There lived this not-so-pretty lady in Orile. We called her Iya Kekere because of her height. I believe she was an Ijebu woman.
She was not the kind to grumble about not having change or being asked too many questions.
She called me ore mi–my friend whenever she saw me or I was at her shop to buy something.
At first I didn’t care and always returned her greetings with a smile. Sometimes, she asked personal questions about me, like how I was doing in school and if anything was bothering me.
One day, a good friend of mine made a joke out of it saying that she couldn’t imagine that I was that close with this woman. She said Iya Kekere was not the kind to be friends with.
I started to feel uncomfortable with Iya Kekere. I started becoming embarrassed whenever she called me ore mi and tried to hug me.
I was thinking, why should I be friends with this woman? What would my friends in school say?
I started taking another route to school. But Iya Kekere was unrelenting. She would sight me from afar and shout my name and then the next thing she was running towards me.
I stopped buying things from her yet she didn’t care. She still called me ore mi. Oremi timo timo!
After a period of time, I couldn’t bear the stress anymore. I thought to tell her to stop seeing me as her close friend and calling me ore, that I just did not like it.
The next morning, as I made my way to her shop, she saw me from afar and screamed because she had not seen me for a while. She shouted, ‘Ore mi o! Where have you been?’
I was so upset. There and then, I scolded her never to call me her friend again. She was shocked and was not sure if I was in the right mood. I further told her she’s been disgracing me in the whole neighbourhood and that she should just call me Sandra, that I couldn’t possibly be her friend so she should stop seeing me as one.
She held her chest with two hands. I could see the shock on her face, but I really didn’t care. I walked away.
Eight days later, I was asleep in my room when I heard a loud banging on the door.
I got up and opened the door. It was Iya Kekere. She shouted “Ina, ina, ina –fire, fire, fire!’ A thick cloud of smoke was swarming behind her, surging into the room.
I didn’t know what was happening. I thought it was a dream.
She grabbed me and lifted me up. That was when I saw the flames from the burning rooms.
Iya Kekere carried me through the thick smoke and we escaped through the back door.
Outside, a massive crowd was waiting for us. They screamed and rushed to us.
I saw our house, now engulfed in roaring flames.
The people around said they knew I was in my room, but the stairs and corridor were not accessible. So they shouted my name and threw stones at my window, but I did not come out.
They stood there without knowing what to do, till a tiny woman came running by.
They said when she was told I was in the room, she shouted ‘Ore mi o!’ and ran in to fetch me, against their advice that it was too dangerous.
As I saw them carry Iya Kekere away, I rushed to her. A trickle of tear ran down my face.
I saw her wounds, burnt marks all over her skin.
I hugged her tight and didn’t let go. “Ore mi,” I heard her call me, but now quietly, not with the usual energy she used to greet me.
Finally people had to push me off so that they could take her to the hospital.
My dad soon drove in with his car then followed by the truck of the fire-fighter men.
We went to the hospital to see Iya Kekere that evening. We were told to return in the morning that her condition was serious, that her lungs were failing. She had weak lungs.
My dad told the doctor that all the bills would be on him.
But Iya Kekere didn’t make it. She died that night from lung failure.
I now tell this story every year during the annual memorial we hold for her.
Iya Kekere was my friend. My best friend.