4, Onile Aro street, Ojoo brings sweet childhood memories to mind. I spent the formative part of my life on this street. Growing up with our neighbour’s (the Alimesuyas) children – Harry and Gerald was pretty fun. Although our parents ensured a level of restraint over our childish abundance, we ensured we-the children- ensured that we didn’t miss out on the pleasures of childhood. From rolling old and dumped tyres together, playing hide and seek, re-enacting the James Bond episodes, planting random crops in a corner of our compound and doing mischievous things that kids of our age are known for.
You see, Harry and Gerald are brothers – Harry being the eldest. Harry and I were age mates but I happened to be the most daring. You may not have believed that if you had seen us at that point in time. Physically, you’ll think Harry was the boss – taller and more muscular than I was and all. But the last time I checked, it has never been about the physique. It always boils down to what the individual is made of.
Life outside the confines of our compound was fun too. Thank God for children! Unlike the average adult, they relate with one another without any reservation. So we blended easily with other children on the street and almost didn’t have anything or anyone to give us tough times – except for Chinedu!
In every Israelite camp, there is always a Goliath who is known to bully the people from time to time. Chinedu was our Goliath.
Now that I think of it, I can’t figure out what we did to him to deserve the treatments he melted out to us but one thing is as clear as crystal – he was our worst nightmare back then and the reason why working freely on the street of Onile Aro was not always an interesting experience. Chinedu was from a family of devout Catholics. However, as an individual, he was a devout sadist. His family do host evening mass in their compound every day and my friend Harry, being a Catholic, would always go for mass in his compound. The truth is he always went with a sense of awe that had nothing to do with God.
Chinedu was short of any outward comeliness. The poor outlook must have been a reflection of the state of his heart. However, since there is no room for vacuum, in the absence of admirable physical contents, he was blessed with an unnerving outlook. He was shorter than Harry and I. The shape of his head looked like a piece of wood carving done in haste. What more, he had a bad dentition and one of his front tooth stuck out – one bite from that machine and the life of the victim never remains the same. By the way, he had this protruding belly that made it look like he had just consumed a mortar-worth of apku every blessed minute. And yea, he was bow-legged. All in all,Chinedu should never have been the least of our troubles. However, somehow, he managed to inspire fear in us. I guess he just considered us a worthy prey and we always proved him right.
Anyway, our real struggle with him never starts until in the evening. Well, he couldn’t do much bullying in broad daylight and under the prying eyes of the third-parties. African parents can send their children on endless errands – especially sweet mothers. Sometimes, one of us would be sent to get a box of matches, bread onibeji (twin/double-shaped breads), a sachet of cowbell milk, a measure of granulated sugar and other miscellaneous items. During these series of errands, we always went in each other’s company – all for the fear of Chinedu. You see, no matter where we had to go, we had to pass by his compound. I don’t know how it happens but there is hardly a time we pass by that he doesn’t accost us. I think the devil in him just heralds our passage. Even on days when we couldn’t see him anywhere around and felt we narrowly missed him, he just happens to surface out of thin air. Whenever he shows up like that, he begins his taunting spree.
You two no sabi fight shey? I no go gree you pass if you no go fight with me.
He would accompany the verbal threats with mild physical assaults – hitting us on the chest or shoving us. We would then begin to appeal to his seared sense of reasoning in our Brighter Grammar English
Chinedu, please we don’t want a fight. Just leave us alone to run our errands in peace.
As expected, our pleas usually fall on his deaf ears. Truth is the boy was hopeless from the neck region of his body upwards. Anyway, at some point in the squabble, we would manage to outsmart him and take to our heels.
The daily confrontations with Chinedu went on for a long time until one fine evening. On that day, I had resolved I had enough of his nonsense. I had conflicting thoughts going through my 8-year-old mind. Why should this idiot keep threatening you, a part of me asked. You never offended him to deserve his trouble in the first place. Unless you do something about his unruly attitude, he is going to get more aggressive with you. Tonight is when you confront him! The other part of me was however less confrontational. In fact, it was bent on restraining me. I hope you know the weight of what you are considering, it counselled. He is surely going to beat you into a pulp. I managed to silence that particular voice and decided to bring my friend and partner-in-misery Harry into the plan.
Harry, I began. Look, I think I’ve had enough of Chinedu’s bullying. We should go and challenge him – fight him once and for all tonight. Harry must have stood alarmed – standing in front of me like a carved nkwu. He looked as though he just woke from a bad dream.
Are you out of your mind, he finally retorted. You want us to go and fight Chinedu. Don’t you know what he’ll do to us? Best we let him be and do all we can to avoid him…
He would have continued his defeatist monologue had I not cut him short. Don’t be a sissy, I fired back at him. You are only saying this because you are scared to confront him. If you won’t follow me to his place, I’ll go on my own but be sure I’ll be the only one to gain his freedom tonight.
My tough stance must have driven a little sense and courage into him. Or perhaps the thought of being the only one to deal with Chinedu did the trick. Anyhow, he agreed to accompany me although I could still sense his lack of confidence and tentative demeanour. He tagged along while I led the battle to Chinedu’s compound. Seeing me at that moment, you would have thought I had no iota of doubt and fear in me. In the contrary, with every step that led us to the Chinedu’s, I felt like I was making the mistake of my life. Something in me kept saying hope you won’t regret your foolhardiness.
I had however gotten to a point where I refused to give in to my fears. A strange feeling of tempered rage took over me. For all I cared, it was today or never. I had resolved to face my fear no matter what the outcome may be. For the first time in my timid life, I wasn’t walking to avoid the bully but instead to confront him purposefully.
We finally arrived in front of his compound. And sure enough, he was readily available. He must have thought that we were on our usual errand routine and hence another opportunity to bully us. What he did not know was that it wasn’t business as usual for him. I walked straight up to him – Harry kept a safe distance at the rear. Sharp dude. His plan must have been to have a sure way of escape should things go south. But like I was saying, I walked straight up to him. As my move was highly unusual, he must have sensed that something was wrong somewhere. Normally, we always tried to walk our way around him. My facial expression and body language must have confirmed his thoughts because I had a steely and determined look about me – the type that says I’m ready for you today.
When I was just a couple of yards from him, I stopped in my track, looked him straight in the eye and blurted out Look Chinedu, we won’t take any bullying from you henceforth. Today is when our troubles with you end. My freedom declaration caught him unawares – he never saw it coming. Who would blame him if he didn’t? After all, his bullying had never gone challenged. The poor guy just stood there like an iroko tree, looking lost and confused like a thief caught in the act. His jittery demeanour gave me more reassurance and built up my level of confidence.
It took him a while to recover from the initial shock and for the import of my outburst to settle in his thick skull. He finally found his voice. You won fight me, he screamed as he shoved me. Yes, I’ll fight you and beat you up, I responded without mincing words as I shoved him back more roughly than he did. The die was cast already and a fight ensued. The good news is I had already defeated him before the fight began.
Here is the thing, I had never engaged anyone in a real fight before then neither have I ever set the stage for one. But on this day, I fought like a maniac. I was fighting for my freedom and I was going to fight to finish. Meanwhile, all the while Chinedu and I were duelling, my good friend Harry just stood there awe-struck – not believing what he was seeing. He had never taught that his easy-going friend could imagine starting a fight let alone actually fight.
I was like Achebe’s Okonkwo. My duelling partner Chinedu could be likened to Amalinze the Cat – the man whose back had never touched the earth. However, just like Okonkwo, in a matter of seconds, I had thrown my catty partner and had his back kiss the earth. That was the last time he ever challenged me (and by extension Harry). Actually, henceforth, anytime he sighted us from afar, he did well to avoid us.
I faced, fought and overcame my fear Chinedu!