The morning I had planned to leave, Musa left the house for work after he bid me safe journey. As soon as he had left, I packed my bag and dressed up. I was ready to step out into the world. I went and bid my mother and sisters bye; their house being on my way. I knew in my mind, apart from my plan to pursue and get education, I had parents and younger sisters who would need my support temporarily before a bigger support could begin to come from our eldest brother. I knew that my father’s income was nothing to write home about and that he had reached the optimum of his effort; and my mother - a struggling woman, relied on a husband whose income had dwindled.
In my mind, I blamed Musa for his odyssey into polygamy. I believe it had ripped a hole in his effort to build a fortified home. I thought rightly or wrongly it could be part of the problem Dele had decided to face the struggle for his own life than sending money to Musa, the money that he would have used for the care of a second wife who periled his mother and seemingly the future of his siblings. There was nothing that happened in the household that I did not communicate to him.
But then I did not think Dele was that hard hearted. If his decision was not to send money to Musa as a protest to the periling of his mother, he would have at least begun to send money to our mother. The fact that he had not send money to either of our parents and for my school fees convinced me that he might have got caught up in a struggle to survive life in the United States. The fact that he sent letters to home with photographs of his marriage to Ann- a black American woman- and of their first son, assured me that all was well with him, and that what he did not have was enough money to send home.
Clearly, he had managed to remit the money for my school fees after I left Ibadan and from which Stella took the money she had paid for my deposit when I was admitted at Oke Ibadan High, and kept the remaining amount for me. The bottom line was that I sensed the family now needed all hands to be on the deck for survival. It was useless going back to school and get caught in the imbroglio of unpaid fees. Having bid my mother and sisters bye, I carried my small bag that contained few novels, few pants and shirts. I stepped out on the way to a part of the road leading out of the town toward Ibadan and Lagos, having failed to establish a contact with any of the cocoa haulage trucks that were often packed in a gas station close to our former home near the palace.
On the Road
I stood by the road side expecting a cocoa haulage truck to appear and pull up in my favor. I was filled with thoughts about how to convince any truck driver to accept the amount of money I had, which I knew might not be sufficient for them to take me from that point to Lagos. I thought and formulated a plot that I would play to get out of any quagmire over insufficient money for my fare. As I did this, one lorry eventually pulled up. The driver came down, he asked about my destination. I told him I was going to Lagos. He told me the cost, a little above the amount that I had. I knew if I had told him the real amount I had, judging by the way he looked and behaved on the spot, he would not have taken me. I decided to be a match to his rogue attitude.
I withheld the truth of the amount which I had, and opted that the moment I was securely seated in the truck, I would work out a way to play him and his assistant, when the truck may have arrived at my destination even if I needed to evade the payment by eluding them.
I gave the driver a nod, I agreed to the cost he gave. He took my bag from me. I followed him. We both climbed into the truck. And it proceeded on its journey.
I was on my own in the truck. I did not talk to the assistant, and he did not to me. The truck continued on its journey and the assistant temporarily fell asleep. Mentally, I calculated how much I had, viewed his muscular feature, and saw that I would not be a match to him in a physical struggle if I fail to give him his money. I sensed I might be in a big trouble if he decided to wrest unavailable money from me with the use of force. I thought it was wiser to avoid a physical confrontation. The only way I could avoid such a physical confrontation was to use my senses. I decided to get out of the truck during one of the stopover without paying any money, and then used the money I had, which would be enough for fare from any of the stopover towns.
As I had anticipated, the truck came to a halt in a small town called Gbogan. I did not like the stop over, because the place was too close to Ile-Ife and farther from our final destination.
“Why is the stopover not in Ibadan or a little farther after Ibadan? I asked in soliloquies. I did not have an option but to pull my ploy here; the truck might not stop again until it might have arrived in Lagos. I thought that if I pull the plot here, the money would still be insufficient to get me to Lagos. The driver’s rogue looks, and the muscle of the assistant scared me. I thought it was a fair game I pull a plot on them, get off their truck, wait and get another truck with a driver with amenable look of a gentleman.
Abandons the Truck
Once the truck had pulled to a stop, I asked the assistant whether I could go to a nearby barber’s store to use the toilet. He agreed and without any objection to my bag that I carried with me. With my bag in my hand, I walked past the barber’s shop. I was careless whether they were watching me or not. I went and hid in a place I knew no one was watching me, and where I could see the lorry in view. The driver and his assistant having completed their stopover time waited for me in vain. When they did not see me appear, they drove away without even bothering to check up from the barber’s shop to ascertain my safety. I believe my safety did not matter to them. It was the money that mattered. I could get lost. I laughed as I watched them drove away. I was learning to use my brain to get ahead just as they used their own brain to put passengers in a cargo truck to make money.
After I was sure they had left, I came out of my hideout. I was certain of getting to my destination in another truck from that point, with the modest amount that I had. But aware that the trouble was not over and that whatever truck I would take from that point would not accept the amount that I had on me; and that I might still run into a physical confrontation I had wanted to avoid. Notwithstanding, another truck came my way. After I argued unsuccessfully for a reduced fare, the driver accepted to take me but insisting on amount I a little higher than I had. I resolved to face the risk and danger of a physical confrontation, if on arrival at our final destination the driver refused to accept the amount of money I had for payment. I needed to have some change in my pocket. Unlike the earlier truck where I kept to myself, I tried as much as I could to woo the driver’s assistant into a friendship, as a way to weaken him from getting nasty with me, whenever we get to our final destination and his boss asks him to get rough with me if I fail to give him the exact amount. I succeeded in my effort at befriending the driver’s assistant, without him knowing why.
We arrived at our final destination with the two of us in our own world. I had told him everything about my educational odyssey, and the struggle to live. He had told me that he had given up and that he ended learning driving when there was no other way for him to go. He appeared sympathetic. He was ready to help.
“When we entered Lagos and I ask you to walk, walk away.”
“Are you saying that I should walk away without paying any money?”
“How much you get?”
Rather than give him a response, I dipped my hands into the pocket, brought out the entire amount of money I had and counted, looked into his eyes without a word.
“Give me the money.” he demanded, his hands stretched out toward me and I handed him the money. He did not count. He just put the money in a pocket, and reminded me to follow his instructions as soon as we arrive in Lagos. I concurred without a word.
I was asleep for most part of the journey after our unwritten agreement. When I was jostled from what looked like a deep slumber, I found that the driver’s assistant was also fast asleep. I decidedly went into another round of sleep from which he later roused me with a soft knock on one of my knees.
“We are in Lagos.” he announced.
I looked around and saw that we had just entered Lagos but we were still far away from the part of the city, where I would have like to get off from the lorry. I could only have alighted at that point if I was ready for a long distance walk to get to the house of my intended host. But being in the night, I was scared about doing that to safeguard my life. He did not compel me to get off, and I did not tell him about the thoughts in my mind. We looked at each other and said nothing.
The lorry continued its movement and occasionally held in traffic. When we arrived at an area called Maryland, still a far cry from my destination, the driver’s assistant demanded me to get off the lorry. But I could not because the area was still far away from my destination. I told him where I would like to get off along the route, unless the lorry would not go farther on the same route. By now, the lorry had got hooked up in immobile traffic. To my consternation, the driver emerged and he asked his assistant about me.
“Where is the boy and where is he getting off?”
“He is here.”
Argument Over Fares
“Excuse sir, I am not a boy. I am a young man.” I objected to the driver calling me a boy. He did not behave like he heard me.
“Take the money from him and let him get off here. I am diverting to another road to beat the traffic.”
After he gave his instructions, he went back to the steering wheel. And the assistant called my attention to what he said I had caused him, that the driver would not believe he did not collect the complete amount he should have collected from me.
“If you had got off before he came around to ask me if you were here, I would have told him you bolted away without paying.”
“But I told you and I expected you would have explained my circumstance to him when he asked you to collect money. What are we going to do now?”
“Get out of here before I deal with you.”
“What?” I queried, carried my bag and jumped off the lorry. I have hardly walked away when the assistant jumped down, almost on my heels, and I heard him shouting to the driver’s attention, “He is running away!”
I looked back, I saw that the traffic had opened up and the lorry moved. I looked back still running; the assistant turned and ran back and caught up with the lorry. I ran away into the dark and very fast too. I allowed few minutes of continuous traffic to avoid running into the lorry, the driver and his assistant.
After I had ensured that there was no way I could run into the lorry on my route, I began a long trek to connect the road to my destination. It was night and I knew I had to be alert to dangers that locked around at that unholy hours. I knew I needed to remain alive to achieve the objective that took me away from home. The only object that I knew could take away the chance of realizing my life’s education was death. I was ready to get a job, work hard to break the cycle of poverty that I thought stood between me and my life’s education; get into a remedial school and press ahead toward knowledge acquisition in a formal school setting. But I didn’t know how long it would take me to realize the objective.
The thought of getting married and having children didn’t cross my mind. It would take some long time to have the type of money one required to marry to begin to have children. Moreover, I did not think it was wise to bring children into this world for them to go through what I was going through. But on the other hand, I thought the fault about what I was going through was not about the fault of my parents bringing me into the world, but more about my country that was beset with leaders who lacked the wisdom for management of the resources which nature had bestowed on the nation. The country has cocoa in the west, palm kernel in the east and groundnut in the north as income earners before the discovery of oil. And since its discovery of oil, the country had abandoned wise management of all these cash crops, allowing oil to become the country’s main income earner; and the income from oil has not been allowed to benefit the country but its mindless leaders, whose majority had turned into white collar thieves and unaccountable.
My Father's House
The thoughts about my father’s house that I left behind crowded my mind. The thoughts about my mother and sisters living on their own, and outside a home they had called a home worried me. The incidence that led to this development remained in my consciousness. There was nothing I could do to change the situation. I remembered telling myself I would not allow what had happened to my father happen to me to derail my life’s objectives. I realized then that whatever was my father’s life objective, if he ever he had any apart from having children and ensuring their future had been derailed by his decision to acquire an additional woman, in addition to his legitimate wife, and for them to continue living together under the same roof.
Unfortunately for him, the woman he took for a second wife was not satisfied being a second fiddle in the house; her ambition to unseat his legitimate wife turned out was worse than his own decision for a second wife, ultimately turned her into a proverbial Tigress and one that tore his home apart. I began to view human life as too serious an affair to allow a mundane issue of multiplication of women, either as concubines or additional wives in one’s life to undermine its purpose, which in my mind should have been to enhance long life, admiration of members of one’s household and service to humanity. Despite my thought about his shortcomings, I knew Musa needed urgent financial support or assistance, which he had no where to source that I needed to fulfill, toward ensuring he lived long enough to see his children develop to what he had intended, that he had not been able to achieve given his circumstance, and to ensure he lived to enjoy the fruit of his labor.
I wandered through the streets at that hour of the night. I knew I was getting nearer to my destination. I was familiar with the street locations. Having been here during an only long holidays at Oduduwa College, when I came on holidays with one stray student who had rented a room near our home and I had stayed with him and his mother during the entire holiday, in a part of the city called Mushin. But I knew I was not going to Mushin this time around, but to an area called Iponri near the National stadium. When I got to an area where a popular musician was playing, I felt a need to remain in the club for the night, to allow me arrive at my destination in the morning hours, and not going to knock on a door in the night, when my would be host who had not been informed about my coming would be on his bed and certainly asleep.
My Country's Profligacy
But when I saw men and women in the club’s vicinity smoking prohibited weeds, a thought about safety and the lack of it in that area crossed my mind. I thought that one could be arrested by police in the place or get into trouble with men who had smoked or drank, and might have become tipsy, and who may no longer be in their senses, and one could get killed. I decided to continue walking; and I walked past the edifice called the National Stadium where part of the nation’s wealth had been sunk in the name of sports and an All African Games. Next to the stadium was a slum called Iponri, my destination, seated like a curse and a means to remind the nation of misplaced priorities.
I arrived at the door to the home of my host at about two in the morning. I wanted to stay in the corridor of the building without arousing him from sleep at that hour when I knew sleep could be most enjoyable. But it was cold in the corridor. Apart from the cold, I was tired after walking a long distance. I summoned the courage to face the indignation which my host may exhibit, not only for waking him up at that sweet hour of sleep, but for coming on what he would assume a visit without having informed him. As I knocked on the door, I trembled about the uncertainty of what would be his response. I was ready to confront his response, whatever it will be, if only to avoid the biting cold outside. I had resolved to confront my problems as they arose.
Nicholas, as my cousin was called, came to the door, opened and allowed me into a room; a small room demarcated with a thick curtain into a parlor and a bedroom. I was about dropping my bag, he having shut the door, turned and said that he would allow me to spend the night, because he had no room to accommodate me, and that I should look for a place to stay as soon as it was morning.
I thanked him for giving me a room to stay for the night and began to think about where I would go in search of an alternate accommodation. I could see that there was no space in that small room where the parlor where I slept on a couch looked like a closet. I thought what type of place is this where people live in a closet? I found out that was how people lived and survived in the cities, where resources and spaces are competed for by unimaginable number of people, who had abandoned the rural areas in search of employment and meaningful life.
In the morning, I watched Nicholas got ready for work. He may have thought I was asleep on the couch where I sat with my legs folded up to my chest. He did not bother to talk to me. Since I did not intend to further indulge him to allow me stay until I would be able to find another accommodation, I allowed him to leave undisturbed. In my mind, I had concluded not to wait until I have secured another accommodation. In that moment, I felt there was more to Nicholas response to my arrival beyond the space issue in his house. He had been part of the chorus of approval for Musa’s incursion into polygamy. He was very close to El’s uncle who lived in a house at an adjoining street. They were motley group in our home in Ile-Ife whenever they visited. And they never had a place to stay than our home. We vacated room and bed for them to sleep. My hunch told me information about my decision to end El’s insults of Ai might have reached them , and I could not be anything to him at that moment than a bad boy. I felt I got to get out of the place, quick.
In my thoughts for an alternative accommodation, my memory went to a place where I visited two of my younger female cousins when I visited during my only long holiday at Oduduwa College. I knew it was a long distance away, and I would need some money to pay fares to get there. However, I felt it would not have been sensible to ask for money from a cousin who had told me I could not stay than few hours in his house. Therefore, when I awoke in the morning, ate the breakfast the wife prepared for me, I told her I was going away in search of accommodation. I did not tell either her or the husband that I came to begin a struggle for my life’s future. They had thought I was on holidays. After the breakfast, I chatted with the woman for a brief spell, picked up my bag and bid her bye.
In search of a Place
Again, I walked a long distance and arrived at that part of the city called Ikate, adjacent to the part of Surulere - new Lagos, still near the National Stadium. My cousins’, whose house was located on a street after a stretch of modern and affordable housing, welcomed me heartily. They were happy that I would be able to stay with them for a couple of weeks, unlike my last holiday when I stayed with them for about a week, made a couple of friends in the same house they lived with an older cousin, who was away to the north of the country, where he was working on a contract, left his wife, three children and my younger cousins behind.
I did not list the house where I was later given accommodation as a possible place to stay, when I was leaving Ile-Ife because of my knowledge of the living arrangement in the house, where we were six in a large room that was demarcated into a parlor and a room, when I first came on holidays. Moreover, I did not want to increase the financial burden on a struggling woman whose husband was away, and whom I believed was taking care of self, three children and my two cousins. I was shocked that she did not object to my remaining longer than a week. She had thought, like my cousins that I was on a long holiday. She was warm and affectionate. Her sense of accommodation made me to begin to develop a sense of family belonging, and reminded me of Stella’s kind gesture in Ibadan. If she had said I could not stay in the house, my cousins could have done nothing. I would have gone back on the street and possibly the story of my struggle would have been different from what it later became.
Help at Last
She gave me an accommodation I would here describe as a beginning for me in my working life. And my cousins, Dorothy and Patience were unimaginably supportive beyond expectation. I found myself in the midst of a very friendly people who gave me rare sense of help. I credited Dorothy and Patience whose father, Musa’s half brother had called it quit never to visit the south of Nigeria again after he traveled north, left my father and mother in the ancient city, where he had lived with them before I grew up to hear about him. He had given out his daughters to live with his maternal cousin in Lagos. The girls got our home address in the ancient city and they sent a letter to Musa. It was in the letter I got their address and I visited them during my first long holidays in my first year at Oduduwa College. Their father having stopped communicating with Musa and Ai for a reason no one could explain to us kids.
But the girls rose beyond the barrier, and embraced Musa and his children. Through the accommodation they gave me, I met two young men who lived in the same house, became my friends and who were helpful to the continuity of my journey. There was Sagie who helped me explored the possibility of remaining permanently in Lagos. We both began a search for a job when he learnt that my future was almost hopeless, following my revelation to him about my school experience. He believed me because he was aware that there were many Nigerian children who had been sidelined from acquiring education because of poverty. There was Patrick, a hard working construction worker who went all the way and talked to his Bulgarian supervisor in their work site for him to give me a start at the construction site of a hotel structure. It became an entry to my first major job and income.