Ours was an odd family.
On the face of it, we appeared like your typical Nigerian family; mom, dad, four kids. Typical. Except we weren’t. For starters, my parents were the most mismatched couple imaginable. Even as a child, I used to wonder how these two very different people had found their way to each other. Daddy was an Ibadan boy, a Reverend’s son, born and raised in the conservative town. A medical doctor, my father was, and still is, the most easy going, laid back person I have probably ever met. Angered by almost nothing, and optimistic about almost everything…my father finds the good in pretty much everything…and everyone.
My mother, on the other hand, was brought up in the heart of Lagos Island, Campos Street to be precise. Even though her family was poor, bright lights, glitz and glamour were always what she longed for. Street-blocking daily parties were the norm for her neighbourhood, and she told us of how, from her window, she would gaze at the gayly dressed women in these parties, often dripping in gold and jewels, and longed for when that would be her one day. Her parents couldn’t afford to send her to University, so even though she had good grades, after finishing secondary school, she’d had no choice but to become a seamstress, like her mother..and her mother’s mother, and probably even her mother’s mother’s mother. But even with her limited resources, we were told how she always made sure she looked great. She would replicate the fashion she saw on the glamorous women around her, and managed to somehow look the part.
They met in 1972. Daddy was a young doctor, who had just moved to Lagos to take up a job with the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), and had been smitten by the beautiful, caramel skinned 21 year old he had met at a bar, on a rare night out with some of his colleagues. Mom, on the other hand, was swept away by the fact that he was a doctor and saw him as her escape plan from the life she lived. Theirs was a whirlwind romance, and they were married five months after that first meeting. Mom was already pregnant with my oldest sister.
Alas, it didn’t take too long for the grim face of reality to pop its head. Mom realized, to her horror, that dad wasn’t the rich man she thought he was. She realized he hadn’t just been modest when he’d joked about not having much, during their courtship, but had been saying the God-honest truth. As for dad, he realized the only thing angelic about his new bride was the way she looked. As life unfolded for the unlikely pair, dad learned how to grow accustomed to the constant nagging, complaints and lamentation from his young wife. He learned how to smile through it all, regardless of the fact that his young bride saw no good in any of his efforts to make her happy. Nothing was ever good enough. And this only worsened when her younger sister, Titilayo, married a rich fabric merchant from the East. Even though all their relatives were scandalized that my grandparents were giving away their daughter to an Ibo man, when the country was still recovering from a bloody civil war, they, my grandmother especially, chose to see the good in the man…or rather, the cash! And as Titilayo’s husband continued to spend money on her, my mother found herself getting further entrenched in this life she hadn’t planned for.
For starters, my sister, Adun, was born in April 1973, and by August of that same year, Mom was pregnant again. She lost the twin pregnancy that Christmas, but was pregnant again by Easter of 1974. My brother, Niyi, was born in January 1975. By mid year, she was pregnant again, but had a still born birth in February 1976. She conceived again a few months later, and Dolapo, aka Dolly, was born in April 1977. I followed 15 months later, in July 1978.
For an unhappy couple, my parents sure did have a lot of sex!
But as their family grew, mom constantly compared herself with Titilayo, and always found herself on the shorter side of the stick. With her back-to-back pregnancies, she hadn’t been able to work, so they had been dependent on my father’s modest salary. The truth is, they were not paupers and lived a fairly decent life in the hospital’s staff quarters, but it never compared to Titilayo’s mansion in Apapa, or the jet setting lifestyle she had. And as we grew up, and as my father maintained his stance not to engage in any private practice of his own, but instead dedicated himself to the teaching hospital, despite the many months when he went unpaid as a result of delays in salary payments from the Government, my mother’s frustration trebled. Day in, day out, complaints were the order of the day. Sitting at the dining table, huddled round our tiny TV in the living room, in the car on the way to Church, she didn’t care where we were or who was listening, when she would launch into yet another diatribe, lamenting why she had married a man so wicked he couldn’t be bothered about his family’s welfare.
And dad would smile through it all, after which he would pat her thigh and tease her about liking money too much. He would follow her diatribe with a joke or two, which would leave us, the kids, laughing…but mom seething in anger.
That was when I learnt how humor can diffuse pretty much any situation.
It was humor that got us through those terse times. It was daddy’s jokes and stories that entertained us when there was power failure, and the only illumination in our home would be from the small kerosene lantern, perched on our dining table. My dear dad always kept us entertained in those hard times, so much so that we didn’t even notice that we were not as rich as some of the other families in the LUTH staff compound, or our millionaire cousins in Apapa. Somehow, we were happy and content with our lives.
Oh, I’m sorry. Did I say we?
I don’t remember Dolly ever laughing or fooling around with the rest of us. Anytime NEPA struck, whilst the rest of us would be seated around dad, Dolly and mom would be fanning themselves and grumbling about the heat. Even when the weather was nice and cool, there they would be, fanning away…and grumbling.
Yep, of all of us, Dolly was her mother’s daughter through and through!
It was Dolly that brought it to my attention that the Onuoras, who lived next to us, and whose father was a surgeon just like ours, had a better car than we did. To me, my father’s Peugeot 504 was as good as the best of all limousines…but to Dolly, it paled in comparison to the Toyota Selica the Onuoras had. Yep, my mother soon found her partner in lamentation. Dolly was, no doubt, her kindred spirit!
But that wasn’t the only reason Dolly became her favorite child.
You see, Dolly was the only one who got our mother’s unfiltered good looks. Light skinned, and with hair cascading to her back, Dolapo wasn’t just the best looking of all of us kids, she was the best looking pretty much anywhere she went. You couldn’t walk past her, without doing a double take. She was that stunning. As we grew, when our mother wasn’t complaining, she was basking in her daughter’s beauty, taking pride in being the mother of such a flawless being. Soon, Dolly became her only companion for parties and social events…as she was the only one who really looked the part.
Because the rest of us kids…we were a right mess.
Adun and I have always been big boned, so whilst Dolly was all nice and dainty, Adun and I were on the big side. But the beauty of it is that neither of us cared. Adun was too engrossed with her books and me…well, did I mention that I was a tomboy?
My brother, Niyi, was my partner in crime…and anything he did, I did! Despite our 3-year age difference, we were like Siamese twins. Before my mother gave up on me, she would yell herself hoarse, anytime I got up to my antics.
“Eleyi ọmọ yoo ko pa mi! Folabomi!! Don’t you know you are a girl?! You will scar yourself, and nobody will look at you twice!” had been her chorus, as far back as when I was 7 years old. What did a 7 year old girl know, or care, about anyone looking at her anyway?!
Soon the woman got tired of me and left me to my antics, which was just as well. Niyi remained my role model and best friend in the world. Soon, our passion shifted from climbing trees and playing football…to dancing.
Niyi loved to dance…and I soon followed suit. It started with the Breakdance era, and my brother was even nicknamed ‘Ozone’ because of how skilled he was as a breakdancer. I was just 8 years old, and I don’t know if it was from idolizing my brother so much, or if it was an inborn trait, but I was soon noticed as just as good a dancer as Niyi was. Soon, that was all we did, dance! A few years later, by the time I joined Niyi in International School Lagos (ISL), it didn’t matter that we were classes apart, we were renown dancing partners, with a notoriety that spread even outside our school. I remember being in J.S.S.2 and performing the popular dance sequence from the House Party movie, with Niyi, at a party. Everyone had gone crazy about it, and our popularity spread like wildfire. Soon, Niyi left for university, but that didn’t stop me from dancing.
So, even though Dolly was the beautiful one, I was the more popular one.
She was a class ahead of me, and hated being referred to as Fola’s sister. No matter where she went, all she had to was say her surname, and she would get asked if she was my sister. And from the sarcastic way she should relay these events to us, it was clear this didn’t amuse her at all. For some reason, guys looked through my extra flesh, and thick glasses, and were attracted to me, Timberland boots, baggy jeans, and all. It was ironic.
In 1992, our father finally gave in, and accepted a job in Saudi Arabia. It was a dream come true for my mother. It meant she could finally leave the LUTH staff quarters, and live a life of luxury elsewhere. It meant she could finally live the glamorous life she’d always dreamt of…or so she thought. We moved to a small duplex in Alaka estate, Surulere, and even though we had a considerably better life than before, it was nothing as flamboyant as mom had anticipated, and it didn’t take long for the complaints to resume. Lucky for dad, he was in far away Saudi, so it was just us kids that got an earful of her lamentation.
In 1993, Dolly wrote her S.S.C.E and JAMB exams…and failed them both…which meant she had to retake them with me. This strained our already fraught relationship even further. Adun was already in Obafemi Awolowo University, Ife, entering her final year of Chemical Engineering with a 4.7 GPA, and Niyi was studying Medicine at the University of Ibadan, so the pressure was on Dolly to make sure she didn’t fail a second time. Luckily, she didn’t. And neither did I.
We both gained admission to the University of Lagos; Dolly to study Economics, while I was accepted for Computer Science. Even though we hadn’t really been close before, we were excited about starting a new phase of our lives together. Neither of us had ever left home before, so setting off for Akoka, where we would have the opportunity of living our lives fancy free, filled us with so much excitement, it was all we could talk about. We fantasized about how much fun we would have, and couldn’t wait to begin this phase of our lives.
If only we’d known what lay ahead for us…
Sister, Sister is published ever Monday, Wednesday and Friday.