Before my Uncle Akin joined the army, he used to be a mechanic apprentice around Opebi. My father had most of his car issues sorted by him. Like many Lagos mechanics, my uncle came home at night smelling of motor oil and fuel. He could go under any car wearing a FUBU shirt or a new Levis Jean, he really cared less about how he looked. My Uncle usually never lacks money, he brings home either Bournvita or coke every other evening. I actually liked him because of what he had to offer, definitely not because of his recurring slaps
For limpidity sake, my Uncle has an uncanny personality, so don’t think I am exaggerating this story, these things really happened.
It was after Nigeria’s opening game in the FIFA world cup of 1998 in France, everyone in the neighbourhood was in a celebratory mood. Bora Milutinovic, Nigeria’s coach said he felt like the Pope after the match and we Nigerians actually enjoyed the Ninety minutes long mass. Uncle Akin was a big Mutiu Adepoju fan, he even had a hairstyle like Mutiu’s at some point in his life (that is if we can call a head void of hair a style) , after Mutiu scored the opener, my Uncle declared solo coke for everyone. By everyone, I mean, about thirty four people in front of the battery powered yellow and black President television set. Uncle Akin is the type of person that doesn’t think the consequences of an act through before he does whatever he does. For example, he was using a car battery to power the television set which everyone was watching the match from, generators were not copious back then, unlike now where the whole of Lagos listens to the hazardous choral renditions of the contraptions at night. There are jokes around these days about Lagos and Generators, like the one that talks about not being sure if Lagosians will hear the sound of the trumpet once it is 7pm due to the melancholic decibels of the I pass my neighbour’s”. You see, it is actually alright to use your car battery for altruistic acts as such, but the thing is that my uncle Akin is an apprentice, a mechanic! He had brought his boss’ client Volkswagen Beetle home and unbolted the battery to power the TV. Many Lagos artisans still do this till date. Give a mechanic your car for repairs and you might end up as a passenger in it from Ketu to Ikorodu, or you give a Lagos tailor your cloth to make and you might meet them on the road wearing same outfit as you, best you just say Hi and move on, because they are family now. In Lagos, you don’t usually own anything. Your front lawn might be where beggars get their daily bread from, your backyard might be the community dunghill, you might hop into a bus sometime and meet a woman with three kids telling you “Please help me lap your brother”. In Lagos, it is never yours but ours. The Omo onile’s will tell you “Ile wa ni (It is our land)” After you’ve paid so much for the piece, just so you know, the police also co-own your car. Even though my Uncle was brought up by my grandma in Ekiti, he came to Lagos and drank the water from the Atlantic, soon he became a bonafide Lagos artisan.
Another thing is that Uncle Akin also used the money he was supposed to use for a new radiator for the grand celebration of the Headmaster’s goal. Thanks to God Nigeria later won that match, two late goals made us triumph 3-2 over the Spanish side, I can remember that Sunday Oliseh’s powerful shot like I kicked the ball myself. I know you are eager to know where I am going with this, but one more info about my Uncle, He is the first person I ever saw in my life that bathed with Omo detergent. As a mechanic, he said it was good he washed his skin clean like Aso ofi… No exaggerations in all honesty.
June 13, 1998 was a Saturday so my mother had gone to church for cleaning in preparation for Sunday service and my father was in a celebratory mood, he usually chatted with Mr Nwachukwu our neighbor on days like this in the living room, they usually had much to say to each other (Mr Nwachukwu usually did most of the talking anyway). The days of beautiful Nigerian made soccer, where everyone followed the national team with pride. These days we have a bunch of Lazy people wearing our jerseys. Uncle Akin had returned the TV back to our apartment and the battery back to the car, he ordered me to put the bottles back in the crate and wait with it while he bathed so we can return the bottles to the drink store. Uncle Akin went in and came out in a couple of minutes with a blue towel around his waist. He had applied nixoderm cream on his face and it made him look like those Ghosts in Nollywood movies.
Mò’nbò, mo fé sáré ra oúnje ni Small London (I’m coming, I want to get food from Small London) he had told me. A day never passed without my Uncle eating at Small London, just two streets away from ours.
You see, in Lagos there are always a number of food joints per street, the ones in shacks, the ones that have just benches by the road side, the ones with little shops you can hardly breathe in and there are the very fancy ones. To enjoy some certain type of food, you have to know the ropes of all these Bukas as they are called. If you are more concerned about how sweet the food is than the hygiene, you might find yourself inside one of the shacks. My uncle cared less about hygiene, he was very particular about the sweet savour of his Amala and gbegiri.
Gen Abacha had died few days before the Nigeria and Spain match, and security officers were a bit lenient in the days following the death of the brutal general, my uncle thought it good to jump in the Beetle and head to Small London to eat Amala & return to bathe without anyone stopping him. He was driving down to the place with a bare chest, towel around his waist & nixoderm all over his face. Such care free nature, such is accepted in Lagos when you know your way.
Where is your Uncle? My mother had come in and asked? My father didn’t see him leave, I was the only one that saw him take his madness out.
He went to Small London ma” I had replied her pretending to read Koku Baboni
Akin ò kín gbórò, Olórun má je kó kó’bá ara è (Akin doesn’t listen, God won’t let him implicate himself)
My mother had said.
I didn’t bother telling her he went out like a crazy, scary person.
It was when Newsline started my father started getting a bit worried! Uncle Akin is my Dad’s cousin, but there characters are a million miles apart. My father will say only few words after my Uncle had said a little above a thousand.
Where did you say Akin was going to again? My father asked me overshadowing Cyril Stober’s voice on TV
He said he was going to Small London sir.
Àwón ìwà pála pála kàn kún owó omo yí sha (this boy is fond of acting unruly) my father had said out of irritation
See, I am going to sleep, Akin won’t deprive me of my sleep again tonight.
My mother tried to persuade my father to search for him in the neighborhood, but he refused blatantly.
This woman, I am going to sleep.The other night, I was out looking for him, only to find him drinking in a beer parlour, I won’t lose my sleep over a nuisance like him. My father stood up and made for his room. I laid on the rug, pretending to be asleep…
It was the next morning that it dawned on my father that his cousin was really missing. My father didn’t wake us for devotion or to prepare for church, He was out in the neighborhood around 5AM knocking on all Uncle Akin’s friends door, none of them had seen him. He came back few minutes to 7AM and told us to prepare for church, he planned to drop us off and go to his workshop at Opebi to check him. It was after I was dressed for church I told my father how my Uncle had left the house, if it wasn’t a Sabbath day, I would have chopped a series of serious slaps, but thank God for such holidays bequeathed. My father was now very worried, my mother said we were all going to his workshop together, she couldn’t leave her husband alone.
Good morning, are you Mr Fatunrase?
Yes! My father said adjusting his glasses.
Well, a certain Akin gave me this address, he is in Area H police station, Ogudu. He was arrested last night!- the young police officer had said
We found him…
My father and Uncle Akin returned home about forty-five minutes later, my father’s Mercedes drove into the compound first, the Volkswagen Beetle followed. Surprisingly, my father came in through the door laughing so hard, he wanted to tell us something before Uncle Akin came in but his laughter didn’t let him speak well. Uncle Akin came in through the door and my mother started her own relay of laughter. My Uncle’s face still had nixoderm but I think tears made a funny line from below his eyes down to his chin. The nixoderm in that part was washed of, my Uncle’s hand still had Amala, dry and pale Amala. It had caked while he was locked in the cell. I saw why my parents were laughing, but I couldn’t join them, I knew how Uncle Akin’s slap felt on the cheek!
My Uncle Akin told us later that while he was eating his Amala, police men came in to raid everyone in Small London. There had been a fight there earlier. He said they didn’t allow him drop the Amala or rinse his hand before they whisked him into their van. My father also said he met him sitting in the cell with Amala still in his hands, his towel and slippers had been taken from him leaving him in just men pants. He told us he had to sit down close to where everyone in the cell took a piss when they were pressed. He said there were about eighteen people in the tiny cell.
He couldn’t lift a cup in the house for weeks without my father teasing him about the incident, I never saw him use nixoderm again.
Uncle Akin had been laughing at me since I told him of how my phone was snatched in Ojota, so I brought up this story again. My father started laughing like it was ’98 and it brought a nostalgic feeling.
Bodun, Do you even know why your Uncle joined the Army? My father had asked
I took a not-so wild guess…
Written for the Photo Series titled ‘Black,White&Yellow – An Attempt to narrate Lagos’
All Photos by- Seun James Taiwo (IG: @seunjamestaiwo)