I grew up in a relatively quiet area of Ibadan. Our neighbours were mostly middle- to high-income earners of that era. Every compound on that street, including ours, had two to three cars parked in their garage. My dad had a sleek Peugeot 504 and a much older Volkswagen Beetle which he later sold. We attended private schools and enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle, for the most part.
The early 80s two-storey building was beautified with colourful flowers and trees. We even had a Christmas tree. Christmas was a normal celebration in our house, just like the two Eids. Some space was created at the backyard for banana and guava trees. Subhaanallaah, I miss that guava tree! Not only did it produce delicious fruits during its season, it also provided branches for climbing and shades for relaxation.
Children from the adjacent neighborhood across the stream would come to pluck from the fruits hanging out of the fence. Some would beg to enter the gate and cut some flowers. I used to feel that those children enjoyed childhood more than I did. They were able to move around freely, play at the stream and hunt for crabs. But I spent most of my time within a gated compound; I could only go out under strict supervision.
Things changed a lot during the economic downturn of the 90s. Cooking gas and kerosene became impossibly expensive, and people resorted to charcoal pots, sawdust and firewood. My mum would travel to Olohunda village as early as 6am. She would buy a truckload of firewood, eesan and ogunso, to be sold to households as well as food vendors. She also sold brooms, kùkú, àgò, and local fruits like òro and agbalumo.
That brings us to LOLADE, my cousin from the maternal side. Her father had died, and her mum, remarried. My mum decided to accommodate her after my maternal grandmother, with whom Lolade had been living, passed away.
Lolade and I had so many differences despite our physical semblance. She spoke pure Ibadan accent, while I struggled to speak basic Yoruba. She hadn’t started any formal education, while I was in Primary 1 or 2. I was always lively and loquacious, while Lolade needed a lot of ginger to communicate.
One day, I took advantage of Lolade’s early upbringing and exposure. She was born in Itutaba, within my grandfather’s family house close to Oje market. I complained to her; how I had always wanted to explore the world around me buy my parents were caging me. I suggested hawking my mumsy’s wares. At least, I thought, she shouldn’t be mad at us by the time she sees how much money we had made!
So, we packed some eésan and ògùnsọ̀. We crossed the stream – with the help of a wooden plank that served as a bridge – and moved from house to house. The people stared at me, astonished as to how I transitioned from that “butty” girl in the quarters, to a hawker of thrash! We stretched our luck a bit further, almost getting to the expressway, but Lolade advised that we go back home…
I’m sure you’re beginning to imagine my mum’s reaction when she got back home and we weren’t there! Thank God she didn’t declare us missing before we arrived. I and Lolade received the most painful bea.tings of our lives that evening!
Unfortunately, I’ve not been in contact with Lolade for almost 2 decades. I’m working on how to reconnect with her. Even my mum doesn’t know her whereabouts. Her looks may have changed now, but she was light-skinned with some tribal marks sitting on her face – three small vertical lines, also known as Pélé. I hope she’s doing well wherever she is right now. I miss her.
àgò: a bird cage made from the stalk of palm fronds.
eésan: Shells of palm kernel nuts, used as biofuel too.
kùkú: another type of bird cage, similar to àgò but with less fenestrations.
Ògùnsọ̀: A fibrous material derived from the processing of palm kernel. Used as biofuel for domestic cooking.