The Sleep Over

My first sleep over!

I was 12.

Mom said I could go sleep over at Osato’s house.

Osato was the first child I met when I walked into the gates of Federal Government Girl’s College, Zaria. Her mother was unpacking several suitcases from the trunk of a mini-van. Osato stood by herside. From behind, I could see her cheeks! My God. They were fat. I felt like I could slice layers off it and still not touch any bones in her face.

‘Orobo’ my mother said, pursuing her lips towards Osato. She looks like she is just joining too. ‘Go say hello’ my mom said with pleading eyes. She did not know how to feel about the fact that she was going to leave me all the way in Zaria alone. She had wished I remain in Abuja and attend one of the private secondary schools, but my dad felt I needed to be tougher. You don’t do her any good protecting her like this. The world will devour your child and spit her out if she grows up under the wings of the mother hen all the time.

Now 30 year old me knows my dad was an atypical father in more ways than my childhood brain could ever contemplate.  For example, he bought me every book I would ever ask for but he would never buy me a toy. That was my mother’s department. ‘Books make you smart. Toys make you stupid. Cartoons make you dull. The News makes you smart, etc’ He had his little beliefs and would sing them as rhymes. They annoyed me but probably not as much as they did my mom. When he was around, she would ask me never to argue with him. But when he was gone, she let me watch all the cartoons my heart desired. She let me play with the kids in the next compound. She let me ride the bicycle she bought me that she kept hidden in one of her clothing closets; she had 3. She let me just be me. Because my dad was gone a lot, that meant that when he was around, I did as my mom said and never argued with him. My mom would give me a conspiratorial wink as she shuffled past me, setting dishes in front of him or clearing up his dishes. That is all she seemed to do around him. Feed him. I did not know it at the time but we were the second. That is, his second family. He had another family, his real family, with his 2 sons and 2 daughters. We were the second!

‘Your cheeks are very very fat. They look like Teletubbies’ 9 year old me said to Osato. She looked at me puzzled and then to her mother. She moved closer to her mother ‘Mommy’, she said tugging at her wrapper. Her mom looked at me and smiled a warm kind smile. Her eyes twinkled when she smiled. ‘Are you also in JSS1?’ she asked warmly, her eyes betraying kindness her daughter could not muster for me.

‘Yes. I am in JSS1 too. My name is Adrianne. My mom calls me Ade, pronounced as ‘Aid’ not ‘Adey’. I rattled off. It was my routine with my mother. She hated when I was called ‘Adey’.

Osato and I became best of friends. The two most unlikely friends. My spindly legs did not match her fat stubby legs. My cheekbones were no match for her bubble cheeks. My friendly inquisitive personality was utterly dissimilar to her reserved personality. But we made great friends. She was in JSS1a and I was in JSS1c, but we spent every free time together, we went to the dinning hall together, we kept a common pool of provisions and ate together. Osato’s parents lived in Zaria, so her mom soon became my mom too, her dad my dad. Visiting days for Osato were as much my visiting days. Deliveries from my mother was labelled Adrainne Okocha and Osato Obigho. We shared everything, even her underwear. I was always certain to misplace mine half way into the term and Osato would lend me some of hers. ‘I have never worn this one, don’t worry’ she would assure me. It wouldn’t matter if she had or hadn’t to me. She was my sister.

Osato was the closest thing I had come to having a sibling and a constant playmate so I did not take her friendship lightly. I was protective of her, with our mates when they teased her over her weight. I fought and got beaten up badly because a girl had called Osato ‘fat pig’. My uniform was torn but I managed to give the girl 3 cat-like scratches along both cheeks. She was named ‘Risi’ by others after that day. I loved Osato.


First Midterm

‘Mommy, I don’t want to come back to Abuja. It is just 4 days. What is the point of all making that long journey? Osato says I can stay with her. Her mom and dad have invited me over. They said I can stay, mummy’. I pleaded on the phone. Osato and I were inseperable at this point. 4 days without Osato? Not when I had the option of being with her.

‘Honey, we have talked about this. Your dad and I. He wants you home. He doesn’t like sleep overs. We don’t know them well’ she said, repeating what my dad said, not what she believed. She knew Mrs. Obigho well. They spoke almost every weekend. When I called my mom saying I needed something, she called Mrs.Obigho. Mrs. Obigho would bring it for me. Sometimes she bought me extra things saying they were from my mom.

‘Mommy. You know Mrs. Obigho!’ I screamed throwing a mini-tantrum. I hadn’t done that in months. My guardian, Mrs. Anydasador peered at me through the louvres of the staff room. I quickly recomposed myself. She was one of those guardians who would flog you for turning off scruffy when she sent for you or for failing a test. ‘Mommy,’ I repeated, calmyly now, ‘I wan’t to stay with Osato. I want to.’ I said, tears dripping down my face.

‘Honey, but what about me? What about mommy. I miss you too. I have an entire list of things I have written down for us to do when you come. I learnt how to flip the pancake finally without turning it in two, honey, honey I stocked up the fridge with all the ice-creams you love. I bought you a new special surprise gift. Mommy wants to see you too’ she said, her voice betraying muffled tears. I did not know it then, but with me gone, my mom had no hobbies, nothing to do, nobody to fuss over, nobody to dote on. 30 year old me knows it now. 9 year old me was disappointed. And I went home as my father wanted that midterm and every midterm thereafter. There were no sleep overs for me. My father forbade it. He forbade even discussing or crying about it. I knew the drill. I came home for every holiday. Never mind that the journey to and fro wore down my young mind and drained me of any good-will for that holiday. I returned morose, grumpy and unyielding to every affection by my mom to cheer me up. In all my mid-terms at home, my dad was never home.


Today, 30 year old me is making a little trip to Lekki. This evening, the president I refuse to call with a capital P and whose name I have refused to mention has decided to finally call the pandemic by its name; Covid-19. It took him a full 2 weeks to respond after the Ghanaian President responded and set up travel restrictions. He has announced a 2 week lockdown. No activity or movement for the next 2 weeks around Lagos and Abuja.

My phone rings , vibrating beneath the rubble of clothes on my bed. I fumble through the pile but and fail to locate it. I fling all the clothes on the floor on the bed; still no sign of my phone. The phone keeps ringing. I sit on my bed and feel my bed vibrating too. ‘This phone must be on this bed somewhere o’ I think aloud, meticulously lifting each already folded and packed outfit in the suitcase. No sign of it. The ringing discontinues. ‘Where is this phone though?’ I say aloud. I begin to pick up all the clothes flung on the floor.  The phone starts to ring again!

‘You’ve got to be kidding me!!!!!’ I scream, doing my little tantrum dance and sliding from the bed down to the floor. I place my head against my suitcase, my head seems to be vibrating. ‘It is under the suitcase!!!!’ I suddenly realise. I immediately turn around and slide my fingers beneath the suitcase.

Facetime call. Osato.

‘Baby mama’ I exclaim.

‘Baby girl’ she responds. ‘You still coming?’ she says looking worried.

‘Yaaaas boo. Just packing up, I say switching the view mode of the camera to show her my suitcase!’

‘Jesus Christ!!!! Ade, what are you packing? No be lockdown you dey come so?’ she switches into her Benin pidgin.

‘Babe, I know but I don’t want to take chances abeg. Plus they are mainly lounge wear now!’ I respond, knowing she would still have a sarcastic comment to boot.

‘Sha bring all my tops you have taken from this house! You go pack suitcase full, come  house, still wear all my clothes’ she says with a roll of her eyes. ‘And make sure you pack all your pant come o’ she adds mischievously.

’20 years OSATO!!!! 20 years and I will not rest that you gave me pant o.’ I scream down the line. It was our routine. She made sure to remind me every time I visited.

‘Babe, if i woze you eh? 20 years? Christmas wey you come my house, you no carry my pant commot for this house?’ she responds

‘That was lingerie!!! And you do not wear it! And the Lord had need of it’ I respond with a wink and flourish of my teeth! If only her husband knew that most of the lingerie he gifted his Osato ended up underneath another man’s weight. ‘Babe, I am done now. I will call you when I am in the car abeg. Your wahala too much’

‘Pidgin no fit you!’ she says and waves me good bye!

I was going to spend our longest sleep over together. 30 year old, married Osato pregnant with her first child and me going through my 100th relationship, our favourite thing to do was still sleep-overs. Osato’s husband was stuck in the US when the lockdown began! We did not imagine it will get this bad. So I was going to stay with her during this time, not because she needed me, but because we spent most of her time, without her husband, together.

It was like that since our first sleep over!


I was 12. It was JSS3 extension period. Osato and I debated just staying together for the one week break without telling my parents. She was pro-tell and I was against it.

‘My dad will just come up with another excuse why I shouldn’t stay’ I said to her in a whisper during night prep. ‘He never comes to visit me o but he is the one that wants me to be travelling all that way to Abuja every time. I don’t want! I am not telling them!’ I say to Osato.

‘Stubborn goat!’ she whispers back and we both burst into laughter. Osato had learned with me to say whatever and be whatever. There were no filters. There were no boundaries.

‘What of mommy though? You won’t tell her?’ Osato said, toying on my heart strings. She knew my mom and I were more than daughter and mother, she was my friend, my fellow inmate in the prison my father had built for us.

‘But she will just end up telling daddy?’ I respond.

‘Ask her. And then beg her not to tell your dad. He doesn’t even know there is a holiday. He only knows because mom tells him. Tell her and beg her not to tell your dad’ Osato says. As a force of habit and familiarity, Osato called my mom ‘mom or mommy’. We were that close that she shared my mother too. My father was a distant unfamiliar figure to her, so she called him, ‘your dad’.

‘I will try but if it doesn’t work, we are fighting’ I announce to her under hushed tones.

It did work. My mom I suppose had gotten tired of my grumpy attitude when I returned home against my will. Maybe it was also because I had thrown in ‘Mommy, it would be just like our bicycle. Daddy doesn’t have to know’. Maybe also because Osato was standing next to me chiming in ‘Mummy please. Mummy please’ occasionally. We wore her down and she accepted. ‘Mom is the word’ she said in a conspiratorial whisper, like we did when my father came to visit. ‘And you are the best mom in the world’ I announce in a high pitched squeal with Osato and I bouncing around in circles! Mrs. Anyasador shot us a glance and we quietened down.

Our first sleep over!


Osato’s house was like her mom’s smile; warm, welcoming and familiar. I marched behind Osato as she led me into our shared room as though I knew every corner of the house. There were pictures of her parents, Osato and her brother siblings all around the house. I knew all her siblings by name. They were my siblings too. Her parents were my parents too. Her dad called me ‘the Iroko’ because I was slim and tall. I loved how affectionate it was. He had a name for me. My father called me by my full name ‘Adrianne’, but Mr. Obigho had a name for me. I felt at home.

Osato and I were to spend a week and then return back to school to commence our examinations for the Junior West African School Certificate (Junior WAEC as every other person calls it). We unpacked our little suitcase in excitement.

‘Bring out all your dirty clothes, put them on that side and then pack your books on that table there’ Osato said pointing first to where I should keep my clothes and then to the table.

I unpacked my books and dropped them neatly on the table and then toppled the clothes on the corner where she had pointed.

‘I said your dirty clothes o’ Osato said in correction.

‘I know’ I responded ‘all my clothes are dirty’ I said unembarrassed. I added to the pile of clothes on the floor, the one I was wearing. Osato starred at me naked, flat chested at the top and in her underwear and then at my pile of clothes.

‘You are a pig!’ she says, bursting into laughter.

‘I know’ I say moving over to her wardrobe. ‘What can I wear though?’ I say, pointing at her clothes, watching her split her sides laughing. ‘And it is really not that funny!’ I add, which sent Osato into another spell of laughter. Osato laughing made her cheeks bounce around, she looked like a cartoon, like an animation character. I started to laugh too. There we both stood in her room, staring at each other, laughing ourselves silly!

30 year old me thinks we should have laughed more. We should have enjoyed and savoured that moment more. I think Osato knew, hence why she kept laughing, long after I was done, long into when it became annoying, long into when I took offence and started to ignore her.

‘Dinner time o’ Mrs. Obigho said, poking her head into our bedroom. Osato, pack the clothes to the boys quarters let maiguard start washing them tomorrow. You girls only have a week to be home. Make sure there is no underwear in the pile o. Ade come to the dinning table. Food is ready’.

Osato protested that over half the clothes there were mine and responded saying I was her guest. I helped Osato pack the clothes to the boys’ quarters and we marched together to the dinning table.

We were savouring a plate of hot vegetable soup and boiled yam. Cutlery clanged against the transparent glass plates Mrs. Obigho had served us with. Glass plates at home were reserved for father. Even mother ate from the ceramic plates. Sitting there eating the hot piece of yam and peppery vegetable soup with lavish chunks of meat, a feeling of pain shot through my chest that I had been born into the wrong family! I felt a stab of guilt go through my chest because mom is perfect. It was just dad. Why was he so absent? Why was he never there? Why did we not ever eat together like a family, like Osato’s family?

‘Bimpe, but I have told you that I don’t like this much salt in my food’ Mr.Obigho began, interrupting my thoughts. It was like Mr. Obigho to crack jokes and find humour in everything. I chuckled thinking this was one of them! The food was perfect. He possibly could not be serious.

‘What? You are trying to poison me! I have told you not to be cooking all this your Yoruba food like this in this house. How many years?’ he said pushing the plate away from him. He was angry. I caught the damp in the atmosphere and immediately focused all my attention on pushing the pieces of yam around my plate.

‘Silas! We have a guest’. Mrs. Obigho said sharply. I looked up in disbelief, a piece of yam stuck half way in my mouth. Mrs. Obigho called Mr. Obigho by his name? Since that day I had only heard ‘my love’, ‘mine’, ‘daddy Osato’ etc. ‘His name is Silas’ my young mind registers. My eyes shift up tentatively, meeting Mrs. Obigho’s eyes, her smile was gone.

That was the start of the rest of the night which ended in shouting fits, raging tempers and banging doors and banging on doors. Osato’s mom ushered us into our rooms with our plates of food which remained untouched the rest of the night after her husband’s ‘you are a mad woman!’ response to her remark. The rest of the night, I heard shouting, insults and rage. I heard Mrs. Obigho scream once, a painful tearful scream and footsteps. Fast footsteps running down the hall. Osato sat up on her bed, peacefully, eyes trained on the door and I sat fearfully beside her.

‘What is happening?’ I asked, unsure of what I should be saying, unsure of how to feel.

‘Mummy is running into her room. So daddy will not hit her again’ she responds, offering commentary like it is a football game. ‘He has been drinking again. He hides in the boys’ quarters to drink and smoke most nights. When he does, things like this usually happen!’

I hear door locks turn and I banging on the door! Shouts, curses and crying, her dad was crying too. ‘What is happening?’ I ask again, this time, to myself. I did not want Osato to respond. I was baffled. I never saw my parents argue. Never! My dad asked and my mom did whatever he asked. When she disagreed, she wouldn’t mention it, she would just do as she pleased when he was gone! What did I prefer? Seeing my mom look like a weakling or seeing my dad pummel her if she argued? Was daddy a wife beater too? If mom disagreed, would he beat her too? Would he curse and chase her down the stairs? Did my dad drink? I had so many questions! So many questions!

A few minutes after, the house quietened and Osato slide under the covers. ‘Good night’ she says. I sit up in disbelief and fear. What if it started again? What if her dad came in here and beat us. I wait a few minutes for Osato’s sleeping breath to even out and I stood up and walked to the door and locked it up.

‘Don’t do that’  Osato says startling me to death! ‘Don’t do that’ she says quieter now. ‘Sometimes, mom has to run in here. He never enters our rooms. I do not know why. Maybe he thinks we do not know and do not see. He never enters our rooms.’ she says, alarm and pity in her eyes that I had seen all of her now.

12 year old me did not talk about what had happened. Not to Osato. Not to my mom! That night, all I knew to do was to wrap my arms around Osato as she cried into her pillow. I cried too because I wasn’t sure what to say, how to feel or how to look at her parents the next morning.

After our first sleep over, my mom got comfortable with our secret and would always ask Mrs. Obigho if I could stay. She always welcomed me. Osato was happy she had me around. I was happy to be with Osato. I never said anything to her. But when she cried into her covers and pillows, I would cry too, with my arms wrapped around her. Her mother was my mother and her father was my father. We were children born into domestic abuse.

Osato grew in the habit of telling me what happened like it was just another conversation we had. ‘Dad got angry  yesterday and told mom to leave the house. He threw her out.’ she would tell me over the phone. ‘She slept in the maiguard house. The maiguard let her in when dad had left the gate and he was sure he had fallen asleep’. Another day she called me to announce ‘Dad pushed mommy’s heard against the wall. He said she stole his money. He ended up finding his money where he kept it’.

12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17….year old me cried my heart out and prayed my heart out. Mrs. Obigho was my mom too. She was beautiful as she was kind. Mr. Obigho was funny when he was around us. He was kind to me too. He is not a monster. It is the alcohol so I prayed for the alcohol to stop. I prayed my heart out! I am not sure when I stopped praying and only cried. I am not sure but it has been a while now.


‘Bish, I am at your gate!’ I announce to Osato’s stuffed face! ‘You are eating again!!!! Ordinarily pregnancy, you are feeding for 100 people!!!!!!’ I look at her with teasing disgust!

‘I am having twins, fool!’ she announces nonchalantly, not oblivious of the fact that this was news to me.

‘Stop playing! Osato! Twins? Are you serious??’ I scream, driving into the compound, as her gateman smiles and salutes all at once. He knew me now!

Osato’s pregnant belly is waiting at the door, stuffing her face with some excessively creamy cake and waiting with a familiar smile.

‘Twins? I ask again!

‘Twins’ she says, beaming from ear to ear!

I hug her pregnant belly. I hold on as though for their life. ‘Babee!!!!!!!’ I say, tears in my eyes!

‘I got tired of waiting for Gbenga. Who knows when he will be back from the US with this lockdown. I haven’t told him I checked sha! My doctor said he will keep the secret’ she said cheekily, grinning from ear to ear. ‘I wanted to tell you in person. I knew you would behave like this. I wanted to see it!’ she continues, laughing again. The twins moved and I jumped around in excitement at the thought that they respond to me. ‘They already know me! They already know their god-mother!’ I announce, arms spread out, like a footballer, prancing around the field upon scoring a goal!

‘Mumu!!’!! Osato says dragging me by my pants into the house. ‘I have told my father that if he wants, he should kill my mother before she sees her grandchildren. And I told my mother, that if she wants, she should stay there and die, before her grand children come! It is over me at this point.’ she says betraying the real worry, and perhaps her only worry with her pregnancy.

‘They will see their grandchildren’ I say, standing behind her, wrapping my arms around her and nuzzling her cheeks with my cheekbones.

‘Ade. Mom called me this morning. She says he poured hot pap on her because she did not put a spoon on the tray. Ade!!!! Hot pap! I do not know how they will do in this lockdown o. 2 weeks locked up in a house alone! No shop for mom to go to! No way for them to avoid themselves! Two of them stuck in one house for 24 hours! Ade…!’she says, her voice trailing off.

I hug her tighter, my heart beating too loud. ‘Ask mom to come here! Ask her to come! It is only fair she has to be with her pregnant daughter’ I say, quietly, already knowing the answer.

‘She says she has married her own husband and I have married mine. She is not running away from her husband’s house’ Osato recites an answer that I know too well!

 

 

 

 

 

First Move (1)

A community outreach.

That is where Justice and I met. The first thing I noticed about him obviously was his name. ‘Who the fuck names his or her child Justice?’ I imagined, as he said his name in a rush, as though he was saying it with some form of resentment against his parents too.

It was a long 60 seater coaster bus and I got tired of wringing my neck in an attempt to see each person who introduced  his/herself. I figured I did not need to know names of anyone really. We are here to teach some kids to read and write and to share a hot meal with them. I did not need to learn any names really. 

I kept my face focused on my phone. I liked a LasisiElenu sketch even before I watched it. I already knew it would be good. I scrolled past making a mental note to watch it later. The names dragged on. There was laughter after some introductions. “Bad man!” “Sweet boy”. I plugged in my earpiece. The environment took me back to secondary school, where the popular kids who sat at the back of the bus, made all the noise and teased kids like me who sat gingerly in the front row seats. Today, I was sitting in the middle row, and we were not kids anymore, these were grown men and women, adults, yet it took me back. I did not want to be part of it. I kept my earpiece plugged in, with no music.

Eventually we arrived at the destination community.   Ore, our host and convener of the outreach, stood up to address the bus. She thanked everyone once again for coming and went through a list of to-dos; who was on what duty, who did what, who would share what. ‘Finally guys, please let’s be careful. The last time we were here, people were pickpocketed. I advise we leave our phones here. I know it is 2019 but we can survive 2 hours with no phones’. she said.

‘Also guys, especially the noisemakers at the back, please make yourselves useful with unpacking the stuff in the bus please’. Ore concluded.

‘What of you girls, what will you be doing?’ a voice boomed from the back of the bus?

‘Where are all the feminists?’ another supported, which sent laughter and obnoxious comments on feminism flying from the back of the bus.

‘God, who are these people? What are they?’ I think while grabbing a pack of rolls of toilet paper on my way out of the bus. As we tried to get down in a single file, the community children could not be happier. They cheered with joy to see all the food and supplies being offloaded from the bus. They pointed at some of us, giggling and showing off their little white teeth.

A police van pulls up and a group of armed police men show up. My heart flops into my stomach. Okay, what now? They stump out of the vehicle towards us. Hey God! Ore walks gingerly to them and gives one of them a hug. Oh! They come in peace. The children are still now chattering in whispers. This community is familiar with the heavy-handedness of the Nigerian police. Sometimes they are forcefully evicted in the middle of the night for living on and building illegal shanties. Sometimes their young men are picked up for crimes that happen out in the cities. Who really knows if they committed the crime. Nobody asks. Guilty until proven innocent. Innocence came at a high price of high legal fees, so really it was guilty until death. They rot in the prisons.

The young men who were standing in the sidelines have now slinked away at the sight of the police. The children are talking in very silent whispers. There is slight tension in the air. The police men match ahead of us, while we queue behind them in a single file. Is the police presence necessary? Yes it is. It is because I know in communities like this, you usually would not be allowed to do your charitable work without first paying homage in cash to the leaders of the community. Then even when you got the permission, it was a free for all with the ‘area boys’. So yes, the police was a necessary evil.

‘I take it you are not a feminist then?’ a voice said interrupting me from my reverie.

‘I am not?’ I ask, wondering why the question had come in the first place. My eyes are looking across the expanse of the field, the number of kids. Is this where we will teach these kids? We have way too many kids per volunteer. I am not sure how this would work out.

‘Well, I am assuming you are not. You helped the boys carry an entire bag of toilet rolls.’ he says, chuckling.

I hope this is a joke. I hope this is not another idiot feminist antagonist. ‘Funny’ I respond sarcastically and turn my gaze to look at the moron. The moron had the most piercingly beautiful eyes I had seen on anybody. He was light skin, very light skin! He must be mixed race or have some European ancestry. Almost blonde hair, almost blonde beards?  He wearing a crisp white linen shirt, absolutely not one wrinkle on the shirt. What starch does he use? Who is his dry cleaner? And my word, what an incredibly charming smile! Who is this walking breathing distraction?


‘I don’t even like light skin guys’ I mention a 10th time to Nnenny, while I pound away at my keyboard, trying to keep a straight face.

‘Ermmmm, no you think you do not like light skin boys. You really think so. In reality, your type is anybody’

‘What?!’ I gasp in mock horror

‘No offence’ Nnnenny responds in mock apology

‘Offence’ I say rolling my eyes. She was right. I did not have a type. I could tell you what I think my type is, but in reality, I am attracted to an array of people! In fact I have never dated my type. Is my logic broken?

‘Okay so what did he say after you said funny?’ Nnenny responds clicking away at an excel sheet. Yes, we are hard at work. Very hard at work but this is the way we worked, we talked, we argued and then we worked some more, late into the night, till we decided to go home to sleep and start again the next morning. Nnenny is my office best friend and my real life confidante.

‘Well I think I froze for like 3 whole minutes staring at his face and his eyes. I just froze’ I did not know I was into eyes. Golden brown eyes! No, he has no foreign ancestry. Yes. A regular Igbo boy. ‘He eventually looked at me, bemused and introduced himself. Justice. My name is Justice. He smiled his beautiful smile. Who names their child Justice? Who names a child as beautiful as this, Justice?

‘I hope you did not tease him about his name, Dora.’ Nnenny said looking at me disbelievingly. She is reading my thoughts again. Nnenny was the only one in the entire world who shortened my parent-given name; Adaora to Dora.

‘No! No now, I am not a psycho. If we get close, I will do it eventually.’ I said smiling at her.

‘When?’ she corrected

‘Sorry?’ I said starring at her blankly, watching her slender fingers tap expertly on her pink mouse. So Nnenny. So so Nnenny to get a pink mouse.

‘When you get close, not if you get close’ She corrected. ‘When you and Justice get close, you can tease him about his name’

‘How are you sure that would happen?’ I said.

I remembered how wide a smile spread across his face as we conversed as Ore and the soldiers discussed with the community heads. Each time he smiled, I thought ‘oh gosh! That’s a great thing right? I make someone this incredibly attractive smile.’ We were soon separated by our duties with the kids. He was to play football with the older boys while I was to teach some of the younger kids sitting in a circle at the other end of the field numbers and alphabets. Twice during the day, he checked in to make sure I was okay. Technically, the second time, he came to ask the kids if I was doing a good job teaching them. They nodded, mesmerised by his presence, by his smile. I blushed shamelessly at this attention.

‘He took your number, didn’t he?’ Nnenny responded with a characteristic confidence.

‘Yeah he did.’. Back at the coaster bus, he had walked up  from his back of the bus to sit opposite me. He had asked if it was not presumptuous of him to assume we had a connection and ask for my number. When he made his way to the back of the bus, there were barely stifled giggles and then an outburst of laughter. ‘Na man you be’ the loudest of the idiots bellowed, slapping him across his back.  I plugged in my earphones and this time put on some music.

‘His name though? Justice? Like Justice League or like Justice Oputa Panel?’ I said, twisting my lips up in mock irritation. I was way beyond his name now. All I see now is crisp white linen and golden  brown eyes.

Honey, when you look liked that, and I repeat, when you look like that….’ Nnenny says, pausing for dramatic effect while scrolling through his IG page she pulled up on her phone. How does she do that?  How does she pull up someone’s entire social media history with just a name?  ‘honestly your parents could name you whatever the fuck they want! Yes girl!!!!! His eyes are beautiful!!!!! I thought it was only white people that had interesting eyes.’ she said zooming into one of his pictures.

Giggles bubble, butterflies swarm, rainbows flipflop and unicorns gallop around my tummy. What the hell is wrong with me?

 

5 THINGS TO KNOW ABOUT THE NIGERIAN LAW SCHOOL (BAR PART 1)

If you intend to practice as a lawyer in Nigeria, you must go through the Nigerian Law School (NLS). If you have attained an undergraduate degree in a foreign university, then you must submit yourself to Bar 1.  This is a 3 month period during which you will be schooled on the fundamentals of the Nigerian Legal System. After you have passed Bar 1, you will proceed to Bar 2 where you will join the rest of your Nigerian schooled counterparts. If you are Nigerian and a lawyer, you probably already know this but I write this for the benefit of non lawyers and non-Nigerians.

So 5 things you must know about the NLS Bar Part 1.

  1. FORGET EVERYTHING YOU LEARNT ABOUT JUSTICE AND FAIRNESS

This is the absolute ultimate fundamental cardinal rule to surviving law school- FORGET ALL YOU KNOW ABOUT FAIRNESS AND JUSTICE! I did not use all those synonyms for nothing friend! Nobody cares about what is just and what is fair. Almost everyone you meet will as a matter of right trample upon your most basic human rights and expect, rather mandate you do NOT to put up any protest. Now this might sound confusing for 2 reasons.

Firstly, you have spent 3 years of your undergraduate education grappling with the vague and elusive but fundamental legal concepts JUSTICE and FAIRNESS. Through battling sleep and headache and heartache in Jurisprudence class, Legal theory, Human Rights and Public law classes, you come up with fairly acceptable fundamental definitions. You come out of University, your eyes wide with excitement to implement these concepts especially in your country where these terms are not evident except in the dictionary. So being asked to forget everything you know about these terms is confusing and quite frankly alarming.

Secondly,  NLS is an institute of legal learning- it could be termed the foremost institute of legal knowledge for without it, no lawyer is or has been (VERY FEW EXCEPTIONS  but that is the job of your legal systems lecturer – not mine). No lawyer; SAN or Chief Judge, can practice in the country without passing through and exiting its gates. Therefore you would expect that the standards of fairness, equity, justice, amongst others, which the legal profession  holds dear would salute you every morning as you awake and tuck you into sleep as your head hits the pillow. If that is your impression. I enjoin you to please engage in more productive use of your time and mind.

NLS Bar Part 1 will try you in ways you have never fathomed. From

  • being told that the bites scattered across your body cannot be bed bug bites from the infested hostel mattress because the doctor who diagnosed had not conducted a physical examination of the mattress to ascertain the presence of such bed bugs (never mind that a doctor who diagnoses you of malaria  need not conduct a physical examination of the room to ascertain the presence of female anopheles mosquitoes in your room)
  • to being told when you complain of snake infested dormitory (The Boys Hostel interestingly named ‘Afghanistan’) that you should be tolerant as you are the one encroaching on the snake’s natural habitat
  • to being called Batman by school officials for wearing a billowy top, and still being sent back to the hostel to change said top even after putting a blazer over it
  • to being told to take out a full head of dreadlock braids before classes the next day because they made you look like Rihanna’s back up singer and not a lawyer,
  • to having your name crossed off the attendance for an entire week for signing with a green pen (apparently you are expected to know that black and blue pens are the only  ink colours acceptable to lawyers- for signing attendance! Accountants use green pens! Well we learn everyday, don’t we?)
  • to having your phone sitting in your hand seized by a lecturer who walks in a full hour ahead of his class (moral of the lesson- don’t come early to class? Still trying to decode that).

There will be various trying times. In all of these, be strong and of good courage and above all non-confrontational. Stoop to conquer!

  1. ACCENTS

There is a joke people we Nigerians make about ourselves, Mr ABC travels to China for 3 days and returns with an American accent. Extrapolate this joke to Bar 1. Bar 1 will be made up entirely of people who have spent at least 3 years (it takes at least 3 years to complete an undergraduate law degree) of their lives outside of the shores of Nigeria- and you know what that means- there will be a litany of accents floating around the classroom. I choose to group them in the following categories

Pure Britico/ Americana Accent – Now these are the people who have spent all or almost all of their lives in Britain or England and cannot even if their lives depend on this, speak without a British or American accent. This is a small percentage of the ‘Britico/Americana’ accents you will hear in Bar 1. And usually after the initial gra gra of screaming when they talk, we soon get used to them and becoming accepting of them.

The same cannot be said for the By Force Britico/Americana Accent. These also represent a significantly higher percentage of the class, but still a small percentage as opposed to the litany of accents. Listening to these people talk is like doing your worst chore; very very painful and often incredibly embarrassing. They struggle to roll their tongue and make their words airy and light; they try hard to suppress the heavier Nigerian tongues which they have been born with. The struggle is obvious and hence we call then by force Britico/Americana. You easily spot these people by the number of ‘errrrr’s and ahhhhhh’s they have in between simple phrases. My nameee (errrr) is (errrr) Nicky (errrr). This accent is often not sustainable and it isn’t unusual to hear it slip up and sometimes fall into correct warri pidgin when they are bargaining for food or asking for their change at mammy market! The class forever reacts aggressively to these people each time they pick up the microphone (and they love the sound of their voice so they often go for it) by screaming, hissing, banging armrests and throwing mini tantrums.

The I have been Accent – This is the accent majority of the class has. It is that accent which is still very Nigerian but punctuated with a bit of phonetics. Because this is where majority of the class standards, the class is tolerant of these accents, especially after a presentation, this accent welcomes claps and cheers.

The Forever Loyal Nigerians – These are the Okonjo Iweala’s of the class. They might have spent even more time abroad than the By Force Britico/Americana but they speak with the same degree of flavour as our ancestors. They have no time and strength to roll their tongue. The majority of these are older igbo men and their accents were viscous thick and their mannerisms completely the same.

 

  1. NIGERIAN-NESS OF OUR LAWS

I think this is an important thing that is not talked about because well not many people talk about the academic aspects of Bar part 1 because if we are being honest there is almost no such thing. (Okay if we are being completely honest there is such a thing actually but only the week before exams!). Before the final week of exams, all you need to do is show up to classes and sign attendance, or if you have (good) friends they can help you to sign the attendance while you sleep off the hangover from clubbing in town the night before.

So why do I say it is important to know about this? If you are like me who doesn’t like to leave the academics to the week before exams, that is – you actually like to follow what is being said in class, then a lot of things would confuse you at first. Also, if you decide to leave everything to last minute,  you must also understand  some little principles so that you don’t start to question whether or not your parents wasted valuable hard currency sending you to school outside the country.

This little excerpt is just to tell you that many things about our laws do not make any form of sense- at first. I mean for example you would be very confused and find it very hard to grasp the fact that ‘all land in a State is vested in the Governor of that State’ therefore every State government is the chief and original landlord of the land in that State.’  To be fair, this is not an entirely fair example because Land/Property Law is generally a terribly difficult course to comprehend in almost any jurisdiction. (It is where the money is too so…….). But prepare your mind for the Nigerianness of our laws, to grammatical errors in statute books and inconsistencies rife and thriving even in the Constitution. Prepare your mind too for evidence law because that shit makes no damn sense – at least in Bar Part 1!

4.  LOVITOS

This is the only thing in Bwari that reminds law school students of their time outside of the country. Built to double as a restaurant and a a bar/club, official hookup zone of Bwari Abuja. In case you are not aware, you will be thrust in the middle of no-where in Abuja (to think I was actually super excited to move to Nigeria and live in Abuja and live my best life….chile!) Lovitos is what serves as everything. It is where a poor and sweet vegan soul like me thought I could go and ask for a meat free meal being that it is the only place that looked like civilization might have brushed past it as it qucikly hurried past that town! I got a ‘meat free’ pasta meal alright…..WITH SAUSAGES! The waitress didn’t seem to understand why I was so frustrated because ‘there is no meat in the plate now?’ It is the place you are most likely to get taken on a date for some ‘privacy’ if you are not determined enough to drive into town. Lovitos is where the Friday and Saturday parties are at. It is the scene of the last party after Bar 1 exams where if you go all day without eating and stressing for your exams, and after a few shots of what you don’t know, you might end up slow whining with the annoying Nigerian-American guy in your class you can’t stand – the guy who raised hell over the cafeteria owing him N10. Lovitos is a beautiful place filled with regrets and memories that must be suppressed.

5.  PREDATORS
Listen ladies! I speak for ladies because I do not know about the men. But ladies…….LISTEN! The favourite button on your phone will quickly become ‘the block button’. And honestly it doesn’t matter how kind and sweet and friendly your disposition is (I am as sweet as they come). It is close to impossible as a Bar 1 student to leave your room without encountering some guy who is trying to get your number, buy your meal or walk you back to the hostel (because you suddenly have gotten blind and can’t find the way by which you came again.)  Listen I am not even talking about purposeful approaches – just random approaches with the stupidest pick up lines. I mean I had a guy approach me TWICE at the same exact spot -I had to remind me that we had done this before, that he has my number and YES when he calls I do not pick the calls and will not pick the calls.  So ladies, the guys will approach you, YES THEY WILL. And honey, I know you are a babe, and you are fit and snatched! But it has absolutely nothing to do with any of the above! Nope they approach you because you are new meat in the wilderness of Bwari and you are easier to prey on than their Bar 2 colleagues! Men of all sorts will approach you, you will quickly learn to be deaf, to walk super swiftly or to use your block button because sometimes it is easier to give them your number and walk away than to pretend to be deaf.

Good Luck.

 

P.S. It might be too late for us but we can at least laugh about it: Don’t be a lawyer

 

 


I wrote this a while ago! I have been out of law school for 3 years now but I still feel the need to publish because 1. memories 2. for those who come behind 3. to share with those very very ‘unprivileged’ to be lawyers or attend the Nigerian Law School.

 

Should I give them? Can they take it?

So I have seen the phrase ‘if I don’t give them, how will they take it?,’ used on social media very often recently.   I love love love the phrase and honestly I have been seeking an opportunity to use it too. Unfortunately, I am rarely in a state where I think one can use that phrase. You know, the people (mainly girls – actually I have only seen girls use this phrase) who usually use it when they are all glammed up and snatched, they have their nails done, makeup on fleek,  dressed to the nines and even baby hairs are laid. I think I am only any of these things once every 3 years.

I mean to start with, I don’t even have baby hairs to lay – the crust like clusters on each side of my head definitely do not fit the definition of baby hair. In igbo they are called – ‘isi ukwu ose’. (Translator needed please?) So that automatically makes it impossible for me to fulfill that criterion. Moreover, in terms of dressing, a jean and tshirt are always the winning outfit choice in my life.  Of course how can I forget, my eyebrows have refused to understand that they do not always have to form a confluence at the ridge above my nose and the only item of makeup I currently own is the sheabutter I use as lipbalm.

So each time I  see the girls who put up this posts, I would dream in my head about the day I could get to use that phrase. So far I have gotten to use it twice (both occasions on friends who met the above criteria) out of fear that by the time I would finally get to use it on myself, the phrase would be extinct.

Anyway, I am very happy to announce that I too can get to use the phrase!!!!! (This isn’t dramatic at all!) A few months ago, I got an offer to leave the most noble (and least paying?) profession in the world (law) and join the glitzy (and only marginally better paying) and artificially seductive streets of corporate Nigeria. (I have sold a part of my soul, I know!) A few months before I got this job, I was lying in bed early one morning and thinking very deep thoughts about my life. This lasted for a few hours and at the end of which I made up my mind to cut – rather to scrape off – all the hair on my head once the sun came up that day!

Shocking? Perhaps! Drastic? Not so much! I mean, I had been sharing with close family and friends earlier that year that I wanted to cut my hair by the end of the year. I mean there were many reasons, one of which is that I had been a ‘naturalista‘ for a whole 7 years and my hair had not grown past thumb length in all those years…. yet I would see someone with shoulder length natural hair and was barely past a year into this natural hair world. The person would look at my length and try to comfort me with ‘dont worry, keep at it, the first year is usually the most awkward year’. At first I used to bother shocking them with the fact it had been natural 7 whole years and go through the charade of disbelief, then laughter, then endless questions on what ‘my routine’ is and get offered more and more advice on ‘new routines’. What they did not know and I tried to explain is that in 7 years, I had been there and DONE ALL OF THAT. My hair has just refused to get with the programme (I lost the genetic lottery on hair – (no) thanks Mom!).  After sometime, I too got tired of the charade and the laughter and I let the adviser feel the comfort of sharing their natural hair  testimony and I would listen humbly and pretend to be excited to hit the one year mark too. I have digressed, havent I?

Anyway, my mom bluntly told me not to cut my hair. My dad didn’t say a word, but in reality I never pointedly told him, I only said it in his presence. All but one of my close friends were mortified that I dared mention it and advised me not to. Even I tried to talk – or think- myself out of the idea. At the back of my mind, I remembered all my horrific memories of my hair being scrapped off by the barber when I was much younger. I was about to head to secondary school and because my dad ‘did not want me to be stressed about figuring out how to get my hair cornrowed in school’, he invited a barber to the house and against my will, my hair was scrapped off! In reality, his real concern was that hair would distract me from facing my books (my dad and my education? Truest love affair ever!) He also mentioned that didn’t want me looking unkempt – lol but he should have been advised that that was a battle he could not win. Over 20 years later, the good Lord is still working on me! Anyway, I didn’t like my hair being cut then. I felt I I did not look as ‘pretty’ as the girls in school with their hair. What is more? I didn’t have a relationship with my hair comb so I barely ever combed my hair so really  – JUST HORRIFIC MEMORIES.

In fact I recalled when I was chewing gum in class and I was caught and the teacher asked to put the gum in the middle of my hair. I have always had a thing about being a good student, being liked by teachers, so getting caught doing something ‘terrible’ made me feel very bad so I tried to show the teacher I was truly remorseful by pressing the gum into my hair while listening attentively from my kneeling position in the front of the whole class for the rest of the 2 hour lesson (it was a double period). After the two hours, I couldn’t get the gum off without chopping off the hair in the middle of my head with the help of a ‘friend’ and a pair of scissors. So I walked around for the next few weeks or months with an obvious bald patch in my hair. Horrific, truly horrific memories!

However, as I lay in bed that morning drowning in thoughts, I had a deep longing to start over! I was determined to cut my hair that same day! I couldn’t wait till December (2018). I would do it that morning I concluded. It occurred to me that this might be the reasoning of a sleep deprived mixed with a deeply anxious state of mind but I was convinced it was the only thing I wanted to do so I went ahead and cut my hair that same morning – BALD! I didn’t consult a soul. I just came home to shock my family and the rest of the week shocked friends with it.

Now the reaction was overwhelming. I had friends who teased me endlessly. A friend said ‘Mr. XYZ (insert surname) now has 5 sons’. Other friends thought it looked dope. Honestly the truth is that I couldn’t care less about the reactions of people who didn’t like it. I cut my hair with the mindset that I would look terrible and I wanted to free myself from that mindset of caring, of wanting people to like me. I wanted to in my head know that I might not look physically attractive to the rest of the world and not care about it (because it really bothers me in my head that I do care about this even if I shouldn’t!). I was trying to shake my reality to match my beliefs. I went to my brothers’ barber (yes I didn’t learn. I cancelled my appointment for the bourgie natural hair salon that charged me N6,000 for a mere wash and ‘treatment’ – the lady put conditioner in my hair and stuck me under a steamer and called it a hair treatment!!!!). So everyone who expressed their lack of love for it didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would and when it did, I told myself I needed to free myself from their prisms and expectations of beauty and propriety.

Now I let me go back to the story at the beginning – Should I give them? Can they take it? Like I mentioned, I resume a new job next year. Mind you when I went through the interview stages of this job, I had a ‘full’ head of hair even if they couldn’t see it under the wig on my head. I went for the interview completely like a ‘normal’ Nigerian young girl, with my braids wig on my head. Since I cut my hair, I have worn my wig on the very few occasions I ventured out, usually because I had no interest in shocking the people I was to meet. (For what shall it profit a Nigerian girl that the data page of her passport shows her with a full head of hair and the actual visa has a bald head? I already stand too long at immigration, I wasn’t about to undergo facial recognition.)

Recently the 5 sons comment friend asked me ‘I hope you won’t carry your hair like this when you resume work?’ I looked at her and laughed, mainly because she hated it so much and had expressed same severally and also mainly because I didn’t even know what I would do. Is it okay to show up looking completely different? I have wondered if anyone including the people that met me during the process would recognise me? Does it tell on my character as an erratic and unpredictable person or a girl who is going through some deep emotional struggles – you know they say a girl cuts her hair when something dramatic happens in her life? Would they think I would wake up one morning and pull a similar stunt with regards to their job?  Would they take me seriously or take the first few minutes to question me about what necessitated the change? Would that kind of attention distract from the work I am there to do? Does it even matter? Am I over thinking it? My friend has been in the corporate world for an entire year. She already expressed horror at the fact that I carried a back pack – not a fancy looking one- but literally a school bag to go pick up the appointment letter . She was like ‘better don’t do this behaviour when you resume. They will just know you are a JJC’. So now will I be the weird bald chick who carries a school bag to work because I believe that it is my professional abilities that should speak for me? (Although I also know and believe that half of climbing the ladder is about people’s perceptions and ability to relate to you- in other words, packaging!)  Should I show up a conformist, with a handbag and a full head of hair and pretend that is who I am (and on some days, that is who I am and want to be!!!!). Is it okay to be bald one day and show up with a wig the next?

Another friend recently chatted me up and asked me ‘I hope you will give them with this new look at that job next year?’ I laughed and my instructions from my girlfriend played through my mind again. I am still thinking and deciding who I should be at the job with many many things, but especially with the hair, the question is ‘if I give them, can they take it?’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Just like my mother…

There is an (igbo) adage that says ‘if you want to know what a young lady would look like or behave like in old age,  look at her mother’.

I mean this proverb is taken so seriously that it isn’t unusual to hear someone say ‘oh she must be a nice girl.  She comes from a nice family,  her mother is this that that… ‘. This phrase is especially peddled around in marriage conversations and talks.  Even in relation to looks,  it is not unusual to see someone comment on a slim shapely girl ‘when she gives birth she will blow up,  look at her mother.’ (Actually in Nigeria (or at least igbo culture), people’s perception of one’s mother counts for A LOT when it comes to the issue of marriage and respectability) .

Now this is incredibly hilarious and low-key (and very high-key) stressful for girls like me who couldn’t be more polar opposites of their mothers. While my mother seems to age backwards, I am forever looking older than my age, while she is forever stunting with her small petite beautiful body,  I am strongly considering using my first real salary for  weight loss surgery. (I joke ?) but honestly,  it isn’t unusual for my friends to meet my mom and say ‘your mom is so beautiful.  Where are you from?’ Not because I am not beautiful but I am a different kind of beauty – not bad,  just different!

In no way am I more different from my mother than  in the area of household duties.  My mother never gets tired.   She does it ALL. I don’t often admit this because we are constantly in a pettiness war (often very jocular till it turns left) but the past few days,  I have had cause to reflect on just how extraordinary she is.

I have recently started work at a small law firm that resumes each day at 9am and closes at 4pm. This is super relaxed for the standards of most law firms in Nigeria and across the world really.  Yet,  if you saw how exhausted I would act as I would leave the office eh, you would think I am burdened with the entire legal problems of Nigeria. Then when I would make my way to the gym,  any laziness would be blamed on ‘hectic day at work’. Then when I get back home,  I head straight to my room, peel my clothes off my body,  grudgingly take a shower and lie on my bed like I have done the work of 5 bricklayers.

Now this happens to be the time when my mother,  who wakes up most times at 6am, and who the rest of her day finds a reason to be on her feet,  starts running around the house and kitchen.

How terrible it is in a Nigerian household when your almost senior citizen mother is running around the kitchen, and you the young supposedly springy adult is lying around.  The more I interact with my female friends (those who wake up at 6am to make family meals and rush back from work to make sure their parents, especially dads, have something the eat,  the more I am convinced that my mother is more tolerant than most.)

A few days ago especially, I was struck by the relentlessness of my mother. It isn’t often that I notice these things so I was extremely emotional when I did.  I got off from the law firm and went to my parents’ office.  Mom was there packing up to leave at 7pm. I made a show of my exhaustion,  ripped off my wig, opened the fridge and gulped down a full bottle of water.  Then I settled to eat the fruits my father has secured for me during his work day.  My mom at that moment was on her way home.  I waited an extra hour and finally made my way home. I got home tired,  exhausted and generally just ready to bounce on my bed.

I went  to the kitchen to open the fridge to see if there was something else to nibble on,  there was my mother with her 10 hands,  blending carrots and tomatoes,  for drinking,  blending tomatoes for stew,  chopping onions and cooking meat for stew and a pot of soup which she hoped to cook the next morning,  cooking yam and frying egg for her dinner and washing up the mess that accumulated along the way. Already prepared was a pot of bambara nuts pudding (okpa) sitting and cooling. ‘How does this woman do all of this?’ I  imagined, stunned.

I was not only stunned at how she was managing this at this time but was also upset because I knew I couldn’t go back to my room now I had seen her.  I stood in the heat of the kitchen, watching her,  running her errands to bring  crayfish or stockfish or stir the contents of this pot or that pot. Half way into my kitchen sojourns with her, she announced that she had a terrible headache.

I have this joke with my mom that I inherited all of her bad qualities.  Her headache is one of them.  They don’t happen often but when they do,  all you really want to be doing is lying down.  It would feel like there were a million tiny pins pinched into your head and a flaming hammer repeatedly hitting different sections with each movement you make, however purposefully slow the movement is. When she mentioned her headache, I wanted to shout and scream ‘so why are you doing this?  Bothering yourself with this cooking?’ But we had had this argument too many times. I knew you well how it would start and end:

Me: Mom why are you doing this?
Mom: doing what? What will your father and brothers eat if I don’t do this?
Me: The boys are adult. They are grown men they can take care of themselves.
Mom: Take care of themselves is eatting indomie, bread and sardine every night?
Me: Mom. They are adults. LET THEM….
Mom: And what of your father?

She usually won on that because she knew I didn’t have the audacity to continue my line of argument which she very much believed was insane. On days she was particularly upset with me, she would tell me that degrees and career don’t keep a home, to which I would respond that neither does domestic prowess.  On days she was in a particularly good mood, she would look at me with eyes filled with hope and pity and say ‘the man that will marry you must seriously seriously love you’, to which I would burst into laughter because I knew how deeply she meant that as a prayer too. Perhaps it kept her up at night that I might one day, in true Nollywood style, be sent home from my husband’s house because I can’t stand in the kitchen for longer than it takes to slice a watermelon.

I would walk away from our arguments with arrogant pity in my heart. I believed she was the one that signed up for this social construct of the woman having to cook and fend domestically for the family.  She signed up for it and wore it proudly as a badge of honour.  She believed it was her duty to cook for her husband,  her adult children. So I didn’t understand why she wanted to force me to sign up too to this construct.  I believed and always said that no man would be delusional enough to marry me and assume I was the sole cook and cleaner.  We would do it together.  There will be division of labour.  I won’t slave away in the kitchen while he sits comfortably in the sitting room waiting, I would think.

I suspect sometimes when she shouts and gets upset. It isn’t just because of the fact that her only adult female child barely knows her way to the kitchen (not around… I know my way around but barely find my feet taking me in the kitchen direction)  it is to do with the adage at the beginning.  Whoever would look at her would see a woman who loves her family enough to cook every meal they eat,  as well as a beautiful, eloquent and very godly woman.  She must think that somehow she has failed in her duties.  She must think that I would ‘fail’ in my wifely and motherly duties for this reason.  She was afraid for me. It wasn’t about the fact alone that I wasn’t helping out in her own house.

While I was still trying to bite my tongue,  and watch her cook. She brings out a bucket of fresh lemons, goes to join my father in the sitting room and starts manually squeezing them,  to extract the juice. I asked her to use the juicer and she said she preferred to do it manually.  She would eventually go on to add some ginger and keep for my father and brother in the fridge. (My brother has bought the mixture once at a smoothie bar and she decided there was no reason he should when she could do the same at home for him).  She couldn’t understand why he would ‘throw away N700’ like that.

The moment I saw her squeezing the lemons,  I couldn’t contain my anger anymore.  I went upstairs in my exhaustion,  peeled off my clothes and lay down.  While I ruminated on my anger on why my mom was so hyperactive, I realised it was more than a social contract for my mother. This was her way of showing love.  This was her expression of love. My eyes shut, I  heard her voice and my father’s drifting up the stairs,  I I heard her laughter and his laughter intermingled.  A few minutes later the blender went on and I knew she was blending her ginger now.  She came upstairs after a few minutes tray in hand and packed the juices in the fridge. The next morning my brother grabbed a drink while he set out to work and my dad had his with his breakfast.  The next day, while I feasted on my mangoes after my hard days work, she tried to convince me to try the ‘best okro soup’ she had ever made.  She repeated it two or three times and despite my aversion to okro, I promised to eat some.  And yes it was the best danm okro soup  EVER.  And I believe it was for more reasons than the taste of the ingredients.  For the first time,  I could taste the love that went into the meal.  I made a public show of my love for it and went for seconds.  That same night she was busying in the kitchen,  frying stew for the special jollof  rice she would make for her prayer circle.  I stood in the kitchen,  despite my discomfort and stirred the stew with her, licking half the pot of stew in the process and talking with her.

‘Everything tastes and smells  excellent’ I said, stealing a piece of fried chicken. Her eyes twinkled with love and happiness. The next morning while the aroma of special jollof rice wafted up to my room,  I walked over to her and put my arms around her while she stood in the bath tub.

‘Thank you for all you do mama’ I said. She asked me what it was I was thanking her for and her eyes moistened as I rattled off how these past 3 days she had been super human as far as I am concerned.

‘it is my duty. It is my responsibility’ she said, waving me out of the tub. I smiled and walked away.  I knew it was more than her responsibility and duty as a wife.  Perhaps it started as that,  but I am certain that it is love that kept her doing this after 3 decades,  even for her adult children.  It was love that made her go the extra mile in squeezing lemons and bragging about her soup,  trying to convince me to eat.  It was love. Love is often a responsibility.  Love is often a duty.

I still do believe that there will be division of labour when I start my own family. But now I look at my mom through different eyes, not as a woman trapped in the prism of a societal construct or contract but as a woman trapped in the prism of love.  An intensely more potent potion.  I know now that I am extremely blessed to be a recipient of this kind of love.

 

 

 

 


I wrote this sometime in April and hoped to post it on my birthday or on her birthday, but in my mother’s true fashion, she UPSET ME SO MUCH me before that day and I never really got around to it because I wasn’t feeling so grateful  (YES I am an ingrate – I know!!!!) Anyway, it is the end of the year and now is as good a time as to celebrate her as any other day.

For the Love of the Profession

The fires in our eyes once shone brilliantly.
Burning with merciless vigour;
Ravenously, eating up everything standing in its path.
We barely slept because the heat of the fire
Made sleep uncomfortable, impossible.
We barely slept because we feared that while unconscious
The fire might consume us too, innards then flesh.

We looked with arrogant pity at those gone before,
10, 20, 30 years post-call,
Who in their eyes, we saw, instead of fire, flickering embers,
Their fires quenched by the realities of the trade;
Eyes dull, eye balls only glistening in moments of remembrance of the days gone before
When they could forego food, shelter and even life itself,
For the love of the profession.

We looked with scorn and disdain at those gone before
10, 20, 30 years post-call
Who have in their eyes the dull green colour of currency notes.
No flickering embers,
Eyes dull as though hypnotised, slavish in their pursuit of money.
‘These ones have sold their souls’ we laughed mirthlessly.
‘What do they know about the law, the common man, and justice?’
Where is the love of the profession?

But experience, they say, is the best teacher,
And learn we did,
That the fire burning in us while we burned the midnight candle,
That fire that kept us hungry, yet no food could fill us,
That kept us passionate and judgmental,
That kept us intrigued and blissfully naive,
That fire;

That fire soon gets enveloped in a wave of reality
When we realise that passion isn’t always the sole criterion,
Neither is qualification nor knowledge alone.
So in that wave, the fire is snuffed out for many,
Buried deep in the seabed of responsibilities.
And then we learn to look without arrogance in our pity,
For how can one be arrogant towards oneself?
And lose our scorn and gain reverence for those whose eyes are dull and green.
For is it not the comfortable place to bear the pain of regret?

We drop the naivety invariably attached to passion?
The naivety that things can change and we can change them
Just by the power of hungry hearts….
We learn the way the world works,
We humble ourselves,
And for the love of the profession
Hope that the jackets of our suits match the trousers,
And that the soles of our feet, while in our shoes,
Are not intimate with the soil on which we walk
So that we have reasons to walk dignified on the streets
While people hail ‘the law’.
So that they don’t snigger and point their lips at us
While we shuffle past, under the sweaty armpits of a yellow bus driver
Into our designated corner in the bus.
So that we never get to hear the words
‘The Law, your money no complete again o.’

OMA & IKUKU*

 

 

*I met Ikuku at Law School and at first he was just my fitness buddy, till he checked me out on facebook and discovered this blog. He couldn’t understand why I wasn’t writing anymore (I couldn’t either). I spent the rest of Law School avoiding him because the first thing he wanted to know each time he saw me was when next I would write. 3 Years post-call, it is still the same. Each whatsapp message and each call is started with his encouragement and bullying that I write something and ended with (many failed) promises to write something that week. The few times I have written within this time, he is the first to comment and to send his love and encouragement. I have been afraid and lazy to write recently,  but I wrote this with Ikuku because he deserves not to have his heart broken again by another failed promise. Thank you Ikuku for being there. Here is to hoping that the fires in our eyes for the love of the profession and our friendship keep burning for the rest of our lives.

Blurred Lines: A Short Story.

‘Oya Oya, Dami… Gist me’

‘Is that the new way to say hello?’

‘Dami, don’t play with me like that’

‘Nigerian men have a problem’ I reply, nudging the phone between my shoulder and my ears,while unhooking my bra,  taking off my jewellery, wiping my makeup, washing my hands.  My daily ritual once inside my room.

‘Nne, you are hot. That is their problem’ Amaka replies, excitement bubbling from her voice. I had sent her a message on whatsapp a few minutes ago. It had read ‘I am having an office romance (?) with one of the senior associates.’

Amaka is that friend with whom my friendship solidified over a painful heartbreak caused by her own closest male friend. He had spent 7 months wooing me. I was 19, had never been in a relationship and was afraid of trying it out.

‘I dont think I have time for this? It is too much effort. Too much committment’ I would tell him.

‘But there will be two of us, it will half the effort. It will make the commitment easier, Damilola’ Maleek would say

I gave in after 7 months and after the first date, we went to dinner, and on his persuasion went to my hostel accommodation and had sex, on even more extreme persuasion.  He never called after that. When I did, he was never with his phone. I ran into him during Amaka’s 20th birthday and the dinner conversation was as stale as bread which had sat on the counter for an entire winter. Amaka later became privy to my heart break, listened to me cry about how he was my first and was going to be the last; how I screamed during sex not from pleasure but from intense pain. I told her I was raped as a child. I told her it felt like being raped, again. She cried at that point.I was the one holding her. Consoling her. She was the first person I opened up to, about being raped. She was the last. I do not know how to relate my feelings or emotions. She broke those walls and so with her, and only with her could I relate the darkest crevices of my life on which the sun does not shine, ever.

‘Hellooooo, but nne this guy is hot oo’ Amaka hollers down the line. ‘And you said he is 36?’

‘Yes Amaka. He looks incredible for his age.’ I reply, closing my door. I didn’t want my father walking in on this conversation. He had made a few high profile calls to get me this high profile internship.

‘Oya gist me now. Warrapun?’

‘I dont even know how to start this story.’

‘Start from what you wore on that the first day, what dress, what shoes, what lipstick…’

‘You know I wont do that!’

‘Dami, what is the point of this gist now? Are you not just burning my credit?’ Amaka hisses down the line, while I listen to the faint click-click sound in the background; she was still facebook stalking him.

‘Amaka, I don’t even think this is an office romance to be honest. You know I put the question mark right next to romance.’

‘Yeah I saw that. What does that mean? Okay, just start this gist from the beginning now. You just know how to kill a niggress’ vibe’.

‘I have told you I don’t like that word’

‘Really? Dami? Are we doing this now?’ Amaka says, an edge of irritation rising in her voice

I sigh and prepare to emotionally offload on her; unlike Amaka who gets pleasure in sharing details of her life with me, in finding out mine; I dread every minute of it. I unload the details of how I met Obi to Amaka. My father had pulled a few strings to get me an internship at a law firm. The first 3 weeks of the internship I had been working peacefully. Obi is a senior associate at the law firm. My conversations with him bordered on ‘good morning’ and ‘good night’. We never really spoke, unlike some of the obviously prey-like male associates, he never made comments on anyone’s appearance or made unnecessary conversation. He was the most mature and the most liked amongst the other interns.

‘So on the low he was eyeing you now, Dami?’ Amaka giggled girlishly; as though we were 12 years old and talking about our school crushes.

‘I wouldn’t say that Amaka. I mean I think everything changed the day another lawyer, asked me to go find out authorities for how on when the word ‘may’ when used in a statute actually connotes ‘must’ or ‘shall’. You know this is what is really interesting about words- not just in law but in every day life….’

‘Hian! Dami, you know I don’t give a shit about your law. If I start talking about Economics  now, you will get lost. Just tell me about Obi now?’ Amaka chided, ironically ignoring the fact that most of our university days I had spent my time studying for two degrees,  hers and mine, writing her cumulative essays and preparing her for compulsory exam questions.  ‘I just want a 50’ she would say, while getting restless during the tutoring. ‘Pass mark.  I am not too greedy’, she would add, taking jabs at my need to be perfect,  in everything I did,  especially my grades.  While I concentrated hard on getting our two degrees,  she concentrated hard on stumbling in and out of clubs and Afro-Carribean society events around London.

‘Anyway’ I said, realising that Amaka had little interest in lexicon and semantics.

I relieved to Amaka how I spent the day I was to be doing library research in conversation with him the whole day. Amaka thought that was abnormal because I had about 10 sentences to say each day,  even to people I love. I told her how the next day, he had envelopped me in a very unexpected  hug when I walked into the office library, and during the hug, broke off the hug to let his lips trace my face with kisses, down to my neck and back up, meeting my lips. Amaka squeals with excitement.

‘Why do you always get the juicy love stories?’ She exclaims! You are the cynic but you get all the Suits action.

‘This isnt Suits action Amaka. I can’t decide if this is a case of sexual harrassment in the work place. I definitely did not do anything to encourage this… I mean he just should think he can do that.’

‘But you did not stop him?’ Amaka says interjecting.

‘No, not really. I mean he is an attractive guy. I was attracted to him. In fact the first day I was introduced to him, I made a mental note of his hotness. But it stopped at that. I didnt go groping him in the office after that…?’

‘Wait Dami?’ What is your point? That if this happened outside the office you would be fine?’

‘No! The point is that he is in a position of authority; I am his intern, who happens to be female. But I shouldnt have to go through that; I shouldnt be treated differently from Erasmus…’

‘Who is that one now?’ Amaka pitches in

‘The other male intern in the office.’ I respond, hurrying back to my point. ‘Point is that he took advantage of that position, as well as jumped into conclusions kissing me, in the office library, merely a day after he met me.’A part of me feels I am being taken advantage of Amaka.’ I say, the last sentence, coming out frailly.

‘I see your pont Dami….’

‘But I didnt really stop him. I let him kiss me the first day. The rest of the days in this week, we have been having our little office escapades,  I come in some minutes earlier to work because I am trying to beat traffic or on our way back from court…

‘So he is forcing himself on you?’ Amaka says taking on her motherly protective instincts

‘I wont say he is. I never initiate the kiss. But when he kisses me, I don’t push him away…’

‘Rightfully so, the guy is fucking  specimen of beauty.  Finally I have seen one hot Nigerian lawyer, because you people always look like struggle….’she teases.

‘Babe, see the fact is that I don’t think a guy should just assume he could do that, whether in the office or out of the office.  He feels entitled to me and my body.  Like he hugged me and kissed me based off of this entitlement…’

‘Abeg Dami, you have come again. This your feminism will not allow you find husband or boyfriend sef. Didn’t you just tell me you were attracted to him too? Maybe he could tell that you were feeling him too and he was feeling you and that was the result. All this talk about entitlement or not, and yet when he kisses you,  you kiss him back finish and come here to give me lecture on entitlement’ Amaka lectures in mock derision.

‘Amaka, everything in life is not about finding husband. Sometimes take time to appreciate the niceties of issues before you link it to husbands, please’ I respond, mocking her too.

‘So what is happening now?  Is he asking you out or what? ‘ Amaka continues,  ignoring me.

‘He just keeps asking for us to hang out outside the office during the weekends…’

‘Dami, that one sounds like a booty call o’  Amaka says defensively.

‘That is exactly what I thought….’

‘Do you like him though? ‘

‘Amaka He is 36. I am barely 25.’

‘And your father is currently married to a woman 30 years his junior… So what is your point?. Abeg, do you like him? ‘

‘I think I do.  But a part of me is scared because what happens when he makes more demands that I don’t feel comfortable with. Moreover this is highly unprofessional.  He is a superior at the office…Mehn I don’t know babe. ‘

‘You should go out on a date with him. Just make sure you drive there and have vex money. If he makes any funny moves, text me to give you an emergency call…’Amaka rattles on and on.

‘I don’t know Amaka. We work in the same office…’

‘Man must sha find husband somewhere.  Whether work or church… Stop over doing this feminism thing’ she finally says before the network cuts us off.  I knew she would call back immediately.