This is what I was told:
When I was first born, I looked exactly like daddy, this explains why the matron pulled me out of mummy and screamed “Ogbuefi carbon copy”. The resemblance was uncanny, eyes, nose and mouth were all the same, yet there was the devastating difference, that Ogbuefi was male and I was female. Mummy had thought I was going to be a boy too, it’s why she named me Samuel even before I was born. The name didn’t stick, but she held on to the prophesy, that what she was given will be greater than what she had expected.
When I was one, I was scared of plantains, it’s what every one says. I would cry when anyone brought it close and scream “witch” until they took it away. I wonder where I got that from.
Still scared of plantains.
My earliest memory is of when I was three. Much as I try, my mind never seems to rewind past the morning of my third birthday. I remember waking up that morning and, for no reason at all, jumping into the wicker basket mummy had put our clothes in. I’d played hide and seek in there before running outside to whisper through the cracks in the walls to my American friends. There was something about the way they spoke, the kind of games they liked to play, not “tinko tinko”, but “my boyfriend gave me an apple”. They said they had come from an exotic land, over the seas where chocolate was abundant and pale people lived; even at three, I longed to visit such a place. I’d leave later on with my family to Mr Biggs to stuff my self with meat pies, blow out candles and dance to songs, apparently, that day was my birthday.
“Daddy is it true that when I was born I looked so much like you, that the nurse shouted Ogbuefi carton copy! Daddy I’m your carton copy, so for that, you should buy me biscuit and caprisonne” The entire living room burst into a convulsion of laughter and I smiled in mischief, glad that I was funny enough to ellicit that kind of response from grown ups. I got the biscuit and caprisonne but was nick named “carton copy” from that day. The name stuck; 6 years later, I would realise why they all laughed, the word was “carbon copy” not “carton copy”.
Mummy told me a story today. I went to her with a bottle of the “Gentle lily” cream product lying on daddy’s shelf. Did you name me after this?” I asked. ” Yes” she replied . “Come sit let me tell you. This is your daddy’s body cream company, it burnt down and was losing market around the time you were born and your daddy didn’t want to forget his investment so we named you Lilian.”. I jumped off her lap immediately and ran off to the parlor to meet daddy, happy about this new found information, eager to show off to my sisters. “Daddy Daddy, is it true that you named your cream company “Gentle Lily” because when i was a baby I was gentle?” There was no similarity between what mummy had told me and what I had just said, but every one is liable to their own interpretations right? Daddy smiled briefly and nodded his head. “Yes”. I rushed out of the parlor immediately, to break the news to my sisters. Daddy named “Gentle Lily “, after me what was named after them?
I fell sick. The doctor’s said it was malaria and typhoid, quite minor; they assured mummy I would get better, but when I kept throwing up all the medicine that had been prescribed for me, she took me back to the hospital and then, I was admitted. I was there for days, mummy constantly by my side. They gave me a shapeless gown to wear and stuck a thin needle inside me. Drip, they said; it would give my body nutrients since I couldn’t keep anything down. Daddy came that week to visit me with a friend. I can’t remember how our conversation went, but I remember him sitting on the edge of my bed, cracking jokes and making fun of my shapeless dress, his huge frame assuring me of safety. When I became well enough, Mummy asked the nurse to let me go downstairs to buy Caprisonne; it was my reward for getting well so soon. I kept the pack of each drink as soon as I was done, brandishing them proudly to the nurses on duty. “I won’t throw these packs away” I said, “I’ll take them home and show them to my sisters so they know I enjoyed in the hospital”. “What of the drip, would you take that with you as well?” the nurse laughed as she replied.
Daddy, fell. I remember that day vividly like it was yesterday. We were all in the parlor, gisting and having family time when suddenly, he fell to the foot of the sofa. “What’s wrong with daddy?” I screamed. “He just fixing the head rest” my aunt replied. But it shouldn’t take that long to fix a head rest; before any one knew what was happening, mummy had rushed him to the hospital.The hospital diagnosed it as stroke and put him on physical therapy until he was able to regain full control of his movement and coordination. In light of these events, I had to commute to and from school with a family friend. One evening, after playing “ten-ten” with my neighbor , we decided to hatch a plan. I would ditch riding with my family friend and she would come pick me instead. The plan seemed to be going exactly as concorted as me and Nkachi walked the streets of Isolo until I saw daddy’s car approaching from a distance. He was probably on the way to the hospital for another of his therapy sessions. I ducked behind a sign post immediately, praying that neither he nor mummy had seen me, then heaved a sigh of relief when the car sped past. My relief was short lived, I knew I was in trouble when they came back home and summoned me. How stupid was I to think the sign post was enough cover. “I wasn’t doing anything wrong, its just Nkachi” I said. “Then why did you have to hide?” responded daddy. “It’s not what you did wrong , its your guilt”. Luckily for me, there was no flogging that day, but two weeks later I would be infected on my head with ringworm that resulted in mummy shaving off all my hair. I guess no crime ever goes unpunished.
The people at church call me “my mama handbag” they say its because I follow my mummy everywhere. I don’t flinch when they say this. I’m the last born and she’s my mummy; better follow her to church and weddings than sleep at home. I know she’s proud of me when I say this. Even prouder when I decide to organize my own Bible club. All the kids on the streets are invited and mummy is our supervisor. For lunch I’ll serve biscuit and garri cake before praying and walking them back home.
I’m in primary 4 now so I have to take the trial test real soon in order to skip primary 5 and go straight to primary 6. The pressure is on me to do well, because both my sisters passed the exam. Unfortunately, I don’t. Daddy says it’s because I watch too much TV, mummy thinks it’s because I play too much. It doesn’t matter that I’m the top student in the Primary 5 class, my sisters say I’m the first among the olodo’s . I can’t be proving smartness among the people who failed the trial test, why didn’t I pass it and go show my skills in primary 6.
It has always been in my habit to celebrate birthdays, nothing elaborate, just a small get together in the living room with friends and family. I’d usually make a list of what I wanted; rice, mineral, biscuit and sweet then, put it on daddy’s shelf two weeks before the D-day, just so he was fully aware. On my 9th birthday, I concluded that my parents were by now, fully aware of this system, so I gave no prior notice before I went ahead to invite my friends to the brthday party. Imagine my surprise when they started trooping in and neither rice nor mineral was any where to be found. I stormed into my daddy’s room with tears demanding an explanation. “So you invited your friends to a party without telling any one” he said to me”. “Don’t try that again” he added, as he handed mummy some money to put an impromptu party together. The tears stopped that instant and was replaced with a smile of victory. Later that evening, my friends and I would eat rice, drink Fanta and wiggle our waists to Panam Percy Paul
Every morning, on Saturday, after doing the minor housework that had been assigned to me, I would sit glued in front of the TV ready to watch KKB show. The luxurious lives of these kids fascinated me, as well as the unique skills that was constantly featured on “The Young Talent Show”. One day, after watching the show, I looked up to mummy and told her I wanted to be on “Young Talent”. We looked up their information and contacted the office; the next week we were invited to meet with the CEO. Mr Doyin Akinlade had a lot to say to mummy on how to help me hone my talent “Your daughter is an amazing writer” he said, “I know a few publishing houses that will be thrilled to read her manuscript”. That weekend, the filming crew came to the house, interviewed me and had me read some of my poems. Of course NEPA had to take the light, forcing us to borrow a power generating machine from our next door neighbors. When my episode finally aired, I never got to watch it. Yes NEPA took the light again. But i heard stories, got stares and was continuously stopped on the road to questions of “Are you the girl that was on KKB Young Talent?” That was my first taste of achievement and the beginning of my insatiable thirst for it. From that day on, I was going to aspire to achieve phenomenal dreams.
When I decided that I was going to attend a boarding school for my secondary education, it was provisions and pocket money that did the trick. At the time, I had two elder sisters, both attending FGGC Sagamu. During the midterm break, when they came home for the weekend, i’d tag along with them as they went to purchase their provisions from Isolo market. I remember being utterly fascinated at how big their “baba sala” tin of Peak milk was, how many packs of Cabin biscuits they had to fit into their bag. The sense of ownership involved was enthralling and as I watched them count the mint Naira notes daddy had given them to take back to school I longed for my turn, when I could, finally,own my own provisions and count my own money. When the time came for me to join my sisters at FGGC, the federal government cancelled entrance exams into Federal schools. I was however determined, that nothing was going to come in between me and the ownership of provisions. I decided to attend Lagos State Model College Kankon instead. In my head, being in a different school from my sisters was not too much price to pay for provisions and pocket money. In mummy’s head, God had a reason for cancelling FGGC entrance exams that year.That night As I lay on my bed, amidst the noise of a thousand strangers, away from my mummy, daddy and my sisters, I cried. I didn’t want the provisions any more, I wanted to go back home.
I don’t like to wear clothes around the house. They say I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. In fact, on days when I’m naughty, they’d threaten to leak my 3 year old naked pictures to the public. It’s a group picture but of course I’m the only one with a shirt no pants, no under wear. I’ve gone ahead to tear all those pictures but mummy still has one locked up in her box, for times when drastic measures might be needed. I’m sitting down in front of the TV in my underwear when daddy comes in. “Fela!” he says to me, “Won’t you go put on some clothes”. Aside “Carton copy”, “Fela” is another nick name that stuck because, apparently, like the legendary musician, I don’t like to wear clothes. I remain glued to the television without moving. “Go put on your clothes osiso, you think you’re still a baby, very soon you’ll start growing breasts!”
Mummy has a special name she calls me; growing up, it used to be “Lily baby” but as I shed the skin of childhood and began to soar into teen age “London” became a more appropriate replacement for baby. The day it all started, I had, crawled onto mummy’s lap, stroked her face as i said, “Mummy, when I grow up, I’ll take you to London”. It may have just been an outburst of teenage aspirations but it stuck, as did the name as well. It became mummy’s personal prophesy.”Speak it and it shall manifest!” she’d say. In the nearest future, she’d give me a different name Lily obodo oyibo, Lily America, Lily world wide. Since we were speaking things into manifestation, best not to limit her child to just London.
I come back from church today and see daddy sitting in front of the house. He has a news paper streched out on his lap. “Daddy the dodo” I say, ” Lily baby ” he replies and smiles. “Daddy chop knuckle”. He balls his hands into a fist, meets mine midway then withdraws in slow motion. “Daddy fly” I say. He stretches out his hands and flaps them like they are wings. “No, not like that , when I say fly you dust your shoulders”. He chuckles lightly, then speaks. “Go cook Indomie for both of us, your mummy and your sisters can eat rice” As I enter into the house, I wonder how many times I have to teach daddy before he stops flapping his wings for fly. But that’s our thing, me and “daddy the dodo” are cool like that.
I have a lot of friends, most of which are guys. They are generally funny and easy to talk to and I’m a fan of laughter but, they think am weird. They don’t understand why I’ve refused to date anyone in the school. I’m a prude, is what they say, but a fun type of prude. I laugh even more when they say this. I don’t see the point in high school dating. The relationship is going to end once we leave the school gate any way so what’s the point? I tell them I’ll wait till I’m 18 by then, I should be able to tell my left from my right. I can tell that they don’t understand , but they still go ahead to ask if I like any one. Well, there’s that boy in church whom I’ve had a crush on since forever but that’s not important.
Spell “Pallympbacchius” “P-A-L-L-Y-M-P-B-A-C-C-I-U-S pallympbaccius” I say as I hold my breath. ” We have a winner, Ms Lilian Ogbuefi is our 2012 Spelling Bee champion”, the quiz master announces. A drop of tear rolls down my eyes. Earlier this morning I had called mummy to inform her that today was the D-day. She had prayed for me as she does before I participate in any competition but, the pressure was enough to instill fear in me. It wasn’t the fact that I was competing against the 52 champions from all Lagos state districts, nor the fact that no one from our District V had ever won this competition. It wasn’t the fact that this mattered more to my school than any competition I had ever won for them, nor the fact that the Spelling Bee was the biggest competition in the state. It was the people I, so desperately, wanted to make proud. Mummy, Daddy, my sisters. It was the smile I would see on their faces when I ultimately gave them the good news. I sat on the seat sobbing despite the blinding flashes from paparazzi. “Is she crying tears of joy?” One of them asked. “It has to be” the other replied. Ha!!! I won!!
One of the perks of winning the Spelling Bee is that you get to be the governor of the state for one day. So on the 25th of June 2012, I woke up to a convoy and a bevy of security guards outside my hotel. As they escorted me to the car to undertake the duties planned for the day, I thought back to mummy’s statement 5 years ago on my first day of high school. “God knows why he cancelled FGGC entrance exams this year” Apparently, she was right.
The first time I went on plane was when I went to Abuja to get my Finnish visa, two weeks later i would embark on a journey to Finland, then, journey by sea to Sweden for an educational exchange trip as a result of my winning the Spelling Bee. My experience there was surreal but even more was the letter I received when I got back. M.E.T had heard of me on the news, and decided I would come join their “Best and Brightest” program to train for the SAT’s free of charge. If I did well, I could get a scholarship to the US. Daddy smiled, my sisters jumped for joy but mummy was thrilled. On our way to the office that day, she turned to me and whispered. “Speak it and it shall manifest, you now see why I call you Lily world wide?”
The plane landed at JFK very early in the morning and as I walked along with others to the check out line, I was exhilarated to see singing duo P-Square in front of me, but that was where the familiarity ended. I was in New York, my home was Nigeria, my school was in Tennessee. “When you get to New York, just take a bus to Tennessee” the administrator had told me back home and it sounded so easy then. But, I was here now and it all was unarguably so different. I had the money but I also had a lot of luggage and no working cell service. What was I going to do?
God sent a helper, a Nigerian woman that had sat beside me on the plane put me on a bus that took me right to the Greyhound station. It wasn’t the best experience. I missed the first bus and had to wait 6 hours for the next one. When it finally came , I rode 22 hours from New York to Tennessee. Never again Lilian, never again.
Aunt Helen gave me ogbono soup to take back with me to school. It’s been a year of eating junk and she sees how fast I wolf down her egusi when I come home for the holiday so she’s packaged 3 plates for me to go to school with. I decide i’m going to eat one plate this evening after all, there isn’t anything reasonable in the cafe. Unfortunately, the girls living down the hall won’t let me be great. As I start warming up the food, they run down the halls screaming and spraying air freshener. “What the heck is that smell, that’s nasty”. One of them has the decency to come down to my room and ask what it is. I tell her its cow meat but she goes back to tell them I’m eating owl. They start screaming and cursing down the halls again but stop suddenly when I come out. I mean, I know okporoko can be tough to deal with, but was the use of Febreeze really that necessary?
Boarding school trained me to be independent, schooling in America forced me to be. It’s been three years since I left home, but I’m looking forward to seeing my family really soon. I have dreams and plans and every day when I wake up I pray that they live long enough so in a few years I can say to them “Go retire, let me take care of you”.
Daddy died. A few weeks after I had told him I was coming home, a week after I had told him “Happy Fathers day”, a few hours after he had promised to call me the next day. They say what happened was a brief illness and the carelessness of the doctors on duty. I’m not sure what to do with this info, and mummy won’t let me sue. “Leave vengeance to God” she says. But how can I do that? If someone had taken their job a little seriously, I’d still have my daddy. I have so many questions, What would become of my plans? What I wanted to do for him, with him? Where exactly is he? Why did this have to happen to me. How could I have prevented this? When we spoke why didn’t he say something was wrong? People try to console me, they say God knows best and he’s in a better place but that only makes me angrier. Didn’t God know that I didn’t want this? How do they know he’s in a better place? Have they been there? Their words fall off my skin like dust. It’s been three years since I last saw him and i didn’t get to say good bye. I’m angry and jealous at the same time of those who have dads and those with dads who try to console me. They have no idea how this feels so they can only try. At night as I go to bed, I pray that he comes to me one last time. I just want to say good bye, to remind him that I love him so much. I just want my daddy.
For as long as I can remember, the routine on my birthday has remained the same.
- Stay up until midnight.
- Scream “it’s my birthday oooo” immediately the clock strikes 12:01.
- Laugh as my family scolds me mildly for waking them up.
- Go back to sleep.
- Receive special birthday prayers from mummy at day break.
- Receive gifts from my sisters.
- Go to daddy to get money to buy the things on my list.
- Wait till noon when my friends will come for the house party.
- Eat and dance with them until its time to go home.
This year, everything remains the same except for daddy, there’s no daddy. In the few weeks following his death, I’ve struggled with acceptance, but have finally come to find peace, painful as it is. Finally come to know he actually made heaven and accept without doubt that he’s really in a better place. For the longest time I had always thought my family immune to death and diseases but daddy’s passing cleared the scales from my eyes and gave me a new outlook on life, to love unconditionally, to strive relentlessly and to follow God steadfastly because there is neither a guarantee to the time one has for one’s self, with family, with friends nor an assurance of everlasting life on earth.
When mummy said God had a reason for cancelling FGGC entrance exams that year, I had laughed hysterically, but looking back now, I realise how every event had been strategically placed to lead me towards the fulfillment of my destiny. In primary four when failed the trial test, I wanted so desperate to change schools and skip primary 5 but mummy maintained that there was a reason for everything. The FGGC entrance exams were only cancelled for one year, the year I was supposed to take it. I remember blaming mummy. If only she had let me skip primary 5. I would have caught up with the exams and gone to a Federal school rather than Kankon. To stop me from whining she promised me a transfer when I got to Jss3 but when the time came her conviction wouldn’t let her do it so, I remained in Kankon. I remember being angry, upset, but the truth remains if I had skipped primary 5, or if I had transferred schools I would have gone to FGGC rather than Kankon. I would never have been an academic competitor, never have won the Spelling Bee, never had taken the S.A.T’s never have gotten a scholarship to study, never have been where I am now. I was never able to see the silver lining underneath the cloud, but mummy did and today, I am the better for it.
Today, I’m grateful for 21, for the love of family and friends and for a clear path moving forward. Whatever my choices are henceforth, there’s the undeniable doubt that it would involve God and a hastiness in the pursuit of dreams. At the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to get to a point where God, Daddy, Mummy and my two sisters can look at me and say, with hearts bursting with pride, “Well done”. So, here’s to growth, aspirations, pursuit and overcoming challenges but more importantly, here’s to 21.
This post is dedicated to the memory of my dear father Lawrence Nweke Ogbuefi (Aku ne kwu 1 of Nibo Land, any other one is counterfeit ) , (Carton Copy), (Daddy the Dodo) (Chop knuckle buddy) .
PS: If you made it here, thank you for reading this extremely long ass post. Please leave comments, I love reading and responding to them. If there’s any story you want me to expand on, let me know as well and I’d do a separate post on it.