ONCE UPON A CHILD: A MEMOIR Mama 38: Episode 3

🎶🎶 Mio mo *Jesu Oyingbo . Mio Jesu Agege. Mio mo Jesu Ikeja, Jesu ti mo mo apata aye raye. 🎶🎶

That would be my grandmother (Maami) and her band of prayer benders from Christ Apostolic Church (CAC), with me in their midst wondering “what’s going on here?” Again, no one had cared to explain to me, but here is what. Maami had converted from Islam in her 60’s and by way of making up for her “late coming”, she went “all out” for Jesus for “no man knoweth the day nor the hour.”

I’ve forgotten which days of the week they were. All I remember is Maami would pack her “wosiwosi” inside, dress me up and off we’d go to Mama 38. Mama 38 was the convener of this prayer meeting, a frail looking woman in her 80’s. You know the way folks tire of calling the multisyllabic name you acquired after marriage:

“Give this to Mama Fagbohungbogeniku that lives at No. 38, Akinwunmi Street, Alagomeji..” and by the time you got there, all you remember was “Mama” and “38” and so the name stuck – “Mama 38”.

By the time I met her, she had lost her “fire” and name to her make-shift prayer house. It was an unspoken conquest, that uncanny divide between the body and its shelter, till Mama 38 (the person) and Mama 38 (the building) were separate entities; two rivals coerced into a fraudulent union. Such that when Maami told me we are going to Mama 38, all I saw was that green wooden extension with iron sheets, broken windows and wooden floor where a herd of old women gave the devil bloodied nose every-other-blessed-day.

The mama had lost the fight to her prayer house. I could’ve sworn it wasn’t an easy fight. By the time I met her, she was merely a subdued “host” with vacant eyes who had lost her amusement for life and living. She was merely waiting for death in her overly cushioned couch. So it’s settled, Mama 38 was actually this makeshift prayer house and not the convener who had now become a footnote, only to be discussed as reference to the building.

Grandmothers from all walks of life would converge at Mama 38 – eerie bits of history hurdling together for warmth and community. I still remember the smell of old flesh; forlorn eyes dodging behind cloudy lenses and bent frames that forced you to slant your head while talking to them. What a view! I see the effect of time on the body and soul.

Deep lines etched on the brows; bald hairlines peeking under thread bare egbanto line scarves. Hey watch out! The *gators on their “buba” sleeves are so sharp they’d slice your nose. I can smell old Bibles, camphor scented clothes and shea butter soothing some old bones crackling around the corner. Just then, you’ll know that AGE IS NOT JUST A NUMBER!!!. But I was too young to see that the only thing standing between me and them was Time.

Somebody’s husband’s step son’s granduncles’ brother wants to drive his wife out of his house, they will pray for her. Someone’s neighbour’s aunty’s step-foster-sister- in-the-Lord that is living in one yellow *kpetes is looking for fruit of the womb, they will pray for that one too… fruit of the womb oni fruit of the womb.

They will lift one another’s children, grand children, great grandchildren and lineages yet unborn before the Lord. And they will still find time to pray for our nation, Nigeria because the “price of one paint of garri is now ten naira o” to which they unanimously hollered “Jesuuuu” like they were just hearing it for the first time. That was their way of evaluating inflation. By the time they are done, I am exhausted from the sheer effort of observing distorted faces and bodies writhing in prayer.

“Maami… Maami… Maami” I put a fist over my mouth, the way children show they are thirsty and she’ll look at me like two demons are collecting fresh air on my shoulders. *Omi adura was our soft drink back then and always within reach. The Nigerian sun is out and you know how it is with iron sheets. I am hot. I need attention. I am lonely. I am scared. I need to breathe. More so, no other child came to Mama 38.

“Maami… Maami… Maami” this time I want to “piss”. She’ll cut an eye in my direction and when she sees I can’t hold my “peace” anymore, she’ll take me outside beside the greenest gutter in this ohhh why world so I don’t empty my bladder in the presence of the Lord. I squeeze out my urine in drops so I won’t have to go back to Mama 38 so soon. Me that I’m Oluaye Nonsense before. Alas, by the time we finally went inside, it was my favourite time of the GMT: Our theme song.

🎶🎶 Be mi ba fowo kan isheti asho re… ara mi o ya gaga ara mi o ya gaga. 🎶🎶

This song alludes to the woman with the issue of blood in the Bible who got healed by touching the helm of Jesus’ garment. Since that was the only fun thing they did, I would seize the helm of my garment like others and join in the rababa dance and after a few dizzying turns; we call it a day so we can live to fight another day.

Haaaaa!!! Mama 38 is hot today o…

I want to go home so badly but one grandma would come and make sure we go not, at least not for the next 30 minutes. Indeed, age has a way of hurting your sense of urgency. When they are done boring each other, we’d go and greet Mama 38 (the person) goodbye and then we finally got the chance to leave when –

“Argggghhhhhhhh!”

Another grandma is approaching us with the widest grin you’ve even seen. On our way home, they’d walk in slower paces talking about rheumatism as if it were an old lover you haven’t quite gotten over:

“My Romantism came last night again o,” she’d drop her voice in a conspiratory whisper. “In fact where he met me is not good at all.”

My grandma would exclaim “o ti oooooo” as if it’s the strangest thing she had ever heard in this oh why world.

They’d carry on like smitten teenagers, their voices serving as background music while I tried to match pace with my grandma’s legendary fast pace. At any rate, her hand was firmly cuffed around my wrist.

“So what do you plan to do about it now… you know you’re not getting any younger?” Maami, the inquisitor.

“Hmmmm…you’re right, ‘Ye Doyin.” She’s breathless now trying to match her pace too.

That’s how old people amuse themselves, they’ve seen too much of life to be surprised, so they fake it. Other times, it is waist pain, diabetes, back pain or other paraphernalia of old age, and time would draw like a blade…

To be continued…
©Arinola Ogunniyi 2019.

Glossary

  • A proclamation of the falsehood of Jesu Oyingbo (self-acclaimed Jesus Christ who made history in Lagos between the 1970s and 80s) and his likes; an affirmation of the supremacy of Christ.
  • sharp contours made by prolonged ironing or folding
  • bungalow
  • Holt water
  • A type of dance done in circles popular among Yoruba’s.
  • How illiterates call rheumatism

Post Author: Arinola Ogunniyi

I tell simple everyday stories we take for granted in ways you wouldn't have imagined them. From dated stories, myths, reviews, "street-lores" to topical issues, these mind bending series will leave you begging for more. And if you trip over my sentence structures, it's part of the experience. You can call me the Last Story Bender. I mastered the rules of language to break them.

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