Become a Fan
By Ajibola J Oluti Sr.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Rated "G" by the Author.
My family has a head that is more of a figure than the real thing. What makes the man the head if not the amount of cash in his pocket? When a man cannot live up to his responsibility because he is financially incapacitated, the role in the home is reversed. Who cares if madam head buys the grocery as long as I get to eat a full meal.
My father Joseph, who is now seventy year old, was a tough man when we were kids. He ruled the family like a royal despot. His words were supposed to be law to all of us without exception but I knew otherwise. It gave me great pleasure then to know that Dad’s bravado did not extend to my delectable mother.
Father would have been handsome but for the attack of small pox, he had when he was five years old that left his face with permanent scars. There is a story that he was one of the few survivors of the small pox epidemic that nearly wiped out our town in those days.
The epidemic was so severe that people died in hundreds in our town and in all the surrounding villages.
Grandfather Giwa (my grand father) and his family were the worst hit in the Giwa’s compound. One sad day, he lost five children. Grandfather had fifteen wives and many concubines. He could have married more if he wanted because his friends were literally begging him to marry their daughters. He alone owned five houses in the Giwa’s compound each consisting of twelve rooms. He had so many children I don’t know the actual numbers of my uncles and aunts.
Many families flee their home for their farmhouses because of the epidemic. When it became uncontrollable, the British District Officer in charge of our area sets up a commission of inquiry to unearth the remote cause of the epidemic, arrest its spread, and if possible eradicate it totally.
They discovered that the worshipers of Sanponna (the Yoruba malevolent god of small pox) were responsible for the spread of the disease. Whenever a man or a woman dies of small pox, the family notified a Sanponna priest immediately. It was taboo for members of the deceased family to bury him least they incur the wrath of the god. The priests would carry the dead body to the evil forest. In addition, all the earthy possession of the deceased would be carry away by the priests. No family member dare touch anything belonging to the deceased for fear of being afflicted with the dreaded decease. This practice made the priests greedy. The more people die, the more loot to share. Since the god could not be relied on to kill people fast enough, they decided to help the god.
They colleted the water used in washing the body of a deceased person. This they used broom sticks to spray during the night into any area they want the decease to break out. Since small pox is an air borne decease, anybody that inhaled the dust-infected air during the day was a goner.
There was no known cure for the decease then. This made the inhuman act a big business for the Sanponna worshippers.
The District Officer swore to deal with the priests when he became aware of this fact. He ordered an outright ban on the worshiping of the god. The government arrested and sent to prison anybody found to be a priest of the god.
The priest had been so used to the easy wealth they acquired at the expense of the unsuspecting populace that it took some amount of time of being in prison before they could bring the epidemic down drastically.
While Dad represents the engine that keeps the family going, Mum was the oil that keeps the engine in good working condition. Dad was an incurable optimist while Mum was a realist. Dad never learned from his mistakes. Many a time he would have made disastrous investment on the advice of Uncle Philip but for my mother’s advice.
I will never forget one particular investment that nearly brought us to ruin. My father sauntered into the living room one afternoon with Uncle Philip in tow bubbling with excitement. “Mama Moses, where are you? We have arrived. We have just cut a sweet deal with those farmers to supply us with as many tons of cocoa as we can pay for at half the price we buy presently. Can you believe that? Where the heck are you?”
My father kicked the stool Alice rested her head while watching television out of his way when he noticed my mother was not in the dinning room.
“Where is everybody?” inquired Uncle Philip.
“Where is everybody Moses.” my father asked when he noticed I was the only one in the sitting room. His speech was impaired. He smelled like the brewery.
Dad was not a drinker like Uncle Philip who someone said could drink a brewery to bankruptcy! Mother detests Uncle Philip because of his drinking habit. Anytime Dad was tipsy, Uncle Philip would be there to tag along. He was the one who induces Dad to drink.
Uncle Philip dropped with a loud thud into one of the padded chairs, which unfortunately was my Dad’s favourite. There was this thing about my Dad; he has his own favourite everything that only he must use. He has his chair, plate, spoon, cup etc. that are exclusively his. No one must use them as a rule except Mum who chooses to disregard such rules.
“Philip, will you move to the other chair?” said Dad thickly, “I feel as if someone is singing ‘arise O compatriot’ in my brain, the only problem is that I cannot rise right now talk less of being a patriot.”
“Dad, why you drink when you know you cannot hold your drink like Uncle Philip?” I asked Dad.
“What right have you to query me about anything? Dad asked his eyes looking for the nearest object to throw at me. The nearest object was his favourite jug, which he looked at with regret. I was out of his reach in a moment. “My Sango strike you down dead,” he swore.
Dad with his exposure is an archetypal Shaile man who would rain curses and abuses on anybody without battling an eye. People said that a Shaile man’s curse is as effective as water on the back of a duck. If the Shaile man’s curse is ineffective, what does that make his prayer?
One day Dad cursed a man he was having an argument with in annoyance that the man would not live to see the next three days. The man died two days later. Those who were present informed the wife of the deceased who said that if a witch cried yesterday and a child dies today, definitely it was yesterday’s witch that was responsible. The police promptly arrested dad. Before they discovered he knew nothing about the man’s death, he had spent three weeks in police custody.
One would think Dad would learn from that incidence, he never did. It was too deep in his Shaile blood. Is it not a marvel that someone would invoke Sango the god of thunder to shrike his only son dead?
“Welcome Joe. Did you just come in?” Mum greeted my Dad with a smile as she emerged from the kitchen where she was with Aunty Taiye. She was the only person who calls Dad by the abbreviation of his name. Dad detested it but accepts it from Mum. She was too headstrong; nobody could dissuade her from doing anything she wanted no matter the consequence.
“Hi Papa Faith, how is your family?” We have not seen you these past three days. Hope all is well. Mum asked Uncle Philip in a tone that clearly said, ‘I don’t care what happen to you and your lousy family, you servant of Bacchus,’ but she kept on smiling.
“They are all well thank you,” Uncle Philip answered
He knew Mum was just trying to make conversation. He was aware that she cared less if he and his family fried in the deepest part of hell. In fact, she would love that to happen. This did not stop Uncle Philip coming to our house as often as he likes, sometimes at the most ungodly hour of the day to see Dad concerning one business deal or the other, most of which turns out bad.
Dad told Mum about his new deal. He lowered his gaze unable to meet mum’s eyes. He waited for a reply. Mum face was blank
“How much are they asking in advance?”
I had come to know that tone of voice. Anytime Mum speaks in that tone, I want to be somewhere else because a storm was brewing. Aunty Taiye would rather want to be somewhere else too. She took my hand and led me out of the sitting room.
I did not know what transpired later but contrary to mother’s wise counsel, Dad went ahead and does the deal. He lost one hundred and twenty thousand Naira to the farmers. The farmers because he paid them in advance, packed the cocoa beans into bags before they were dried. This made them go bad after sometime in the warehouse where they were stored preparatory to shipment. My gullible Dad sent them to his overseas buyers. The importer sent them back two months later.
Dad fled to Togo where he spent three months before he came back to Nigeria by which time Mum’s anger had subsided. As for Uncle Philip, we did not see him until the following year.
My Dad was the favourite child of his mother who sent him to school at an age people thinks his mates were not old enough for school. His school consisted of only two blocks of classroom with six classes. Both the students and the teachers alike dreaded a single block attached to the first building. This was the headmaster’s office. He was next to god as far as the students were concerned. He was accountable to no one, so the students thought. They call him Mr. Cane because his hands were never empty of at least two canes.
There were two other smaller buildings consisting of the toilets for the teachers and the students at the extreme end of the football field.
Father told us one day they caught him playing father and mother’s game with Aunt Deborah-one of our beautiful maternal aunt. Dad was six years old then. He was marched straight to the headmaster’s office by the teacher who caught them. That was the first time Dad would be in the office.
Books of various sizes covered the four walls of the headmaster’s office from bottom to the top. Mr. Cane was sitting behind a table so long and wide it occupied half of the room. He was writing when dad, Aunty and the teacher came entered. He did not look up or give any indication that he saw them. They stood in front of his long table. Maybe he would ask them to get out of his office. He went on writing. The teacher cleared his throat to draw the attention of the headmaster.
“Yes,” the headmaster barked at them suddenly.
Dad felt hot water flowed all over his legs. The front of his short was all wet. He had never been more afraid in his life. Even though he did not see what they did wrong, the fact that they were in the headmaster’s office brought him to the reality of being in more trouble than he had imagined.
“Sir, I caught these two in the toilet lying on top of each other.” The teacher replied as if he was the accused rather than the complainant.
Mr. Cane sat up straight in his chair suddenly interested. He closed the book on which he was writing.
“Is that so?” he twisted his cane round and round in his hand. Dad stomach felt as if his intestine was no longer in his belly. The beating of his heart sounded like a locomotive engine gone berserk.
“What have you to say for yourself young man? The headmaster asked looking intently at Father. Dad searched his mind for a lie, he could not think of any that would be acceptable to Mr. Cane. He decided it was better to keep quiet.
“So it is so.” Mr. Cane’s eyes seem to be shining. The look on the man’s face was as if he was secretly amused.
“Were you trying to play Mum and Dad’s game?”
That was it. Why did he not think of that before? That was exactly what they were doing. Maybe Mr. Cane would let them go after all. Dad opened his mouth to answer but no word came out. His eyes moved down to the front of his short. He looked up and caught the principal looking straight into his face. He quickly averted his eyes. For an unexplainable reason, he blushed.
“You two have been bad children,” Mr. Cane said looking at Dad and his cousin. My Dad nodded in agreement even though he did not have the slightest idea why playing Mum and Dad game could be bad. After all, his Mum and Dad play it all the time. Could it be because they were playing it at the wrong place?
It took the patient explanation of grandmother Ibidun to make Dad understood that what they attempted doing was wrong.
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|Reviewed by David Perry
|Good writing that retains it's rich African accent. I hope one day you get your wish to come to America, although it may be a little different than you expect. Best wishes on your book.|