In a society where harsh realities prevail, people are benumbed to pain and death. This story relates how the ‘sufferer’ is often not allowed the comfort of sincere sorrowing.
I was at work that afternoon when the news spread like wild fire raging through dry grasses. “A bomb blast occurred few hours ago at the United Nations House in Abuja. The number of casualties has not been confirmed…”
The voice of the broadcaster faded as my mind travelled away from my immediate four-walled environment. My father worked with the United Nations Development Project as an international consultant. His office was situated in the bombed building. We had talked on phone for almost an hour two days ago.
“Daddy, I think it’s high time you retired,” I’d said to him. He’d responded with a deep-belly chuckle – “The day I stop working marks the day I would draw my last breath.” Then, we shifted to a light-hearted banter – “When are you bringing that omoge home to us? You know your mother is very eager to carry her grandchildren on her back.”
“Daddy, what’s the hurry now? I’m still sowing my wild oats o!”
He laughed – “You’re really a true son from my loins.”
My relationship with Daddy improved as I grew older – we now related with a camaraderie akin to one which existed between old pals. The sound of his boisterous laughter kept ringing in my head like a Grandfather clock’s chimes; clashing with eccentric thoughts.
I don’t want my father to die now, there are still many things we have not done together. We already had plans to play golf during the Christmas holiday. I had been polishing my golf-playing skills every weekend because I did not want him to gloat so much after he had whacked me silly. “That’s one thing I can easily beat you at; even with my aging bones.” Daddy had boasted.
The movements in the office had slowed down – it resembled scenes from a still motion picture. My secretary; Omolade had tears trickling down her cheeks which dampened the memo sheets in her hands. I knew I had to get home urgently – not to my bachelor-apartment with the occasional feminine presence but the real home where my mother was. Robot-like; I picked up my car keys and headed out. I almost butted into the director for operations at the door – Mr Aromokeye’s lips were moving but my ears could not comprehend the sounds. I left the director standing bemused at the door as I whizzed out of the premises.
My shock gave way to heightened sensitivity as I drove from Surulere to my residence at Isolo. The street-hawkers selling various items which ranged from torches to men’s underwear huddled around my car reciting their trade-lingo. The boy washing my windscreen in the traffic had a small black mole on his upper lip and dry black patches decorated the corners of his mouth – an evidence of poor nutrition and ill health. I passed a fifty naira note to him through the slit of the window.
“Thank you, sah!”He shouted.
I nodded numbly as my gaze became fixated on the taxi in front of me. The sticker on its bumper read: When there’s life, there’s hope. Nigerians and their enduring spirit! No constant power supply; people buy generators, no potable water; they dig boreholes and when people are killed in senseless frictions, they become philosophical.
My father had once written about the dismal condition of the masses in his column in the dailies. It was titled: And the donkeys spoke! The article generated a lot of arguments nationwide – the grumbling started from the paper-vendor stands to protests outside government offices. Since the writer of the article could not be identified, the editor of the newspaper was arrested and interrogated by a certain government body – he was accused of inciting people to violence. When I asked Daddy why he wrote under a pseudonym, he said one has to be very careful – “In a country like ours, one can’t afford to lose the few friends one has; especially those ones who inhabit the corridors of power.”
My father reduced in my eyes that day like a melting candle. I felt it was because of cowards like him that the country’s situation moved from bad to worse. I went back to the university; an angry youth preaching idealism and student unionism. I even pretended to be poor in school – blending with the boys from poor backgrounds; eating weevil-infested beans on the hostel floor. That self-sacrificing phase passed when I graduated from the university and joined the vast throng of job seekers. Then, I realised wealth was indeed power.
Susan opened the door with a puzzled look on her face.
“What are you doing at home, so early?”
Her question grated on my nerves roughly. I should have known; even if a tsunami was approaching the house, Susan would have been oblivious to it since she spent the whole day watching those Indian movies where the men sang and danced like sissies.
As an answer to her question, I walked into the sitting room, picked up the TV remote control and flipped to a news channel.
“Ah! So, they are all dead? Who bombed the building?”
Another wave of irritation blew over me. This girl was as dull as solidified palm oil! With all the hullabaloo of the Boko Haram in the North, it was incredible that there was still someone in the country who had not heard about them. It was only her adroitness in the bedroom that had sustained our two-month-old relationship.
She stood in the doorway of the room watching me pack my suitcase – “Let me go with you.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll be fine. I need to do this alone.”
What I should have told her was that – she was not a take-home-to-mama kind of girl.
The brown rooftops crowding the cloudy horizon welcomed me into the city of Ibadan. As I entered the streets of Agugu, I remembered my father’s love for this simple area. Simple albeit dirty houses sat on each other’s shoulders – so close that one could stretch a hand into the window of the next building. Even though Mummy detested the filth of the neighbourhood, Daddy had refused to build our family home in the posh areas of the city. He told her she did not understand the sacredness of living in one’s agbole. “To you our agbole represents just a physical space but to someone like me, it’s a spiritual realm.” Daddy pronounced, with a grim expression on his face.
I met a hysterical version of my always-tranquil mother at home – her hair was dishevelled and her eyes; wild and bloodshot. She sat smack on the tiled floor; rocking from side to side. The mourners were into full gear action as they wailed – the women-mourners were the best of all. They clapped their hands, beat it on their chests before they dashed themselves on the floor.
“Eniyan nla lo! An eminent person is gone!”They wept.
Mummy clung to my shirt – “Gbenga they have killed him! Your father is dead o!” I felt a sharp pain in my chest as I heard her words. I’d been clinging to a weak strand of hope that my father would have somehow escaped death with minimal injuries. My knees weakened and I flopped into a chair. My eyes were dry and my sight turned inward as times spent with Daddy flashed in my mind scene upon scene.
We had always been a close-knit family – I being the only child and my mother; the only wife. Even with my father’s frequent journeys as a diplomat, he still reserved family time. The extended family had tried in vain to make my father take another wife but he paid no heed to them.
“Who will inherit all your wealth after your death? You know our people say – we toil so that our children won’t suffer,” said Mama Alaro; my father’s great aunt.
“You talk as if I’m childless; I have a son. Or are your children not also mine?” Daddy had responded. So, they concluded he must have used his manhood for money rituals. That was the only reason which could make a man satisfied with having just one child.
The remains of my father did not arrive in Ibadan until five days after the bomb incident. They told us the police were conducting investigations. As if that will bring back the dead, I smirked to myself.
In the days before the burial, the mourners refused to go home. They inhabited every corner of the house. I even saw some women laying their mats in the store room. The steam rose in the kitchen from sunrise to sunset. The yam flour that was consumed in those few days could have fed a battalion of soldiers.
“They came to mourn with us, so why are they eating so much!” I retorted.
My mother stared blankly – “We have to feed them. It’s our culture.”
Culture indeed! What is the benefit of a depraving culture?
My father; Chief Lekan Arowolo was buried on a rainy morning in St. Luke’s Anglican Church’s Cemetery. There was no lying-in-state because of the gruesome state of the corpse. I was happy for that because I would not have wanted to keep such a horrendous memory of my father.
The church’s pews were packed full with important dignitaries from within and outside the country. The scents of their expensive perfumes clashed against each other until it turned into a nauseating smell. I tried not to wrinkle my nose as they came forward to offer their condolences to my mother and me.
“Chief Arowolo was a great man; he will be missed greatly,” said one of his colleagues who looked ridiculous in a suit that bulged in the middle.
“Chief was a diplomat extraordinaire. I’m sure he must have been a great husband too.” Otunba Ogunyemi said, as he held on to my mother’s hand; turning the handshake into a caress. I pointedly stretched my hand forward, so he had no choice than to release his grip on my mother’s hand. A sly grin replaced Otunba’s leering smile.
The sight that greeted us when we arrived home after the service was a strange one. The number of the mourners had doubled – they clustered around the house like bees swarming on a hive. There were half brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, great aunts, uncles, and so many other family connections that were too complex to be defined. They were all waiting for the will to be read the next day. While they waited, they plundered the house – the plates and cutlery disappeared from the kitchen into the bags of the women-mourners, the beds were stripped naked and the soaps and toilet papers vanished from the bathrooms. I would have driven them away but my mother stopped me.
“They will be satisfied after the will has been read. I’m sure your father left something for everyone. He loved his family.”She said.
I fought hard to keep my calm but I lost it when I saw them in my father’s room.
“The white agbada is mine.”
“No, I picked it first.”
“You can fight over those local clothes. As for me, I only want the suits.”
Even Baba Ibeji was one of them – haggling over my father’s clothes when his corpse was still fresh in the grave.
“Chief, the children are hungry and my wife is making the house too hot for me. Please help me; anything will do.” Baba Ibeji would say, anytime he came begging for Daddy’s help.
“Olawale, I told you to send your wife to the hospital for family planning. How many sets of twins do you have now, three or four?”Daddy would respond; shaking his head.
“It’s against my religious belief sir.” Baba Ibeji would reply with a morose look. At the end of the conversation, my-ever-generous-father would relent and give him some money; with a warning for him to stay within the boundaries of his teacher’s salary. However, he would be back in some weeks’ time with another story of woe. Baba Ibeji was not the only one who benefitted from my father’s benevolence; there were several others.
Then, I remembered something and I smiled. It was one of my father’s recorded speeches on corruption. He did not just write radical articles, he also had a penchant for dictating his articles into tapes. I slotted the tape into the stereo and turned it to its loudest volume. Daddy’s voice boomed throughout the house – “The children who steal from their own father’s barn are worse than the locusts that destroy the plants in the farm. Hear these words, you looters, scavengers and thieves; the day of your doom is upon you…”
None of them waited to hear the judgement. They all bolted from the house; their fears of ghosts giving wind to their legs.