“Look at what is written here!” My mother yelled at me with a look of disgust on her face, “He is a notorious boy’ … This is what your class teacher had written on your report sheet this time again. And to worsen the matter, you have only four credit grades out of 11 subjects. I wonder why you are being promoted.”
Mama had stood over me while holding my report card at the edges as if it had been stained by faeces. My two knees stuck painfully to the bare floor of our confined room and my hands were raised up. Mama’s eyes kept twinkling like those stars that I was seeing through our square window. With that reaction, I knew she was really angry with me. The breeze that was rushing inside was apparently cold. My only younger sister, Dupe, had been awake, but shivering in bed until Mama now spread a wide wrapper over her. But the breeze was hot on my own body. What with the pressure of punishment over two hours. Sweat now poured down my body like overflowing steam from pot of bubbling yams on fire. That was my JSS2 – third term result. And I was only a fourteen years old boy.
“If your father were alive,” Mama continued in a pitiful tone, “I am sure you wouldn’t have turned like this. This is the second school for crying out loud! I changed your school, thinking the first school was bad. That was the same complaint given by your former school’s class teacher. Is it only you? So you are known all over this school too, with your bad behaviours.”
Mama was right. My troubles actually started during my early childhood when I was about the age of seven. Mama and I used to return from the market by 6’o clock in the evening. Mama was selling amala (yam flavour) at Odeda market then. I was well known for my naughty acts in our neighbourhood.
Each time I came back from market with my mother, everybody must be aware. To me, causing troubles anywhere I found myself was more enjoyable than amala and okra soup which was my best food. Our neigbours couldn’t stand me. Whenever I was around they would lock their children inside the room.
I could recall the time we received two new neigbours in the house. For two weeks I observed they were yet to know me, just because we started returning from the market at nightfall. On one Sunday afternoon, when I returned from church, I mixed ground pepper inside the bathing water of one of them. When the fat woman entered the bathroom and ran back half naked as if stung by ‘werepe’ (a poison ivy), I laughed to the point of tears.
“Jesus! You this boy,” The woman was shocked as she saw the remaining pepper with me, “So you are the one that poured pepper inside my water … Okiki, or what are you called. I have heard about you this naughty boy!”
I didn’t deny it. She had already heard about me? I thought. I shouldn’t have shown myself to her again.
The woman had chased me like a hungry wolf, ready to pounce on me. I kept running zigzag until she slipped and slumped to the ground. When Mama returned from the church service later in the day, the woman reported to her. Mama thought whips had become part of my body and she punished me instead; although, that wouldn’t stop me from committing another crime.
Most times I would be forced to climb the giant mango tree that stood right in front of our old-looking bungalow. There was a tap water three houses away. Most people going to and from the tap would pass under that tree. I would lurk inside the foliage after I must have collected stones and dirt from our compound in a big nylon. The only help I could offer the children among them was to rain several stones inside their basins. I would then laugh at the ‘plop’ sound made by the bigger stones.
Some of them would notice it, but they wouldn’t be able to look up at me. And I would be the one to call and mock them if they were coming back to fetch another water. Majority had brought their parents to our house. Mama would almost beat breath out of me. I would beat up the child that had brought his or her parent to our house when next we met. Some parents would warn their children not to play with me….
The hard knock that descended on my forehead switched my mind back to present.
“Get up, and keep your bad result, olopolo yoro!” Mama said after adding two hot slaps on my back.
The most painful thing was that Mama would ask Dupe, my 12 years old sister who was just in JSS1, to tutor me on mathematics. Dupe was indeed intelligent. Olopolo yoro (The brainless one) was my mother’s favourite word to qualify me. I knew I could get rid of my unintelligence. It might be due to my absence during classes, or the attention I had dedicated to causing disturbances.
That night, I promised myself that I would stop drawing unnecessary attentions that was already ruining my life! I would show Mama that I was not olopolo yoro.
At daybreak I decided to change all my academic tools – from my pen to the most important school materials. I met Mama where she was washing clothes under the mango tree. I told her I was sorry for my bad result. Mama didn’t heed me. The statement wasn’t new to her. I had said that countless times before. How on earth could she believe I had decided to turn a new leaf?
“Sorry for yourself.” Mama muttered between the gospel songs she was humming. She couldn’t do without singing or humming while doing chores. Mama was in her early forties, and she was beautiful – with her plump, fair figure. Dupe was washing plates beside her. She had taken after Mama with all bodily features.
I told Mama that our holiday was four weeks and I would like to change everything about me. I would like to replace my notebooks, sandals, school-bag, and other materials. I thought if I started using new things, I was really turning over a new leaf.
“You should replace your brain first.” Mama snapped.
I told Mama that I would surprise her the next term, provided she could get me those things. She stared at me thoughtfully. She was probably surprised at my utterances. After I persuaded her for some days, she agreed to get them for me.
A few days to school resumption, we moved from the house we were living in Odeda to a location near Badagry, Lagos. The house was my father’s heritage out of his own father’s belongings – my father’s relatives had written that in a letter received by Mama. My father had died from motor accident 8 years back. My mother was very happy because she would stop paying house rent.
Consequently, Mama changed my school. I started in JSS3 after the school had set some tests for me which I surprisingly passed. I had already changed my name from ‘Okiki’ (Fame) to ‘Okikiola’ (Fame of wealth). I had no other motive in altering my name than to replace it alongside my academic materials. And to add a spice, a new school again! That was funny.
I would have changed the name entirely, but Mama didn’t allow me. I cultivated the habit of studying during the midnight – most times with the aid of lantern since the electricity supply was poor.
When I collected the first term result, I had nine credits out of twelve subjects. The three subjects I didn’t credit were ‘D7’ grades. My English and Math were ‘A and B’ grades respectively. Mama couldn’t believe her eyes when she saw it. She bought me so many gifts.
During the second and third term, my grades were quite better. When our class teacher observed my prowess, she nominated me to join the students going for mathematic and English language competition in my school. Eleven prominent schools had participated.
I answered the highest questions which made our school received the first prize in mathematics and second in English.
I became a god in my school. My name ‘Babasanya Okikiola’ spread across my school and beyond. Everybody wanted to have a snapshot with me. My face had appeared on newspaper pages after the competition.
On the assembly ground the school principal presented to me an award of honour, and I received a scholarship from the Government – they would sponsor my education till the end of higher institution.
Mama and Dupe were almost breathless with excitement. It dawned on me that my name had actually been ruling my life all these while; not my character.