The year was 2006. Two boys from Sagamu had gained admission to study Chemical Engineering at the University of Lagos (UNILAG). It was the session UNILAG started post-UTME exams, the one after the UNILAG riots in 2005 that left the Students’ Union sacked and the school hostels closed down. We had nowhere to stay when school resumed, and were almost stranded until the last minute when my friend’s mum got a contact with whom we could stay temporarily. The mother to one of her wards in the school hostel (where she worked) lived in Bariga, and accepted to have us live with them in the meantime. That’s how we packed our bags and headed to a place neither of us nor our parents knew or had been to.
I can’t even remember how we found directions to the place. The woman lived in a “room and parlour” arrangement with her son and younger daughter. Her older daughter was the one with my friend’s mum in the school hostel. My friend, Michael Adesanya, and I, used to sleep in the sitting room (“parlour”) while she slept in the bedroom with her children. Of course, toilet and bathroom facilities were shared with other neighbours and we had a “yard” where all the neighbours would sit out in the evenings to talk and get some fresh air. The clothes line was also somewhere in that “yard”. Essentially, it was a “face-me-I-face-you” setting.
For me, the change was as dramatic as it could be. One moment, I was living with my nuclear family in a three-bedroom apartment in Sagamu, where I had a room to myself, took strolls in the evening, and generally enjoyed the slow-paced township life. The next moment, I was sharing a two-room apartment with my best friend and three other near-strangers in a crowded community within the heart of busy Lagos where some were struggling to eke out a living and others were chasing fortunes. But the fact of those changes did not cross my mind at the time – I was just doing everything I needed to do to get an education. I was indeed grateful to even find a place to stay.
Those were tough times for us. It was almost like living on the edge, being careful not to get too comfortable even though we were not ill-treated. Our host was always out from dawn to dusk, so we mostly made our own meals since we had access to foodstuff in the house. That made things a bit easy for us. But there were the periodic brushes with one neighbor or the other. On one occasion, I got really upset with our host’s son and beat him – the boy was really stubborn. I have other memories of taking long walks home from Ilaje bus-stop to save money, of cooking curry ‘fried’ rice to keep our bellies alive and of learning new ways to spread clothes to conserve space on the ever-busy clothes line.
There was a cantankerous old man in the house who would talk and talk without end – he was always berating one of the younger people in our ‘yard’, especially playful children. Sometimes, he would make sense while I silently nodded in affirmation. At other times, he would be off point, like when he said everything around us was alive, including the ground on which we stepped and the line on which our clothes hung. So he said no one should step on the ground anyhow in order not to hurt the ground. That particular day, I was convinced he had become senile. It was the first time I met an older man that troublesome; I usually associated that manner of behavior with elderly women.
Our eventual departure from the house was another piece of drama. It started with us getting signals from our host that we had over-stayed our welcome. Of course, this was not spoken; it was only demonstrated by actions that indicated her discomfort with our continued presence. Not that I blame her; the plan was to stay with her for a short period. But our stay was beginning to know no end. So one Sunday evening, without notifying anyone, we quietly moved our things and went to stay with Michael Onwugbufor at Community Road, Akoka, who stayed with his mum in a three-bedroom apartment. We had spent a total of seven eventful weeks in Bariga.
Michael O. was a fellow student and close friend to us, and he was the last child living alone with his warm and welcoming mother. We first met during the National JETS competition at Sokoto in 2004, and then re-united when we were admitted into UNILAG over a year later. We spent a few weeks at Michael O.’s before the hostels opened and we finally moved into school. And those few weeks were a sharp contrast to our previous experience. We had more space, felt freer, made new friends, shared laughter, played games, ate Sunday afternoon salt-less rice, and played songs from old and scratching CDs. One time, we even took a canoe ride from the end of Community Road to UNILAG waterfront.
The memories of those seven weeks in Bariga is clearly imprinted on my mind – the crowded environment, the makeshift life we endured, the survival instincts we developed, the social skills we cultivated, and the emotional intelligence to determine when it was time to move on, all stay with each of us till today, and have become an integral part of our pursuits in life. More than that, the memories of the two or three weeks that followed are fondly held as a reminder that God’s loving kindness never departs, and that those who sow in tears do reap in joy. Today, we continue to adapt to a changing life within a changing world in the hope of exceeding our own highest expectations and making a dent in the universe.
O. J. Taiwo
Note: A big thanks to Joy Ijere for reviewing and editing this piece, and for her useful insights and suggestions.
To you, my dear reader, your comments and feedback on this piece would be very much welcome. Thank you!