Adapted from a piece written for Trevor Clark to include in his anthology ‘Was it only yesterday: the last generation of Nigeria’s Turawa’. Trevor asked me to summarise in 50 words what it meant to be a child in the colonial days, an impossible challenge.
Marriages and children were to be preserved, marriages from lengthy separations, children from the white kids’ grave.
Offspring, once bred, could be parked care of great-aunt, or home for colonial orphans.
Then there was change, heat dust and dysentery were the welcome price for family reunion, until…until it was time for a seven-year-old to grow up.
At home, pink gins were served among wicker chairs and evening chatter. But boarding school meant frozen milk, icy dorms, chilblains and the cut of the cane. Weekly letters sustained the sentence.
At last…time-out. There was elation at the airport, ‘Passengers for Tripoli, Kano, Lagos and Accra – follow the blue lights.’
In the bush on tour, beneath the Milky Way, I was only a raffia fence from the roar of a lion. One day, at Government House, father became ‘His Excellency’, and mother was a glimpse of long white gloves and the swish of satin as she rushed to meet guests.
My friends were the servants, Ali and Alkali: they told me magical stories, taught me pidgin and Hausa. Now all is distant memories, books, pictures, photos, dusty files and letters from illustrious visitors.