By Francis Ewherido
was eager to publish this article last Saturday, but I restrained myself so as not to pre-empt the celebration that took place last Monday. Happy 70th birthday once more to the ever young looking Mrs. Joyce Kesiena Tuedor. To the rest of the younger people in the extended family, she is Sister Kes or Aunty Kes. For me, she is, in addition, my Lagos Mummy. We got very close when I moved to Lagos first in 1987 and finally in 1989, I decided not to stay with relatives and get used to the comfort I did not create. I wanted to hustle. But I was close to my Lagos Mummy, Mrs. Tuedor. I went to visit her at her salon often. She was always happy to see me and welcomed me with a broad smile. She did two things for me that are unsurpassed and remain evergreen. In 1989, I had exhausted about N720 that I saved during my youth service in Port Harcourt. My dad had died in 1988 and I was determined not to be a burden to anybody. I was managing myself jeje and restricting my expenditure to food and transportation to hunt for a job basically.
Then I fell ill. I was taking malaria drugs, but no respite. I suspected that I had typhoid fever. I was doing self-medication and I was deteriorating. My friend, Mideno Bayagbon (Now publisher of The Newsguru), I whom was squatting with and I had no money to go to the clinic. My health kept deteriorating. I was staring death in the face. Then like the prodigal son, I came to my senses and remembered I had backbone. “Mijivw’ihwo” (I also have people), I said to myself. I had my Lagos mummy’s salon number, but it was late and she had closed. I also had the phone number of my eldest brother, Fr. Tony, but he was based in Effurun, Bendel State then. I told Bayagbon to call him. My eldest brother reached out to my Lagos mummy. I was taken to the nearest clinic and admitted. I spent about a week in the clinic before I was discharged. The bill was a little over N700. She simply told me that we should go home that the bill had been settled. My mouth and lips were all blistered. She took me to her home, where I spent the next one week recuperating. Once I was strong enough, I went back to Bayagbon’s house.
Going to stay with Bayagbon was not planned ab initio. My initial arrangements failed and I told him my predicament on a Saturday. He said I could come and squat with him. By Monday I moved in with my bag, abi na suitcase self, containing all my earth’s possessions. I was always conscious of the fact that my stay should be as brief as possible because I was intruding on his privacy, not that he complained. Two things unsettled me while living with Bayagbon. We shared toilet, bathroom and kitchen with many other tenants. I had not shared facilities with others before, except with other corpers during NYSC. It was a new experience I could not cope with it. In the morning, tenants would queue to have their bath. I will drop my bucket of water and go into the room to wait. By the time I came out, the last occupant would have left the bathroom and a new occupant would have gone in. Sometimes, I ended up being the last person to have his bath. There was no issue with the toilet because of the strict observance of the rule that you must go into the toilet with your bucket of water and flush after usage. The queue was short and so there was no problem.
The toughest challenge I had was sharing a common kitchen. I just could not cope with it. Eating “mama put” has never been part of my life, so Bayagbon was doing all the cooking until he got pissed off and stopped cooking. I never really understood what was happening until our friend, Joe Erhirhie, came around. He wanted to eat, but there was no food. He queried why there was no food in the house. Bayagbon responded that “all of us na big men, nobody to cook.” I got the message. Cooking was no big deal for me. From 1974 to 1982 and intermittently till 1984, I manned my mother’s kitchen. She was ill for about six years and my elder brothers were in the boarding house.
I started cooking in Bayagbon’s, but it was tough. The married women would come to look at what I was cooking when they smelt the aroma. They were mesmerised by my sequencing in putting the ingredients in the soup or stew while cooking. Unlike the bathroom when I would leave the water and go into the room, I could not leave the food I was cooking. The lack of privacy in the kitchen drove my desire to get an accommodation and move out.
I found a room and parlour and my own kitchen. I had to share toilet and bathroom with others, but my kitchen was mine alone, so I took it. But the two year’s rent and agent’s commission came to N6,000. I had only N2,400. I went to see my Lagos mummy. I told her my predicament. Then she asked me “how much do you have?” I told her and she told me to come back on a certain date. When I got there, N3,600 was waiting for me. That was how I rented my first accommodation in Lagos. I also learnt two lessons. Before you approach people for assistance or to invest in your business, ensure you have your own money/equity to put in. Nobody wants to put money into any venture when you have nothing to contribute and therefore lose. Also do not look down on beginners. Many in our society today are only interested in ready-made people.
Happy birthday and many happy returns, my Lagos mummy. Oyovwi kowe t’aso t‘uvo. Oghene seroren koke koke (prayers). Your journey just started. Ekruro’phori (my maternal quarters in Ewhu, Delta State) women live up to their 90s and beyond. That is my prayer for you. Happy birthday once more. Thank you for always checking on me and my family. Thank you for accepting me for who I am. You never complained about my lousy behaviour in not calling or visiting. You often called and visited us. I love you endlessly.