Sunday, 26 February 2012


I watched my Uncle carefully as he grunted loudly turning the page. His eyes moved carefully through my work; looking, scrutinizing every answer I had scribbled down in my haste to watch the 4pm cartoon show. His eyes gently moved from the page to my eyes. He stared at me for a moment,his dark brown eyes reflecting his thoughts. 'Go and read over it again' he said, in his calm, controlling voice. I opened my mouth to protest and then hesitated knowing my whimpering complaints would not gather any sympathy from this stern man. I squeezed my face and screwed my mouth as I grabbed my notebook from him and left his room. This is the memory I would forever cherish of my dear Uncle Shuaib. His tall, imposing presence shadowed all my childhood. His darting gaze controlled all my steps like a protective lioness watching her newborn cub. 
I remember the first day at Secondary School. I stepped into the car and quietly thought about the school that was soon to be my new home. My eyes blindly screened the hawkers on the streets, I could faintly hear the noisy car horns as we made our way passed Bariga and onto the Third Mainland Bridge. I could feel the nervousness pulsing in my bones like a beating drum each and every minute we reached our destination. Finally, I saw the rusted iron gates and behind them, a big blue block plastered with windows. Children my age littered the streets, with their parents. It was the first day and Brother Shuaib calmly walked with me as I made my way, with the rest of the class to my new classroom. I had forgotten he was steadily following my footsteps; and then I looked back. There he was, a big grin plastered on his brown face, his huge hand raised in comfort as I queued in front of my class with my mates. My first memory of my new home.
 Tope and I were best friends. We shared our earliest memories together. We could literally tell our stories to anyone who would listen because they were so similar. It was like we had shared a life together. I constantly visited Tope during the weekends for sleepovers and we played and chatted all through. I remember the anticipation of our weekend activities. Drawing Disney cartoons, listening to our music collection and then doing the forbidden homework for the Monday class. Brother Shuaib was a constant presence during this period. He knew her as well as I did. He was fond of her warm greetings and her eagerness to learn and constantly compared me to my 'foster sister'. I remember he would pack my things carefully as I prepared for one of our weekly sleepovers. He would stand over my luggage and make me re-examine it to make sure that I had not forgotten anything. I remember his words of caution as we drove to her house. 'Be polite', he would say. 'Eat whatever you are given' he would constantly re-iterate and 'Don't complain about anything' were his final words. These were the words he muttered once more as he dropped me at Aunty J's house.
  The day was warm, and full of bright expectations. I was looking forward to visiting Aunty Judith for the week. I missed her warm hugs and motherly compassion as she fussed over my weight and my books. Brother Shuaib drove me to her house as usual. There was nothing strange about this day. The warm air blew my face gently and the hot sun lightly reflected beads of sweat off my forehead as we approached Aunty J's house. After the usual family formalities, my Uncle was off. I remember staring at him waiting for him to reiterate his words of warning. We looked at each other for a while. His hand plastered to the steering wheel as his gaze fell on my eyes. 'See you on Tuesday' he said and drove off. Those were the last words I would ever hear from those wise lips.
 I remember the pain etched on Mummy's face as she attempted and failed to describe where Uncle Shuaib was. I remember she had hid behind her dark shades as she muttered his unfortunate fate. But mostly, I remember the harsh slap of reality hitting my face. The cruel feeling of vunerability and the sudden sense of reality. I couldn't believe it. No longer would that strong force that had guided my childhood watch my steps. No more stern words dropping like bullets unto my every move. No more Brother Shuaib. I can honestly say that was the moment my childhood ended and the burdens of adulthood landed on my shoulders.
 I did my schoolwork diligently from then on. Sitting down to study, resisting all distractions as I concentrated on pasting the words on the page to my brain. Television, that had appealed to my childish sense of wonder no longer demanded my attention. Games I had played with T.L and other friends lost all interest for me. Guilt had tainted my childhood. I was now obsessed with making my Uncle proud of  me through the only means possible-my education. I found myself slowly disappearing from social circles as my friends could no longer understand this shadow of my former self. Brother Shuaib must be proud of me-my brain constantly muttered as I obsessively craved prizes in school. This effort payed off but the price was high-my childhood.
  Brother Shuaib had shaped my childhood; defined every border of my growth. Now, I realize the enormous time and effort this man put into my development. His dedication to my education. His vigilance over my childhood social circle. His guidance had steadily brought me from childhood and through his death, adulthood. I only wish..I only wish I had cherished those moments of happiness when he drove me to school. I wish I had payed closer attention to his words of wisdom as they dropped from his lips. But mostly, I wish I had gotten to know him better; this one man that was the key to all my childhood memories.  
Tolu Falode.


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