* * *
A sad day, very sad sad day in Ajebandele the small village some kilometres away from Ore on the Lagos-Benin Expressway. The village is burying a medical doctor- to -be the son of one of the indigenes and a motivating force for the village. Ajebandele had always been a farming outpost for the Ibadan,Ijebu,Ondo and Ife cocoa farmers who used it as a place of rest during the farming season before going back to Ijebu-Ode, Ile-Ife,Ibadan or Ondo after the season. Over a period of time, the time the farmers spent in Ajebandele became more and more and the little hamlet grew into small village and, with the construction and commissioning of Lagos- Benin Expressway in the 70s the little village started aspiring to become a big town.
Though still some two kilometres from the Expressway, the village of almost two hundred and fifty people had been touched by the long snaky road moving from Lagos the former political capital of Nigeria but now the commercial capital to Benin the capital of the old Benin Kingdom and presently that of Edo State.
I slowly came to, finding myself dazed and seated in my living room surrounded by people. Slowly like a film reel being rewound in slow motion the situation played itself to me. I could not believe that my son is gone. Gone for ever not to be seen again and has become my elder*.My son had become someone we, the living, now fear, a ghost and one we cannot argue or discuss with, touch, or play with or see gain. We can only see him in dreams. He has become an entity we cannot share food or drink with. Is this death’s way? Unannounced? Shocking and Numbing? Why must Death not send a warning or a message? Why is Death such a stealth killer?
A killer with no rhyme or reason? Old people are left while young people are harvested? The Grim Reaper who harvests unripe fruits while the rotten and the overripe are left untouched. The wicked are left to live long while the good and the best are quickly taken away. Death where is thy sting? Where are you so that I can wrestle you? Why did you not take me and spare my son? Why? Why?
The above thoughts raced through my mind as the burial train passed in front of my house towards the church for the burial rites and service for my first child Enitan a Clinical student of the University of Benin. Lord, it remained just some few years for him to become a Medical Doctor. We both had a plan that of opening a Clinic in Ajebandele and treating his own people but that was not to be. A clinic like his would have reduced the constant fatalities of taking the sick and accident victims to Ondo a distance of more than forty five kilometres in order to get them treated in the State Hospital. The clinic would also have helped me in generating resources that would have contributed to his siblings training. Thinking about all of these started another train of thoughts within me.
What happens to dreams deferred? What happen to dreams destroyed? What happens to plans not materialized? Do they disappear into the air or into vapour? Do intentions, calculations and plans not manifested become a burden, a rock in the heart of the planner or faint and fond memory with time? What happens to stillborn intentions? Do they constipate the person with the intentions or are they passed away without any trouble to the person? What happens to the majority that would have benefited from Enitan’s graduation as a medical doctor? Are they left in the lurch lord?
Why? Why? Why is this world an abode of injustice and anguish? What should I think of now? Is it the money spent on him? The love showered on him? The companion he was to me? The love and favourite of his mother that he was? Or the model he was to his siblings? What do I do now my Lord? How will I cope with this loss? Will I get out of it? What do I do with my wife who is under sedation now? What will I tell her when she wakes up? Tell her to forget Enitan ever crossed our threshold?
Really is Enitan gone? Gone as in gone and not to be seen again? No it is a dream, a dream. This is a dream and I will wake up to find it is a dream. I will turn and see him coming again and asking why I am still in Nigerian Police. No, he will come in soon now with his smile and my taunt on in his mouth “Olopa a beg Sir”. It means I would not see him again? No, No, it can’t be. Not again Lord? No God let it be a dream. Wake me up from this dream. Wake me up. Please wake me up!
I sat in my living room surrounded by people I was not seeing or hearing. The occasional commiserations from relations, colleagues and friends were not registering in my mind. I was not in the room. My mind was somewhere I did not know. I was reacting to the sympathy greetings like an automaton. I did not even see my boy’s body but he was sitting beside me laughing that his playful laugh with me but he was speaking and I couldn’t hear. But he is younger, fresher and very happy. Why can’t they keep this their crying and wailing low so that I can hear him? My cousins and my younger brother handled the burial processes.
I would have loved to see him and maybe ask some questions from him.
Why did you decide to go before me? What did I not do well? Where did I go wrong? Why did you decide to treat us this way? He was giving me answers but I can’t hear. Can’t they stop their noise? The person they said is dead is here beside me talking with me. Can’t they see him? He is trying to tell me something but this noise, this noise. But they did not allow me to see him. People hedged me in, afraid I would injure myself and may not be able to handle the grief. My closest friends sat, walked and slept with me. All objects likely to injure me were taken away and I was not allowed to do anything most especially three days before the burial.
The song came floating into the room. So sonorous that, if not for the occasion and atmosphere, it would have been pleasing.
Oro nla le da (2ce)
Eh! Eh! Oro nla le da
Eyin Te p’omo eye
Te je o dagba
Oro nla le da.
(You caused a great harm
Eh! Eh! You caused a great harm
Those who killed the chicks
Depriving them of growth
You caused a great harm)
The song penetrated my subconscious and, for the first time after hearing about my son’s death, I cried. Was it crying? I was wailing and tears were dropping from my face. Most of those around me could not understand what was happening. There were many remonstrations against my emotional break down.
” You can’t afford this. Who will help your children when they start crying when you are crying?” ‘You have to be strong’.
‘A ri ‘ru eyi ri,eru la n fi da b’oloro” (meaning this is what we have not seen before is just a means of frightening those in situations like these)”
“No, Baba Enitan, you can’t be doing this”
“You are a man, handle it like a man. A man does not cry”
The various appeals fell on me like water being poured on the calabash but I was not hearing them. Then the songs outside rose in volume and timbre and the curses started raining on the person responsible for Enitan’s death and they were like arrows piercing my heart. I wept soul searing and anguish laden tears. I wept.
*In Yoruba culture it is a taboo for a father or any parent to see the corpse of his children. Older relations of a dead person are not also allowed to see the corpse of those younger to them. However, modernity and civilisation is fast eroding these practices.
**In Yoruba culture when a younger person dies before an older person, the belief is that the dead one had become an older person through the fact of his/her death.
Femi Adedina is a Nigerian playwright, poet, film-maker, essayist and academic. This is an excerpt from a novella in progress. He is currently based in Perth, Australia, where he is about to finish a PhD in creative writing.