I always dreaded growing up. For some weird reason, I’d rather be the child of my mother and the son of my father, the one they slapped and spanked. The one they yelled at and sent on errands. I’d rather be that than my father. I’d rather be that, than be tied with shackles to the disease of adulthood, working and not playing under the scorching vengeful adult sun. I’d rather roll in the sand and drink cold zobo with noodles and cakes instead of drinking beer and eating kolanuts. I didn’t want to obey the strict rules of dieting that came with adulthood. Don’t eat meat, don’t take salts, don’t eat egg…
I didn’t want to grow up, because I didn’t want to die. Death, in my little head, happened to adults alone. I had watched baba Tope die when I was seven; one of the most excruciating times of my life. I’d watched as his body was carried out. Though my face was buried against my mother’s skirt, one eye was taking it all in, out of curiosity. I’d listened to the relatives accuse Mama Tope of killing her husband. I’d heard the story of how they shaved her head and made her drink the water that they used to bathe her husband’s corpse. Mother said, worse things have happened, but I couldn’t imagine anymore.
So I made up my mind, to be child-like. A strong conviction filled me when the Sunday school teacher, in the dirty small shed, we used for Sunday classes to talk about Jesus, said, Jesus liked only children. I made up my mind that I wasn’t going to grow up. Every other person wanted to grow up fast. Temitope with the cornrows from the class across mine complained about her meager pocket money, couldn’t wait to be earning hers. Olamide from the next house constantly said “When I grow up, I wouldn’t be wicked to my children.” They dwelt constantly on the different things they would do, while I kept to myself the fact that I didn’t want to grow up, I didn’t want to do anything different. I didn’t want to hear mother say I’d outgrown any of my clothes. I wondered if they knew that when they grew up, they would eventually die.
I was ten and I wanted to be ten forever.
But something happened that forever changed my thinking. That made me know change was the inevitable. It was the tenth of May. I remember that day clearly. I remember the smell of divine paint that was the constant pungent smell of our home. I remember that the lady called iyawo was already frying akara and making koko for her customers. I remember tracing my hands on the rough wall of the corridor, and dragging my worn out brown school sandals through the badly cemented grounds. I remember, smiling sheepishly as the sun shone down into my eyes, and I remember that it was just one moment of dizziness I felt, before I slumped to the ground in front of the compound, in my school uniform.
I would imagine that the woman selling food not too far from where I fainted was the first to see me. I would imagine her scream, frail and short. I would imagine a crowd over my face, hitting and slapping me. I would like to think that they’d poured water on my face to revive me. I would imagine that the smartest of them, a girl who I’d crushed on, Nkechi would have given me mouth to mouth. I would imagine that my mother’s name was shouted and when she heard the calls as she sewed my little sister’s pinafore, that she sped like a hare, tracing her hands through her untidy weavon, not bothering to tie her wrapper well. I would imagine the dust that rose from behind her slippers as she ran from our room to where I was on the floor. I would imagine her panic stricken face and the tears that welled up in her eyes as she saw me there, helpless on the floor. I would imagine these things and more with satisfaction.
I should have died that day or any other day in that month. A cold, hard and wicked death. Mother constantly said with reference to that bloody day, “God did not allow my enemies rejoice over me” When she mouthed these words, I would visualize ghastly dark figures in hooded black gowns, sipping red wine, laughing a horrendous laughter.
They told the story with so much drama, as if I wasn’t there when it all happened. In reality, after I was resuscitated, lying on my Father’s bed, all I felt was pain. I was there, unable to sleep, unable to eat, unable to see well. The pain grew fast, spreading through my limbs, mixing with blood, smothering my spine. My heart thudded with the exact same rhythm that the sticks drummed against my head.
I constantly felt like I was six feet beneath the ground, covered with all that earth that wouldn’t just disappear. I was pushing the earth away with my fingers, digging ferociously, and just exactly the same time I got some breathing space, the earth resurfaced back, even filling up my nose. At that point, I would cough and cry for help.
My mother said she never left my side. Doctors came to see me she said, but I fought them off with my fist. It was then Iya Precious and Mama Nkechi, suggested, maybe, just maybe my problem might be spiritual. My father, the most unspiritual man ever, he who had even boldly condemned my mother for going to church, acquiesced. He’d said that I was throwing up the drugs I was given, refusing to be touched by anyone especially doctors; maybe, just maybe an evil spirit had taken residence in me.
An Ifa priest was invited, courtesy of Baba Toyin, father’s colleague. Incantations that sent the whole Christian neighborhood, into a fit of dry prayer and fasting took place. The man spewed incantation like he was sipping diluted Fanta through a straw. Three days and my skin burnt like I was Moses’s burning bush.
An Imam came, I vomited on him and that was the end of his visit.
The pastor from Mother’s Pentecostal church came. He was full of hope; he said no one would die on his watch. I, even in my oblivion, began to feel some form of hope. I listened to his word; I even knelt when he forced me down to the ground. Kneel before your master he screamed. My parents and I were to fast and pray, how nice for him, since I wasn’t even eating in the first place.
At the end, he told us, that God had told him I was going to die and there was no hope. “Atone for your sins my friend”
My common sense somehow surfaced about the same time. I somehow began to grasp the fact that I could die. Even in my dire state, I was aware that I was going to die. I was going to be nonexistent. I was going to leave the world as I knew it. Who did I offend anyway? God? My parents? The hooded figures? I watched my mother sob, a leaner woman after one month’s suffering. I watched my reclusive sister through the film that covered my eyes. I watched my father’s face, even more hardened than usual. I didn’t want to die, but I started convincing myself it was an easier fate to die. Was there anything I could have done to stop death from visiting my home? I was just a child; couldn’t death pick on someone its own size?
I could sit up sometimes, at other times; I was so sure that it was the exact moment death was going to take me. I thinned. I was all bones and hardly flesh. I was curled up as a ball in the bed, shivering despite the heat.
One night, hope and faith completely dead, I found myself sitting up and drinking Garri and eating moin moin. Mother laughed, and whispered some words to Fathers ears.
Recounting the story, Mother said that she’d told him I was definitely going to die. She said her Mother had shown signs of strength the night before she died.
The next morning, I was all of a sudden not on the brink of death. I was led outside to sit in the sun and the hopeful journey to recovery started, that exact day. It smelt as usual of dirt, gutters and dustbin trucks, of jollof rice and baby soap—it smelt of hope. Hope wasn’t in fact dead. I Inhaled deeply and smiled woefully. I could have died and I’d done nothing with my ten years. I laughed a horrendous laughter.