William Danladi was ten years old the first time Baba punished him. Before then, he had never seen his soft spoken, though stern-faced father get angry. He, on the other hand, a little too spoiled and a little too self-important had raised his left hand and splayed his fingers in a Waka gesture at Mallam Musa the gardener for getting fresh mud on his white sneakers on School Sneaker Day.
Baba never raised his voice. Not when Salome poured hot shayi on his lap because her eyes were glued to Toyin Tomato’s dramatics on Super Story instead of the stool in front of Baba. Not when one of the drivers came home with a nonsensical excuse to explain the bent fender on Baba’s white Range Rover. Not even when Maman was angry and her loud tones seemed to rattle the chandelier in the upstairs sitting room. So of course, Baba didn’t shout at him as they waited for the driver to bring the car. Instead, he said just loud enough for Mallam Musa to hear,
Wawa yaro! Albarkacin kaza kadangare ya sha rowan kasko.
Stupid boy, he understood. The proverb about the lizard drinking water from a chicken’s bowl went over his head, but what he was not expecting were the next words out of Baba’s mouth: Musa, William will join you to cut grass today.
William did not dare contradict Baba, not when he had that look on his face. And anyway, Baba did not change his mind. Not when the car came and Baba told the driver to take William’s school bag into the house. Not when Musa handed William a pair of shears and pointed rather vaguely in the general direction of some shrubs. Not when Maman came out of the house with a confused expression that quickly turned to horror when she saw William’s new sneakers sporting a color closer to brown. Baba just stood there, watching it all. As if he was not the Managing Director of a multinational conglomerate who had just told William to “move fast” because he had a busy morning. William never made it to school that day, but he learned two major life lessons. One, everyone was deserving of respect and two, never ever make Baba angry. Because Istifanus Danladi had a black belt in punishment.
So, as William stood under a mango tree watching Maman and the driver from the car hire service maneuver their way through the multipurpose field because this ridiculous school could not afford a parking lot, he wondered for the umpteenth time what he could have done to deserve this as a punishment.
Trust your Baba, William-kambi na. He won’t lead you astray.
Maman’s parting words. Yet William was convinced that if he looked up the word astray in any self-respecting encyclopedia, he'd find the corroded iron gates of Christ Mercy International High School Ibadan as pictorial representation. International and Ibadan in the same sentence? What a fine joke. A city whose most notable feature was the brown corrugated iron and thatch roofs that unashamedly decorated its skyline like chickenpox on a sick child. International, indeed. Maybe he was being a bit harsh, but who could blame him? After all, he was not here by choice. Who came to Ibadan by choice?
Ibadan is one of the oldest cities in Africa, mai gida. Mallam Musa, the former destroyer of white sneakers and now one of William's closest friends, must have said at least two hundred times since he learned William was leaving for the Southwest.
Maybe that was true, but it didn’t follow that he wanted to live there for the next two years. And that was what he told Mallam Musa the night before his flight to Ibadan when it was clear that no amount of sulkiness would change Baba’s mind. Baba was not known for changing his mind but William had hoped, all August, for a miracle. With that annoying calmness that all the adult men in his life seemed to possess in spades, Mallam Musa slapped his back and replied,
You might not like it, mai gida, but change suits you. Change is growth. Trust, you might even enjoy yourself.
William sighed as he watched yet another Honda Odyssey (was that the only car they had in the Southwest?) make its way onto the field. Returning students, easily identified in their blue and black Resumption Day uniform, peeled out of the van in excitement. He didn't understand it. What was so exciting? Yes, the school was bigger and the surroundings prettier than he expected, but it paled in comparison to the stately beauty and elegance of Peak District Secondary School. Everything he knew was there, and just like School Sneaker Day, Baba unceremoniously yanked it away in between bites of tuwo shinkafa at the dinner table only six weeks ago.
William, they mentioned a school to me in Ibadan that would be good for you to finish your schooling. Christ Mercy. It’s a nice school.
His first thought was since when did Baba listen to anyone but Maman, so he shot an accusing look at Maman who sat across the table that was always set for four even though it was just the three of them now. Maman seemed just as surprised as he was.
Sti, jira, Ibadan ko? Why are we sending him away?
Baba turned to Maman and they proceeded to have a silent conversation that seemed to satisfy Maman. But he was not satisfied. Not when Baba uncharacteristically tried to placate him with a Christmas trip to the French Alps. Not when Maman so transparently invited some youth corpers from Ibadan that were assigned to Baba's company for dinner under the guise of employee bonding. Not when Maman tried to guilt trip him by crying every time he expressed displeasure about the situation. Not even when he heard that Aishatu, the daughter of the Minister of Finance and his painfully-secret longtime crush, was also inexplicably transferring to a school in Lagos that was only 25 minutes away. And definitely not now, surrounded by new people in a new city that was everything he was not. Western, expressive and oh-so-loud.
Wayyo, William Danladi hated change. And Christ Mercy International High School was the worst kind of change. Unexpected and decidedly unwanted.