So he started singing a song I had never heard before.
“It was my mother’s favourite song,” he explained as he continued to sing the song about Samson and his downfall.
“How come it was her favourite song yet I never heard it?” I asked.
He walked towards the balcony, looked out and turned back to me who had stopped typing and faced him, chin propped by my left fist.
“You see,” He began. I knew the story might be a long one.
“When she still sold fabrics, she had a set closing time so she could come back home and had enough leisure time to sing around the house. By the time you came, the bar business had sprung up. The new business took more of her time. Besides, she couldn’t start singing in the beer parlour.”
I hung my head to the side. I knew about the transition of her business from selling fabric in Lawanson market in the 1970s and the ban of imported printed textile by Obasanjo in ‘77/8. It effectively ended that business. She started a new business while leasing the shed to someone else (that story and all that happened after, is a very long one).
I idly wondered with a grandmother who sold fabric and a mother who did the same, if my destiny wasn’t inside Balogun market with a shop covered with mirrors from floor to ceiling and not this pharmacy or writing things I have given half my life to and then some.
He sighed, so I left my fantasy shop in Balogun to return to the parlour in Surulere; I recognised that sigh, it came just after he spoke about his mother.
“I don’t even know what your favourite song to sing is,” I said to distract him from missing his mother.“You don’t know?” he asked, a little shocked from the tone of his voice.“Yes na, do you even sing any song sef? I’ve never heard you sing anything.”
“One-One Bi nko?” he asked and, we both burst into laughter. I had been terrorised by that song because he played the life and spirit out of it and threatened that when he became a billionaire, I would fill a form to see him. As if a human being could stop from seeing my father. Also his name was mentioned often in that record, maybe that was the draw.
“You don’t sing that song, you just play it,” I muttered.
“Hmmm, what of this one?” he asked and stepped away from the sound system thing. The first strains of a song began to play from the speakers.
I groaned. I walked into this one and had no one to blame. He had never needed an excuse to play his favourite songs on the sound system thing that I still cannot operate because it annoys me. I soon recognised the song which was from one of his Hillsong CDs.
It wasn’t true that I’d never heard him sing. Before his mother had told us he didn’t fight anywhere and, we were old enough to figure out that he couldn’t have fought, he would burst into song and tell us those were the songs they used when facing the Nigerian army.
He also sang his old secondary school’s anthem often enough that all his children could sing the song perfectly before they were even old enough to go to secondary school. He also sang his favourite hymns from that time emphasising on the verses that tickled generations of Ogssians.
I looked up from the laptop and found I was alone; he had put the music and left it to play while he went back to his room. It was a quirk of his that was partly endearing and, I would have said partly annoying. But one does not say one’s parent is annoying unless one is ready to prepare ihe ose na mmanya oku for Umuonyeutu clan elders.
I went to get him and made him listen to his music while I continued typing, the words came easy and, I remembered many other times he sang over the years. However, when I think of him and singing, it is Joe Nez that always comes to mind.
One evening when I was still in primary school, my youngest brother began to sing one of his favourite nursery rhymes, Humpty Dumpty. It was interesting how the boy sang at his loudest at home and disturbed everyone with his singing but refused staunchly to sing in school with his classmates in nursery one.
His father piped up and began to sing a song I had never heard before and, I could have sworn he made up on the spot. I can stake everything valuable that I own that the boy’s mother wasn’t there while he sang that song to her three children under the age of ten. It wouldn’t have been funny.
The song was about a man and his landlady at Enugu and her troubles, and her obesity. The chorus was short and catchy and, before long both boys were screaming “Fat, Fat as a Cow” in tune with the song.
I should have known it was a real song because unlike my mother who could make up a song on the spot about anything, even the eba she insisted would enter her stomach when we ate it.
My father’s forte wasn’t in making up songs, apart from the one song he composed to bring us home after standing outside as we watched him wash his care. And even that song didn’t have an original tune, unlike his wife’s songs. How we hated that song! But we had to sing it. Looking back now, I can imagine the pleasure he got from watching us grumble and grunt in the name of singing his song.
Back to Fat as a Cow, nearly ten years would pass before he came home with the CD from one of his trips and I realised that it was an actual song, and it was not as sweet as it was when my father sang it.
The music had stopped and, I decided to listen to Joe Nez again. So I went to YouTube after I failed to find the CD at the top of the stack – it is not me that would comb through all those CDs to find Joe Nez when the good Lord gave us YouTube.
As always, the song was not as good as it was in my memory of that evening when my brothers shouted the chorus in glee. It wasn’t even close.