Aunty Ramota insults
“Sarra!” “Sarra!” “Saaaarraaaaa!!!”
“Yes aunty Ramota?!”
“Wa bi bai.”
I ran to meet aunty on the balcony.
“Is that you who used my nail varnish and painted the wall?” she asked. No answer. “Answer me!” she ordered. Still no answer.
“Answer me!” she shouted that time.
“It is not me.” I said staring down my feet.
“Ok. Lets make me a deal. Shall we? If you tell me that you did it. I will not beat you. I promise.”
I looked at her suspiciously. She always told me that she wouldn’t beat me if I told her the truth but she never kept her promise after. I still thought that maybe she was telling the truth that time. Maybe she wouldn’t beat me. After all, adults aren’t supposed to lie.
“Yes, it is me.”
“Little liar. Who told you that you could use my nail varnish?” she shouted again.
“ I found it on the floor.”
“You stupid girl. I am going to beat you”.
“I will tell Auntie Mossia if you touch.” I said full of defiance
“Stupid girl, I am going to break your neck”
“Yourself stupid girl. I am going to break your neck before you break mine.”
“ Is it me you are calling a stupid girl? Me? Have you lost your head? Imbecile. Tsk.” She said shaking her head whilst her right arm rested on her big hip.
“ Are you alright or you are not? Maybe we can send you to the mad people.”
“I will send you to the mad people myself.” I said.
“ Today, I am going to hurt that child, God. Oooooh, no! That is not possible. I have to hurt that stupid child. Sorry oooh!” She said with open arm looking up the sky as though she was imploring God.
“Stupid yourself!” I retaliated. “ I can write my name and you can’t!”
“You are calling me stupid, me? The child of Alhadja. It will not be good for you. No, no.”
She gave me a hard slap. I cry whilst singing a song I just improvised
“♪♫Imbecile who call someone imbecile. ♫♪You are stupid. Stupid. ♫♪Bush woman. ♪♫Village woman. ♫♪I can write my name. ♪♫You can’t read nor write. ♪♫ La, la, la, la la. ♪♫Ooooh. ♪♫ Oh,oh,oh♪♫”
I receive another slap. I cried harder but carried on singing whilst tears ran down my face. “♪♫Stupid woman. bouhaa You are from the bush, the village. ♪♫ Bohaaa…” my voice died and the cries take over. She left satisfied.
It was funny how I often ended up in tears when singing in that house.
Aunty Ramota was not my true aunt. She was one of our housemaids. I called her Aunty out of respect because she was older than I.
The next day whilst Aunty Ramota was hand-washing the clothes for the family, I stood by her. I greeted her. I hadn’t forgotten the beating she gave me. I had a pen and paper with me.
I said, “Look! I am going to write my name.”
She ignored me.
I insisted, “ I am going to write my name.”
I drew the letter on the paper cautiously like I had been taught at school ‘SARRA’
I admired my work then showed her what I had wrrtten down.
Funnily enough, I brought up school whenever it suited me. I hated school myself. I was always bottom of the class.
“See I wrote my name”
She kept her eyes on her washing. “Good for you. Now leave me alone. Can’t you see I am washing?”
“It is your turn.”
“Leave me alone”
“Now you see, I can write my name.” I said handing her the paper and the pen. “Now it is your turn. Write yours. ” “ Come on!” I said coxing her.
“Just write your name down aunty Ramota and I will leave you alone. Write your name like I did.”
She refused and asked me to leave her alone. I insisted.
Aunty Ramota shouted, “Leave me alone!”
“I am going to beat you” she cried at the top of her voice
“Write you name so we can see who is really stupid between you and I!”
She jumped at me unexpectedly and started beating me up. I cried loud. I was angry.
I shouted, “ You are stupid girl. You can’t write your name. You can’t even read. You, stupid woman.”
I sang with an improvised melody “♪♫You are a stupid girl, a bush woman who can’t write her name. ♪♫ I can write my name you can’t. ♪♫ You, stupid bush woman can’t read not can you write. ♪♫ Oloshi. ♪♫Oloshi. ♪♫Oloshi. ♪♫”
I danced as I repeated the song over and over again. I clapped my hands as I was dancing and singing. “ Oloshi, Oloshi. ♪♫Stupid. ♪♫Me, Sarra I can write and read. ♪♫ I can write my name. ♪♫ But stupid woman can’t even write. ♪♫ Go back to the bush. ♪♫ Go back to the village. ♪♫ We don’t want a stupid woman in the city. ♪♫”
A slap came across my face. I was crying again. I was crying harder.
“♪♫You stupid woman, stupid woman you can’t read nor…bouhha…You bush woman♪♫….bouhhaa…. Village woman ♪♫…bouhahaa. ” I sang whilst crying. My aunt left. I sat and put my head in my arm and cried my heart out. When I finished I stayed there mopping.
Aunty Mossia arrived from work. She had a shiny cloth wrapped around her head and was wearing lace as usual. She always took my defence against anyone.
“Good-Evening Aunty Mossia. How was your day?” I said.
“Good-evening my child. Everything went fine at work. How was your day?”
“Aunty Ramota beat me up”
“What?!”, she cried “How dare she? Who authorised her to beat you?”
She went to Aunty Ramota who was cooking, I gripped on her loincloth.
“Who told you to beat my child? Who gave you that right?”
“She…was abusing me,” said Aunty Ramota.
“You have no right to beat her. Only me, can beat her in this whole house. If I see you touching her again I am going to beat you with my two hands.”
“Lets go Sarra” aunty Mossia said.
I was beaming with a smile. I whispered slyly to Aunty Ramota “oloshi. Stupid. Tske. Tss”
Aunty Mossia was a short stout woman, no more than 5 feet. Outgoing and confident by nature she imposed herself wherever she went. Her almond-shaped eyes were piercing. They batted depending on her emotions and feelings. They batted to seducingly at her boyfriend, spitefully at Aunty Morily for not cleaning the house or pleadingly at the suppliers to get a discount. She was feminine and took great care of herself. She always knew about the latest fashion trend.
Once a week, Aunty Mossia went partying with her friends and came back drunk with a hangover. She was always sick after those parties. She went to parties where local celebrities were. Aunty knew how to enjoy herself. She also travelled around the world for her business. I admired her so much. She was my role model. She took no nonsense from anyone. She was very strong-minded and very determined. She surprised the whole family when she’d cry after the end of a film. My uncles would tell her off, “Enough, it is enough. What are you crying for? It is only a film?”
Aunty Mossia went to the hair salon once a week and always came back with nice hairstyles. She relaxed her hair then had a weave attached. No other female apart from herself and Aunty Rachida in the whole family went to professional hairdressers; we all had our hair done by Aunty Ramota. The men in the house went to the barbershop. I wish my hair would look like theirs.
Mommy Éko, my grand-mother wore her hair in plaits and wore her traditional coif on top. It looked beautiful. When Mommy Éko went partying with her friends, they all bought the exact same loincloth and got it designed and sewed by the same tailor. They looked like sisters. They wore the top, wrapped the remaining loincloth around their waist and wrapped a shiny material that matched their outfit on their heads. Their hairstyles didn’t matter much as long as it was kept clean and neat underneath.
The family’s tailor was Uncle Bashiru. He lived across the road. He was our neighbour. He wanted to marry Aunty Mossia. He was a gentleman. Uncle Bashiru was also a dear friend. He was my friend. I shared the same name with his mother. He loved me like his own daughter and often gave me presents or small change so I could buy sweets.
Cutting my hair
On Saturdays, Aunty Morily – she was my grand-mother’s niece – washed my younger sister’s hair with my own. She took us on the ground floor of the flat where other women hand-washed clothes. She poured warm water on top of our hair then apply shampoo on top. I felt as if I was sinking. I hated her washing my hair. I couldn’t breathe. I wanted out. I screamed but she ignored me.
Aunty Morly then washed both of us with soft branches of wood and black soap, which is excellent for the skin. She dried us and applied pure cocoa-butter all over our body. I loved the smell. She then applied coconut oil on our hair and combed it. Our hair has very tight curl. After the process, my head was aching. When she finished she asked Aunty Ramota to braid our hair.
Everyone thought Aunty Ramota was fast when it came to braiding. She made the braids really tight which was painful. I was always impatient for her to finish. I touched my hair to check how much hair was left to braid. She sectioned my hair with a fine comb then untangled it to braid it. She always came up with beautiful creations. The most important thing was the parting because it gave beautiful designs. When she finished my eyes were slanted as though I’d had a lifting. For one week my scalp ached.
I hated braiding my hair because it was a long and painful process. I had enough of missing long hours of plays with my cousins and friends. In Nigeria, hair is a woman’s pride and I knew that if I asked my grand-mother that I wanted my hair to be cut short, she’d refused. So I came with a trick. I heard in the neighbourhood that a girl had had her shaved because she had lice on them. Mommy Éko had gone on about it for a week. It was a terrible thing she said.
I scratched my scalp. Whenever I was around Mommy Éko or my aunts I scratched my scalp. Scratch, scratch, scratch. I complained that my hair itched me. They were panicked. Aunty Ramota checked my hair and said she could see nothing. My hair was too thick. I kept on scratching my scalp for a week. They took my braids out; maybe the lice would run away. They bought some products from the pharmacy but I was still scratching my head. So they decided, unfortunately that there was no other solution but to cut my hair. My sister was to have her hair cut too. I was happy for her.
On Saturday, instead of going to the communal place as usual to wash our hair, we went to the barber. He kept cutting, cutting, cutting until my hair was 1 inch. What a relief.
When we came back home, Aunty Morily didn’t wash our hair, we washed our it ourselves. My hair felt so soft. I loved touching it. I applied some coconut oil and combed it. Wow, no knots. It felt wonderful. I felt free.
Mommy Abidjan visited us from Ivory Coast. That is why she was called Mommy Abidjan. She was my grand-mother’s younger sister and my mom’s aunt. She was very beautiful. All her five children were beautiful too; especially Cherry-Fatou who was a growing teenager. She was tall. Her face was well structured. She had high, defined cheekbones with full lips.
When they came we were be so happy. We embraced all of them and didn’t want to let go of them especially me of Mommy Abidjan. “Atou” we said with open arm as we embraced each other. Mommy Abidjan took care of me when I was a small baby. I loved her.
I tried to hang around the grown ups. Cherry-Fatou, Aunty Maurily and Aunty Rachida secretly chatted between each other. They were all about the same age. I sat and listened to their conversation. Then, I added my bit.
“Go and play with the children of your age!” Aunty Sherry-Fatou said.
I carried on talking with my two other aunties who also wanted me to play with the other children.
“Go away” she said again.
“I am not going anywhere.”
“What did you say?”
“I am not going anywhere”
She slapped me before I even had time to react. I cried. I improvised a song and danced whilst crying, “♪♫Fake white. ♫♪You are a fake white.”.
She slapped me again. That time, I sang even louder and exaggerated my dance movements. “♪♫You hear me white people. ♪♫This woman is a fake. ♪♫She is a fake white. ♪♫She is a fake white.”
That time she beat me up. My body was aching. I cried whilst singing and dancing and I ran away with a final blow “FAKE WHITE!”
That woman really annoyed me. She really thought that she was something. I searched for comfort in her mother’s arms. She consoled me. I thought she would tell her off. What a disappointment. Oh, well, it was still better than nothing.
Mommy Abidjan brought so much food and presents from Ivory Coast. She brought atchékè a local speciality. It is like couscous but it is made with manioc. We ate with braised spicy fish added with fresh onion, tomatoes and chilli. She also brought many lace cloth. All of them spoke French on top of Yoruba.
Kafaya, her youngest child, two at the time had doll who was about my height. I played with it. Mommy Abidjan was a rich businesswoman. She travelled all around the world. She was respected. Her kids even had a chauffeur.
Years later she lost everything. Her husband left her. Kafaya passed away. Her young sons were sick and nearly died.
She claimed the landlord who wanted to marry aunty Cherry-Fatou had gone to a witch to destroy her family. He had wanted to marry the beautiful Cherry-Fatou who at the time was in love with the tall and handsome Patrick. Patrick was Ivorian. It was love at first sight for both of them. They had a baby boy together.
When things started going wrong for the whole family their relationship dissolved too.
Nowadays, Mommy Abidjan sells bags in the market of Abidjan. Her sons work alongside her. Cherry-Fatou has found another man and founded a family.
Uncle Razaki and house structure
My grand-mother had married Mama and aunty Sulia’s father when she was very young. He had died a few years later. Mommy Éko had married again to a man who later married two other wives. The new husband whom we all called Alhadji (because he had gone to Mecca) was rich and owned a factory. Due to the lack of space in Lagos, he had not been able to find a big enough place for his three wives and children. An arrangement was made; Mommy Éko would live in a separate flat a few yards away with her children whilst the new husband would live with his two other wives in another flat. The last wife who was obese had three children. She barely brought them up. They were in boarding school. They seemed to always be at our place. Each evening our maids cooked dinner for Alhadji and his wives and we took the food to his house. The two other wives sat each on his side. They were all dressed in white. I liked their house better. It was nice and seemed comfortable even though it was smaller. Alhadji asked me about school. I lied that I was top of the class and was doing extremely well. He patted me on my shoulders.
Mommy Éko had four children with Alhadj; two boys: Uncle Tunde (1) and uncle Razaki (3) and two girls: Aunty Mossia (2) and Aunty Rachida (4).
Uncle Razaki was my grand-mother’s favourite child. Everyone knew that. He was handsome. He was very charismatic. He was hot-tempered. He enjoyed partying. He went clubbing at weekends and came back in the early hours. My grand-mother who loved her child so much couldn’t sleep at night and disturbed the whole house because her cherished son had gone clubbing. Everyone waited for him. Mommy Éko was sick with worry. She complained that someone had snatched her beloved son. She was sure something had happened to him. She sent for the men to search for her son on the road of Lagos. After a couple of hours, men gave up the search.
She lamented on her poor son. We lamented with her. I thought something terrible had happened to Uncle Razaki so I was in total despair, I was crying with my grand-mother and the rest of the house. Only aunty Mossia and uncle Tunde, seemed annoyed. They shrugged it off as Mommy Éko being over-reactive. She needed to cut the umbilical cordon. Everyone was worried even the maids. We all waited and waited. Alhadji who rarely came over to the flat even paid a visit. He didn’t stay long. We were all so worried. Mommy Éko was crying. I was crying with her.
Something terrible had happened to my beloved uncle. He gave me a sweet the day before. He was so good to me. Poor Uncle. We waited. My grand-mother had enough. She screamed “I lost my son. I am going to jump of this balcony. I am going to kill myself.” Everyone surrounded her and begged her not to do so. She was hysterical. Her son was lost. She told people to leave her alone. Her son was no longer so life was worth nothing. She wanted to die. I panicked. I ran to comfort her. I begged her “Mommy Éko don’t say that. Please. Don’t kill yourself.” She calmed down. She rocked me and I fell asleep.
Unexpectedly, at 4 a.m. my uncle turned up. My grand-mother hugged him: “My darling. Thank god you are back home safe. I was so worried.”
Uncle Tunde woke me up and let me know of the good news. I was so relieved.
I went to greet Uncle Razaki and hugged him “Uncle Razaki, you are back!”.
He wasn’t moved at all. He looked at me with surprise. He smelled of alcohol. Alhadji made his entrance again with a rope. He wiped my uncle for worrying his mother. Mommy Éko begged her husband to leave her son alone.
Our two maids; aunty Sefora and aunty Ramota cooked him a meal. He ate and went to sleep. At night he was sick and vomited on the floor leaving the maids to dirty work.
Aunty Sefora and aunty Ramota were teenagers. They came from poor families. They lived with us and had become almost part of the family. Sabine and I were very close to them. They treated us like their friends unlike other adults who demanded so much respect. They played with us. They beat me when I was naughty. I mopped a while then forgave them. They told Sabine and I stories about their far village. They told us about their parents and siblings. When we were naughty they threatened to send us with the monster that hid in their village. I wish I was from their village. They said that children were happy there. Children didn’t have to go to school. They were free to do whatever they liked.
Aunty Sefora and aunty Ramota were also best friends. Together with Sabine and I we were like the four mesquites. After their shores in the house, they taught us songs from their lands. We also danced. They asked me to teach them what I had learnt at school. I tried my best but it was in vain. I wasn’t too brainy either. I did manage to teach Aunty Ramota to write her name after a while. They even told us some grown ups secrets.
They were very hard-working. They were always the first to wake up in the house preparing breakfast for everyone and cleaning the house. Sabine was very close to aunty Sephora whilst I was closer to aunty Ramota. When Sabine and I had an argument. We would go to the aunty we were closer to and confide in her. War exploded. Two camps emerged. Aunty Sefora and Sabine stopped speaking to aunty Ramota and I. Both camps would snigger insults at each other. Aunty Ramota and I pretended that we had fun togother but that was far from the truth. I missed my sister. I asked her if we could make peace with the other camp.
She said “No. Not after what she did to you.”
After a couple of hours, both camps were so bored that they made peace with each other. We were very happy to be friends again.
Other people who lived in the house
Aunty Mossia beating for school and my relationship with her
I hated school dearly. I was always bottom of the class. It didn’t bother me a bit but it troubled aunty Mossia who made it her personal affair. She wanted me to be top of the class – she was absolutely disillusioned; it was never going to happen. She was determined in achieving that. She was never good at school and decided not to go to University. All she cared about was fashion, parties and friends. She should have understood me but she didn’t. She didn’t want a stupid daughter, as she would put it. Everyone begged her to leave me alone. Did she take a no for an answer? No, obviously. She wanted me to become somebody so I could guarantee her old days.
She beat me till she complained about her hands paining her. She didn’t stop though. My marks at school were even lower. I cursed the person who invented school. Every evening before dining, she would help me with my homework. At each mistake, I got a slap. If I made too many mistakes she ordered me to turn my head against the door. She called me Zero, which was one of nicknames amongst others (big head, mice because of my high voice).
The more she beat me, the more mistakes I made. Sometimes, I managed to escape. I would go to my uncles’ side of the house and would look for Uncle Tunde. He was my protector. I would tell him about my miseries and we would watch TV together and would fall asleep in his arms. He would wake me slowly so I could get my dinner. By that time aunty Mossia was busy doing her. I didn’t always escape though, my aunt sometimes remembered me and would fetch me. My uncle would plead for me. I don’t know how he convinced her because she looked like a soldier on a mission and didn’t give in easily.
I loved aunty Mossia. She could be hugging me one second and the next beating me. She said that I had a big mouth and I needed correction. I didn’t fear her, which is probably the reason why she strike me so often. My sister who was quiet never got beaten by anyone. Everyone in the house wanted to get theirs hand on me for a reason or another apart from the men.
It seemed to me that aunty Mossia more than anyone else drew pleasure in beating me. It must have seemed to her that I drew pleasure from getting beaten. It is funny because she couldn’t tolerate anyone beating me. If someone ever touched me she became fierce like a lioness and fought them.I could never rest even in my sleep. I sucked my lips. My sister sucked her thumb. Naturally, aunty Mossia tolerated Sabine thumb sucking whilst she hated my lip sucking. What difference did it make? To her, the difference was huge. Lip sucking was intolerable. I must stop. When I slept, I hid my face so she couldn’t see that I was sucking my lips. I couldn’t fool aunty Mossia, who slowly checked what my lips were up to. If she discovered that they were sinning, she smacked them.
Sabine was most definitely her favourite. She never got beaten. If she was naughty (it rarely happened, I admit), aunty Mossia let it pass. The irony of it, was that amongst all my aunties, she is the one I look like the most in terms of personalities. She was my favourite aunt; the one I loved the most. She took my sister and I to visit her friends. She always introduced us as her daughters wherever we went.
Sabine and I went to a state school. We studied in the morning. After school, we went to our grand-mother’s shop where we played. Our uniform was a green dress uniform with a beret. We also wore white long socks. We looked really smart. At school, I was bottom of my class. I cheated and always looked at my neighbour’s copy. I couldn’t’ understand how she found things inside her brain to write on her exam paper.
I gave my lunch money to Shola so that she allowed me to copy her assignment. I still owed her another lunch money. The following day, the teacher gave us our paper exam back except for the two of us. He asked us in front of the class who between Shola and me copied. The teacher already knew the answer to his own question – Shola was an excellent student and always was first in the ranking.
Now he threatened both us with his long brown rope. I was scarred. I was so hot. I had never sweated so much in my entire life. He told Shola to come forward and asked her to take her pant down. He wiped her repeatedly. She took it well. She didn’t cry too much. Each time the rope touched her skin she closed her eyes. Wow! She was so courageous and strong! How was I going to do? I didn’t have such courage when it came to the rope.
Oh, God it was hot. She took it like a woman and she was only a child. I could only see a few tears. I was going to die. I started crying. The thought of the rope against my skin was enough to make me crawl.
The teacher carried on with his lesson. I was hot. I was waiting for my turn. When was he going to wipe me? Was I going to wait forever? It was pure torture. I could no longer take it. The teacher just ignored and carried on with his lesson.
The bell rang. I ran to the door. I consoled my friend as best as I could. I felt so guilty. I bought her an ice-cream. I promised her that the following day, I would give her plenty of sweets.
I still cheated on her during examinations but I made sure I changed a few things.
Shola invited me to her house a few times. Her family was poor. They lived in the slumps of Lagos. Her mom sold peanuts and water on the road. She had too many brothers and sisters for me to make out the exact number. Her mom liked me very much and gave me peanuts whenever I visited them. I played with her younger brothers and sisters. Shola had a lot of responsibilities for a young child. She had to carry water to her house. She cleaned the house, washed her brothers and sisters and cooked. I helped her whenever I visited her. I wished my family could treat me like a grown up too; that would be so much fun. Each time I tried to help aunty Ramota, she told me to get off.
Shola had a great sense of humour and made me laugh so much. Because I knew she wasn’t rich and often came empty stomach at school, I kept food in a box and gave it to her daily. I also invited her at my house as much as I could. She was always welcome especially by Aunty Mossia who liked to draw comparisons between her and I. She was brainy and hard working and I was the total opposite. All I enjoyed doing was having fun. I couldn’t understand what school was for, apart from bringing anguish in one’s life. I did want to learn but nothing would enter my head. Nevertheless, Shola and I never competed. I respected her for who she was and she did the same for me. She still asks of me till today. When I left for France years after, I promised myself that I would go and look for her and that is still my intention up till today. She was my best friend.
Sabine and I were sent on school holiday to the village of Eko where our great grand-mother lived. It was fun but I always missed Lagos. Our great grand-mother was tall and slim. She looked strong and had beautiful honey skin. She wore the traditional clothes with simplicity. She was well known and respected around the village for her wisdom. She lived in a huge house with kids everywhere. There were farm animals ranging from goats, chicken, cows, etc. She only ate fresh food. The only processed food she ate was sugar, which she added to her tea. She still worked on her farm.
During those holidays we met our other cousins. We didn’t most of them. But we knew we were family. I played with Celio. He was our great grand-mother favourite grand-child. He was spoiled rotten. If I tapped him amicably on the shoulder he cried. Our great grand-mother ran to us and ask what had happened. He told her that I beat him. She asked me to not do that again. That dingo was a year older and much bigger than I but he couldn’t fence for himself. I missed Lagos on the evry first day I arrived. There was no cars. The food was different and not so rich. The kids were weird. I wanted to go back home. I was homesick.
I met an old and wise man. He had white hair all over his head. He wore a long tradional vest. I enjoyed talking to him. He told me whilst I was speaking and playing with him that he could see that I was ambitious and that I wouldn’t stay in this country. He said the country was too restrictive for someone like me. He said I would travel very far. He also added that I would be successful in life. I never forgot the old man.
At school, pupils got beaten with a rope. Aunty Mossia had warned me to keep my big mouth shut if I didn’t want a good beating at school. Surprisingly, my sister who was the quiet one at home and at school was the one who got wiped everyday because she forgot to wear a pant. When she finished school, she told me all her miseries with our other school friends. I was so angry. I pointed my finger menacingly: “I am going to beat that teacher of yours! Wait till he sees me! Nonsense! Nobody touches my sister!” Those were only words. My sister knew better than I that I was more scared of the rope than she. Still, I carried on: “That stupid teacher who doesn’t know his left from his right. Oloshi. Olori buruku!”
“Who are you shouting at?” I heard. We turned around. It was our English teacher Mrs Abidogun. She was attractive and incredibly stylish. I liked her. She was the only teacher who didn’t beat her scholars. There was at least someone who understood children.
“Hello, Mrs Abidogun. No, I was talking to my sister. Have you heard the latest?” I asked indignantly. “She forgot to wear a pant again today. Can you imagine that?”
“Try to remember to wear one next time. Behave yourself children. Bye”
“Bye Mrs Abidogun!” we all said in unison.
We went to the shop and got crab, beignet and ice-cream with our lunch money. Sabine and I said goodbye to our friends and waited for aunty Ramota at the gate.
Aunty Ramota walked us to and back from school. There was so much traffic on the roads. Lagos is very populated and there is so much car, human and animal traffic. People drive fast and don’t bother to stop for pedestrians. Consequently the latter have to be very careful when crossing the road. Most of the time when a car hits a pedestrian the driver doesn’t stop because of the fear of paying for the hospital costs, which can be expensive.
Aunty Ramota would hold Sabine and I firmly and would look left and right before crossing. When the road was clear, she would shout at us to run. So we would run with her. Sometimes, she carried things with her so she couldn’t hold our hands properly but we would follow her as best as we could.
Once, whilst walking back from school to Mommy Éko’s shop, a car hit Sabine. Our maid was carrying a too heavy load to hold my sister’s hand. Aunty Ramota and I were on the other side of the road when we heard screams. We looked around for Sabine; she was lying on the road in a pool of blood. My poor sister was lying on the road dead.
I dropped on my knees, put my hands on my head, looked up the sky and cried “Mo da ran, oh! God in heaven what a tragedy! Mo, da ran oh! What a tragedy! Aburo ro mi! My young sister! Qui ni mo shé, olowa ba mi, oh? What I have done to you oh God to deserve that? Aburo mi ti ku! My poor sister is dead!”
In the midst of my grief, Aunty Ramota slapped me. I came back to my senses. Even when I was sad I got smacked.
She shouted at me “ What are you doing? Tsk. Go and tell Mommy Éko what happened. I will go to the hospital with the gentleman.”
I ran to my grand-mother’s shop. I knew the way very well. It was about 30minutes walk. I got there out of breath. When Mommy Éko saw the tears in my eyes and that aunty Ramota and Sabine were not with me, she knew something had happened.
She exclaimed, “So fu mi! Tell me! Iko ko ko ti she le! Something has happened to my child! So fu mi!.”
She put her two hands on her head, then put them together and finally raised them open to the sky. She was crying more than I. She took me in her arm. We were both crying very loud. Aunty Mossia who worked with Mommy Éko as business partner arrived. Slowly, all the shop keepers nearby came to ask what was going on. I explained that a car hit Sabine and that she was dead.
The women cried out “A ti da ran! What a tragedy to all of us!” All the women were now crying. We rang Alhaji and my uncles who were at the business office. We closed the shop early.
Aunty Morily took me home whilst the rest of the family went to the hospital. She cooked foo-foo and egusi soup, my favourite food. She even gave me two cow-foot instead of the usual one. I couldn’t eat. I lost my dear sister. I was never going to see her again. She was so young. She was always good to me and never troubled me. She always gave me all her sweets. I played such bad trick on her. I felt so guilty. When she wasn’t looking I would put more eba on her plate and take one of her meats. Oh, and I never beat that teacher for her. What a bad sister I was. What would Papa and Mama think of me? I spoke to God and promised that if he could wake my sister from the dead, I would become a good girl. I would stop insulting people who are older than I. I would stop cheating at school and I would work hard at school. I would be nice to aunty Ramota. I wouldn’t pinch my younger cousin’s ear when no one was looking. How was I supposed to live without my sister? She was always with me. We dressed alike even though we were two years apart. We almost looked like twins. She was a head shorter than I but we looked alike. Who was going to play with me? Who was going to listen to my adventures? She was the only one who enjoyed my stories. Who would listen to me singing without calling mice because my voice is too high? Who would laugh at my jokes? I fell asleep.
Hours later, Sabine arrived with my uncles, aunties, Mommy Éko, Alahji. They woke me up.
“Look your sister is back and safe.” They said
“Thank God. You brought my sister back from the dead.” I said.
God really existed. He had answered my prayers. I remembered the promises I made to him. I will try. I could only try.
I hugged my sister. She was in uncle Tunde’s arms. I was so sorry for her. She had a big plaster on. She must have been badly injured. I promised to look after her. She asked for my baby doll. I got it for her. She also asked me for my sweets; she wanted all of them. I gave her some and hid the rest. Her legs were so painful she said.
Aunty Morily gave foo-foo to Sabine. She didn’t want any. She said that she wanted suya braised meat with onion and tomatoes. Aunty Ramota was sent to the open-kebab shop across the road. She bought suya braised meat with onion for the whole family. Sabine didn’t want water but soda. Uncle Razaki got her orange juice. If she didn’t get what she wanted she said her leg was painful.
Mommy Éko was so traumatised that she refused we went to that state school again. I was the happiest I had ever been. Aunty Mosssia didn’t mention my homework She cajoled me instead.
The whole family felt guilty especially Mommy Éko and aunty Mossia who had promised Papa and Mama to look after us. They believed they had let them down. They couldn’t bring themselves to tell our parents about the accident. They felt terribly guilty. They spoiled both of us especially Sabine until she recovered, but even after that I noticed that aunty Mossia no longer beat me. The accident had worked like a charm on her. She became soft like marshmallow with me. She never again intervened with my studies. I was overjoyed.
How badly treated aunty morily was
Whilst I enjoyed the changes aunty Mossia had made towards me, aunty Morily kept suffering in her hands.
Aunty Morily was aunty Mossia’s cousin. She was a teenager. Mommy Éko elder sister had sent her daughter to our house so she had better prospect in life. I didn’t know her much. She too had immigrated to Ivory Coast with her husband and two other daughters. She had another daughter who lived with my great-grand-mother in the vllage of Éko. She went to boarding school.
Aunty Mossia complained that aunty Morily was lazy. She didn’t like school. She was sent with Mommy Éko’s children but she refused to attend classes. In the end, the family decided that it was better to withdraw her from school. Aunty Morily never learnt to write nor read. Only her sister who went to boarding school was well educated in her family.
When she was taken out of school. She worked with the maids in the house. She hand-washed the whole family clothes, cleaned the house and looked after my sister and I. For years, I thought that she was a maid.
I hated to see her shouted at by anyone in the family and I silently took her side. Sabine and I were very attached to her. She was like our own mother. We spent most of our time with her and the two other maids. She sometimes smacked my bum and that was it. I loved her the most in the house. I talked to her about school. She understood me. We were accomplice in crime as well. She deeply and quietly resented her cousins (my uncles and aunties) and her aunt (mommy Éko); I understood her.
If I have to be fair, she was treated like a servant. It seemed that she was an outsider. She worked hours to end but didn’t get paid a penny for her service. She woke up before anyone else and slept the latest. Still, aunty Mossia was unsatisfied with her. If she did the slightest mistake, she was on her case. It appeared that she hated her. She never treated even the two other maids that way. They were not humiliated or beaten contrary to aunty Morily.
Once (actually very often), aunty Mossia came back from work and found aunty Morily sleeping. The house was clean. Aunty Morily had done all her work for the day. The very fact of her sleeping in the afternoon was a sin to my aunty. When she saw that aunty Morily didn’t come to greet her as usual, she looked around and found her sleeping on the stairs. She shouted at her and insulted with such words. Sabine and I were so worried for my little mother. What was she going to do to her again? She beat her. Aunty Morily escaped and went to the neighbours. She stayed there for hours until someone had calmed aunty Mossia down.
Aunty Morily came to the house and cooked the family a meal. I heard her cursing my aunt in her breath. She hated her and I understood. She cried tears. Sabine and I hugged her and cried in our heart for her. I couldn’t understand why aunty Mossia always had to find the slightest reason to beat. She was really unfair.
My uncles treated aunty Morily with ignorance. They didn’t speak to her unless they had something to ask her to do. She was just like another maid. Sometimes they accused her of being lazy. Mommy Éko, didn’t treat her niece with more respect than her own children. She insulted her for days on. She accused her of being too lazy.
The only person that treated her with dignity apart from the two other maids was aunty Rachida the youngest child of my grand-mother. They were about the same age. They went out together from time to time. They talked. They had a good relationship.
Years later, aunty Mossia came to England. She worked as a maid in a big hotel. She cleaned rooms. She lost so much weight. She found life very difficult and couldn’t cope. She returned to Nigeria. She never told me much about her experience in London. She only highlighted good points. Today , looking back I can’t help but think that God had punished her in some ways for the years of suffering she put aunty Morily through. She got a taste of her own medicine. She would know what it was like to be treated like nothing, to be shouted at, to be insulted and be dehumanised. God had revenged aunty Morily.
The whole family was Muslim. My grand-mother prayed five times a day and if shed didn’t she felt extremely guilty. She caught up the next day on the prayers she missed. She went to Mecca and was given the title of Allahja. Before she prayed she washed her hands, feet, face, rinsed her mouth and inside her nostrils. She then put sprayed her little carpet on the floor and wrapped a scarf on her head. When she prayed she kept standing up and sitiing and putting her head on the floor. She also had pearl….that she kept counting as she said her prayers. She muttered words that I could barely hear. She was the only who prayed in the house. She encouraged me to pray. I took it like playing so I imitated what she did for a few minutes then ran to play with my cousins.
My grand-mother was very superstitious. When she saw a shoe that was reversed she turned it over quickly because she belived that if the shoe was left like that, the person to whom the shoe belonged would die. When we cut our hair, it had to be returned home and disposed safely in a secret place. There was a fear that if witches or evil spirit saw them they could make one mad or bring bad luck.
Aunty Mossia made small cuts onto my sister’s and my scalp. It bled. She rubbed the cuts with black powder. That would protect both of us against evil spirits. It would also bring us good luck and wealth.
If one wanted to hand something to someone, it had to be done with the right hand. The lfet hand was considered very insulting almost like bad luck. It was the hand that people used to clean themselves.
Mommy Eko carried a lucky charm wherever she went. Her fear of planes made her even more superstitious. Whenever she boarded a plane, fear was written all over her face. The day before she travelled she went to the marabou to ask whether she was going to land safely and if he could give her some potion to protect her.
Each morning, before going to school, Sabine and I were given money to buy our breakfast from the shop next door. We took our plates. We asked the breakfast lady for black-eye bean with palm oil and spicy tomato sauce. We also bought some Nigerian bread which is sweet and heavy. We came back home and it whilst drinking a cup of tea.
Sometimes we asked the breakfast lady for rice and sauce with meats or black-eyed beans in palm oil and spicy tomatoes sauce.
With our lunch money, we generally bought ice cream and boiled crab since we weren’t hungry. When we got to Mommy Éko’s shop we had rice, beef in spicy tomato sauce. Sometime we had fried plantain with it.
In the afternoon, we had boiled or fried plantain with black-eyed beans and tomato sauce. Sometimes we ate Scottish egg and pastry and coconut-vanilla ice-cream in a fast food-restaurant.
On our way back home. Our chauffeur stopped at the traffic and the whole family got some oranges from hawker.
We had our most important meal in the evening. Gari eba (monioc paste in boiled water) or foo-foo (yam paste in bolied water) with fish okra or fish egusy (spinach) and beef, chicken or fish spicy tomato. We eat that meal with our hands. It tastes better that way.
After dinner, we sometimes had spicy braised suya meat beef with fresh tomatoes and onion and spicy powder. I loved suya. It was so delicious. The spiced burnt my mouth with the fresh onion. The spicy powder gave a wonderful taste to the meat. It was one of my favourite food.
On Saturdays, I waited impatiently for the sugar cane lady. She was my gran-mother’s friend. She always brought with her fresh and juicy sugar cane.
We had huge breakfast on Sundays. Aunty Morily served us boiled yam with fried spicy tomato and onion egg accompanied with fried plantain, boiled black-eyed beans and sardine in spicy tomato sauce.
I loved the period of Ramadan. Only Sabine and I ate during the day. In the evening, the family gathered in the dining room and drank tea with milk to break the fast. We also had bread and butter. We then had Mai-mai (bake bean powder with tomato and onion) with rice and beef in tomato sauce. We also had okra fried bean, tomato and onion beignets. After which we had, plantain beignets. At 4 o’clock, we woke up and had gari with peanuts.
Aunty Mossia party
I loved watching her get ready. She looked very beautiful. She wrapped a colourful lace cloth with pattern and broidery on her waist. She then wrapped the shiny scarf around her head. She applied some face powder. After which, she applied eye-shadow and mascara. Finally she contoured her lips with some rouge.
She asked me “How do I look Sarra?”
“Beautiful. Can I have some make-up too?”
She applied some lipstick and powder on my face. The trick was done. I looked a bit like her now, not as beautiful though.
When we organised parties, we booked the whole street. No car could access the street. Women woke up early to cook. My aunties with the maids cooked jellowf rice with meat. The jellowf rice was made made with smoked fish and spicy tomato sauce. Meat was left overnight to be marinated in spices. In the morning, it was fried in hot oil.
They also cooked akara (mashed black eyed beans mashed with tomato, onion and spices which is then fried) gari eba, foo-foo, white rice, egusy sauce, suya (spicy barbecue meat), fried plantain, fried fish, plantain beignets with various sauces.
They sent me to the kebab shop to buy spicy braised suya meat beef with fresh tomatoes and onion and spicy powder.
We also bought a big cake with icing.
Hundreds of chairs were placed on the street for the guests. Children, women and men dressed in their best clothes. The men wore their best traditional clothes (some dressed in suit). The women wore patterned multi-coloured traditional lace cloth. They draped their hair with scarf. They were ornamented in gold jewelleries. The kids looked elegant too. Some wore traditional clothes and other wore European style clothes.
Sabine and I wore similar orange-green dress that was tailor-made. We had white elegant shoes with heels on. Our short hair had been thoroughly combed. Aunty Mossia got us some gold hearings as well as bracelets and ring and necklace.
Aunty Mossia had her hair curled at the hairdresser the same day. She wore a traditional clothe. She had travelled months earlier to Europe to get the material that she got designed by the tailor. She wore her most expensive jewelleries. She had brown lipstick on. She looked fantastic.
Aunty Rachida had her hair braided by the hairdresser the day before. It took her at eight hours. They were tiny and looked beautiful. She wore an evening European style black velvet dress. She put on red lipstick on. She wore some heels. She wore black earrings and gold chain. She carried her little black purse-bag.
She was the last child of my grand-mother. She was her second favourite after her dear uncle Razaki. She had grown into a beautiful teenager. She was a happy go lucky person who was very friendly. She was nor loud nor quiet. She was very sociable, loving and also tender.
She often tore her big lips from left to right. She had big wide almond-eye shape that made her all the more seductive. She was big and strong. She was womanly and very feminine with childlike behaviour. When she was angry with one my uncle she stared at them up and them with her arms crossed on top of her stomach and warned them charmingly that they should be careful. She rarely got angry.
My grand-mother was looking particularly elegant. She had on the most beautiful traditional dress. It was a shiny green with broidery. She wrapped the shiny material to her head and let the scarf hand on her right shoulder. She wore black heels. Her two best friends wore the same exact clothes as her. Mommy Eko had contoured her eyes with charcoal which served as an eye-liner. She mashed the charcoal and used a sharp object that she used to draw her eyes.
Aunty Morily and the maids wore traditional clothes they had brought from their villages. They didn’t wear any jewellery.
Aunty Mossia was feeling generous and sprayed all of us with her perfume. Mommy Éko had her own perfume.
My uncles all wore traditional clothe apart from Uncle Tunde the serious one who decided as usual to got the opposite way and wear a suit. Uncle Tunde was quiet. He rarely showed his emotions. When he got angry only I could get close to him, everyone ran away.
Grand-mother’s rival had dressed in white. They were huge and walk in an imperialistic way that one would think they were Queens. They looked beautiful though. Aladhji their husband was dressed in a traditional white clothe.
Everyone was thrilled apart from Uncle Tunde. You could never tell with him. He just went along with the party.
The guests kept coming. We had seeked help from our neighbours to set the party. So we had helping hands to serve the guest. People hate from all of our dishes. A DJ played our traditional music loudly in the street. People were dancing.
I was with my sister, my cousins, some of my neighbours. We were playing. When we heard our favourite music by King…..
I took Latif who I was secretly in love with to the dance floor. We danced together. I kissed him; he wiped his mouth and asked me not to do that again. As we started dancing aunty Mossia danced as well and gave us bank notes. We kept dancing. Now more people came to the dance floor and gave us more bank notes. Aunty Mossia got more bank notes than Latif and I. Sabine was an excellent dancer, so aunty Rachida went to get her. She danced and adults admired her dance moves. They applauded. Mommy Éko, in spite of her rheumatism joined us on the dance floor. She moved her whole body up and down. Her shoulders moved from side to side with her derriere. Her friends joined her dancing with her and gave her bank notes as she was dancing,. I too gave bank notes to grand-mother. All the family gave her bank notes. She had so much money that we assigned Sabine to pick them up and keep them for her.
The party was booming. Guests kept coming. Evryone was now dancing. Only Uncle Tunde stood on the corner like a wooded stick. He was the only family member who couldn’t dance. All of us old or young danced. His skinny figure acted like a shadow. He looked serious as usual. He was brainy and excelled at school but he was not like the rest of the family. Mommy Éko hoped that he would loosen up and get himself a girlfriend. When I saw him in the middle of the crowd I encouraged him to dance with me. He refused. I forcefully took his hand and asked him to follow me to the dance floor. He still resisted. When I begged and begged for five minutes, he conceded to dance with me. I couldn’t believe what I saw. The shame. Poor uncle. He danced like duck. As soon as he started, I begged him to stop. I said to him that he couldn’t dance and needed to learn from aunty Mossia. He hugged me lovingly and smiled. I hissed me and I kissed him on the cheek. I loved my uncle as bad dancer as he was.
I joined my group of friends. We got some food and drink. Then we went to sit and told each other scary stories.
The party reached its end. We gave our guests food to return home. We also gave each family a goody bag with sweets, cake, toys, balloons and toiletries.
We now had to clean everything within a few hours. Us, kids were exhausted and went straight to bed with our party clothes on. The adults apart from the old and wise – meaning: Mommy Éko, Aladji and his two other wives – cleaned up till up early morning.
We slept till the afternoon. Even aunty Morily and the maids had been allowed to rest as much as all of us.
We went to the beach the following day to continue our celebration. We invited our neighbours and some friends. The old and wise stayed at home. We brought jellowf rice, fried meat and fish with us. We ate sitting in front of the sea. It was such a beautiful view. The sea made beautiful noise. I had never seen such beautiful colour. When I went close my aunts grabbed me by the arm. They were scarred. They said that a monster in the sea and that’s why it made such loud noises. I was scarred. Indeed, the sea looked impressive. It was magnificent. I dipped my foot on the water but I didn’t dare go further than knee lengths. Its strong waves pushed me back strongly. I ran to my uncles. I thought that I was going to die. The sea was a dangerous monster.
My aunts fully clothed dipped their toes in the water and jumped back, scarred, at each wave.
I bought ice-cream from the shop. It was coconut-vanilla flavour. Sabine got lemon and chocolate. Uncle Razaki got us tickets to ride donkeys. My aunts stayed in a hooded hut. We played football with my uncles and aunties. We danced to our favourite music Salatou and Barista.
At the end of the day, all of us children got goody bags with sweets, toys and balloons.
Christmas was approaching. We were so eager. We prepared ourselves. All kind of food was going to be cooked. I was especially eager. It is a nice moment when the whole family is reunited and celebrates together. The family business closed for a few days. Everyone bought new clothes in the hope that the following year would be better. We ate, danced and enjoyed ourselves. We invited people to our hosue and went to our neighbours and friends’s house to exchange wishes. We cooked food for the poor and our neighbours.
As soon as the music began played, I took center stage. I danced and did all sorts of moves. The adults didn’t look too impressed. Aunty Mossia asked Sabine to dance. She danced only a few minutes and everyone was clapping and admiring her for her talent at such a young age. My aunt was so proud. It wasn’t fair. I too danced very well. I screamed and rolled on the floor.
The adults calmed me down and said “O ti to! Di De! You can dance. Both of you dance very well.”
Aunty Mossia often came back from her parties telling us about a kid who had danced on the dance floor and had been noticed by a local celebrity who rewarded the child with money. She secretly hoped that Sabine would one day be noticed by a famous person. When she danced she showed her more dance moves encouraging her to improve her dance routine.
Aunty Mossia photos
Every so often, Aunty Mossia took us to the photographer with our baby cousin. She dressed my sister and I similarly as usual. The dress looked beautiful but I felt uncomfortable in them. I wish I could wear trousers like my cousins. They were so lucky to be boys. She sprayed us with perfume. She horned us with gold and diamond jewelleries. She combed our short nappy hair and put a couple hair accessories. We had long white socks on and shiny shoes with 1-inch heels. She too looked her best. When she finished she admired her work and clap both her hands. She then took us to the photographer.
“Sit here” the photographer, instructed. “You stand here and you here”. “Don’t move now.”
“You can come in a week. The photos will be ready by then.”
A week later the photos were ready. None of us smiled apart from Aunty Mossia who looked like a Matron. We didn’t look miserable though. The pictures looked beautiful.
Aunty Mossia sent one copy to my Papa and Mama in France.
Papa and Mama
Papa and Mama lived in France with my two eldest brothers. My sister and I had been born in France but hadn’t stayed long there because Papa’s dream was to go to work in Ivory Coast. When we went to Ivory Coast, Papa and Mama were struggling so much that they asked Mommy Éko to take care of us with the rest of the family until Papa’s situation was stable.
Sabine and I had lived in Nigeria almost since we were born. We spoke Yoruba and went to an English school. We both were happy in Nigeria but we missed our parents dearly. I missed Mama most.
I had heard that now Papa and Mama with Charles and Harry were living in the white people’s country. It sounded very far, too far. Each time, Sabine and I saw a plane we waved at it and song in unison “♫♪Plane, greet our Mama and Papa. ♫♪ Greet our two brothers too. ♫♪Come back and let us know if they are fine and healthy.♫♪”
All I wanted was Papa and Mama with me. They both visited us as much as they could. They brought the whole family all sorts of presents from the white people’s country. Mama even brought vanilla yoghurt. It tasted nice. She had also brought Sabine and I a beautiful baby doll each with a dinette.
I was a mommy now. I showed her to everyone. All my friends wanted to look after her but I refused. Nobody was going to take my baby away. I wanted to look after her myself. I combed her hair, feed her with the bottle and give her breast milk. She also ate porridge. She was a very nice baby.
Aunty Morily proposed to look after my baby so I didn’t spoil her. I trusted her to look after my baby so I gave it to her to keep her safe. She put her in the cupboard. I was to see her occasionally. After a few days, I had enough. I asked Aunty Morily to give me my baby back. She gave it back to me.
Within a week, my beautiful baby had had lost her blue eyes. A week after, she had no more hair. Then she lost her legs and arms. She got burnt another time. She had writing all over her. I begged Aunty Morily to heal her for me. She helped me as best as she could but my baby was in such bad state, I had to let go of her. Aunty Morily kept the remains in her cupboard. I wonder whether she has kept the doll up till today.
Papa and Mama only stayed a few days. When they left. Sabine and I were in tears. We didn’t want to let go of our Mama. We rolled ourselves on the floor. We jumped and screamed. The taxi left with both of them. Everyone in the house tried to console us the best they could. They gave us sweets, sugar cane and anything they knew made us happy generally but our heart was too heavy. We still cried. We went to the balcony and cried in each others arms.
Then Uncle Tunde, my favourite uncle came and hugged us. He told us to not worry because we would soon join our parents in the white people’s country. He had said that so many times. How long would it be before we went there? It would take years I thought.
Harmonie LOKO (Sade Farotade) Copyright 2010