TASTE OF MEMORY: By Sada Malumfashi

©️ Abdullahi Ahmad

I had first discovered death during the Miss World riots. A man on his bike escaping the violence got his head hacked away with a sword. He was the wrong religion at the wrong side of town. There were reprisal killings everywhere and the city became epileptic with violence. The next day, with blood still flowing in the gutters, children will return to the streets to play football on sands where blood spilled as if nothing had ever occurred. Soon, the military will camp in a permanent base in Tudun Wada. The north of the city becomes Islam. The South is Christian.


It was my first time back in Tudun Wada in ten years and it seemed as time passed by everything else had shrunk in size. Ten years earlier, I was roaming the streets with my best friends Manu and Dan Almajiri. My parents, both academics, would have hearts somersaulting at my marauding in the unsafe neighbourhood. But I was a teenager, in the final years of secondary school and I could not be caged in the house nor be the victim of laughter and derision from my mates, for always reading books in my parents’ library and never outside. Now all the blood and death tamed Tudun Wada, and now it is a lazy river. Only one thing remained the same: the untarred streets. Children still played football on the roads, women shouted back at them and chased them not to break window panes. Everything rolled back to me, the reason I never wanted to return; why I stayed back in the City and passed away every opportunity to visit the nooks where I grew up, where I had always known as home. 

I moved to the City for my university studies, to be as far as possible from Tudun Wada. A choice made easier when my parents transferred from the polytechnic in Tudun Wada to the university in the City. This death, the death of my grandmother was my reason to visit. So here I was, ten years later, back in Tudun Wada walking the shadows and reflections of my past.


My aunt triggered the conversation that led to my mid-afternoon walk. “Dan Almajiri keeps asking of you, you know,” she mentioned, “He said he will reach out to you on the things you people do on your phone, the Wazzup.”

For sixteen years of my life, I was one-third of a tripartite group of friends with – Manu and Dan Almajiri. We grew up on the streets of Tudun Wada scouring our legs against the dirt of the streets after our daily dose of football on un-tarred roads, filled with car honking and motorcyclists dodging our tiny legs. We grew up with dirt roads, mosques on every street, churches sharing fences with houses, tea and food vendors and social ceremonies. From sunrise to sunset, I would wake up and live my life with Manu and Dan Almajiri. Dawn breaks in bits and pieces, and we begin our daily lives with the sunlight kissing our doors. We sat by the verandas as five-year-olds spying on adults and playing with tyres as makeshift cars. Mothers prepared dinner. Smoke rose above the houses. 

As tweens, we played football bare-footed in the dust or hopped and pursued grasshoppers at dusk sometimes dancing in the rain. As teenagers, we saved lunch money from school, to buy gifts for our girlfriends and visited cinemas with high walls built just after Nigeria’s independence to watch Bollywood movies. Sometimes during the dry season, we snuck to swim in the river and returned with dry faces and red eyes. We will storm Maigona’s sugar cane plantation and he will chase us with an axe as we climbed fences with brown sugar cane sticks on our shoulders racing for death and I swear he would have killed us if he had ever caught one. The sweet taste of the sugarcane juice will be the reward of our adventure. We will earn our first wages by gathering two bags of sand for our neighbour from the dry river bed. I will use my seven naira fifty kobo from the labour to buy Trebor mints. My mother will be livid, first about the child labour I indulged in and second about my lack of financial discipline. How can I spend something I earned over the course of three days, all at once like a thief? 


I walked on the streets that used to feel familiar, but I felt stranded with a taste of memory on my tongue. Quietness was an athlete on the streets. I passed one of our popular cinemas then, it was now death in a shadow. In those days, we will take a row of seat to ourselves; re-watch the same movies repeatedly to pick lines, romantic lines we can use on girls. Then crisis, holding hands with religion arrived and cinemas were abandoned, the spaces converted to mosques and churches became dumpsites to smoke hemp. My mind sprinted through everything, but in the past ten years, I have mastered the art to forget and disperse away memories. 


I found Dan Almajiri in the front yard of their house. As if he had been waiting there all these years, expecting me. He had remained stuck in Tudun Wada while I moved on with life. The two of us were more different that we could ever be. Or we had always been different? I was the son of two academics. He was the son of petty traders. That incident had cracked our bond, and now we could hardly look into each other’s eyes. But we remembered.


Everyone in Tudun Wada knew Manu as the wild one, with a huge temper. He had been expelled from the Nigerian Military School in his second year. Within the tripartite group, we understood Manu as an upholder of justice. He could not adhere to the military ethic of accepting orders without question. He challenged the sergeant in their dormitory for bullying classmates, reported him way up above the chain of command. But that was not the military way and soon Manu will join us back in our lives after that brief stint. His reputation in Tudun Wada plunged downwards, but we knew the kindness of our friend. A kindness that will be his own undoing.

On the night of the incident, we had the left the cinema. It was a day after our final SSCE exams. We were teenagers dreaming about university life. We bought suya at the cinemas munching the spicy meat wrapped in an old newspaper. There was a picture of President Obasanjo and the opposition candidate General Buhari in the upcoming elections. Both of them staring at us from the crumpled paper, oil from the meat staining their white kaftans. We walked pass the tea vendors lined up as the pots of boiling tea herbs roared as the sun began its descent. Buses swished passed delivering passengers. Older men in front of mosques listened to radios. Across the street, the now permanent military checkpoints stationed since the riots continued their stop and search of passers-by on vehicles. We were fighting on the last piece of suya each one of us pulling it when I realised there were only two hands, Dan Almajiri’s and mine. I raised my head to find Manu in the middle of a commotion on the other side of the street at the military checkpoint. 

An older man had packed his Vespa and was been punished by the soldiers for some misdemeanour. The man squatted and panted out of breath and Manu was lifting him up by the shoulders. We standby watching from across the street as one of the soldiers kicked Manu on his back. Manu pushed him back and the soldier fell backward staggering. We ran across the street at the same time as four other soldiers from their sentry joined the chaos and surrounded Manu. Manu began to pick them one after the other, punching and kicking like a scene from the Bruce Lee movies we sometimes watched at the cinemas. One soldier down; another jumped at him and Manu threw him to the ground, one after the other like a wrestling match. We became spectators, and Manu did not know defeat.

The rumble will continue as the crowd grew bigger, and our screams and pleads to both Manu and the soldiers contribute to the turmoil. There are five soldiers on Manu but he still kicked and punched. Blood dripped from his nostrils and the corners of his mouth but he was still standing, kicking, and punching. Then, one of the soldiers drew his gun, used the butt of the gun to hit Manu’s knees. Manu collapsed to the floor and the soldiers pulled him to their vehicle and drove away towards the barracks. We ran barefoot, pebbles attacking my feet towards them. They do not drive inside the barracks with him. They had finished the job in the back of the vehicle. We stopped in our tracks to find Manu – his body still dripping blood at our feet. 


I walked the streets of Tudun Wada with Dan Almajiri towards the graveyard in silence. We knew what we needed to do. The graves were arranged close to each other as rectangular mounds of earth with metal signs on each indicating the name of the deceased and the date of death in Hijri and Gregorian calendar dates, rusting and fading. Dan Almajiri and I stand there and remember our memories in silence.