Little River, Long Episode
Dangerous stealth, innocent calm;
Mighty ocean, Oh Dormancy
But why, Why!
“Eric, I want you and Ghenemere to take the decision:” should we move to the house I found at Iyara or should we go to your father’s new building”?
“To my father’s house” I said, with delight on my face.
“I don’t like Iyara” elected Eric. “Besides I have never been to my father’s compound before, I have only heard of it”.
“But Ghenemere has seen it”.
“Yes, when he cried and ran after brother Voke on his way to visit brother Mike whom you said lives in the compound”.
Actually, my mother only wanted a justification for her already made decision to move to my father’s building at the instance of my father, as compensation after a family court case between my mom and dad, declared in favour of the former.
There had been a big fight between my mom and her mate, Seke, my father’s third wife. As restlessness is always rife in a polygamous home, fights between these two women were by no means uncommon. This particular one was so big and my father so mortified that he promptly asked the two women to pack and go back to their parents.
Thinking about it now, I can understand my father. He was only a tenant in a building occupied by many other tenants including the landlord who himself had a large polygamous family, such that, the compound was by every yard stick over crowded, and closely packed amongst other similarly over populated buildings. Whenever there was a fight between or within families, buckets, plates, mortars and other missiles invariably flew around. In such a compact setting, the ensuing commotion was intolerable.
The next morning, Seke who was, going by the average of about two years interval, in which the wives gave birth, had three children as at the time, had packed and gone. Apparently she knew where to go. But my mother did not: Her parents were dead; her few remaining brothers and sisters where very poor and scattered around the forests and creeks of southern Nigeria doing bush work. Their very destinations hardly known and word seldom came from them.
Two days later, a Datsun pick up van arrived at about 2p.m and there was a systematic packing of everything that belonged to mum to the last needle. She was at least six months pregnant with seven children.
Her eldest child Patience, a girl, was in secondary school. Anote, another girl, next to patience, was at home when mum had to leave so she and Ufuoma, my immediate younger brother, sat in the open carriage of the van among the luggage while my mother, her hand baby Ejiro and Orhorha-ore the boy next to Ufuoma all bundled themselves in the single passenger seat beside the driver.
We would later hear that Seke had gone to live with my father’s eldest child from his late but much respected first wife, Onameyoren. He was at that time resident somewhere around Olu Palace, some five minutes drive from No. 8 Timi street, Okumagba lay-out where my father lived. She would pack back to Timi street to live with my father two weeks later. But for my mother, it would be the last time she ever slept at Timi Street, and it would be a tale of hardship en-route kolokolo, squatting with one friend after the other with seven children and a pregnancy.
“Abigirl you are too stubborn”, Liku my father’s distant relation and my mother’s distant in-law said.
She was standing just behind my mother unknown to her.
“But Liku, you are funny. You who have seen all my travails”
“What travails? Please allow my ears some peace. Go and cook something for us to eat, the children are hungry”.
“Am no longer in the marriage and I have said so one million times’ my mother said and looked away.
“No longer in the marriage” Liku mimicked and made faces at my mother. They both laughed.
We had come to live with liku in her one room apartment and I don’t know how we managed. Liku her self had many children though she was living with only two of them as at that time. Added to my mother’s five children, we numbered nine people including my mother who was at that time heavy with pregnancy.
Eric, my immediate elder brother never went with us from Timi Street. There would be no continuing school if he did, so when he came from school and found that mum had left, he promptly stayed behind. Sister Patience was shuttling between school and brother Jackson’s, my father’s cousin’s place.
When I came back to find my mother had gone, unlike Eric, I ran after her. For me, school did not matter much. Any opportunity not to have to go to school was highly welcome.
I knew there was only one place my mother could go: To her family compound in Emadadja village, some five kilometers from Warri. And one of the drivers shuttling the route between the Udu villages and Warri promptly took me there. My mother had left a word with them to bring me, as my reaction was predictable to all: They knew my love for the villages. By this time my mother was seven months
Pregnant. It was all she could do to transport herself from the village to her shop at the Mc Iver end of the Warri main market where she traded in local gin (Ogogoro). Not the finance though, but the stress involved and the painful thought of who would set an eye on her children while she was away. It was unthinkable to let someone like myself romp about the village without my father’s whip and his clear but unmistakably threatening voice, and my mother’s constant surveillance amidst many knocks and occasional slaps with a variety of other punishments, to constantly put me in check.
There was no knowing what I was capable of doing or what my next move could be; I was only nine years old but given the chance, I was capable of driving a truck or a trailer recklessly about the main road of the village. I believe but for me, my mother could have managed but she was not willing to leave the children alone, thus her business suffered.
Entered Liku to the rescue! She offered my mother to leave her luggage behind, to take only the children and their clothes and shoes to live with her in her single room situated not more than ten yards from my mother’s very store. It was just at the end of the row of stores where the women traded in (Ogogoro) as middlemen between the Ijaws of the riverine area and merchants from the north. Pardon me for failing to mention the other inhabitants of madam Liku’s house where we lived. The mighty rats, cockroaches, and the elephant sized mosquitoes. The area ranked one of the greatest slums or Ghetto ever seen or heard of.
On our return from the village, first thing, I showed up at my father’s shop at the other end of the market. I alighted in my boisterous manner not suspecting the least. Even before I could greet, he said rather indifferently.
“What have you come to take?” with a mischievous smile hanging loosely on his face. Before I could think of what to say, he added. “Are you people tired of staying with your mother?”
I stood petrified, “Go, go back to her, you shouldn’t be tired so soon” he mocked.
It was the first time ever I took offence against my father. I was only nine years old and it was one month then since my mother left because they were asked to go following the fight between her and Seke. I didn’t even know what was happening and was not even thinking about it. I was by all means happy to see him.
In the deepest recess of my mind, there was a black spot on my father’s file consequent to those remarks, for a long time; but I have since forgiven him. I want to note here that a polygamous home is an oppressive institution with a divide and rule framework, always to the detriment of the older wife and her children. In these families, there is little or no peace but for always. I detest polygamy!
It would be the first time my father was guilty before my conscience, but it would not be the last in a series of oppression, bias and a variety of injustices against my mother and her children.
The Mc Iver slum was a haven for all kinds of criminals; from buglers and drug users to highway robbers. It was a breeding ground for the under-world operators in Warri as at that time; not an ideal place for children to grow up. Especially if you want them to be absorbable and responsible citizens of the society in the future, and my father knew this.
We were on long vacation. Schooling for myself, Ufuoma and Anote had stopped before then, but this wasn’t the immediate problem. The most pressing being that my mother was heavily pregnant and would put to bed any minute. This was when my father commenced his ovations to my mother for a ‘decamp’ to the new house.
I kept shuttling between Mc Iver and Timi street which was closer to school when we resumed again. I didn’t like the idea of going to school much so I went back to my mum often as to afford me the excuse some times for not going to school.
On my return one day from Timi Street, the women with whom my mother traded received me with broad smiles on their faces, some held me closely to their bosom and kissed me; As is always the case with stubborn children, I was their favourite. One of them, Alice, who called me her husband right from the day I was born, held me close and announced to me that my mother had put to bed. She and the other children had been moved to my father’s new house at Udu road: welcome to kolokolo lay out!