By Olukorede Yishau
My father used to tell me and my siblings the importance of hard work and the significance of striving always to give our best. He was not a man of this era. I have no memory of sharing a hug with him neither can I remember if he ever told me “I love you”. It was not a language men of his time were used to. They showed love, not tell it. Ours was like the family of a character in Phan Qué^ Mai Nguy?^n’s ‘The Mountains Sing’ where “love is something that we show, but not something we speak about”.
School fees, occasional outings, nice clothes, and quality food were my father’s love language. On one occasion he was really happy, he sat my immediate younger sister, Bukola, on his lap and addressed her in endearing words. I cannot remember exactly why he did that.
I miss him a lot of times and find myself silently saying ‘Sir Kay’ and smiling to myself. His faults are now pale in my sight. He was a son of February who got married on one October 1st and died another October 1st.
His passing remains one of two personal losses I have suffered, the first was of Sister Sola, my parents’ second child, a brilliant and beautiful soul who suffered and suffered and suffered before life took leave of her body in the twilight of 2001. It happened about this time nineteen years ago. She was 27. The pain has not fully healed and I doubt if it really will. Perhaps it will end when I return to the dust where I came from.
We were never quite able to pinpoint what was wrong with her. At a point, she was down with a partial stroke, and her speech pattern was impaired and we had to strain our ears to pick what she was saying. Her hands were no longer firm. In her last days, she was practically a vegetable. I remember, so vividly, how she would ask me to put food in her nose rather than her mouth. It was in the room opposite what was then my father’s room in our Orile-Agege home. Tears would well up in my eyes and I would wonder why she wanted the food in her nose. I always left that room sad and must have at a point wished Heavens would just have her.
The day she eventually passed I was in my aunt’s place, where I had become an unplanned occupant. It was my immediate elder brother and friend, Muyiwa (who I fondly call Sadoh even now that he is a pastor) that broke the news that early November 2 morning. I did not suspect he had come to break the bad news because we had an agreement for him to pick up something from me, so I assumed that was why he had come. Immediately I opened the gate for him and was still backing him trying to lock the gate, he broke the news and I let out a scream, tears began to trickle down my cheeks. We went upstairs to tell my aunt what had happened. She calmed us down and told us why we must calm down.
“Do you want to kill your mum?”
Our mother’s health was anything good at that time. She, too, had seen red, the grey side of life. Her words made sense and my tears dried, but my brother, who was the next to her, could not control himself. It was so bad we had to ban him from following us to the burial ground, where we buried her in an unmarked grave.
My aunt, who calmed us down, died some years back of breast cancer and her husband, the man she slaved for, was nowhere around. He had moved to the United States and blamed her for his earlier woes.
To heal we took out all her photographs and destroyed them so she now lives in our memories. The last of her pictures, which I saw with her friend some years back, was taken away by me. Her friend was always fond of looking at this picture close to her death anniversary and other times and tears always visited her on such occasions. It was during one of such crying sessions that I stumbled on her and stylishly retrieved the picture. I cannot remember what I did with it, but I suspect it was also destroyed.
About a month after my sister passed, exactly December 1, 2001, we were suddenly told Sadoh had been rushed to the hospital from a place he was doing a temporary job. He was said to have, all of a sudden, started shouting that something was in his throat and he started dipping his hand into his mouth to remove it and, before long, he was soaked in blood. For the next one month, he was at the General Hospital, Ikeja, where I used to visit him almost every day before going to The Source magazine on Emina Crescent, off Toyin Street, where I cut my journalistic teeth.
This year alone, three siblings from my maternal extended family died within six months, the first died when COVID-19 had America on its knees. He didn’t die of COVID-19 but, because of the pandemic, his childhood sweetheart and wife was not allowed to follow him when medics rushed him to the hospital from their Lake Worth, Florida home. His elder brother died a fortnight ago in Sapele, Delta State, where their father had made home far away from Epe, his ancestral root. In between, their younger brother, too, died. I was taken aback when my mother lamented this fate to me a week and a day ago.
You may wonder what is wrong with me and why I am going down a sad memory lane. Well, it is this year. 2020 happened to me and us all and has seen me sobering and evaluating this life. I remember a conversation with a colleague who is a pastor about life and his verdict is that life is not worth it. He believes the hassles are too much and that if given a chance he will plead with God to count him out of reincarnation. Does that mean those who are gone like my father and sister and others are lucky? It is a question the little enjoyment of this life will not allow me to answer in the affirmative. After all, in all things, praise is what is expected of us.
This year has left many of us broke, many have lost their jobs, firms have shut down and dreams have died. Well-thought plans have failed to work. In all, we thank God for life and hope 2021 will be better, at least vaccines have been found. It is another thing if the Third World like us will get the equitable access recently canvassed by President Muhammadu Buhari. We contributed nothing to the research and expecting equitable access from those who spent their millions of dollars to get out the cure is something that tells me we are jesters.
My final take: Unfortunately in this sobering era, so many people still hold on tight to the things of this world. They are still stealing from the commonwealth, they are still killing to survive and they are still their old, shameless self. Who goes through a year like this and remains the same? Shamelessly, people in positions of authority still give themselves the right to rewrite history forgetting that history— like Nguy?^n succinctly noted— will write itself in people’s memories. The times have not instilled in them the vanity of this life.