“Me am not playing boju boju”
“We’ll play baba suwe” Ronke decided.
The children of number 4 Kudirat Street reached an agreement. I wasn’t sure number 4 was indeed our yard’s number, no house here really did have numbers. Having a street name was enough.
Iya Basit was setting up her things to roast corn for the evening. Her husband was at his usual position at the entrance to our face me I slap you yard with his radio tuned to Radio Lagos. There were 10 rooms in our compound. 10 rooms that all smelled the same, of the dirty open gutters around us, and the stench of urine from the only toilet in our compound. Standing out in the open, the smell still wafted into my nose, making itself at home. Unlike my other playmates, I hadn’t always lived here. I hadn’t always had to sleep in the same room with my parents, the only thing separating us a curtain.
“Yinka, oya draw the lines. You pipu shuu pick your stone” Ronke our chief commanding play officer ordered. She was the unopposed head of games. We played the games she wanted, when she wanted. If you tried to rebel, she would tackle you to the ground and sit on you without a second thought. The wielding shop down the street belonged to her father, and her mother sold hot drinks in front of our compound. They were also the caretakers of the yard too, so snooping into other people’s rooms and lives was what they did. There was her, me, Godspower, Wisdom, Jeremiah, Success, Makinde, Solomon, Risi, Gloria, Peter whom we called Peteru, Tega, Basit, Basirat, Ahmed, Hassan and Yinka.
We all lived here alongside our parents, rammed into this yard in Shomolu where bathing every morning was war, and chaos reigned supreme.
I had thrown my stones and had only jumped twice when I heard my mother’s familiar screams.
“Haa, ghen ghen ghen, your mummy and your daddy have started fighting again” Peteru said to me.
The neighbours who had been indoors dragged their creaky doors open to find out what was going on.
“Kilon shele gan gan?” “Wetin dey happen?” Mama Wisdom yelled from the kitchen.
I run into our room, and the familiar sight of my father pounding away on my mother says hello to me.
“Leave my mummy alone” I cried, pounding on my father’s back with my tiny fists that made no difference.
“Leave my mummy alone” I said adding my teeth to the mix now. “Aargh” my father groaned stepping back.
“The devil’s child” he said re-directing his anger at me, my ear tingling from his slap. My father liked words, and he loved to throw them around. He was always throwing words around like he was the only first class graduate whom life had turned sour for. I didn’t want to be here either, but I wasn’t beating anyone for it.
Papa Wisdom was already in our doorway talking to him “Papa Stephanie, you go kill am oo. Dey do small small, dis wan too much.”
“Na this stupid woman and pikin wey no get sense. They can’t make use of their thinking faculties!” he said bounding out of the room.
My name was Stephanie, and it had been a befitting name when my first class father and mother lived in a serviced apartment in Surulere. It was a befitting name for when I went to school in a school bus, and we didn’t live in a dingy stinky room in a public yard. It was a good enough name for when my father had a job on the island and a Toyota Camry to move around in. It was good enough till my father got caught up in trouble at work, and our world crumbled. It was just okay until we had to start a new life here where chicken republic on Sundays and my Disney cartoons were luxuries of the past.
Hope or Blessing would have been a more suitable name for where and how we lived now. My mother slid down from the bed, drenched in sweat and examined me for any wounds. “It’s fine. I’m okay, okay?” she said to me. “Go back and play. I’ll have a bath and we’ll eat something”
“Okay” I said wiping my tears.
I stood up and walked back outside to continue our games. Basit handed me my stones which I had dropped earlier. I had to wait my turn again. Mama Wisdom started to fry her pepper, Baba Basit’s radio still belted out Fuji music, the flies at the gutters still buzzed, and the toilet still stank, our game of suwe continued. The world did not shatter.