“A Letter to Pa Ilese

by Dipo Kalejaiye

(The following text is an excerpt from a longer non-fiction work)

 

The next incident which would remain memorable to me occurred one day during our evening prep. I was reading Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte when you came up to me and asked me a question. The question took me by surprise. “Do you have a girl friend?” you asked in a hesitant manner.  I looked at you, turned the wick of my hurricane lantern up so that I could have enough light to see the words on page thirty two of the book. As usual there was no electricity, and the eerie feeling that the pitch dark surrounding of the school produced was both a thing of wonder and of awe. The frogs were croaking endlessly, and if one looked out of the window and far into the thick forest, one could see the flickering hurricane lanterns and locally made lamps of the villagers of Apata Ganga. They had no electricity too.

“Yes I have a girl friend” I replied.

“Is she in this school?” you asked.

“No, she goes to Bishop Phillips Academy” I replied looking at you intently.

Bishop Phillips Academy?”

“Yes” I replied.

“But so many girls like you here, why do you have to go all the way to Bishop Phillips Academy to get a girl friend?”

Look Pa Ilese, the girls that like me here like me because I am in the relay team”.

“And your girlfriend at Bishop Phillips Academy … why does she like you?”

“She likes me for who I am?”

“So who are you?” you asked

“I am someone that likes reading, literature, drama, and the music of Fela and his Koola Lobitos”.

“I see … how did you get the girl?” you inquired.

“Well she lives not too far from my house. She lives in an area known as Imalefalafia. I met her by chance. I was rehearsing for a play at the Ibadan Youth Center on Ososami Road, our director was Mr. Tunji Oyelana, who took a break from his hectic acting schedule with Mr. Wole Soyinka’s Orisun Theater to come and rehearse my theater group” I concluded trying to get back to Jane Eyre.

“Your theater group?” you asked looking at me as if there was something wrong with me.

“Yes I have a small amateur theater group. I am their leader, and during holidays, we rehearse a small play at the Youth Center, and put it on for the people in the area to come and see.”

“Your girlfriend is an actress?”

“No, no, she came to see the rehearsal of the play I was in. The play was titled The Inspector; it was an adaptation of an original play, The Inspector-General, a Russian satire by Nikolai Gogol. She was visiting her friend who lived in the next house to the youth center. Look Pa Ilese, I still remember a line from that play. It goes like this:

 

 “So this is the town of Ewa, rice beans, pieces of paper all over the floor. No system. At Ikeja, we had a system; never fails. I suppose there is a good deal of corruption and crime here, petty stealing I suppose, even murder perhaps. … Oh! How I wish I brought my binoculars with me.  We have found binoculars absolutely essential at Ikeja.”

 

When I finished speaking you went back to the topic of girlfriends.

 “What is her name?” you asked, sitting down next to me.

“Her name is Soji” I replied.

Soji … good name. How did you get her to like you?” you pressed further.

“I didn’t have to get her to like me … I just tried to be myself”

“Well I don’t know how to be myself!”

“What?”

“I am telling you I don’t know how to be myself. I don’t know how to talk to girls. You are a man of literature, and words you know what to say. You memorize all the time. I have heard you recite Duke Orsinio’s speech from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night totally from memory. You even joined the prestigious Literary and Debating Society of our school, and I know how that the beautiful literature teacher Mrs. Victoria Adebekun was always praising you. I hear they want to put you in the school play we are about to do for parents’ day, I mean that play- The Importance of Being Earnest, the one everyone is struggling to be in … Look I really need you to teach me how to …”

 

Then you stopped and did not say anything more.

“How to do what?” I inquired.

“How to talk to girls?”

“What? You can’t mean that”

“I mean it. I want to know how to talk to girls. Look at Show Boy; he gets whichever one of them he wants. He brags about being a Lagos boy, sophisticated and all of that … always telling them how he is a sophisticated boy from 14 Ogunmefun Street at Papa Ajao, in Mushin Lagos. Well I don’t know how to do that. I don’t know how to be a fake person. I don’t know how to brag about being a Lagos boy!

“So what do you want me to do?”

“Talk to a girl for me!”

“Talk to a girl for you?”

“Yes. Her name is Patricia Cole”

“Patricia Cole?”

“Yes” you replied. It was at that time it dawned on me that you were interested in a girl from Sierra Leone who came to Nigeria because her father worked for the Nigerian Railway Corporation in Ibadan, and her mother was a nurse at the University College Hospital Ibadan.

“Patricia Cole? Why she is a stunning beauty” I replied marveling at the fact that you seemed to have a very good taste in girls.

“Yes I really like Patricia Cole”. You continued to pressurize me to talk to Patricia Cole for you, and I finally agreed to do that, but it was not until you showed me the love letter you had written to Patricia which she returned to you instantly! This was part of the love letter:

“Date: Lovely Dated

Address: GARDEN OF EDEN (where love was first created).

My dear Patricia,

I hope this letter meets you in good health, if so splendid!

I am writing to let you know that ever since I saw your face I have been struck by your irresistible beauty. You are a paragon of undeniable beauty. You are the sun shining in my eyes, waking me up in the morning with golden yellow lucent rays. You are like the stars winking at me from above. You are the moon radiant, and beckoning to me from the sky to come and play with you. Your love radiates in my mind and shines like diamond. It is like a new toy in the hands of a child. It is bright like the moon lighting up the village at night. It is refreshing like water drawn from the river at dawn. I think of you every minute, and I have been unable to eat, read, sleep, or think, because of you. The other day, when I saw you walking past one of the classrooms, I was so enraptured with you, that I even forgot my own name!  I am always green with envy whenever I see another boy talking to you. I always feel as if they are toying with what is mine. My skin would rise out of my body. My eyes will be flushed red with anger. I cannot bear to see you talking to another boy. Anytime I see you, your beauty makes my legs wobbly like that of a drunkard. When I sleep at night it is you that I see in my dreams, beckoning to me to come to you. It is you I see whispering words of love into my ears. It is you I see caressing the back of my neck, and holding my hands. It is you I see saying to me: Come my love, let us be together. It is you I see wading with me in the river of life. It is you I see asking me to be yours. It is you I see always, telling me that you’ll be in my dream always. Oh! My Paragon of beauty, you are the apple of my eye, the meat in my stew, the butter in my bread, and the crown on my head. Oh! How I long to hold your hands, and give you a kiss on your succulent lips. Your voluptuous body invites me, and I long to be next to it. Anytime I see your figure eight, and your bosoms heaving, I am tantalized.  I feel a pang like a hunger pang and I want to be with you. Your lips, red with lipstick remind me of the palm oil with which I eat the new yam in the month of August. Won’t you be my girlfriend? I eagerly await your positive reply to my humble request, my dear paragon of beauty …!”

Yours sincerely,

Pa Ilese (Your lover on earth and in heaven!)”

 

You gave me the parchment which had been crumpled in your pocket, and which water, oil, and dirt, had made other parts of the rather long letter unreadable.

“You wrote her this letter?” I asked.

“Yes, but she returned it to me telling me never to write her such a stupid letter again!”

At this point I told you that you were “lucky” indeed. If Patricia had given the letter to our Principal, it would have been big trouble for you. I reminded you of a case like that the previous year, when one boy Paul, wrote such a letter, which we commonly referred to as a “love letter” at that time, to another girl- Ajoke.  Ajoke ran to the Principal, and gave the letter to the Principal. Paul was flogged mercilessly by our principal, and asked to go and bring his parents to the Principal’s office. As you will recollect, that was the thing we dreaded more than corporal punishment. No one liked to have to go and bring his or her parents, for a meeting with the principal. It was the ultimate disgrace. When the Principal was finished flogging you, your parents were likely to resume where he left off! That was usually a double disgrace. Then I told you that you must have been quite lucky that Patricia did not give the letter to the Principal.