Iya mi tied her oja like a true Yoruba woman going into battle; if you know nothing about the Yoruba and their women, just know that there’s no storm that’s ever been brewed like that of a Yoruba woman’s. When the head-tie (oja) is taken off the head and used to hold the wrapper, it only means one thing… IT’S ABOUT TO GO DOWN!!! Iya mi might not have gone to school, but this 60s grandma knew that she had rights and she would not allow anyone mess with her family.
It was the 60s in Ibadan, Nigeria. A time when the country was newly independent, and headmasters and teachers had their due respect. The flog was used to bring justice on those who ‘deserved’ to be disgraced. I can’t tell you anymore because I didn’t live it but I am told that the air was cooler and the prices made more sense. It is in this time that the Dada family lived. Somi and Bomi’s mother had gone to the United States to get her Master’s degree, while their father was working at First Bank and taking good care of the family. They went on picnics, took trips to museums, and played in parks. In a nutshell, whatever was fun, they did it! Iya mi, their paternal grandmother, helped take care of them and also spoiled them senseless. Life was smooth sailing for the sister duo, Somi and Bomi.
Somi was two years older than Bomi but the two were an inseparable pair. Somi always took care of Bomi making her eba and ewedu while Bomi was ever faithfully by her sister’s side whenever she was ill to ‘help’ Somi finish her food before the adults came back to check if Somi was eating. Somi also took care of Bomi at school. Although Bomi was very little, her mouth was the sharpest of them all. She never hesitated to use her venomous tongue on Jolomi, the tall lanky ‘Baba Suwe’ skinned boy in her class who she had cheekily nicknamed Baba Dudu because he was ‘as black as charcoal’. Jolomi hated when Bomi made fun of him and would try to beat her when she called him Baba Dudu. Bomi would run to Somi’s class for protection while yelling “Baba dudu ti n bo” (Baba Dudu is coming) and Somi would keep Bomi behind her and wait for Baba Dudu. When Baba Dudu got to Somi’s class, he would be disappointed that he couldn’t get his revenge and walk back to class with his tail behind his legs. This Tom and Jerry duo continued like this till Somi graduated from the school. Unfortunately for the Bomi, she was still stuck with her cheeky attitude and smart mouth. With no protection, Bomi tried to avoid Baba Dudu as much as she could; however, old habits die hard and soon enough, the tiny eight year old would soon have her last duel with Baba Dudu.
It was Thursday and the whole school was looking forward to the fast approaching and blissful weekend. Bomi’s joy was however disrupted by Baba Dudu who she had successfully avoided since school started 2 weeks ago. Before the morning assembly started, everyone usually went to class first to drop their bags. In the time it took to get to school, drop your bag and line up on assembly, you had to make sure that your uniform remained spotless, your socks was as white as snow, your shoes were glistening from being polished the night before and your hair, teeth and nails were clean and tidy. Amazing that even your teeth had to be ‘tidy’, isn’t it? It was like they knew where each tooth had been and if anyone was out of place, ‘o ma je egba ni yen’ or to put it lightly, ‘the flogs’ were coming to get you. While Bomi was putting her bag on her seat, Baba Dudu stepped on her shoes and socks leaving a nasty brown dirt stain on her white socks and a dusty imprint on her perfectly polished shoes. He pretended as if he didn’t know what he had done and went on his jolly old way while Bomi tried to salvage the damage. She used her hands as a wipe for her shoes and dusted off the stain on her socks. As much as she tried, the damage was done. The bell rang and Bomi braced herself for the impending punishment for uncleanliness.
“Cleanliness is next to what …?” the headmaster asked. To which he got an echoed reply from the teachers and students, “godliness”. At that point, all the teachers went through the lines and inspected each boy and girl to make sure they were spic and span. No excuses were tolerated and as Bomi expected, she was pulled out of the line. It was so humiliating! She walked to the front of the assembly and faced the school with the other dirty girls and boys while mentally preparing for her own share of strokes. “Five strokes of the cane each”, the headmaster announced. One by one, each boy and girl got their five strokes with the option of taking it in the butt or the palm. Bomi had strategically made sure that she was the last on the ‘dirty’ line so that the headmaster would have already dissipated most of his energy on the others before he got to her. “Where are you taking it?” the headmaster asked as if he was a doctor asking his patients where they would rather be injected. Bomi stretched out her left hand revealing her small palm; she wasn’t going to take it in the right because she knew that she would have to write notes in class. She also had to protect her bum because she was going to be sitting on her wooden chair during classes. In that moment, Bomi felt like a nervous patient waiting to feel the thin injection poke her skin followed by the rush of the medical fluids making their way into her veins. Kpa! Kpa! Kpa! Kpa! Kpa! , the sound echoed in the silence as each stroke came down on her palm. While enduring the pain of the cane, she could feel the eyes of everyone on the assembly judging her. The probably thought that she was the type of girl that didn’t wash her clothes before she wore them. She wasn’t! She wasn’t a dirty girl! Although she tried her hardest, the combination of the pain from the cane and the humiliation of being thought of as ‘dirty’ got to Bomi; The tears she tried hard to suppress, broke out of the mental dam she had built and started to fall. The fact that she was crying in front of the whole school added to the humiliation which made her cry even more.
The bell rung for break time; Bomi’s anger had been slowly brewing and she was determined to give Baba Dudu a piece of her mind. Immediately the teacher left the class for the staff room, Bomi walked up to Baba Dudu and demanded an apology. “Baba Dudu! You made my shoes and socks dirty this morning! You better say sorry. E wo ori e bi burnt pancake (look at your burnt pancake head)”. With that, Bomi stepped on his shoes and ran. Baba Dudu chased her around with his belt up in the air ready to lash the little pest that had insulted his complexion so many times. Bomi ran as fast as she could but her short legs could not save her from Baba Dudu’s leather belt. He caught up with her and with a swoosh from his boyish strength, his leather belt landed on Bomi’s arm and left its imprint there. Bomi stopped running and examined the swollen imprint on her arm. “Look at what you did!” she screamed; She stormed straight to the teacher with her throbbing arm, determined to get justice.
Immediately Bomi got back home, she ran straight to Iya mi to report what had happened, showing her the evidence of the injustice she had suffered. She made sure to exaggerate the pain that had subsided before she had gotten home. Luckily the swell was still big so her acting looked genuine. Iya mi removed her oja, tied it to her waist and exclaimed, ‘A ma de school e yen l’eni!’ (That school is going to feel our presence today!). Bomi followed behind Iya mi, who was determined to get justice from the highest authority in the school – the headmaster. Iya mi never went to school but she knew her rights. No one dared to mess with her and her grandkids, the world be damned if some bully would scar her baby and not be punished. She entrusted her little bird with the school and they had allowed this to happen; hell hath no fury like Iya mi’s oja.
“E wo nkan to shey si apa owo omo mi! Baba Dudu abi ki lo n pe! …Wo ti so n pe o ti ma n waja e te le. Egbon e lo ma n gba” (look at what they’ve done to my daughter’s arm! Baba Dudu or what’s he called! …They’ve told me that he’s been bugging her for a long time. Her sister was her savior). The headmaster told Iya mi that he would take care of the situation and apologized for the trouble. He assured her that Bomi would be safe.
The next morning, all the students strolled into the lines like they did every day. After the devotion was done, the headmaster announced that there would be no inspection today, instead everyone was instructed to stand at attention while Otunba, the school pianist played the school song. Everyone knew immediately that someone was about to be disgraced and flogged in front of the whole school. The headmaster was very theatrical and insisted on having music playing before he made any important public announcement. When the music finished playing, there was complete silence. You could hear the beating hearts of all the kids that had done something naughty the previous day, as well as their silent prayers to be good if they were not the ones that would be flogged today. “It pains me to hear that in this establishment where we teach you to respect and honor your neighbor, someone here has taken upon themselves to be an oppressor to his fellow student”. As the headmaster took a long pause, you could hear the sighs of relief of the naughty girls on the girls’ lines, as well as the increasing beating hearts of the naughty boys on the boys’ lines. “Jolomi Adekunmi! Step out at once!” Baba Dudu, who was at the back of the line because he was one of the taller boys, made a long walk to the front of the school with his head down.
As Baba Dudu stood facing the rest of the school, the headmaster continued. “If someone offends you, you report! Jolomi here took the law into his own hands and beat his classmate BLACK AND BLUE!” The older students rolled their eyes a little because they knew that the headmaster had a knack for exaggerating stories. “… Jolomi did this all because his classmate who is half his size, called him BABA DUDU”. A wave of laughter broke out among the students followed by a bunch of authoritative shushes from the teachers. After the silence was restored, the headmaster announced that Baba Dudu would be given twenty strokes of the cane by Mr. Makinde, the science teacher notorious for his painful lashings, while four senior boys carried him so that he would be lying flat in the air. The rest of the day would be filled with whispers and gossip about Baba Dudu and Bomi.
Bomi ran out of the car to hug her sister. Iya mi and she had packed up chocolates, biscuits, juice, and Jollof rice with dodo (fried plantains) and fried chicken for Somi’s visiting day at the boarding school. While they all sat at the table to catch up, Bomi told Somi how Baba Dudu had been disgraced on assembly and gloated that he never disturbed her again. Iya mi was happy to see her girls together, safe and happy.
Authors Note: I don’t have a lot of experience writing short stories, but I decided to give this a go. I would really appreciate some feedback. Please don’t just say you liked or hated it. Tell me what you liked and what you didn’t? Was the story easy to follow? What part confused you? etc. Thanks for reading and love the arts!