I lay in the trunk of my Father’s small ‘danfo’ bus. It was bought many years ago, long before I was born. A priced possession of my father. The only source of income for our family of three. My parents had me early. Though my mother tried for many years to have another child, she eventually gave up.My father was unlike many men in our town. He never cared for another child.He resisted the pressure to take on another wife. I always heard him tell my mother: “This one is worth more than a thousand!”
I had feigned an illness to get out of school that morning. My mother knew I was lying. I had no fever and had consumed my breakfast of ogi and akara with gusto. ‘You are spoiling him’ my mother protested while my father prepared to take me to the motor park with him. My father shrugged his broad shoulders and carried me on his back towards the vehicle. From the corner of my eyes I saw the beginning of a smile tug at my mother’s lips. The sun had risen with a vengeance and my body quickly drenched in sweat. For a brief moment, I almost regretted getting out of school. Just then, I caught a whiff of Mama Wosi’s ata dindin. Mama Wosi was the sole local caterer of the motor park where my father ferried his customers back and forth. I loved her food. Her culinary expertise was known far and wide our little town of Ekunkan. I could tell from my vantage position and without opening eyes eyes she had just added iru to her famous sauce. My stomach started to rumble.
Suddenly the weather changed and dark clouds gathered overhead. I felt the familiar gust of wind heralding rain. The cool breeze calmed my initial clammy skin and I quickly closed my eyes in pretense as I saw father approach. He shrugged off his old lace agbada and covered my body, partially obscuring my vision. I felt him touch my temple and the gentle brush of the palm of his hand on my head. Public display of affection was frowned upon generally in our clime. It spoiled children…. many believed. Love your children but don’t show them much fondness. Hard love. Something that was completely foreign in my relationship with my father.
On sensing my father’s departure I opened my eyes to peep through the holes of the agbada that partially covered my head but the full length of my body. My father sat a few feet away sharing stories with Mama Wosi. She always sat before two big black ajase pots frying dundun, dodo and her famous ata dindin. Her wares, though simple were a delicacy. She tied her ankara wrapper over a brightly colored blouse. Her hair always well hidden by a loosely tied scarf. Her pearly white dentition exposed as she listened to my father…her faithful customer. She was never without her smile, even early in the mornings while she prepared her pots and pans for the day…while she brushed her teeth and tongue with her pako. I always wondered what her hair looked like under her scarf. Was it jet black and full like my mother’s. My mother’s hair was thick and hung like a curtain down her shoulders whenever it wasn’t woven.My father loved to run his hands through her hair when no one was watching. He loved it when she braided it in shuku and always clapped his hands in delight whenever she returned from her onidiri.
I could tell Mama Wosi liked my father…very few people didn’t. When she listened to other customers..she didn’t smile as wide and she always sent food to me. My mother noticed, too, but she was a very emotionally secure woman and apart from teasing Father about Mama Wosi once or twice, she never batted an eye lid to the constant stream of food.
I watched the exchange between them and while the tantalizing smell of her sauce pervaded the air around me, I fell into a fitful sleep.
I watched from a half cracked doorway as Olomitutu -my paternal granduncle, the local seer brought out his divination mat from his ‘power house’. Olomitutu was widely regarded as the voice of the gods, though many in our little town had gone the way of western religion, a large percentage of the older generation were still partial to him. He was a kind man with several wives and many children. Many of his children were older than Father but he still had a couple of children I went to school with. He was a small, dark man whose head was always clean shaven. He always wore a long loose white cassock. His eyebrows were snow white and he spoke in a big, gruff voice that didn’t seem to belong to his body. He carried a cane; it was short and black with a brass knob on top.
Olomitutu muttered under his breath a prayer: Aranmalo bring me good tidings today. My stomach is empty. My wives and children are hungry. Make a way for us today.
A woman appeared in the horizon with a limp child straddled to her back. The baby’s head flopped from side to side, like a rag doll being tossed by the wind. It’s eyes were closed and its mouth was wide open…like it was about to shout. The mother was screaming…. very agitated; the father- a burly man was struggling to catch up with his wife…his face contorted in tears.A small crowd followed closely behind….all headed towards Olomitutu.
Baba e’gbami! The mother continued to scream, stomping her feet…raising dust. The baby was now in his father’s arms..who stuttered and sputtered his words drowned in his wife’s wails. Olomitutu ran into his power house and returned almost immediately with a small gourd which carried a murky liquid. He held the baby’s head with his left hand and poured some of the liquid down the child’s throat. Barely a second later, the baby gurgled a cry and then sneezed. There was instant jubilation from the massive crowd that had swelled from the pandemonium . The mother wiped her tears and broke into a dance while the father straddled his baby across his shoulders. A ram was slaughtered before my grand uncle. The parents were well-to-do. Olomitutu’s prayers had been answered.
Alabi! My father shook me awake. The agbada had fallen aside. It was getting dark. My eyes caught the yellow bowl Mama Wosi always served my meals in cradled in his right hand. My dundun and ata dindin was ready. My stomach rumbled loud enough for my Father to hear. He threw his head back and laughed. I squinted, stretched and swallowed saliva.”Come and eat boy”.My father smiled. We must all eat and dream, I thought as I took my first bite.