Hi, my name is Modupe Folarin. I was born on the 5th of December 1980 hence my first name Abiodun. I was the third out of 5 children born to my mother and the only surviving after having lived in Nigeria as part of the so called lower class. My father was the best anyone could ask for, his only fault was that he loved his country. My mother was destined for success……or she would have been if the fates had been kinder.
I don’t remember anything about my formative years; perhaps this is nature’s way of softening life’s blows. I’m not bitter about my fate, I’ve learned that to survive you have to accept fate’s fickleness quickly, and accept it I did. It didn’t matter that circumstances forced me to question my fate; I accepted my lot in life. Never lost hope. This was mine and my mother’s downfall.
The earliest traumatic experience I had was on the 11th of February 1994. Up until then my childhood had been uneventful. It started out as any other ordinary day. We all woke up at 6am, as usual, and the six of us children flooded into mommy and daddy’s tiny bedroom. Shola, the oldest was on mummy’s right side. She was sitting with her slender legs stretched out in front of her, crossed at the ankles. Her hair was long and loosely curled; it reached down to her shoulders. Her eyes were almond shaped and widespread; they were honey brown and complemented her skin tone. A rich milk chocolate with a clear complexion that was the envy of every other 17 year old in the neighbourhood. There was Doyin the second eldest, she was of a stockier build and she was lying down on daddy’s right side with her head resting on his right thigh. She was still recovering from an episode two weeks earlier. Thankfully she seemed to be getting stronger although we all knew her sickle cell anaemia meant she would never be completely healthy. But for a 15½ year old she didn’t let the condition rule her life. I was sitting on mummy’s left side, my body slouched into her’s to support myself as I dozed during the lengthy prayer. The twins Segun and Timi were both lying intertwined in the middle of the bed behind our father. I envied them ther right to sleep till whenever they wanted. In my mind they should have been woken up and put in mummy’s lap, it didn’t matter that they were only 3½ years old.
The prayer started with the usual praise and worship followed by a short plea to God to deliver Nigeria from the hands of the military, daddy always led the first half of the session. This was followed by an intense prayer by both parents for God to provide the funds to build our own house, the amens to this were more vigorous. Of course I had heard these prayer points many times and my prayer predictably ran out after about 2 minutes, peeping out of my half shut eyes I saw that Shola and Doyin’s mouths were not moving, indicating they had dozed off. Not long after I was back in dreamland myself. It seemed like mere seconds since I closed my eyes however Dupe’s plea for me to wake up and get ready for school told me it was no longer 6:15am but 7:30am. Daddy had already set off for work, with it being Lagos morning traffic was always chaotic so he normally left at 7am to meet his resumption time of 9am as a cashier at the Standard Chartered bank of Nigeria. That morning, bare chested with his small afro disorderly and some stubble showing on his leathered cheeks, prematurely aged by the unforgiving rays of the African sun and pockmarked by numerous ingrown hairs resulting from cheap razors. Daddy, with ingrown hairs peeking out of his weathered face, the stubble slightly greying, and his paunchy chest on show in the hot, humid Nigerian morning was the last image I had of my father, the picture of him that fateful morning as we held our morning prayers was the last time I ever saw my father alive.
The day proceeded like normal with Dupe and Doyin going to the nearby secondary school and mom dropping me off at the local primary school, Timi and Segun toddling along as their pre-school started an hour after mine so the routine was to drop me at school and then the twins at pre-school. You could already tell by their personalities that they were strong-willed and mischievous; this was further compounded by the fact that they were pampered silly by both mama and papa.
The school bell jingled periodically, at the start of school, break, lunch and the end of school. This particular day though the bells were not rung at the start of school by 08:50am but by 11:00am just after the bells rung for break I was heading back home with a close family friend. Her name was Mrs Adeniyi. Usually she was a gregarious individual, the loudest of mama’s friends and the most outspoken. However today she was withdrawn, gripping my wrists tightly as we walked down the dusty street back home and her normally expressive features were shuttered, all she had told me at school was that I was needed at home urgently. At that point I had a premonition of impending doom, but the feeling was alien to me at that time. I just concentrated on following her footsteps as she weaved in and out of the busy street, avoiding hawkers selling groundnuts and plantains, pure water and boiled eggs. As we rounded the street corner, just before our modest rented property came into view, the midday sun retreated behind a menacing dark cloud that seemed to have crept up on it, stretching out over the horizon. The smell changed abruptly as a slow, fat breeze rolled down the dusty unpaved street, bringing with it an elusive sweet scent. That indescribable scent that alerted you to an advancing thunderstorm. The pervasive smell of frying akara and open gutters was replaced. Silence reigned for the briefest of moments as we turned the corner, and almost eerie quiet…the sounds of the normal hustle and bustle gone, replaced by the wind getting stronger and louder. As well as the gentle howling of the wind was the faint panicked bleats of a goat in distress. This sound seemed to break the spell and human activity started to pick up again as mothers called their children and goats in whilst shopkeepers hurriedly carried their wares indoors and the akara women frantically tried to extinguish the flames below the big pots of boiling oil used to fry the bean cakes.
As our bungalow came into view, the first thing I noticed was a grey Peugeot 504 parked in front. At first I thought papa was home early with his “oga”. After all if papa’s boss was visiting us then the man had to have some very important news to share with us. Of course the wails drifting from the house sounded anguished more than ecstatic and to compound matters they sounded like mama.
Mrs Adeniyi led me up the stairs to the veranda surrounding the property. She opened the mosquito screen to let me in and then entered herself but not before kicking the resident chicken away from the door. Walking past the kitchen I know something was seriously wrong as our next door neighbours were in there and the women looked at me with pity as I walked past on my way down the corridor. In the sitting room was my normally well-groomed mother sitting on the floor, her wrapper untied and headgear undone on the floor. Her undergarments were visible and her elaborate suku had come undone. Worst of all, tears and mucus was freely streaming from her face. Her voice hoarse, she was crying and talking at the same time. This was not the same mama I bid farewell to that morning at the school gates. Two female members of our church were holding her arms outstretched on opposite sides and they looked like they were doing a good job of restraining her all whilst quoting bible verses. Talking about someone’s ascension to eternal peace and greater glory. On the armchair facing mama was papa’s boss, he looked haunted and was as still as a statue.
It was then that I realised what was happening, why the church members were quoting bible verses to my ma, why the neighbours and Mrs Adeniyi were acting so out of character, why I had been experiencing the strange feeling of loss all morning. It all clicked into place.
Papa was not coming back home.
My father was dead. He was 40
Hit by a yellow bus
He died almost instantaneously, his life snatched away callously and selfishly by a speeding driver.
A day that has started so full of life and promises had turned so quickly, the hopes and dreams burnt into ashes and tinder, leaving a permanent scar in our lives.