The Labourer Who Eats His Scalp

My eyes swept over the room in an unconscious ritual. I was unsurprised that only five out of the twelve family leaders were currently seated in their allocated space at the centre. The women were draped in flamboyant tops and wrappers, gele delicately shaped like spiral steps and the men in agbadas that showed off impressive pot bellies, their wristwatches screaming for a red carpet walk. They were currently lounging in their ultra-modern massage cushions. One of them was fast asleep with his mouth slightly open, three engaged in conversation while the last one was reading a book.

Twenty nine out of forty of the family youths were seated on the right hand side in the large room, discussing fashion and sports in groups, empowered by the benches we shared. There were others like me, watchful, eyes cloaked with mystery.

On the left side were the family elders lounging in elegant plastic chairs, detoxifying in meaningless chatter. Some were almost vegetables at this point, but all twenty two of them still alive, were present.

At the far end of the room were tattered mats homing more than eighty of the family ‘Vulnerables’. The toddlers, orphans, disabled, and adopted children of the family. I wondered how they did it, attending meeting upon meeting to sit almost on top of each other. They were so sandwiched that I feared for their respiratory health. Elbowing one another in the face in their struggle for a seat, groans and screams of pain piercing the air at regular intervals.

It was almost twenty minutes later when the two iron doors of the room were flung open by menacing men in black. A woman dressed in a ridiculous ensemble marched into the room. The family secretary.

“Riiiiiiissssseeeee up!”

We all scrambled to our feet, chairs squeaking, feet shuffling.

“Saluuttte Olori Ebi.”

We all repeated “salute”, our voices ringing out like humming birds.

The Olori Ebi stepped in, the air cackling at the edges. He was dressed as usual in flamboyantly styled dansiki topped with abeti aja cap, and shoes more polished than his accent. As soon as he found his seat in the brown extra-padding cushion under the family logo, we sat too.

A few seconds later, two family leaders scrambled in. At least, they had the modesty to look embarrassed. I knew for sure my mother, Deputy Head of the Family Leaders, wasn’t going to be here. She has an appointment with her favorite hair-stylist.

My mind wondered away as the meeting began, the bureaucratic process already programmed in my brain.

“You see, I do not quite agree with the words of the Health Leader. Our elders are not dying because of food, it is the health sector. There is nothing to show for the twelve percent allocated to health!” The Agriculture Leader looked around the room for emphasis.

“Medicine must be taken as complement to food, they build antigens to support a running system. It is not food! You wouldn’t know this because of your level of education.”

“Woman! You say that to me? Lenue!”

“Ehnehn, and so. Your position is not by the size of your ego.” The Health Leader might as well be screaming at this point, her glasses sliding down her nose as if not in agreement with her.

The bell rang down once “Health and Agricultural Lea-” My phone pinged, seeking attention. I unlocked it to find a new notification.

# Tilaafi family meeting was currently trending on Twitter. Health Leader 1 v. Agricultural Leader -0, who takes the trophy home today?

Agric Leader uneducated (laughter emoji), our family issa goal.

I scrolled down and discovered there was already a meme and a video on the subject, I wasn’t with my ear phones and couldn’t check them out yet. Putting my phone away, I returned my focus to the tense meeting.

The Employment Leader was currently talking and I prepared myself for an headache.

“Oh, absolute faux pas! Its beyond preposterous that this sacrilegious ceremony be graced by laconic displays and zealous vituperations. Bankums, we are not! ”

The secretary whom I had almost forgotten tapped her pen on her desk. My phone pinged again but I ignored the sound.

“Baba Employment, please spell that first thing you said.”

I snickered as the leader graciously answered her request, a superior smile etched on his face.

The bell rang twice. Olori ebi slouched in his chair. “Welfare Leader.”

The Welfare Leader who had been sleeping even before the meeting began was currently snoring lightly in his chair. The Finance Leader tapped him lightly but he woke with a not too graceful jolt.

“Welfare Leader, carry on.”

“I…I…think that the welfare, we can all agree, is in perfect condition.” His gaze swept briskly over the room. There were a few aggressive shouts of “no”, but since the bulk of the noise came from the Vulnerables, he continued.

“In the last year, my administration has in fact, built two pit latrines in the family house, and we have added to the end of the year package for all family members.”

“And what is this addition?”

The Welfare Leader hesitated. “As a matter of fact…stronger nylons.”


“Stronger nylons Olori Ebi. My office discovered that the nylons for the end of the year package were too weak thus, they tear at the bottom. Everything in the pack goes to waste sir. ”

“What’s the package?”

Cough. “A loaf of special bread sir. With two seasoning cubes, one detergent sachet and two biscuits sir.”

Silence descended, everyone holding their breadths. All of us waiting for Olori ebi’s judgement on the matter.

“Next! Finance Leader”

The Finance Leader was the man who had been reading a paper. “The family GDP is dangerously low. The family pocket is as good as empty. As a result of this, I suggest we cut the shrine budget from twenty two to twenty percent sir and the elders’ twenty five percent budget to twelve.”

Pandemonium ensued, shouts of abomination, wails of anger came from the elders’ corner. Olori Ebi was quick to take charge. “The elders are the foundation of the family, they must be treated as such. And the gods watch over us, provide, forgive our transgressions. It is utmost disrespect to cut back on the stipend we allocate to them!”

The flustered Finance Leader nodded quickly. “How about we cut the Vulnerable budget to eight from ten?”

The Vulnerable, large in number, seem not to have heard the news. Most of them were hustling their way to get the drinks that were now being distributed across the room.

“Seven and half is good.” The Health Leader suggested.

“Seven is good.” The Agricultural Leader disagreed, probably just to contradict the Health Leader.

“Seven. Agreed.” The bell rang.

My phone pinged three consecutive times in my pocket, the family youths must be actively protesting.

“So for the upcoming Tilaafi youth day, what are the arrangements made?”

I didn’t need to look away from Olori Ebi to know the Youth Leader was absent. I had been informed by my mother, who also happened to be his sister-in-law, that he was at the Great Oroye Family Day.

“Since the leader is absent, we shall postpone it.”

Tade who had been quietly sitting beside me sprang up.

“With all due respect, lailai. We youths dey here, one sixty years old absentee youth leader no fit rep us.”

I sighed, wondering not for the first time, why this guy tried. It wasn’t like his protests did anything but lengthen the hours we spent here for every meeting. The routine was clear; he protests, the elders and leaders try to shut him up, he gets erratic, the bodyguards then throw him out. After the meeting, we youths gather in groups and solidly support him the way we can.

After Tade was carried out to avoid “disruption of peace”, the meeting continued as expected till the end. Our ever bright women leader then came forward to sing the closing song.

“Aláàrú to n je búrédì

Awo oríi e lo n je ti o mo”

“The labourer who eats bread

unknowingly eats off his own scalp.”

For some reason, my scalp started to itch even as I sang along. Olori ebi stood up and left with his two bodyguards. As I walked towards the crowded entrance, I noticed the shaking pillar of the room. I looked around, it wasn’t only me who had noticed.

I had to get out of here fast. But we have only one door.

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Waliyah Oladipo


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    Brings a picture of the Nigerian system to mind…in a dramatic way of course.
    Well done Waliyah.

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    This perfectly depicts how our sentimental attachments to culture and religion continues to neglect the real issues in our society. But daaamn…

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    Dára Olaniyan

    Very nice

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