Yetunde recalled that fateful day her father was said to have bidden the world farewell.
She had just returned from school, alighting from a lorry returning to Kuti town from Igaolu village where her school was located. She observed there was crowd in front of her home. Iya Toun, her father’s aunt, used to sell akara then, and Yetunde thought there were many customers on that very day. She grew confused when she saw that there was no akara on the counter, and those people seemed to be their ‘face-me-I-face-you’ neigbours and those from the next house; they stood, huddling together in silence.
Some people seemed to be sitting with heads drooped like a withered plant beside Iya Toun whose face had already turned rivers of tears.
Some of the neigbours started shaking their heads as they sighted the little Yetunde whose charming face was covered in fear. She forced her way to where Iya Toun was sitting at the verandah and asked what the matter was.
“Nothing. Okay?” Iya Toun said after rubbing her face with the end of her wrapper, and quickly forced a warm smile at her, “Go and drop your bag in the room. Your food is on the table.”
“Why are so many people here,” Yetunde asked curiously, “and why are you not selling your goods today? I saw tears on your face, Mama. Please tell me what the matter is …Where is Toun?” The last question heaved a lump in her throat. She thought something had happened to Toun, her female cousin, because she was a sickler.
“She is not back from school yet.” Iya Toun responded firmly, trying as much as she could to contain her sorrow, “Go inside, nothing has happened to anyone. Okay?”
Yetunde asked no more question throughout that day. She was expecting her Dad to come and pay her a visit on the next day which was Saturday. He had always come to give her money, new storybook and clothes every weekend. She didn’t worry much. He might be too busy after all, she thought. She was hopeful to see him on the next Saturday, but he didn’t appear throughout the day.
“Mama, why is Daddy not coming to see me?” she had whined.
“‘Oloju ede mi’, Daddy is too busy to come around.” Iya Toun said, and pecked her on the forehead.
She wasn’t convinced yet. No matter how busy Dad could be, he couldn’t afford to miss his only precious daughter’s face for two whole weeks, she assured herself.
Many weeks passed, she kept pestering Iya Toun to take her to Idenro village where her father was residing. Iya Toun told her that he had travelled out of the country to buy her new clothes, jewelries and shoes. Yetunde’s heart leapt excitedly at the mention of those new surprises.
After two years she could bear it no more. No one could satisfy her needs as much as her Dad. She soaked her pillow with tears all night. Sometimes, she would have bad dreams, seeing her Dad shedding tears and beckoning her to come and meet him, but she could not – there would be a deep pit between them. She had that same nightmare almost all night.
One day, she had demanded the true story of her Dad’s sudden disappearance from Iya Toun. She had realized that her Dad would inform her if truly he had travelled in order to buy her gifts. When the woman wouldn’t yield, Yetunde held a sharp knife, aiming to stab herself in the stomach. It was that moment Iya Toun broke into tears and narrated what happened to her.
She told her that her Dad had been mistakenly shot by armed robbers while going to work early in the morning.
“I knew it then!” Yetunde collapsed to her knees while boiling tears sprang out of her eyes. The bloodthirsty knife clattered on the floor; “I was suspicious that somebody died … so it’s my Dad.” Her voice sank with the last word.
“I can’t let your generation vanish like this, Yetunde,” Iya Toun burst into tears as she cuddled her mournfully; they were almost drinking from each other’s tears as they both sniffed, “I can’t watch you die … I love you. Okay? … I love you so much like my own daughter … I want you to take heart. You don’t need to go and join your both parents in heaven. I will try as much as I can to take care of you.”
Yetunde’s father, Kehinde, was a primary school teacher during his lifetime. He was nicknamed ‘Fine Oyinbo Teacher’ by his pupils because of his fair skin and pointed nose. Yetunde was his only daughter and she had taken after her father with fair skin. Yetunde’s mother had died during childbirth when Yetunde was four years of age. Ever since then she had been staying with Iya Toun in Kuti town.
Yetunde had sworn that her father’s murderer and all his family must also be doomed by bullet of a gun. She had sworn for 41 nights with her Bible on her chest. She recorded the day she started in her diary in order to be precise with the calculation. And she would burst into tears each day she read out from the diary all the promises her father had made to her.
Yetunde’s mind came back to present from the sorrowful memory. The incident was about 8 years ago. It was just a few months ago Yetunde turned eighteen. Now she was standing along a dusty road that led to the stream, waiting for Temi, her best friend, who had promised to meet her on the way. It was New Year’s Eve. Kuti town in Abeokuta was teeming with new faces from across the town. Yetunde was holding a purple basin in her left hand while her right hand was akimbo. The ‘ankara’ wrapper and the white, sleeveless blouse on her still defined her plump, shapely figure.
‘Tomorrow will be the beginning of 1992’, she thought joyously and started praying for all she wished to achieve in that year.
Yetunde could remember how she used to splash water with Temi and many boys during her childhood at that very stream. She couldn’t swim in the midst of boys again. She thought there was a veil blocking her eyes then. It was those times she was still in primary school, but now in SS2, looking forward to graduate in SS3. She was in Art class, aspiring to study mass communication in higher institution. She wondered how her dream would be fulfilled without her father. She wasn’t certain if Iya Toun would sponsor her education to university level.
Just then Yetunde observed a group of boys coming from afar off towards the stream. They soon walked closer with water barrels, kegs and paint containers. Four of them were boys from her neighbourhood and others were strangers. She found herself staring at one of the strange boys without knowing the reason why.
She quickly controlled herself as she observed that the boy’s eyes was about to meet hers from the gathering. She briefly exchanged greetings with Jide, her childhood friend, and the three boys that lived right beside her house as they walked past her. She ignored those unfamiliar faces that seemed be to be admiring her look, including the one that just trapped her heart as a snare does to little rats.
Yetunde’s pride was taller than Olumo rock, and she could be jovial sometimes. To those familiar boys, Yetunde’s beauty grew more every day like that of a rose planted by the river, and the strangers couldn’t resist her sight.
Yetunde could hear some of the boys hail Jide as ‘Oko iyawo’ and wished to hear him protest against that; instead he was smiling and swaggering while they all kept glancing back at her. Jide was envied by his friends as they all believed he was more than friends with Yetunde who was one of the jewels in Kuti town.
Yetunde received not less than 15 letters from boys on a weekly basis, and she had always burned most to ashes after reading them without giving replies. She would laugh at some boys’ grammatical errors and bad handwriting. Boys rarely proposed to her physically because her face seemed to turn a mighty fire, and in the end she would rain insult on them.
The only male friends she had were her classmates in school and few ones she could accept as friends in the neighbourhood. Some boys had once planned to assault her, but they were restrained by the belief that she was a disguised daughter of ‘Yemoja’, the river goddess. Otherwise how could she appear so perfect in all bodily features?
Yetunde wished she could let those boys know that Jide was nothing to her more than a childhood friend. In those days, as a little child, Jide always acted the role of a father while Yetunde, Temi and their other friends would act as wives during child’s play called ‘Mummy and Daddy’. She laughed at the thought that she had always become jealous, fighting for the role of Jide’s first wife. That kind of role was for child’s play. Childhood was an entirely different world! She thought.
The Little Jide of those days had now grown strong, fit and good-looking. And he was the one who had been defending Yetunde from bullies by their peers in their very tender age. Jide had once saved her from drowning at the stream, and that very day Yetunde had promised to marry him when they became grown-ups. And now she thought that was a childish promise. Such promise might not be a debt in God’s eyes. Somehow, Jide didn’t seem to attract her any longer. She only wanted him to remain her friend.
Her mind wandered back to the sight of that attractive boy. Although he didn’t appear to be the most handsome of them all, but there was something peculiar about his look. He was gracefully tall and had eyes of magnet. That was what she could relate those eyes to, as they were too catchy and delicate like that apple which tempted Adam and Eve in the ‘Garden of Eden’. Maybe just like her own eyes; because Iya Toun and some of their neigbours would sometimes call her ‘Yetunde oloju ede.’ (Yetunde whose face appears like a crayfish) It was because the appearance of crayfish is always tempting and irresistible after it’s been fried or roasted.
“So, you are still here!” Temi intruded on her thought from behind.
“Yes of course,” Yetunde said, wearing a naughty smile as they headed to the stream together, “Didn’t you ask me to wait for you?”
“I did, but I expected you to leave for the stream when I have delayed you,” Temi said as she fumbled with a strap of cloth around her waist. Unlike her friend, she was wearing a black skirt and a blue shoulder-high blouse which stuck to her slender, brownish figure.
“What took you so long?”
“If I tell you, you will definitely be angry with me,”
“If it’s something reasonable, I won’t get angry.”
“I was held down by the story book I borrowed from you; DRUMMER BOY. It’s such an intriguing story.”
“For that reason; I am collecting my book today,” Yetunde said playfully, “you only use your own money to buy chewing gum. You don’t buy story books. My English Teacher advised me to keep reading story books to further develop my vocabulary.”
“What is the meaning of that big ‘oyinbo’,” Temi asked rather humorously.
“Don’t tell me you’ve never heard about the word VOCABULARY. What have you been learning in your school since all this while? Ehn? ‘Olodo’ girl like you in SS1.”
“Look at what I have been doing,” Temi passed her basin from her left hand to her right and posed, curving her wrist to arch her palm, “ ‘asko oo!’ If I don’t know the meaning of ‘vocabulary’ I would rather go back to my primary school. Jokes apart, I am really learning new words, and most importantly morals. I will start saving my money for story books too.”
“Na you sabi o,” Yetunde teased, “if you like, keep buying sweets and chewing gum.”
The two friends laughed heartily. They talked about so many things – about the way they used to play with mud by the stream, building a so-called bird’s house with wet sand along with all those boys who had now become grown-ups. Temi told Yetunde about one of their friends who happened to be the first girl amongst their peers who developed big breasts. She used to mock her mates, especially Yetunde and Temi as ‘Olosan wewe’ – unripe-orange-breasted-girls. Now Yetunde and Temi were proud of their once little breasts that had finally become ripe, natural oranges. The girl was now under medical check-up for swollen breast and cardiac problem due to unnatural breasts. She had confessed how she had gone to put ‘guluso’, ground beetle, on her nipples so as to become busty to attract bigger boys at early teenage. That was the current news in the town.
“All those bigger boys had heard about it too,” Temi concluded triumphantly, “she will be humiliated if she ever recovers from that disease.”
“I don’t know why she was so in haste to become a big girl,” Yetunde mocked, “Does she think that becoming a ‘big girl’ is all about carrying big breast around?”
“Don’t mind her,” remarked Temi, “my Mum once told me that fake big girls and boys only care much more about their appearance rather than their brain. She said being GREAT is being BIG. During her youthful age around 50’s, she said big boys and girls of their time were recognized for their intelligence. She made mention of some great men we have in our country. People like Chinua Ache… I can’t remember that surname.”
“It must be Achebe – the author of ‘Things fall apart’.”
“Yes … Chinua Achebe.” Temi affirmed and continued, “Wole Soyinka, Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe among others. She said they must be big boys of their youth, and I agreed with her. I have once told you that Mum used to stay in Ibadan. She had moved down to Abeokuta after meeting Dad. Mum attended the same university as Professor Wole Soyinka in Ibadan …“
“Really?” Yetunde interrupted.
“Yes,” Temi continued, “I never knew too until the day she told me. Mr. Soyinka started schooling abroad after the scholarship he won in 1952. To cut the long story short; ever Since Mum told me about the secret of being a big boy or girl; I have always wanted to be a big girl with big brain by all means.”
“And me too! I will try my best to become a renowned broadcaster.”
Temi said that her own dream too was to work on radio or television station so as to be famous.
To be continued….