Ola has always loved writing and as a kid could often be found scribbling away re-writing fairy stories and adventure stories – re-inventing new characters that she felt she could identify as a young child growing up in seventies England.
At the age of ten she went to Nigeria with her family and studied Business Administration but the dream of becoming a writer never left. It was there – like a constant reminder of what she needed to do in order to really fulfil her destiny.
On her return to England she took several writing courses – the one that really helped her grasp some elements of the craft of writing were intermediate and then advanced writing courses at the Centerprise Literature Development project in Hackney over four years. Last year she completed an MA in Creative writing and Imaginative Practice at the University of East London.
Ola is currently working on a collection of short stories based on the African experience, and a novel – a cross cultural romance that explores the social, political, cultural and historical ties that bind and divide the cultures.
In 2008 her short story ‘ The Pink House’, won first prize in the National Words of Colour competition and in October 2009 another short story - "The Go- slow Journey", won first prize in the fiction category for Wasafiri’s New Writing prize 2009. Wasafiri is the magazine of international contemporary writing.
To read Ola's short story 'A Green and Pleasant Dream' click here.
Searching for a Princess
I would stand in the front of the mirror and hate what I saw. A dark face, round nose and wide lips framed by lots of woolly hair. My foster mum said I was a princess. So I spent years looking for a princess like me to show up on the telly.
She never did.
Then I started wishing I looked like Susan. Can you imagine that? She had big blue eyes like the doll I had when I was a baby and like a baby she could open and close her eyes and make whining noises which most boys seemed to like listening to. She had long blonde hair which she liked to flick in everyone’s face so I got my black cardigan, stuck it on my head and swished my head around until I felt a bit sick.
Mum saw me and laughed.
Dizzy, I tore the stupid thing off my head. “I wish I had long hair like yours”.
She smiled. “You look lovely. Why do you think people go on holidays? So they can look just like you.”
I wasn’t convinced. Nobody stared at you when you had a tan that faded by autumn. I was a little ‘colored girl’ every day of the year.
I kept on searching and one evening I saw the Supremes on ‘Top of the Pops.’ They were beautiful, sophisticated and could sing.
They looked different but it was a good different.
They looked like my kind of princess.
My hair was short and grew in clumps (because Mum couldn’t do a thing with it) it grew wild like the back of our neighbours garden. I had to wait for my mother’s fortnightly visits with The Comb. She would come down from London on the train with this comb neatly tucked away in her bag.
This iron implement was used to coax my curls into lying smoothly across my scalp but as they couldn’t betray their heritage, they would stand up at a degree of approximately 90 degrees every time.
One day while watching Tops of the Pops I blurted out that I wanted to have long hair like the Supremes.
My Mother informed me that she would have to stretch it with a hot comb in order to get it straightened and that it might hurt.
I wanted to know if the Supremes went through all that aggro.
They are wearing wigs. Mother informed.
It wasn’t fair. After all Mother wore a wig like the Supremes which meant that she did not have to go through all this pain to look like a Princess.
I was too young to afford to buy a wig.
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(due out in August)
He looks at me again; his eyes narrow and then he walks off. I swallow. This is the second time Frank has called whilst I’ve been at Lewis’s.
Late that night I lie alone in my bed, and wonder what it would like to belong to Lewis totally, mind, body and soul. I know that’s what he wants and deep down that is what I want too, yet something lies between us and it’s too big for me to ignore.
It’s about Nigeria, Duty, custom and a promise made between my Father and his best friend when I was just a kid. It’s about the nice decent Doctor waiting for her in Lagos, hoping that she gets this ‘quest to find herself’ out of her head and comes home to settle down. His name was Frank Bamiboye and my Mother loved him. Everyone did. Why couldn’t she? Why was it every time she closed her eyes it was Lewis’s opaque eyes that mesmerised her, , his face she longed to trace with her fingers, the feel of his lips against hers, the only thing she wanted to remember, and in this mess she found herself in, his feelings the only ones she did not want to hurt.
“Nigeria We Hail thee Our Dear and Pleasant Land”…..I remember learning the Nigerian anthem, reluctantly, wondering as a 10 year old how many years I had left in school before I could go back to England. My parents quick to instil the norms and unspoken rules and regulations of this place I know had to call home on me. Don’t give people things with your left hand, curtsey before your elders, don’t do this, make sure you do that.
Nigeria. The word taunts me in 4 places – Ni- ge- ri- ah – a word that reminds me of what is expected of me. Yet I had been good. I had studied and got my degree and made everyone pleased with me. That was why I had started dating the young man who my parents had introduced as the son of a family friend.
“He is a doctor you know. We’ve known his parents before you were born.” Her father had given Dr Frank his seal of approval. We had been going out for a couple of years when I started feeling suffocated by the relationship and everyone’s expectations that I was just going to get married and settle down with 3 kids and forget about my dream of going back to England.
“ You can teach here” Frank was puzzled. “ Besides when we get married you wont need to work. You’ll be too busy looking after your family.”
I was sure that between him and his Mum they had the whole wedding ceremony planned down to the name of our first child. It was just the spur I needed to decide that I needed to get some teaching experience abroad. It would look so well on my CV I tried to sell them the idea. “You know. London trained. Put me right in the front for a Vice Principal position.”
My Mother was unconvinced. Frank reluctant, his Mother unimpressed and my Father confused.
“What do I tell Frank’s Mother?” Mother wanted to know.
“That I’ve gone to London to work.” I suggested.
“Are there no schools here? What kind of nonsense is this?” Mother gave me a dirty look “Just don’t bring disgrace on this family.”
So with their words ringing in my ears I had come back to Blighty and tried to pick up the threads of the life I once knew. Amanda and Tim grey haired but joyous met me at Heathway with lots of hugs, kisses and tears.
Sadee was back in town.
Six months later I got a job in Bonthills Comprehensive. A day later I met Lewis and three months later he asked me out. I still don’t know why I said yes.
I call to sleep and sleep refuses to come. So I think about my Mother instead. I think talking about hair with Lewis has unleashed this avalanche of memories with it.
I was about ten and Mother was plaiting my hair. She was laughing. “By this time next year you will be enjoying real sun ….not this type of sun that comes in and out like a mouse dodging a cat. We will be back home.” This was her way of telling me I was going back to Nigeria.
I remember twisting my hair out of her grip and hearing the click of her tongue. “Now I have to plait this one again.” My Mother always spoke through what she did; the heavy silences, the cutting of the eye or the clicking of the teeth.
She had other sayings as well.
“Hm- this world is funny. A country where a dog lives in a house with human beings.” Meant in Nigeria dogs stay outside and eat the left overs of humans. I later found out when I went to Nigeria that sometimes this could be after the food had passed through the said human’s digestive system.
“You are not the Queen’s youngest child you know.” Don’t start getting ideas that you are white because you are a little Black Nigerian girl who is living with foster parents in Portsmouth while her parents work and study in London. At no time during the said arrangement should you begin to think that you are their child.
Don’t worry Sade…..I can understand it’s all strange to you now but you will love it when you get there. Fresh food, lovely weather. A place where people respect their elders and you are part of a family.” This country is crap, full of crap people, crap morals, constant crap weather and crap food.
These hints used to be like dark fingers pushing back the sun, warning about coming rain and I should have prepared myself, but with the blinkered innocence of childhood, never saw the skies darken until the storm broke out in our front room, threatening to sweep me out of 11 Lavender Close, Portsmouth P031 6HJ away to unfamiliar territory and people.
I thought I knew Africa and I guess I did, in a distant kind of way you think you know that new couple that’s just moved into the street. Someone kills their Missus and the neighbours tell the reporters – “We didn’t know them too well…but they seemed like a happy family.” You think you know something but you don’t know anything about anything.
I thought I knew Africa from the programmes of the late sixties and early seventies I watched growing up – Tarzan, Daktari Love Thy Neighbour and other programmes the media of the time used as a vehicle to portray a whole continent to the world. After watching them I grew up fearing the Africa of deep dark jungles where tigers and lions lurked ready to pounce on the brave colonial. A place of bedlam where semi- naked people communicated in grunts, fought against each other and waited for Tarzan to swing past on his rope and save them from mortal peril. It was no wonder that the kind of man I wanted to marry back then looked more like my Barbie’s consort Ken, than my Father.
I grew up never asking why the woman who picked me up from school was white and the folks who came down from London to see me every fortnight were Black. I accepted it the way you just take for granted that the sky is blue or like the fact that no matter how far you walked the moon in the sky never seemed to get any nearer.
A kid at school asked me why I had a white Mum. I told her I had two Mums.
“How’s that then?” She asked her green eyes as big as her question.
I shrugged. Just like the blue sky and the moon.