Maybe I should never have woken up on the first day of October 1995. It was a day I could never forget, even if I tried to. It was my thirty-fifth birthday and the day I died.
Death to me doesn’t necessarily mean the end of everything; it means the end of a phase, October 1995 ended an unfortunate phase in my life and heralded a terrible one.
Before then I was a walking corpse, an effigy with a soul.
My life was slowly being garrotted by a myriad of problems. I had a million and one troubles in my life and a tidal wave of disturbances followed me everywhere I went.
I had lost my job eighteen months before then, and a man without a job unwittingly becomes the wife.
I was living on my wife. She was feeding me, clothing me and paying the rent.
I was married to Adeola, a nursing assistant and together we had two kids, two beautiful daughters, Tayo and Ebun. They were six and four respectively at the time.
I was roused from sleep on that day, by a sudden and continuous banging in my head. When I opened my eyes, I was confronted by an ineffable darkness. The room was enfolded in it and my eyes saw nothing but blackness.
I walked towards the window and pried open the curtains. The moon was full, it cast a streak of light through the opening between the curtains and splashed on my wife, its brightness.
The luminous bedside alarm clock told me the time was three am. I had had just three hours of sleep.
Looking back to that day, I wonder which of my troubles had caused the confusion in my head; the fact that I had been dependent on my wife for one whole year and six months or the fact that I had no prospect of getting a job anytime soon.
My daughter, Tayo, had also been diagnosed of a heart disorder and the doctors gave her six months to live unless an open heart surgery was performed on her. The surgery could not be done in the country; she had to be flown abroad and the total cost of the whole package, travel, actual surgery and accommodation ran into millions of naira.
Money we would never be able to afford or raise.
We did everything we could, I sold the plot of land I owned, sold my wife’s jewelleries, we went to churches and to mosques, but all we got was nothing near the amount we needed.
And the series of tests being run on her ate the funds up.
We were left in a conundrum.
I could not allow seeing my daughter die, yet I couldn’t stop death from snatching her away from me. Every hope we had of saving her was lost and my wife began to retract inwardly.
Our problems had dropped a wedge between us and we grew apart, but I never stopped loving her: even until this day.
I think in her mind, she was blaming me for everything. I think her retraction was a protest against my incompetence. I was the man of the house and I wasn’t living up to my expectations.
And I couldn’t blame her. I never blamed her for arriving at that conclusion.
I’d taken her unspoken blames stoically and nursed my battered ego.
I returned to the bed and sat up straight on it. I looked forlornly into the room. I was looking but not seeing.
Only my mind and ears functioned.
I heard my wife’s light snore and felt the rhythmic up and down motion her breathing made on the bed.
Her back was to me, as it had been for the past six weeks.
We don’t talk anymore and neither do we touch each other. Our marriage was on a hiatus, we only put up a façade when we were around the kids.
But I sensed that they too, knew that we were hiding something from them; me especially.
I was once a ‘father of the year’ material. I was jovial, played with the kids, sang to them and drove them to school. Losing my source of livelihood, sort of took the merriment in me away.
“You are taking it out too much on yourself,” my wife would say in the early days of my misery. “Why don’t you just be happy? You have me and the kids and we love you. It wouldn’t hurt you to smile, at least at us.”
Eddie Murphy, fooling himself in front of me wouldn’t have made me cracked a smile. My face was always in a corrugated state, I had a permanent scowl etched on it because I constantly reminded myself of what I ought to be.
A breadwinner and not a bread-eater.
That realisation made me the unhappy man that I was.
I let my gaze linger on my wife’s silhouette as she slept peacefully and a sudden thought occurred to me. I had to gain my position in the household back. I had to revert to being the husband, but how? I asked myself.
I had searched futilely in the month’s I had been converted to a stay-at-home dad to get a job, but I couldn’t get one. Not even a low paying job.
I’d wake up in the mornings and go to the news stand, peruse through the papers for vacancies, write down addresses and send out applications. I never got any replies and I became frustrated the more.
I got up from the bed and made sure I didn’t rouse my wife. I walked into the living room which was devoid of furniture – we had sold everything- except the dining table.
I picked a pen, tore a sheet from Tayo’s math exercise book and wrote a letter to my wife. The note was short, precise and straight to the point.
I left it on the table, where she’d see it and went back into the room for a change of cloth. I put on t-shirt and jeans, packed extra clothes in a backpack and walked out of the room.
I made a stop in the children’s room, stared at them for what seemed like eternity before gently placing a peck on each of them.
I had tears in my eyes as I walked out of the room but my mind was made. I was leaving home, never to return until I got my manhood back.
I was leaving Abeokuta for Lagos. I was living my old life behind so I could start a new one.
My decision then, to my wife would have looked like an art of cowardice but to me, it wasn’t. I wasn’t abandoning them, I was only going away for a while.
I knew fate would bluster concerning Tayo’s health, and I also knew fate had been predestined and that nobody could alter it.
So I walked out of the door, having it mind that whatever the case might be, Tayo’s healing or otherwise, was her kismet and not in anyway a result of my absence.
I loved them, God knows I did, but I just didn’t want my kids growing up believing their father was a sluggard.
I wanted them to grow up seeing me as a father: a man.
I wiped the tears out of my eyes as I walked out of the house. The time was four in the morning. I didn’t know what I was going to do in Lagos, I just knew it was where my success awaited.
The letter I left for my wife read thus;
By the time you are reading this letter, I’d be far away from you. Please don’t bother looking for me. I will one day return to you and the kids; that is a promise, but please know that this was a tough decision to make.
I am not leaving you because of anything you did, I am leaving because of the things I am not doing. I feel I am lagging in performing my duties as a husband and as a father, I also know you are not complaining, but the man in me will never be satisfied if a woman continues to feed it.
I am going to work hard while away, and hopefully make it soon. Please do take care of the kids and when they ask of me, tell them I will be back soon.
Always let them know I love them and remember that I love you too.
Take care of yourself while I am away.
Your loving husband.
As I walked away from my home and family, I envisaged how my wife would feel after reading the letter. Would she be disappointed in me?
Would she be relieved that a burden had been lifted off her? Or would she curse me to damnation?
I walked away and never looked back. I walked into that misty October morning, empty-bellied and with just two hundred naira in my pocket.
And I hoped that the next time I saw my house, things would have been better. That I would drive back in my own car and with plenty money in my pocket: only I never saw that house again.
Like I already said, if I knew what fate awaited me that day, I would never have woken up; ever.
I once read somewhere that we humans are nothing but pencils in the hands of the creator. If that is true, then my own creator is a retarded three-year old that is learning how to draw.
He just never got the picture right; my life was doodled.