Who am I? That question has been ricocheting through my brain longer than I can even begin to imagine. Day by day I ply my path, seeking my identity…one I lost years ago; an identity I once disdained, preferring rather to be one of those wannabes, the type that throng the streets of Lagos, laying claim to a false heritage. I speak through my nostrils like a broken gramophone record, and clothe myself in the strangest of manners, all just to keep up with the trend.
Neither fish, flesh, nor red herring, I lie betwixt and between, torn between two civilizations: My soul throbs with the rhythm of the talking drums, yet my feet dance to the tunes of the neon-eyed gods and revolving doors. I left my village charcoal-black but now, many years after, I have turned into a multi-coloured bloke, all thanks to Sivoclaire, Peauclaire, Toneclaire, Whiteclaire, Yellowclaire and other Claire-Claire products.
Well, my dear, loving parents christened me Mongidi Oluwalobamishe Abolomomayowa Majekodunmi. Back in the village, these names didn’t sound archaic or out of place to me, certainly not when I was in the company of, and surrounded by Anyangbesans, Esudanyiwos, , Mulikatus, Ogunsodimus, , Ogooluwakisus, Ebamioshofos, and countless of other beautiful, traditional, tongue-twisting names. It was not until I got to Lagos that I discovered that my names were more or less a disadvantage to me and also that the three artfully inscribed marks on my cheeks were not fanciful as I had earlier thought, but garish and nauseating. Up to this day, I keep on wondering why my parents had decided to mutilate me by inflicting these three skin-deep incisions on my poor face. In fact, I hate them for it! But then, I am getting ahead of myself, aren’t I? See, I am slowly going kwazie.
I left the village just a few days after my eighteenth birthday. Before then, I had always entertained lofty dreams about the many splendours of Lagos, picturing it as a place where angels dined with men; a place where streets are paved with gold and houses adorned with pearls. I even presumed naira notes, especially N1,000 bills, grew on rooftops. When my uncle raised the idea of crossing over to Lagos permanently “in order to further my education and also learn to be a man”, I grasped at it with both hands, just the way a drowning man would grasp at straw.
Considering all the people I was rolling with back in the village, it came to me as a sweet relief to cross over to Lagos. My old man, my granddad, and even my nagging mother, who never saw anything good about whatever I did. The only person I regretted leaving behind was Mulika, my childhood love. Mulika, it was, who listened to my many dreams and ambitious tales with glazed eyes and unmistakable adoration. My people accepted her, though I can’t say the same for hers. I still have a koko (scar) on my head; the handiwork of her mother the day she caught me exploring the wonderful anatomy of her only daughter. Really, I wonder why that wicked soup-spoon she aimed at me chose to catch me squarely on my forehead; after all, it was my hands that were performing the action, not my head!
My status in the village changed instantly when my peers heard of my impending travel. They started looking at me with wistful and sometimes envious eyes because I, Mongidi Oluwalobamishe Abolomomayowa Majekodunmi, was going to the golden city, while they, poor, unlucky blokes were staying back in the village to continue farming, fishing and listening to the local gossip. And of course, yours truly assumed a regal way of walking. I strutted round like a peacock trying to catch the attention of a peahen, and made sure to talk loudly about Lagos as though I had been there before, all the more to rub pepper in the wistful hearts of my poor friends. Now, don’t think me unkind after all, if I don’t sound my bell, who will?
The day I was to leave for Lagos with my Uncle, my grandfather– one old man that refused to accept the simple fact that he’s Old School– called me into his room and started to advise me.
“My shun… now, that you are trafuling far away to a very dishtant plash. I want you to know that you haf to take your laife in your handsh. Lagosh ish a very dangeroush plesh, sho you haf to be vely-vely careful. You are a man now; remember that laife ish too short to be lived in deshpair, neither ish it a bed of roshes. You nefa can haf all that you winsh for…blah…blah…blah…” He went on and on till I felt like smashing my heavy Ghana-must-go bag on his Aluwe head.
Well, as you can guess, I never gave his words much thought; rather it was his determination to prove that there was still life in his old body yet that set me off. He was hell-bent on proving to us, me in particular, that he had rubbed shoulders with the white man in his earlier years as a Railway signals-man during the colonial era. He always insisted, or should I say inshishted, on blowing grammar to show that he had learnt a word or two from them.
I never got on well with him anyway. The old man and I never saw eyeball to eyeball about anything; he saw me as a mischievous imp, while I regarded him as nothing but an old soldier who simply refused to die! The fact that he was always on my case for chasing after Papa Mulika’s daughter made me hate him the more.Whenever he caught me playing ‘touch and do’ with Mulika, he would harp repeatedly, “My shun (who was his shun? I was his grandshun), plish fesh your studish, girlsh would come later, they are evil…”
But did I heed his advice? Certainly not! I gave his words no more attention than an atheist would give to a Scripture Union fanatic talking about the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ, and continued playing ‘touch and do’ with my lovely Mulika. I mean, why should I leave sweet Mulika alone? I asked myself. Not when I could so easily perform multiple experiments on her, and also tap little quantities of electric currents from her lush, over-eager body? Besides, if I feshed my studish as he advised, who then would fesh my Mulika? Abegi, me I boned the old man and his senseless sermons.
And as for girls being evil, whom was he trying to kid? If they were as evil as he was painting them to be, how come my father and I came into existence? How come my father’s Uncle Joe still kept creeping surreptitiously under the skirts of girls young enough to be his own daughter, knocking them up and giving them big bellies? I often called him ‘Catch them young Baba’ behind his back as he had a knack for young, innocent girls. I even once saw him casting amorous eyes at my Mulika and ever since then, I made sure she never spent a second alone with him. Did I hear you exclaim? True, he was my dad, but then I don’t believe in communal sharing! No, not at all.
I can still remember the many times my granddad got a letter from his first son, my uncle. He would bring out his archaic 1941 pair of reading glasses, perch it on his bony, hawk-like nose and with all the soberness of a judge about to pass a death sentence on a poor, unlucky soul, he would begin to read loudly, stumbling brokenly over the unfamiliar words. Many a time, I would be moved to pity against my good sense and help him pronounce a long, unyielding word. But more often than not, my actions were greeted with displeasure as he would glare at me briefly and put on a scowl, which I’m very sure he thought looked menacing, before resuming his murder of the Queen’s language with even more fire and determination. “…Sho daddy, laife in Lagosh ish sho…sho ah…ahg…ahgwavating…”
My uncle did not help matters either, his letters were always full of wicked, long-winding, jaw-breaking words like lackadaisical, impeccuniosity, incalculability, perpendiculate, intergravitate, and other such words that you can think of. He never pitied the helpless, old man at the receiving end of his grammatical bombs. Most times, even I had to bring out my small dico to understand the big-big Oyibo he blew.
More often than not, my granddad would retire to his bed with a splitting headache; souvenirs from my uncle’s big-big oyibo whom I later learnt worked as a Court Clerk in one of Lagos’ High Courts. Obviously, he must have learnt those words from the lawyers and had to show off, shebi you know. Anyway, I don’t blame the man jare. After all, like begets like or better still, ‘Like father, with his ‘ish it sho…my shun…fesh your studish and shit down’ like son with his ‘impecuniosity, counquerlization…intercongesticulate…perpendicularity’
But did my granddad plague me all my life? Like hell! I still wake up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, hearing him calling My shun… My shun…