My grandmother, Àkeé was a witch, however. Not in the sense of the nocturnal-meeting-attending witch-mistress that the wooli would like us to believe. She had a strong personality. In spite of her lanky frail looking figure, she was always the strict disciplinarian who commands the respect everyone around her. Respect, which I must admit was borne rather from her uppityness than admiration. After all, she was a princess, having been the daughter of Oba Shiyanbola Ladigbolu, Alaafin of Oyo, Iku baba yeye, alase ekeji orisha (the second in command to the gods). She probably couldn't understand why Yaayi wouldn't be in awe and fear of her in the kingdom of her father.
For Yaayi must have overstepped her boundary by marrying her only son and holding claim to his heart in the process. That I think is the reason for their disagreement: both women were asserting their importance on the same territory. For Àkeé had been the only woman my dad was ever afraid of.
There was the story of how Àkeé beats up a police man. The story goes that in the early 60s, my dad a young graduate from the police college at Ibadan was summoned to Oyo by her. She must have heard something wrong about him. He went fully dressed in his crisp uniform and shiny black boot. Perhaps to impress his mates and neighbours or to pacify Àkeé who must be proud to see her son commanding such ardour. This was the days when the Nigerian Police Force was a respectable profession, when the officers carry a big baton thereby earning the nickname olopa (the one with the stick). The present officers are mostly underpaid, ill-equipped and gun-wielding officers, some of whom, in my opinion, are part of corruption-ridden cartel whose commitment to the law is limited to the amount of bribe they can exploit from the public.
When my dad arrived in Oyo, he earned the respects and admiration of almost everyone except the one he desperately wanted to impress the most. Àkeé, I was told, wasn't just unimpressed but slightly dissatisfied with his response to her queries.
"Gbosa" the neighbours heard. The old woman had slapped the tall policeman.
Rather than arresting her for violating the exalted Nigerian Police Uniform, the officer took to his heels and fled. When asked why she had risked the wrath of the government by slapping a fully-uniformed olopa, her response was apt as the previous action:
"He may be an officer to you, but he is still an errant boy of mine, and no child of Àkeé can grow beyond her punition"
Growing up in Lagos under the military dictator governments and witnessing the brutalities of uniformed officers against civilians, I find it hard to believe that story. I cannot imagine any woman daring enough to raise her voice, much less her fingers against the brutish khaki boys. However, every doubt I had in that story was permanently dismissed many years later during a later visit to Oyo with my dad when I was a little boy of nine or probably ten. As always, we were to stay at Ile Aare. By interpretation Ile Aare means the house of the prince. Although she wasn't meant to be there, since royalty in Oyo Kingdom is strictly patriarchal, however she had inherited the mud multi-bedroom house from the Alaafin when she refused to stay with her husband's other wives at Isale-Oyo.
We arrived at Oyo just before the dusk slides underneath the golden clouds. I knew we were nearer home when the smell of the fields at Ilora gave way to the noise of the traffic and children selling bread at Owode. Each passing vehicle is welcomed to the ancient town by the billboard depicting the picture of a smiling man with a talking drum saying; A ji sebi Oyo laa ri, Oyo o sebi baba enikan (Oyo can only be imitated, Oyo imitates no one). It reminds each visitors of the town's glorious past, when it used to be the capital of a vast empire. Days before the empire were weakened by combined forces of internal corruption, Yoruba civil wars in the 18th and 19th centuries and the contemptuous subtlety of the colonialists who exploited its people with unequal treaties.
But my dad is not ready to go home to his mum yet. He picked some of his friends and decided to do pub crawl. We must have visited about three beer parlours that evening and I was offered Fanta, Coke and occasional pepper soup at each one. When he finally decided to go home, we must have spent more than five hours since our arrival in the old town. As the car pulled over at the back of Ile Aare and we made our way in between the compounds to Àkeé's, nearly everyone is asleep apart from the roaming goats that were either looking for food or resting place. Holding my hands he knocked, half expecting his mother to jubilantly answer the door. Àkeé answered the door with a voice that does not betray any stint of expectation. She must have been awake, waiting for us, but pretended that we were unwelcomed intruders.
"Ta nu?" ("Who is it?")
"Emi ni o" ("It is me?")
"Iwo taa ni?" ("And who are you?")
"Emi Layi ni" ("It is me, Layi")
"Ni bo lo nti bo ni woyi?"........... "ire o laago ni?".......... "se bi alakowe le pe ra yin?" ("Where are you coming from at this time?".... "Don't you have a watch?"...... "And you called yourself a learned person")
The last questions my dad did not bother to answer. He knew his mum. She was annoyed.
Annoyed that he had not come home straight to her on his arrival. She must have heard from her friends at the Akesan market who cited his car around town about his arrival. "Ahh............eku a mo juba, a ri ọ́kọ̀
ọ́mọ́ yin l'Owode, ari ni Isokun". And then she must be annoyed that he came home late, keeping her waiting and allowing the food she had prepared to go cold. She decided to rebuke him, despite the fact that he was old enough to be a granddad then. To Àkeé, this was her house and he is her son. She refused to open the door until an older uncle who heard the conversation came to beg on his behalf. When we entered the house, it was obvious she has been expecting us for she had prepared ẹ̀ko and ẹ̀fọ́. Her action didn't escape my young mind. I saw the only person who could discipline my dad.
Despite her initial lack of enthusiasm at his late arrival, it was obvious she had missed him; they talked into the night, updating each other about what had happened since the last time they met. Such was the affection between them that on her death-bed few years after, she sent for him to be beside her despite the presence of her other children and grandchildren. When he heard, he left everything he was doing in Lagos and made the trip with Yaayi to her side. When she saw him, she ate for the first time in days and died in his arms. The son of Àkeé.