The streets are filled. Hordes of people. Excitement is ripe and ripples in the air. I am standing watching as they approach. I am not scared, maybe because I assume that I cannot be seen. The light is a dull grey and the city is Lagos. Women rush to close their eyes and bury their faces in the clothing of their male companions. The penalty of sight would be unmerciful and just to make sure that everyone knows this , whips are drawn out by men accompanying the sojourning spirits and brought down without qualms on the backs of the cowering women. Some even expect it.
Cries in Yoruba fill the air but funny enough I heart no sound. I turn and cross the gutter to the safety of our house as they pass by; these EYO people. The spirits are draped in white cloth, hold white sticks and have white boat hats atop their heads.
I enter the house. It is a typical old Lagos house; a bungalow with a long dark corridor that leads to the back.
The children are scouring about the house excited out of their minds. I brush them aside as I make my way to then back unconsciously following their direction of movement, curious to see what has got their wires touching. I pass a few but their excitement increases their speed and they gain on me and move forward. I realize that they are running towards a voice, that of a child’s and one that I know like then back of my hand. We reach the small courtyard at the back of the house. The children and I screech to a stop. The boy has pulled down a ladder leading to the roof where the food is dried and is attempting to climb. He gestures for the other kids to follow. They wish to see the masquerade procession and will do so from the roof. I rush forward. I know that if they are caught, there will be hell to pay.
My voice cuts through the chattering children. I hush them up in one instant. They freeze and look at me. The boy does not let go of the ladder. Infact, his foot has been planted on the bottom rung. He is on his way up and it will take much more than my voice to prevent him from doing so. I rail at them in Yoruba. “Get away from there. Come on, go.” I push an shove through their muffled complaints till I reach the boy. He still ahs not moved and neither have his eyes left my face. He challenges me without speaking and moving. I falter, and a small fear creeps into my mind. If I cannot handle this now, I never will be able to do so. I raise my hand and smack him hard across the face. The other kids flinch at the force of the impact. In this house there is no democracy, no bargaining and no reasoning. I am older, the adult and I will be obeyed.
I look at my hand, it is just as small as his. I am a little girl. I am barely a foot taller than he is. I am not as big as I think. I am immediately scared. The other children are looking at both of us, waiting for the explosive result. Would he let it slide and cement my position of authority or fight back and plunge us all into confusion? Whose side should they be on? The little girl who has her sleeping infant brother on her back steps away, unconsciously removing herself and her charge from the line of fire. There is silence. I find my voice.
“Get away from here. Do you all want to be in trouble?” My voice is surprisingly steady “If you are seen, you will be in trouble.”
The boy only breaths and stares at me. I am suddenly incensed. “I said GET!!!”. Even I am visibly shocked at the strength of my tone. The boy apparently is as well. He blinks and his stance is broken. His eyes lower and he steps away from the ladder. He will obey. He has obeyed. I am secure.
“I am sorry sister XXXXXX” he says to me in Yoruba. Not my name but I nod in acceptance. The other children step forward to do the same. One by one, they come to me to acknowledge my authority. I hug a few, not all, just a few. They must not think me weak.
Then I wake.