In the early morning sun on the Thursday of July 12, 2004 I sat with my brother and cousins inside our grandmother’s blue Isuzu pickup truck, anger palpable from our faces as we awaited our Americana uncle to come and take us to his friend’s wedding party to help carry rental chairs and canopies. We were expecting him, but not looking forward to his arrival. We were furious in part for having to work for someone we did not know on a personal level, and in part because of the dread with which we then regarded that Americana uncle of ours.
A week before, Uncle Ismail had disappointed us heavily by denying our request to stay with him for the holiday. This had infuriated us, and furthered our preconception about him. And to add insult to the injury, he wanted us to work for his friend! There are some things you should know about Uncle Isma’il whom the entire family gave the alias ‘Ko Easy’. He was seen by many people as the epitome of stinginess. Why exactly he was viewed as such, at that time, I didn’t understand, but I also joined in saying that he was stingy even though he had never denied me of any request.
Uncle Ismail is my mother’s brother. He won a visa lottery in 1998 and after due processing joined my parents in the following year. Before he travelled to the US in 1999, whenever he visited us in Ibadan he would buy us things, and now that I am in the United States I feel remorseful for having joined in with people in slandering him. He isn’t stingy; he is just pragmatic in his charity. In retrospect, I think the crime he committed was the fact that money refused to grow on trees in America as our people in Nigeria thought back then and some still think right now! On that day, however, rejecting our request only increased my misconceptions about him. I remember lying on my grandma’s bed, tears falling from my eyes. I hated disappointments. I had thought along with my brothers that we would spend nice time in Lagos that holiday but our hopes dwindled into the air.
The atmosphere in the pickup truck was also tense because of another factor. The school session had officially came to an end on Friday the previous week but we were still awaiting our report cards. It was the end of my first year at Government College, Ibadan and I was in for suspense on whether I would advance to JSS2 or would have to repeat the class. We were told to come back the next Friday, a day away. At that time, education had taken a serious turn in Ibadan as the then new governor—Rashidi Ladoja—brought with him policies which ensured tight scrutiny of the caliber of students to be ascended. We sat in the truck with our fingers crossed.
‘Honk honk’ vhummm vhmmmm
It was him, I knew instantly. As angry as we were, courtesy demanded that we welcome him, after all, he is our uncle. I was the first to leave the car. I walked sluggishly towards our black huge gate, and opened the small door designated for the use of humans as opposed to the entire gate made for car and large commodities. What happened next would be the greatest surprise of my life. I could have been asked to guess thousands of things that could have happened on that day and what I was witnessing would not have made its way into my list.
I looked at the tall man in green pants and blazer and he looked so much like me. I’ve seen his face on photographs before, I thought to myself. But I still needed confirmation without having to ask. So I turned to the young girl standing by his side, and I knew right away that she is my sister, Khalimmat. So I did the combination; at least here my brain seemed to understand basic laws of statistics: the man is my father! I jumped on him, rounding my hands all over his neck in a tight hug. I couldn’t believe my eyes. All of these happened in a matter of seconds; very swiftly, that I still find it hard to explain how the whole episode went. By the time I let loose, the commotion had begun.
Everyone in the house: Sahid, Sheriff, Jamal, Khalil, Fatimah, Aminah, Nadirah, Matin (may God have mercy on his soul), Aunty, grandmother had known of the arrival of my father. The house was lit with joy and happiness. I held my little sister whom I was seeing for the first time in my arms for a moment and looked at her in amazement. Our semblance was striking and I also noticed she was taller than me. At that stage of my life, height was a serious concern for me. I gauged my height with everyone I met fearful that I might end up being a dwarf. Thank God, I escaped dwarfism.
That day, we laughed, jumped, jubilated, shouted, praised God, hugged, danced, some shed tears, while others refused to. I think I felt my eyelids burn and liquid erupt from the corners of my eyes that day but I am not sure if I wept. But I knew butterflies flew in different directions inside me— it was the happiest day of my life. Unlike the normal child who sees his father every now and then, I was seeing and hugging my father for the first time since I was born, and I was turning twelve the next month.
Toyeeb Adejumo is a Nigerian Muslim writer and a socio-religious activist. He spent most of his childhood and adolescent years in Ibadan, Nigeria where he attended Ad-Din International School. He graduated from Government College, Ibadan in 2009 and he is currently a baccalaureate student at the City University of New York where he majors in the Liberal Arts. He lives in Brooklyn, New York.