The Apomu Border Patrol Officer.
It was Iya Oyo who told me about the Apomu Border Patrol Officer.
Iya Oyo said, “When extended to the limit, when you have reached your breaking point, when you cannot go any further, you know what to do?”
I shook my head. “No, Iya Oyo,” I said.
Iya Oyo responded, “Ha, you say, Ìlọ yá Oníbodè Apòmù: it’s time to return home, the Apomu Border Patrol Officer.”
“What does that mean?” I asked Iya Oyo.
“I knew you would ask,” Iya Oyo remarked. “It’s a long story.”
“Who is the Apomu Border Patrol Officer?” I inquired further.
“He is the foreigner employed by the king of Apomu to collect taxes at the gate of Apomu,” Iya Oyo replied. “In those days, the city of Apomu was one of those ancient cities near the capital of Old Oyo, Katunga, with hundreds of thousands of inhabitants. It’s not the present Apomu near Ibadan, which is just a small town.”
I nodded to let Iya Oyo know that I was enjoying her history lesson.
“It was after the Fulani war invaded the Old Oyo kingdom that the ancient city of Apomu was sacked, and its inhabitants scattered all over the place, and some of them gathered to resettle near Ibadan, on the way to Ile Ife,” Baba Oyo interjected, to clarify what Iya Oyo was saying.
“I am following you,” I said.
“Good,” Iya Oyo said. I was sitting next to her and Baba Oyo. She brought out her smoking pipe and began to clean it, not continuing with the story.
“Iya Oyo,” I said, “I’m listening to you.”
“I thought your Baba was going to complete the story for you,” Iya Oyo replied.
“Oh no,” Baba Oyo explained. “Please go ahead. I was just clarifying your point.”
Iya Oyo lit her pipe and pulled a couple of puffs before she continued.
“When the war hits a city,” Iya Oyo said, “you know the first to flee?”
“No,” I said.
“It is the border patrol officer,” Iya Oyo said. “It is the Onibode Apomu.”
Baba Oyo chuckled. “You must tell him the funny detail of the adage,” he said.
“Because the Apomu border officer, who was also the tax collector, loved his job, he never thought he would see the day that he, a foreigner, would ever return home.” Iya Oyo explained. “He thought he would remain the border patrol officer until his old age, and would die on the job, and be buried there, never to return home.”
Baba Oyo chuckled again, saying, “Onibode Apomu sure was wrong about that!”
“But when the Fulani warriors hit the gates of the city of Apomu, you know who was the first to flee and abandon his post?” asked Iya Oyo.
“The Apomu border patrol officer,” I replied.
“Yes, he took to his heels,” Baba Oyo said gleefully.
“This is why people say, ‘It is time to return home, the Apomu border patrol officer,” Iya Oyo explained. “And people often end the story with an interesting adage, that—“
Baba Oyo interrupted her, saying “A kó o nífá, a gbà á lóbìrin, ọ̀pẹ̀lẹ̀ tí ì bá fi tọsẹ̀ ìyàwó, ajá tún gbé e lọ. Héè, héè, ẹ bá ni májá, ajá kó sí kànga….Ìlọ yá Oníbodè Apòmù!” He laughed.
It means, “They removed the goods of the Onibode Apomu, and someone took his wife; the divination string that he could have used to trace the person who stole his things was grabbed by a vagrant dog that fled the scene. As they tried to chase the dog to retrieve the divination string, the dog fell into a deep well. Was it not time, indeed, for the Apomu patrol officer to pack his things and return home!”
I burst into laughter at this explanation.
“In other words,” I said, “when it rains it pours, as the English people say. The Apomu tax collector had reached the end of the road!”
“Exactly so,” Iya Oyo concluded.
That was exactly my feeling these past few days. I was quite stressed. It was the end of the semester and I had a lot of student papers to grade. And I was also distracted because of the passing of my mother.
I was quite out of sorts.
So, to improve my mood, I went to a party thrown to mark the retirement of Linda, my colleague in art history. She stands fourth from the left in the front row. All of us art historians got together to eat and drink and celebrate her great contribution to the department.
And we took a picture.