When I was only an itty bitty little girl, my grandmother would wait till the stars descended upon the night sky to tell me the stories every child in our village loved her for. But the tales my grandmother told me at night, when we were alone, were different from the one she told the other children. These stories were especially for me and I knew it. Even as a child, I knew that they were made-up tales but I loved them all the same.
‘Adun,’ she would begin.
‘Iya,’ I would answer.
‘What time is it?’ She would ask just like she asked every other night.
And even though I knew the answer she wanted, I would look up to the skies first and consider them for a moment or two before answering.
‘It is time for the stars,’ I would reply in my sing-song voice, my heart racing excitedly in expectation of whatever new tale the old one was going to regale me with.
It was the same ritual every night except on the nights when it rained. The nights it rained were the nights we went to bed early and I was left to make do with my dreams.
‘Why do the stars stay away when it rains?’ I asked my Iya one day.
‘Why does your smile hide when you cry?’ She answered.
So on the nights it rained, I would lie on my back and speak soothing words to the stars. Sometimes it worked and the rain stopped. Sometimes, the sadness was too hard to be wished away by the words of a little girl.
My parents had died in a car accident when I was 3 and it had been me and Iya ever since so I knew what it was like to be so sad that it felt like your heart would never stop dissolving into tears.
I was 6 when Iya told me my favorite story of all her stories.
‘Once upon a time, there was a star,’ She began as the excitement rushed like a fever through my tiny body.
‘The star was very tiny, so tiny that people had to look really hard to see it. Now when Olodumare made stars, he made them so they could shine and light the way for man.’
‘Just like the star that lit the way for the Three Wise Men?’ I asked.
‘Exactly!’ Iya answered before continuing her tale.
‘But because this star was very small, she felt like she didn’t shine brightly enough to help anyone and this made her very sad. And when she was sad…’
‘IT RAINED!’ I yelled in answer.
‘Exactly!’ My grandmother said again, her smile beating back the shadows of darkness that the light from our kerosene lamp had failed to expose.
‘Now Olodumare couldn’t stand to see any of his creatures unhappy and so he went to visit the little star.’
‘What is wrong with you bringer of light, darkness destroyer, work of my hands?’ He asked when he got to the little star’s home in the sky. ‘Why do you make the heavens weep?’
‘Welcome Olodumare,’ the little star said when she saw who it was. She was a little surprised as she had been expecting no visitors. The little star had no handkerchief so she wiped her tears away with a soaked cloud which eyed her angrily.
‘There there,’ Olodumare said. ‘Come now and tell me what is wrong.’
‘O Olodumare, everything is wrong. Why did you create me so small? I am so small that no one even knows I am here. My light is not bright enough to help anyone. No one can even see me. I feel so useless.’ The little star cried
‘Upon hearing this, Olodumare laughed a belly laugh and because the little star was already crying, the inhabitants of the earth didn’t really find it strange to hear the thunder that was Olodumare’s mirth.’
When Olodumare had laughed hard enough, he said to the little star:
‘Okay, I have an idea. How about you come with me to my palace? You can be my little helper for one day. Since no one will miss you anyway, I think you will have more fun in the palace. We also have some nice cocoa that will bring your sniffles to an immediate end. Consider it a vacation. We will see if anyone even asks about you, talk less of missing you. If you are as unimportant as you think, no one will. And if that is the case, I promise I will make you bigger before you return to home. Then you can shine very brightly when you get back. So what do you think, little star?’
The star had always wanted to see Olodumare’s palace; she had heard so much about it from the angels that visited the stars often so she readily agreed. Besides she knew that this might be the only way to convince her creator to do the needful and make her into a big beautiful star.
So up to heaven they went. The angels welcomed the star and gave her a choice between hot cocoa or ‘agbo’. The latter was healthier they assured her but the little star was not falling for that. She took the hot cocoa. That night ended and the next day came.
Now Olodumare was very busy because he had to attend to all of his creation; children, adults, the trees, the birds, Ijapa, the tortoise who was always getting into trouble, the streams who didn’t know when to stop running after land etc. Olodumare especially loved to listen to prayers so when the next day came, he asked the little star to join him so she would not feel neglected. The little star enjoyed her time with the Creator tremendously but she was starting to miss the clouds and her starry host. Still it was such an honor for her to be in the palace and she was excited that finally Olodumare would see what she had been complaining about.
Just before dusk arrived and before the tiny star could remind Olodumare of his promise, an itty bitty tiny little girl’s prayer came up to heaven.
‘Dear Olodumare,’ the little girl said. ‘How are you? I am fine and so is everyone here. I killed a mosquito yesterday so please forgive me but it was singing in my ears and my Iya says mosquitoes do Esu’s work and bring malaria. I can’t recall any other bad things I have done but I am sorry all the same.’
‘Olodumare, I was wondering if you have seen my star. I searched for it all night yesterday after the rains stopped but it was no where to be found. My Iya once told me that if I am ever alone or lost, I can always look up and find my star. But now my star is gone and I am afraid. Can you please find it and bring it back? It is really tiny but I love it anyway and it makes my life brighter. Thank you Olodumare because you will help me. God bless you, Olodumare.’
At first the little star wanted to laugh at the child’s last sentence. It was so funny. But slowly realization dawned on her that the star the little girl had been referring to was no one else but her!
Sobs shook the star as she wept at her own stupidity. She mattered. She really did matter.
Olodumare watched as she cried and said nothing. Creation was hard work because it meant you gave a little part of yourself to everything you made and you could never bear to see them hurt. When the star was done sobbing, Olodumare handed her a nice white handkerchief.
‘Thank you my creator,’ she said in a small voice. She wondered if he was angry at her foolishness.
‘No I am not’ He said gently to the star because he created thoughts as well and could read them easily.
When the star had gathered herself together and blown her nose, Olodumare looked at her with eyes that looked just like her and said:
‘So what say you? Shall we answer the little girl’s prayer?’
‘Which one? The one about God blessing Olodumare?’ The star asked, winking.
This led to another round thunder in heaven as the Creator laughed, and the star joined in.
Later that night the little girl would look up and find her star winking at her upon which she would say,
‘Thank you Olodumare’ and then start off on her favorite nursery rhyme.’ My grandmother said in ending.
‘I know, I know!’ I said and Iya nodded her head, a cue for me to go ahead and sing;
‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
How I wonder what you are
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky
Twinkle Twinkle little star
Say hello to Mom & Dad’
Today, I buried Iya. The daystars wept as I said goodbye with a handful of earth. The night stars are tougher though; they are solemn but there is no weeping. My little star in particular seems brighter even though I am now an old woman myself with dim eyes and who wears glasses.
I haven’t sang nursery rhymes since I had my last son Ademide. He is 14 now. But it does not matter. There are new words to the rhyme anyway. I wait till everyone else is asleep, till it is just me and the stars before singing:
‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
Now I know just what you are
Gave me wings so I could fly
A jewel so precious I can’t lie
Iya, you will always be my star
Say hello to Mom & Dad ‘
Song of the day: Kelis – Little Star