Saturday 4 December 2010
In my house in Lagos, there is a room that is always locked and for this reason, throughout my childhood, this room was endlessly fascinating to me. I would squint at the mosquito netting that dust had rendered opaque, I would press my face to the cracks in the door, I would turn the handle every time I walked past in the hope that today was the day the door would let me in. Not surprisingly, I was always asking about the store.
"Mummy what's in the store. Mummy what's in the store."
"There are books there. Books from my childhood and books from your brother and sister's childhood. And books that the house didn't have room for."
Books! To think that there was a room in my house that was full of books I'd never read. To think that all that separated me from these treasures was a flimsy wooden door. I would break it down. I would ram through it to get to those books.
"What else is there?" I knew but I wanted her to say.
"There are toys also. Toy cars and dolls that your sister and brother grew too old to play with."
"But why didn't you give them to me ?" I whined.
"Because you weren't born yet."
Toys! To think that there was a room in my house filled with dolls I hadn't played with. To think that all that separated me was this chipped wooden door.
But here the story always turned sour.
"Lets go and open it then!"
"I don't know where the key is."
"Can't you try and remember the last place you saw it."
"It was too long ago. I've forgotten."
So the locked room with the lost key remained locked until one day my mother said, "I'm going to go through the store this weekend."
I didn't bother to ask where she had found the key, I didn't bother to find out why she had finally decided to open the store, all I knew was that the store was opening and on Saturday, I would be united with the books and the toys. I wouldn't be greedy, I wouldn't take all, I would leave two or three books for a future brother or sister.
Saturday came and my mother handed me a white surgical mask.
"What's this for?"
"The store might be dusty."
I slipped it over my face irritated by its paperiness.
At first the key would not turn because the lock was stiff with age and decay.
"Let me try," I said. "Let me try." We had not come this far to give up.
Finally the key turned with a stiff click and I pushed the door open. A fog of dust descended on me.
"Come out first, let the room air a bit."
I stepped back a little, still looking into the store. Where were the toys? And the books? It was cluttered, dusty and damp at the same time. Where were my toys?
And then I spotted a lock of synthetic blond hair peeking out from under a carton box. A doll! I gripped the hair and pulled a Barbie with spotted black mold covering the front of her face and her dress.
I flung her to the end of the room and ran out screaming. "Iyama! Iyama! Iyama!"
I didn't enter the store after that but waited outside, watching my mother bin one mouldy book after the other, one broken plastic toy after the other. When my mother locked the store that day, I would never ask about it again.
As I've grown older, I've found that life is full of locked stores that we dream of breaking into. Sex, good grades, drugs, money, fame, rock and roll but once we open the room, the things inside never live up to the expectations we had while we were locked outside.
A relationship with God is the only store I know of that not only lives up to our expectations but exceeds them and this store is the only one for which everyone has been granted a key.