Our house was a stripper who had passed her prime and no matter how much effort was put on other houses in the neighbourhood, ours always insisted on ruining the view. You could never miss this imposing face-me-I-face-you that drew attention to itself. 159, Herbert Macaulay Street, Yaba, Lagos popularly called 1.5.9 was an enviable notoriety on its own. The house and the people living in it were weird in a sweet kind of way.
So, 1.5.9 stood proudly across the famous Adekunle bus stop, a nerve point for commuters heading almost anywhere. They would cast a sardonic glance at the building, wondering what kind of humans lived in those holes. Holes, that’s what the rooms were.
Just then, a skinny ring worm-headed child would wriggle out of a hole, big head and ripe tummy, wiping a plate clean with its tongue. You couldn’t even tell if it was a boy or girl. I was that child. No, not that one, I mean the one watching from the bus stop, repulsed at the house she lived in.
Every occupant left strands of their DNA on the house. They painted, scratched and hung what they could to mark ownership or status. From each window, you could tell the personality of the family occupying the hole. The topmost window belonged to a single mother who walked with an air; superior to the poorer occupants festering away downstairs.
Show some respect, she’s got two holes to her name and lined her windows with flowers just so you know. That would be my aunt, the Gadfly that stings the house to life. And since I was extremely fond of her, my mum brought me over to stay with her.
Her neighbour’s window had lost too many louvers so he sealed off the sun with a tarpaulin; along with prying eyes since he always had female company. So, 1.5.9 was this wild mass of patches, colours and cracks like angry rivals forced to live together; and there was always something to fight about.
At night, they’d settle their differences over a gossip and a hearty laugh like they weren’t a few inches away from each other’s throat earlier in the day. Looking from Adekunle bus stop, our house looked like a broken face held together by false lashes, cheap lip stain and the “wrongest” shade of brown powder. If 1.5.9 were human, it would be bipolar.
It was difficult imagining life elsewhere, 1.5.9 was our home, our cosmos and everyone “cultivated” the holes they lived in; clinging to which god they believed in; with a token of their faith hanging on their doorpost. Ours was a crucifix and inside we had a poster which claimed: “Jesus, the unseen guest. The silent listener in every conversation.” And it had to be placed ahead of the dinning table as reminder.
For a while, I imagined Jesus was a ghost whose cold breath I felt against my neck as he reached for his cutlery and eavesdropped on every conversation, unseen. Indeed, everyone was an inmate of his faith and I couldn’t wait to be on parole for time well served. Even as a child, I had a vision of a beautiful life and pictured my future in fussy details. So, I merely waited for the ticks to tock till childhood passed like a fever.
Or did it?
The day started with a shrill phone call asking to speak with whom I wasn’t, but he had hung up – with a promise to call back – before I got the chance to tell him so. When you are a child, everyone thinks for you; even a stranger thinks he knows you better than you know yourself. I dropped the receiver with an air of injury and stormed out of the room.
Oh, sorry, it wasn’t a phone call. In fact, we didn’t own a telephone. But I imagined we had one so long I began to believe we actually did. The only telephone in the house belonged to an office called Yemi Ogun’s Neon Signs. For years, that was the phone number we filled in all our documents. When the receptionist felt like it, she’d tell the caller “sorry, wrong number” and there goes your destiny. But that is not the bane of my story.
© Arinola Ogunniyi 2019