A week of painful losses

THE past week has been very traumatic. Traumatic for me as I lost two brothers in one fell swoop, the James Ocholi children as they lost their father, mother and another sibling in a fatal automobile crash, the Nigerian army and the family of Major General Yusha’u Mahmood Abubakar, Chief of Training and Operation who also lost his life in an auto accident. Majority of Nigerians are not exempted from this Season of Anomie, borrowing from a title of one of the books of Nobel laureate, Professor Wole Soyinka. Electricity generation has dropped to below 1500MW, the lowest in recent time, from the height of about 5000MW two weeks ago, coupled with strike by workers of Ikeja distribution company, it is blackout everywhere.

There is fuel scarcity with long queues at fuel stations, with its attendant traffic gridlock everywhere. Sleep has become impossible in the night, no thanks to the noise of generators for those who had fuel to power them. For others who could not afford the black market price and could not stand the long queues in fuel stations, they had to sleep in the dark. But that is the least of it. Sleeping without electricity to power the electrical fans and air conditioners is almost impossible, it’s like a new heat wave has just been imported into the country. It is indeed a harrowing period for all. But  this is more so for those who have lost loved ones. In my own case my two brothers were not sick and they did not die in an auto accident. Nobody ever tells you how traumatic it could be when you lose a loved one. It touches you to your marrows. Life would never be the same again as it would be as if a part of you had been cut off without the application of anesthesia.

My brothers died two days apart. Their death was especially painful as it came like a thunderbolt. Unannounced. I was on the way to the MMA2 to board a flight to Abuja and was already running late- I actually missed the flight and had to take another one- when I got an agitated call from my brother, Akinola Tunji, friends and family popularly called him AKT. He said he had been calling since midnight without getting across. My phone battery had drained off and on getting home, I had plugged it into the power outlet and promptly fell asleep. He had sad news.

Our eldest brother, Bode, who had been based in the UK all these years with his family had passed on. Shocked and surprised, I blurted, ‘but he is in the UK.’, as if that was enough armour to shield anybody when the owner of our live requires it. Another surprise. He said he died in Nigeria having arrived the country on saturday, he had stayed in Lagos and the following day,sunday, he had travelled to Ibadan. He had equally got a call from one of our sisters about the incident at midnight on Monday and he was on his way to Ibadan. He had called in order for us to go together. I could not take the news in. He was not sick, at least no visible sign of sickness. So what could have happened? Died ? He could not provide much details too. ‘Once I get to Ibadan and I get more information, I will call you’. And on that note , I went to Abuja. He called as promised. That was one of his traits, he was always the one to give me information on every issue concerning the family, be it wedding or any other thing relating to family. ‘Yes, it is true, Brother Bode is gone, arrangements have been made to take him to the Anatomy department in UI’ (University of Ibadan), where we all grew up, he informed me, adding that he was on the way to Lagos and that we would speak further in the night.

At about 9pm, he called again that he was in Lagos. In the course of our discussion, he informed me about how he had reversed his car and had hit a  trailer parked behind him. This broke his rear light. It was a conversation that lasted about 20 minutes which ended when I said he should text certain details to me. If only I had known it would be the last conversation with him. He promised to do so in the morning. I never got his message, instead it was a neighbour of his that called to tell me that he had collapsed and was unconscious.

I went blank. Unconscious? I started pleading with the caller to take him to the nearest hospital with no expenses spared, that I would send the money to him immediately. I stared calling cousins and relatives and some of his close friends to quickly go to his assistance, since I was in Abuja. My agitated call to the neighbour to ensure they did my wish led to the neighbour telling me he was dead. I shouted on him to stop that, ‘he is not, what do you mean, why should he be dead? Lightning, it is said, does not strike in the same place twice. ‘Just get him to a doctor’, I shouted at him. ‘We have called a doctor and he has confirmed it’, he told me. Before all these happened, I had left my room in the hotel to join another friend of mine in his room.

My world literally crashed. Dead, dead. It couldn’t be. I spoke with him. That couldn’t be right. It was someone else that must have died, all these were rolling in my mind as I struggled to grasp what was said. If my friend had not been in the room, God knows what would have happened. I lost control. All I knew was that I was pinned down on his bed and he was pleading with me, telling me what I wanted to hear that my brother was not dead. I kept saying he didn’t die. Yes, ‘he didn’t die’,my friend echoed. ‘No, my brother wouldn’t do that to me. He wouldn’t die, he knew how much I relied on him, why would he die? He wouldn’t do that to me’, I kept saying. I have to mention here that I had a special relationship with him. I had lived with him for several years when I graduated and during the early years while others were in school or hostel, he and I were the only one at home. He did his extra-murals and had also worked in the Faculty of Arts in UI . As grown ups-he was much older- the intimacy remained. Our fight had always been that my calls were always infrequent.

And anytime he got exasperated, after he had not received my call or he had called and I had not returned his call, he would send a text message that would rein me in. Most times we travelled together especially since he lost his wife about nine months earlier. We also attended family functions together. Indeed, he was always my source of information on any family related issue. I took him for granted, that he would always be there. But God decided other wise.

In my quiet moment after his burial which was done two days later, I started ruminating about death. I realized that what causes so much sorrow is the finality of death. That you would not see the person again, at least physically. That you would only have fond memories. I had those fond memories which could even be a source of problem. Such memories are always poignant, playing like a recorded film in your memory. I could remember as far back as the 70s. Is it memories of when Brother Bode came home from his Tedder hall residence in UI and played all the latest music with his intimidating music set, even at that time or when AKT had to go to party in the night when daddy and mummy had slept and I had to take his stiletto shoes out of the house and keep for him in the backyard so it would not make noise and thus wake the entire household. Sleeping lightly so I would hear when he tapped the window on his return in order to open the doors for him. Our special relationship was such that wherever he was, I would always go there to see him. I was with him during his NYSC year in a remote village in Kwara state. When he started teaching in Ifewara, Osun state after his national service, I was also there. I am not sure of any other family member that did that. He always knew I would come wherever he was. But those would now be memories.

The sort of memories, I am sure, would be going through the minds of people who had lost loved ones in the last few days. The Ocholi children, General Abubakar’s family and many others. The consolation for all is what Pastors and Imams usually say, it’s the will of God. When He says the time is up, nobody can say nay. May all the dead rest peaceful  in the bosom of the almighty.

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