I remember being a thirteen year-old, feeling all grown-up, ready to face the world. But teen age went by faster than one could track, along with all my first crushes, muses for terrible poems. And my long tooth. Adulthood followed with some vigour, though slow enough to berth at notable stations. Here, middle age sneaks in gently and without warning, except for the few grey hairs.
I don’t know how we grow old. Yesterday, I was swimming in the rainwater that gathered on the pavement in front of our Àkóbọ̀ family house, with siblings equally free of worries, running in the sights of lightening and the sounds of rain. I was seven years old, or something. Today, I am a father of one who likes to swim in dirty rain water.
Life goes by fast.
The past has gone blurry in bits, condemned to the blind spot where unwanted memories go. They’re sometimes exhumed at will. But plenty of them have formed a colourful trail of moments eagerly recalled in moments of doubt before being stored back on decorative shelves of the mind.
What does it all mean?
I remember once, perhaps as a six year-old, being asked what I wanted to become as an adult and saying, without hesitation, “a lawyer.” I draw a picture of myself in a fanciful black robe and wig, passing judgments in a court of law. This is a judge’s outfit, but it doesn’t matter. Lawyers eventually become judges.
As a 17 year-old, on the Arts Theatre stage in the University of Ibadan in 1998, I am auditioning for admission into the diploma programme, reciting lines of Lákúnlé from Lion and the Jewel as part of the process. Professor Dàpọ̀ Adélùgbà, after my recital/performance, looks at my scrawny smallish self that look nothing older or taller than a fourteen year-old. He shakes his head. Would I be able to survive the rigours of the drama programme with such a smallish and youngish carriage?
I am fascinated by the things I remember.
In 1987, barely six, Chief Ọbáfẹ́mi Awólọ́wọ̀ was lain in state in a glass casket. The sight of him in legal robes and his famous spectacles follow me from then into the present. I don’t much understand who Awólọ́wọ̀ was to the country, but the excitement of the event on television and among my parents is palpable. When Fẹlá Kútì died ten years later, and was lain in a similar casket, the feelings came back: deja vu. By then — I am old enough to follow its political implication. The coup d’etats of the nineties and the political realities of that time have prepared us well.
I remember regular electricity. Perhaps not constant, but regular.
I remember the Orkar Coup of 1990. In primary four or so. I am being yanked suddenly out of school by news of some crises in town. I never heard of coups before. Father had arrived to pick us at 11am, quite unusually. The principal argued with him to let her keep us till the end of school. He said okay as long as she would sign this paper taking responsibility for the lives of his kids, and agreeing to be held responsible if anything happened to us before the end of school.
She let us go with him.
Father buys us roasted corn and ice cream on the way. This is rare. I love coups.
1996 or so, I am late to school. Agodi. The school entrance is surrounded by armed soldiers. The governor is visiting. Ike Nwosu is his name, the Military Administrator. MILAD. Late students, we, are asked to form long lines and do push-ups and frog jumps. Or get whipped by soldiers. For about an hour, we lay in the sun like loaves of gravel, leaping with hands to the ears. Then MILAD left and we learnt our lessons. He came back a couple of weeks later. Same surprise. Same terrible lessons.
I hate coups.
In 1994, June 12 riots bring excitement to secondary school life. Students of UI and the Polytechnic come and liberate the secondary schools from the tyranny of fences and we flood into the streets. Into the smell of tear gas. Into chaos. Into stones and graffiti, and burning tyres. And plenty anti-Abacha songs. And having to walk home on foot. It was exciting.
I loved the chaos.
In my memory, I’m sometimes being driven. Sometimes it is one of my siblings — to Olúyoro Hospital for some emergency or the other. Sometimes it is UCH, or Adéọ̀yọ́ Maternity. We were all born in one of these hospitals or the other. But everywhere in my memory, the services are prompt and professional, and the doctors are competent. I remember 25 kobo coins with groundnut pyramids on them. And the one naira coin with the serrated edge. In my memory, everything works as they should. It was a perfect Nigeria. Except for the coups. When they are bad. With no ice creams and roasted corn.
I’ll be thirty-five tomorrow.
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Provenance of writing style: Re-reading Binyavanga Wainaina’s “One Day I Will Write About This Place.”