On the street called Mosajefo in the heart of Mushin where I grew up, fences and gates were simply extra decorations on houses which builders used to get more money from the landlords. There was no need for them. The only real purpose they served was to write the all important warning. ‘This House Is Not For Sale. Beware Of 419.’
From the balcony of your house, you could tell your neighbor in the next house that your child had a boil on his buttocks who would then reply that she had very good shea butter to help alleviate the pain and within seconds, her son would dash out of their wide open gate and come tumbling through your broken down gate to give you the remedy.
When I was born, my father didn’t need to walk to the next house to tell the neighbours. He was shouting the good news at Papa Emmanuel who lived two floors down when Baba Tope in the next house heard and peeked his head out through his window.
“Ehn, is that so? Oko Iyawo Congratulations Oh!” he shouted back.
Iya Ibeji who sold beer down the street heard the exchange as she was passing by that minute and in reply to her “Good morning Oh!” Papa Emmanuel filled her ears and indirectly the ears of half of the residents on the street with the good news.
Seven days later, when I was being named in an elaborate ceremony befitting for my parents’ one-room apartment, several neighbours trooped in and joined in giving me names that I never used. My mother kept the list for several years and showed me when I was a teenager. The hastily scribbled names from every tribe in the country and beyond filled an entire foolscap sheet.
Now I live in an estate in Ikoyi where fences are higher than some houses and gates are opened with the touch of a button. Electric barbed wire has replaced the broken bottles lining the top of fences and sometimes, the only sign of life I hear coming from behind those high fences is the barking of dogs. Instead of clothes spread out on the balconies, there’s a line up of potted plants.
I wonder what skin colour the people in the house beside mine have. At 7a.m, a black Toyota land cruiser drives out. The windows are as black as the body of the car and no matter how hard I try to peek through the windscreen, I see nothing. Then at 8a.m, another car drives out. This one is a sports car, the type that has only two seats and small side windows. The driver always drives out too fast, with a loud screech and it’s impossible to see his face in a flash. I assume he is a man because of the way he drives. He is always last to return, when the sun has hidden its face.
In the house opposite me, at least I know the house maid who works there. She wiggles her hips at my gate man every time she passes by. I know the school the children attend. Their school bus picks them up at 7.30a.m and drops them by 3p.m. But I don’t know their names, and I doubt if I ever will.
I used to see a young pregnant woman taking walks along the street around the same time my belly was just getting round; when the boringness of the street and silence of the house was starting to suffocate me. She had soft, long hair and what I thought was a warm smile. After studying the time she took her morning walks, I joined her, walking from the opposite direction, and when we got near each other, I would give a very eager smile. From the smile, we went on to a wave, and then to “good morning.” I knew the house she came from, the last one down the street with a pent house and a swimming pool up on the terrace.
Her stomach was much bigger than mine and when I didn’t see her for a few days, I thought she had put to bed. I waited two weeks and then walked down to her house with a gift tucked inside a plastic bag, and a smile plastered on my face thinking of the two names I had agreed on: Chinedu if it was a boy and Uchenna if it was a girl.
A voice startled me after my second ring. “Can I help you?”
I looked around, up, down and up again.
“Can I help you, please?” The voice again. It was a female voice but I couldn’t tell whether it was hers or not. She hadn’t said more than the usual “Good morning” to me. Then I saw the intercom by the gate, the device I had seen some visitors use at the front of some houses which my husband refused to buy.
“Yes, ehm, it’s me Gloria. I’m your neighbor from down the street.” At the top of my head, I saw a security camera turn to face me.
“Who do you want to see?”
“Well, I don’t know her name but she is a lady that I think just put to bed.” I was angry at the unsteadiness in my voice.
“Do you have an appointment?”
I was confused. “No.”
“Then I’m sorry I can’t let you in.” And the intercom went off with a determined click.
I walked back home dragging my heavy feet and my big tummy, thinking of the words I had seen on the gate: ‘WARNING! Attack Dogs On Premises. No Trespassing.’
Photo Credit: www.discover-travel-nigeria.com