I visited my old street, where I grew up, a few weeks ago and everything had changed…for the worse.
I saw a former neighbor, Bro Gabe, he was my role model back in the day but when he called my name that day, I almost picked race!
Let me tell you his story.
On my old street, one house stands out; a two storied building that has been leaning like the tower of Pisa in the last 25 years; it’s been leaning because it was built on a swampy plot, every time it rained, to date, the whole of the ground floor, all the rooms would be flooded with sewage…yeah, that house has a perpetual smell of dead things, of human waste of, of bad memories.
Would you believe that house has no toilet even though, there were two pit latrines at the back and two bathrooms made from zinc that have rotted; it is a face-me-face-you house.
Back then, all kinds of families resided in that house; all tribes in Nigeria were ably represented there.
We had Iya Aiyi, the Hausa woman who’s daughter Aisha got married to one of the top guys in government today.
We had Baba Uchenna, a secondhand clothes merchant with four kids and two apprentices living in a two bedroom; we had so many, like my own parents, we lived in one room with my two sisters.
That house had families with eight children living in two rooms, families of five living in one room, families of 12 living in two rooms…so this just gives you a good impression of the house I lived in. But still, my story is not about the house, it is about Bro Gabe, who despite living with us in this rot, stood out. Always dressed well because he had a job at a private firm that was into experiential marketing.
Bro Gabe was someone we all wanted to be like; he was like the breadwinner to his widowed mother because his three brothers were ne’er do nothings while his two sisters slept around. So he was like the only light in his mother’s life.
Bro Gabe had a girlfriend then but because he couldn’t bring her to visit him in that house, he was forced to rent a house, a two bedroom flat a few streets away from our street.
After a few years, they got married but the wife couldn’t conceive. I do not know the true cause of her inability to conceive but I do know that several times, this wife would come crying to meet mama, Bro Gabe’s mother; she would complain of his callous attitude towards her childlessness.
I tell you, when you live in a crowded house like ours, secrets are open.
Then the marriage broke up and Bro Gabe was almost broken.
Everyone thought he should just go right out to find himself another woman, after all, he was a man. It’s easier for men, they said.
I don’t think it was easy for BroGabe because three years after, he still had no woman and by then his former wife was married with a child. Yeah, we heard that gist and a few people forwarded photos of the marriage and kid to us. We all followed up on what was going on in Bro Gabe’s ex-wife’s life.
Then Bro Gabe began to behave funny; he would come to his mum’s place and sit there outside the crowded balcony then begin to postulate theories. He was a big philosopher, that BroGabe.
We discovered that he didn’t go to work anymore. At first, he told us he was on leave but can you be on leave for three months? Yes, that was how long he stayed away from going to work. Of course rumours had got to us, that he was fired. He being fired meant he couldn’t pay his rent, he couldn’t feed himself, so he moved back to his mother’s…yes, that same old rotten house we were all too eager to flee from as soon as we were old enough.
Bro Gabe went back, like one going back to his vomit.
When I went to my old area and saw him. He was raving, a complete lunatic, I didn’t even recognize him, he called me by my name.
‘Beebzi!’ Only those who know me to the core call me that, so when I turned and saw a mad man calling my name, I didn’t run immediately, I stared at him.
‘Bro Gabe, are you the one?’ I asked because, well, I had to be sure.
‘You dey craze, come and greet your elders, joo,’ was his reply.
Indeed, it was Bro Gabe. I didn’t draw close, i stood a distance and greeted him.
“You still live here?’ I asked him.
Yes, he did. The old house has not sunk, no, but more than 90percent of its old tenants are gone, new ones, new faces stared at me as I chatted with Bro Gabe.
It’s funny he still lived in that house. His mother had passed, I was told and his brothers, the ne’er do wells of old are in Germany and Italy as he informed me, ‘They are doing well,’ Bro Gabe told me.
Then he began his theories.
I’m telling you, this is real, I don’t know who pays his rent or feeds him, I would imagine it would be his sisters and the brothers ‘doing well’ abroad, right?
I have been sad since then; I looked up a few former neighbours and they all know Bro Gabe’s story.
They said his sisters come in once in a while to tidy up his two rooms and make him take a bath. The brothers like i guessed are responsible for his rent. see life, see how things turned out.
That’s the story of a fine man, a man we all dreamt of being like, now, no more.
(Series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)