I grew up in the town of Warri, in what was at the time known as Bendel State. Anyone who lived in Warri in the eighties will tell you that there were a lot of urban legends being told to children. As a child, you only needed one older cousin, for your head to be filled with spooky tales of dark magic, ghosts and supernatural feats. Maybe such stories were popular at that time in Nigeria because horror movies were particularly popular in the mainstream and it was the era when armed robbers were executed by firing squads, on national television. Whatever the reason for the preponderance of urban legends, one thing I learned was that you don’t mix local superstitions with those borrowed from the West.
I was a four year s old going on five. I was about to lose a tooth for the first time. What a coming of age! Excited, I told my mum, my dad and all my siblings about my tooth which was starting to shake. “If you leave your tooth under your pillow”, my mum said, “a fairy will come to collect it and will leave some money under your pillow”. Woah, I thought. I could be so important that an angel or fairy or wizard (I didn’t really know the difference) would pay me a visit.
Also exciting to me was the prospect of earning some money. Let me fast forward for a moment, to the first time I ever spent money (about a year after the tooth incident). My dad had given me one naira to buy a snack after my school’s inter house sports competition. I walked up to the cyclist who had a cooler of snacks attached to the front of his bicycle. “How much for meat pie?” I knew you were supposed to ask how much before you paid. “Fifty Kobo”, the cyclist replied. I handed him the one Naira note, then I took the meat pie and walked away. When I narrated the experience to my dad, he laughed and explained to me that I was supposed to collect my change.
Back to my tooth story, I did just like mum said and placed the tooth under my pillow. I looked underneath the pillow in the morning and my first loose tooth was still there. I told my mum. She encouraged me to wait another night.
The following morning I looked under my pillow and behold, there was a fifty Kobo coin in place of my priced tooth. Hurray!
The entire house was settling into a fine Saturday morning and I began to spread the news of my good and happy fortune. “A fairy took my tooth and gave me money!” I went to my dear mum who happened to be in her room. “Look, Mummy! The fairy kept the money for me and took away my tooth”! She could no longer help herself.
“I put it there”, she said with a chuckle. Seconds passed and I finally put it together in my four year old head; my mum is a fairy!
I ran out of her room, terrified. I did not know the difference between fairy, ghost or spirit… All I knew was that my mum had laughed slyly and confessed to being a supernatural being. My older brother saw me dash into the living room. He didn’t know what I was running away from but he too ran to save himself.
Mummy came out of her room to see the commotion. She was beside herself, laughing at me. “Oh, you’re so silly”, she said, laughing uncontrollably. “You’re so silly!”