My street on after-school evenings was like a mini-PDP rally. Children of primary school age would hang out on the street playing “catcher” and “freeze-tag”, until our mums called us in. Fear of gbomo gbomo was real, but so was the fear of an ass whooping for staying out late.
All the kids old enough to walk came out to hang and play. There were the BMX vs. Chopper vs Raleigh bicycle wars where we raced for bragging rights about which was the best brand. Some of the younger kids played “mama and papa” games where they pretended to be married and made “soup” out of garden leaves, and eba out of sand from the sand pit at the end of the street. That is how I kissed my first crush at 7, a pretty young thing by the name of Felicia.
Our street lights sparked the Lagos night. A few gluttonous kids busied themselves aiming slippers at the ripe almonds (popularly known as “fruit”) hanging from the tree of one the neighbors Mr. Onwubiko the neighborhood sadist. The juiciest fruit always seemed to hide at the top of the tree, out of reach, and out of bounds. He would run out of his house waiving the cane of life and the kids would scramble in different directions, like a babalawo’s cowry shells. On Friday evenings, brutish older kids from the adjacent rougher suburb showed up with catapults which they used to hunt agama lizards almost to extinction. In their own neighborhood, they raced old bike tire rims for pink slips – whoever won kept the loser’s tire rim, thereby condemning the victim to many evenings of dulling. These brutes tried to bully kids from our street, until we met fire with fire with our water guns. It was a medley of childish fun.
However the kids of one particular neighbor Apostle Nimrod never hung out. They lived in a bungalow at the corner – a family of Apostle and his wife, and two sons and a daughter aged 5, 7 and 11. One would see them moping from behind their fence, martialed by the eldest one, who deterred them from breaking bounds. Some other kids tried to beckon to them to join our din, but they would not dare, even when their folks were not home. Apparently Apostle forbade them from mixing with “those children of the world.”
One day, the middle child out of Apostle’s kin struck a conversation with me, over by her fence. She was my age – a dark-skinned, inquisitive cutie named Modupe. Her hair was neatly plaited in rows of the “periwinkle” style that reigned at the time, with shining white teeth that could make her the poster-child for Pepsodent. She liked my junior parole, and introduced me to her brothers.
Soon, I was chatting with them over by their wall every evening during playtime. I brought over comics, toys, drawings I had made, and entertained them with stories about the latest episode of Voltron, G-Force or the Kunkuru Puppet Show. It was not long before they invited me over. I had a slick mouth as a kid especially when I went on a charm offensive. I scaled the fence, and entered their house.
From what I could see, their parents were strict followers of a Bar Beach based fellowship and had groomed them to be fundamentalists. They were not allowed to watch daytime TV and had never seen Sound of Music, Storyland, Speak Out or Sesame Street.
I made myself at home, and lay on the floor, drawing a Voltron comic on an exercise book I had brought with me, while they watched in fascination.
Then we heard the blare of car horns – their folks were back 40 minutes earlier than usual. Everyone panicked. I ducked and hid under the dinner table. Their dad came in and then he paused. He seemed to sense that there was an illegal immigrant in his home. It wasn’t long before he had sniffed me out from under the table, like the UK Border Agency. As he quizzed the eldest child to explain why he had let me into the house, and threatened brimstone, his attention was caught by a sheet of paper lying under the table. It was a drawing of a robeast. He almost fainted. He tore the drawing into tiny bits of paper, enough to make confetti. He turned to his eldest son, and shook him furiously like a palm-wine calabash, blaming him for flouting the no-visitors rule.
Turning to me, I was declared persona non-grata forever. I did not wait to be told to take an exit. I bailed the hell out of Dodge, grabbing my book of Voltron drawings and crayons, as I breezed pass their mum at the door. Apostle had seized the red crayon. SMT.
The over-strictness and overbearing nature of some parents invariably drive their children into a life of indiscipline, promiscuity or disdain for authority. Some of the most unruly people I know had very strict controlling parents, and they ended up lashing out against the school and then society in their adult years, as way of rebelling against their lack of a fair childhood.
There is also an opposite extreme, where parents over-smother their kids with affection, spoiling them and not giving them a certain independence required for the child to come into its own.
I guess an analogy can be made between parental smothering and the overbearing nature of the Nigerian State. Our motherland has to create a system give its citizens room to breathe and take on the world.
There is a fine balance to be struck between sparing the rod, or putting the child in a vice-grip. My folks were fairly easy going about friends and associate coming over to visit. Their thing was – they had trained me to be a good judge of character, and they trusted me to make the right decisions. Like, it is your house too – if you like, go and invite an armed robber or an axe murderer in.