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Customs and Habits

I get off the bed. Look through the window – no traffic. Strange. I look at the bedside clock. The long hand’s moving towards 12 while the small one is on 7. No traffic on a working day! It can’t be possible.

I then put on the transistor radio. It’s almost time for the news analysis which comes on at 7a.m. I go to the kitchen, make myself a cup of tea. Take the teacup back to the bedroom and position myself on the bed, the radio beside me. IK Dairo’s song, ‘Angelina’ comes on, I move to it. Then Orlando Owoh’s ‘Ę şe réré’ is played. The story in the song always fascinates me. It usually sends me into a trance.

Suddenly I get my senses back. No news analysis today?

I glance at the clock again. The time is 10 minutes after seven. This is very unusual. They’re never this late. Let me go on Twitter to complain and demand an apology. As I press the ‘tweet’ button, I realise it’s Saturday.

Which brings me to the story of a gentleman who had just lost his wife. There in the study he sat waiting for his usual cup of coffee. No other person but his wife made him the early morning cup of coffee. She would bring it to him in the study while he was going through the morning papers. He sat there waiting for the matinal cuppa. There one of the children found him.

– It’s taking your mother too long to make my coffee.

– I’ll make it for you Papa. Just like Mama used to.

And there’s an elderly friend of mine who said that once while she was out of the country, she dressed to go out. She stood on the doorstep waiting for her driver to bring up the car. She suddenly realised that she wasn’t in her usual habitat. Our minds, our habits!

May we never see those ‘wetie’ days anymore in this nation – days of political turbulence when some politicians’ houses were doused in petrol and torched. A widow relative came from Akure to live with us during that period. She had with her a toddler whom we young ones nicknamed ‘Handbag’ for wherever the mother went there or not far away he was.

Their house in Akure was besieged by thugs. Their landlord belonged to the opposition party, the Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) – ‘Demo’. The ruling party in the then Western Region of Nigeria was the Action Group of Obafemi Awolowo from which ‘Demo’ of Samuel Ladoke Akintola broke away. That fateful morning she was at home with the child when the kerfuffle began. The landlord ran away. The tenants picked valuables and ran for dear life. My relative saw tongues of flames. She grabbed something and started running far away from the torched house. Suddenly she stopped. She realised that ‘what’ she had grabbed wasn’t moving or making any sound. She looked, it was a big piece of yam. She threw it down and ran back to the burning house.

– Don’t enter, it’s burning!

– Are you mad? Can’t you see the house is burning?

She kept pointing at the house. No words came out of her mouth.

– Where’s your child?

She pointed at the house.

Obilè – Land of our ancestors!

Then someone appeared behind the crowd carrying the child who stretched his hands towards his mother. She let out a shrill sound.

– Take your child and find your way.

She went to the garage and took a Peugeot station-wagon en route to Lagos.

The mind can be so mischievous. The tricks it often plays on us. Do we control the mind or does the mind control us?

With the mind comes imagination with which we programme the mind. We’re nudged to follow that programme we create in the mind. Or is it in the head? We get up and follow the programme. Even when we take a nap at 4p.m. and the nap turns to a sleep and we wake up at 11p.m., we automatically follow the habit we’re programmed to follow till a look at the clock regulates us.

The early days of summer in the Western hemisphere can be very long. 10p.m. there will seem like our 6p.m. I was a bright-eyed 19 year-old spending holidays with my uncle and his family in the United Kingdom. Uncle got me a job as a chambermaid in one of the hotels in Bayswater, London. It was the first time I would earn money so I took the job seriously. It was an 8a.m. – 2p.m. job. When I finished job I would take a bus to Oxford Street and walked from Marble Arch to Tottenham Court Road. It is a long stretch but I’d nip inside shops along the way, walk around and come out. I also did some window-shopping. I would still have to come back to Oxford Street to take the Victoria Line underground train to Brixton, my destination. I’d exit the station and leg it to Barnwell Rd, uncle’s house.

If there was nobody at home, I’d eat and take a nap. I’d be woken up by voices whenever people started returning from work one by one.

This day, I heard nothing. So I slept and slept. When I woke up it was still daylight. I ran to the bathroom and had a shower. I quickly dressed. As I was about to go out, Uncle came out of his room.

– Hello young girl.

– Hello uncle.

I couldn’t understand why he was still in his casuals.

– Where’re you off to?

– I’m going to work, uncle.

– Work ke! Nibo?

I couldn’t understand why my uncle wouldn’t believe me.

– At the hotel, Uncle.

– Which hotel?

– Where you got me a job?

– They asked you to do night shift?

– O ti o.

– Then why are you going to work at 10 p.m.?

Habits or Customs

Like a sore thumb it keeps turning up. In the past eight weeks the reconstruction of the United Nations (UN) building in Abuja that was bombed by Boko Haram in August 2011 has crept up twice in very sensitive documents. Nduka Obaigbena, Chairman and Publisher of ThisDay newspapers first mentioned it in his explanation to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the N670m he received from the embattled ex-National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki. Obaigbena wrote, ‘… The bombing of ThisDay offices followed the Abuja United Nations Building for which the Federal Government has so far spent N3billion for reconstruction and much more earmarked for furnishing…’ The item popped up again in the breakdown of the Federal Capital Territory Authority budget where N3b is allocated for re-building none other but the bombed UN complex. The UN building reconstruction keeps gulping up N3b each year.

Samuel Osaze, I can still smell the ‘Aroma of the Burning Bush’. Thanks. There must be a story in the flickering embers of the burning bush.

Happy birthday to Susan Gumel who’s forever young.

O’Yemi Afolabi can be reached at: oyemiajike; @oyemiajike

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