They call me Rasta.
That of course isn’t the name given me by my parents, but ever since childhood, my nickname has nearly completely eclipsed my real name that if not for the few people like Mother and my teachers, I would have completely forgotten that I had any other name other than Rasta. Mother despised the nickname, but with time she has learned to give no consideration to it whenever she heard it mentioned.
They call me Rasta because of my hair. I was born with dread locks, distinguishing me from my peers from early childhood. I got to learn that Mother was so shocked at the realization that her toddler had natural dreadlocks that she had applied all sorts of measures that it may disappear, but still nature had held its grounds very stubbornly. She had shaved my hair earlier than children were supposed to have had their first haircuts, she had coated my young tender scalp with some cakey smelly concotion believed to change the nature of my hair, but the hair did grow back coiling into proud locks. She had nearly applied tortoise dung on my shaved scalp preferring me to be bald than dreadlocked, but then Father had reasoned that the stigma associated with baldness lasted far into adulthood than did the one with dreadlocks and so Mother had let the matter rest. She had done so with a spiteful resignation that bordered on pity for the discrimination that I might pass through as I grow into a boy and then a man.
I grew up amongst peers whose mothers warned them behind the secret of closed doors to stay away from the dreadlocked child. They believed there was something diabolic about a dreadlocked child; that I was a gift to my mother from a water goddess and like every gifts from the evil spirits, was a bad omen. The children did keep away from me and so I grew up a lonely child that played with a few mates and his elder brother. Mother, in sympathy for my discrimination, doted so much on me as though she was the cause of it all, it seemed like she was intent on making up for my childhood troubles by an exaggerated display of attention and motherly love. She made me don a cap over my hair whenever we went out and if not that caps were not allowed in school, I would have made that a part of my uniform, and not that she didn’t try it on more than two occassions. Father, on his part was indifferent to the whole issue, if he felt anything towards my plight as a growing child, he never showed it. On one occasion however, I caught him staring long at me while I sat on the carpeted floor of the sitting room hunched over my picture book with a piece of red crayon, he had a look in his eyes as he looked at me seated on the floor drawing by twilight. I couldn’t understand the look, but that was the first and only day I had seen him show any form of emotion at my childhood.
And then I grew into adolescence, that stage when everybody craves some definitive uniqueness from his young and imaginary world. My dreadlocks gave me all the distinguishing credentials I needed and as I began to notice the look of envy from the young male folk that followed me as I walked past, I began to place so much more value on my hair that I became a dandy. With the whole of my long-time savings I bought a bottle of expensive-looking shampoo from a supermarket (the very first time I had ever been to one) and shampooed my hair. I groomed the hair carefully as I watched the dreads turn luxuriant and then I began wearing it with the much pride it deserved. My new sense of pride endeared a lot of people to me. It earned me the nickname ‘Rasta’ and everywhere I went, I needed no introductions before someone addressed me as ‘Marley’, ‘Raski’, ‘Fashek’ or after any of the popular Rastafarians.
I had turned eighteen and was enjoying the unique personality my dreadlocks offered. The girls were beginning to desire me, some of the boys got endeared to me while others envied me. I learnt to leverage on my new personality to get what I didn’t have, to take on daring youthful adventures and to enjoy the glory of successful risks especially with the girls. Of all the girls, Monica stood out.
She lived two yards away from our yard in the dense Diobu neighbourhood. She was very fond of me, not only for my ever ready company, but moreso because we weren’t actually lovers or any thing that made a teenager’s heart thump with increased speed at the prospect of being alone with a girl in the privacy of a dark street corner; I was actually a go-between between her and my elder brother, for Monica was Iloka’s lover. We had grown up together in the same yard, acted grown-ups with other children, fought over trivial issues with my faces having nail scratches that lasted long after the duel, we had cooked in the backyard away from the gaze of adults in empty tomato tins picked up from the garbage bucket set over twig fires with a tripod of rocks, we had kept the malice when our mothers had quarreled over issues that we children couldn’t understand and reconciled even when our mothers still sang malicious songs loudly that the other might hear. While in school, we would keep our distances, I for the reason that the boys wouldn’t call me a ‘woman-wrapper’ and so the girls wouldn’t call her ‘ashewo’, she would keep to her clique of gossiping girls and I with the testosterone-influenced male folk, but at home, she divulged the gossips of the girls while I watched out for her when her foul tongue did incite some vendetta in any one of the boys. We were age mates that grew up to become siblings and friends, until she began growing sizeable breasts along with all the signs and peculiarities feminity. She started having the big boys hiss at her as she walked along the streets on her mother’s errands; they contested for her attention, and embarrassed her with their boldness until I seemed to become a company too mundane for her newly discovered personality.
Her opinion of me changed the day I got my street credibility for she was a witness to the historic event. That was the day I drew blood from Ilaye’s head for her sake; it was the second time I drew blood from another fellow actually. Let us get it straight, I am totally far away from being regarded as a tough fellow, was never ever wired to be so, but I stood between getting shame-faced before a girl and committing suicide-as it were- but then this is how it happened:
They call me Rasta.