Tag Archives: forgive

That Polka Dot Dress

You could say I am polka dotty. A fan of the polka dots. I find them irresistable. I try not to go overboard with this slight obsession but I am afraid I do fail regularly. Every time I step into a shop, I gravitate towards the polka dot pattern. Be it on a blind, throw cushions, wellies, mug, plastic wallets…it is endless where you spot the polkas. It is a conspiracy I tell thee.
My beloved sister took me shopping with her this summer and I kept checking out the polka dots. She stopped me when I made a move to try a top on. I genuinely thought I had very little in the way of polka dot clothing. We brainstormed and in a minute, we counted at least 6 tops of mine in varying colours, all polka. I did not try on that top. Sadly. I also love my polka dot handbag, Rocketdog heels, water bottle cover, mugs, set of plates, dressing robe and plastic wallets, bras, socks, umbrella…the list goes on.

I will explain whence this loving relationship commenced. I was about 3 or 4 years old when my granduncle, dear departed uncle Abubakar Joda, bought me a hot pink dress with black polka dots, a black collar, waist band and bow. I absolutely loved that dress. I wanted it on all the time. I was in nursery school then and I would consent to wearing my uniform in the morning. As soon as I walked into our home after school, I would strip down to a vest and panties and refuse to wear anything that wasn’t my polka dot dress. My mama was forced to sneak in washes during school hours.

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I wore it day in, day out. For over a year. I had lots of lovely clothes but I didn’t want any of them. Eventually, my mama’s patience ran out. I came home from school one day and she had given it to charity. I don’t remember crying but I was hopping mad. I asked my mama why she would do such a thing. Her answer was that the poor children needed it more than I did. Well!!! Even at that age, I knew I couldn’t argue with being charitable so I swallowed my tantrum (which was quite an achievement) and let her off. But I still thought ‘of all the things the poor children should need…’

I have never been able to forget my lovely dress nor have I completely forgiven my dear mama. She tried hard to get me over my loss. I inherited my sister’s fabulous red and white ruffly beautiful princess polka dot dress. It was lovely but not quite as good for me. Too much of a fuss to wear every day. To this day, when my mama annoys me, I pointedly remind her of her crime…she took my first love away. Unreal!

p.s yes, that was our wedding cake.

Neglect Has A Lasting Legacy

I was 5 years old when my sister and I went on a road trip with Baba, our Grandad, up North in Nigeria. It was not normal for just the two of us to go with him. There was usually my grandma too or maybe my mama. However, this time we got to go solo with him. I suspect it is because we begged and it was the holidays and my mother was busy at work with no better plans to entertain us. Whatever the case, we got to go and I remember my sister and I getting bored quite quickly (probably an hour into the 6.5 hour journey). Plus my grandad had taken to listening to boring traditional Hausa music (Mamman Shata and the like). So we sang every nursery rhyme and Disney song we knew. We sang for hours until our throats were sore. Must have driven my grandad and the driver mad but they bore with us.

When we got to the town we were staying the night in, my grandad took us straight to my ‘aunt’s’ home. I say ‘aunt’ because this is not my mother’s sister, my favourite aunty in the whole world aunty Bilky. No, this is someone who grew up with my mum and her siblings and is therefore considered a ‘sister’. I will call this aunty ‘Auntie’ henceforth for easy reference. Now, we had spent quite a few holidays with Auntie and her many daughters in the past so we knew them well enough and were quite happy to be taken to hers. One of her daughters is very close in age to my sister and the youngest was a year older than I was but we usually got on pretty well. I couldn’t tell you if there were any special circumstances at the time we visited but I think not because we would have known. My mama was always upfront if anything major was going on especially if she was going to let us visit. Anyway, out of the car we tumbled, tired and excited. It was well after lunch but not dinner time yet but we were already feeling the first pangs of hunger having had a late breakfast on the road but not stopped for lunch. We were all shown into a living room in their sprawling home and someone showed us to the ‘bedroom’. I use the term ‘bedroom’ loosely because although the large room had beds (I think it was 3 single beds), most of it was clearly a dumping ground for dirty laundry and other clutter and it looked like no one had slept in there for a long time. My grandad left whilst we checked out our lodgings.

My sister and I waited for what seemed like ages for someone to come and tell us what to do with all the mess if we were actually going to be staying in that room. We also waited in vain for someone to offer us a drink or give us a snack. Nothing happened so we eventually picked one bed and cleared it and the area around it. We lay on the bed listening to the noises of muted conversation until all we could hear was our tummies rumbling. The sun began to set and we were soon left in darkness. One of us hunted for the light switch and we resumed our waiting game. We might have dozed off or maybe just lay around in a hungry tired trance but eventually I remember saying to my sister that I needed something to drink. That spurred her into action and she led me hesitantly out of the room and we wandered down the corridors of the seemingly empty house, most of the lights off. We found a kitchen but our hunt turned up nothing to eat. We had some water and sadly found our way back to the bedroom and eventually slept on empty stomachs.

We awoke to the sound of voices outside, going about their morning chores. We could smell breakfast frying…I am not sure now what it was (because we didn’t get any) whether it was fried yam, potatoes or bean cakes (kosei) but the smell was right under our noses and we were so famished we looked at each other in hope. No one came to get us and being nice Fulani girls, we stayed put. I remember asking my sister if she thought they had forgotten we were there. ‘How is that possible?’ She replied so we waited and waited. We waited some more as all the noise died down and the house fell silent again. Had they all gone out without so much as a word to us? Were we home alone in this house we didn’t know, in a town we had maybe visited a couple of times before? We finally ventured out and explored the section of the house we were in. No one was there. We returned to the kitchen, probably assuming that they might have saved us some breakfast. We found evidence of breakfast in the dirty dishes in the sink but not a bite left for us.

At this stage, I thought I was going to die of hunger. It was getting close to 24 hours since we had breakfast on the road with Baba and there was no adult to be seen. We went back to the room and my sister rummaged desperately in the backpack we had brought with us. ‘Look’ she cried excitedly after searching for a while. She brandished a N5 note. N5 (five naira) in those days (around 1990) was actually worth something. We could certainly have breakfast on the street with that. Remember this was a town we were not very familiar with so it was with trepidation that we ventured out of Auntie’s house and into the busy street. Thankfully there was no one out to cause mischief and we were left alone. We followed the smell of kosei to a street corner nearby and found a lady frying the delicious bean cakes seated on a stool by the fire over which she was frying. We gave her the N5 and asked for kosei. ‘All of it?’ she asked and we nodded hungrily. She scooped the freshly fried kosei out into the traditional newspaper wrap, sprinkled on a generous helping of the chilli powder that comes with it and handed it to us. We walked a few metres away before we gave in to the hunger in our bellies and we tucked in. After a few mouthfuls, we felt good enough to continue walking and we ate as we walked back to the house. The portion was decent and we gobbled it all up within minutes. Finally satiated, we chucked the paper in the bin and went in to have a quick wash and get dressed.

When my grandad came for us around lunchtime, we were happy again. Still left to our own devices but happy because my sister had fed us. We looked clean and my grandad was none the wiser. Lunch was served with my grandad so of course we got fed. I remember picking at the food because I was still stuffed from our late breakfast and also because I was so disappointed my Auntie had been so mean. But we said nothing. Just very happily jumped back into the car for the 3 hour trip to Kaduna where we knew we would be treated by my aunty Nafisa like princesses. I was not disappointed!

For many years after that, I did not forget or forgive that episode. The daughters I didn’t blame so much because half of them were young like us. But the 2 older girls were certainly old enough to know that young children visiting should at the very least be given a drink and food. Auntie should certainly have known better. I made up my mind that she was no longer my auntie but only my sister knew this for the next decade or so. I found every excuse not to go back there and mostly, I didn’t.

The next time I went was unavoidable. My mama and I were on the way to Kaduna and from there were to catch a flight back to Lagos where I went to boarding school. I wasn’t really given a choice of itinerary because she wanted to say hi to her ‘sister’. I knew anyway that I would be treated well because my mama was there but the hypocrisy grated. I clenched my teeth and said not a word. The visit was ok-ish. It turned out her daughter was getting married and we had been invited but my mother neglected to mention it. I had nothing to wear for any occasion as I was on my way back to boarding school and being a teenager, it mattered to me. Bearing that in mind, the youngest daughter and her cousin/half-sister on night 2 were in the same room as I was but I was lying on the bed, my head buried in a book as I was usually found in those days. They were whispering loudly about the pre-wedding party they were going to the next night and how much fun it was going to be etc. Being close in age to them, I would have expected them to have the courtesy either to invite me or not to talk about it in front of me. They did not have the courtesy to extend an invitation to me. Party night came and they snuck out when it was time despite being chummy with me all day. What sort of a fool did they think I was? The morning after, they were giggling over events at the party but would fall silent if I walked in a room or turned in their general direction. What grated wasn’t that I didn’t go because to be honest, I wasn’t one for parties at that age and I certainly did not have anything to wear. What sucked was their meanness of spirit and being treated like a fool.

Since that visit, I have stayed well away from most of that family. Although I have forgiven them their neglect and meanness, I doubt I will ever forget. That amongst other things are major character flaws I really wish not to be associated with. I have not considered Auntie my aunty for very many years to my mama’s consternation. I have since told my mama about that episode and several other incidents not talked about in this blog. I know she was dismayed and even sad but perhaps a small part of her is hoping that me and my sister’s account of that incident is overly-dramatized as remembered by our young immature brains. Regardless, I sincerely believe that if we had been her actual nieces, she would not have treated us so carelessly when we were so young. And she would not have allowed that mean spirit to rub off on her daughters.

When I think of her, I think of two quotes:

“When someone would mistreat, misinform, misuse, misguide, mishandle, mislead… or any other “mis”… to others, they’re obviously missing something from their lives.”
― Donald L. HicksLook into the stillness

“I know it’s painful growing,
I bet the changes was painful too.
But nothing is as painful as being somewhere you don’t belong.
Obviously.”
― Touaxia Vang

My Big Sis Loves Me

Dedicated to my adda manga (big sister to non-fulfulde speakers) who was there through thick and thin.

 Cue ‘of course she does’, ‘why wouldn’t she? You are so lovable’ and ‘so?’

Well, first of all, as you read my stories you will come to realise that I was a mass of contradiction as a child and not always so lovable. Secondly, it wasn’t always obvious to me that my sister loved me. Because as sisters do, we had our share of fights. More of that in the future. Finally, the so what. The realisation was beautiful and taught me a great life lesson…the people you love and who love you can be mean or make you cry sometimes but that doesn’t mean they don’t love you.

It all happened in the setting of Qur’anic school. I think I was 5 or 6 years old. My sister and I toddled off to Qur’anic school on this fateful Saturday morning, no doubt grumbling about having to wake up early on a Saturday after insisting on staying up because it was the weekend. Every weekend, we conveniently ‘forgot’ and grumbled afresh. My mama turned a deaf ear to all the moaning and off we went, generally the stragglers on the weekends.

The morning started out normal. Our Mallum (Fulfulde word for teacher) must have been called away for something important because she disappeared. We, the children, all continued to practise reading our Qur’anic passages but as the minutes ticked away, we grew restless and wooden slates were propped aside. Soon, none of us was studying anymore and a few even got up and started to play. Being the restless sort, up I popped. I was in a pretty white dress – I wonder why white looking back because I was always up to mischief. I needed the loo so I left the group to go to the back of the house. Traditional toilets in Northern Nigeria tend to be literally named ‘the back of the house or room’ in the many languages. In Hausa, it is called ‘bayan daki’ meaning back of the room. In Fulfulde, it is called ‘gada suudu’ also meaning back of the room.

I did my business into the pit (yes, it was old school) and instead of walking out like you’d expect, I decided to sprint out. Unfortunately, the door to the gada suudu made up of steel sheets stapled to a wooden frame had a bit of twisted ragged steel pointing out and in my haste, I didn’t see it. As I sprinted out, my knee was caught by this steel and it took a small chunk out of me. It didn’t hurt then but I knew it was bad because bright red blood started to stream down my leg. I put a hand over it and ran straight to my sister. She took one look, whipped off her headscarf and tied it around the gash as all the kids excitedly looked on. Without a word to anyone, she swept me onto her back and told me to hang on. Then she ran the 20 minute journey home, across the busy main street in Yola without pause. She didn’t stop until she found my mum and deposited me in her arms.

I remember my whole thinking was transformed. I looked at her worried face and how she ran around the whole day, not letting me move my dressed wounded knee. I was amazed at how she knew exactly what to do when I hadn’t a clue. Amazed by the stamina as she ran with me on her back all the way home. Amazed that she, who would always try to order me around, was running around doing things for me even after my mama took care of the wound and said I would be ok. I looked at my sister and I swear I saw a halo round her. She must be some sort of angel I thought. That is love! My eyes misted at this realisation and it still does today, 23 years later as I recall the day. Every time I look at the scar just above my knee, I think ‘my sister loves me’. And I can forgive her anything because she does.