With Adewale, My Mother’s Son, Adesanya reflects life journey
“Take this white kola nut and put it under your pillow. If it turns red by tomorrow morning when you wake up, it means you are pregnant. If it remains white, then you’re not.”
NO! The above is not an excerpt from a fictional mythical tale. It is the foretelling of Omotayo (Iya Wale), the woman who birthed Michael, author of “Adewale, My Mother’s Son”. It marks the beginning of the life of a woman whose sacrifices and doggedness have amalgamated into the curation of a series of unfortunate events responsible for this coming of age story.
The book begins with Adewale thrown into a quandary of how to tell a story, his story, in all its intensity to a room filled with intellectuals. Taking the plunge, he begins and once done is now convinced by the overpowering response of the need to share even more widely just how the unfortunate cards dealt by life and poor choices evolves into a powerful story of resilience.
Taken on a journey of self discovery, we are exposed to the exact fabric that turns a young boy into a man but not quite yet. His love for the woman who bore him shines through this revealing piece but it also tackles a different kind of love most people never talk about.
The love, still, for an absentee father who despite his best efforts couldn’t be the man he was supposed to be.
The first few chapters weave an intricate web of family tree. We are introduced to Adewale’s parents and grandparents from both sides and shown a glimpse into the spiritual. We are then introduced to the Celestial church and its prophecy training ministry but most importantly we are confronted by the fact that having a spiritual gift though immaculate might be useless to the bearer as so succinctly evidenced in the life of Omotayo.
Set in Lagos, Benin and Ogun, the book’s portrayal of hard work lays emphasis on the fact that anyone can indeed become the best at their chosen field, naturally skilled or not. Once the motivating factor is strong enough, it becomes the food that fuels a hungry man. For Michael, his fuel was the hard life he and his family had endured. He needed to become the hero that would put an end to his mother’s suffering. He became that, and more.
Riddled with life lessons, the author describes the pain of loneliness and how it could cause one to follow a path they would never ordinarily thread. Omotayo had been lonely, not just physically but having practically raised herself, she barely had a sounding board to bounce her thoughts and choices on.
If you believe in miracles, you will find this book enjoyable as the very existence of Michael, the author is a sign that miracles do happen even to the downtrodden. But, sometimes, miracles need a little push as in the case of Adewale’s “miraculous” entrance form to the then prestigious May Flower School in Sagamu.
The power of positive thinking, also one of the predominant themes of the book captured in chapters 4 through 7 shows how Iya Wale’s words have now begun to shape the life of her son who she would constantly bless even when curses might have been more appropriate for the crime.
“Whenever we did anything wrong, she would dress her disappointment in phrases of endearment as she spanked us. “Olórí’re l’ọmọ yìí o.” [This child is a fortunate child!] “Ọlọ ́run á f’ire fún ẹ.” [God will bless you!] “Orí ẹ bí oríi Gómínà.” [Your head like that of a Governor.] She never used curse words. She used prayers instead. Those prayers molded me in an unexpected way”
If you enjoy comedy, you will find a bit of it in this book when you come across John and the Eba tale from or Michael’s description of cousin Isiaka and his wild masquerade stories in chapter 5.
Michael, in this piece exposes the far reaching effect of patriarchy when he writes that his great-grandfather was thoroughly ashamed that his daughter, a woman in her 50’s, a grandmother herself had unceremoniously become a widow. This fact was such a stain to him and his family that he needed to send her off to the first man that agreed to become her “covering”.
“Pa Tijani, Ìyá Olóbì’s father pleaded with Pa Moses to take his daughter in and take care of her. Like she needed caring for. She had four grandchildren from three daughters, whom she had largely raised by herself. Yet, her independence was discomfiting. A widowed daughter, even at 55, was a shame to her father”.
Describing the harshness of his maternal grandfather’s first wife, Adewale employs the use of sarcasm, a skill he so cleverly utilizes throughout this book to humorously convey his thinly veiled disapproval of specific events. While listing some of the dehumanizing things his grandmother endured at the hands of her senior wife, Adewale says her “mabo” was tame. Tame?
“For a time, Iya Layi’s màbo remained tame. She and her children only beat Ìyá Olóbì at will. They only threw dirt at her washed, wet clothes when she hung them to dry. They only poured water on her mat after the sun went down. They tamed their rage because Ìyá Olóbì had no claim to Pa Mose’s estate, so long as she did not bear him a child?”
Sarcasm is not the only English tool Michael wound his wits around as his prowess to develop a great simile is uncanny. For instance, after his mother had endured a good beating, he likened her limp arm to an unlit candle wick.
From the first chapter, readers are taking on a rollercoaster ride of emotions – first pity which slowly dissolves into anger, then a deep sense of sadness for the plight of an unlucky woman, born into an unlucky home, tied to an unlucky man and then finally, victory.
An underlying theme which might all together be overlooked is the very real danger that comes from the abuse of a child. Omotayo was so abused; she never fully understood her worth. The lack of this understanding became the bedrock of her life choices – the father of her children, the horrid life she unwittingly chose as opposed to a bright future as a fashion designer or a prophetess.
Chapter 8 arguably captures one of the most emotional scenes from the book – the one where Michael and his baby brother, students in secondary school felt the need to give their father, a man who had barely lived up to his title all the money they had. The boys had earned money by sewing on buttons and stitching torn uniforms of their classmates. But, seeing their father, the discolored injury on his leg which had caused a terrible limp, they needed to do something to show their love, still, for this man – their father.
“At first, he honourably and tearfully refused, but he eventually realized we would not let him leave without it.”
It was, as it were, a sad moment made even more grimacing at the thought that this encounter would be the last time Michael and his brother would see their father alive.
Chapters 9 through 10 are an ode to Mayflower School – the institution that along with Iya Wale molded Michael into greatness. It speaks on the radical nature of the school’s principles which the institution has come to be known for, especially the famous Self Reliance Week where the kids are taken into a nearby forest and made to fend for themselves.
Another thing to note is the way the author brings to life the spirit of competitions and the honor and exhilaration in the win. The Jets team practice (a group of only the highest ranking academic achievers) seemed so elitist, some may argue that it might have an adverse effect on children not book smart enough to get in, but for those who do, it becomes a club of the best minds, some sort of networking ring that will eventually lead Nigeria into greatness.
Though his début, Michael has shown that he is nothing if not an excellent wordsmith. His story is relatable and the prose is expertly penned.
One time, while describing just how hungry he and his brother had become, he writes “I learnt why the hungry, the truly hungry do not frown. Lasting anger needs tight muscles and tight muscles need food”.
And while the book comes to an abrupt end at the pinnacle of one of Michael’s most prized achievements albeit as a teenager, there is so much more to discover. His brilliant mind and will to succeed never dwindled, evidenced by his first-class result obtained from the department of Chemical Engineering from the University of Lagos.
Michael Adesanya is currently building sustainable retail solutions for Africa. He is the co-founder of Suplias, where thousands of retail outlets in Africa connect directly with consumer goods manufacturers through a mobile app.
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