The Adventures of Tola

okada-blog

IMAGE from: omgvoice.com- Jide Odukoya

In this country, a boss should always be bald and have a big belly. My uncle isn’t bald, he hasn’t got a big belly, and you don’t realise, the first time you see him, that he’s the actual boss of a big office in the centre of town. I have been to his office only once, when Mummy could not pick me up from school. Uncle Ahmed unlike many bosses in Lagos did not even have a car of his own. On this day he came to get me not with his car but with an okada. Uncle held both my food and school bag and the okada man propped me right in front of the handle bar, while Uncle sat behind the okada man. I imagined I was the one riding the okada alone as I placed my hands on the handle bar enjoying the wind brush my face and dry my sweaty uniform. It did not bother me that my feet could not reach the pedal or that we were not wearing any helmets, or how upset mummy would be if she found out Uncle had not used a taxi as promised.

 

The Okada man did not know his way around, so Uncle had to direct him through narrow streets to avoid the traffic, the okada man whose attention was divided between my Uncle and the road did not notice the black jeep at the junction. It happened so quickly. I found myself in the middle of the not-so-busy street.

 

My Uncle and the okada man had fallen off the okada a few metres from where I was lying.

The jeep drove off as if nothing had happened.

 

“Uncle Ahmed” I said in a whisper as I tried to get up.

 

The okada man was already on his feet as if this was normal, he helped my Uncle up and picked up my bags from the road. Uncle’s shirt was torn at the sleeves and his blue tie was stained.

 

“God go punish that man!” the Okada man cursed loudly. He picked up his okada and inspected it.

Uncle walked towards me, pulled me up and hugged me. He looked at my face and touched my forehead

“Tola, you are bleeding, I need to get you to the hospital.”

 

“Oga, one hospital dey for the next street make I carry una?” the Okada man cut in starting his motorcycle.

 

“No. No. You have done enough for today no worry, we go use leg.” Uncle said quickly.

“Haba Oga, no be my fault na, make I at least drop you there for free.”

 

“No worry ehn, thank you”

Uncle picked up my bags and carried me gently over his shoulder.

 

“Tola, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what I was thinking. What will your mum say? I wanted to make it back to the office in time…” Uncle Ahmed went on, sobbing lightly as he carried me in his arms to the hospital.

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I wrote this short story as an entry for the AFREADA writes Tomorrow I’ll be 20 competition with Alain Mabanckou in June 2017. I stumbled upon it recently and I absolutely loved it! So I am considering doing a mini-drama series out of this (“The Adventures of Tola”). Did you like it? Please share your thoughts below.

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Under Pressure 

Photo courtesy Volkswagen USA

I have never been more afraid than I was today; my two year old was trapped in the car with the car key locked inside, I stood outside the car in shock and panic and I thought of a hundred ways to break the glass without hurting my child. 

My Monday mornings are typically very busy, I work full time and take my pre-schooler to school first before driving to work. His school is not far from my office, but we live about an hour away, so we usually leave the house at about 6 am to beat Lagos traffic. My son Joshua is pretty much use to the routine, at first it was a hassle getting him up early, but these days he is up before I am.

The past couple of weeks have been particularly tiring for both of us, we wake up too late to sit down and have breakfast like a normal family. I decided it would be better to have breakfast in the car at Josh’s school car park- that way we beat the traffic and still have some quality time together before Josh goes in to school. Josh loves eating in the car anyway, so this little change in our routine was great. 

On this day we were having French toast. I usually move to the back seat to seat next to Josh who is in his car seat eating to reduce potential spills. I could easily let one of his teachers feed him instead, but Josh would somehow end up not eating his breakfast. It was drizzling that morning so it was a bit chilly, the car windows were up and the air conditioner was off. Josh had just finished his first toast and was half way through his hot chocolate. I could see he was sweating; the car was getting a bit hot. I could easily have shuffled myself back to the driver’s seat if I had on trousers however I didn’t want to risk tearing my skirt, so I got out of the car to turn on the air conditioner which would only come on if the car was on. The moment I got out, I realised I had made a mistake. I heard the car lock behind me. I tried to open the door but it was locked. My head went blank and I pulled at the door handle repeatedly expecting a different result each time. I stopped and looked into the now misty glass. Josh was looking back at me with no expression. I could feel the tears coming, I was hardly breathing and felt faint. I wanted to call for help but the car park was empty, the security man was somewhere outside the compound, far from the scene. I weighed my options, I scanned the car park in search of a stone, big enough to break the car glass, I looked at Josh again he had come out of his car seat and was attempting to open the door. It wasn’t opening. I started panicking, my car was only 6 months old and I was still trying to understand how the lock system worked. I had left the smart key in the ignition in the hope of turning it on with my foot on the pedal from the driver’s seat. However, by getting out of the car, it had automatically locked itself.

 I scanned the car park again, nothing had changed; we were alone. I didn’t want to leave my son in the car while I went for help. So I told him, “Josh, Mummy needs you to get the key to open the car, come grab the stirring wheel.” I pointed to the driver’s seat. He quickly shuffled forward and sat on the driver’s seat, “I need you to pull out the key” I said to him slowly, loud enough for him to hear me. He looked at the key and looked  back at me, I nodded “Yes, pull it out” He put his little hand around the key and pulled. It didn’t respond. He kept trying to pull out the key repeatedly with both hands, the key wasn’t budging. Josh’s school uniform was soaked in his own sweat, I worried that he might suffocate if I didn’t break the glass. Just then, I saw the security guard and another parent standing a few meters away. At that point I didn’t know whether I could trust my son or let someone break the window and possibly hurt my son in the process. The security guard was already standing next to me, I couldn’t  hear what he was saying, I told he and the parent not to worry. They obviously did not believe me because the parent ran into the school to get help. I decided that I had to ignore them and trust my little boy could do this. 

“Josh you can do this, pull it harder” I said repeatedly to him. After trying for about 2 long minutes the key suddenly came out and Josh pulled the door handle to give me the key- the car was still locked. 

He looked at me with fear in his eyes, “You’ve been such a good boy, stay calm.” I said to him trying not to cry. “On the key I need you to press the last button to open the door.”  Josh whose attention was wearing off pressed the first button and the boot opened. I shook my head, “Baby, the third one.” I kept saying desperate for the car to open. 

The Car suddenly unlocked, I pulled the door handle immediately, yanking it wide open, picked up my son and gave him the tightest hug and filled his face with kisses. 

We stood outside in the rain as I cried and thanked God that my son had miraculously saved the day. 

Grandma

‘I just can not believe he would do such a thing! I’m so angry…’ her voice trailed off. I had been eavesdropping for three minutes and I still did not know what made mum so mad. I knew it had something to do with Dad, it always did. She was talking with Grandma but I could only hear her voice. Grandma was soft spoken, even in regular conversations you had to read her lips to understand what she was saying. From where I was standing, on the landing I could only see Mum, the living room door was barely open. 

The phone rang suddenly.

‘Hello. Yes. Speaking. I would be right there’ Mum hung up. ‘That was the Police’ she said frantically. I could see mum pacing around the room likely looking for her hand bag. ‘Take care of Elsa for me.’ She said hurriedly, the front door shut loudly behind her.

I tip-toed back upstairs, but Grandma was already at the living room door trying to make sense of why I was walking funny. ‘What are you doing up at this time?’ She whispered.

‘I-I just wanted some water, good night Grandma.’ I started for the stairs again, running through them in twos.

‘Elsa darling, since you are up you might as well have some tea with your favourite Granny’ She said looking up at me.

I knew what ’tea’ meant and I did not want to be a part of this.

‘Err I don’t want tea.. you were right I should be asleep’

‘Nonsense my child, come come back down Elsa’ she motioned with her hands  ‘ I’m going to put the kettle on’.

Grandma seemed so small looking down at her from the top of the stairs. Something in her eyes made me scared of disobeying her quiet order.

I began the descent one step at a time. Grandma watched me patiently with a weird smile. She held her left hand toward me. When I reached the final step, I took her out stretched hand and looked into her eyes and that was the last thing I remembered.

 

I could hear the toads croaking and see the birds flying indistinctly from tree to tree. I could barely see, I was lying on dirt in my pyjamas under a tree. The sun was not out yet but the forest was awake. I searched around for Grandma, she was not with me. ‘Grandma’ I got on my feet, my head was spinning, it was difficult to focus. ‘Grandma’ I shouted this time. I looked up at the tree I was under and realised that I knew it, it was not far from the house. Getting my skewed bearing in check, I began walking in the general direction of the house. I could not understand what was I doing here, how did I get here? I soon noticed that the ground became really wet, and uncomfortable, I looked down and realised I was walking in mud. I panicked and I tried to run back to the tree but I could not see it. So I stopped. I considered the possibility that I was dreaming. I slapped myself and pinched my nose and closed my eyes, nothing seemed to wake me up. Suddenly, I saw the torch light. ‘Grand Ma?’ I whispered walking toward the light.  

‘Elsa, Elsa’ I could hear her old raspy voice. She pointed her torch at me. It felt like she was holding two torchlights. I used my elbows to block out the light. ‘Oh my goodness Elsa I thought I had lost you’ Grandma picked me up and gave me the tightest hug. Just then, I realised Mum was standing next to her, ‘Elsa you cannot just run away like that’ Mum yelled, she seemed upset and not as pleased to see me, something was wrong. ‘I did not run away Mum, Grandma… she brought me here, and, and…’ the more I explained the more I felt stupid, I could feel Mum’s burning stare on me. ‘What Elsa is trying to say is that she is sorry and would not behave like that again, would you Elsa?’ Grandma cut in. I looked back at Grandma. I could not understand what was happening, why was she lying like she was not the one who brought me to the forest, how did she get back to the house so quickly, how many minutes had I been knocked out?

‘Grandma why did you bring me here?’ I raised my voice at her and she just stared at me like I was crazy. ‘Let’s get you home Elsa, we would talk about this in the morning’ Mum said holding my arm tightly and pulling me away from Grandma.

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I decided to try my hands on thriller. I have come to appreciate that it is hard to gauge fear. There are just too many questions a Writer has to ask, the most important I think is, ‘how lost do you want your reader to be?’ I usually enjoy leaving the end of my stories as open as possible- incase I want a sequel, or to elicit various interpretations from the reader. With ‘Grandma’ I am still undecided, I’ll leave it to you, would you want a sequel, were you confused? I’ll really appreciate your comments.

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She knew she’d have to run alone, she always knew.

She did not know how sad it would be actually doing it.

It’s been several years coming, her income was low, and drugs were high.

 

What sort of mother abandons her daughter? She thought. The fight was internal, one she knew she would not win.

They soon arrived at the orphanage; she nudged the little girl to the door.

 

A day had passed but she could still hear her calling, ‘mum’, ‘mum’, ‘mum’

She kept telling herself this was the best decision, and soon she believed it.

 

This was my attempt at a 100-word story. Did you figure out what was going on?Let’s know your take on this. #SometimesLessisMore.

I failed to tell

He doesn’t hold my hand as tightly as he did before.
I know why, I just cannot believe that he would be so affected by it.
He found out that I had lied to him. I had failed to share with him a vital part about my past, I kept him in the dark all those years to protect him. At least that is how I wanted to rationalise it.
10 years ago I found out that I had fibroids. I was shocked, ashamed and confused. I was not married then. The doctors ran me through my options. The option I picked then is what separates me from him.

We are waiting at the bus stop on a cold Monday morning about to board the 61 to town.
We chose to get rid of our cars a few months ago because of Kola’s new found green love. He wanted to save the planet so badly that our life style changed with each new conservation idea. I loved seeing him passionate about something and I welcomed each innovation by complying.
We have two cats and a small house. We were living the life for three years. No external family, no comments. We were a perfect fit in this society.

Sitting in my dressing room taking off my make makeup after work, I wonder what sort of woman I had become. I lied to my husband, and now he does not look at me like he did before.
Was it really a lie, or had I just failed to tell him. Was an omission a lie?
I remember when we met we had dreams of travelling and living in a foreign country. He never once mentioned children. He was not a big fan. But I couldn’t tell whether he was just selfish being an only child, or he was kidding. At least now I know he wasn’t kidding. I mean what man knows what he wants at 23?

I resented what I had done. I was afraid, I did not know what telling him would do to us. I was sure he would still love me, but I was not certain. Especially because Anika was in the picture, it was too risky. So I kept my secret to my self and looked at him everyday wondering if he would love me the same way if I told him what I had done.

He walked into the room and ignored my existence. It was already a month since I told him, he was not over it. I deserved it, I did not blame him. I was selfish, and anything that would result from this I decided to accept.

‘You cannot keep ignoring me like this, I’m sorry, I don’t know how many times I need to tell you this’ I said almost in a whisper.
‘I’ll stop ignoring you when I am ready June. I mean how could you, how could you do this to me, to us?’
‘I had no choice, it was spreading, I was going to die. I decided to have a hysterectomy to save my life!’
‘Why didn’t you tell me? We dated for three years, yet you kept it from me. What am I going to tell my mum, that you are barren?’ That word rang in to the air louder than the bells of a cathedral.
‘You don’t have to tell her anything, we can adopt, there are other ways out of this…’ I tried to save the situation.

He had one hand up with his eyes shut as if trying to block my words. ‘I can’t do this’ he mumbled storming out of the room. I stood up and held his arm. There was so much anger tied up in his muscles that I let go immediately.

‘Are u ending us?’ I said.
He paused, sighed heavily and shut the door angrily.
I knew it was over.

I had ended us not him by failing to share my secret with him. There are few things in this world that hurt a man, and I know now that concealing secrets is one of them.

I never thought I’ll make it

It’s been two months since I got out, but I still remember those 21days clearly.
No, I’m not talking about prison or rehab, I’m talking about the NYSC(National Youth Service Corp) orientation camp. Part of the service* every graduate of Nigeria must render to their country. Basically, Nigerian graduates who intend working in Nigeria have to give back to the country by serving for a year. The first part of this whole program starts with the ‘dreaded’ orientation camp. It is usually the hardest part of the service year for many because for three weeks you have to live on a camp site with different people, eat differently, and change your entire lifestyle!

Before I set out for camp, I spent several weeks, may be months researching on survival techniques I would employ. I read a truck load of blogs, and asked a zillion questions. The response was always the same, “Don’t worry, you will do just fine”. A few might add, “when you get out you will be a stronger person.”

Growing up I heard all sorts of ‘camp stories’, to be honest, there were all negative. There were the gruesome stories of how soldiers punished Corpers* severely when they were caught breaking the law, stories of how some Corp members fainted during ‘endurance trek’, how difficult it was using the wash room because of its debilitated state and of course the most common were the shotput* adventures.
I think those years of listening to these tales were the formative stages of my ‘camp phobia’.

After picking up my posting letter*, the anxiety kicked in. I worried about whether I had bought every thing on my list , whether I had enough money, about who my roommates would be, about what i would eat…. The funniest thing however was that I didn’t look like a nervous wreck, I just became a lot more quiet as my boisterous thoughts ate me up.A few of my friends were posted to the same state as me, so we were excited that no matter how bad it got, we had each other.

I remember rolling my suitcase in to the premises and looking back at the gate and wondering if i would come out the same. The camp site for Lagos state isn’t much to take in, I was just too happy there were no bushes. The first thing i noticed however, was the big red dusty field on the right, it contrasted with the tarred roads within the compound. I would later find out that this is the location of ‘Mami market’.

Registration started an hour after we arrived, and i must confess it was exhausting. I think i made too many photocopies and too many passport pictures (talk about over preparation). After receiving my kit, I remember asking if it was over… lol.

My room was packed with so many bunk beds. I got a top bunk, that meant i had to vault myself up to my bed all the time as these bunks didn’t come with steps. For several days i couldn’t identify all my room mates. It was impossible. There were just too many of us. I only knew those on my side of the room.
I remember my first full day. It had been announced the previous day that the bugle would be blown by 4.30am, by 3am the next morning all the girls in my room were up. It was a frenzy! The bathrooms were in a state. There were minor arguments and the constant noisy chatter everywhere, you would think it was 3 in the afternoon.
It was drizzling that morning, and I was cold to my bones, the soldiers blew their super loud whistles at us as we made our way to the parade ground. The darkness was intense, I refused to believe my watch that it was morning. I could hear the crickets, feel the dew on my skin, the moon was big and bright, and the stars were twinkling! All I found myself asking was, what on earth was i doing outside at this time of the morning?
There was the meditation, the public address, physical training and man’o’war chants. It was annoying and tiring doing exercises so early in the morning. But after running round in circles and singing the most ridiculous songs… I didn’t feel tired anymore. What i found most interesting about these mornings was the gradual awareness of daylight, the fact that i could suddenly see everyone clearly noticing their sleepy eyes and raggedy whites…

They let us return back to the hostel before 8am and we were expected to come down again for drills. I hated drills. I hated the idea of marching under the sun for four bloody hours, I hated the constant thirst and tiredness. After three days, I began to doubt if I would survive it. I was down with a cold, and a cough that altered my voice. Evenings were the best. Those were the only times I really could socialize. There was Mami market- the only place you could buy ‘anything’ you wanted and get ‘any’ service you required. From photographers, to launders to tailors to restaurants… everyone was out to make money from us.
Mami market was most vibrant at night time. Most corpers came out to have a good time. Once there was good music, food and alcohol- it didn’t matter the location, corpers were determined to have fun. I remember the last days of camp, i wasn’t sure if i was imagining it, the parties grew bigger and louder. There were so many social events and activities that made camp fun during the final days. With each day i counted down to the day i would return home to my comfortable bed, to sleep as long as i could.

Now that i think about it, I really doubt I remembered to use any of the advise i received prior to camp… the only thing that kept me going was my Ipod and friends. My friends from my uni were totally awesome, don’t know how I would have coped without them. And my camp friends were so much fun also; there was always a reason to laugh.

The soldiers were not as evil as i anticipated, I didn’t have to do shotput and there was no endurance trek. In the end, there was nothing to be afraid of! My experience has taught me that ‘nothing’ is difficult, it only gets difficult when we believe ‘it’ is hard. It begins and ends with our perception! Would i want to go back and do those 21 days again? Most definitely No. My only advice to anyone going to do their service is, ‘Don’t sweat it! It’s not as bad as they say it is’

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*service refers to the NYSC
*corpers/corp members are used interchangeably to mean Graduates who are currently doing their NYSC
*shotput is a popular term used to describe the act of crapping in a nylon bag and throwing it away. Done when toilet facilities are usually not available
*posting letter is a letter from NYSC indicating were you are required to serve.

Have you gone to camp yet? what was your experience? what do you make out of my story? Feel free to LIKE, COMMENT and SHARE. And if you enjoy my write ups hit the ‘follow’ tab to FOLLOW my blog and receive updates on latest posts.

Through the door

                                                        Image(photo courtesy: 4photos.net)

The wind blew up leaves on the stairway, but it didn’t clear out the pile that had decorated the front porch. There was dust everywhere like the house was dug up from the Sahara desert. The cobwebs lined the front door in complicated spirals, and I was afraid to touch the door knob. I got out my white handkerchief from my purse and attempted to open the door. It was stuck. I knew this house, it seemed so familiar but I was unsure. I couldn’t remember how I got here, but something told me that it was important to be here. I tried again, this time pushing and turning the knob more vigorously. The door handle came off and fell on the leafy sandy floor in a clang. I looked down at it in disbelief. At that point I knew I should be worried about curious neighbours and hidden pets attacking me, but I wasn’t. I also knew I should have knocked before trying to open the door, but I hadn’t. Trying to ignore my thoughts, I picked up the door handle from the floor and tried to stick it back to the door. Just then, the door opened. I pushed the door wide open quickly; afraid the wind might shut it. The room was dark. I reached for the light switch just beside the door and the room was flooded in a yellow dull light.

The spiders had completed their artwork inside the house as well, from wall to wall, ceiling to floor; their dust carrying webs were everywhere, I sneezed a lot as I moved around. I knew where I was but I couldn’t quite place it, maybe it was because it looked different; abandoned. There were two huge stairways than ran across the duplex with all the rooms upstairs visible from the landing. As I walked through the dusty carpet I could hear in my head children screaming in excitement. There was the huge chandelier above me which lighted up the house. Only three of the bulbs were working and the five others had dark lines across them, suggesting they had died out a long time ago. The landing was like an art gallery, sparsely furnished. There were several paintings lined across the walls, mimics of course of original art works like Leonardo da vinci’s Mona lisa and  a couple of Kandiski’s abstract paintings. Looking at the paintings I knew where I was now. I walked more frantically through the room searching for my favourite painting, it had been relocated! I finally found it hanging on the left wall. It was a Frida Kahlo painting, the self portrait one. Like all the other paintings, this one was covered in dust and I could hardly make out Frida’s face.

 I suddenly could smell chocolate cake in my head, the kitchen was the door just opposite me and I remembered how Gran always kept a slice for me even when all the cake was gone. Everything on the Ground floor looked the same except they looked older. The walls were white washed and the carpet felt more like sand than its earlier soft feathery feel. What bothered me the most was that I couldn’t tell what year I was in, albeit I knew I was in the future. I went back to the entrance to take one of the stairways leading upstairs in search of a clue. There were six rooms upstairs, and only one belonged to Gran three were on the left side and the other three on the right side. Upstairs snaked into a u-shape, connecting to the other stairway. I enjoyed running and jumping through each connecting stairway playing hide and seek with my cousins.

Upstairs was a lot brighter, I could admire the chandelier better. It was old and beautiful, very much antique worthy. On occasion I stayed in the second room, right next to Gran’s room. I opened the door of the second room gently half expecting it to be locked. It looked exactly the way I left it. The matching pink sheets and cover were still on, and the winnie the pooh curtain still hung loosely above the window adjacent to the bed. I walked around the tiny room but there was nothing else to see. I began cleaning the glass window with my already dirty handkerchief to look outside. At that point, I heard my name.

 “Sally. Sally. Sally” the voice yelled.

I froze. Stopped cleaning and listened, just to be sure it wasn’t my imagination. The voice got distant with each call, it was definitely coming from downstairs.

I rushed out of the room and bent over the dusty railings, and yelled, “Who is it?” my frightened voice echoed.

“Sally, did you break the door?” a familiar voice rang across the house. It was John, my husband. He was holding the door handle in one hand and looked up trying to make out where I was.

“Oops”

“You said you were only checking this place out, you didn’t say you would come inside. What if someone finds out we are here? We could get in serious trouble Sally.”

“No John. It’s fine, this is my Gran’s house, I’ve finally remembered.” I said excitedly and hurried down to meet him.