Olufemi, my brother.
Femi came to us at 14 or more accurately, he came to my mother’s compound at 14. A gangly brown boy with a toothy smile, he spoke just above a whisper.
The first time I saw him, he was talking to my mother’s tenant, Alhaja Stop-It ( I dunno how she got the name, there’s also another tenant called Alhaja Italy, I’ll leave you to imagine how she got the name).
My mother spends half the year or so in Naija, she imports clothes and she’s about her paper, so yeah. Anyways, she called ‘remember that small boy that stays with Stop-It, well, I found him sleeping in the compound, she’s gone out and left him home alone’. She was really upset but she took him and gave him the spare room. I knew she’d confront her tenant in the morning, my mother wasn’t the type to let things like that go. Anyways, I later on found out that despite the stories she’d told the other tenants about Femi being her nephew, he was one of the homeless kids who slept on the church floor with his mother. She was a petty trader but her stall was destroyed and they went from a little bit to nothing.
They’d slept on empty stalls before the pastor offered them the church floor, Stop-It was a member of the church and she enquired about taking Femi in as an errand boy. Iya Femi, worried that her son was mixing in with the wrong crowd, was glad to say yes. Stop-It didn’t have to pay her, she just has to make sure the boy was well fed and clothed so they agreed. From the stories my sister had told me (My sister lives in Naija with her husband), he wasn’t very well treated but we hadn’t seen anything, we only heard the tenants gossiping from time to time. Okay, so back to Stop-It, after my mother confronted her, she confessed to struggling to keep herself and the boy, and my mother agreed to take him. I liked the kid, he barely spoke but when did, it was about music and that’s me all day. He and my mother got close, he didn’t want to finish school because he was so far behind but I insisted and like he predicted, he failed all his exams.
So, I was in Naija one time and he came home, red eyed. I knew something had happened but he didn’t tell me. The estate my mother’s house is small enough and everyone knows everyone. Mr. Anthony, the resident mechanic, knocked later that day, he said Femi was slapped by Soji because he’d been foolish enough to sit on the guy’s brand new Toyota. Needless to say, I was fuming! I went to confront Soji but we didn’t find him. Femi still didn’t speak on what happened, looking back now, I think it was one more indignity that the poor boy suffered. He liked hanging around with me, he saw the “privilege” that I was afforded because my mother owned a big house and I was ‘janded’. He often asked me how England was and about my biological brother, Boogie (nickname). I just really liked the kid, to be honest. So, my sister had baby, a year after her wedding, Femi decided that he’d rather stay with her as they were pretty close and her new house was near his computer school (after much begging and talking to, he agreed to acquire some basic IT skills). Everyone agreed.
Mid last year, he got bored with computer school and decided he wanted to learn how to fix phones, he said it’d be easier to make money as more people owned phone than computers. My mother wasn’t happy, she was hoping he’d learn coding (my influence) and pull himself up, standards wise so there wouldn’t be much of a difference between all of us. Anyway, she went to talk to Andrew, the phone repair guy and that was settled.
My mother spoke to his mother about legally adopting him, she cried a lot but she agreed because she thought he’d be better off with us. He also seemed quite happy with the arrangement. So, we toasted to the new occassion.
The last time I was home, December, we hung out a fair bit, I figured he was getting older and wouldn’t want to be seen in public with me for much long for fear of me cramping his style, lol! My mother’s house is big enough, she takes in people from time to time, close relatives, close friends and transient folk who just need somewhere to stay for a while. One of such people was my sister’s best friend, a very attractive chick who’d fallen on hard times. She’s been living at the house for about a year before Femi came, then another friend moved in and the friend’s mother — The point is, there were bare people at home sha.
So, before I left in December, Sarah (the best friend) told me that the other friend’s mother accused Femi of whispering into some foreign objects, some ‘jazz’ like thing. Sarah got pretty pissed at the accusation and that led to the friend and her mother moving out. I thought the whole episode was ridiculous so I didn’t tell my mother. Besides, Femi was only 17 then, TF is all the jazz bullshit.
That’s the background.
Two weeks ago, my mother had just returned to Lagos. Sarah moved out a month prior because she got a place of her own. So, Femi had the keys to my mother house and he was staying with my sister.
Femi left his phone on my sister’s dining table and it was going off at 12 am, he was already asleep. Like I said, they were pretty close, they know each other’s passcodes. She said she was suspicious that he was getting so many messages and calls at such an hour and that he’d been acting really odd. Going off for hours on end and coming back reeking of weed. She didn’t want her husband finding out, she talked to him but, the kid didn’t talk, so he didn’t have much to say.
So, she unlocked the phone — Whatsapp messages from a European guy about nudes and money. Femi’s display photo was Sarah’s face. She panicked so she went through his chats.
My brother was a yahoo boy. At 17 going on 18. He had open chats with men all asking for photos and meet ups, he was asking for money. Some asking if he’d received the money they sent, etc.
She called me in tears, asking what to do. I was too shocked. Listen, it was very hard to reconcile the things she was saying with the Femi I thought I knew. Femi had also been using his room at mother’s as a brothel. I told her to tell my mother so she did.
My mother searched the room. Femi was crazy about order. His room was always so orderly, I liked that about him, everything had a place. Anyways, my mother found his ‘jazz’ whatever. Some odd looking thing with cowries on it. She also started crying in shock. They called, my sister and my mother crying and being hysterical (both Yoruba women, so imagine how that went).
Then called him to a meeting. My sister still had the phone. He left in the morning without asking for it. That was very odd. The meeting was at my mother’s house. My mother showed him all the things she’d found. Asked him why. According to my sister…..
Femi — God strike me down if I die poor. These things are only for me, they’re not disturbing you or hurting anyone. You shouldn’t have touched them. What were you doing in my room.
Now, Femi did NOT talk, you don’t understand. To hear him say all this must have come as a shock to my mother.
Femi — (in Yoruba) since you’ve found the other phone you can keep it.
At this point he pulls out his iPhone. My sister had called my cousin, Ibrahim, to come to the meeting. That one arrived as Femi was mouthing his unapologetic defiance. My mother called Iya Femi, who also arrived to find everyone sitting in silence, Femi in the corner, pressing his (other) phone. They told her what happened, she started crying. She asked him why, he told her to shut her mouth. Ibrahim slapped him. He got really angry, went upstair, grabbed a carrier bag, came downstairs and said told my mother not to think she’d done anything that God couldn’t have done for him. He stormed out. Stop-It (who was probably listening at the door) ran after him, he told her to ‘ko’si lo’ (basically, fuck off).
That’s how he left. The didn’t know he had another phone. They don’t have that number. I advised Sarah to go file a police report about her photo being used in a scam. My mother called her Imam to bless the house and to provide counselling for my sister (who is a devout Muslim) and was still pretty distraught. They were really close.
My mother was ready to give him only a stern talking to until she discovered the ‘jazz’. She said it showed a level of desperation that maybe we couldn’t understand. They read his messages, he’d been communicating with a ‘baba’. Femi was making money enough to buy an iPhone 7s, my head spun a little bit. The desperation was what scared me the most, Femi got a monthly allowance, had his own things, fly clothes, lived in a nice spot, standard things that 17 year old kids have. I was quite particular about giving him a lot of material things, things any teenager would have wanted. I didn’t want him feeling any type of way, I needed him to feel like he was a part of us. We went to get to get a pedicure once and he said to me randomly, I never thought I’d ever do this. That made me tear up a little and it was only the second pedicure I’d also ever gotten in my life, so it was sorta new to both of us. These moments are really precious to me right now. They’re all I’ve got left, it’s like my Femi died and some stranger took his place.
He left two two weeks ago. Not a peep has been heard from him since. I’ve had nightmares about him being dead in a ditch somewhere or being hurt by people much bigger than him. But he hasn’t called. In the end, the damage in him was much bigger than our love could fix, people had looked down on him, he’d seen things that I can’t fathom. That desperate poverty was a much bigger driver than the promise of a middle class life, I’m still not mad at him, a part of me really understands but my mother says she can’t trust him but I know if he were to call she’d be relieved. She’s hurt, I suspect not so much by her discovery than his behaviour after. The defiance, the lack of remorse, the way he spoke to his own mother, etc.
I don’t want her to give up on him, I don’t want to give up on him but there’s all that and what he wants. I wasn’t enough of an example, and I’m knocking myself for that in many ways. The kid’s gone and my mother is still blaming herself for not catching him sooner.