It is the end of yet another school day. As I reminisce the events of earlier today, I refuse to think about math class with Mr Olusegun tomorrow morning. As the last child, Mum deems it fit to bathe me till I turn twenty years-old or a new baby comes along. I only enjoy the baths because I get to tell her all about my day since no one else will listen and pretend to care.
“Junior! If you keep up like this you will start bathing yourself! ” Mum squealed in surprise.
“Sorry, Mummy.” I said through giggles because she says this every Monday courtesy my two-hour football match with our neighbors on the red sand road beside our house. I was always covered with sand from head to toe.
After arguing about how basic science Is more difficult than chemistry, biology and physics, which Taiwo and Kehinde do because theirs is separate, Mum had finally made me clean and she exclaimed,
“If only Nigerians realized that changing Nigeria is like trying to make you clean. It takes numerous scrubs and rinses with a number of products. My crown.” she kissed my head and left me to get ready for dinner—and what she said struck me so I wrote a poem titled:
Like the skin of fish
Which requires endless back and forth motions with a sharp knife
The dogma preached down from generations
Lies and misleading interpretations
Clouding our myopic vision.
A New Nigeria the result of numerous scrubs
With lathery nice scented soap with a firm hand
I showed my dad when we arrived from the office. He had been on set all day working on the latest episode of a very popular Nigerian soap opera. He said, “Nice work my darling but let’s see if we can fine tune it a bit. You know even Wole Soyinka has his works edited by others.”
I nodded in agreement and worked with Daddy on his big study table. Here’s the final product.
They fall potter patter against mother’s aluminum sink
As she begins to prepare a scrumptious dinner
With her sharpest knife, she removes all foreign bodies
Thin almost invisible pieces of fishy heritage.
Soon shiny and slithery she removes it’s gut
Rinses it and submerges it in her pot
Filled with spices.
After thirty minutes the aroma fills the living room
And everyone gathers to enjoy a scrumptious meal.
Once filthy and inedible
The fish a master piece after mother’s transformation.
— Abebi and Daddy
By the time we finished writing the poem, dinner was served, and the entire house was filled with the pleasant aroma of jollof rice, dodo, and peppered catfish.
I jumped off my chair and ran to the table, where Taiwo and Kehinde were there giggling and murmuring how they knew I wouldn’t need to be called for dinner.
Once Daddy arrived and we began eating, I told everyone we had written a poem and that he promised to share it over dessert.
Daddy always ate his jollof rice with ego riro that mum prepared with only ata rodo so no one else ate it. Tonight, I felt like being adventurous, so I took a spoonful. However, the tales of my experience with ata rodo will come another time.
Daddy had me read out the poem. When I was done he asked me to explain it, and I looked at the letters forming words but I couldn’t pick out anything so I handed him the paper. He said,
“The fish personifies Nigerians, the scales are the principles we live by, principles like Nigeria is bad and hopeless, nothing good can come out of here, the problem is the government, the problem can only be fixed by the government so we all remain nonchalant. The rhythmic falling of the scales represent a change in perspective. The knife is a portrayal of how hard scaling is and how painful it might be. The thinness of scales indicates how insignificant and unsuspecting they are. They are a common part of the fish but, if eaten with the fish, destroy the meal, just how our mindsets are to the progress of Nigeria but, because we are so used to it, we don’t realize how much damage it’s doing. The gut represents the comfort zone—that is mum and dad will flip if I try to be different or venture outside here outside the norm. Rinsing only occurs when we are aware of the flaws we have and the submerging is us taking a step of faith into unknown waters that might begin disastrously, but, with the aid of spices (other Nigerians in other sectors doing something differently and authentically), the aroma of a new Nigeria emerges and envelopes the arena.”
“Wow dad this art thing is really something, look how you made cooking fish into a story about changing Nigeria.”
“Anything is possible with anything kids.”
– From Abebi.