Waking up to the strains of We Three Kings Of Orient Are on the BBC’s Radio 2 brings back memories of days long lost – of youth, of creativity and an unfettered enjoyment of life.
When I was much younger (close on twenty years ago now, cringe), I took part in the carolling, recitals of bible verses committed to memory, and nativity plays which were the highlight of the Christmas season in our small University town in Nigeria. This hymn though, is one especially important to me because it marked the first time I was selected to sing a lead vocal. Granted, I ran over the lines, forgot some, went ‘off key’, and probably knocked my knees so loudly a few well placed microphones might have picked up on them, but it was still a ‘solo’ performance.
As it goes it is yet another Christmas of solitude – bar the phone calls to family which must be made, the rest of the day will be spent in front of my computer playing games and piling myself full of fried chicken. Thankfully, the sun chose to spread its brightness around today. That is cause for a little cheer after all.
Almost on a whim, I signed up to sponsor a child via World Vision. The decision was taken without much thought whilst passing through the Mall at Union Square. November 11th is a special day in the RustGeek household; its the day the patriarch and the matriarch completed their nuptials as well as the day the one we lost to the genes was born. In the part of the world where I am, it is also Remembrance day.
So it wasn’t just on a whim.. I had been thinking about doing something to honour the memory of the day. And passing through the mall, seeing the opportunity to sponsor a child, it just felt right to do it. Amazingly, it will cost me just over 18 pounds a month – or one Nandos Platter to share. Not too much to leave a legacy in someone’s life I guess..
For Gracie, who the genes took…
You never saw
the thirteenth summer through-
before the genes
You always were –
the sallow one, knuckle-
kneed, paper thin, but –
the lights in your
jaundiced eyes shone:
through pain and fear,
and hope and tears.
The strength in your voice
never dimmed, never waned,
until the genes – like a
belligerent marabout’s curse –
to a mound of red-
You never saw
the thirteenth summer through-
but like a wound left raw
It is not what is lost that hurts the most,
It is the thing that takes its place –
– Jerome Kugan (The Myth of Displacement)*
I say the things that try to take the place of what is lost – yet fail to do so, or even come close – are what hurt the most. They bring back memories…..which often are more legend than reality – the perfect bloke he never was, the doting girl she never would have been, the manipulating mofo everyone but you could see…..
I say Memories are like wounds kept raw by the rub of a blunted saw.
* From the poem “The Myth of Displacement” from Dance the Guns to Silence – Nii Ayikwei Parkes and Kadija Sesay (Eds)
Growing up in my own neck of the woods was an experience. We nicknamed our Pops the Ogbodons – not sure where the term originated from any more but my back side was a living testimony to his varied abilities and multiplied skills in inflicting pain. Mum didn’t help matters as she was was as resolute in hammering our ‘evil’ proclivities out of our systems. I got the opportunity to contrast that parenting style a few weekends back when I went visiting some distant family members in London. Clearly their less than 3 year old daughter has more leeway with him than I do with my own parents at my (huge) age.
In general, the following phrases got you into serious trouble in my house..
- It wasn’t me it was (insert name of younger sibling) – This was akin to adding petrol to a raging inferno. It often provoked a lecture on how you as a senior member of the house needed to take responsibility whilst the parents were out trying to make money to ‘take care of you’.
- Good Morning (without the Sir or Daddy) – This was the ultimate faux paus. You were required to treat your Nigerian father with the maximum amount of respect. I didn’t have to do the whole prostrating thing but failing to add ‘Sir’ to the morning greeting was guaranteed to result in some real deep ish – the least of which was some hours of ‘starvati0n therapy’.
- It is not true o! – This usually occurred when the Ogbodon was narrating to the ‘maternal unit’ your latest mess up which resulted in forgetting money in the taxi or some more public bit of embarrassment. To one’s young mind, adults were eternally embellishing the facts to make events seem worse than they really were, but woe betide you if you interjected. The initial parental reflex varied from ” I am talking and you are talking?” or worse “Are you calling me a liar?”.
- I don’t know – Back in the Abacha inspired days of severe austerity on University campuses, meat was at a premium. When someone surreptitiously invaded ‘Soup Kingdom’ and raided the pot for a choice piece of meat, repercussions were bound to occur. Chaps usually claimed ignorance to no effect. The parental reasoning was that ‘he that is not for us us is against us’ ie if you are not telling, you are implicit.
- I can’t remember – This was usually an escape route from a bad lie. When your father is a stellar academic with an amazing memory, you can’t think up things on the fly mehn. If you were lucky, you would only get a lecture after being serenaded by loads of questions. “What are you thinking of? Abi you have a girlfriend now?” Mumz was the resident girlfriend expert..and she would have risen very quickly to the top of MI6! Believe me.
- She hit me first – Beating up girls was a cardinal sin in my house. Two events stick in my memory. One was at school, a couple of dudes were heckling one of the class tomboys – the whole pinching, hitting, and all what not routine and yours truly was watching (ok… and occasionally adding a knock). We were so engrossed that I didn’t realize that it was way past the time Pops would come pick us up. After waiting for a while, he came to the class to see me applying a few deft touches to a knock. I got a few knocks myself in front of the girl (the girl never let me forget that for the rest of my time in the school!) and I got periodic knocks all the way from Ugbowo to GRA in the school run go-slow of the mid 80s. The other time, I was grounded and made to recite the longest memory verse at the annual Christmas pageant.The plus side was that I got a very cool nickname after the whole debacle… and she and I became best friends.. for a long time..
- My little cousin’s favorite words are ‘Don’t smack me Daddy’ – That would have been labelled down right rebellion – with some serious ‘starving therapy’ recommended for redress!