Family is a four-letter word
We have always been four. Me, Dad, Mom and Roger. Roger is the Alsatian that was a gift from my Grandpa when we moved from Kaduna to Ilorin.
Roger was the one who nudged out one of my front teeth when I was seven. It wasn’t really his fault, I should have let go of his leash when he started to bound around the quadrant that separated our two-bedroom from the Alade’s. I should have known that even though Roger was a four-year-old dog, he still thinks he is a little pup, a little pup whose shoulder is the same height as mine.
Mother shouldn’t have beaten him with her slippers, banishing him to the backyard, after all, I wasn’t even in pain, I only was crying because I saw blood, and the feeling of touching hollow space with my tongue where the tooth used to be scared me.
We were three for about three weeks. Three weeks when Roger refused to play with me but just laid there with his food untouched. Those three weeks were strange, I had no one to play with. Mother said we were still four but I couldn’t see the fourth she spoke about.
That fourth joined us in April, and I was so happy to meet her. She was much darker than me, the white parts of her eyes such a stark contrast to the very dark brown in the center.
They refused to get another dog after Roger. Father said we were four yet again, four was a good number, I couldn’t complain too much about that.
The small one grew quickly, she was already putting on her on socks by herself before I knew it. But there were times when she wasn’t able to do anything by herself. Those periods were becoming quite frequent, so my parents went to the hospital for answers to why this was so.
When they came back, I learned not all fours are good. The four Mom and Dad combine together to make us sometimes do not come out as a good pair.
My baby sister wasn’t so fortunate. The two she got from the four means she will be sick often, some relatives say in hushed tones that if she survives till 21 she will be fine.
1991 comes and it is time for us to leave Ilorin for Lokoja. We have a new state called Kogi, we are moving to its capital. I don’t like Lokoja, it is very hot and my Mother’s Mother doesn’t let me go anywhere for fear of drowning in the river.
Father says there is a lot to like about Lokoja, it is where a colonial administrator’s wife gave our country got its name. I think of Lokoja only as threes. The place of three rivers. Where the River Niger and Benue becomes an amalgam that is neither Niger nor Benue. A forced coexistence like our country.
Lokoja is hard to live in. Father no longer asks if I am full, he asks if I have eaten. I grow regardless.
I now speak four languages, Yoruba, Igala, Ebira and Nupe. We don’t count English.
So when Oiza’s brother Adavize, says that my sister would never get to be married, I understand every word of it.
I punch him as hard as I can, it is the first time I ever threw a punch, the impact of my four knuckles hitting his front teeth causes my hand to swell so bad I could only write with my left hand for a week.
When Mother asks why I fought with my only friend in Lokoja I burst into tears and refuse to say anything. The adults are bewildered when Adavize comes to rub my head and tell me sorry.
I leave Lokoja for Jos in 2002. Jos agrees with me, I grow from 5'8 to 6'0. Hannatu still calls me short despite my growth spurt, she’s just an inch taller than me. I don’t really mind, I tell her it gives me more limbs to wrap around on cold nights.
Instead of four years in Jos, Hannatu and I spend 5, the ASUU strike gods must have their dues. It is not so bad we know, most people spend longer than that in Nigerian universities. At least we will be serving the nation soon.
We both get posted to the same state as I hoped, Akwa Ibom, Akwa Ibom where we both seem to tower over everyone, me to Ibeno and Hannatu to Eket.
I meet her parents again in Eket when they come to get her after a bout of malaria refused to abate. Hannatu’s mother asks if I am the same boy she introduced during convocation in Jos. Yes, I am the same boy.
NYSC ends in 2008. Jobs are important now. A 2:1 in Geology doesn’t guarantee oil jobs. So I join the Army instead. They need people to fight the insurgency in the North.
The Army assures one of job security, Hannatu jokes that married soldiers have a reputation for promiscuity, she wonders what the reputation of single soldiers might be. I get the underlying meaning in her joke. It is time to meet her parents once again.
Hannatu’s Mother says she has heard that people from my village are wicked, I tell her that’s not us, it is the Igala and Ebira that fight. Of course I omit the fact that my Mother’s Mother is Ebira.
They ask us to make sure we are indeed compatible. We go for the test. We are both AS.
We are eight now. Twice of four has to be twice as good. My baby Sis isn’t a baby anymore, she has a pair of little tots that look like miniature copies of her, even the boy.
I have Mother, Father and an Alsatian named Roger of course.