A Weekend In The Life Of An Ibadan Street Kid (3) – Ridwan Goes Home
This is the last instalment of a three-part story about how the pursuit of survival led a young boy into the heart of Iwo Road. You can read the first two parts below.
Saturday morning at Idi Omo
One way to access Idi Omo is through Total Garden roundabout. A straight road from the roundabout leads here, not lost, just forgotten like most of the towns excluded from the outline of Ibadan. The buildings in Idi Omo are mostly worn-out bungalows veiled by dust overlooking forlorn roads.
Finding Ridwan’s house is easy; his picture and his mother’s occupation fit like a puzzle. The first encounter is with his grandmother. She is sitting at the entrance of her shop with a bucket between her legs, tying ewedu leaves with a white string, her scarf placed on her head like a crown. She does not speak a word of English; only a few in Idi Oma did. “He came back home yesterday,” is all she can say in Yoruba, confused by the inquisition. Children gather, three or four of them, listening with amusement and bursting into laughter immediately the story is finished. Balikis, his sister, is one of them. They cannot complete a sentence without laughing. At the request of his grandma, they lead the way to his house, still crackling.
Mrs Oluranti “Iya Bose” Adewole, Ridwan’s mother, is sitting on a wooden bench right in front of her house, tying ewedu leaves with a white string, just like her mother. When the news of her son is broken, her eyebrows furrow in annoyance. It is not exactly the kind of reaction you would expect from a mother who just found her missing child. “Oni ro oshi” ─ a terrible liar ─ is the first and only statement she can muster for a while. His sister’s name is not Balikis; it is Damilola. Balikis is a neighbourhood friend of his.
Ridwan and his Mother
When Ridwan’s mother walks, she fills the pockets of air surrounding her – her gait, sprawling and full. She regards everything with intense interest, undressing all she looked at slowly with the yellow that spread in her eyes. On the way, she sees her son and gestures for him to follow her. He looks terrified. Ridwan, whose real name is Samuel, returned home yesterday, she clarified, while holding up his soiled shirt as evidence before setting out to her mother’s shop, agitated.
When his mother speaks again, the sound of her hoarse voice bursts into life like an old generator – from an audible whisper to something whole, like her son, nothing taken and nothing added. “He started behaving this way three months ago when he left the house to stay on the street in Mokola. We found him and brought him home after our third search,” she says, taking a place on the porch of the shop so that she can sit face to face with Samuel who is standing at the corner with his head bowed. When she looks at Samuel, she does it without shock, but with relive, like she has been waiting for this moment and is thankful that it was finally here.
“He doesn’t bathe. I had to bathe him yesterday,” his grandma says, as his mother touches his chest, angrily, pointing out the white scaly circles growing there — ringworm. “He chooses to behave like this,” his grandma adds, barely looking at him. Ridwan who was forced to drop out of school because he failed repeatedly did not leave home without being noticed. His mother had previously made inquiries on his whereabouts when he left home. His reply? He goes to Iwo road to hawk pure water.
For a while, Iya Bose is silent, glaring at her intertwined fingers, trying to fight back tears. Every morning by 5 am, she journeys to Apata, 14.4km from Idi Omo, to pick ewedu leaves on credit which will be sold for a small profit. Before kidnapping escalated in Ibadan, her journey to Apata started at 4 am. She does it for them, her children, “so that they can eat”. She is a good mother; she is just poor and, when you are poor, there is little or no act of societal normalcy. You cannot afford that luxury. You will have to put a tray on the heads of your children and force yourself to accept what you have just done. You cannot feel bad for too long; you have other things to worry about, like the debt that has been due for six months and the remaining mouths you have to feed.
Poverty is violence in itself, one that cannot be avoided for people born into it. She looks at him pensively and asks, “Do you drink?” He does not respond, but his grandmother does.
“What killed the father will kill the son.” It is the first and last time they mention his father. It is almost like he is a memory they would rather do without. “I prefer my mother,” he’d said at Iwo road on Friday, but had failed to mention that he did not have a choice. “Did you go to Lagos?” his mother probes fearfully, too weak to act strong. He nods his head in affirmation. Three days ago, he journeyed to Lagos. She did not notice his disappearance. After he confirms her worst fear, she buries her eyes in the edges of her wrapper and starts to sob.
Samuel stays silent for a while, head bowed, unable to mutter a word until he is asked what he wants to be to stay away from the streets. “Mechanic,” he says. What kind? Okada mechanic.
Saturday, 11:54 pm
Samuel walks me to the end of his street in silence. When he finally speaks, his voice is shaky. “They do not give me food.” It could have been another of his survival tactic to elicit empathy or just the plain truth.