Like every sensible mother with a problematic child on her hands, my mother needed to get me out of the house quickly. I was just 7 years old but I had, in her opinion, committed enough atrocities to warrant banishment to a distant place.
Just the other day, I was caught in the bath tub with Bose, our neighbour’s daughter. We were both naked, as people who are having a bath should be. The problem was that we were not having a bath but rather trying to make babies. See, I don’t know how you grew up, but Bose and I were Father and Mother and we were doing what fathers and mothers did. Earlier in the day we had cooked meals in used Milo and Bournvita tins on imaginary fires. We had served our children their meals (sand, mostly) on newspaper plates and retired to our bedroom, beneath the covered table, as parents do. The bath tub was an afterthought, a need for more space, I think. Before the bath tub incident, my mother had been wondering about my constant disappearance most late afternoons.
While I should have been engaged with mundane stuff like home work, I was the 7 year old kid running after Black power as he annihilated his competitors, screaming and singing: Black Power, Black Power, Black Power!!! And taunting the defeated rams: Kuru ta kuru, o ni sebe mo, Kuru ta kuru, o ni sebe mo! (You dwarfish ram, you won’t dare to try this again!). When Black Power passed on some years later, nobody in Oshodi dared to eat his meat. His meat refused to cook anyway: it stayed tough even after repeated boiling, such that the people who were foolish enough to cook it in the first place gave up with apologies. I wailed for days at the death of my childhood hero.My mother had had enough, so she suggested to my father that it probably would be better if I joined my eldest brother in the boarding house. The school was in Ogun State, a whole hour away from Lagos, enough space for my mother to breathe easy. My father said: ‘No problem. But we have to ask him if he wants to go’. Boom! That single statement is responsible for EVERTHING that has gone right/wrong in my life ever since.
Who asks a 7 year old for his opinion about a decision such as sending him to a boarding house? You just bloody tell him that he is going to the boarding house next term and that’s it! But in an attempt not to be seen as being despotic, my father ensured that today, decades after that incident, I’m entirely incapable of obeying an order. Some things happen at certain periods in our lives and these things change the course of our existence in such a way that we can’t fathom how else we could have been…a life changing twist plants our feet firmly on our destined path. That incident was it for me, and it has come with equal amount of pain and pleasure.
Teachers, lecturers, friends, lovers, bosses and family members have all had to learn the hard way: You cannot give Chris Ihidero an order that he’ll obey. To get him to do anything, you will have to get his buy in by appealing to his sentiments or convince him by presenting a superior argument. Perhaps this is why I have never been able to work in a formal setting or do work that requires obeying orders from superiors. It is also perhaps why I am not yet rich.
Of course I agreed to go to the boarding house, not because I truly appreciated my father’s democratic principles though. I had witnessed my eldest brother packing his provisions whenever he was returning to school at the beginning of a new term: 24 tins of Carnation milk. 24 tins of Sardine. 24 tins of Geisha. One big babasala Bournvita…there was no force under the sun that going to stop me from going anywhere I was going to be accompanied by such largesse, even if it was to a concentration camp, which is more or less what my boarding house turned out to be.