I may have told you about Mama Tutu, if you haven’t read about her in any of my previous stories, let me re-introduce her.
We lived in a compound with a story building of four flats Mama Tutu and Mama Ngozi lived on the ground floor while Sisi Mi, our landlady and Mama Bimbo (My mama) lived on the first floor. Mama Tutu’s flat was below ours while Mama Ngozi’s flat was below Simi Mi’s.
Mama Tutu was the only university graduate in our compound and she never hesitated to let the mothers know, and the kids too. This was why we spoke very little vernacular and zero pidgin around her because she would come down on you like a hammer.
Mama Tutu was a bit haughty but beneath all of her haughtiness, she was a good woman. It was environmental sanitation Saturday, which meant the whole street came out to jointly clean our environs.
The men mostly manned the drainages, raking dirt out and piling them in a neat stack while the women shovelled the refuse up in old rice sacs, dumping the sacs at the edge of the street where the Mallam in a large wheelbarrow would clear them up before mid-day.
Environmental sanitation Saturdays were mostly playing time for kids, as we weren’t involved in much except inconsequential errands. On this day, Mama Tutu asked Onyinye, one of Mama Ngozi’s daughters to watch her shovel as she pulled a sack of refuse to the edge of the street.
Onyinye and I were friends, which meant we rolled together at all times. So, when Mama Wale from down the road comes to snatch the shovel from Onyinye, I was right there by her side. “Onyinye give me that shovel, I go return am na na.” Said Mama Wale, the sun had made her bleached skin turn crimson, her brows were bare. During the day when Mama Wale had showered and dressed up, she would draw an arch to replace her brows, beginning at the top of her nose, ascending towards her hairline and suddenly drops very close to her ear.
I thought she looked ridiculous but this was the style in 1992, everyone did it, so I had no say in the matter. “Na Mama Tutu shovel ma. I no fit give you, she never pack the dirty finish” Onyinye said, securing her position as guardian of the shovel.
Mama Wale’s bare brows furrowed, her skin turned redder as she looked at Onyinye in shock for daring to refuse her. “My friend will you give me that shovel! Tell Mama Tutu say na me take am,” She snatched the shovel from Onyinye who looked on helplessly and in fear.
Onyinye knew not to challenge adults so we decided to let Mama Tutu know her shovel had been forcefully taken. “Excuse me ma,”Onyinye called Mama Tutu’s attention as she walked past us. “Yes?” She responded, she seemed to be in a hurry. I noticed Onyinye had gone mute.
“Mama Wale has taken your shovel, she said we should tell you that she took it,” I spoke up for my friend. “Ahn! Ahn! She did what? Why is this woman such a trouble maker?” Mama Tutu turned around towards Mama Wale’s house and off she went, screaming Mama Wale’s name,
Onyinye and I stayed put. We weren’t really ‘arand’ for adult squabbles. “Mama Wale… Mama Wale…” the rest of Mama Tutu’s words had become inaudible but we could see both adults pointing fingers at each other in anger. Soon, Mama Tutu waved at us to come over.
“Ngbo, Onyinye, wetin I tell you say make you tell this woman?” Mama Wale turns her red face on us. Before we could respond, Mama Tutu cut in, “Who is ‘this woman’? I don’t want to believe I’m being referred to as ‘this woman’. Mama Wale address me by name, show some respect.
You can’t bully me like you bully your husband! I will not allow it. Give me my shovel please!” ‘WAWU! This is news. First of all, Baba Wale was nice, so his wife bullies him? Na wa!’ I thought to myself. “Ah!“ Mama Wale scoffs at Mama Tutu,
“Your grammar no mean Shigbain! Don’t insult my husband Mama Tutu, face me, face meeeee” Mama Wale was screaming at Mama Tutu at this time. Me in my mind, ‘But she didn’t insult your husband now. Abi?’ Onyinye and I looked on, ready to pounce if Mama Tutu was losing the battle.
Mama Wale unties her wrapper and reties it, making it shorter so she could spread her legs wider, ready for battle. Mama Tutu had on knicker burger, she was good to go. “And I go make sure say I no give you that shovel today, oya come collect am now… “
Mama Wale stood at ease, hands behind her back, shovel held firmly. Mama Tutu tried to get behind her, but she is shouldered off by the bigger Mama Wale. Onyinye and I took over, we grabbed Mama Wale by the waist, held on tight, she tried to shake us off but we refused to let go.
Mama Tutu then gets behind us, bites Mama wale’s hand which made her yelp and immediately release the shovel. “Ife, Onyinye, run inside, now!” Mama Tutu instructed us as she held the shovel up, ready for war. We released Mama Wale and made a run for it, scared but happy.
Both women’s scream became less audible. As it was the tradition, after environmental sanitation, we would play competitive football in the compound, Boys vs Girls. On this day, as we played, I noticed all the mothers in the compound sat by their balcony, all four of them.
When Mama Wale came into the compound to look for Onyinye and I, they all stood by their territories and asked her to leave. They let her know if she ever touched us, the street would be too hot for her. Us children paused, it was like we were watching Voltron in real life.
Mama Wale turned around and left in shame. Our mothers watched her leave and only then, did they leave their positions at the balconies. I knew then, Mama Wale was a wise woman because how could you not be afraid of such force?!