The first time someone called me “Daddy,” who was not my son or daughter, I was taken aback. I must’ve been 37, maybe 40, in-between or somewhere around that. It was on Moleye Street, Alaagomeji, in Lagos. I lived ten years of my life at Alago; old Ebute Meta, Lagos, serene, homely, everyone knew everyone else. There was no hiding place in Alago – Moleye Street, Queen’s Street, Akinwunmi, and Hughes Avenue; it was one big family. There were no fences, no gates, and in some cases no walls – many of the mud brick demarcation walls had aged and fallen, and no high rise buildings, mostly. It was my grandfathers house, just a cottage, really. (Read: Bungalow) We don’t build cottages no more. We like mansions, huge, gargantuan, ugly. But, I wander.
Kid was playing street ball with his friends and hit the ball against me, as I was strolling towards the corner shop on Hughes and on to my favorite supper joint, Iya Peju’s Pepper Soup shop on Queens. Jeez! That was the best fish pepper soup, ever! Hot, spicy, chewy. But you needed to be extremely careful – there were three options of the order: pepper-less, medium and full pepper aka “pepper full!” One evening I overdid it and ordered the “pepper-full.” A few minutes later I was rolling on my stomach at home. I thought I was going to die that night!
I paid for the unfinished plate the next evening, and never ordered another full pepper plate ever! But it was a wonderful menu, and there was always some cooked beans on the side. The joint no longer exists. I wonder where they are now, Iya Peju and her children, Peju, Gbolahan…I forget the other little ladies name, how could I!!! We had a bond of sorts, back then. They must all have their own families now. But again I deviate.
The ball hits me, that very essential mid region. “Ah! Daddy, e pele. E ma binu. Sorry, sir!” Daddy!!! Daddy, ke? Have I aged that much? If I hadn’t been the direct target of the ball, I would’ve thought the runt was referring to someone else. But it was me he was referring to! I was now “Daddy,” not just at home, but also in public. Reality check #1!
I thought about it all evening as I quickly rushed through my fish pepper soup. Medium! I couldn’t get it out of my mind. “Daddy, ke?” Got back home, went straight to the mirror. Where is the gray hair, the wrinkles, the pot belly? For the first time in my life I noticed the slight changes – the slither of gray on my chin, the bags under the eyes, the expanding midriff. “Daddy!” Wahala!!!
We all go through that mid life, “crisis,” I think it’s called; when you realize you have finally moved from youth to adult. No, that’s confusing in places like Nigeria where 45-year old’s are not too old to run and 60-year old’s are youth leaders. Adolescence to middle aged more preferably, perhaps? We struggle through our 40’s, arrive into our 50’s in celebratory mood, then trudge into our 60’s and finally realize that there’s no turning back. This is it; the final furlong. I hear women go through even worse panic moments than men do. I won’t argue that!
Over the years I have come to quietly accept being called, “Daddy,” even from those I barely know. It is tradition and custom, I’m told. It’s still unsettling, and I still shudder sometimes as it still sounds understandably strange from the cosmopolitan mindset in which I grew up; my driver, my co-tenants, almost everyone I’ve met in Ibadan since I half-relocated say it. I’ve stopped arguing; I was never going to win, anyway. Besides, I am not American, where elders are called by their first names, even by toddlers.
But with age comes wisdom, or it should. Regrettably, not always. Some of us have been extremely lucky to have gotten this far and we cherish the moments we have had. The happy days, the trying times, the successes and the struggles. And the times best left unmentioned. There are those we started the journey with who are no longer here. Those who began their journey’s after us who are gone; but there are also those who began the race before us and are still shining their lights ahead of us. We cherish them. They lead; we follow. They are respected. It’s these memories of worthy times gone by, moments of credible initiative, endeavor and aspiration that keep us alive and sane. We have seen all sorts of characters strut our public stages, and we have seen more than enough of them to know those who deserve our respect, and those that are better ignored in the best of our national interests, because we know things, we have seen things, and we remember things. And we do not forget things.
I often go back to the dainty, old Asiribo Cottage at Moleye – Grandpa Kehinde’s house. A lot of old residents from the area still remember me, but everything his changed – the huge iron gates, the 6-foot tall walls, 6-storied buildings all over the neighborhood, known family houses sold, and new tenants who know nothing about the beautiful stories told from generation to generation, street to street, and neighbor to neighbor. There’s a huge new church overshadowing the premises – the three surrounding tenants sold their heritages, we’re still fighting it off. Even families have differing opinions! And all this, amid the blocked sewage and garbage. Nobody cares any more. Nobody knows the stories, of Iya Peju, I. Bombom, Kakadu and Paradiso.
It reminds me of Nigeria, this ‘new’ Nigeria that I find it hard to come to terms with, where impunity, fraud and brigandage are celebrated. And morality and astuteness are openly ridiculed. A new order of thinking has replaced an older order, as it once used to be. It is now more “Me” as against the “We” of not so long ago. And as we speak, as our New Yams are about to be harvested, the Old Goats have been gathering. Suddenly I feel very, very old. But I ain’t going nowhere, yet. Valar Morghulis, yes. But not today! Aaa Tii Kuu.