Sophie’s Worlds: Ikpoba to Facebook

I have told this story many times…but always in my head. Finally, I have decided to put pen to paper, or rather, fingers to keypad, and here it is. This is the story about the person behind my facebook persona, The Jolli Gud Fellow, Esther Oghogho Sophie Palmer. This is the story about Sophie’s worlds.

My first world as a young impressionable Sophie was very typical, growing up with 3 older brothers and an older sister in lkpoba-Okha, Local Government Area in Benin City; I say typical because it was all we knew, and life was largely the same for everyone around.

What was not so typical however, was the size of our family. While many of the families in Ikpoba were polygamous, our family was a little more special in that regard; my father had 5 wives with my mum being number 2. For anyone conversant with polygamy especially in a semi-urban setting like Ikpoba, mothers were almost completely responsible for the upkeep of their children.

To break the “normality” of life growing up, every Christmas there was the usual flash from distant relations coming home to show off, while the other eleven and a half months went by in “ignorant bliss” as my English speaking cousin would say.

Father was a civil servant at the local government secretariat, while my mum traded not too far from the house. Of course, as we the children grew up, we became increasingly aware of our lack of material possessions.

School was fun, though looking back I realize we didn’t learn very much. The teachers always seemed angry. And distracted – like they would really rather have been somewhere else.

As it turned out school was cut short altogether when my father lost his government job. Thankfully, I had completed my secondary school education when it happened and so we were “only” saddled with getting me into uni. Though it was meant to be a temporary setback while we tried to make up my school fees, I found myself spending more and more time at my mother’s trading post. And I have to admit, I enjoyed it. Thoroughly.

I was a natural, at least, so I was told. People went out of their way to come to our store and I made great effort to remember people’s names, names of their spouses, names of their children, and even birthdays when I could. I remembered to ask after family members recovering from illness or getting ready for one of those epic trips out of town. Now those trips made for endless conversations in Ikpoba as people debated who amongst the travelers would either come back successful or not come back at all. To come back “poor” was something of an abomination.

My mother was my rock. My friend. My confidant. And I knew how much she in turn depended on me without either of us ever actually saying as much. I suppose it wasn’t “the done thing” where we were from – PDA (Public Display of Affection) that is – as I was later taught it was called by my soon to be acquainted urban friends.

I had so far resisted the lure of Lagos. However, like the proverbial moth to a flame, I succumbed. And the bait was appropriate. After all, for someone so gifted as a trader, where else but Lagos to truly fulfill my potential. Actually there was also Aba, but for those of us from the hinterland, there was nothing quite like Lagos, the real deal, in every sense.

And so in December of 2006 the usual procession of out-of-town Uncles, Aunts, and cousins – real and assumed – came from Lagos and Abuja and Port Harcourt for the holidays, each person bursting with riveting stories about life in the city. It wasn’t like Benin City was some bush town. Not at all in fact. But, it simply wasn’t the same. And it still isn’t.

As my cousin Alero spoke endlessly about Ikoyi, Surulere, Lekki and these other seemingly wonderful places, it was suddenly easy to decide that come next Christmas, l also would be a Lagos returnee telling my fabulous stories to innocent young girls hanging on to my every word; my local champion status was finally coming to an end, and a whole new world awaited.

To be continued…




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