27 Apr March 1987, The Housewarming (Part 2).
When I turned seven years old, my father built his house. It was my third year in primary school. The memory of the longest short drive was a lifetime of vision for me, though I didn’t very well understand the uncanny feeling behind the trip. The new house was about thirty miles away from the family house. It was a mansion compared to grandpa’s house where we moved from. Besides my dad, mom, Grandma, aunt (my father’s only full-blood sister), and my four siblings; my three cousins from my late uncle also moved with us. After driving halfway, I perceived a changing aura, from the initial excitement of moving to a new place to how bleak our future might be where we were headed to. Maybe I discerned earlier than the rest of my family. Soon, we would be rocking in the mysterious boat for many years that followed.
For unexplainable reasons, I became more downhearted with each passing mile we drove. Although I was little, I knew things won’t be the same. We had just left a place we once called home. Surulere was where the life of the Ayoade’s was rooted, and it flourished since the years passed by. It was the central part of Lagos, the heart of urban life on the mainland, most positively influenced by decades of Western development. For every mile we drove, we noticed only about five houses for the best part, most of them poorly constructed. Then, the little huts. You wonder how they survive the rainy season. The brick and mud houses were mostly defective, patchy, and sometimes shockingly fragmented. I could have sworn I’d keep to the mat in grandma’s room in Surulere than take a much bigger room with a king-sized bed in a place that felt so barren, almost lifeless.
Is my father running away from something, perhaps someone? I questioned, quietly in my thoughts as we drove further into the rustic little town called Ejigbo.
The convoluted roads weren’t tarred. The earth was covered with clay that was mostly dusty, staining the atmosphere red as cars drove in and out of the uneven roads. Many kids ran on the streets in underpants with no shoes or slippers on. Sometimes I noticed women sitting on footstool or benches outside unpolished buildings fanning wood-fired three-stone stoves. They sometimes looked like mini bonfires after the fire was fully grown. It felt like a different planet and one I didn’t like.
I had only seen them on local television shows. As dangerous as a kitchen with a mini bonfire might sound, it was the wonted way of life for these people. I needed to remind myself that we were still in Lagos. There were so many trees, forests, and farms. Only randomly did we notice completed buildings.
My father’s house was one of only two on my street, a crescent that spreads over a mile and half. They were also the only two houses with fences or any form of security. Most houses had no electricity, so my father had secured a generator. We eventually became deaf from the noise, not clinically, but by forced adaptation, especially during sleeping hours. The village had no government water supply. There were very few borehole systems and those who had one sold drinking water to the rest of the community. Most families survived on well water, drawn with a local rubber-bag with bare hands. When the wells ran dry from extended drought, the river, which was several miles from where we lived was the next option. There were many kiosks made with dry local woods on the streets. Usually, next to the kiosks, you found two or three men in dust-covered clothes, smoking cigarettes while they prattle away their lives. We left the world we’d ever known to an entirely different and unnerving one.
Finally, we arrived at the new house. It was an exquisite sight to behold. It was the Year of the Rabbit. However, the house was prodigiously ahead of its time, very modern for the eighties. The precision of the construction plan was apparent, while the design was undeniably unique. Why my father picked such a location to plant such an edifice wouldn’t be much of a mystery in the following years to come.
My dad had a stepbrother from grandma’s first marriage who was many years older than him. He was closer to my dad than my dad was to him. I could tell as he stared in wonder at his first sight of my father’s house. Shaking his head, he muttered a question that I believed was for no one.
“What could be the possible motivation for a man as interesting as my brother to build a mansion meant for the city in a jungle? What sort of a place is called Ejigbo? Apparently, Lani’s obsession with the wilderness has returned”, he concluded.
I understood what my uncle said, but I asked Grandma what he meant by dad’s obsession with the jungle. Grandma, knowing how inquisitive I was answered; “It’s the same story that I told you once, remember? Remember when he was in high school?” When we later searched the map of Lagos, Ejigbo was omitted. My siblings and I didn’t find it too shocking when we found out Ejigbo didn’t exist on the map of Lagos. We figured it made sense, that a place that rural, embedded in the middle of nowhere, couldn’t be known to most Lagosians.
I’m rocked in my boat.
The waves glide beneath.
The shimmering image of the sun
Sparkles upon my face in the gentle dusk.
Peace and tranquility my friend.
We paddled with ease and care.
The sea smiled at me, blue sky,
Reflection is her beautification.
I smiled back,
And we saluted one other.
I’m tossed in my boat!
I could not see him,
But how he deals with me…..
Dark cumulus O’er my head gathered,
Bright swords, my way debarred.
Driven by reckless tornadoes,
Black waters slapped my boat.
Marked and damped,
Rugged flare-my face.
I am alone- who watches me?
I am torn – who mocks me?
But she stood firm, my feet held – love.
When she broke,
My beloved boat,
After high seas and low,
Currents, canals, and caverns
Around the small globe.
And I rest with her.
I landed on the mighty’s land,
Before the king whose eyes are keen,
For scales appeared in it.
How did you keep her?
Forlorn. Here I am now.
My father carefully planned every aspect of the new house. All designs were executed to the very last detail. The house would provoke evocative memories for many years that followed, as I reflected years later. It wasn’t because of the physical attributes of the house, but how a simple housewarming party changed the course of our lives for the worse. My father believed inviting every member of the Ayoade family was the single most critical mistake of his life. He found the unprecedented struggles that later befell his family traceable only to one incident – the housewarming party. Thus, if my father’s reason for moving us to such a hollow town was to escape his family, it then qualified as a deplorable move because the purpose was quickly and prematurely defeated.
To be continued …
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