A lady/man sits cross legged at a railway park engrossed in the contents of a book. He/she looks up occasionally just in time to watch the environment, then goes back to bury himself/ herself in the book.
…Eleven, the number of remembrance, a probably forced one because the memories appeared so faint or maybe I made it so. I refused to check my diary notes, it appeared congested with scribblings. It was at eleven I started writing, weaving words like the cartoon books I read.
I still had my bath outside, on the streets of Lagos island. Mostly, i loved to stand out, bathing just few times with the other children. On this day, i decided to stop bathing outside, dawn was breaking out and people would start to see me. I had just arrived from the tap with a bucket of water on my head. I rushed to bath, because I was shy.
Sola’s mom was getting ready to wash, she washed every time because she had a large family, i wondered how she coped with plenty mouths to feed and clothes to wash but no, i was eleven, a child, it was fancisnating at that time. On Sunday evenings when the children gathered to play, Sola would come and call her siblings that food was ready, sometimes they brought it from their one room apartment upstairs and i would watch. The way kabiru ate his meals at a go amazed me. Granny and i stayed downstairs, the only proper yet awkward two bedroom flat in the whole storey building.
Lagos streets had very tall buildings and houses built together, there were no corners I wasn’t familiar with. Even the famous house where we drew water from the well in long queues filled with incessant fights whenever the tap dried up had a shortcut. The janglova house where I paid 1 naira to ride on the swing also had one leading to another street, on it stood mother’s favourite salon and a mosque. i remmeber going to thid mosque with my muslim friends, on one of such occassions, i lost my two front teeth to a football match right in front of the mosque.
I remember these places but whenever I go back to Lagos island, I get lost, only my memories and instincts directs me bringing a certain sense of deja vu and familiarity. I would cry in awe.
“I remember this place”!
I would trek to the bus stop and take a 10naira bus going to Obalende. Granny always gave me 40naira only. 20naira as transport fare to and fro. The other 20 for sweeties, I always carried food. But like most kids, it was not enough. I would watch some kids at school buy more than enough sweeties while I munch my 10 biscuits, saving the other 10. Sometimes I got lucky. The conductor would forget to collect his money. I would happily buy the 30naira gala I had dreamt about over a week.
The colour of teenage years, first boyfriend, love and sparks in the air. I loved him, he loved me but I called the relationship off later, I wasn’t morally ready. Then came unstable break ups before he left me again. It ridiculously broke my heart. I was hard on the streets, never talking to the boys. I would pass them boldly without flinching. I knew they wanted to talk to me but i didn’t give them the chance. So when one eventually could relate with me through my cousin, he asked me out on behalf of his friend. The guy and his friend were not my type, I knew but I told him to let us see things. The first time he kissed me, his lips were like rocks. It didn’t matter, I could do whatever I wanted with him. I was too heartbroken to care but I knew what i was doing; whiling away pain. I called it off after a while paying deaf ears to his pleas, we were both deceiving each other. I knew he wanted to get under my skirt.
Weeks later, my first boyfriend came and said, “Eniola, he is telling everybody he slept with you”.
I smiled, I could have laughed but amusement was an understatement. Perhaps I giggled, i wasn’t surprised. I even cared less what anyone thought. I remembered the day he kissed me, how he wanted to touch me and I didn’t let him, whispering to me about how he wouldn’t go down there. I could never allow him go down there, not even with my life at stake. He wasn’t my type, his lips was something else.
“Did you do it with him?” He asked, a worried expression on his phiz.
I was partly annoyed that he didn’t trust me enough not to be so stupid.
“I didn’t do it, he is just a fool.” I replied.
I admired my guts then. I wasn’t always stupid even in the slightest of emotional situations; situations I had less often because I stamped them out. I had no feelings, when my first boyfriend and i started, i had no feelings, no attractions. It was even a brother, sister thing. We were birthday mates, his brother inclusive, i was in the middle of it. Our classmates started to call us siblings. I was just an exceptional intelligent kid in class who always appeared bone faced. I knew most of my classmates found me weird and disturbing, some curious. I wouldn’t let anyone peep in during test, I wouldn’t answer during exams. It was just my style and it was a take it or leave it. I believed I took efforts( I always studied hard, ahead of teachers, even trying to correct them) and since I could take such a step, it shouldn’t be hard for my classmates to do the same, I never asked during exams even if I didn’t know the answer. Also, i didn’t like the cheating idea. it was strongly against my morals as a growing child. I wasn’t the friendless type, I made friends well. Twice, Susan and I went to the toilet so she could teach me the shakira hip dance. Mary and I formed songs and sang to everyone to dance in class.
My hips started to come out in my school uniform. My classmates would tease me about it. ” hips don’t lie” and I would laugh and dismiss it as soon as it came. I wasn’t interested. The boys on the streets thought I was sleeping around, i had started to interact with them. They would tease me about my sudden change in appearance.
” Eniola don dey collect”
At first, it irked me. Later, i shrugged it off. Whether i was collecting or not, was up to me. I was always slim and i loved to pack my hair in a bun or make attachments in that form. I would sit outside granny’s house, the one on the mainland we moved to and watch the streets. It was nothing like Lagos island.
The young girl with unfulfilled dreams and stifled cries. i waited two years before entering the university, got in at 18. On my 18th birthday which granny forgot; she was getting old and indifferent in some ways. i didn’t mind, i was too private to let her in my affairs. i sat in the living room and prayed. i cried and prayed. there was no celebration, it didn’t hurt. what hurt was the situation at school.
After a failed travel attempt, a wasted year at home in pursuit. i recurred a day when i was overly frustrated that i had to take a walk to free my mind. it was like i was suffocating, in some kind of cage. i cannot explain it all, the core that drives my being and experiences, circumstances that made me grow up too fast. Strongly independent with a mind of goals. i slipped in and out of depression.
School was hell, I detested everybody. They got me angry all the time. I didn’t let anyone in, my course mates probably thought I was a bitch.
“What’s always wrong with this your friend?”
I overheard one girl asking a friend of mine. I have no idea how we became friends, maybe because she needed help in the English courses later, i suspected that the girl was the one who stole my purple Sony Ericsson to get some kind of attention from me but i didn’t have evidence. i didn’t give a damn. It was here I met Micah, the guy who kept my bags in his hostel during exams and fed me till i was full.
“I know you love rice and plantain, oya eat up.” He would say at the canteen.
And i would peep into the food and say, “But how do you expect me to finish this meal?”
We went everywhere together and people started to think we were dating. I had to come from home to school, a very distressing exercise. Three buses to school every damn day was frustrating. The girl I stayed with in first semester at the hostel didn’t want me squatting with her anymore. The hostel authorities were disturbing. There was nothing else i could do, rented apartments were very expensive. I would read for exams in the bus while coming to school. For classes, I would take three buses home, the heavy traffic, headache inducing, too tired to do any assignment or read.
Once, i woke up late for school and had to rush, leaving the unwashed dishes. In my haste, my left toe pierced the generator and blood gushed out. I rinsed it, applied a tissue paper and dashed out of the house to look for a cheap bus heading towards Mile 2. Once it was past five am, the price would turn 150naira. I ignored the pain on my toe and the blood trail till I got to school. Dub was the one that later helped me apply hot water massage on the toe over the weekend.
On one of such journeys from school, I met an old acquaintance from Lagos island. He used to be a friend to someone I was close to, they had a printing press near our house and usually patronised granny’s house to buy drinks. I fought a lot of them with my mouth but was close to one, Leke.
So when I saw Leke’s friend, i was excited. He took me to see Leke who was now a big guy. He had always been very much older than me. But as I visited him one more time at a restaurant and he showed me into his house, Leke tried to rape me.
“Why are you acting like a kid, you go to Unilag, is it new for you?” He said.
“So if I go to Unilag, I should mess up myself?”
“Are you a Virgin, come on!”
He dragged me to the wall and attempted to kiss me. I didn’t struggle so hard because it was pointless. I kept pushing him away and shouting No.
“You think anyone can hear you?”
I knew he could if he wanted to but he wouldn’t. I wasn’t scared. So I told him to take things easy, there was no rush. But that was the last time he ever saw me again.
His fiance later came to insult me on Facebook and I only shunned her off angrily. I was highly disappointed in Leke; he was my childhood friend.
Someone proposed to me and i accepted then rejected it. i had only been going out with him for three months and he was dead serious. For me, I didn’t think marriage was the next thing on my list. I was better at school now. I left all my depression and anger behind and became more open to people. Most of my classmates found it hard to believe and adjust but that was fine. Some of them thought I was pretending. I was amazed at the beauty I had buried within myself. I enjoyed my school activities but never was able to get around becoming a worker in church. I went for the trainings and baptismal classes but didn’t work in church. Perhaps, it was because I was finding my feet. Back home, i was an ardent worker. Choir, drama, Sunday school. Church was a place of peace.
I stopped going home to grandma. I was tired. I checked up on her weekends and as the days dragged, I started checking in once a while. I needed all the concentration i could get. A time came when I questioned my goals, my visions were not clear. It affected my performance on a national group I belonged but I cared less, gradually I stopped participating. There was politics, parties and overnight classes. I was never a fan of night reading but sometimes I went, half the time I was asleep. If i needed to do overnight, I liked it in my room. I remember 200 level was a tough year, i read my psychology and educational technology courses in my room over the night because they were complex and the course contents was broad and I needed to understand. Once, I took my philosophy exam and zonked out in the hall but I didn’t panic. It came word by word afterwards.
Maybe because I was a fast absorber of books, I usually didn’t start my readings for a paper until that day or night before. My GST classes were always about blind reading, I took no jottings, just read through with past questions. I didn’t like the idea of disturbing my brain jotting down notes on it but when i took GST307, on entrepreneur issues and stuff, I found it interesting to jot down.
I was blogging, but not very consistent, I was modeling but not fully interested and I was ushering occasionally. I was everywhere.
I was also squatting in the hostel, waiting for my last school year when I would qualify for an hostel. I had made a promise to myself that if i didn’t get a room at 400 level, I was going to cause a scene at Student Affairs office. The embarrassment and discomfort associated with squatting in the hostel was too much. I didn’t wish it for anyone. There was a raid one time, I had to hide in the toilet while some of my friends hid under lockers and beds.
Everyday, I left the hostel in the mornings and came back late at night to avoid the officials. If i was tired after a class, I would find somewhere to rest or sleep. Usually I ended up in a class or the faculty association office.
I was never a library person and seeing my classmates going to the library didn’t move me to join them. I preferred to read in the noisy garden, seeing people, observing things. I tried reading in the library and couldn’t stop disturbing my reading partner. It was too dead a place for me.
I discovered a lot of things about myself, working my way to defining each aspects, what I scrapped out and what I retained …..
The sound of train, the lady/man marks the next line that showed “23” closes the book, heaves a sigh and moves towards the oncoming train, waiting to board.