The year was 1966. The country had just experienced its first coup. The nation was tumbling from its roots, but so was your father.
The true realisation of life doesn’t hit us until we have stared at death in the face. Felt it’s cold hands and sharp fangs against our bloodless veins. Causing us to realise that life is but a continuous cycle of vicious evil deeds…
Your father’s protruding belly was regarded as a sign of good living. His wives; your mother inclusive, took great pride in feeding him till his belly was full. After all, olobe lo loko.
You were not permitted to play with your step siblings. You stared at them through windows and door openings but never said hello, except on empty corridors and quiet road paths where there were no adults present.
Jùwọ́n your father’s only son, his skin a weird shade of pale pink running across his face and entire body like a map. This was his cross to carry because he was paying for the sins of his mother; mama Bọlánlé. She was the first wife, your mother the second and iyá Tìmí the third, who managed to have one living child after her eight-year struggle with abiku.
The continuous death of her children made her life miserable. From Kòkúmọ́ to Málọmọ́, Bánjókò, Dúrójayé, and finally Dúrótìmí. It is from her you learnt that grief is a strange thing. It can slam you against the wall, have you pull out your hair from the roots and leave you gasping for breath in the middle of a windy night. There were times when she claimed she heard her children’s voices, screaming, calling out to her and when she reached out to hold them, life snatched them from her grip.
She died a few months after her breasts grew tender and one swelled larger than the other. Aches became her companion and strange boils grew on her body. Her misery was hidden in her room underneath wrappers and oversized buba. Aunty Àbẹ̀kẹ́; the neighbourhood nurse believed she was suffering from the white man’s sickness that has no cure but the medicine man that smelled like goatskin believed her illness was from ayé, a cross she had to bear because she had angered the gods. The gods were right, they always were. After all, it was she who emptied a powdery substance into your grandma’s bathing water; causing her body to itch for days because she had told your father to get rid of her since she was destined to give birth to abiku. she was also the one responsible for the fall that led to grandma’s broken leg and eventual death. The gods saw it all, but so did you.
Iyá Jùwọ́n was formerly iyá ìbejì. Until the tragedy occurred. The tragedy orchestrated by your mother. The one that involved poisons wrapped in black polythene bags, shut doors and windows, crying infants and a heartbroken mother. Her grief was different. It was subtle yet violent. One minute she was eating a meal of pap and bean cake, and the next minute the ground was full of broken pieces of her ceramic bowl. Cursing herself for eating while her babies remained lifeless, while the cause of their death remained unknown.
But in all of this, your silence did not betray your mother. Both of you were bound by this tragic secret and you looked away as grief ate the soul of her rivals.
Iyá Jùwọ́n; she called herself a believer, hung her god on a nail behind her door. Touched his face each morning and muttered strange words to him in the middle of the night. She knelt before him with her hands raised, and tears streaking down her face. He was dormant despite all of these. Quiet and unmoved. Ignoring her cries and turning a deaf hear to her pleas. On Friday nights she adorned herself in glamorous attires and paid visits to her many concubines, when she returned home she went straight to her dormant god, touched his face, knelt before him and begged for forgiveness for sins of the flesh. Sins she only committed because her husband had neglected her, causing her to look for comfort in the arms of another.
On days when your father made decisions pleasing to any other than you, madness would ensue. Your mother would say bastards were clamouring for birthrights and all it took to right the wrong was one visit to the strange man with green eyes. A powdery substance sprinkled in a dish of swimming crabs and huge chunks of fish, that made its way into your father’s belly accompanied by pounded yam and his decision was changed. No questions, no complaints, it was final.
Everyone knows that the work of a king is not easy. But no one wants to see the head that wears the crown bowing under pressure. So, your father will wave like a pageant queen when he walks down the road and neighbours refers to him as baba alaya pupọ. If only they knew of the atrocities committed behind closed doors in the rooms of his so-called wives.
And so on the day of his threatened death. The day he returned home from work earlier than usual, complaining of a ravaging hunger and you offered him your food.
In the middle of the night, a storm began, threatening to tear down the walls of the house and uproot decade-old trees just the same way the poison in your father’s belly was threatening to tear him apart. Ripped off all atoms of masculinity; he was laying on the floor, convulsing, cursing, dying. In the early hours of the morning when the doctor finally arrived and administered treatment, the radio in his room blasted the words that will forever remain with you because in those very moments you tasted death through your father, the same way a child tastes life through its mother.
“Fellow Nigerians, this is your new military head of state….”
A coup had occurred.