Seeing the world through an eight year old and an eccentric smart-ass fourteen year old, could be quite refreshing. In this interesting piece, we see Nigeria through their eyes. We see into their little community and the smallest unit of the society; the family. And then, we are reminded to laugh, laugh at all costs.
Nigeria is only a microcosm of what the world really is
I sat and watched as she peeled the orange with her sharp knife. The movement of her wrists, brisk, precise and automatic as though she had been programmed to peel oranges for the rest of her life. Never stopping, until the last peel had been removed. She never took her eyes off the streets, and only took her attention off the radio when she needed to greet someone “Well done oh!” she would say, her wrist still twitching as she peeled on.
“Mummy, when am I going to resume school?” I asked her.
“I don’t know oh. Maybe when ebola stops.”
I remembered weeks ago, when the virus was first announced on the radio. They told us that a Liberian man had brought the virus into the country, into a hospital in Obalende. They told us that we had to be careful about touching sick people, about the meat we ate and the places we went. They told us that we needed to wash our hands more frequently. When they said that we should be careful about the fruits we bought and ate, for the first time in a long time, mama’s wrist stopped twitching as she winced.Then she continued peeling the orange, as though she had heard nothing.
The next morning, during our family devotion, mother had lifted her voice and prayed, shouting and binding and casting the virus. It would not come near her or any of her family members. It would never touch any of her fruits. The virus would go to Boko Haram and kill all of them. “Amen!” we had all responded quite loudly too, except my sister whose “amen” was rather quiet and tentative.
“Prayers are good” she had said when the prayers were over, “but we had better heed the warnings of the government if we want to survive this. And I don’t think you should pray for those terrorists to get the virus. They could use it as a weapon of mass destruction.”
“Meche Onu! Amara! So are you too smart to believe in prayers now? Is that why I could not hear your Amen?”
“No, I just said prayers are good. But if you want to live, obey the instructions.”
Mummy pulled and twisted her ear and gave her a sound warning, telling her that her cup was full and would soon overflow. The next warning would be a proper beating. I was sure of it. Then Amara would be quiet and sober for a few days, after which, she would continue in her stubborn ways. Little whispers of confrontation, which would grow louder and louder until they became adamant statements of protest.
“You don’t know that you’re a girl”, my mother would always say. This was the warning Amara hated the most.
The most unforgettable beating she had ever gotten was after she said to mother, “You really don’t have to kneel down every time you want to greet your husband. Neither should you get on your two knees when you want to serve him food. If you’re going to kneel down to greet him, let him kneel down to greet you too. You are equals.”
Mummy had shouted and cursed “Chi mo! What kind of daughter do I have? Are you now going to teach me how to run my family? You’re only fourteen and you are already like this! How would you now be when you’re my age?”
“Just the way I am now.” She flippantly replied. Then mummy pounced on her and dealt with her, reminding her that she was a girl as she did so. She made Amara serve me food on her kneels for weeks after that. She said that she was training her to be humble and to respect her husband. I hated that mummy had dragged me into it. I could see the scorn in Amara’s eyes.
“Stupid patriarchy”, she would mutter. I didn’t know what that meant and I didn’t ask. But I knew it was something from one of the books that
Amara never stopped reading. She was my big sister and she knew everything and I loved her.
“Obinna!” Mummy called, snapping me out of my reverie. “Pack these peels quickly. We’re going to Bariga now to buy more fruits.” I did as she said.
I was mother’s little helper. Her obedient child. Sometimes I wished that I was more like Amara.
“Osiso osiso!” she said, clapping. I increased my pace.
We walked to the bus stop, where we boarded a keke marwa. Last year, we would have taken an okada directly to the exact spot where we would buy the fruits. I would have sat squashed up between the okada man’s back and my mother’s breasts, while the okada man would speed off without any caution. But the state government had banned most of them. I remember one morning, when Amara and I were walking to school. We saw some policemen, who wanted to seize a man’s okada. Immediately, he saw them approaching, he had quickly removed his shorts and his boxers, urinated and defecated on the motorcycle and then remained on it afterwards. The policemen were disgusted and left him there with his okada. I was disgusted too but when Amara began to applaud the man. I joined her.
“The state government has become a government only for the rich,” she had said “take the motorcycles away and we get more unemployed men roaming the streets. More desperate men. More armed robbers and hooligans. More insecurity. Do you know how many families live off okadas?” I didn’t know the number but I nodded emphatically and waited for her to tell me, because Amara was one to answer her own questions. She didn’t. In the keke, a man and woman were laughing and talking very loudly to each other in yoruba, as though they were the only two people left in the world.
I saw mummy squeeze her face. Although, she wore a fake smile whenever they looked her way and reversed almost instantly back to the frown whenever they turned away. I remember how mother had always warned my older brother, “Don’t bring a Yoruba girl to this house and say you want to marry her “Yoruba women are lousy and dirty.” Until the day my brother packed his things and said he was going to live in a Unilag hostel with his friend, even though he was not a student of Unilag. He had tried jamb several times but never passed. The neighbours now called him a cultist. When I asked Amara about our brother, she said “When the youths don’t get what they think they need, like the men whose motorcycles have been snatched away from them, they join the rebellion.” I wanted to ask if “rebellion” was the same cult that the neighbours had talked about.
“But you’re only eight”, she added,
“You wouldn’t understand.” I didn’t ask again. Amara was right. I did not understand.
“See what I always say about Yoruba people?” mother said as we exited the keke, “Don’t marry them oh.”
I wondered why mummy claimed not to like Yoruba people. Most of her customers were Yoruba and she smiled and greeted them pleasantly whenever they patronised her. The girl I like is Yoruba. Tolani knows all the answers in class and gets the best grades. She reminds me of Amara and if she likes me back, I’ll marry her. We passed a policeman on our way and I remembered what Amara had said when I asked her if daddy was one of the policemen whom my teacher talked about that collected bribes.
“You know, I wouldn’t be surprised. Even though his ‘amens’ are the most resounding during morning devotion. If the policemen are not well paid, they need to find a way to make up for what they lack. The whole country needs to stop shouting about the country’s corruption. And deal with their own innate corruption first. Your teacher might be a hypocrite.” She paused. “Don’t tell her I said that.”
“I won’t tell her.” I said.
“Good. I only hope he realises that his rebellion must not be against other people, but against himself. Against that part of him that has made him bitter and has made him yield towards violence. Against that part of himself that makes him want to blame everyone but himself for the state of things. I only hope he realises in good time.”
“Who?” I asked
“Is the rebellion the cult?” I asked as I looked downwards at my ashy feet.
“We all have our own different types of rebellion. But, yes, his own rebellion is cultism.” She patted my shoulder.
“Stupid patriarchy.” I muttered angrily.
“Do you even know what that means?”
“No.” She began to laugh her high- pitched laugh. Her skinny shoulders heaved as she laughed. I joined her
and we laughed and laughed and laughed until we forgot that there had been no electricity for two days now and the food in the fridge was starting to rot.
We laughed until we forgot that we were hungry. Then she stopped abruptly and said,
“Nigeria, a country where every person must choose—and live out their various rebellions. Otherwise, the country might not survive.” Her tummy grumbled “but in the end, Nigeria is only a microcosm of what the world really is.”
I repeated after her, in my mind.
Nigeria really is a microcosm of the world. I wasn’t sure what that meant either but Amara was right. She is always right. And I love her.
Written by Fope Ojo
Follow her on twitter: @Fope_
Read more of her work: scarsandpinkearth.com