At the Chrisland Primary School, Lagos where Kafayat Shafau, who would years later become Kafayat Shafau-Ameh, began her elementary education, she was a star hard to ignore; so, when things began to fall apart and her fees were no longer forthcoming, teachers rallied around her and paid her fees.
There was, however, a limit to the help the teachers could render. When the situation persisted, they withdrew, and off she went from school.
More troubles were to come. At the time she was having the best of Chrisland, she knew the home of love. She actually dwelled there and had a swell time. The home of the Shafaus in upscale Dideolu Court in Ogba, Lagos mainland was love’s nest. The matriarch and patriarch of the home dotted on themselves and their kids, they were the lives of parties, they “called money and it answered them” and they lavished it on themselves and their kids. So good was the situation that nothing forewarned the children of the home that tears would soon replace laughter, nothing gave the impression that blows, slaps, and kicking would soon be regularly exchanged by the matriarch and the patriarch of the home and that the kids would be the ones to hide the knives and other sharp weapons in the kitchen so that their mother and father would not harm themselves.
But, a London trip by the parents and a return without one of the children who went with them on the trip seemed the first signal that love was set to fly away from their Dideolu Court home and seek refuge elsewhere.
The book, ‘Alajoota’, by dance queen Kafayat Shafau-Ameh tells the story of this home that was love-filled, where the kids attended one of the best schools available at the time, where the parents were regular faces on the pages of celebrities journals of the time because of their status as socialites who sprayed dollars on musicians, where everything seemed to work until love became hate and the kids became the responsibility of a mother who for a long time struggled with getting a grasp of her life, where the kids knew something was wrong but no explanation was offered and the kids were just left to wonder and wonder what was going on.
While the mother oscillated between her new status and her past, Kaffy and her siblings could not return to their grade A private school; in fact, they could at some point not go to any school at all and when they eventually started going to school, there was no stability because their mother was, well, not stable.
The sad turn of events was a rude shock for Kaffy and her siblings and she wished she had been left with her father who she considered her role model, but he felt they were better with their mother. What had gone wrong with her mother’s business, her shop on Allen Avenue where she was a big-time businesswoman? This was a major question that bogged Kaffy’s young mind as her mother found it difficult to pick the pieces of her life.
There is so much to see in this smooth-reading work. We see religion playing a major role; we see a mother so much in love with dreams and their interpretations that her kids started manufacturing dreams; we see men of God feasting on her belief in the efficacy of what they were offering for sale and we see a woman who kept moving from one church to the other in the hope that the next one would be able to offer her the much-expected miracle.
We also see a home where nothing was too much to be done in as much as protection was assured: charms were in order; incisions were cool and calm; and prayers in whatever forms were heartily welcomed. For Kaffy’s mother, what was important was the assurance that she would conquer the enemies who, she believed, could send cockroaches, birds, and others to wreak havoc. It was not out of place for her to burn cockroaches and any other flying insects which invaded her space.
This book will raise the question of why African mothers find it difficult to properly talk to their daughters about sex. Kaffy’s mother spoke to her about sex and pregnancy in a very crude manner; she practically sold her the dummy that once a boy touched her, pregnancy was a sure banker. There was no talk about ovulation and those other factors that contribute to pregnancy. But trust girls, water will always find its level when the hormones start raging like the bull. And it was not different for Kaffy.‘
Alajoota’ is not fiction but it is a thriller. There is a magic about the transition between one chapter and the next as almost every chapter ends with a cliff-hanger that will force you to turn the pages to find out what was happening in this home that can be described as Shifaus’ House of Commotion. The opening reference to things fall apart is bound to remind an average reader of the great novelist Chinua Achebe, who gifted us the defining novel called ‘Things Fall Apart’. But, that is not the only thing that the work shares with ‘Things Fall Apart’.
Like ‘Things Fall Apart’, ‘Alajoota’ is easy to read. The language is simple but not simplistic. Sprinkles of poetic prose on the pages and a mixture of the simple, compound, and compound-complex structures give the writing and storytelling a sizzling effect. How did Kaffy rise above the violence of her early years? How did she overcome the side effects of changing schools and homes? Did she eventually hear from her beloved father? What has become of him? What happened to Nikki, her sister, who was left in London by their parents shortly before love took flight from their home? And how did she start dancing and what battles did she have to fight to dance in a society where dancers were and are still considered in an unflattering light?
You need to read ‘Alajoota’ to find answers to these questions and many more.
A note of warning: This is one hell of a story told from the heart and little or no attempt is made to colour the events recorded on its pages. This is a book that could make you cry but which is sure to inspire you. We have been served an absorbing book that will make us appreciate the great dancer of our time.
There is one more warning: If you are allergic to laughter, please stay away from this astounding book rendered in touching and reflective language. Except you are stone-hearted, there is no way you will read it and not laugh. It is very hilarious, another quality that makes it a page-turner.‘
Alajoota’ is a revelation worth being privy to.
Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of ‘Vaults of Secrets’ and ‘In The Name of Our Father’.