I started school for the wrong reason. I wasn’t old enough to understand anything that was taught in the classroom. A neighbour’s older son was responsible for my premature enrolment. He would get dressed every morning and immediately storm our flat. His mission? He wanted to take baby to school. He made this an everyday affair, until my parents were left with no choice. I soon became the youngest member of my class, while Daniel played guardian angel. That was one price I paid in return for being loved.
School finally became part of me. But that was only after I spent two years in my first class (I was deemed too young to proceed after my first year). Dad was always out of town, no thanks to his very demanding job; Mum couldn’t cope with having to drop us off at school every morning. So the school bus alternative became the obvious choice. Every Morning was a rat race. My sister and I struggled to be ready in time to beat the school bus’ honk. Once it sounded three times and you weren’t out, you just had to find another means of getting to school. After winning the arduous race to meet up with the school bus, the ride to and from school was usually packed with fun. My ‘guys’ and I were always up to one kind of mischief or the other. Once we tried one of our tricks on Bro. Tunde, our bus driver and ended up with sores on our buttocks. Anyways, when we weren’t planning or executing mischief, we spent time looking out the window admiring other cars. We would say things like, “haaa! this one can speed o” or “This is my car, I will buy this one when I grow up”… and then one of my friends would counter, “No jor, I pointed first. Now you want to collect it from me.” Some of these disagreements resulted in brawls that ended almost as soon as they started. Most of the cars we beat ourselves up over are no longer in use today.
I broke a tooth. One Sunday evening in late ‘93/’94(I don’t remember clearly now). I was out playing football. I was a less-than-average player (even my kid bros were better) yet I played because I couldn’t stand the ridicule that came with opting out. Those who wouldn’t play were regarded as girls. That fateful evening, we were having a two-a-side game. I don’t remember who my teammate was but I still have a vivid image of the boy who hacked me down. I was in possession, looking to play that killer pass when those legs flew in. I went tumbling over, stopping only after I landed on the floor. It was my face that made first contact with the hard concrete. I felt a numbness wash me over. It was as if the blood in my head had been drained out. Then a stinging sensation followed; then heavy doses of pain as if I had been pounded repeatedly with a sledge hammer. My mouth was heavy. As I bent over, I saw this intriguing piece of white triangular ‘ceramic’. I was however shocked to discover that the piece had been a part of me only a few seconds ago. That one of my incissors had been split in two. Can a tooth really be broken? was the first question that crossed my mind. Biodun stood there speechless, obviously feeling remorseful, while I remained in my sitting position weighed down by the numerous thoughts that ran through my mind. I thought of girls. Would this split-second incident affect my chances of winning my dream girl at the appointed time? I wasn’t sure. All I wanted to do was go back in time, so I could choose ten-ten with the girls over football. I was sure I could handle the taunts, if it meant my tooth wouldn’t be broken. Though I wasn’t the brightest of kids then, I knew there was no way the fallen piece would be replaced. I had grown permanent teeth at the expense of the milk ones. I actually felt condemned to a life without a perfect 32.
I needed a miracle and got one. They always say you need faith to experience miracle. But I don’t remember showing any sign of faith that night. I had been diagnosed with hernia very early in life. It’s a kind of ailment that stays benign, though it also comes with moments of excruciating pain. The Doctor suggested surgery, but my folks would have none of that. To them, I was too young for the surgeon’s scalpel. I went on to live a happy life as a kid though it got punctuated at times, by these trying painful periods.
Then time came. We were off to our church’s campground to mark easter that year. We arrived quite late and headed straight for the auditorium. I helped my mum as we pulled through the crowd and finally secured seats in one of the halls. I don’t remember much but I think there were so many firsts about that camp meeting for me. It was the first time I stepped into the main hall of meeting. I was barely eight then. I was more accustomed to the children auditorium. It was also the first time I saw our pastor. I didn’t have a clear view but I could easily make out his frame from that distance. Mom listened with rapt attention while I and my army of siblings had other ideas. We nudged ourselves and pulled on each other’s ears while the sermon lasted. When it was time to pray, mum coerced us to concentrate. I tried my best, but I simply couldn’t resist the urge to sneak a peek once in a while at the praying minister. Soon, the prayers ended and that was it. I didn’t feel any different but mom kept pinching me all over. Hernia was gone. There wasn’t any sign that I once suffered that ailment. It probably left me as soon as we stepped into the church, I mused even as the relief mum felt translated into drops of joy. Looking back now, I think she exercised that faith on my behalf.
She was the finest thing I had seen. She had cute eyes and long hair. But what I loved most about her were the dimples on her cheeks. I must have been about six years old when they moved in and I noticed her from the very first day. Watching her mother weave her hair into fine rows was probably the most satisfying pastime for me back then. I would get jealous when she talked to or played with other boys in the compound. I would sit in a corner sulking. Each time I wondered if she felt she same thing towards me. Whenever she smiled at me, I felt a sensational wave of satisfaction overwhelming me. I finally found an answer to the puzzle that fateful day when dad decided it was time for us to move into our apartment many miles from Ogunbowale Street. She said her goodbye with tears. Omg! I wanted to draw close and give her a long comforting hug. But I just stood rooted to that spot and stared at her behind as she left me forever.
Moving into our new house came with its peculiar challenges. First, the place lacked the hustle and bustle of Ogunbowale Street. It had this countryside setting. There were yards of empty spaces occupied by thick vegetation. Beautiful flowers grew as weeds, interspersing gorgeously with the lush greens. The sand was brown and beachy, still I hated life on that ‘Island’. I hated the neighbourless neighbourhood we occupied. It meant you had to get all your supplies on your way from work. I wasn’t used to the mind-your-business lifestyle. But as time flew, my anti-social tendencies began to blossom. Not long after that, an introvert was born.
School was fun at first (the fun-packed bus rides, biscuit-filled schoolbags and food-laden lunch packs made sure of it). But as we advanced, it became less fun and more work. Long walks to and from school replaced the jolly rides; difficult arithmetic replaced 1,2,3… and A, B, C,….Out went the loving, pampering ‘Aunties’ and in came rod-wielding(cane-loving) ‘Uncles’. They became even more ‘wicked’ with each step up the ladder. I was average for most of my elementary school days. I hated Monday mornings for the random THIS times THAT exercises. The multiplication table was the bane of all the pupils in Primary 3C . We got heavy knocks from Mr Atikey as a token for the wrong answers we provided. Fridays were days of judgement in Primary 4. We took weekly tests where every wrong answer earned you a stroke of Mr Gbadebo’s chubby cane. Trust sharp guys now, we devised a means to survive; wearing khaki under your shorts, putting foams or even exercise books as extra protection to cushion the effect of those terrible strokes(God help you if you got caught sha).
Sudden Turnaround… and who said I wasn’t smart after all? Final year of elementary school brought out the best in me. In my lower classes, I usually wondered how the top guns did it. The highest I had achieved was the tenth position. In primary 6, I earned the name Professor for my academic brilliance. My national common entrance grades were adjudged to be one of the best in the region. I also got an invitation to sit for the Gifted Children exams- an offer my parents turned down on the grounds that they weren’t going to let me out of their sights that early.
I played the part of a Professor in our Graduation play titled, Nation Building
and got a rousing applause for what many considered a commanding performance.
I tried out for a place on the school’s athletics team but crashed out real fast. I guess I wasn’t cut from the fabric of sportsmen.
NB: Final part of this series to follow…