Category Archives: Experiences

A TALE OF 2 ATUNBIs

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I had just taken my truancy a notch higher. This latest act sealed my fate as a budding outlaw. Big Cousin had instructed me to torch the school building. Apparently, it reminded him of his failings. I started from the chemistry lab; setting fire to a jar of unknown chemicals. The commotion thereafter pumped my adrenaline into overdrive. The guards were on my tail but their motivation was no match for mine and I left them in the dust.

Within minutes, I was done with it. I felt a sense of accomplishment as I dusted off my shoulder. Big Cousin would be proud of me. Outside the burning building, I heard approaching footsteps- non-aggressive ones. Turning, her red lipstick was the first feature I noticed. Then, her white pleated shirt which accentuated her chest region became clearer. She was petite and fair complexioned. I’d never seen her before. She talked first- wanting to know why I had committed this arson. She said she worked in a media house in one of the office spaces in the school building. A slight feeling of remorse dawned on me, but not enough to douse the adrenaline still in effect.

“I’m Funmi… Funmi Atunbi”, she said, introducing herself.

“You’ll have to find out yourself”, I quipped, before leaving her there.

The brevity nevertheless, our meeting was a sort of balm I needed. We met days later at an enclosed market, like Watts. Sobriety had kicked in now. She sneaked up behind me and with a grin, inquired to know me more. She believed I was a diamond in dirt. Joined by an old friend, we headed to a school down the road, willing to become an atunbi. I warned Funmi of the risk of being seen with an arsonist. I wouldn’t hold it upon her if she doesn’t want to go but she insisted on going.

With a reputation like mine nonetheless, I made a positive impression on the proprietress. An old guard sighted me and tried to make a serious case before the owner not to admit me. No, I won’t let this pass. I returned to defend myself like Jessica’s defence of Leonard Bailey. I would totally understand if she doesn’t admit me though. I’ll just keep on searching.

The woman sighed and reached a verdict.

“Hakeem …Hakeem, it’s time for Zuhr.”, I woke from my siesta to hear.

 

“Dreams feel real when we’re in them; it’s only when we wake up that we realise something was actually strange”

-Leo DiCaprio, Inception.

Image: Source

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April 4th, 2008

I had even forgotten about it- momentarily though. But the belated message, despite being cryptic, twitched my memory.

Nothing seemed out of the routine. The camry V20 had seen better days but it still delivered satisfactorily. Engaged with my phone in the passenger seat, nothing I d me for what was to follow. My heart nearly 4e my cyhest. My life literally flashedj before me.

Ehen! So this ees how e use tu happen!

It was a rainy Friday afternoon. There were 4 occupants in the car, including the driver. Descending the slope, just before the statue of the Three Wise Men of Lagos, the road wet, all was set for it to happen. Just like that, we collided with another vehicle, got pushed forward but restrained by the seat belt, momentum made me hit head on the glass, car swerved to hit the culvert and bounced back to the main road. Apparently, the steering wheel had lost connection with whatever it was supposed to connect with. Brake seemed not to work at that moment too. The exclamation of yee! yee!! from the driver did little to assuage the situation.

Me: So this is how I end?! 

All within less than 10 seconds. We drove for about another kilometre before pulling over at a fuel station to access the damage. Rain wasn’t going to stop anytime soon.

Day wasn’t over yet, the bridge had gotten flooded to the extent of vehicles wading through it like a regatta. A journey of less than 7 minutes took close to 4 hours to complete. Many stopped working when the floodwater invaded their engine. Survival of the fittest couldn’t have been more apt. Well, the good old camry waded through like a veteran, while revving like a roaring lion.

Got home to the warmth of my bed before shutting my eyes after an eventful day.

The Pilgrim at the Airport 

Her complexion & her disposition weren’t like the rest. She seemed different. She didn’t have the air others had- no family members accompanied her- or maybe I didn’t look hard enough.

Dad didn’t want me to be in the team, but he got convinced otherwise. It was November, 2008 and time for the pilgrimage to Mecca. After hours of waiting idly, it became apparent that prospective pilgrims weren’t getting airlifted that day. Or the next.

It was getting dark and the thought of where to pass the night crept in. Certainly not on the curbs of MMIA. Hotels were out of it because Hujaj- as pilgrims are called in Islam- are enjoined to stay together. Eventually, the airport mosque,  about 70 metres from the terminal, turned to our sanctuary for the next few days. That’s where I met her! 

Just about 5 metres from us, she lounged. She must have been in her 3rd trimester. With hundreds of Hujaj cohabiting, waiting for the announcement, it was easy to get apprehensive and bored- even for well wishers who came to see them off. I would stroll near the airport terminal to watch planes take off and land and sometimes, read the book, Hajj Mabrur to fend off the ennui. That was when she asked if she could read that book whenever I was done!

My life had mainly been triangular, but had been linear for the previous few months. I saw the same faces and had the same good discussions everyday. What I lacked in physical activities, I made up for in mental exuberance. Giving her that book sparked up a conversation. Having just finished secondary school, it wasn’t everytime that I met new people. I guess being a twin endeared me to her. She would rather call me Taiwo- only Mum calls me that! 

There was a feeling of trust. Maybe it was from the concept of tabula rasa– the immunity that being a stranger confers. There are only a few who’ve had such effect on me. I felt comfortable discussing with her. Felt like I could divulge some of my thoughts about anything to her- empty my mind in her front.

Then on that afternoon on Thursday, about 5 days after living in MMIA, the aircraft was ready to leave for Saudi Arabia, with the Hujajs onboard. The chaos- for me, ambivalence- that followed the announcement can only be imagined. Hundreds of pilgrims and an ocean of well wishers besieged the terminal, with a corresponding number of luggage. In the midst of this, she saw me and bade me farewell. 

‘Take care of yourself, Taiwo!’

The next few hours, while waiting to be driven home, can be summarised in one word- saudade.

Her name was ‘Tanwa.

Image: source

His Name is Omran Daqneesh.

Even though he was surrounded by the bright orange colour, it was a heart-wrenching sight. He should never have been in the vehicle. He didn’t utter a word, not even a whimper. He looked on, dazed. Those eyes tell a story of despair, of helplessness, of hopelessness, of trauma, of war.  When he looked down, like one shy, I lost it- tears streamed down my face. Legs outstretched, in the midst of the chaos around him, he touched his dusty bloodied face. No, it wasn’t because of an accident in school or during a visit to the mall. Minutes earlier, his home had come under a military airstrike.

What did he do to deserve this?

His name is Omran Daqneesh, a 5 year old boy in Aleppo, Syria. While his mates in other parts of the world wake up to the caring touch and sonorous voice of their parents, urging them to prepare for school, Omran wakes up to the horror of blood, rubbles, gunfire, ear-piercing noise, death. While his mates openly play on the park and complain about the taste of the berry, Omran plays in the midst of rubbles, with the sound of gunfire in the background. His innocence, blemished. No, he did not choose this life. He just found himself thrust into it.
But Omran is lucky. There are several thousands of children, his age or even lower, whose lives have been tragically cut short in the Syrian War. Sadly, Omran won’t be the last victim of this war. His 10 year old elder brother died from injuries sustained in the airstrike. Watching Omran sitting helpless in the ambulance, I genuinely wished I could hug and assure him everything would be alright.
Lonely and war-weary in the back of an ambulance, Omran stares helplessly at the world and the world stares back, leaving him at the mercy of the next airstrike.
See the video of his rescue here