I stood and watched as mother packed few of my clothing in a backpack she had just bought from her customer few days to the Eid-al-Adha celebration. She ensured all items I would need for the one week vacation in the village were well packed and arranged in the medium sized second hand bag. I was in a state of ecstasy, as she brushed my well matted corn rows with a black brush that is as old as my mother herself. ‘I got this brush as a gift from my brother, when he came back from Yankee sometimes in early 1960s; I was 8 then. Yes, 8 years old, I remember very well”, my father said, one afternoon as he stood before the mirror in the parlour brushing his moustache and well trimmed beard. His head was bald: so, he needed not brush it. He would often say, “iya meji kii j’oku igbe, ko le párí kó má ní’run gbon”: a man can’t be bald and still have no beards at the same time. We would giggle, until we coughed and teared up, whenever he said this: often times rubbing his shiny chocolate scalp.
“Will my cousins come from Ibadan, Eko and Ijebu-Ode? What about Daddy Ikoyi, Mummy Ibadan and Mama Itele, will they all come for the Eid celebration?” These were the many questions I asked mother as she prepared me for the short break. “When you get to Omu, you will have answers to all these questions”, mother replied, looking troubled, as she sank into the soft leather sofa in the parlour. I was startled at the answer she gave. “Are you not going to the village for the Eid celebration?” I asked, looking puzzled. “I am not going with you this year, hopefully next Eid we will celebrate it together”. “wh-“, mother held my lips with her thumb and index finger, to stop me from asking her another tons of questions.
“Yejiiii!”, my cousin screamed on top of her voice as she entered our compound. “O ya, time to go. Jide is here to pick you. Follow her and make sure you don’t go to the stream to swim. If you go, you know I will know. And when you come back, you have my tune to dance to”, mother warned sternly, wagging her index finger across my face. This time, Jide was standing beside me, holding my backpack with one hand hanging across her left shoulder. She rested her right palm on my shoulder. “Jide, I am putting her in your care, make sure Yejide does not go to the stream; she must not share anybody’s brush, sponge, soap and towel. All the things she needs are in the bag”.
People often mistook Jide for a boy, each time her name was called before she appeared before the caller. Often times, she would throw her head backwards, raise her shoulders higher a bit showing off, when kids in the street pointed at her, each time we walked in the street together. Their house was two streets away from ours. – “See the girl that is bearing a boy’s name”, a boy in his early teens had once said one day, while Jide and I walked past an alley. The pride was always crystal clear, when people referred to her name. I liked it too; being on the spotlight with my cousin-. “I will take good care of her”, Jide gave mother her words, and we parted, though, with mixed feelings (the first Eid without mother, and probably another one, the next Eid, as she had said, ‘hopefully next year, too’).
*** *** ***
The road linking to Omu had just been tarred, so, the ride was smooth, and I slept off in the car as my uncle drove his white Peugeot 504 car on the sharp bend between Odo and Owa villages. “Meeee!” the noise of the ram in the car boot and the stench from its urine and dung soon took over the car. “Gently unpack the stuff in the car o. “E rora Alhaja, e maa wole”, Jide’s mother said, as she stealthily pulled my grandmother out from the back seat, beside Jide. “He! Olomi enu, get up -pointing at the drool on my cheek. We are home”, Jide screamed as she held my chin, sticking out her tongue and widening her pupils at me. I sluggishly pulled out of the vehicle; standing upright behind my grandmother and stretching my arms in the air. The villagers came to receive us, and also assisted to unpack our luggage from the car boot.
“Ha, omo mi ti d’agba. Yejide mi kekere o kere mo”, my great grandmother leapt in her stool (she had never walked since I knew her- confined to her wooden stool), swinging her arms up in the air like a toddler wailing to be lifted up. She was in the middle of matting her grey woolly hair, when we entered her room. Jide sneezed constantly as she entered the room to greet the old woman. “Ha, pele, I just bathed” (the room was submerged in coconut oil and camphor fragrance), great grandmother pleaded with Jide and opened her arms wide to embrace her, while I squatted at her feet.
Few hours after our arrival at the village, other relations joined from their various destinations to celebrate the Eid as was always the tradition, annually. Each of my uncles coming from their various places with their rams and other items needed for the celebration. I felt lonely in the midst of my own family, as mother was nowhere to be found; although, I was already used to not celebrating the Eid with my father anymore. Mother once told me he would be back from London, in a couple of year’s time, after I had asked of his whereabouts countless times. So, I stopped worrying and asking about father, since mother already disclosed his sudden disappearance and whereabouts. That was the second Eid-ul-Kabir celebration without father, and now the third without both parents. I went to bed without supper: I had lost appetite and the whole world seemed to be against me. Everyone was in a state of ecstasy, except me. It was another reunion for the Agbaje family with my own parents in absentia. So, I felt there was nothing to be happy about.
*** *** ***
“Allah is the greatest,
There is no other god, except Allah,
Come and worship,
Come and be blessed,
Prayer is better than sleep”.
The muezzin’s call to prayer resonated across the whole neighbourhood, shortly after the cock crowed the second time near our window. I stood up idly from the cane bed I shared with other cousins to join in the Morning Prayer at the mosque, which was just fifty metres away from the family compound.
I was beginning to become weary of waiting, when an old woman, whom I presumed would be in her late sixties, but rather looked twenty years older due to lack of proper care and tedious farm work signalled to my grandmother, who was discussing only who knows with other women at the breaking of the day, after the day’s prayer. She threw her pash-mina over her bosom and bid the women farewell as we headed home.
“Subh-ana-allah”, grandmother cursed under her breath, cupping her mouth in her left palm, as we approached the wooden gates of the house. I wondered why she said that at first, but grinned as I looked the direction, where the rams were tied. The biggest ram was missing among the ten rams tied to the electric pole on the compound. Farooq was always responsible for this every Eid-ul-Kabir celebration. At a time, the ram’s horn would break on return, at another time, there would be a bruise on the ram’s head, or bleeding jaw. He never stopped taking the fattest ram out for “fight” every Eid. This was usually a show off among the young boys in the village: a way of knowing whose ram was the fattest. The bigger your ram, the more respect your family earned. Farooq always received the beating of his life every year upon his return from the fighting ground, he never stopped, yet. Even though, my uncle told him it was haram.
Jide and I placed the praying mats over our heads, pulling our white robes Aunty Wakeelah bought for us from Mekkah the last Hajj she went with one hand each. Jide grumbled, ignoring me as we walked on the lonely tarred road that led to the Eid prayer ground, while other family relatives walked behind. Jide and I often wondered why the family preferred to park their exotic cars at home and trek such a long distance every Eid. It was a tradition we never fathomed. We would trek back again on a procession, watching the Imam ride on his horse, and greeting everyone, grinning and revealing his gold canine (a fashion common among hajj pilgrims), while the women sang and wiggled their waists to the melodious sounds from the drummers after the prayer.
*** *** ***
“As you all know, I have just one daughter for now, and my husband and I will be relocating to Germany next year, so, I hope you do not mind if you allow me take her with me?”, I overhead Aunty Wakeelah in the big parlour, on my way back from the next compound where Jide and I had gone to give out sallah meat to neighbours, a day after the Eid celebration. I was less concerned about the conversation; children are not to stay around nor eavesdrop, whenever there was conversation among elders. Just as I turned my back to the parlour, Aunty Wakeelah called out my name. I joined the older relations in the parlour. I was startled as I saw my grandmother weep and count her tesbih, shaking her crossed ankles vigorously with her head rested on the back rest of the sofa, looking up to the ceiling. I found it hard to believe my ears, when my uncle, Jide’s father, said, “okay, no problem, till then, she will stay with me. Alhamdulillah, she and Jide understand each other better”. I squinted and poked my right ear with my index finger as I could not comprehend nor figure out what was happening and why I was the centre of discussion in that year’s family meeting.
Sallah celebration had ended; it was departure time; everyone bid one another farewell as they departed for their various destinations. However, it was a mixed- feeling for me, as I was thrown into an absolute state of confusion. Everybody was too elated to see the bewilderment over my face; they were too busy to see how thin I had grown in the last few days of hunger strike, brooding over my absent parents. Tons of thoughts I could not find tangible answers to flooded my mind. Why did I have to stay with my aunt in faraway Germany? Will father not come back to ask of me, since he left few years ago? And what about mother, will the house not be too big for only her alone to stay? Why in the first place did I have to stay with Jide and her parents, after all, their house was not far from ours?
Those were the questions I asked myself throughout my relocation to an absolutely different environment without prior notice as I sat in a tea shop, listening to a similar ordeal of a friend I met in college, here in Berlin. “Africa sucks; it is crazy how the African society plans and maps how your destiny should look like; how they plan your future for you, just because you are a victim of misfortune. But, they fail in strategising the future of the continent and how to save the continent from plunging into an eternal poverty. Africans feel you are too young to have idea of what is going on around you; they believe as a kid, you have no emotions or hurts; they can make decisions for you and you have no choice but to follow suit”, Aissatou said, shrugging as she wiped the brim of her teacup with her left thumb.
It is twelve years now, since I separated from my mother. She sends her words every year and apologised to me during our long calls on phone. How she couldn’t bear the burden of leaving me with my father’s family, since they refused to allow her take me with her, when she had to leave. And father is yet to return to see me from his supposed trip to London. I am twenty. Aissatou’s eyes became heavy and in a twinkle of an eye, her cream colour chiffon shirt was stained as she wiped her teary face with her left back palm.
Jide was the first to break the transit to the great beyond of granny to me via my Facebook handle. “Inna lilla hi wa inna ilayhi raji’un”, she had typed. Then, I needed not read further as it was a glimpse of the death of a loved one, especially, one very close to me. Jide never left me since we departed; she meant her words and abided by them just as she told my mother twelve years ago, that she would take good care of me.
Jide and I often regaled about our hand-in-hand stroll on the streets back home, whenever we had phone conversations. And how the society thought we were too young to be told about deaths of loved ones; even though, we had a glimpse of what it meant to travel to London for donkey years without return or messages from the travelled, just as in the case of father.
Photo Credit: Google.