We lived in a neighborhood of growing families. Every house that flanked ours and stretched around the perimeter had the necessary constituent of a nuclear family. Mummy Tobi on our near left, Mr Okoro’s house on the right that led to the outside, Late Caleb and his family, opposite our house, Uncle Tony’s house(my earliest, biggest, Igbo hypeman) just after Tobi’s, Aunty Monica’s house, Tega and Efe’s house opposite Uncle Tony’s, the landlord’s daughter’s house just after and the circle was complete. Words like, absentee fatherhoods was strange to me. We all had our dads and those that didn’t, had lost theirs to the cold hands of death but still had a male figure in their lives. I would not classify my first neighborhood as safe, but this conclusion wasn’t attained in a day. I remember my mum, a stellar storyteller that she is, narrated her first encounter with crime in that area. She was a young, igbo mum of a child of about one year old and rarely mixed with our neighbors. On that particularly day, she decided to honor the invite of one of our neighbors, a young mum like herself. It was just before dusk and my Dad was away for work. Her child, my older brother, played with the yard kids so all seemed okay to accept the invite. A few hours flew by and there was a loud commotion in the area. Just outside our house, the big Fenco Supermarket was being attacked by armed robbers and they were shooting periodically to scare people away. This supermarket isn’t even up to a five minutes’ walk from our window and if you were brave enough to observe things yourself, you would probably see the masked robbers. My mum said everyone scurried to secure their houses in fear that the robbers may shift base to residential areas. She ran to our flat, locked the door and peeped through the window to watch as things unfolded. She said they were there for good two hours and left with a lot of money and priced items but no one was hurt. Just when the tensions began to wane, it suddenly hit her that she was a mum and her son wasn’t with her. Tension level shot up to level 200 and stayed there the entire night. She went into frenzy and called dad, Haha no, calling dad was the last thing. She went to the neighbors asking if my brother stayed home with any of them, they all shook their heads and began panicking too. What ran through her mind was that my brother, in his curiosity could have walked over there and that scared her to death. When Dad came home, they searched and searched, and she cried and cried and blamed herself for even socializing that day, if she stayed home, she would have kept an eye on him. That thought tortured her. The men in the compound concluded that, they would continue the search the next day, I mean how far could a toddler go?
Morning after the heist (I’M stuck on money heist right now guys, any opportunity to use the word, I would), she woke up and began cleaning and praying (this woman prays). It was decided that a police report would be filed that day and it filled her with such sadness. Dad, was the optimistic, man of faith (still is, he inspires me till date), he knew strongly that his son was okay. Mom cleaned. I’ve learned that this could be therapeutic for stay home mothers; it lets them focus on something else. That day, she did the deep, not routine cleaning of moving sofas around to clean. She desperately needed it. Other mothers came around to give support “mama Dele, Dele is a smart boy, he will be found eh”. Smart boy that did not know to come home…….Lol. I judge you bro
Remember that window I talked about? The one through which you can see the supermarket? There was a sofa aligned to it and as she pulled it out, coiled behind it like a little cat was her one year old toddler, sleeping. Guys, this story still cracks my entire family up till date. She woke him up and hugged him so tight; with so much shout for joy that our neighbors came. So here’s what happened.
He had run home when he heard the loud shootings and didn’t find mummy home yet. He peeped through that window, got scared and thought they would come to his house, so he hid himself and slept off in hiding. Wow!! He became the hero of the story, everyone considered that a rather smart move for a child so young. Kudos Bro! 🙄 Of course that became a conditioned reflex. We all, somehow learned to be responsible for our own safety because for a long time, crime prevailed. I wasn’t even born at the time the incident happened but I too, had reasons to both believe the stories and act accordingly. I remember taking a look at the gate to our own flat and wonder if the space under it could take an adult human male if he decided to crawl under or if the padlocks could hold a violent shake. As if we stayed in each others’ minds, I remember my dad kept a heavy rod in the sitting room, a reminder and evidence that the same thoughts ran through his mind. After the robberies, came rape stories and I ultimately had an all-day curfew. Only advantage was I didn’t have to run errands (I was the 8, 10 year old daughter other mothers wanted their daughter to be, because I learned to do market errands that young), my brothers did all of that. Looking back, I’m grateful for the protection in a lot of ways. Growing up in our area and seeing how I can now tell a gunshot sound from that of the knock-out bang kids play with during the Christmas holidays has become a life skill. Maybe I also had to deal with the jumpiness of always looking over my shoulders but it gave me some unusual boldness to walk past a mob without fear…
How was your childhood neighborhood? Any fun memories? Can you relate with mine?
“Toyin, what sparked in your mind to think this way today after such a long time, seeing that we have missed you? ”
My answer: The police sirens going off before I sleep every night, the insecurities in our country and the realization that it didn’t start now or ten years ago, but even before I was born. Safe to say, we were born into it. I don’t think I want that type of world for my kids too. I’ve missed being here, I can’t lie.