He said to me “Oo ma ni ri apada si aburu. Olohun o ni je ki o fi ese rin losi ibi ti o ti wa moto lo.” (May you never go back to misery. May you never walk to the places you drove into, by God’s Grace). I knew what he meant by those prayers.
I had seen the scenarios he spoke about in just those few words first hand. Okay maybe second-hand. Alright, I had watched from a distance.
I watched …
…As a young and vibrant man who just moved into my neighbourhood walk by with his beautiful pregnant wife. ‘Word and opposite’, I said to my younger sister as I combed out her hair and tried my hardest to hold in a fart.
He was huge with “holdable” fat all around him and a towering height while she was small; very petite with so little flesh on her body. I wondered how he held her and if he feared he would break her if he held her too tightly. He was the teddy bear and she the lollipop. Maybe lollipop does not completely do her justice. Lollipops are made of a huge fat mass of sugar on a very thin stick. She was nothing like that. She was just petite- very well proportioned but for the height.
Kuburat, the iya ile ookan walked into the shop at that moment. I called her that for two reasons which described her perfectly. Like the Yoruba meaning of the phrase, she actually lived opposite my house. You could see her house from the window of the sitting room…you could see her house even better when you sit in the shop built against the fence of the house. The second reason I called her that was that she also qualified as the street gossip, again like the figurative meaning of the Yoruba phrase “iya ile ookan.”
“Na them just pack come that house wey dey the end of the street,” she said to me.
“I know.” I replied. “The woman fine sha.”
“Abi o. She get luck sha. Her husband na banker and him like her ehn! You no see say money dey smell for their body ni? And they talk say that car wey him dey drive cost gidi gan ni o.”
“Ahn Ahn!” My sister said from between my thighs that her head was burrowed and raised her head. “How do you know? These people just moved.” My sister couldn’t be bothered to speak pidgin like us. There was also the fact that she really did suck at pidgin and Yoruba. Our parents had not given her free rein with language like they did me.
“Shebi the katika of the house is my customer. He dey come buy food for my hand well well. Na him tell me.”
I sighed when I realised what she meant to say; that the caretaker of the house is her customer.
“Hmn.” My sister responded.
I turned her head sharply back into its initial position and let out the fart I was holding before she decided to say what it was I thought she was going to say. I didn’t want her disrespecting our neighbour by calling her ‘amebo’ even though we all knew that was exactly what she was. It is the Yoruba thing to do, you see. Don’t talk about anyone’s bad habits to their face, act like it doesn’t exist and you’re good for life.
As I knew my sister would, she forgot what she wanted to say and complained only about the pungent, stomach-turning stench of my fart.
The couple walked by again, this time in the direction of their house. I assumed they went on a stroll and that now that it was over, they were going back home. I prayed for her kind of luck. I prayed for her kind of husband. A rich man who still loved his wife so much he would stroll with her.
…As time went by and they waxed stronger in their love to the envy of both the single and the married women on our street. People’s relationship goals changed. Prayer points changed. Single women prayed to find a man like him who didn’t see it as a big deal to buy all the foodstuff they needed, help out with chores, take regular strolls with the wife. Married woman prayed their husbands did a quick and long-lasting abracadabra and become just like him. We knew about the ‘goodness’ in him. Things like that always spread like wildfire in these parts.
Of course, there were the other people who saw it as wrong. They thought she had gone to a babalawo (herbalist) or some dibia to tie his brains up in a calabash. It is wrong for an African man, a true son of the soil, to degrade himself and toil through the market or even wash plates. That is the job of the women. She had definitely given him ‘efo to eat’. There is nothing real about this, they said to themselves and whoever cared to hear, but quickly zipped up their mouths when the young couple were walking by.
And then I watched…
…As things turned and the tide changed for him- for them. First, he walked by a lot more than he did before. He could be seen strolling by around 10 a.m, sometimes later. The whispering went a notch higher when his almost always suited-up body gave way to a body only seen clad in a polo, jeans and a pair of palm slippers. Was he on leave or could it be that the worst had happened? People always thought the worst of everything and this was no different.
And then it happened…
The car went into oblivion, like the designer shirts and the expensive phones. He strolled and trekked to places he drove through before. The once always suited-up guy who wore the Armani’s of this world now walked around in clothes that seemed to have seen better days. He started to sit under the tree that before him used to be the hang out spot of only the gbeboruns (gossips). If only he knew that those people he spent the better part of his days with needed only the fraction of a minute of his absence to table his matter before their gathering.
“Dem sack am ni! This life.” that was the voice of Kuburat telling me for the millionth time why this once vibrant young man who was the envy of all became the one who dragged dusty feet around with unkempt hair. “You no see say he don turn by-force-dada ni?”
Dreadlocks is what we call dada. I wondered why she was quick to decide his lack of a proper haircut meant he was adopting dreadlocks. I said nothing. The story was that he had lost his job after a mass lay-off at his former workplace, his dreams cut short right in front of him without warning. And so did the comfort and luxury that came with it.
So here we were, me in the shop, him here with me but at the other side of the gate. We had been discussing dreams and their death when conditions weren’t favourable.
And so when he said to me “Oo ma ni ri apada si aburu. Olohun o ni je ki o fi ese rin losi ibi ti o ti wa moto lo.” (May you never go back to misery. May you never walk to the places you drove into, by God’s Grace) I knew what he meant by those prayers.
I said “Amen” faster than my brain could even process anything else.