A story by Ronke Luke
Freetown, Sierra Leone.
The eighties. We’re teenagers.
Life is pretty good. Our job is not to fail in school, to obey spoken, and unspoken, household rules, and, most-importantly, not disgrace the family name. The spoken rules are clear. The unspoken ones we only discover when we run afoul of them. Parental prerogative apparently. We keep our end of the deal…reasonably well, limiting chastising to occasional failure in class and breach of some rule. As long as the family name is not besmirched, we appropriate the right to push for more freedoms. Pressure to keep up with the cool kids. In our teenage years, the most important freedom is going to parties at night. The music, the drinks, the dancing, the fun. Everything is better in the soft breeze and low lights of the African night.
A party invite is a promise of a magical time. But the excitement of a fun-filled night is tempered by the tension of getting our father to yes. No easy feat. By our mid-teens we need two “yeses.” First for permission to go. But the second, more difficult yes, is for approval to come home on our own by taxi.
At fifteen and sixteen we’re in no man’s land, locked in a tango with dad. It’s a tango we know well - every step to the first yes. Every turn and swivel to the second. It could take days to get both. Pushing too hard for the second yes, might jeopardize the first one. Dropping the right names of others going to the party and coming home by cab is our go-to tactic; names of friends dad knows hoping to end the tango in our favor.
A double-edged sword. My father, apparently, made his own inquiries about the parties, starting with the names we sprinkled into our petition for permission. This frightful practice I only discovered in my adulthood.
After twists, turns and a torturous wait, finally, victory when our father wags his finger at us and sternly demands “Be home by 12.”
Twelve? Midnight! What horror! The party will just be getting going at that hour.
We try to bargain for more time. “Dad? Uhmm. Err. Can we come home at 1?” A.M. that is.
“One? What? 12 midnight! Understand?” he glowers at us.
“Yes Dad.” We scurry away before he rescinds permission.
There is no way we’ll be back at midnight. Absolutely not.
We take our lumps for missing curfew. It’s only breaking a household rule.
A plane flight. A few hours down the coast.
Lagos is brasher than Freetown. The parties flashier. The music more current. Records released in the U.K. or U.S. are in Lagos before they’re in Freetown.
Party invites arrive. We're the new kids in town. The tango to yes with relatives and parents for permission to go is the same as Freetown. But the dance ends there. They query how we're going and returning, with keen interest on return plans.
“Don’t come home until tomorrow morning,” is my uncle’s stern warning, fingers wagging at us.
Eyes dart to my dad.
My father registers our surprise. “You understand,” he asks sharply.
“Yes,” we respond solemnly.
Leave home late. Stay out till dawn! Very Cool! No problem keeping this household rule.
The difference? Armed robbers.
We didn’t care. We loved going to Nigeria. All the rules expanded there.
© 2017 – 2019, Ronke Luke
We’re Africans. Grew up in West Africa. We like telling stories. It's just part of life. Anywhere West Africans gather they spin yarns that keep the audience riveted.