when I first heard the word ‘gentleman,’ it was from the cartoon version of Oliver Twist that I had seen in my younger days and since then I have always associated the world gentleman with the English people until brother Segun returned from Manchester two months ago. Brother Segun returned the exact opposite of what he used to be, it was as if someone poured ice-cold water on him, he became so cold and gentle like those English nobility one reads of in novels. Even my friends have taken to asking me what went wrong with my elder brother who now walks and talks like he is carrying the weight of the world upon his shoulders and I proudly retort that:
‘Well you see, he has just returned from England and he is refined! My brother is a perfect gentleman.’
Truly, you will find it difficult to disagree with me that Bro. Segun is a perfect gentle man by the time I finish telling you this story.
Our father is a local cocoa farmer. Being the first son of his father he inherited hectares of land with numerous cocoa trees on them. You see, he lost his father when he was just attaining manhood and had to drop out of school to manage the farm. Since then he had taken over responsiblity of his siblings who he sponsored with the profit made from the cocoa business and many of them today are now successful lawyers and accountants with three living outside the shores of Nigeria—in fact, Uncle Taiye lives happily with his family in Manchester, England. Whenever my father got a bit tipsy on kegs of palm wine, he would always remind his friends of his achievements.
‘Look here, you scallywags! I never could finish school but with the work of these strong hands of mine, I have made lawyers and notable accountants. So even if I become poor today, I have people who are the main people in this country and a man who has people who are the main people is not poor, not so?’
Whenever he says these, he would raise his shoulders up in pride while his friends would nod at his eloquence and admire his hunger for achievements.
Not that our father is poor anyway, his cocoa plantation raked in lots of profits for him and he hires many labourers to work on his farm. Any day you find yourself within Ibadan, you can ask anybody to show you the road to Alhaji Tajudeen Agbekoya Oni Koko’s house; I shall gladly lodge you and provide for your comfort. This is an attestation to our father’s popularity all around Ibadan. But our father has one flaw; and that is women. Our father believes a man’s riches should be measured by the size of his household and he went on to produce a whole football team…no, let’s just say two opposing football teams. Praise singers sang our father’s praises saying ‘Alhaji Tajudeen Agbekoya Oni Koko, a strong man whose household is as numerous as his cocoa trees,’ and our father would retort thus: ‘Hummn, that is me you speak of; no two kind of birds can be called hawk!’ Hhmm, lion! I just love the man!
Our father is blessed with three wives and fifteen children (we are still counting anyway) and majority of us find ourselves within the same age bracket, I once heard a neighbour of ours talking of a time when three children were born in our household with the age difference being days and an elaborate naming ceremony was done for three good days where each child was named one after the other in order of how they were birthed. Our mothers were gentle outside the home but never a day went by without some scuffle or bickering between them. The eldest ones among us were always busy settling quarrels and before one could say akporo ekpa ijebu oo, we the children took sides and extended the civil war.
Nonetheless, we were a united family and no one outside dared beat up one of us else the others would gather and attack that person be he an adult or an age mate. My father knew that keeping the family united was an utmost task he must not fail to achieve so he decreed that food must be cooked generally and served together in a general plate. So, Iya Agba (father’s first wife) took care of drawing the food timetable by saying who does the cooking for what days. We referred to my own mother as ‘Iya kekere’ because she is our father’s second wife while the third wife was simply referred to as ‘Iyawo’.
There came a time when Uncle Taiye called in from Manchester, he spoke about Bro. Segun who had just finished his secondary education and said he would like to have Segun come to Manchester to further his education. When our father announced Bro. Segun’s name as the choosen one, we were all aghast! Who did not know that Bro. Segun smokes indian hemp? Who did not know that Bro. Segun was the brutal type who would practically beat up his siblings over a trifle? Was father hoping Bro. Segun would metamorphose into a good man when he got to Manchester? Wonders shall never end! If aunty Pelumi or Bro. Dare had been selected, no one would have complained but Bro. Segun of all people to go to Manchester was beyond wonder. What has Iya Agba given our father to eat!
Many were not satisfied with the choice of Bro. Segun, especially my mum, Iya Kekere, who felt my elder sister (Aunty Pelumi) should be the one to be sent abroad but who would dare antagonise the decision of Agbekoya Oni Koko? Most certainly, no one.
Bro. Segun or Segel Fighter as he was popularly called was the eldest of us all. He is also quite tall, taller even than our father, yet he is still a young man. He has these rugged features which made many fear him—he had once beaten Iya kekere to nonsense for insulting his mother (Iya Agba). The incident made our father very displeased with him and father would have sent him out of the house but one never knows the capacity of Iya Agba’s witchcraft until one sees her controlling our father; she has a way of whispering things into his ear while begging him and father burning-wood anger immediately dissipates to ashes, that Iya Agba! I fear that woman!
Anyway, Bro. Segun was our household’s Goliath and I am yet to see the foolish David that would cross his path and not be crushed. He is known home and away as Segel Fighter; a reputation he built up through series of hard won fights back at the secondary school. Even in my school, they know him and not even teachers could flog me if they knew I am Segel Fighter’s younger brother. Kai, I just love Bro. Segel Fighter! But let me ask you, if you were my father would you send such a son to Manchester for further studies? Well, the ways of Agbekoya is strange, very strange I must say and you are not our Oni Koko so I do not expect you to think and act as him.
The day finally came when Bro. Segel left Nigeria for Manchester and I cried. You see, despite the fact that Bro. Segel was brutal to everyone else, he never beats me…well, maybe, not as regularly as he strikes others so we were close. He promised to call me as soon as he arrived in Manchester, and he gave me two hundred naira to buy sweets. Two hundred naira for only me and me alone, imagine my luck!
It was barely a year after when I heard our father shouting at Iya Agba and saying that her son was destroying his reputable and highly esteemed name. Bro. Segun had gone abroad and joined bad company, that was what I heard our father saying. If bro. Segun had joined bad company, should we not be happy? At least it meant he was working in a company and would soon be sending us some dollars, not so? I do not suppose that the fact that the company being a bad one should bar him from getting paid for the job he was doing there right? However, I have often wondered why bro. Segun never joined the good company, why the choice of the bad company instead?
We were later to hear from Uncle Taiye that Bro. Segun had moved out of his flat and had moved in to join a hemp smoking friend of his. I wondered what was wrong with Bro. Segun then, was the money he was making from the bad company now getting into his head or what?
Before the middle of the second year, I woke up one morning to suddenly discover that Bro. Segun had returned from Manchester. Yippee! I felt happy just thinking of the dozens of toys he would have bought for me and ran to his room but on getting there I saw Bro. Segun sleeping quietly. My footsteps woke him up and I asked him where he kept the bag he returned with. He just laughed and told me he was only back for a brief spell of time before he would go back again. So he did not return with much. Bro. Segun disappointed me, no oyinbo toys for me at all, not even a small toy car? I almost cried till he dug his hand into the side pocket of his suit and provided me with three wraps of chocolates!
‘Haaa! Thank you, sir!’ I quipped and ran out of the room to show my friends what my brother brought for me from Manchester. I would not eat them then, I wanted to show my friends at school too. Of all things, I have three oyinbo chocolate sweets! Dem go hearam!
Bro. Segun’s sudden return brought to our house a form of order. The chaotic atmosphere became somewhat serene. If you had visited our house then, you would have found it difficult to believe the peace that existed therein. Bro. Segun was an archetypal gentleman, the Brownlow type in Oliver Twist, he was always putting on suits (it did not matter that he had just one—which was the one he returned with), or a shirt with tie and shiny black shoes; despite our hot weather. Bro. Segun no longer walks on his heels like a hunter running after a rabbit, one could hardly hear the sound of his footsteps these days. He also became calm and quiet, he reads too much these days and when he talks, he picks his words one after the other like a man whose tongue has suddenly become immobile. Kai, what have these white men done to my brother o!
Well, I think I loved my brother the way he was; at first. At least, he was using those big big grammars of his to settle disputes between Iya Kekere and Iyawo; Iya Agba had long hung her boxing glooves and would only look on with equanimity whenever she was insulted by any of the women; and he would also stop us; the children; from joining their fray or starting one of our own. He preached civility and decency. He said we should avoid fighting at all times and always seek a peaceful resolution to our conflicts.
‘People don’t fight these days,’ he would say, ‘they settle their differences amicably. You all must learn to be civil, we may not all have the same mother but we must learn to see ourselves as one. We must stand for and by each other. Let us stop the fighting and bickering, please,’ he would address us all.
Was this our own Bro. Segun popularly known as the almighty Segel Fighter? Is this what a trip to Manchester does to people? Wonders shall never end! If a trip to Manchester could make Segel Fighter become Segun Civil, I suggest Iya Kereke and Iyawo be forced to take three trips to Manchester, beeni—three trips!
Bro. Segun taught us to eat slowly and orderly even though from the same bowl. Many of us were not satisfied with the new style but no one wanted to be labelled an uncivil beast for rushing our cassava morsels and soup. Even our father seemed to be adjusting to Bro. Segun’s newly discovered way of life and admonitions. He had cut down on his night crawling and intake of palm wine. One would often hear him calling Bro. Segun ‘my son’ as against ‘that boy’ which was what he would say whenever he spoke of Bro. Segun before then. I do not know what to call it but it was obvious something strange was happening in our house! With everyone behaving gentle and civil like this, it must be a miracle and Bro. Segun was the maker of this miracle.
I do not know how people endure too much peace but too much peace is suffocating for me, maybe it is because I come from a home that has never been peaceful…until now anyway. I could imagine all things but it has never crossed my mind that Iya Kekere and Iyawo would ever be friends (the women have always been cat and dog) and now even the fight between Tolulope and Shade which I love to watch so much are no longer happening. Oh, how I missed those days of chaos and anarchy! Now, all one hears and talk about is civil this and civil that, just imagine!
Well, I was getting used to the new idea of civility and all that until one small boy began looking for my trouble! Just imagine o, a very small boy for that matter. That small boy is Ola, Iyawo’s last born. The boy has been over pampered by his mother and spoilt up to the point of becoming sour. His case was clearly a case of when a person pledges that he would no more practise evil, there would surely come one who would come seeking a dose of that evil, and I was more than ready to give it to him with full force. Just imagine that small boy trying me, the person birthed after the person birthed after me is older than him o and he chooses to disrespect me of all people! No problem, I’ll show him.
One evening, we all sat eating our amala and egusi soup with pieces of pomo here and there prepared by Iyawo herself (God bless that woman—her Egusi soup is one in town!). I like that woman in everything else except the way she brought up that spoilt brat, Ola. Ola had formed the habit of not always bringing his cup of water whenever we were served food and he always steals a cup of water belonging to someone else and gulps it quickly before the owner would notice. One would finish eating and would look beside him where he kept his cup of water only to find an empty cup—Ola had already drank its content. I have reported this unruly attitude of his to his mother several times and also warned the brat not to try such with me again after he did it once to me.
So this night, we finished eating Iyawo’s egusi which had a generous dose of pepper and I turned to drink my water only to find an empty cup! I looked up at Ola’s face and met his fat cheeks bursting into cracking laughter, I was mortified! Others began laughing at me. I looked up and raised my right hand and landed a heavy knock on Ola’s fat head khooo, it sounded like thunder and I followed it immediately with a slap writing the mene mene tekel upharsin sign on Ola’s face. What happened next was as expected! Ola’s cry rent the air and I was pacified. Iyawo ran out from her room on hearing Ola’s cry and Ola’s elder brothers and sisters from the same mother stood up to challenge me for beating their brother and I was prepared to beat them all to pulp, what nonsense!
It was then that Bro. Segun Civil intervened and prevented a volcanic eruption in a house that had experienced much quietude recently. Bro. Segun Civil began using all sorts of dangerous grammar on me, he said I embarrassed him and I wondered how eba and rice came into this whole issue since it was amala and egusi we just finished eating. He called me a rebel and trouble fomenter, a most uncivil beast and an intransigent person! Me who has been very civil of all people! God punish him! …Came from Manchester only to begin forming humility for us all, God punish him, I say! Nonsense!
Bro. Segun made me look stupid before my younger ones and I was intent on showing him the stuff I was made of. He should wait and see, I will show him I am from Ibadan and not Manchester!
Two days later, we all sat happily to a lunch of jollof rice and chicken when a great idea suddenly struck me. I finished my food quickly and stood up stealing towards Bro. Segun and fiam… I stole the chicken atop his food and ran off chewing it before he could reach me. It was that day that I came to realise that there is no such thing as civility where food is concerned. I heard the ever calm bro. Segun shouting while running after me.
‘You are a most uncivil beast! How dare you do this to me! You think I am your mate, hmm? I shall have you murdered before you can grow up to become a nuisance in this house. You bastard!’ By this time, I was already outside our house running for my dear life while Bro. Segun kept up the hot pursuit and chant.
‘You are a stupid boy and I am going to teach you a lesson you will never forget in a hurry. You try me of all people! Me, Segel Fighter, walahi, you are dead meat already.’
By this time he had caught up with me and was sitting on top of me by the roadside pummelling me with his iron fist which earned him the title of Segel Fighter. I was crying for help but the blows kept raining.
‘I shall show you who I am…(blows) …maybe you did not know that I was deported from England…(more blows)…for beating up a white man at a hemp joint! I will show you I am still very much Segel Fighter! Idiot!’
By the time he had had his fill and got up from me leaving my face distended, he regained consciousness and noticed where he was. He looked around and saw many people gathered looking at us, his suit had gathered red dust and was dirty. No one intervened because they all knew the old Segel Fighter and were afraid of his returned spasm of madness. Bro. Segun felt ashamed and quietly walked back home with my siblings from the same mother raining abuses on him for the damage done to my face and chanting NO MORE CIVIL NONSENSE as we went home to start up the old forgotten chaos!
So, you see my friend, all men are uncivil animals, we only make pretence and think we are civil. My family is finally back to normal and bro. Segun or should I say Segel Fighter is back! And this timem, I was the one who made the miracle happen.
- Iya Agba–Senior mother
- Iya Kekere–Junior mother
- Iyawo–New wife
Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy is a poet, short story writer, editor, and essayist. He has written myriad critical essays on literature and has most of them published on www.memorila.com. His poems have also found their way onto various literary platforms. His hobby is discussing the literary arts.