop against which the bus speeds past. Then the backdrop breaks into a misty light blue. A perfect blue, yet odd. A sensual blue that kissed the lighter blue waters beneath the bridge. Haphazardly clustered communities of wooden houses and strewed about seaweeds float on the waters. They try vainly to obstruct the romance of the blues. Blues that were not there before. Actually, they were. He’d concentrated on the hazy backdrop and had not seen the blue skies hovering above it. Just as soon as the greenery and houses broke off suddenly, it eases into the picture, sweeping the misty blue out of sight.

He sees the greenery, – fewer now, – the trees, undulating earthen streets and the figures in their differing preoccupations and yet he sees nothing. They are before his eyes a mirror into his thoughts, into his recent face-off with Chinwe.

She had called to meet him this afternoon at an eatery on the Island, he had been early as usual and she had been thirty minutes late as usual. The plastic bottled Fanta he ordered was untouched. He made to unscrew it when she sauntered in, her high heels clanking the light beige tiled floor. She slumped into the opposite seat, greeting him with a side tilt of the head. She pushed her curls to the right and smiled, – a stolid smile, – and tapped her long, red manicured nails on the table. She withdrew them hurriedly and dipped them in her handbag. Objects crumpled and rustled as she fished within without looking. She brought out a cigarette stick and placed it at her lips.

“I don’t know you smoke.” He broke the silence as she lit the end of the stick. He always had to break the ice and grope for words to draw her out of her defences. A near futile attempt most times. The high concrete walls did a good job keeping her in their parameters and he only succeeded in getting monosyllabic responses, disyllabic at the worst.

“I do.” She said, took long puffs from the stick and resumed tapping her free hand on the table. The smoke came out of her sultry, heavily painted red lips and aquiline nose freely. He never knew she used red lipstick. It used to be…

“Sorry ma’am.” He raised his gaze from her and saw a guard kneeling slightly over her. She stared seductively into the guard’s eyes and smiled nonchalantly. “We do not allow smoking in here. This is a public space, ma’am.”

“Really?” She chuckled, took a long drag and blew in the guard’s face, forcing a cough out of the guard. She stamped the stick on the table and turned to him.

“You called to say you wanted to see me.” He began. She said nothing, only peering, searchingly, into his eyes. She twitched her lips mischievously and tapped, rhythmically. He shifted his gaze uncomfortably and saw the guard at his post, – the door, – still stifling a cough. He almost laughed but checked himself and faced her. She was still staring at him. He scratched his head and fiddled with his cartoon themed tie. “I must say, erm, I was quite shocked to receive your call. It was, erm, out of the blues, you know.”

He chuckled at his supposed joke and hurriedly suppressed it. He hated this; – the way she always made him hang at her mercies like a little dog panting and trying to get its owner’s attention and only receiving condescending glances. The way she could effortlessly toggle and twine his innards and brain leaving him feeling spent, worthless.

“I wasn’t expecting you to, not that you don’t call. You do, when you are free and I understand that. I just wasn’t…”

“I want a break.” She interrupted him.

“What?!”

The bus skids into a ditch and bounces out roughly. Sanmi comes out of his reverie to see the whole bus staring at him, except the young guy by the driver who had his Beats earphones plugged in. He shrugs.

“What? I didn’t put the potholes on the road. Did I?” He asks.

The passengers shake their heads and carve sympathetic expressions on their faces.

“Jehovah! Save your children from the hands of momentary madness!” A woman cries from behind. “Chei, na person pikin don dey go mad so?

“Nigerians! Any little thing or behaviour that is out of usual is now termed madness, ehn? This country has a big problem, I tell you.” Another retorts. She sits on the same row as Sanmi and looks diplomatic with her plain ebony face, cornrows, casual spec and dark suit. Sort of like a barren tree devoid of sentimental or religious branches, or any branch at all.

“Before nko? After talking to himself, he would graduate into talking with invincible spirits and ghosts and roaming the streets of Lagos in torn clothes. When has he not gone mad?”

The passengers chorus “Eyah!” and lapse into their personal meditative contemplation, chitchats, group analysis and counter-analysis of the society, the continent and the world in general. He wonders why they had looked at him and talked about someone else. Was he supposed to know the person? He felt a little pained and jealous he could not relate with them. The passengers, in just a little time, brought together by the singular unplanned commonness of huddling together in the cramped interior of the same bus, had developed an affinity he could not manage, in an extended period, with one person in years. Two years with Chinwe and he still felt like he was just getting to know her and yet knew not how to begin knowing her.

“Madness is not good.” He blurts after a little while, hoping to strike up a bond with the passengers. They turn to him and shake their heads sympathetically. He turns to the window, confused. The backdrop was no longer there, funny he did not know how and when. High–rise buildings sandwiching smaller ones, illegal stalls and roadside markets, funny looking signage, estate buildings and dilapidated bungalows and tightly jammed houses fleet before his eyes. It hardly blurs as the bus sped intermittently and move slowly. Strange places he had not been or seen before, yet familiar devils, dance tauntingly before him, ushering him home.

Home! He made up his mind to call Chinwe when he gets home. Trudging out of the sliding glass door of the eatery and whizzing through the file of people at Obalende, he hoped the drive back to Ijaiye would clear his head and put him in a better frame to strategise on the right words and actions to win back his ex. Ex? No, technically not ex. They were just in transition and would be back together before anyone can say Jack. He’s closer to Ijaiye and his mind is still a mess, broken down and torn apart like a demon possessed home. Nothing makes sense to him and he could not think of anything sensible. Lines of thought forms and he follows them until they trail off into insensibilities and leave him stranded. Other lines of thought births, – tugs and pulls him and urges him to explore them, – only to follow the same course. Once or twice, the wandering souls come back and vie for centre stage, ending up in a knotty aggregation. Just as they had come, they untwine themselves and depart noiselessly and new thoughts crop up and end up in similar fashion.

“Last bus stop! All passengers come down!” The conductor broke his thought.

Last bus stop?

“Last bus stop? I am supposed to get down at Ijaiye.”

The passengers all come down, stealing momentary glances at him. The conductor stares at him, long and hard, and hiss coldly. “Ijaiye? Why you no talk na? You go enter another bus go back be that. Come down from my motor.”

He gets down from the bus and thinks everyone is staring at him and the noisy screeching and wheezing of the cars and buses mocks him. He shuffles uneasily on his feet and attempts to cross the three-lane road. He scuttles back hurriedly, fearful of the vehicles taking unrestrained advantage of the free Lagos-Abeokuta express road before rush hour force it into a messy mirage of metallic panels, burning rubbers, angry conductors and frustrated passengers alike. He waits patiently and the eyes remain on him, the mockery too. He turns slowly but no one is close by. No one is looking at him. The few nearby are preoccupied in their hustling but he feels the eyes on him. Mysterious eyes fixed on him, prying him open and mocking his unsettledness.

The road finally becomes free and he ventures onto it. He is barely midway when his phone rings. He brings it out of his pant pockets unconsciously. CHINWE displays on the caller ID. He beams anxiously as he places the phone at his ear.

“I knew you were going to call, erm, no, God! I didn’t know but I expected you to but you didn’t really have to, you know. I would have called you when I got home…”

A car horn blares. He turns just in time to see a Highlander Jeep screeching towards him at a distance. He stands rooted, staring at the oncoming vehicle blindly. It did not make sense to him; neither did the concerned admonitions from the pedestrians crowding the roadside. It all filters into his consciousness like a background romantic score accentuating the magical getaway he inhabits with Chinwe. She was telling him how she was sorry to have dropped the bomb on him thoughtlessly at the eatery. He was still the love of her life, did he know that? Moreover, she would never really dare to break his heart because he meant the world to her and so on, and so forth.

Sanmi opened his mouth and hot air escapes. Speechless, immovable, and the jeep approached on top speed. The driver tries to swerve away from his lane but oncoming cars on the other lanes and his failed brake cage him into an inevitable end. He curse and jams at his brake and thumps the horn savagely but Sanmi stands rooted to the spot, smiling sheepishly and smelling the exotic flowers in the garden of his renewed love. They are sweet and alluring and had a strange, yet, inviting smell lurking at the end. An obnoxious, indescribable smell he could not fathom, – the smell of death!

“Are you there?” Chinwe’s high-pitched voice filtered through the receiver. Sanmi starts.

“Yeah. I… What were you saying?”

The jeep close in, about five seconds… four, three, two, and one. He closes his eyes…

For All That’s in A Name’s Worth

Padade[1] sat too close to the fireplace. He needed all the warmth he could get from this harsh, cold world. A coldness ostentatiously intensified as the bamboo wall fenced him in his father’s compound.  The compound had a deafening silence, thicker than the impenetrable walls of Babylon, which a single bit of emotion could not slice. A giggle or cracked laughter was long obsolete while a sigh, a frown, a muffled cry or the like passed as routine feelings and blended into the unusual atmosphere with unequivocal ease, tampering nothing in its wake. The fronds of the closely huddled plantain trees swept the unkempt ground with every gust and the barren mango tree shed its browned leaves in every direction like a milk churning machine gone wild, keeping the plantain trees ever-busy. The birds tweeted annoyingly and a chance noise irately got on the nerves of anyone hearing it. Broken calabashes, gourds, decomposing wastes, litters and ends and bits of cooking condiments were interspersed in between the browned leaves and decaying faeces.

The bamboo fence was breaking down, – ripping the multi-squared lattice into larger cracks. Close to the entrance, the only cow Ajani, Padade’s father, had was reclining in sickly fashion. Its bones almost bore through its frail skin of white and black left and its sunken eyes barely opened for a second. Lazily it threw its tail to ward off the buzzing flies attracted by its sickly smell. At the far end on the right, the embers burnt with vicious excitement and sent sparks and flares wildly in the air. The sparks and flares died instantly, but one flare lingered on. It held on to the fiery life it had desperately, greedily, stubbornly. Its twinkling light raged dangerously and shone brilliantly. Padade watched it keenly. His eyes caught the twinkle and shone brilliantly too. It began to itch and he rubbed. The stubborn spark was gone. He bent to make patterns on the floor with a sharp flint. Irregular here, regular there, and then an unconscious mix of both. He cleaned it off with his bare foot, scraping the parched, hardened sole against small hard irregular stones. He set forth drawing again. The image started as independent scribbles, later joined together by outstretched lines. It metamorphosed into a woman laying tiredly on the ground, a man climbing over the woman and kept materializing until the image became a dense mass of confusing lines.

A stone missed his bent back by a hair’s breadth. He dropped the flint and watched Asabi, his mother, from the arch in between his curved leg.

“You, this satanic son! Did I go to the woods to fetch wood for you? Why don’t you go and fetch your own wood ehn, instead of stealing mine?” She was saying through her cracked voice.

She stared at him, her eyes devoid of any maternal affection. Her brown hair adorned with sand that had refused to be shaken off since the last mourning. She had vowed it would not be washed off until she bore a son, no, just a child, that would stay. Her face, once beautiful, was the pride of the community. Now it was the image of pity. She became the gold-coated stone scratched by the hands of time and wear but once sought after through thick and thin, rain and sun, fire and brimstone by the most eligible, eligible, somewhat eligible and far-from-eligible classes of the times. She was just thirty-nine but could easily pass for sixty. Her sagged tits hung freely and rested on the faded polka-dotted wrapper she tied loosely against her shrunken stomach. Her eyes, – briefly focused on Padade, – bemoaned a hope longed for, finally actualized and wished it had never been hoped for at first. Where once she could have given her life to have a child, she was determined to give anything to lose this child. She spat on the floor, chuckled cynically and rubbed it with her bare left foot.

******

The eerie silence in the compound was broken by the rattling of the Ifa priest’s stick in the main hut. Asabi shot a glance at the direction and winced wickedly. She shrugged and continued her work. Recently she had given up being an audience to the weekly ritual and would surreptitiously side-glance the main hut or laid attentive ears for the throwing of cowries as she diced the vegetables or watch the watery soup boil. The hope of any change in the gods’ disposition had vanished in her mind and she openly nurtured her resentment to the surviving son of her hips.

The dilapidated main hut stood disjointedly at the centre of the bamboo fenced-in compound. There the beautiful journey of Padade’s life began and there it was taken from him. He was approaching four years when he sat dreamily on his mother’s laps. His father looked glumly at the divination board as the priest mumbled some vague incantations. He cringed mildly as Asabi carefully contemplated the incisions on his back, arms and the back of his head. A hundred and twenty serrations, she counted, to herself, lining his body like foot soldiers in linear war formations. He watched, with mechanical curiosity, the stones falling off the priest’s frail hands onto the board repeatedly. The gesture he had grown accustomed to know like the back of his hands, as he grew old enough to decipher sounds and identify gestures and faces. He would always look forward to the weekly visit of the priest. The visit always had on its trail a longing ready to be fulfilled, a hope, – though disappearing as the priest’s back is turned to the compound, – that had deserted the compound and the only entertainment for his friendless self for the week.

“The gods are adamant on this issue.’ The priest coughed. His gaze intently scrutinizing the board for any change in the gods’ disposition while fearing to meet the eager, anticipating eyes of the hopeless parents. He shook his head, ‘There is nothing we can do. This child has come to stay.”

“But you said ‘as long as he stays alive…’” Ajani protested. He could not come to grips with the fact that a product of his manhood could bring so much bad luck to him and his family. He would not hear any of the priest’s prediction from the start and his wife’s constant nagging, and concluded there must be a mistake in the god’s message or the priest’s interpretation. To wait so long for that feeling, a longed for paternal sensation and be told it had to be taken back before he could even savour the feeling. They must be joking! Probably if the priest reads it continuously, he would get the message right. Thus, the priest became a weekly guest in the compound.

“‘…your farm would sprout weeds for produce and your cow would emaciate,’’ the priest cut in Ajani’s thoughts, ‘‘you shall become an object of pity and ridicule in the whole village and beyond. All these and many more would be added to you and your family. It is a curse from your late sons.’ I did not say that. That is what the gods said. I am just their spokesperson.”

“My only cow would emaciate?’ Ajani repeated as though that was the only thing the priest said and he was just hearing it for the first time. ‘Look at me. How do we survive when the cow providing us with milk we sell emaciates? Look at me. I am not in a position to go to the farm.”

Ajani shifted on the chequered woven mat. His limp legs did not move. Asabi shifted her gaze to hide the pain that was beginning to well in her heart and rubbed Padade’s back absentmindedly. She had not imagined that her charming, well-chiselled prince that courted her to the depths of romantic pleasures and extremities could be confined on a mouldy mat as a flabby crippled man. She caught Padade’s large innocent eyes and a needle-like pain seared her heart. Sharp, sudden. A brief moment, he looked at her and smiled innocently. She had caught his eyes then and pushed him off like a soiled bag accidentally thrown on an obsessive-compulsively clean sanitary inspector’s laps.

“How could a son from our loins be happy at our tribulations?” She cried sharply.

“How could you have turned the corpse of your late son into a public exhibition in the middle of the public square ten years ago despite my warnings?” The priest retorted.

“We were broke. Do you know how much it costs to afford a befitting burial for eight dead sons within the space of fifteen years? Just as we are paying off the debt of a naming ceremony and burial, another is being born and dies. It was just like a cycle.”

“We could not even afford the services of a digger, not to mention the akara to feed the village anymore.”

The hut was silent. Ajani watched Padade, meditatively. It dawned on him there was no resemblance of sort between Padade and the eight dead sons whatsoever from their birth until their individual age of demise. There had not been any marker tying them to each other, except the fact they each failed to stay, except this, and what better pretext than blame it on  the surviving one. Padade. He sighed. He was tired. Tired of everything; the priest, his interpretations and the adamant gods whose message never changed despite the changes in the cowries’ landings and sounds, his wife’s constant naggings and, above all, this son that had come to stay. Padade, on his own hand, nursed his bruised knee against the mud wall he hunched up against. The once light-brown colour of the hut’s mud wall began to give way to a hostile dark brown, almost the shade of pitch black. It caught on the three faces directed at him and it seemed the only things visible in the room and the world were three egg-like torches pointing at the four year old.

******

Now, at eight, Padade betrayed any sign he is, or was, an abiku. No fitful slumping, white-eyes or feverish cold seizing him during his birthdays or special events, – though he never celebrated any. Probably the fact that he never had a special occasion celebrated accounted for this. He was just that ordinary child single-handedly picked out for ostracism, by the whole village and the world at large, for no reasons other than he was the only one who survived out of nine sons. He couldn’t even picture how the interior of the main hut looked like now. The crane chair might still be there, the chequered woven mat might be leaning on the wall or Ajani would be crouching on it and the palm wine gourd, which Padade could not lift himself but always dipped his hands into and lick the palm-wine from, might just be broken. Or the black and white pictures of his happy father and mother holding babies, supposedly him come to the world in different times, in different poses might have been taken down. He could not help but muse, at certain times, over the mud walls, of the main hut which he playfully threw with Ajani when he was small, falling apart. He freely crawled and roamed into all the rooms in the compound and often spent days without coming out from the main hut when he was little. Now he was banned from the hut and all the rooms in the compound. He could not even leave the compound. All the villagers seem to be waiting for him at every corner, ready to point accusing fingers and scornful eyes and throwing stones and what-have-you, spitting at him and saying, rather perfunctorily:

‘There goes the wicked son.’

‘If I had a son like him, I would have killed him with my bare hands.’

‘Wicked son, pity your parents and die.’

‘What in the world did such wonderful parents do to deserve a devilish son?’

The fireplace became his room and his home in the middle of his strange home and village and it was abandoned to him only because he stubbornly refused to leave it.

******

“Kulu-kulu, kulu-kulu, kulu.” The cowries gave off as it danced on the divination board on the ground. Padade turned his neck and caught his mother gazing through the slight opening in the doorway. He now turned to face the main hut. His father was not in sight but he could see the old priest in white wrapper. White linen drapes around his right shoulder and chalked patterns encircle his eyes and ankles. He moaned deeply. He threw the cowries, half expecting the sound to change slightly or a different message from the gods and half wishing the visits could end. He shook his head and gave up the pretence.

“There is nothing else to say… I fear the gods are not prepared to change their minds.” The old man grunted in resigned submission. Ajani did not say anything. After what seem a long wait the cowries danced as they were thrown in the bag and hit the divination board in defeat. The circle of waiting on and testing the gods’ patience was over. The inevitable had to be accepted.

******

Padade turned and bent to stroke the embers. Through the curve in between his legs, he watched the old priest shuffle out nervously, Ajani pushing himself out with his hands behind him and Asabi trying hard to ignore their presence. She had only four pieces of yam left in the coal pot and none to spare for a stomach’s owner who could not help lighten their problems. Soon she would support her husband to the cleared path close to the market to beg for alms and she intended not to speak so she could save enough voice to beg for alms.

The embers were beginning to die. Through the waning light, his life flashed briefly and deceptively taunting. They said he had lived and died eight times. He could not remember a minute second of any such previous existence. Only the pictures he saw on the walls and the serrations on his back and head that Asabi was wont to subject careful examination. He had not even set eyes on them and did not know if it was true or they even existed. They could be wrong, as they could not be right. To the tale of coming eight times or not, the peace of the family might as well depend on his death. However, of that, for all that is in a name’s worth, he would not give them the pleasure of counting him as the ninth casualty. He had come… to live.

[1]  Padade literally means Come Back.

THE GUILT PANGS

“Where do babies come from?” Gift asks.

Huh?

“Babies.’ She pouts and throws her hands out in innocent curiosity. ‘Erm, where did I come from?”

Fide winces, opens his mouth furtively and shrugs. He had not known she was sitting in front of him on her little fairy patterned dining set. It’s light green and faces him squarely, her bowl of cereal upturned on it in a greasy, creamy mess. She, smiles, clasps her little fleshy hands together and sits up, waiting for Uncle to answer. He, on his part, hesitates, flexes his fingers nervously and shifts on his chair. He does not know what to say, how to explain, or begin.

She waits, patiently, for his answer.

Now, that he looks at her, he begins to think she looks like Fiyin, his sister. His late sister that died while giving birth to Gift.

Fiyin! He sighs. He had successfully avoided thinking about that name and any discussion that would bring up the name with the neighbours or, even, his mother. He wasted no time in taking down her pictures that evening when he returned from the hospital. Her locked room haunted him too and he avoided passing in front of it. Even Gift. Right from the day his mother had brought her home he had never been comfortable being around her and had always avoided crossing her toddling path or looking at her for a sec. Even now, as she sits in front of him, he fights a million and one urges to jump up from his seat and dash out of the living room.

He doesn’t. He struggles to keep his cool on the seat and she waits, – patiently, silently, – with a smile like that on Fiyin’s face when she…

“Oh Christ!” He exclaims in his head. He lights the last cigarette in the pack and picks a beer from the cartoon under his chair. It hits the empty bottles on the floor and echoes a grim sound. He uncorks the beer with his teeth and swigs.

******

There is something I should have done four years ago. Something which, as I sit and stare at you on your little dining set Grandma bought for you when you were two, now seems easy, but I must confess it really wasn’t. Well, it wasn’t as that then. I should have been a man and stepped up. I would have, though, if I had not lost my voice. If the subtle, earnest entreaties of my mind had not been easily drowned out by the noisy, cooing passion surging up my stomach and throbbing my John. My head whirled ecstatically and my two friends, Frank and Gboyega, stuffed up my mouth simultaneously with their joints. I coughed at each drag, a messed–up novice I was, and they did not stop until the three of us had gone through five wraps and three bottles of Chelsea local dry gin. We were on the sixth wrap when they came along. Three of them. Three full-formed ladies trudging through the night. They were almost the same height and stature, – that was all I could make out as they advanced towards us and, their hips swayed to the clink-clank their high heels made. I couldn’t make out their faces in the poorly illuminated street. NEPA had taken it upon themselves to rid the street of electricity that night and I did not bother trying to make out their faces, – even when we got close. It was quite dark and we had waited two hours in the freezing cold. I just wanted to get it done with and go home.

“Hey, there are three of them and there are three of us.” Frank began drunkenly. He gulped greedily from the bottle that Gboyega had opened before we sighted the girls. I snatched the bottle from him and downed the remaining content. It was hot and burnt harshly as it ran down my throat, through my guts and inflamed the throbbing passion threatening to blow me up.

The night suddenly grew darker and blurrier and all I remembered was dragging one of the girls down with me. I woke in Frank’s toilet, face-down, in a pool of my vomit.

******

That night Fiyin did not come back home. Nor the next, or the day after the next. She came back six days later while Mama Fide was grinding tomatoes on the mortar she borrowed from Mama Jeje, one of the over thirty neighbours in the multi-storey, multi-roomed houses popularly known as civilian barracks they live in. Mama Fide had spent the last six days fretting and worrying over Fiyin, her last child and only daughter, and almost had an heart attack when Fiyin did not pick up her calls on the first two days, and on the third the operator began advising her to call back later as the number she had dialled was switched off.

The numerous neighbours had taken turns, individually and collectively, to advice Mama Fide to take heart and not lose sleep over Fiyin’s absence. Children of nowadays, they said, they are not worth worrying over. She could be out there enjoying herself, who knows?

Mama Fide kept quiet all through their admonition, betraying no slight emotion. Towards the middle of the second week, she was grinding tomato on the balcony on the last floor. She lifted her head to wipe the beaded sweats forming and, momentarily, caught sight of Fiyin dragging herself limply into the compound. Her eyes lit with fiery excitement and she shot up, out and down the zig-zag stairs to expend her pent-up motherly affection on her lost but found daughter.

“Oh Jesus, you are great! Thank you. Where have you been? Iwo omo yii? Ehn, you this child. You wanted to kill me, abi? What would I have told your late father’s relatives? Ehn, tell me.” She blurted in the middle of hugging and pecking, turning and examining her. Fiyin submitted herself to her mother’s cross–examination silently, wearily as she hoped the gathering neighbours would just keep their peace and spare her their exaggerated excitement at seeing her.

Fiyin became a ghost of herself. She slept more than usual, often dozing off during her favourite TV series or while reading. She slept through the day and through the night. Her voracious appetite was nowhere to be found and she began picking on her food, counting and naming them in the process. She kept to herself mostly, only responding curtly to questions.

Mama Fide could not believe her ears. Fiyin had begun vomiting. Once, twice, then repeatedly until she noticed and her suspicions took the best of her. She had had to drag Fiyin down to the hospital for a check-up.

“Pregnant!” She repeated, dryly.

“Yes ma.’ The doctor acquiesced. He fingered some papers nonchalantly. ‘From what I can see, she is two weeks and some days gone.”

Mama Fide turned to face Fiyin wide-mouthed.

“How come?”

Fiyin did not respond. She turned towards the examining bed and traced the creases. During the following months, she only traced the cracks on the walls and imaginary wrinkles on the face of her mother while she tried her possible best to find out who was responsible for the pregnancy.

******

Fiyin’s water broke the day before Fide’s final exams were to commence. Fide was, finally, scanning through his Physiochemistry textbook, glad to have taken his mind off wondering why she had been fixing her eyes on him for the past nine months as though she was trying to make up her mind on something concerning him. She never did make up her mind, he guessed, as he suspected and caught her always eyeing him. She never threw away her face.

Mama Fide rushed into the living room, from her room, as soon as she heard Fiyin scream. She threw herself beside her and after inquiring the reason for the scream and only getting further grunts and sharp screams in reply, discerned instinctively it was time.

Eh, drop that book Fide. Come and assist me in carrying your sister to the hospital. Her water has broken.”

******

“Push!!!” The doctor barked.

Fiyin held my right arm desperately as she tightened her stomach muscles in obedience. She was sweating and crying and almost yanked off my arm from its joint. Her dirt-studded, unattended fingers dug deeper into my flesh, making me whimper.

“Push dear,’ the doctor petitioned once more, ‘I think I can now see the head.”

Fiyin hesitated. She took a long, cursory look at me and motioned me closer. I drew nearer, placing my ear strategically in front of her mouth.

“I knew it was you.”

“Me?” I ask, dumbfounded.

“Yes, you, Brother Fide.’ She turned my face so I could look straight into her eyes. ‘I knew it was you nine months ago on Osope Street.”

“I don’t get you.” I defended myself blankly. Suppressed memories begin to flood my head.

“You and your two drunken friends. I smelt your perfume. Night Walker. It was you who did this to me.”

I withdrew gradually from her, my jaw falling involuntarily. I couldn’t believe what I had just heard. The delivery ward gained on me like a cop rushing in on a criminal in the act. Caught, red-handed. I found it difficult to breathe and to even gasp.

“Push dear. We are almost there. Just one more push.”

She mustered up all the strength she had, compacting her muscles as her stomach tightened to the maximal pressure it could bear.

“That’s good dear… It’s a girl.”

“Her name shall be Gift.” Fiyin announced tiredly.

The first baby cry was let out and Fiyin’s stomach muscles relaxed to their position. She looked me stolidly in the eye, smiled and let out the ghost. Unable to look at you, the product of my drunken rash act, I stared at Fiyin stolidly. She laid stone cold, her smile intact as though mocking my miserable state.

******

I hope Frank and Gboyega had their sisters that night. Wait, Gboyega is the only child but he might have had his cousin or a distant cousin or someone remotely or complexly related to him, – you know, all these mother’s-sister’s-brother’s-wife’s-mother’s-brother-ish. Oh wait, we are all children of Adam and one way or the other, we don’t need any blood or filial tie to prove it, the three of us raped our sisters!

Oh, crap! What, the hell, am I thinking?

******

Mother keeps ranting. I take long drags and drown the smokes with mouthfuls of beer. She says, “You don’t have a life,’ (Well, what’s this I am living?) ‘You are stupid and dumb.’ (Hell, I know that myself.) ‘and you are the worst mistake to have ever happened to me.” (Perfect, that’s an achievement.) She says all these in two hurriedly spoken languages, out-of-place proverbs and a hundred and ninety seven plus sentences, – some too long I didn’t know if they count as a sentence, two or more. I couldn’t help but keep count. She gets tired and dash into her room. I used to feel sorry for her but tonight I don’t.

You don’t say anything, just like your mother. You sit patiently and watch me with those dark eyes that look as though Fiyin had plucked off hers and inserted them in your sockets. And that smile…

Why do you always have to smile when looking at me?

My mind is black and blank, and my face is expressionless. I only wished that on that fateful night, I had done the most honourable and bravest thing I would have ever done in my damned life.

If only I had zipped up my trousers and tugged Frank and Gboyega back to their senses by breaking the empty gin bottles on their head, or, better still, stabbed them to death, then the world would have been rid of three rapists and three rape victims. I wouldn’t have raped my sister and be plagued with those horrible guilt pangs that drove me dumb and paranoid during my last semester exam in medicine school. I would have become a doctor, have a posh house on the Island, marry a beautiful damsel and have Mother off my back. Maybe, then, I would have become the best thing to have ever happened to her and the world in general. That wouldn’t have been crap.

Seriously, if only I hadn’t lost my wits and voice, if I had been a man just for ten minutes instead of a depraved idiot I wouldn’t have been your father and your mother, my sister, would still be alive. You, you would still be at that place we pretend to know but actually don’t know. That place that would have been the perfect answer to your question, ‘Where do babies come from?’

******

Fide drops the empty bottle among the strewn pile on the floor. He sucks the last of the cigarette and stamps the end with his bare feet. It burns his sole lightly but he feels nothing. He had taught himself not to feel anything. He, crosses his arms, raises his head and locks eyes with his eager, anticipating daughter’s.

He clears his throat and scratches his unkempt hair, wondering what to say.

NO MORE STORIES TONIGHT, OR EVER

The evening breeze stings Ade’s bare chest coolly as he leans against the gate post. His multi-coloured, striped polo shirt carelessly hangs around his neck, threatening to slip off his neck. No attention was paid it and it didn’t slip off. Ade stares at the setting sun. Soon it would be time for Grandpa’s stories. His younger ones would crouch at Grandpa’s feet while he sits beside him on Grandpa’s favourite stool. He is Grandpa’s favourite, – being the first grandchild and grandson, – and depending on how he behaved during the day goes the manner of Grandpa’s stories.

Grandpa had called the family to the village the week before. He wanted to see everyone before he travelled, so Ade’s mother said. But she did not say where he was travelling to. Ade wants to go with him but Mother firmly says no each time he asks. He missed Grandpa’s twilight stories back in the city. No one tells stories in the city, talk more of reclining outside in the twilight. Everything is talks of insecurity, work, work, school, assignments and instructions to turn off the telly. Reading books. Musty, old dog-eared books, new books, books… books. Boring books that can’t compare to Grandpa’s wily crafted stories.

Ade sighs and squats. He flicks stones aimlessly.

Today, he had resolved to be a very good boy so Grandpa could tell them one of his very best stories. He did not run around just like his younger ones but sat at Grandma’s feet, helping her cut the spinach leaves for soup. In the afternoon, he caught Grandpa smiling at him, – his wrinkled face lightening up into a ruddy, handsome version like he had once seen in the black and white stacks of pictures in the broken gourd under Grandma’s bed. No, he was smiling absent-mindedly and looking through him. He wondered if Grandpa was thinking about tonight’s story. It must then be the very best story. Ade can’t wait to hear it.

From the gate, he sees his younger ones coming. They cut their way through the haphazardly cleared bush-path and tease one another with tipping the other’s gourd of water. Their excited giggles and chatters slice intermittently, through the almost deserted path, amidst the croaking and chirpings. They pass without saying a word to him, not even a greeting. Ola and Sope, Uncle Banji’s children, the only two at the rear, follow with a smirk on their face and their earthen pots in their hands, without water. That is what the civilisation in the city had turned them into. So disgusting! Ade spits at the remembrance of Ola, the inquisitive, loud-mouthed five year old, who had the effrontery to call Grandpa a liar because he had seen a tortoise on their excursion at the zoo and the tortoises on display couldn’t talk. And his senior sister Sope, seven, who didn’t kneel while greeting everyone upon their arrival but extended her left hand to everyone, including Grandpa. Says that’s what she sees on the Tv.

He wipes his mouth and shut the door; he padlocks and dips the key in his left pocket.

Grandpa’s journey suddenly comes to his mind. He would convince Mother to allow him go with Grandpa so he can sit beside him and he would always tell him stories. If she doesn’t consent, he will sneak off after Grandpa, he determined as he makes sure the padlock is tightly secure. He breaks into a run towards the main hut. It is silent, even his younger ones who had just made a hullabaloo as they passed. Something is wrong. But he doesn’t care! All that is on his mind is the story Grandpa would be telling tonight.

He makes a dash towards Grandpa’s hut. It is wide open and no one is inside. The thatched bed had been slightly rumpled as if there had been a little fight. It now occurred to him that he had not seen any body as he got to the main hut. Where could they all be? He head, undecided, towards Grandpa’s resting room, behind Grandma’s recently thatched hut on the right side of the compound. His younger ones are sitting at Grandma’s feet at her hut. They are all quiet.

He pass them laxly towards Grandpa’s resting room. The raffia curtain is slightly open. Grandpa is asleep but has two cotton-wools inserted into his nose. Ade doesn’t know what they are for. Grandpa lay rigidly, more like seriously. All the grown-ups are beside the bed, their heads dropped as if they had done something bad and Grandpa would beat them when he wakes up. May be it is because of the cotton wools they put in his nose. Aunty Rose, the lastborn screams and everyone, – Father and Mother, – rush to her side.

“It is okay,’ They pacify her severally. ‘Crying will not bring him back.”

Mother breaks into intermittent sobs. Father looks on, unsure of whom to attend to. Uncle Banji is beside Grandpa, head bent. He raises his head and locks eyes with Ade. He shoots up, advancing briskly to shut the raffia curtain properly.

A few minutes later he comes out, ignoring Ade’s eyes.

“I want to see Grandpa.” Ade blurts, stopping him in his track.

“You can’t see him.” Uncle Banji replied curtly.

‘‘Is it because Grandpa is asleep?’’

He crouched. Uncle Banji’s eyes are watery and glistens.

“You can’t see Grandpa because… because Grandpa is dead.’’

Ade stands, immobile. Uncle Banji leaves immediately for the main hut. He returns with a book and pen and briskly enters Grandpa’s resting room. Ade saw Grandpa’s face briefly. Firm and frail and those lips ready to tell a story. The last he saw of Grandpa. A hand touched him. He turned slowly to see Bimpe, his four year old cousin. She asks:

“Uncle, does that mean no more stories tonight… or ever?”

He did not know what to tell her because he had not answered the question himself.