a picture showing moyo okediji poised for the camera



If you got up early enough, you would catch Anti Toyosi bathing at the back of the Face-Me-I-Face-You building in which I grew up in Ile Ife. Her husband, a sign-writer, would still be fast asleep.

But Anti Toyosi always got up early to prepare rice that she sold to school students as breakfast before they went to school.

It wasn’t until I was in primary six, when my mother placed me in an early morning coaching school, that I realized that Anti Toyosi bathed in the open at the back of the building.

I had to get up at 5 am and take an early morning bath so I could be at the school at 6 am. The two bathrooms were at the back of the Face-Me-I-Face-You building. There was some space between the building and the bathroom. In that space was a well from which we got water for all our needs.

The first day I got up early to take my bath, as I stepped out of the building, I saw her bathing. I stood rooted to the ground.

She saw me and said, “Moyo, come on, don’t mind me. Go and draw your water from the kanga.” I quickly dashed to the well and paid no attention to her.

Soon after, it became a daily thing. She would greet me and I would respond with “E kaaro, Anti Toyosi,” then strolled to our kanga.

She was a young woman for whom everybody had a kind word. She was always smiling. Apparently, she had fertility issues. She had been married to Bros Olaiya for a couple of years, but she was yet to get pregnant.

Even the wife of Bros Omo-Oku-Orun, who came to the Face-Me-I-Face-You building well after Anti Toyosi and Bros Olaiya got married already delivered her first child, a girl, named Mary.

(Now I know that Bros Olaiya could have been the one with the fertility problem).

Anti Toyosi and her husband were Isese people, and they always sang Orisa songs. He would raise the song in his baritone voice, and Anti Toyosi would join with her high soprano. I was always thrilled, and couldn’t help memorizing one or two lines of their Orisa music.

Mama Mary and Anti Toyosi were the best of friends. She was a devout Catholic who attended the mass daily. Bros Omo-Oku-Orun lucked out to find such a charming young woman to marry him.

He was a laborer for the Solel Boneh company, one of the contract firms constructing the campus of the University of Ife in the sixties. He did not go to church, and every evening he returned home late drunk from Iya Sunday’s palm wine bar down the street.

Our family consisting of my parents, sister, and I lived in three rooms in the Face-Me-I-Face-You building, on the second floor.

The landlord, Baba Alhaji, had three wives, but I can’t remember the number of his children. The wives lived downstairs in three rooms with their children. Baba Alhaji occupied two rooms upstairs all by himself.

Every night, one of his wives would carry his bedpan upstairs. Even a kid like me knew she was the one whose turn it was to sleep with Baba Alhaji that night.

We didn’t need lessons in sex education. You kind of figured out how it worked by yourself.

There were twelve rooms in the Face-Me-I-Face-You building. The last room on the second floor directly faced the room in which my sister and I slept. That room belonged to a single mother, Mama Kunle, who was an Aladura Churchgoer.

Every Sunday, she dressed in her white gown that reached down to her ankles. Her son, Kunle, was attired similarly. The only difference was that Mama Kunle wore a white cap that fully covered her head. She played all the latest highlife and Juju music.

My mother went to church, but my father had lost faith. We all used to go to church, but after some time, my father stopped. He preferred to spend his time writing.

And because I emulated my father, I stopped going to church too, and I began to pretend to write.

During Moslem festivals, Baba Alhaji’s wives cooked in the open space at the back of the building, and delivered plates of food to all his tenants.

All of us, from all the major religions, with some of us already cultivating a loss of faith, all lived together in harmony in this tight Face-Me-I-Face-You building.

There was never any tension about religion.

Nobody tried to convert the other to their faiths.

Now people kill over religious differences in Nigeria. Everyone wants to convert the other to their faiths.

And children now need lessons in sex education.

Will things ever return to the simple ways we lived so recently?

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