The neighbourhood Akin Kolawole lived with his family was a slum and one of the most dangerous places in Lagos. It boasted of hardened criminals, junkies, gamblers, and sex workers. The partial serenity of Coal Street in broad daylight would leave a stranger with profound puzzlement after experiencing contradictory lifestyles of its inhabitants as soon as it got dark. The lifestyles of those living in the neighbourhood seemed modest in the morning, and at night it was a different ball game. Akin knew nothing about the neighbourhood he had toured the morning he was desperately seeking for an apartment – he had secured a one-room apartment on the Street that same day, but was afterwards disillusioned after realizing that Coal Street had opposing identity in respect with the time of the day.

BY Tunde Ososanya

   Akin still remembered the night the Police exchanged bullets with Robbers that were said to have taken refuge on Coal Street and the house-to-house search by the Police the following morning. Having ransacked his apartment and found nothing incriminating, Akin had vainly hoped for an apology but was interrogated instead.

“Are you sure you are not hiding your guns somewhere?” One of the other officers asked.

“I beg your pardon.”

“You hear me na, where you put your gun?”

“Are you concluding that I’m one of them?”

“Which work you dey do?”

Akin stared in the faces of the other two officers of the lower rank as if the answer was right in their sulky eyeballs. He glanced at his wife, Kemi, then at his daughter, Itunu, before finally resting his gaze at the impatient Sergeant who was getting infuriated by his silence.

“I used to work in a hotel, but I’m out of job at the moment.”

“I talk am say you be one of them. You no get work and you get wife and daughter, na how you take dey feed them?

The other officers of the lower rank nodded in agreement and seemed to be waiting for an order from their superior.

“Isn’t it better you ask questions instead of accusing my husband of robbery?” Kemi asked.

“Shut up your mouth! Ashewo, you…” A slap from Akin cut him short and threw him against the wall, and the other officers descended on Akin, beating him black and blue after which he was led out of the room.

His release came barely after three days of detention. Some had simply thought he was part of the robbery when he was been taken away, and others were apt in finding out that it was a slap that almost paralysed an officer that was his only offence. Akin had no regret whatsoever in using his palm on the Sergeant whom he considered crude. He could go away with calling him an armed robber or whatever names he wished to call him, but no one went away with calling Kemi a derogatory name. It was insulting enough to have brought Kemi and Itunu to such a slum, and more insulting it was for Kemi to be called a prostitute by a lousy Officer. Akin thought he was to blame and he wouldn’t have minded if his detention had taken longer, for he knew he was indirectly paying for such unworthy life he had bequeathed on his family.

Akin knew he wasn’t the only one desperately in need of a job and wondered how many people were adding up to the rate of unemployment on a monthly basis. He struggled with tears each time he remembered the life he had dreamt of while he was in the University. He had dreamt of buying a mansion in Lekki with his family once he made enough money, and none of the discouraging reactions from his peers gave him the slightest doubt of such a dream. He often remembered they would burst into a raucous laughter amid agonising jests. His response would be that he was the only one thinking big and that everyone was entitled to aspire to greatness. It was natural for him to aspire to a good life, but he now had the thought of how illogical he was a few years earlier to have thought of buying a mansion in Lekki as a salary earner after he might have toiled hard.

One of Akin’s regrets was that Mama Akin left too sudden and would not be around to enjoy her son’s wealth if Akin’s story changed for good. Mama Akin had died of diabetes the day Akin wrote his final exams in the University, and Akin’s love for the woman who had given her all to ensure that her son acquired education made him attempt suicide by almost gulping Ota Pia Pia, a local insecticide, before Kemi, a friend at the time, walked in just in time. Kemi understood the excruciating effect of losing a loved one as she had also lost her fiance a few years earlier and had saddled herself with the responsibility of bringing Akin back to his senses and making him see reasons to live. Kemi knew he needed someone around, and had made herself available, she knew there was nobody in Akin’s life except his late mother. She couldn’t have forgotten that Akin had once told her that his father died a few weeks after his birth, and that Mama Akin had been the only person in his life.

 

Itunu ran towards the door as Kemi poured an herbal mixture into a tea cup. She watched with great relief as her mother gulped the bitter liquid she claimed could cure piles, and smiled rather timidly.

“So you thought I wanted to give you?”

“You gave me yesterday, mummy.”

“I know, but you won’t escape it tomorrow. The biscuit and candy you ate this week are too much.”

“I don’t want to take it tomorrow, maybe next week, mummy,” She pleadingly said.

“But you don’t control what you eat, do you?” Kemi thundered.

Akin walked in just as Itunu struggled to think of what to say in defence of herself. Her father’s arrival put her at ease for she knew he would take up her defence and she wouldn’t have to worry about what to say that would make her mother postpone her taking of the herbal mixture till the following week.

“Welcome, daddy,” Itunu said and stretched her arms for Akin to lift her up. She always did this whenever her father arrived home, and Akin in return would request for a peck which she would always gladly give.

Itunu was just three years old but her demeanour and extraordinary brilliance made her an exceptional child. Her inquisitiveness sometimes drained Kemi’s energy and she imagined the choice of career she would make when she grew up. Whatever choice she made, Kemi believed her daughter would excel in her chosen career, for there was something about Itunu that her parents believed was extraordinary.  Whatever concerned her always miraculously went well. Kemi still blessed the day she heard the voice of her baby in the labour room – Akin had been searching endlessly for money to settle the hospital bill which he failed to get, and instead of facing the humiliation that comes from paying one’s hospital bill, a stranger whose wife had also given birth in the same hospital at the same time with Kemi, foot the bill.

It still lingered in Kemi’s memory how the Landlord pardoned them of six months rent arrears for the sake of Itunu. She could hardly remember several other good things Itunu had brought to them.

“Give daddy a peck,” Akin requested.

Akin smothered her as she gave him a peck, he stared into her eyes as if to be sure the eyes were still intact. He gave Kemi a disappointing look after they had exchanged pleasantries and she swiftly got the clue and exploded rather subconsciously, cursing the country and lamenting and asking a host of rhetorical questions. She needed answer to when her husband would be gainfully employed. She needed answer to when they would stop relying on her petty trade to put food on their table.

She needed answer to how Itunu would not regret to have been fathered by Akin if things didn’t get any better for them.

“If you keep lamenting, you might develop a high blood pressure which will cost more problem for us, so please don’t work yourself up. This can’t go on forever, I believe.”

“But why do they keep employing somebody else instead of you?” She said rather calmly and didn’t bother to struggle with the ocean of tears that soon washed off the powder on her face.

Akin dropped Itunu that sat comfortably on his lap on the chair. He didn’t read a disapproval on her face but a countenance that bespoke an acquiescence to attend to her Mother and console her affectionately. He wiped Kemi’s tears with both palms and kissed her forehead.

“It’s okay dear, I will get a job soon. Please stop crying.”

“Stop crying, mummy, daddy will soon have a job,” Itunu said and patted her mother’s back with her small and tender palm.

With the consolation from father and daughter, Kemi swiftly put on a smile and asked that a prayer be said to rebuke every ill-luck preventing Akin from getting a job. Itunu didn’t wait for her parents before she knelt down for the prayer, and Akin and Kemi followed suit, holding hands with their lovely daughter in whom they were well-pleased.

To be continued…