When I was a child of about four years old, my father attended a one-month residential workshop in Ibadan.
He always returned on Friday, spent the weekend with us, and left early Monday from Ife to be on time for the opening of the workshop.
It was the first time I was separated from him.
He traveled by public transport to and fro Ibadan.
The first week, I had no idea he was going to be gone from Monday to Friday, therefore, I did not care when he left.
But after a couple of days without seeing him, I asked my mother where he was and she informed me he was away at the workshop and would return on Friday for the weekend.
The following Monday, I was ready when he was about to leave. I told him I was going with him.
He took a look at me and said, “I would love to take you with me, but there is a slight problem.”
“And what is that problem?” I asked him.
“You see, there are cops on the road from Ife to Ibadan,” he said. “If they see the ringworm on your head, they will arrest you.”
True, I had a patch of ringworm on my head. I got it from the preschool that I attended.
In those days, ringworm was difficult to treat because there was no strong antibiotic for curing it.
I was regularly subjected to the application of Ipín, the sand-paper leaf that was traditionally used to scrape it off the skin—a treatment that took several weeks of application before it worked.
And it was a painful exercise too, one that I didn’t look forward to. My mother used the ipin on my head daily, after bathing me.
But the ringworm was still clearly visible on my forehead.
I was, therefore, disappointed that the cops would arrest me if they saw the ringworm on my forehead.
In my mind, I justified the vehemence of cops for people with ringworms: they simply hated ringworm just as much as I did.
You can’t blame them for hating the hideous thing.
Fast forward several months later, well after my father’s workshop was over.
One day, he told me the entire family was going to Oyo from Ife to visit our grandparents.
I was excited we were traveling to Oyo.
My only fear was my ringworm which was still on my forehead.
But I didn’t share my fear with anyone.
I didn’t want to remind my father about my ringworm or alert him the cops at the traffic checkpoints might see it and arrest me.
I was worried they might leave me behind and go on the trip.
So I kept quiet, anxious—but came up with a plan.
Early in the morning of the appointed day, we went to the public bus stop.
My father sat in front next to the driver and I was on his lap.
My mom and sister sat at the back.
As the bus moved, I was elated to be traveling, yet troubled that my crime would be detected.
After some time on the road, we came to the inevitable police checkpoint.
Naturally, the cop came to check the front of the car first, on the side where I sat on my father’s lap.
He moved away from us. My plan worked, hurrah!
Then he moved to the back of the bus and examined everybody.
Then he went to the side of the driver.
The driver extended his hand to the cop and some money briefly changed hands in a backhand kind of swift move.
The bribe was not blatantly tendered, but even I as a child saw it as my eyes were pinned on the cop.
(Note: This was in the very early sixties not even in the seventies).
The cop, money securely pocketed, gave a wave of his hand, and our driver moved on.
After a couple of minutes, I heaved a sigh of relief.
I looked up at my father with a smile and said, “He didn’t catch it.”
My father asked what I was talking about.
“The olopa didn’t catch my ringworm. I ducked.”
That was my plan—to slide down and cover the patch of ringworm with my hand.
“It worked,” I said triumphantly.
In an instant, my father remembered what he had told me about the cop and my ringworm.
He laughed. I also laughed.
Later, when we arrived in Oyo, my father jokingly narrated the story of my olopa escapade to my grandparents.
Iya Oyo didn’t think it was funny.
She said, “That was wrong. Why scare the poor child? You should have told him why you couldn’t take him with you to the workshop in Ibadan. He would have understood. Now see the problem you have created. He will never forget this day for the rest of his life.”
Parenting is tough.
What to tell your children or shield from them is sometimes a struggle.
Must a parent always tell the child the truth in all circumstances?