Each time any of us had to travel, myself or any of my siblings, the first and the last thing my father will say would be to remind us we were strangers going to a strange land. Strangers are everywhere even in familiar territories he believed. Going to a strange land implies increased chance of coming across more strangers and that is dangerous. He taught us to approach everyone and everything with skepticism, distrust and circumspection. Even if it was a place we had been to occasionally, he wouldn’t consider it a known land. He considered any place away from home a strange land and any other tribe a strange and unfriendly tribe. We all had to marry from our town. The only land we had, according to my father was our home. The four bedroom bungalow sitting on a plot of land of two and the other plot, transformed into a beautiful garden of well treated grass, cordoned off human trespass with flowers of different origins. My father loved to sit in the garden; he would spend so much time there as well as money. One Saturday, when he had to choose between buying the treatment for the flowers and food for breakfast with the money on him, jokingly he chose his flowers. His consolatory statement was that the flowers could die quickly, and he hoped we wouldn’t be jealous enough to die before flowers.
Let me deviate a bit. My father, I must let you know wasn’t much of a strict man. But he was the type that would make you turn the T.V off when he honks at the gate, and immediately rush to the study with books in pretense to be studying. We dare not play when he was around; the only thing that could take us away from our pretentious studying mood when he returns was when we needed to greet him. It was like a ritual, from the oldest in the family to the least. Each one of us would go to where he was sitting to welcome him.
“Welcome sir, hope you had a good day at work” he recommended we added to show we cared about the man who worked so hard to give us a comfortable life.
My mum didn’t help matters then. She was always in support of him, right or wrong, home or away. But later on, when I became of age, I kind of understand why she was like that. My father had threatened to send her out of the house if she ever disobeyed him after the last time. Though, the last time never came. He was always warning her for the last time, and for the last time when she defaulted-and for the last time.
So, like I was saying, that was always my dad’s position when any of us had to leave the house or travel. That still, was his position when I got my N.Y.S.C call up letter. In fact, he almost commandeered me not to go for my youth service. If not that he needed me to be through with it in time to join is work force in his company, he would have demanded I didn’t go that year. He forced me to study a course that would equip me work under him for a possible takeover, more so that my brother ran abroad, away from his commands and absolute dictates. And then in his organization, for many years, he had issues trusting people around him. It became obvious he needed someone he could trust and he was eager to bring me on board so much that, when I was seeking admission into the university, he managed to agree I processed one of the private schools. He claimed he couldn’t afford to put up with the time-wasting nature of state and federal universities over strike actions. To him, time was of essence when it comes to me.
As I handed my call up letter to my dad, my hands were shaking as if I was the one who posted me to the place. But of course I wasn’t. By then, I had never been to Abuja let alone know how to work my posting. And trust me when I say my father knew I had nothing to do with it, but my hands were shaking because I knew the content of the letter; especially as he would later assume my disobedience caused it. He wanted me to be posted to Lagos by all means, he contacted some of his friends for help but would never bribe. Eventually, one of his friends, whom though, wouldn’t do the posting for any one for free, had to agree to help as a way of returning one of my fathers’ favors. He said I should see him in the morning of a particular Friday before he left for Abuja by 12 pm of the same day. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember in time the Friday I was supposed to see him. By the time I could remember, it was around 10 am in the morning. I got dressed up and dashed out to his office. But because of hold up and other Lagos factor, I got to his office by 12:20 pm. By that time, he was already on his way to Abuja.
After going through my call up letter, he threw it at me and went into his room. He didn’t talk to me about it for three days; neither did he talk to my mother too. Perhaps, she denied he didn’t since the standing order persisted against disobedience. I needed to know if he would allow me go, needed to get things I would need and sort myself before the journey.
Okay! To me, the silence did the magic. After three days of no communication, on a Saturday, I was forced to face him. If it meant death, as my younger sister had predicted, I didn’t care. The only thing on my mind was an answer to my dilemmas. I was so confused I felt I needed a change of father. Wished I could do a switch or something. I didn’t listen to my sister. When he returned from his friend’s place that day, I went to him even before he settled down, showered or eat, but not before the rituals of prostrating before him when he returns.
“Can I have a word dad?” I asked him after I returned from the floor where I had to dirty my clothe trying to fulfill the traditional obligation of lying flat to greet older people.
“What for?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.
That was the part I didn’t like, answering questions with question. I had already guessed what his response could be. Either ‘why do we need to talk?’ or ‘are you blind I am just returning?’ or ‘don’t you have any manners to let me rest before any conversation, get out of my sight now!’ Well, maybe I took it far, but it’s something he could say and I wasn’t willing to deceive myself. Besides, what he said wasn’t far from my predictions.
“My N.Y.S.C sir”, I said this almost to myself, looking to the ceiling with my hands at the back. I was thinking the lower my voice would cut the expected anger. But it didn’t, rather, it made it worse.
“Will you get away from here if you can’t even speak out? I can’t believe I have waited on you all this years to handle my business. You can’t even express yourself audibly.” He had readjusted his sitting position this time, half way off his seat. At first, I thought he was coming up to give me the usual bang on the head, so my step was two feet behind our confrontation line. You don’t need to think about what I was going to do, run of course.
Everywhere was now quiet. Even the activities in the kitchen seemed to have stood still. That was what we usually do. Anytime any of us was in the hot position, we would lean close to where we could hear my dad’s abuse. It’d serve as weapon when we fought each other. I remember what I said to my brother when we fought, I said ‘see you; no wonder dad called you big head-large mouth.’ It attracted points instantly from my junior sister, Moremi, who played nothing but the devil’s advocate. Everyone laughed except my brother.
The silence like I had explained was part of the tradition. Naturally, the T.V must not be on when he returns, no noise from any gadget was allowed. The only thing allowed was the sound of his phone. Ours, at least when we eventually had, must be on silence or vibration.
From the corner of my eyes, I could see Moremi walked out of the kitchen to the dinning to laugh but her voice was not heard.
“Will you get out of my face now; I have better things to attend to in my room.”
To the right of the living room was a connecting corridor to other part of the house like my parents’ room, visitors’ room and toilet, plus a store. His room was to the extreme right of the corridor. The living room, which accommodated old gadgets and old newspapers more than a library was painted cream, a color a bit lighter than the sofa’s, four in numbers sitting patiently on both sides of the room, waiting for when they would be properly used. At the center was a round antique center table, spreading selfishly its four legs on the center rug that had mixed color of brown and white sketches of sky scrapers and a busy road. My father was sitting in a way he faced the entrance to the living room while I backed it because I had to face him. On the left side of the living room were our rooms, the kitchen and an extension that housed the dinning sets. A book shelf leaned against the lower part of the dinning window, grudgingly sharing the space with a desktop computer stand.
“And let this be the last time you will rudely challenge my authority in this house.” he stood up from his chair and went straight into his bedroom.
I didn’t understand what he meant. Challenge his authority?
I haven’t come close to thinking of how to think of challenging him, let alone challenge him. It sounded bad and the thought of it scared me.
Now you should know that, although I claimed my dad wasn’t strict, he had always been a dictator in actions and words; he never cared about how his decision made us feel. What mattered to him was that his authorities should never be challenged or questioned. Everyone had to strictly play by his rules. Yet, he would be the first to rebuke America’s authority, the authoritarian rule in Libya and Mugabe’s excesses in Zimbabwe. He had nothing good to say about the leadership of these countries, yet he failed to see he was just like them.
I turned furiously towards my room. About that time, at the dinning, I saw my mother placed the last dish on the table. She didn’t even look at me, either to sympathize or empathize. My sister, who obviously had a good show, immediately changed her countenance when she realized I was coming. She pretended she was helping my mother prepare the table.
“Mum do you need me to change this napkin, it looks dirty? Have to ask so I won’t challenge your authority ma” that was how you would know my naughty sister heard everything in the house. I got more furious because I could not touch her.
“Okay, you can change it.” my mum responded without taking her eyes away from what she was doing.
Moremi is the second girl in the family. I am the second son and the third and our baby boy was just about fifteen years of age. Dupe, the first daughter was married. Before my father accepted the man she married despite he was from our town, Dupe practically had to cry all months. She couldn’t afford to stay another year in the house with my dad after her N.Y.S.C.
I staggered into my room and left a word never to be disturbed no matter what. Obviously, everyone knew I didn’t mean plus if my father needed me. He would not even need to send for me more than once before I answered.
I entered my room, slammed the door behind me and landed heavily on my bed. Everywhere was getting dark but then I refused to turn the switch on. I had a lot to think about, the dark room was supposed to aid my thinking. I wanted to wish several wishes, I wanted to regret and hate someone for the kind of father I had. What was more painful was how my point of view never mattered in the house. They say people soften and relax at old age. My father got worse with age; it looked as if he had alcohol mixed with his blood. That’s the only substance I know gets strong with age.
I felt something vibrated against my body and I jumped up to run out of the room. I was at the door when I realized it was my phone. I was so angry but scared. Nobody advised me before I turned the light on. I checked the caller I.D; it was Kelvin my best friend in school. We were posted to the same state for our N.Y.S.C. Or rather; we were supposed to have been posted to same if my dad would allow me go I thought. Wish I knew where I stood. I heard the vibration again, pressed the green button and put it to my ear.
“Sup bro?” he didn’t even say hello. That was our way, the two of us. We would go straight to greetings and chats.
“Frustrated” I replied while I tried to relax back in my mattress.
“Hahahaha…….? Haven’t you gotten the necessary things you need? I have gotten mine anyway; I am calling to know if we are moving together. My father wants to know.”
“What is that, are you sure you are okay? How am I supposed to classify maybe; as a yes or a no? Anyway, I have a deal for you and don’t even think of ruining it.”
“Please can we discuss this later?” he was beginning to irritate me. I am talking about my life, he is talking about a deal and how he had gotten all he needed for camp.
“Why?” he pursed and I didn’t say anything either. The silence between us accentuated the background noise from his end and something on ‘Oleku, tell me something wey I no fit do’ hit the waves.
“Dolapo , are you there?” he called out to me.
“I am here.”
“I don’t like how you sound, my father will call you anytime and I need to tell you on what before he does.” He was now protesting.
“Okay, I am all hears.”
“Yeah, that’s my man.” I heard him sigh with relieve then a little giggle.
“I have told my dad we are going to camp together and we are going to fly.”
“I do not understand you. My father will never give me money for flight and you know It.” this time, I was already sounding pissed.
“Of course I know. But I need you to lie to my father that you are flying too. He wouldn’t allow me fly alone, it’s either I fly with someone or he flies with me and I don’t want that.” I had to laugh to this. His father would never allow him do anything alone.
“Okay, so what will be my gain in all of this?” I joked.
“Man! I am not flying. I am going by road with you, we need the extra cash for camp life don’t you think.” This caught my attention, and I totally forgot I might not go to camp.
“Yeah I do. I heard about Mami market, the fun and games.”
“Yes, I have convinced my dad to let the driver drop us at the airport. All I am going to do is tip him to drive us to the car park instead…………………….”
We had this discussion for a while. It was one of those moments we had both been longing to experience.
Unknown to me, my father had called me. Since I didn’t answer, Moremi concluded I meant my initial warning not to be disturbed and told him I had said no one should disturb me in the room, no matter what or who.
Without any knock, the door to my room flung open. Standing at the door was my father, with red eyes and sweaty body. Moremi was somewhere behind him, really crying for my ass I thought and my mother was saying something I didn’t hear. I just know she was perspiring, her hands on her head; looking from me to my father.
“Get your ass here now Dolapo.” Immediately, everywhere went quiet, I sensed my heart even stopped working for a while.
I wasn’t sure what was going on or what I had done. But one thing was certain with the belt in his hand, I was in real soup.
I am @manueladesola