This morning, I have a strange urge to look for my school mother on Facebook. Maybe the urge is not strange at all, I mean, I fell asleep last night; just dropped off, the vodka and juice at the foot of my bed forgotten, untouched, and I slept straight till dawn. God forbid that I let it go to waste, so on discovering it this morning, I took a healthy gulp. Then another. And a last. And in the alcohol-induced euphoria and flash of brilliance that can only be trumped by smoking weed, I decided I missed my school mother, whom I last saw in 1992 or thereabouts. All I know of her is her name. Bunmi… Bunmi Oke.
So I asked Facebook. Facebook has all kinds of strange suggestions and faces, none of whom look like her, unless she is using someone else’s face/picture on her profile. Or she has a married name. I call on all ex-Federal Government College Ikom students to help me in this matter.
I remember being puzzled—a short pudgy child of about ten, with dirty pink daywear and thick glasses, unkempt thread hair and a sharp mouth. I asked her how it was that she had one Yoruba name and one Igbo name. She looked down at me from her great height – seniors then really looked like seniors, kinda like gods, larger than life – and kindly explained that this was the Yoruba Oke, minus the “y”. She however stated that her mum was Igbo.
Senior Bunmi was really beautiful. Plump, very fair, tall and soft spoken, she protected me where she could, when my sharp tongue got me in trouble. She gave me milk and Cabin biscuits and hid me in her corner to sleep away activities like labour and sports. When a very mean senior Caroline sent everyone outside to lie face down on soldier ants for making “a hell of noise,” senior Bunmi did not interfere. But when I returned, dirty, swollen from the bites, and crying, she cleaned me up with a damp towel, rubbed Vaseline on the swellings and put me in her bed.
I remember her in her Yellow-House check, and all-back hair, which she plaited in straight bold cornrows, about 3-6 braids, never more, pulled back from her forehead and the actual weave beginning about three inches from her hairline in the style we called “brush”, and slicked back with Apple hair cream or petroleum jelly. She had long black hair; I would look at her hair, her white gentle eyes and shy smile, her lovely plump body, and wish she were my mother. She had the gentlest ways and I had no difficulty seeing her in a few years as a wife and mother. She had that aura.
When the first ever Lux Beauty Queen, Ibidun Ajayi nee Ighodalo, came visiting us at my aunt’s in Dolphin estate in the year of her reign, I took one look at her and Bunmi Oke resurrected in my mind and began to live vicariously again to me, through Ibidun; so striking was the resemblance, except Ibidun was slimmer and darker-skinned. Maybe it was just the eyes. Or the long black hair. Or the simplicity and gentleness. Or maybe they did not look alike at all. Who knows/ I was ten. When Ibidun joined my sister Racheal and I in the kitchen and drank Ijebu garri with us, I wanted to hug her and ask if she was related to a Bunmi Oke. But I was shy. She was a beauty queen. I was. . .well, I was a nerdy kid with big glasses, awkward ways, a fat ass and no social graces.
When my mother died in ’95, I wished with all my heart for Senior Bunmi. Now I could displace my mum with no guilt at all, after all, she was done good and dead and here was a life human surrogate mother-to-be material and where was she? I don’t know. We did not have GSM phones then, hardly any phones at all. What did we say when we left each other? Did we say we would keep in touch? I doubt it. The memories are vague. But she rises out of them, out of the ashes of memory, every time, untouched; a Daenerys Stormborn rising from the ashes at Vaes Dothrak, unburnt.
Every once in a while, some lady would show up in my life, fair-skinned, long black silken tresses, soft-voiced, limpid eyes and alas, a strange name. Not Bunmi.
Now here I am in Lagos, and to think that there is even a one percent chance that she is here, that somehow, the air I breath has diffused through time and space and been inhaled by her, or is it the other way round; that we have shared a breath. I realise she could be living on the very next street! And then I wonder, does she even remember me?
But on days when I wake and don’t dive straight into last night’s vodka, here is what I think. I think that nobody is that perfect. I think that reality does not live up to the expectations of fantasy. I think that idols have clay feet; idols must stay on the pedestals we have placed them upon. The years have passed, and in the cobwebby haze that is my childhood memories, I, a fantast, like a ship on a storm-tossed sea, have held onto the vague memories like an anchor, magnifying them by my illusory wonderings until they are larger than life and startlingly real by the very fact of their vagueness. Then in a moment of lucidity, I wonder how reliable my recollections are.
So I rally my fragmented thoughts, gather my wits about me, wave my friends a happy weekend. And watch the tumultuous waves of life crash against the shore.