“Which style?” Toriowo asked. That was usually the first business question he asked his clients (that’s what he likes to call them) and that was probably the twentieth time he was personally asking since the start of business that day. His boys had attended to another twenty-five or more in their small barbing salon around the corner of Beere market. Toriowo himself never let his hair go lower that which can sustain a pencil thrust into it. His beard, crossing down in front of his ears to the angle of his jaw, remained separate from his moustache.
Across the dusty road, his close friend and former classmate Habeeb was dressed in a dirty, oil-stained, used-to-be-green overall ordering his own boys around the small generator repairs shop. The screeching noise of the faulty generators caused Habeeb to have to scream instructions at the top of his voice to the three boys currently undergoing apprenticeship under him.
In this small town, Toriowo and Habeeb were regarded as non-identical twins mistakenly born to different mothers. There were several theories propounded by the villagers to account for their closeness. The most profound of the theories had to do with roving twin-spirits that entered two different wombs to determine which womb to settle in but got arrested thereat before they could exit either.
When the boys got shops just opposite each other, the eternal rumour mill had fresh oil to grease its gears; they had almost always been close to each other starting from their delivery at the traditional birth attendant’s place some twenty-eight years ago (Mama ‘Olugbebi’ as she was fondly called is now seventy-five and still in the business). Habeeb’s mother delivered first even though she was brought there ten hours later than Toriowo’s mother. The same knife was used to cut their umbilical cords and the concoction – cow-dung and blended leaves – to be smeared on the umbilical stump had to be shared between both boys. Both boys attended the same local schools upto form five and played in the school’s football team. Toriowo seemed to have always been the favourite of coaches and school girls alike especially on the field of play.
While some of their classmates from Afomogi Grammar School went into mainstream Ibadan to look for white-collar jobs, the boys stayed back to learn a trade. It had been five years since they started their own shops.
One day, everything was going on as usual in the community when there was suddenly a lot of noise on the streets. Toriowo inquired from his lazy apprentice Segun (the one who became famous after impregnating Baale’s twin daughters in form three, the events happening within two days of each other) who was slouched on one of the cane chairs in the shop wearing a blue dansiki one-size-too-small what the noise was about. Segun went only to come back five minutes later with shouts of ‘egbon Sikiru is back! Egbon Sikiru is now a big-big man! Ooo.’ Sikiru, Toriowo remembered, was the best graduating student from their grammar school and he had gone on to study Accountancy at the University College, Ibadan.
Toriowo quickly rounded off the haircut, collected his fifty kobo note and stuffed it in his right trouser pocket. He folded the white barber’s cloth and placed the manual clipper on it in front of the mirror. He dashed out onto the street. There was a large crowd, the last time any crowd gathered like that on the street was during the last Masquerade festival where the new Agemo came to display his dancing prowess. There Sikiru was, at the back of a blue-turned grey Volkswagen convertible being driven by a man with a police-style cap and he was waving to the crowd. Scores of children mostly in their underpants were by the car. The women also were not left behind, many of them in iro tied just above their breasts with the straps of their bras around the shoulders. Shouts of “Ka abo, se daadaa lode” rent the air having been started by Iya Titi who was wearing a faded blue Action Group tee-shirt and a brown adire, her voluptuous breasts bouncing up and down under her shirt.
Toriowo stood and watched the drama that unfolded before his very eyes. A strange feeling came over him. How come he had never been celebrated like this before? He wondered. He also wondered how no one seemed to remember that he had stayed back for the sake of the community, how everybody seemed to have forgotten that he had personally trained many barbers for the community; how no one remembered the night he led some other men to withstand the threat posed by robbers. He remembered they was no hero’s welcome that fateful morning. He stood transfixed. He was even more surprised to see even Habeeb in the parade laughing heartily with Sikiru. How could Habeeb not know that Sikiru’s return would dent their prides in the community? He wondered and wondered.
Toriowo returned to his shop, bid the boys goodbye, locked up the shop and went home much earlier than usual.
That night was not an easy one for him. He had lost his appetite; not even the fact that his wife had just prepared his favourite meal of amala dudu with gbegiri and ewedu could bring back his appetite from the mystical tall Iroko tree it was hiding in; he went to bed early but tossed to and fro unable to sleep; when he was able to sleep, he had a series of dreams. In one of those dreams, he saw Sikiru’s Oldsmobile turn into a giant car that ran over his shop. In another he saw a younger version of himself trying to climb up a mango tree in front of the town hall and on looking up saw Sikiru with a basketful of mangoes, humming one of Ebenezer Obey’s songs: “Aimasiko lo ndamu eda oo”. It was a terrible night. The last time he had a night like this was twelve years ago when he and Habeeb had killed the school principal’s only duck (the duck had just laid ten eggs) in a game of catapult shooting.
The story continues…