ILEYA IN LAGOS is a creative non-fiction piece written by Adaeze Feyisayo Samuel.
ILEYA, is a Yoruba name for the Eid-al-Adha festival. It’s loosely translated to mean Going Home. It’s a specific synonym for ram meat, Fuji music, golden laughter, new clothes and traffic free roads in Lagos. Everyone you know looks forward to the second Sallah as they call it. It’s trite you get a public holiday. So you begin to call your Muslims friends weeks before to secure invitations. In spite of your preparations weeks ahead before Ileya, you’re always surprised with each celebration yearly.
You go to bed the night before contemplating your visiting schedule. Should you spend the day with your parents’ close Muslim friends or yours? There had been heavy rains that afternoon. An attempt to hold the rain for the next two days of the celebrations people say. What you don’t expect is to wake up hours before dawn to find your furniture, clothes and documents submerged in water. In your warm car, you doze off remembering books and movie scenes saying it’s cold sleeping in a car. The shock of your temporary displacement rings through your wet feet up your shivering body as loud as the mosque call for prayers. A daily, dependable, morning alarm in Lagos.
The visiting schedule is suspended as you make calls to your parents and apartment caretaker. While you salvage the dripping contents of your home. You know Mommy Moyo and her Ankara clad Olopos, skilled cooks, are already laying out fragrant, unbound firewood for the agbari ojukwu. The traditional stove that holds huge metal pots which boil her famous Sallah jollof rice you love so much. There is an eerie silence in the air as you turn on your data connection and Snapchat. Videoing your flooded apartment, collecting evidence you call it, you’re grateful your laptop was on a chair. Snaps of people travelling to their ancestral homes are online. You’ve watched them so you continue calling the caretaker’s phone number.
As your hungry stomach rumbles. You hear it. The sound of King Wasiu Ayinde”s voice. The voice and lyrical dexterity that got him crowned Oluaye of Fuji. This melodic singing in Yoruba language you recognise as the official soundtrack of Ileya. The piano, percussion and rumbling drums of his Fuji Fusion signify the men have began killing, cutting and dressing rams and cows. Which had stood unassuming in certain compounds days ago. You fry breakfast while standing in water. The smell of smoke, hot oil, steaming ram perfume the winds of the city you call home. Home! You remember Lagos is the ancestral home of certain city dwellers. With this a list of friends and their invitations to their Sallah celebration come to mind. You text your mother to apologise to her friends about your absence. The text says you sadly won’t drive three hours to Ikorodu to attend their spectacular yearly Ileya parties. What your text doesn’t say is that you won’t be there to kneel in greeting, chew mouth watering ram meat, laugh with strangers, gossip with friends, escape match-making parents, ogle stunning Aso Ebi and abayas or drop thoughtful gifts.
A loud bang scares the peace. Has the frying yellow plantain slices exploded in the kitchen? It hadn’t. The banger is followed by colorful fireworks you spot glittering in the sky relieved. Your misfortune almost made you forget it’s Ileya. A warm smile spreads the worry lines on your brown oval face.
Hours after the transculent water is scooped into large buckets and disposed. You drive out with your weekend bag headed to an hotel. As the car swerves onto the highway it seems the wind is singing Wasiu Ayinde’s Berlin. You smile knowing Aisha and her family would be back from the prayer ground lectures. Lagos streets seem too calm so you observe why. Less people are milling around bus-stops, few danfos speeding by and almost no hawkers. Many people have gone home or stayed indoors. The neon digits of your grey dashboard clock says Dami would already at the beach with her son, husband and father. She’d said they wanted a private Ileya away from her great-grandfather Lagos Island home robust celebrations.
After jumping on the white duvet covered stiff bed you cheer up as you roll around, sniffing clean cotton. Your phone buzzes and your hello sounds exhausted. It’s Nasir. He wants to know when you’ll be at his house for their exclusive Sallah party. This invitation is surprising considering what happened at Christmas eight months back. You explain why you’d miss– meeting his numerous cute cousins, speaking Yoruba with his favourite Aunt, savouring the chefs’ menu, turning down pot belly advances, getting reports of your afro bun photo bombing selfies, loosing count of full beer crates that morph into plenty empty green and brown bottles. He is shocked but agrees to drop your food and drinks at the hotel. You won’t miss savouring the Chefs’ menu after all.
Beads of cooling water land on the white towel wrapped around your curvy hips. You type HAPPY HOLIDAYS! to your social media friends. The #eidblackout and #barkadesallah are trending with melaninated slay selfies, happy family photos, unbelievable throwbacks, noisy videos, artsy Quran prayers and adverts. Your fingers leave your typeface to massage castor oil into gold streaks circling your lower back. From the window you see a shiny, black Gwagon drive into the shrub decorated compound. Nasir steps out from the passenger door. You happily note he could escape the white canopies and festivities. Your aqua-green lacquered fingers pull on denim shorts over your peach bodysuit and walk downstairs.
He’s lanky frame looks more handsome in crisp, white, native trousers and embroidered Buba. Grateful, you collect the warm large plastic dish, cold fruit juice pack and sweating cans of malt. He invites you to come around in the evening for ram pepper soup and champagne with his friends. You promise to think about it. You ask questions. Is he okay? Did he change his car? Is that a new friend in the driver seat? He says this his mother’s other car and her driver brought him to you. Outlawed you! The surprise doesn’t slide off your face fast enough but he ignores it. People tend to be more forgiving and generous during Ileya.
When the steaming scent of boiled tomato pureed rice, real Nigerian party jollof rice escapes the bowl you feel at home in this day. Each spoon filled with orange, red specked grains ignites memories. You remember how during Ileya, your Aunt would cook delicious turkey stew and jollof rice. Unlike your mother who never cooks during the celebrations. She’d dish out from her friends’ vintage China bowls of Odun food. Then go remove her mules, gold jewellery, iro and buba. A small bite into a succulent chunk of ponmo reminds you of Mommy Moyo’s late afternoon-evening parties. Well dressed guests eat and eat from a seemingly never ending supply of rice, moi-moi, coleslaw, pounced yam, semo, juicy pieces of brown meat, small chops, efo riro, egusi soup, suya and peppersoup. The three pieces of meat left make you smile. Your mother’s voice softly tells you Yoruba people believe you shouldn’t give gifts in odd numbers.
Another memory of Ileya, from Aisha’s grandmother’s Ikeja house shadows your chewing. Licking oily, spicy fingers you smile remembering driving her and two cousins to share food parcels for beggars. When you all got back her controversial, older, distant cousin Yetunde was being hugged by family members who’d watched Mama admonish her. It’s magical that family feuds are settled during Ileya. Faint fuji sneaks into the room through the billowing curtains. The opening snap of the malt can reminds you of Nasir’s finger nails tapping a dark, red wine bottle he served your mutual friends last year. Your clit almost misses those slim fingers. The hand wash is the colour of bubbling champagne in frosted flutes he usually reserved for you both.
With clean hands you look through whatsapp pictures and watch festive videos. Each status remind you everyone will have a different holiday. Not every Muslim goes home. But some unexpected family members will travel into Lagos. Some families may not kill a ram, after all it isn’t an explicit instruction. Not everyone will get parcels of fried meat. Many neighbors will miss the locked shops. A few after party invitations are disguised booty calls.
E ku Odun, this holiday greeting is padded with prayers. Even though you aren’t at Ikorodu unpacking vintage China bowls or sipping from champagne flutes perced on woven, raffia table mats. You thank God for the day, for family and friends that called, texted, checking on you, for life, for Ileya, for party jollof rice and free wifi.