“Ójó a pa bátà, a tun pa jonwon jonwon etì ẹ” was a saying that I came to get accustomed to, in the years of growing up in Óke-Làbọ̀. It was always said in anger along with many other words, none of which made meaning to me at that time. But, to Íyà Ọlọ̀rundà, these were hurtful words, coming from her step-daughter and directed towards her. Iya n’parlour was my aunt who had separated from her husband and was occupying the family seating room downstairs as her abode.
The closest football ground to us was at Wesley College which was a bit distant but also the home grounds for the bigger boys in the neighbourhood, we didn’t stand a chance to play football on its grounds. What it meant was that we became creative and turned the veranda, a 10ft by 30ft hard-concrete space at the entrance of the house, to our own Liberty Stadium. The problem was our noise, we were loud. It’s a “gooooo”, pass to me, “don’ miss”, “O so golu nu”…were all some of the shouts coming from us. No one, anywhere in the house was safe from our noise and definitely not iya n’parlour whose wooden windows were directly on the veranda walls.
The injuries were countless, concreted floor was a brutal foe to kids running on it without shoes! A gush between the toes, a bruise on the knees were all part of the game, how we survived those days without broken bones is still a mystery. Well, to be fair, we were not the best of kids in those days, not that we did anything unexpected from children of our age, no not in that regard. We had Sunday, Fisayo, Koyejo and some other neighborhood boys coming around to play in this our own Liberty Stadium! where we had our own nicknames – Thunder Balogun, Pele, Mathematical Segun Odegbami and Owoblow (Felix owolabi) amongst others. Our frequent collision with the wooden windows, shouting and stomping the grounds while running up and down the length of the veranda was enough to drive anyone crazy. Unable to sleep and contain the noise, Iya n’parlour will come out with a stick and, as her door creaked open, we would have disappeared into thin air. Then comes the ranting and venting of anger from her. As soon as she goes back inside, we would emerge from our different spots to continue our match of the day.
Nothing would stop the play but I knew that the moment of accountability would come thereafter. For now, neither Iya n’parlour nor Íyà Ọlọ̀rundà could stop our premier league encounter. The punishments come at night time. I would wait until I was sure that Íyà Ọlọ̀rundà was fast asleep and silently ease myself into her room, lay down my raffia mat on the floor and pray that she wouldn’t notice me. I can’t remember anytime that prayer got answered. As soon as I had slept off, the next thing I would experience was the sharp pain on my tummy or thigh and I would cry, begging for mercy and promising not to be disobedient ever again. On the worst of days, I would get beaten with her Koboko which she rarely use. Her specialization was in her éèkàanà which she had developed into an art. Grabbing any fleshy part of my body in-between her thumb and her next finger, she would hold tight tugging and exerting the maximum pain she could, all in the hope that I would remember the pains next time that I planned on turning the veranda to my football field. Yes, I would cry and then sleep but it was never a deterrent as she expected.
Iya Olorunda’s name was Olaoti Adufe but in marrying my paternal grandfather, she got christened “Alice”, a name she came to adore very much and which I have searched fruitlessly to see where it came from in the Bible. She was the youngest of three (3) wives of my grandfather. One could imagine the jest that his many friends must have made of him, probably calling him Bábà abì-girl. This stopped with the arrival of the four boys he conceived with his youngest wife. She must have been his favorite wife in that she bore four male children for him, who, hitherto, had only one male child and a harem of women.
That favoritism came with a price. In the case of the biblical Rachel, it was her womb that got closed but in Alice’s case it was Death that came to torment her. Not once but four times the grim reaper had struck her loved ones. Doing so with a grin, his sickle was merciless in taking away from her, her joy. The calamities started in 1976 and never stopped until she too was eventually taken away to meet her creator. First, it was the love of her life, her husband that was plucked by the cold hands of death. The mourning party had not left, as was the case with Job, when the news came that her firstborn had died also, in a faraway land from a motor accident. For the faint-hearted, such news, in rapid succession, would have caused one to give up the ghost, but not Alice. Such faith, reflected in one of the songs that she had always sang to my ears, “É mì mọ pè Olúdàándé mi m’bẹ làyè.” She was no ordinary woman but one with great hope.
For a while, she was relieved enough to start thinking that death has had its fill, but that was not to be for long. Death was to come, repeatedly, for her second and third sons until it left her with only one surviving child. The agony was much, palpably unbearable but Alice still didn’t lose her faith, she held on to her God like never before. The arduous walk from Oke-Labo through Oranyan, Isale-Ijebu and up the steep hill of Mapo was not a deterrent to her from attending the weekly service at Christ Church, Mapo. I can’t recollect her missing any service.
She’s had some good times also. As Nigeria was coming out of the Civil War, she had joyfully welcomed me as her grandson and weaned me in the village. The rainforest of Nigeria is notorious for its malaria infestation and throughout my youth I battled with Malaria. I was lucky not to have become part of the mortality statistics of children that died before their fifth birthday. “Mi ó fẹ́bẹ́ rara o” was my notorious cry, as Iya Olorunda rubs the noxious smelling paste, made from the dregs of palm oil, all over my body. It didn’t stop with the ẹ́bẹ́, I had to drink Ágbo, the bitter brew from herbs, tree roots and barks, all to cure me of malaria. A simple mosquito net would have done the trick but she didn’t know better! Having survived the infant years, I had moved away with my parents and only got to see her infrequently, whenever we had family trips back to Ibadan. That was to change in 1976 when father died and she, once again, became my guardian.
She had other names too: Iya Elelubo, Iya Olobi, Iya oni Kerosene amongst others. These names attest to her industriousness as a trader, she sold anything she could sell to fend for us. Without a bread winner, she learnt very early to be self-sufficient and to provide for me as well. After school, it was my lot to carry a tray on my head to sell whatever she needed to sell – Kolanuts, Kerosene, Elubo, Bread, name it, we sold it. That was how we made some money to meet our living expenses. I remember that I was wheeling a rubber tire around the neighborhood, almost bare naked, when my secondary school admission letter was delivered to the house at S4/285. I opened it, read it and was joyful, Iya Olorunda took it with mixed emotions. Where was she going to get the school fees from? She planned on taking one of her goats to the market for sale. Thank goodness, uncle Bola Ige was later to declare free education for us all in Oyo state.
Apart from the few goats and chicken that she raised in the backyard, she had not much in earthly possession. She had some Ankara that she jealously kept locked in the “potimonto” under her bed and whatever little money she had in her igbadi, nothing much thereafter. I knew every inch of her room, there was nothing ostentatious there. No refrigerator but a big earthenware pot, amu, and I bear witness that the water in there was always cold. No building or land or, even, bicycle existed as her own property. All she had was contained in that her one room at Oke-Labo. Neither had she any ceremonial title, she was not a Chief, nor a Deaconess or any of that. And none of these seemed important to her. But when I call her mama, you could see her face beam with smile. So she had the most important of all titles, wife, mother, grandmother and great-grandmother. In my case, not only was she my father’s mother, she was my de-facto mother for most of my formative years.
She didn’t have much , yet, at no time did I go to bed hungry, except when I refused to eat whatever she had provided. Our problem was not the lack of food but one of limited varieties. Breakfast was definitely either Ogi and Akara or on rare occasions buredi onibeji and Akara. We do get rice and stew and chicken too, from the flock in the house. Lunch was always Lafun, sometimes eba was an option. Down our street was a bukataria, one can savour the aroma of the soup from it. To us, it was a place where the rich go to waste their money on the food they could have prepared at home by themselves. I can remember being in the buka to buy soup, maybe once or twice, and then making lafun at home to eat with the stew, that was as much luxury as we could afford. We also had the lady that went round the street selling kolobe. We sometimes buy the soup with one wrap of Amala and then make more Amala by ourselves to complement.
Our dinner would be akara seke, kengbe or Ole with Eko, all made by us. That was our nutrition. I must attest that her soups were always nourishing such that I always leave the plate empty, licking out every bit of it. The protein options were few and limited. She goes to the local abattoir to buy ásàmọ-egun, boil it and extract the broth as well as the bone marrow, add Olù (mushrooms) and sometimes boiled eggs, all cooked over an open fire in a black earthenware dish. On the best of days, we may have Kúndi (that sun dried piece of horse meat). The soup could be ilà alàsépọ́, ewedu, gbure or efo-riro, the options were many and equally nourishing. The abattoir trips were especially important in my education. It was either in year 3 or 4 that we started studying human skeleton and was being taught about Scapular, Femur and the upper and lower spinal cords. I excelled in that aspect of Biology only because of the collection of cattle bones that I got from the abattoir. I could relate with each and everything I was being taught because, at home, I had my pile of bones.
Everywhere we went, we walked, never following the motorway but through alleys and many backyards, what we call “kọ́rọ́”. Esu-awele, Oranyan, Oja-Igbo, Ode-Aje, Orita-Aperin, Omowunmi, Oke-Mapo, Orita-Merin were her calling areas, in that she had families spread across these places. I got to know them and they, me. We went to church together, Christ Church Mapo, every Sunday, I dare not miss it. After church, we walked around the Oke-Mapo neighborhood visiting her families and relations and then walked back home. The occasional visits to Mapo Hall neighborhood and the many copy typists carrying on work helping to generate affidavits and legal documents, especially to support my entry applications to schools and then university admission are ever in my memory.
Superman has his kriptonite and Alice had hers, she had no resistance to tobacco snuff, “taba”, as we call it. Nothing in the world will come between her and her taba, I was the errand boy, buying it for her from the neighbourhood. To some extent, she also had her fondness for Seaman’s Aromatic Schnapps, otherwise called “Ọti Ágbá”. She was clever though, with her alcohol. To her, alcohol was not to be taken straight, it should be mixed with local herbs and roots then stuffed in a bottle for these to release their medicinal properties. She ends up having her alcohol as “Ogun Iba” or “Arokoro”, sipping without ever getting drunk.
I had brought Saf home to introduce her as my wife to be and announce the date of my marriage. She took us to the veranda upstairs and you could see joy eluding from every part of her body. But, there was a problem, Iya Olorunda could not speak in English and Saf doesn’t do Yoruba, not as yet. I became the interpreter for both. Then she called me into her room and asked me to go and tell the family head about my intention. No, I am not doing that! She knew why and all my stubbornness in avoiding everything and all things that had to do with the man. She went straight on her knees, started reciting my Orìkí, begging me that I should lay aside all and just hearken to her. I had no option than to do as she had urged me to do. That singular act was to bridge the widening divide in the family without which the story would likely have taken a different turn today between me and my cousins.
She couldn’t make it to my wedding, age was not on her side. There were no cellphones in those days, so I had to make it a point of duty to see her every quarter in Ibadan and did all that I could to provide her with the little comfort I could afford then. The very last time I saw her, it was to share the good news that I, Abidoye’s son, would be travelling abroad. She opened her mouth with wonder, her jaw dropped. When she regained herself, she said something like Omo nla ni o ooo, owibe osi se be. Her reaction was not surprising, I had expected it. For years before then, she had begged and cajoled me to approach a well-positioned member of the family to assist with my education, and if possible to help me get educated outside our shores. I didn’t mince words in my response, I had told her that under no circumstance was I going to seek help from that person. She pleaded but all was to deaf ears. I assured her that, that overseas, I will get there but by my own making and not from the source she was looking at. So she was one of the very few people that first heard that I was leaving the shores of Nigeria. She asked me to kneel down and she prayed her heart out on me, that every success that my father was unable to achieve, I would achieve them all with ease. When I departed, I didn’t know that was going to be the last time I would see her alive. I should have known, she was frail but still had a healthy spirit. I asked her about church and she had told me that she still trekked to the church but only now on Sundays. I cautioned on that and encouraged she should go by bus but her response was “O ma ti mora, sa fi mi sile.”
I was barely 6 months out of Nigeria when I received the bad news. The woman died, Alice Olaoti Adufe Bakare was no more. I was sorrowful as I was not there to share her last moments with her. I mourned because she was a very good woman. I remembered her walking me to Lagelu Grammar School and back as well as making her brothers to take me in, in Ode-Aje, to lessen my commute to and from school. Her Alice didn’t find the world as a wonderland, she toiled until her creator called her back. She was unsung but now remembered. The deeds of a good woman are unforgettable!
I made the trip back to Ibadan to honour this great woman and pay her the last rites. I was there as the whole Anglican Church in Olorunda gathered for her funeral and then at her tomb side. As I looked at her face in her casket, tears welled up in my eyes, they don’t get created these good again. Soon, her remains was committed to mother earth in Olorunda where she sleeps peacefully
Adieu Mama rere.