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Boarding House Memories, Blue House Hostel A

We stand in a line just outside the entrance of Blue house. My heart is doing the thump-thump thing again. I had heard many stories about boarding house, some good, some downright scary. So far I have had two experiences of boarding school, the first did not count as it was when I was transported into the fictitious world of Enid Blyton while reading The Twins at St Claire’s series. Secretly I hoped my boarding house experience would be like theirs, never mind that I will not be brushing my hair at night till it shone or forming pigtails with it. Never mind too that I would not be needing a winter coat- ever. My 2nd boarding house experience was when I attended the school’s entrance interview. Candidates were required to stay for 3 nights in the hostel and have a taste of life without their parents. It was on that trip I met Funmi. I lay  on my side, back toward the bed where these giggling girls lay and tried to fathom what made them so happy. They were laughing? I was very homesick and every time I thought of home, which was pretty much every time, I burst into tears. I remember Funmi and her friends calling out to me to come play with them. They probably assumed I was tired since I didn’t respond. In actual fact I was crying. My brother who was a year ahead of me in another boarding school had warned me this would happen. “Toks you will cry“. “Absolutely not!” I retorted. I was certain I was such a big girl yearning for her independence that I would be doing cartwheels instead.

Back to the line. We are all dressed in exactly the same blue check  uniform. There is a general buzz of excitement in the air as people like seniors Ayo and Ronke busy themselves, walking hand in hand in twos or threes- they are the confident, very excited ones. I am to later learn that they are in the second year, seniors for the first time. New words fill my ears like kerosene lanterns, dining hall, morning piece of work, prep time and siesta. I struggle to figure out the meaning of siesta, I don’t want to come across as being too naive. I hear these seniors can take advantage of you in a heartbeat.

The soft spoken woman at the front of the door is calling out names and assigning the students to their hostels. I listen very carefully as I don’t want any attention drawn to me, you know the kind that results from everyone looking around as she calls the name a second time, wondering who Tokunbo is. I hear my name and hear hostel A. I’m not sure if that is a good thing or not, but I squeeze past the girls, most of them bigger than me and make my way to the hostel that would become my home for the next five years. I am scared, I am excited and I’m uncertain. I miss my mum and dad. I miss my brothers and our dogs and cat. I miss Benin and I want to go back. There is something comforting about Mrs Udehin. She continues to call out names and I quickly realise that she is the first likeness I have seen of my mummy. She is very soft spoken so she must be kind, like mummy. The tears well up again behind my big eyes and I force them back down. I am becoming quite good at doing that. The method I use is to think of all the times mummy and daddy smacked me when I was sure I didn’t deserve it. That brings up sufficient anger to force back the tears. It isn’t a fail-safe method, but it’ll do for now.

In the hostel I find out that my wardrobe partner is a senior called Senior Shade. She is a  real mother figure, a bit plump which makes her huggable. But I don’t hug her, I don’t know what the rules are and I don’t want to start by breaking them. She tells me to arrange me provisions (another new term) on the left side of the single shelf wardrobe and her’s will be on the right. She explains that we put non-consumables like the kerosene lamps, buckets and soap at the bottom and the rest on the top. I love to arrange things, one of my favourite games at home was to arrange mummy’s dressing table. I would start with the tall perfumes and nail varnish removers; “You stay at the back” I’ll tell them. My role was a photographer arranging people for a group picture. The tears well up again and I force them back. The thought of being independent, grown up gives me good goose bumps and I smile.

“Hurry up, it will soon be time for dinner.”. Senior Shade reminds me of aunty Titi, she has a sing-song accent like that and I find myself warming up to her even more. I wonder what dinner would be. As if she can read my thoughts, she continues; “Friday night is Rice and Fish Stew, you don’t want to miss that”. Now we have a problem. I don’t like fish, I wonder if they’ll give me beef? Of course I don’t say that out loud, but I really hope they will. Oke and Folukemi stop by to inspect my “corner” This is nice they say; “let’s go we don’t want to be late.” All this clamouring for fish is doing my head in, what is wrong with these people? Oke and Folukemi were some of my first friends along with Mubo, Ijeoma, Ifeayinwa, and Funmi, who really talks a lot! I also become friends with Folake, Kehinde, Ashenedu, Aisha and a host of wonderful girls I will never forget.

Mummy had warned me to be careful as “They steal in boarding house”, hence the three padlocks she armed me with. So I clutch my cutlery, plate and cup and go to the dining hall with my friends. Another long line. This time there are boys there too. A man who is clearly an adult in uniform is calling out our names and assigning us to tables. There are about 13-19 people on each table and a head is elected to bring order to the table. The food is brought in in the largest metal bowls I have ever seen. Someone gets up to serve the rice, our plates are pushed to the front of the table. Mine is a large shiny metal one which I don’t like.  I see some of the plates I become quite satisfied with it. I try to tell the server not to give me any stew or fish for that matter, my attempted request is met with a threatening glance by the table head, so I withdraw my raised hand. The dining hall is huge and very noisy. I nearly jump out of my skin when someone hits the table 3 times, very loudly; these people know the drill for there is a sudden hush. The man prays out loud, “For what we are about to receive, we thank thee oh Lord” The “Amen” is swallowed up as spoonfuls of rice are shoved into hungry mouths…

The senior girls do not like to take their own dirty plates back to the hostel. In fact a lot of them act as though food, plates and dining hall are terms that should not be associated with their names. So we juniors have the sad misfortune of becoming plate carriers, along with other titles like shoe polishers, laundry girl, slave. This does not happen tonight,  it is saved for later in the week.

Back at the hostel I envisage my friends and I sitting on one of our beds and chatting quietly into the night. That of course remains a fantasy, instead I spend my time with my friends, going to other hostels. We are told night prep has been cancelled so people can unpack. From time to time someone will make an announcement, “Blue house girls! The person that stole my socks should return it or else there will be trouble!” I find it fascinating and long to be able to make a bold, public announcement like that. I don’t have to wait too long as my cup disappears by the next morning.

“Blue house girls return my cup!” I shout with pride as I stroll down the middle of the hostel.

“Ehn???!!”  Someone pulls me by my collar, “what did you just say?”

“I-I….someone took my cup” I manage to splutter.

Ohhhh! You are only a junior. You have no right to make an announcement like this. You can only say it to form one girls, understood?”

Then a bell goes, people start to move quickly. Someone counts very loudly but slowly to 10, the girls now start to run. It is almost chaotic as we scramble for our beds. I make it on time, the lights go out and she shouts “Lights out!!”

I cover my head with my blue blanket and give those tears free rein.

Thank you for reading, more to come 😀

Boarding House Memories, 1

Alice was ill and the fever showed no signs of receding. Senior Funmi made an announcement for someone to go to the staff quarters to call Mrs Uzo, the house-mistress. Of course no one volunteered, who in their right mind would go to the staff quarters at 10pm on a path ridden with ghosts, bush babies and snakes? Why would anyone choose to meet madam kos-kos in the middle of the night? Alone? Plus of course in boarding house no junior ever volunteered. They were confined to a life of submission. Most juniors often wondered why senior Funmi and others like her never did anything for themselves.

There was one little girl who was always up for adventure. I think she did too much reading of stories of children in the woods, like the Famous Five. She was also keen to prove to everyone that she had guts.

So off T and IJ went to the staff quarters. They walked quickly and chatted quietly, knowing that in no time they would be back in their beds and hailed as the courageous ones who braved the elements and night prowlers for the sake of their sick friend. Before long they heard dogs barking. Heart in mouth T muffled to IJ that it was fine, she knew how to handle dogs. Afterall didn’t she have five dogs at home? Scooby, Scrappy, Snoopy, Lucky and Lulu?

As they approached Mr Offoh’s house, the sound of  the barking got louder a result of more participants joining in the canine chorus. T, the self-styled animal lover, the fearless, the brave started to sweat rather profusely. Meanwhile IJ had leaped unto the top of Mr Offoh’s blue Volkswagen, she didn’t even know she could fly! T promptly joined her where they both knew they’ll be spending the night. Two big black dogs stood guard to ensure the girls never made it down. The barking slowly died down. Then the prayers began. “Lord as you shut the mouth of David in the Lion’s den…shut the mouth of these dogs. They slowly climbed down from the car after deciding not to risk the possibility of their male classmates seeing them in their nighties and wrappers atop Mr Offoh’s car- not even Ms Hadiza’s, at least she was nice!  Considering the boy in 3B who liked IJ, and the one in 3D that T had a crush on- she was sure he liked her back- it was not worth the risk. Where would she hide her face? The other day he stared at her long and hard from the back of the class, she could feel it because every hair on the back of her neck stood still, even the tiny baby ones. Her palms became sweaty and her writing bore a striking resemblance to chicken scratches. There was the familiar churning going on in her stomach. It always started when her heart made the daily descent from its station in her chest to her stomach, triggered during assembly when she was fortunate to stand only a few kids away from him. Maybe that’s where the courage to leave the safety of Mr Offoh’s car came from. Or perhaps it was the thought of ‘failing’ at a task so great, that she would become just like everyone else,  and no longer be hailed as being brave. The reason did not really matter.  They gingerly walked on, one half step at a time and made it to Mrs Uzo’s house, where they encountered her own dogs- Concorde and Punch. Thankfully all the noise had awoken Mrs Uzo, who most likely slept with one ear open waiting for girls like these to come get her for one mishap or the other.

I can’t remember how we got back to the hostel that night, I vaguely recall Mrs Uzo driving us back. I have since forgiven senior Funmi, but still get a kick from using her name when I talk about seniors. I am still good friends with IJ, she is one of the blessings in my life. I don’t have any dogs currently, I can barely get the boys to keep their rooms spotless. The guy I had a crush on? Remains the first guy I ever had a crush on, but not the last. I have also stopped showing off. Sometimes the old me shows up and wants her voice to be heard above others. Sometimes she struggles to listen during conversations and wants to do all the talking. If you have recently ended up as my sounding board when you wanted to be heard,I apologize. Please be patient, God is still working on me.

Thank you for reading. Do come back for the next part!

My Hedgehog Story- Circa 1984

Thanks to Ijeoma and Ebun who inspired this post!

What would I do without my friends? There are parts of my life that I’ve completely forgotten about like the fact that I wrote short stories at school. I remember when dad told me he would publish my stories, I was ecstatic, oh the thought of seeing my name in print! Which by the way is the reason we sell personalised children’s everything from artwork to bibs, toy boxes and beds all with your child’s name on it at PP. Ahem! I gave dad my first story in no time, he explained that having four words per line would look really, really short when it was typed up. The fact that I filled two A4 pages made no difference with my giant handwriting.

Anyway, my favourite author as a child was Enid Blyton. This was before I moved on to Pacesetters and Mills & Boon. I am pretty confident that I read every Enid Blyton book ever printed. It was like disappearing into a world only imaginable. It was there that I learned about pixies and goblins, animals that made sensible, well thought out decisions and toys that conversed. And weird creatures like hedgehogs. I believed Enid Blyton’s definition of world only existed in the western world, in other words, in oyiboland. The knowledge caused me to implore my toys to talk to me- the rule was that toys didn’t speak when humans were present. I begged them to let me into their inner circle as I wouldn’t tell. And you can stop laughing because if I had the know-how to send my idea to Hollywood, I’ll be laughing at the upcoming release of Toy Story  3. I digress, sorry. So when friends in boarding house discovered this strange animal with spikes all over, I was over the moon! I explained that it was a hedgehog and they lived in the “woods”, a vicinity only present in the west. We don’t call it woods in Africa, it’s simply the bush. And in case you didn’t know, it isn’t called the jungle either, it’s the forest.

The hedgehog was a baby one so it was easy to carry; its spikes were still soft. I spoke to it and told it not to worry as we’ll be going home the following day. I couldn’t wait to break the awesome news to my younger brother, we shared the same fascination. Thankfully it was the end of term. I was excited for more reasons than one. Mum’s cooking, freedom from prison jail school, access to TV, wearing anything other than our tired green uniforms.

I don’t remember if the hedgehog ate; I think I dug up some worms for it as I was convinced whatever it lived on in the “woods” would not be available to me. There was no Google to check- it was 198something ya’ll! That night I locked him up in my wardrobe and went to sleep. Imagine my horror when I awoke in the morning to find him floating face down in my bucket of water! So “we” mourned him and I insisted “we” have a memorial for him by bathing with the “water of death” sorry guys! You know who you are!

Thank you so much for reading and getting (yet another) glimpse into my childhood 🙂


Death’s Sting

Jim Rohn passed away on Saturday. I didn’t know the man personally, I never met him but I would recognize his voice if I heard him speak because  I listen to him regularly thanks to my small collection of audio CDs. Jim was a motivational speaker, successful entrepreneur, author, philosopher etc. He was funny and witty and genuinely wanted to touch people’s lives by constantly staring them toward success, and he did. I think he knew Christ but I’m not certain, I hope so.
I guess that’s what started to bother me. He lived a full life and died at 79. He impacted millions of people’s lives. As at last night there were nearly 4,000 names on his tribute page- that’s a lot in three days!

The last time a death disturbed me was Michael Jackson’s. And the time before that was a former schoolmate’s that I hadn’t seen in over 20 years. Unlike many of my school friends, Jide wasn’t one of those I got reunited with. As a matter of fact I never actually thought of him at all, there was no real reason to. But when I heard that he passed away suddenly I was perturbed to say the least. It bothered me because I knew he wasn’t the most popular kid in school, so of course I started to wonder what life as an adult was like for him. You may already know about my hyperactive imagination. Armed with memories of over 20 years ago I began to carve out Jide’s life for him- it was a sad one too, not that I wanted it to be but that was how my mind chose to weave his story. The story carried on from how unhappy he was that he wasn’t the coolest kid with the coolest nickname. Do bear in mind that the boy never told me this, it is all the workings of an animated psyche. For all I know he could have been the happiest kid around! Then I began to feel really guilty that he had this unhappy life. I felt bad when I learned that he even lived in the same city as I did for years. It got worse as I faced up to the fact that if I had found out that we lived near each other I probably wouldn’t have bothered to visit him. But all was forgotten when I was told he knew the Lord! I was also assured that he had no lack of friends.

Here’s my conclusion: No matter how full or how empty one’s life turns out to be, what is truly lasting is the positive impact you make on others’. To have 4000 mourn you in a couple of days is no small feat especially without being a rock star. And no matter what impact you make on their lives, there is no impact greater than staring others in the direction of Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God. In the same vein our knowledge of Christ should lead us to have fulfilled lives so that if we do die empty,  it will be because we gave away so much and not because we had Christ lacking. I pray that you live long and full and die empty.

“I remember…”

Excited because I caught up with a long lost friend today.

The best part of re-connecting is that we actually chatted. I mean, we caught up until our chats became separated by yesterday and today. And then she had to go to bed. So we’ll catch up later. Much better than the one who accepts (or sends you) a friend request and then doesn’t respond to a follow up message. And then you wonder if perhaps they do not sign in often but they do because their wall is peppered with hourly tid-bits and comments. Anyway I digress. During the course of our conversation Funmi mentioned the name of a town that I have not been to in well over 10 years. At that point I realised I have a memory for every place I’ve been to. A bit like child number 3 who has a narrative for just about every word he says. I guess he gets that from me, I have a story behind every outfit I own, many times when complimented on a dress, I start at the very beginning.

Stratford  Thanks to a kind family, I lived in Stratford for about a year when I first arrived from Nigeria. But the main memory I have is of the day I went swimming. I had this friend who wanted to date me. I come from the school of thought that belives in playing hard to get, yet I wanted to impress him. So when he asked how I spent my afternoons after school I told him I usually went swimming. He asked if he could come along the following Thursday, I wanted to show off some more so I said ‘sure’. Trouble is I couldn’t swim. Enter dear friend Eva. I grabbed hold of her and informed her that somehow, anyhow, I must learn how to swim by Thursday. Day after day we trekked to the swimming baths in order not to bring a disgrace upon my good family name!

Highbury My cousin lives there. Safety and security come to mind when I think of Highbury. My big cousin always was (and still is) a welcoming face. She loves to cook and entertain and so we have a feast whenever we go there. I remember standing at the bus-stop by the butcher’s waiting for bus 4 or 19. I didn’t mind at all as the butcher was just like the ones you read about in fairytales- fat, jolly and wearing a white stained apron. Next to him was the cobblers. Again like the ones we used to read about, particularly because where I come from they are not called cobblers but shoemakers. 20 years later, the butcher and cobbler are still there, same sign, nothing’s changed. That’s security, un-moved by time.

Elephant and Castle I hate that place. Sorry if you live there but I actually loathe the place. I have memories of dear friend Tinuke and I in our student days, living a student’s less-than-cushy life. Plus it took me a while to realise that the station actually had a shopping centre in it or vice-versa which was unbelievable dinghy, I thought it was an indoor market- then again maybe that’s what it was. Either way I still don’t like it.

Cricklewood  Many fond memories here. My uncle and aunt’s home and I loved living there. One day someone parked in front of the drive-in, Tinuke promptly told him to move his car as he was blocking our drive- not that we had a car. He refused. That night we both made eba (starchy, sticky African staple meal which hardens on exposure to air) and plastered it all over his windscreen then we stuck a note-” See, we told you not to park here!” I am cracking up as I write this! The next morning the oyinbo man came out and as Tinuke walked across the road, he tried to run her over, we burst out laughing! He was lucky it was a slightly damp night, the plan was to have had the eba harden by morning.

There are so many memories, some unbelievably embarrassing with a major cringe factor! Who knows, I might muster up the courage to share some day.  Like the day I walked in on uncle Ade…

Thanks so much for reading, do come back.