How are you today? I hope you are fine. I’m not so cheerful today. My arm hurts from the immunization injection I took last week. I’m bored from waiting for the long weekend to end, and I’m too lazy to get out of bed to make dinner. But that’s beside the point. I have always wanted to write you a letter.
From the last news I got from home yesterday, you and your little brother have finally left Ibadan for Lagos with your mum to face the new realities of life. I have used those big words “realities of life” just so that you know that the life in Lagos is not going to be as fun, colourful or adventurous as it would have been if you had stayed with your grandma in Ibadan. Or what do you think? In Lagos, you will be sheltered, you will spend most of your time indoors taking care of Oyin with whom I’m told you haven’t been getting along well most of the time. That’s no fun. When I was your age, I had already formed a mental map of the neighbourhood in which I lived, and I always managed to sneak out of the house to explore when no one was looking. It got me some spanking many times, but I always did it again. It was mad fun. It also helped that my parents were both working so I stayed most of those times with my grandmother. I can’t tell you how nice that was. But you had the chance since last year, didn’t you? You have stayed with your grandma for how many months now, along with Oyin. Did you enjoy it? I bet you do. She can be doting and relaxed when it comes to her grand children. With us growing up, everything fun and permissive was considered “indulgent”, and we weren’t supposed to do them. Until lately, she never even believed that anyone not older than eighteen should own a mobile phone. Yea, she’s strict like that. She’s changed a lot now though – things that come with growing up – yet I bet that if you eavesdrop on her conversation with your mum occasionally, you’d hear them argue about the most appropriate length of a woman’s skirt.
Since you returned from Ireland last year, coming to Nigeria for the first time, I have been really worried about you and your little brother, wondering how you would cope in a country that still grapples with the problems of electricity. I bet coming to Nigeria was your first time of seeing a power cut that lasted more than two minutes. How did you take that? Oh I remember, your mum told me that you looked at her and asked her to “put the light back on”, as if she was the one who took it out in the first place. Aww, so cute. By now, you are probably used to it, which might be a good thing. You are going to be a strong, rugged Nigerian man, not surprised by power outage nor shocked by an absent president. I bet it’s even the least of your problems. I remember that on June 22 or so in 1990 when the Orkar Coup took place in Lagos, the only memorable feeling I had was exhilaration. I didn’t know who Orkar was, but the excitement in the air all around our school tickled my brain beyond description. Work stopped, and everyone talked in low tones. There was an energy that I can’t describe. And when my father stormed into the school compound demanding that the school released his children to him or provide the signature of the school’s proprietress on a document taking absolute responsibility for our safety, and accepting all liability in the event of any mishap on anyone of us his children, I was giddy. She released us immediately, and we went home in daddy’s car, one of the few times he left work to pick us up from school. We had roasted corn, and ice cream – that one that is scooped into a cone and eat out of it. Yea, I still remember.
My point here is that I acknowledge the fact that you may not care about politics or everything going on around you except to the extent of their providing you with excitement. But why Lagos? That state is too fast, my young man. You need serenity in your life at this point in time. You need adventure, and I’m afraid that you might be exposed to too much of the grim realities of Nigeria before you’re sufficiently capable of reacting to them in the most playful, adventurous, and deeply reflective way. I may be wrong. In any case, take time out of your day to have fun. Do not, I repeat do not, spend your day in front of the television. It is bad for you. Go out and play with the sand. Get dirty. Your mum will wash the clothes, don’t worry. Play with flowers. Build sand castles like I did with Laitan when we were younger. We would later find grasshoppers and put them in the castle, watching them through the perspex glass ceiling, observing their process of discovering that they had been trapped. Now that I think about it, I realize that it must have be frustrating to those little insects. Build fake stoves, plant corn and potatoes in your own garden at the back of the house like we did back then. Get out of the house often and get lost in the streets. Walk for kilometres and return. Let your parents get worried and look for you everywhere, and let them find you. They might hit you involuntarily though if you stay too long, but don’t let that discourage you. Don’t listen to everything they say while angry. And do not believe them all the time. This is the best education you can have. Have you seen a masquerade yet? Have you taken a swim in the river? Have you stolen a bite out of some of your grandma’s delicious muffins as they lay on the table, or unscrewed your dad’s radio set just to see what makes it work inside? If not, you have a whole lot more to learn.
Your mother won’t tell you this, but when we were younger, we used to steal entrance into my father’s (your grandfather’s) blue Isuzu car whenever he didn’t go out with it. I was the youngest then, although Laitan had been born. She was never around, and I don’t know why. We didn’t have the key to the car but the doors were always open so we’d open it and get in. Actually, one person would get in, release the hand break, put the gear in neutral position and smile as the car went forward the slope towards the compound gate, then hit the brake as soon as it got close to the fence. The rest of us would then push the car back to its initial position, and some other person would get in to repeat the process. It was fun, but they never allowed me to do the driving. I always did the pushing. I think they stopped including me in the game when one day after church service, before anyone got out of the church building, I ran to the car, sat at the driver’s seat, released the gear into neutral and watch the car lurch forward on the long slope of the church’s parking lot that led out towards a sea of people. The problem was, I didn’t know which of the pedals on the ground was the brake. It took some random luck, and a few vigilant men on the road whom I had now almost run over with the already fast moving car to stop me. They must have seen me from afar and figured that I didn’t know what I was doing, so they gathered in front of the car and stopped it with the force of their strength. My heart was in my mouth. I was sweating, and I felt a very sorry. I had done the inconceivable, and I would get some serious punishment later in the day as a result. But I had driven a car, and it felt good. Your mum should remember some of this details if you ask her. But here’s my warning: you don’t have to go to that length to have fun, and besides, you don’t have to do what I have done. That won’t be original. Take liberty with your own ideas, and let me return home to meet you and we can share ideas. Our first meeting should be memorable indeed. I heard that you have really grown, and don’t look like a four year old. Do you still remember what I look like from the photos in your mum’s albums?
My regards to Oyin and your parents, and to your other cousin Jolaade as well. I will write you again when I have the time.
I am your Uncle KT, now at Edwardsville.
PS: Do you speak Yoruba by now? I hope you do. What an irony it is that when I was your age, I was busy getting pummeled by those Ghanaian teachers in my school who believed that it was a taboo to speak my local language within the premises of the school. Like they used to say to us back then in class whenever they were angry, I say “Wasia” to them now too. 🙂 And I still don’t know what it means. I only know that it’s not an English expression, and it wasn’t nice.