I was woken up by a neighbour who felt it was needful for him to do his carpentry by 2:03 am, though I was certain that I would’ve woken up at about that time (being an irredeemable incurable insomniac) regardless, so I couldn’t become as angry as I would’ve to be woken up in that wee hour of the morning. While thinking about what next to do with my life, since I know that it will be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for me to go back to sleep, with electricity out (as is with every Nigerian home dealing with epileptic power supply that’s the norm, rather than exception in Nigeria), something that happened many years ago came to my mind.
We used to have this carpenter that my parents called for every carpentry work that had to be done in the house. I’m sorry that I can’t remember his name now, but I do remember what we named him. He was Frank Spencer (of “Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em” fame) to us because of how he could never ever seem to get anything right. The doors he did for us then would either be ill-fitting, or when they fitted in summer, wouldn’t in winter. The tables and chairs he made were rocky. Let me not even go to the window nets he made for us for which, seeing as the dimensions were slightly wider at the edges, he decided to break concrete at the affected sides, so he’s contraption can fit in. To cut the story short, dude couldn’t hit a nail properly on wood to save his own life, but somehow I found that he was always called in for one carpentry work or another in our house, and I guess others in the neighbourhood as well. Now that I think about it, I presume it must be because he charged far lesser than his better peers, because I remember once my mum had to call him after another carpenter (that eventually replaced Frank Spencer) refused my mum’s offer for a cabinet she wanted constructed.
Frank Spencer’s wooden shed where he used as his workshop, was located on the road as you made your way off Olanrewaju Street (in Akoka), on to the street (Church Street) that leads to Our Lady of Fatima Nursery and Primary School behind St. Dennis Catholic Church. Just before the marsh that separates Church Street from Emily Akinola Street, Akoka. You’d hardly see him busy working on some furniture or some other wood work as you’d find with other carpenters around, rather what you’d find is a kind of meeting place for other artisans around to come and take shade while on break from their own jobs as vulcanizers, mechanics and the likes, over a meal of Èwà Àgòyìn with Agege Bread and soft drinks. He would remain a constant figure there, while others at several times during the day, who make small talk with him, over every topic under the sun, come and go, except on those few occasions he’s called up by people like my parents to come do one work or the other for them.
One particular night, the peace of the night was interrupted by some noise coming from Frank Spencer’s shed. What was absurd about the noise was the ceaselessness of it, and how in between the din one could make out some talk, more like shouting in anger-laden voices, and a less distinctive apologetic one in the background, followed by the continuous pounding on wood, which if memory serves me correctly went on for about two hours (say till about some minutes before five in the morning), every minute of which I kept awake though I couldn’t see the shed from our house. I could tell that this wasn’t the normal noise from a carpenter attempting to meet a deadline, because of the chaotic nature of the noise from the impact on wood, not following a particular rhythm, seeming to come from not just one person, but two or three (or more) people at the same time. Also, one of the sounds seemed to be from a hammer to a nail, while the others sounded like heavier instruments on wood, in an effort to tear down or destroy.
I can’t remember ever going late to school, but that morning I made a special effort to leave home earlier so that I can make a detour through Frank Spencer’s shed to make sense of what happened earlier that morning, before proceeding to school (I was in Junior Secondary School then, in the early nineties). The first thing that caught my attention when I approached the shed was the crowd that was already gathered there, with no sign of Frank Spencer anywhere. This much was what I gathered after a school mate I met there filled me in on what had happened. Apparently, Frank Spencer had gotten this contract to build wooden school seats for some primary school in the area. He’d received some of the funds as “mobilization” very late the evening before in cash (those were the days when there was nothing like electronic funds transfer or the likes), and decided to stay and sleepover with it in his shed, till the next morning.
It looked like someone or a few people might have become aware of the payments that he’d received, and attempted to dispossess him of it. They knocked at the door of his shed at about two in the wee hours of the morning, and politely asked him to pass them the money he received the evening before, and have his life left to him intact. His denial of their claim failed to convince the robbers, who proceeded to hack down his door with a heavy metal bar (amongst other tools) from the adjoining mechanic workshop, to which Frank Spencer responded from the inside by hastily replacing cavities created by broken off wood, with another which he nailed back with alacrity. The evidence of his struggle to keep alive could be seen on the only door to his shed. When the robbers saw that Frank Spencer was determined not to give in, and that they couldn’t make any headway through the door, they moved onto the windows, and again having failed, moved onto the walls of the wooden shed, where the carpenter’s act of bravery, in the face of life threatening circumstances was laid bare for all to see.
While many people left the shed after finding him not there, to get more jist amongst bystanders just outside the shed, I made my way further inside to appreciate the “work of art” that the will to stay alive birthed right before me. In the end, Frank Spencer out-worked and out-hammered those who would’ve claimed his life that morning, had they succeeded in gaining access to the fortress he contrived from his humble shed. One of his saving graces was the fact that the vandals didn’t have a gun. Also he appeared to have had enough wooden materials,nails and other carpentry implements readily at hand, lying around in his shed to have been able to pull off one of the most daring prey escapes from predators I have ever seen or heard of. Before the rays from the sun cracked through the clouds, to announce the morning (once he was sure his attackers had bailed), he had moved with just a few things from his shed, never to be seen or heard from again. The last person to see him was Seidu, the Nigerien gateman to the second richest man on Olanrewaju Street then, to whom he confided in on the mornings incident, and of his desire to go far, far away.
I was very disappointed on my return from school to find that the shed had been demolished, and in my yet formative mind, I’d felt that was a wrong move. That shed should’ve been allowed to stand as a testimonial to man’s will and courage to look adversity in the face and thwart it. Our Frank Spencer may not be any good at carpentry, or some other thing that those who knew him personally could point to, but surely he was no coward, and that act of his inspired me, and still does. I wish I could remember his name, and put it here for him (or anyone close to him) to possibly see this, to let him know that I was one of those who took particular notice of his bravery, and recorded it for posterity.
FRANK SPENCER, THE CARPENTER https://madukovich.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/frank-spencer-the-carpenter/
Published by m'khail madukovich