This week I decided to start another series like the last one I did, but this time it is not a love story (sorry). It is the story of a young man who had to take responsibility for his family in the face of tragedy, huge disappointments and despair. It is a story about choices and how we can choose to make the right choices even in the face of hopelessness and desperation.
He woke up slowly to the thick smoke that filled their one room apartment, the kind popularly called “face me I face you” or “face me I slap you”. It was 5am the time his Mother usually started smoking fish to sell at the market place; she smoked the fish outside by the window of their room so she would not disturb the other people in the house. Lakunle could not sleep anymore thanks to the smoke and the smell of fish that had enveloped the room, he could not close the windows either because they didn’t have power supply, actually he could not remember the last time they did, it was like the government had somehow forgotten their slum still existed and even if they had power, they could not afford to buy a standing fan. Lakunle got up from the tattered couch he always slept on, his back riddled with welts courtesy of the bed bugs that shared the couch with him. He maneuvered himself around his siblings scattered all over the floor sleeping on a mat. He opened the door of their room and immediately saw rats scamper away from the pots and plates they had used to make dinner the night before, he ignored the rats, they were a part of the community they lived in, and they were everywhere. Lakunle wanted to pee so he headed for the general toilet shared by everybody in the building it was outside and made with corrugated iron sheets, palm fronds and tree branches. As he passed by the doors of his neighbors, he could hear the usual, Baba Onome beating his wife as usual, no one could interfere because he was a huge man and a police officer, Jayjay the barber was displaying his sexual prowess with yet another girl and as usual Iya Fati and Iya Eni trading insults with each other. Lakunle just continued on his way to the toilet but when he got there, it was occupied so he went to the nearest shrub and did his business.
He went back to their room,woke up his siblings so they could prepare for school, made breakfast which was “Ogi” (corn flour paste) without sugar or milk. After they had gotten dressed and had their barely filling breakfast, they left for school. Lakunle was preparing to leave for the day also when his Mother returned to the room. She asked for his siblings and he told her, they had left for school, he also told her that they drank “Ogi” and there was none left for them to eat. His Mother looked sadly at him, shook her head as a single wear slid down from her blood shot eyes and weather beaten face and said “We have to get money today; I don’t know where our next meal will come from, but please do your best today my Son”. Wiping her face with the edge of her wrapper, she left the room.
He had had enough, they could not continue living this way; Lakunle’s Father had died while he was still in Secondary school so he had to drop out of school and learn a trade that would enable him to take care of his Mother and siblings as the first child. He chose the furniture making trade and became the breadwinner and provider of his family. Between what he made from his business in the slums and the meager sum his Mother made from selling smoked fish, they could barely put food on their table and her health had begun to deteriorate as a result of the thick black smoke she inhaled while smoking fish. Lakunle thought “Something has got to give, we cannot continue like this, I have to do something now”; Deep in thought, he stood up to leave for his shed, he knew what to do, he knew who could help them, he would give him no choice.