His name was Yellow, or so we called him. I confess though; we never really knew his given name. We called him Yellow for the colour of his skin, golden yellow like the ripened Pawpaws we plucked from the tree in Iya Taiye’s compound.
Yellow was one of those persons we hailed as “bros” within our community, old enough to sire their own children, but not old enough to be our parents and he was the foreman in charge of constructing his father’s retirement home where we played police and thief and catcher catcher after school.
Being a lot older than us, Yellow usually had one or two imoran up his sleeves to give to us children. Thus, it was no surprise to us when one day, Yellow beckoned to us that he had a task for us to help him with and that he was going to reward us for our help. Excited at the prospect of earning a little money on the side to buy Coke and Speedy from Iya Bilikisu, we all lent our ears as Yellow outlined to us the gist of what he wanted us to do for him.
In explaining his task to us, Yellow inadvertently told us his life’s story. He was the first of his father’s nine children sired on two wives. His mother was his father’s first wife and true love, but somehow somehow, Iya Jamiu as he named his stepmother and father’s second wife, had wormed her way into their household and had planted herself an Iroko tree that could not be dislodged. He told us of how he had already written and failed WAEC; a prerequisite certificate for gaining admission into the university nine times and how his father had threatened to disown him if he failed it this time. Yellow alleged that his stepmother was the one behind his travails as some of her children; his younger siblings, had already gained admission into the university and were flying high. Yellow further alleged that his stepmother had tied his destiny because he was his father’s firstborn and first son by reason of which; he stood to inherit his dukia when he passed.
Yellow, however, believed all his travails were about to come to an end. Yellow was convinced of this fact because he had met a Baba who assured him that he would prepare him a charm that would counter his step mother’s witchcraft and enable him to recollect all that he had read in preparation for WAEC in the examination hall. This charm which Yellow said the Baba called “Ogun isoye” required some ingredients for it to be potent and this was where we came in. Yellow required our help to obtain one of the ingredients which he could not get in Ikoyi where he currently lived with his parents. Yellow wanted us to procure Ijalo — soldier ants — for him to complete the recipe for his memory charm and for this he was willing to pay us twenty naira each. We did the maths, concluded we had hit jackpot, and took Yellow up on his offer.
Being a developing area, the sight of Ijalo marching off to war in Odogunyan was not new to us. Some of us even; were battle-hardened warriors in the war against Ijalo and we had the scars to show for it. It was not uncommon for us to be summoned by our overwhelmed mothers to help fight off the teeming rank of Ijalo that had entrenched themselves in a recently prepared pot of soup, determined to battle it out to the last soldier. Thus, based on our battle experience, fulfilling Yellow’s request was a walk in the park for us.
First, we had Morufu steal some choice pieces of meat from his mother’s cooking pot, this we divided into smaller chunks as bait for the army of ants we knew would surely come like a moth drawn to the fire. Then we got an abandoned cooking pot and filled it with crushed pepper and tomatoes which we harvested from my mother’s garden, added a minimal amount of water and placed our eventual concoction under the Kola nut tree, far away from the prying eyes of adults and then we waited in siege.
As expected, the Soldier ants came. The veterans of war that we were, we harvested the hundred Yellow needed for his potion and avoided the rest like a plague. Our mission complete, we sought out Yellow at his father’s construction site and handed to him our spoils of war. Yellow thanked us profusely and rushed off presumably to the Baba’s shrine for the preparation of the charm he desperately believed he needed to pass his WAEC exams and that was the last we ever saw of Yellow in Odogunyan.
Of Yellow’s eventual whereabouts, the fate of the 100 Ijalos, and the much-vaunted ogun isoye that was supposed to be his spoils of our war with the Ijalo, we never did find out. It seemed that in between Yellow’s departure from his father’s construction site and the Baba’s shrine, the location of which he never revealed to us, something of which nought is ever spoken of by the elders of Odogunyan happened to Yellow and till this day, the gang and I, we gather and we wonder… “What happened to Yellow?”
Okay, I lied. We never thought of Yellow’s fate until last week Tuesday when Kayode called me out of the blue that he knew what happened to Yellow all those years ago and asked me to gather the gang together for a supposedly big reveal. Kayode even undertook to cover the cost of our travel and accommodation to and from Abuja, just to have us together when he said his piece, and gather we did. Kayode worked with NASRDA — The National Space Research and Development Agency — in Abuja and as he would later reveal to us, he had stumbled on a supposedly confidential file whilst — wait for it — making out with an intern in the file room. The philanderer. Regaling us with the tale of his exploits later on, Kayode said his tryst with Kike — the intern — had been interrupted by their supervisor, Mr. Anyanwu; walking into the file room unannounced, with his eyes bulging like that of an opolo — frog- that was about to climax. Although they were not found out, Kayode said he had knocked down a shelf in the madness of it all, and it was in the process of putting the shelf back up and rearranging the files in it that he had spied a file marked confidential with Yellow’s passport stapled to it.
At first, Kayode said he thought his head was messing with him, I mean, it couldn’t be Yellow. Yellow? After how many years? In the NASRDA archives of all places? The chances of him encountering anything “Yellow” after his “disappearance” was just so so remote but Kayode said his curiosity got the better of him and he looked anyway… in contravention of policy.
As it turned out, Nigeria had sent a man into space in 2007 with the launch of NIGCOMSAT 1 or so it said in Yellow’s file. Yes, Yellow. This bit of information Kayode revealed to us was in our estimation, Nigeria’s best-kept secret. Yellow’s true name as it turned out was Korede Ajenifuja, and he had risen to the rank of Flight Lieutenant in the Nigerian Airforce as at the time of the mission. According to information contained in Yellow’s file and revealed to us by Kayode, Yellow had excelled in officer’s training and had an affinity with wings. Kayode’s said Yellow’s file never mentioned him obtaining a University degree though and we could only assume that in the interregnum of Yellow’s “disappearance” and his “appearance” at the Nigerian Defence Academy (“NDA”), his ogun isoye had failed, he had failed his WAEC exams again, and his father had made good on his threat, by shipping him off to the NDA for an eventual career in the military from whence he was commissioned into the Air Force and later tapped up by NASRDA to be the first Nigerian in Space.
Everything had gone right with the launch. Two rockets were launched into space by Nigeria in May 2007 as against the one reported. The first rocket deployed the NIGCOMSAT 1, and the other deployed Yellow into space in an experimental micro space station; manned by one man, to keep an eye on the NIGCOMSAT 1. But in a typical case of Nigerian anyhowness, the mission went wrong hence the blanket silence on Nigeria’s epoch-making moment in history.
Whilst it is officially reported that “the NigComSat-1 failed in orbit on November 11, 2008, after running out of power due to an anomaly in its solar array…,” which it did, the truth as contained in Yellow’s confidential file is a bit more nuanced. What we know now from Yellow’s file is (i) that Yellow sent back regular reports on the status of the NIGCOMSAT 1 to NIGCOMSAT; the body charged with operating the satellite by the Nigerian government’ and (ii) that sometime in June 2008, Yellow notified NIGCOMSAT in a much-redacted report, that (a) The satellite’s RAM was no longer able to accurately process information and (b) he was running out of memory to store the processed data for onward transmission to NIGCOMSAT and that replacement parts would need to be sent up. However, in typical Nigerian fashion, “replacement trips” were not envisaged and therefore, were not budgeted for and Yellow would have to make do as best as he could with what he had till the cost of same could be added into the next national budget, the
appropriation bill passed into law, and the funds released accordingly.
Kayode said at least 7 (seven) more reports were sent by Yellow to NIGCOMSAT on the deteriorating state of the satellite and the need to carry out an intervention before all was lost. Yellow’s final message; transmitted on his 547th day in orbit and received at 09:28 am on 11th November 2008 was to his then 3 (three) year old daughter Feyikemi, asking her to honour the memory of her father but a lot of its content had been blacked out that Kayode said to those of us gathered before him that he could not make head or tail out of it. And with that, Kayode came to the end of his narration more than 3 (three) hours after he uttered his first word of it.
And there we sat, the gang, all sombre, taking in all of what Kayode had told us and attempting to relate it to the memory of the Yellow we knew without much success until Morufu quipped “Boya aje iyawo keji Baba re ojo si, lo tun tele de space” — Maybe it is his stepmother’s witchcraft that followed him to space — and we all burst out laughing, all traces of our earlier melancholy on Yellow plight forgotten…
Note: Yellow was written; albeit not selected, as an entry in response to Agbowo’s call for submission for its Memory Issue.