ONCE UPON A CHILD: A MEMOIR Hope Rising: Episode 5

It wasn’t exactly at the peak of the 90’s scourge but one day, my family too moved into 1.5.9, forsaking our super comfy three bedroom apartment at Jakande Low Cost Housing Estate, Isolo. Something to do with my mum doing business on the Island and Adekunle being one of the most accessible routes in Lagos. My mum was a hustler and since she travelled often, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to have us around family. And yes, there were nice private schools around too.

For a while, we shuttled Isolo and 1.5.9, and when we got tired of the nomadic lifestyle – plus 1.5.9 and the neighborhood were super fun – we put the apartment at Isolo up for rent. And the money was good too. It was meant to be a temporal arrangement just like other plans which turned out to last way longer than expected. But first, 1.5.9 needed some getting used to.

The decay was gradual at first, almost imperceptible; like a virus, slowly creeping into its host till it claims his last heartbeat. You looked at the house one day and for the first time realised how unsightly and overwhelming it was.

But no one had recognised their contribution to the decay – the negligent mother who left her trash for the evening breeze; the reckless teenager who “forgot” to flush the toilet after use; the randy bachelor who wouldn’t zip his fly; and the polygamist who procreated for sport. Everyone had a hand in this decay but no one would take credit.

And it didn’t help that most women were in their breeding stage so that 1.5.9 brimmed with a litter of restless children. Watch out so you don’t squash a toddler or two or maybe get knocked over by a herd of self-serving juveniles running on crude adrenaline.

1.5.9 was a collector of broken things and dreams, a curator if you’d please. Someone had lost her first tooth to one of the puddles at the backyard while playing “hide-and-seek.” Another had cracked his skull on the concrete slab over the gutter while pretending to be pirates. Some toddlers crying over their God-knows-what stolen by God-knows-whom. In short, 1.5.9 was anything but calm; and everything weathering too soon.

Even the cleaner (Iya Afole) was not left out in the wrecking challenge. Iya Afole fussed and cussed at the slightest provocation. Someone had forgotten her sleeping child on the potty, leaving a swarm of houseflies to attend to her. She would clean the child up, wondering aloud why such a degenerate should be a mother, in the first place. No, she doesn’t reckon that person deserves to be called human, even.

But it would have been better if she had left the child on the potty, unattended, because unknown to her, she had deposited the germs she collected from scrubbing the gutters into the child’s privates. The poor thing would spend the next couple of months drinking and bathing in herbs that cured anything but infections.

An insensitive bachelor’s girlfriend had emptied her washing basin on to the portion Iya *Afole just scrubbed, she will curse that one too. Lamenting how cruelly life had dealt her, forcing her to eat “eggless frogs.” She gave her pain to every portion she scrubbed, as though her misery would tarnish with every stroke. That coupled with the corrosive soda used in the production of local soaps, our backyard was a mess of puddles and patches. All our Iya Afole’s were one and the same. They had one personality, so identical one could pass for the other.

Baba Bukky had commissioned Baba *Brikila to patch the mess and wouldn’t miss any opportunity to remind everyone he fixed that shit. And since children love to leave their marks in the sands of time, literally, we would drive our tiny feet into one of those freshly cemented portions at the backyard. So the imprints of our tiny feet are frozen in time right next to the date where Baba Brikila had etched it. We couldn’t tell the difference between wrecking and mending, the world was new to us and heck, we sure had memories to make, lots of them.

See that bench resting against the wall in the soot-laden *passage just where Mama Smallboy left her *atupa to burn all night so you don’t bump into something and have your shin blighted for life. Yes, there. Now, reach for the smooth surface under the bench. Can you feel some bumps? Those would be wads of chewing gum deposited by frugal children.

You’d remember with regret, the obese man – a family friend of your neighbour’s, widowed but God knows, he farts – sitting on that bench, his legs straining and failing to cross at the ankle as he sang King Sunny Ade’s E Kilo Fomo Ode before crashing into a heap on the floor, surrounded by wooden splinters. It would be years later before you saw the man again – barely recovered from the stroke he suffered from the fall – wobbling down the street; another case of life’s vicissitudes.

But 1.5.9 hadn’t always been a degenerate. It was one of the building projects of an elite group of workers in the Railway Corporations of the early 60’s (I guess) called Hope Rising; an initiative meant to provide low cost housing for members of staff and their families. My grandfather was once Secretary of the union but never lived in the house.

Later, my aunt got an appointment with the Railway Corporation and partly because she loved the panoramic view from the windows upstairs, she got herself an apartment and another for my grandmother. But the Hope Rising vision died with its founding fathers and as time went by, the house became accessible to almost anyone in need of accommodation. Time was cruel as were its occupants; leaving the house a shadow of its former self. And that’s how the humanity – or do I say inhumanity – of 1.5.9 came to being.

Baba, a retired civil servant in his late early 70’s – whose family occupied three rooms in the building – was one of the earliest occupants of the house who couldn’t bear to see it fall apart. Himself and a few of the earliest occupants believed they could restore 1.5.9 to her former glory. They took it upon themselves to remind defaulters values of the union (Hope Rising), but however hard they tried, these defaulters won’t be deterred.

“This is where I left my slippers, just here.” Baba spoke to himself every time he lost something, motioning to the spot half-hoping the slippers would materialise somehow. “Abi, isn’t this where I left them when I returned from the toilet?” We soon learned to avoid him when he gets like this. “Beht what kind of house is this for God’s sake? No peace of mind, no privacy, no sanity. This is what happens when some people can’t just stop breeding, filling the house with good-for-nothing bastards.”

No one mentioned names in 1.5.9, it was an unspoken acquiescence but we all knew the “some people” he was talking about. A family of nine children, mother, father and a few relatives all cramped together in one room. A rancid stench and heat always eased out of the room.

Later that evening, someone would retrieve Baba’s slippers from a heap of dirt in the backyard, ripped and almost unrecognisable as though it’s been worn for months by a village hunter. Baba would pretend not to see it, because that would diminish his already bruised ego further.

Unknown to Baba, Bro Damola had worn his slippers to play football in Evans Square, but I wouldn’t be the bearer of bad tidings. Baba would be shuffling his feet at the same spot asking himself a myriad of questions; and when he got to the “bloody fools” and those who are determined to blight his old age, I knew it was time to move, because it was only a matter of seconds before he got the Hope Rising part.

Hope Rising. The way they said the name made me shudder, so much the word “hope” connoted something sinister. Whenever anyone was reprimanded in the house, they had to throw the weight of Hope Rising behind their threats. There was something ominous about it you know, and since most of the founding fathers were dead at the time, it was easy for me to imagine they threatened to report to the dead. “Hope-Rising” this, “Hope-Rising” that, I heard that word long enough till “hope” was anything but “rising”.

To be continued…
©Arinola Ogunniyi 2019.

*a walkway of some sort between rolls of rooms
*locally made lamp

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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