They told me the Akalamagbo is their insignia and that they believed in the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God. Then they welcomed me to the Eleiye. Whether I initially wanted it or not, at that point, even if I wanted out, it would have been the greatest mistake of my life…or death.
As part of my orientation, I was taught the basic Eleiye greeting; the claw. I was told never to claw a person just because he is among us, as he could just be an ordinary guy (HS), and doing that would be an insult to all we stand for. Also I was to watch who to claw as there are hierarchies and I can only claw a superior at his request, even at that, it must come with some level of acknowledgement.
I’m going too fast Olajumoke, I should begin from the start.
I’m sure you remember how we first met in front of Moremi Hall of OAU on the night of our matriculation exactly 12years ago. I had followed one of my roommates Segun from Angola to Moremi to check on his girlfriend. I was waiting outside for Segun to come out so we could head to New Buka where we planned to celebrate. You walked right into me because you were trying to escape Dayo, your family friend, who wanted to take you to Fajuyi Hall as it was their Aro night. You didn’t see me standing, you were too preoccupied. You quickly apologized but your eyes kept roving. Though then I didn’t understand why you were in such a hurry, I helped you anyway. I gave you my pull-over to wear on your dress as we made our way into Moremi to look for Segun, though I had no idea what room he went into. That was the beginning of our great friendship.
By the second year of our stay in the University, things at home for me hit rock bottom. Popsi passed away and the company refused to pay gratuity. The little we had, family members pounced on them, leaving us in penury. Mother began to sell her jewelry to support the family and I was only the first of seven children. As a result, I had to cut school expenses to basic feeding as even buying books, was a luxury I couldn’t afford. At first, you didn’t notice. By the beginning of the second semester though, you started making comments about how gaunt I looked, how I now had wrinkles and how I’ve stopped laughing. Then you began to notice my thread-bare clothes and how faded they looked from over-washing. When you asked what the matter was, I couldn’t tell you because of my pride. I reckoned that when all else is lost, only pride keeps a man standing. I wasn’t about to relinquish that pride.
Then one night, you came to my room with tear marks on your face. I was no longer in Angola as every year, we get new halls. I asked what was wrong and you started the tears all over. I was confused as that was the first time I’ve ever seen you sad. You always laughed, even when things were bleak, you laughed. Nothing could ever go wrong with you. That night, you cried with so much passion as when you laugh that I realised that you are one person whose very existence lies on her being passionate. Not knowing what to do, I let you cry without consolation. By the time you were done, you collapsed with exhaustion on my bed and slept.
My bunkmate was the first to come into the room. I quickly explained my dilemma to him as his eyes fall on you atop my bed. When the other guys in the room came back and raised questioning glances, my bunk-mate quickly told them you jot got heartbroken. You woke up to the echoes of “sister, sorry o” and you were surprised. I asked you to put on your shoes and quickly excused both of us. On getting outside, I told you why you were getting the sorrys and you laughed again. Seeing that the coast was clear, I asked you what the matter was initially. Then you told me you had called Mother and she had told you how things were for us. I was speechless. Then you went ahead to tell me you’d do all you can to help. We said goodbyes and I went back to my hostel.
From then on, you took it upon your person to mother me. No longer do I sleep with pangs of hunger. When you had, you gave. When you didn’t, you still gave. You gave me everything and I gave you nothing in return. It got to a point where I realized I needed to stop relying on you- that I had to be a man. Instead of discussing it with you, I consulted my bunkmate, Rotimi. I told him everything and he said he’d help me. He did. With everything. With his life. He’s dead now. He died fighting for me.
Few days after my talk with Rotimi, he took me to Kunle. Though Kunle and I took Drama class together, we never spoke. Once there, Rotimi introduced me and I told him I knew Kunle. Kunle said he’ll personally take it upon himself to tutor me and help me. He said Rotimi was just one out of his many. We talked about so many things, academics most importantly. They sounded knowledgeable enough. Besides I had no reason to be wary as I knew Kunle to the best student in class. He was quiet, diligent and handsome to boot. I felt honoured to be even in the same league with him. It felt like we were friends already. After a while, Kunle left for a class but before then, he said he’ll send Rotimi to me with some specifics. I was elated.
That day I went to your room as usual and told you about my new single which I was looking for a way to promote. You said you’d ask your brother to help since he knows a few guys in the music industry. I didn’t tell you about my new close relationship with Rotimi, but you noticed I was quite cheerful. When you mentioned my cheerfulness, I smiled more and told you that soon, I’d be able to repay all your kindness.
A few weeks passed and I noticed Rotimi’s absence from the hostel. Although I had seen him around campus, he never came to the room. Then one night, he came back and told me to get ready, we were going to Ibadan. He said so many things had happened in the past few weeks and it has accelerated their wish to help me. I quickly dressed up in the purple t-shirt and purple-and-black loafers you got me for my birthday. At the gate to the Hall, Kunle was waiting in a Mercedez with the other guys from before. We left for Ibadan.
It was in that car that they asked if I was familiar with the Eiye Akalamagbo. I told them it’s the Yoruba name for the Phoenix, a very aggressive bird. Then they told me about the Phoenix; more than I had ever known or would have ever know if I hadn’t been with them. They told me about all the other birds too; the Aparo, the Okin, the Eyeile, the Asa, the Lekeleke, and all others. It was interesting, is interesting…it was then the welcome to the Eiye Confraternity began. They taught me the easiest way to rise through hierarchies. They taught me all I needed to know. They promised the Eiye would help me and I promised them that if it did, I would also keep my promise to it. I would be loyal to it.
By the time we got to the gate of the premier University, I was ready for my initiation. Unlike others who The guys told me about, I wasn’t scared. In my mind, I knew it was a give-and-take issue. At least, with them, I’d have to work for what I got and I’d get to keep my pride which I was beginning to lose to you. We entered the university gates and parked in one of the popular male hostels. Soon as we got there, Kunle called some guys and soon a car pulled out from the pack in front of the hostel. We followed the car for about 20minutes within the university gates and then we parked. There were about 10 guys waiting there and with the way they carried themselves, it was not hard for me to deduce that they were men who wielded power and knew they did.
A speaker boomed, as if out of nowhere, stating that all who were for the orientation should step forward and remove all clothing. While wondering if the instruction was meant for me, Rotimi gave me a blinding slap from behind. That was enough to urge me on. I quickly stripped down to my boxers and filed out. From then on, the 10 guys follwed by Kunle led the way as we filed through a bush path. We finally stopped under a tree after about 10 minutes of walking. At the tree, we met about a hundred other guys like me, all stripped. It was our OT. We were taught the codes and the whistle, and we weren’t given much time because we had to memorize everything.
We were told the code names for certain things, the names of various birds and what they mean when sighted. There we also learnt the code names for various schools which were named after trees because trees are the nesting places for birds. We were given our code names, which were bird names. I was the only one from Ife amongst the initiates. As a result of this, Araba was to be my Nest. Giving me a name was difficult as though I have the physique and charisma of a leader, I was intelligent and have a lovely voice. After much ruminating, I was given the name ‘Kiwi’.
That was the beginning of my sojourn in the fraternity. Quickly, I rose in hierarchy as I did all I was assigned to do. I will not tell you it is all rosy because it is more bloody than rosy. So much betrayal and politics and bad blood running in every blood. Kunle was killed two months after I joined by Adeoti, a guy he swore was his brother. Adeoti levelled Kunle to get his position as Number 1 in Ife. While I was still reeling in shock at such betrayal and how th council could accept such, Rotimi urged me to keep calm as that was the way things are done. L he told me Kunle still had his Faithfuls and soon, Adeoti would get his. From then on, I knew I was to trust nobody as everything is a jungle and It’s all a matter of survival.
By third year, you no longer saw me as you used to. I didn’t have time for you anymore, not because I didn’t want to but because me associating with you was risky for you. I took other people’s lives and didn’t care for mine. But your life, I couldn’t toy withdnce I involved in, I stayed distant. Even when we accidentally meet, I was always in a rush; giving excuses and practically running away. I told myself I was protecting you from being killed but I knew deep in my heart that I was protecting you from me. From seeing who I have become, what I had become.
That year, Rotimi and I went to Lagos to see some members of the council. It was there I met Stanle, CEO of Hemisphere Entertainment. He had heard about me, my music and my dedication to the club. He gave me his card and asked me to be at his office after I had completed the assignment that brought me to Lagos in the first place. Indeed, after the assignment, I went to his office from where we headed to his studio and we recorded a song. That was the beginning of my music career.
When you heard the song on the Radio few weeks later, you were elated. Then you came to my room to tell me how happy you were for me. Because of my involvement with the club, I had to be cautious. So when you knocked and since I wasn’t expecting guests, I opened the door with a gun in hand. You screamed on sighting the gun. You were afraid of me and I could see it in your eyes. You wouldn’t come in when I asked you to. You told me the reason you came over, how disappointed you were in me and you left me with a sheen of tears in your eyes. I felt drained. That was the last time I ever saw you.
I never came after you and even after final exams, I never thought to look for you. Not because I didn’t want to, but because I had made so many enemies. I left Ife from the exam hall. Going to my room was a risk I would never take. Rotimi was waiting for me outside the hall with my bag. We trusted only each other. At the gate, I said goodbye to Rotimi and urged him to watch his back as we’ve become accustomed to doing. He left for Lagos while I went to Akure to Mother and my younger ones.
After graduation, I frequented Lagos for shows and launches to promote my music. Every time I was on stage, I was afraid; afraid that someone would come to settle a score. But then, I always knew when to switch roles. I knew when to take on the diligent personality of a rising musician and when to take on the rugged look of a guy that wields power; the power to take a life without flinching. Maybe the fact that I can go with the flow has kept me alive till now, maybe I’ve just been lucky. I only made sure that whenever I was in Lagos, I contacted Rotimi. That way, I had another pair of eyes watching out for me.
It was at the end of one of those shows that Rotimi told me about Convocation. I knew that was the only chance I had if I were to ever make things right with you, the only chance I had of ever seeing you again. I told Rotimi to get ready for the convocation as we would be attending. Rotimi reminded me that we could be set up if we attended. I was adamant.
On convocation day, I took a bus to Ibadan from Akure where I met with Rotimi. He picked me up at the Tantalizers on Iwo Road and from there, we headed towards Ife. We were on our way when we got waylaid by some Boot Men who had scores to settle with me. I had put down their number four on my last assignment for the Eiye before my final paper. They had heard I’d be around for the ceremony from an insider. Knowing Rotimi was my man, they trailed him. We never made it to the convocation as our car was damaged with bullets and we were left to die. Rotimi and I were rescued by a passenger bus heading to Ife, shortly after the boys left. We were taken to the hospital where Rotimi died.
For th first time in a long while, I cried; for myself, for the lost lives, for Rotimi and for you. Also for the first time in a long while, I was afraid. I didn’t know what to do or where to go. Rotimi had always been good at knowing what should be done and how to go about it. I was truly alone. I lost you, and Rotimi. On leaving the hospital, I left for Lagos to meet Stanley. I explained all that happened and he said, I should be at his as all will be fine. He assured me of my security and went about packaging me and my music. That year, I released my first album which I dedicated to my true brother, Rotimi. That album go me secured in the music industry and ever since, I’ve been doing better.
That was 7years ago. Now I have everything I dreamt of and more. I still go to visit Rotimi’s parents and talk to them. Like Rotimi, they welcome me. To them, I was another Rotimi. But in my eyes, they don’t see the pain I hide knowing that Rotimi died protecting me. One day, I’ll be able to tell Mother my sojourn. She might not forgive the boy I was, she will accept the man I have become; a man who takes responsibility for his actions. A man who takes the blame for what he did, for what he does.
I know all this is a wide berth from all you expected from me, it is a development from who I was. I am no longer the boy with dreams and hopefulness, I am now a man with goals, fears and shadows. I have learnt to live the life I built for myself. I am still an Eiye, not because it doesn’t have its evils but because it kept its promise to me. Now it’s my turn to keep my promise. It gave me my dreams, all it asks now is support, loyalty.
Like many before me, I am now one of its strong financial base. I give money whenever I’m required to and attend meetings because in this outside world, it is no longer one of bloody killings and horrors. It is now one of power and influence; of respect, honour, pride, authority and ghosts of the past. I say this to you because I want you to see who I am, that I am still that boy you rescued, perhaps in a little way.
I only want you to know that I am still your Olalekan.
The author describes herself thus, “There’s a world inside my head, an alternate reality…which may be your own reality. Who am I? I’m still finding that out. Zayta Kamal is my pseudonym, my person and her alternate. The meeting point is reality.
I hope to be a radio OAP someday or perhaps something in the field of writing. I like to think I’m an excellent speech writer and I love travelling.
In all, I just love all things literature.”