Understanding mathematics is connected, in my mind, to food. To crunching gurundi, pulling the tough coconut flaovured pieces that retain some of the smell of the newspapers they are sold in, or sinking my teeth into fluffy homemade cupcakes, the aroma of which quickened the solving of my sums at aunty Jumoke’s house. She was the one responsible for transforming me from a student criminally incapable of dealing with numbers to one who went on to study engineering in the university. She’s one of the people who made me believe that I was capable of doing anything I set my mind to, once I can break them down into language I could understand. With her, mathematics became demystified, less and less numbers to be crammed and more about ideas to be translated.
Kids at my primary school had this habit of guilt-tripping, at the slightest provocation, by shouting pastor’s child. Children are vicious at finding weak spots and exploding them to the fullest, but my mates were unfortunate to have Aunty Owoade as class teacher. She gave anyone who tried that tactic a whooping, telling them pastor’s kids are not dropped from heaven, are just kids like them. She walked into class one day and saw me reading a colourful pamphlet about space and asked, “Do you want to study science?” I answered yes, because I wasn’t aware at the time that it was okay to say I don’t know to questions. She laughed and said, “You better improve your mathematics if you want to be a science student.”
Anyone who tells stories understands the importance of selecting the right details. We do not have the time and space to engage our audience forever, so we pick the things we consider important and turn them into narratives. There’s a version of the tale of how and why I write that is void of all the women who made it possible. Because we can tell a story from many sides, it's often said that there's no absolute truth, only versions of it. Zadie Smith, Joan Didion, Anne Lamott, Flannerry O' Connor, Timi Yeseibo, Nell Zink, Chimamanda Adichie, Susan Sontag, etc. There’s a version of my tale that is absent of men; it’s closer to the truth.
I've told this story many times. I had just finished my mandatory one year service, was back to Ibadan, and considering options for the future. Writing felt like an excess I couldn't afford. I had stopped blogging and was planning a move to Lagos to work at an engineering firm. They wanted me to hang around while they sort out the employment arrangement. I wasn't read to do that. So, I returned to Ibadan, not certain of how to navigate the near-future. I saw Tope in church and she asked why she hadn't read anything by me in a while. I stopped blogging, I answered. We were both at the side door of the church. I was going out, she was going in. It was an evening, and she looked like she headed to church straight from class. I do not know why I remember this anecdote clearly and can see her motion in my mind's eye like it happened yesterday. If you stop, I'll kill you, she said.
When I was seven, I wrote a poem that my aunt drafted on a cardboard and pasted on the wall above my table. The reason for and subject of that poem is lost now. All that is left is memory of a pink paper as its content fading away while its author pursued a dream of being an engineer. A full decade and half later, when I opened a blog, that same aunt was one of the first folks in the family to know I was writing. You should write a book, Ife, she often said. I thought it was a joke. I read Macbeth and Hemingway in her library, so for her to consider my drivel publishable sounded like handing a trophy of participation to a kid who finishes last in a race. Four years later, I’m beginning to see glimpses of what she saw. She’s still tacking cardboards to the wall, waiting for me to catch up.
Featured Image by Hamed Adedeji