Telling a five-year-old boy like me that his father and mother are in white man’s land, and they will return very soon, is like saying you have a new toy somewhere, but you can’t have it now, maybe tomorrow.
The idea of having some people soon coming to see me, who possess an entourage of names like Daddy, Dad, Mummy, Mum, Parents etc, is exciting and confusing at the same time. Rather than answering any of my many questions, it’s raising more questions, confusing ones.
Who are these people named parents? Why are they visiting me? Will I like them? Will they bring me toys? Are they going to be joining the long list of family members whose favourite pastime is telling me off?
The blessings and curses of having one’s parents abroad is that you end up living with relatives, or in my case, grandparents, and that means having many uncles and aunties coming in and out of the family house.
I thought my grandmother was my mother, my grandfather my father, and those uncles and aunties my siblings, and I was the last born. So you can understand why I’m confused about the need for another set of parents.
I remember living with my paternal grandparents at Ijebu Imushin, helping to remove dry skin from melon, roasting Garri on the largest of all clay-pots, plucking mangoes and coconuts from the trees, catching Esusu and Ire at nighttime. I love recalling those days, happy days.
I also remember living in Ibadan with my maternal grandmother, helping her to sell groceries in the shop, going to the neighbours on Sundays to watch “Ori-Ade” and “Koledowo” soaps. I can also never forget the day I got stuck in a shrub of thorns, in my hurried dive to retrieve a football. It took the combination of my grandmother’s tears and the neighbour’s many fingers to pluck out the thorns from my bleeding body. If I can, I will relive those days in a flash, thorns and all.
The need to move from Ijebu – Imushin to Ibadan, and I guess back again, has to do with the side of the family that reckons they have better cares and treatments for a sickly child. Apparently as a child, I was always sick, the daily type of sickness. It got so bad that just like Muhammed Ali, even my medication made me sick. I remember fainting once. I fell asleep so fast, and so suddenly, whilst still standing on my leg! The last thing I remembered before the blackout was the panicky screams of my grandmother.
In those days, almost everyone around me was either a doctor or a nurse, professing solutions and antidotes do my many illnesses. We were always on the move for naturalists, spiritualists, occultists, and of course was known under my first name by most nurses in all neighboring hospitals.
In one of our many medical tours, someone somewhere must have told someone that the solution to this child’s sickness was to ensure he lived with his parents – the polite way of calling me an attention-seeking, spoilt brat.
I have heard stories of the extent people go to, in order to force a family member back home from abroad. The most popular fetish means is by drawing the person back home during sleep. The person then just wakes up and gets enough money to get the tickets and then fly back home.
My mother, many years afterwards, recounted a similar story. A story of how despite the fact that she and my father were 3 days away from receiving their monthly salary in the old Yugoslavia, they just packed one luggage each, forsaking their properties and salaries, and hardly saying goodbye to friends.
Well, I was at school, probably reciting and memorizing lessons as usual, the Nigerian way, when someone suddenly dashed into the classroom, and whispered something to the teacher. He flashed an alien smile at me, and said I should pack my school bag. I was needed at home.
One of the many uncles that had come for me was beside himself with excitement. On our way back home, which was less than an eight minutes’ walk, he used the word again – parents. My parents were here! Not ‘never’, not even ‘tomorrow’: they were here – now. The tricky bit was what do to with that information, what to say, how to say it, how to feel: happy, excited, scared, worried, puzzled? I wasn’t sure.
I saw him first, my father, running towards me, in the middle of the street. Not too far from him, was also my mother, running behind him. And before I could make up my mind on how to feel and what to say, I was scooped up in a big hearty hug, slobbered with kisses, my mother wetting my face with her tears.
I guessed I was to do what other children would do when they face this type of predicament: do what the others around them are doing. So I acted excited, I acted happy, nodding and shaking my head to their many questions and uncomfortable flattering, like how big I had grown, how handsome I looked, how smart and intelligent I talked, really?
There was however something oddly familiar about this new set of parents in town. It was as if I had heard their voices a few days earlier, and their laughter sounded quite similar to the one I had heard on the day before. Their faces were now growing on me with every passing minutes, and that evening, when I tried to open a wrapped package meant for someone else, I heard my father’s all too familiar baritone voice chastising me. It was as if they had never left, or maybe they had only gone abroad for days and weeks, not months and years.
I stopped being a sick child from that day on. My uncles and aunties stopped being my siblings. My grandparents stopped being my parents.
Everything changed completely, on the day my parents returned.
Adeolu Adesayan is an ardent poet and writer for the past 15 years, Adeolu Emmanuel Adesanya is the author of poetry collection titled “Why Ask Why”, he obtained the degree of Bachelor of Education from the prestigious University of Ibadan, Nigeria and Master of Science in Business Management from the University of Wales in Cardiff, and currently a doctoral candidate of the University of Wales. He is widely published in several international anthologies and journals.