On a cold September night in 1989, an extra ordinary event happened in a brick house in Akobo, Ibadan, a memory of which that I’ve never lost.
It was father’s fourty-sixth birthday, and we had all gathered at night as usual on the large sofa in the sitting room, surrounding him and listening to stories and the many songs father sang to us. It was a cheerful moment, one of the many that I remembered that took place every night after he returned from work. It always took place on the big leather sofa, and as there was not often electric power, but a glow of a kerosene lamp or sometimes none at all. The beauty of the room was often from the glow of our spirits as we learned from the stories and songs. It was always a priceless moment.
This day however became memorable not because it was his birthday, but because a little shortly into the evening of singing and happy birthday revelry, my grandmother passed away. She had been bed-ridden for a while before then, but it was of an eerily moving significance that she had chosen the night of her son’s birthday to depart from the world, and the coming days would witness a deluge of guests and well wishers who knew her both as a storyteller and as a deeply reflective woman. I do remember a few of my times with Mama as she was fondly called by all, but a few of those instances included some rascality on my part as well. I do vividly remember the day that I took off with a pack of Chocomilo chocolate cubes from her wooden selling counter, in order to retaliate for something she had done to tick me off. My defence was that she deserved to be so punished because I didn’t deserve the flogging she had given me earlier, and that I deserved the sweets for myself anyway since I was a little boy without money to buy it.
Mama always had a long cane to deal with errant children. She also always had a story to tell, or a song to sing. From my earliest memories, I knew her as a fascinating human being who also made the most delicious efo riro whenever we came back from school hungry. I loved her, but back then as a rascally young boy almost on his way out of primary school, I couldn’t have put it this way, not exactly knowing what love meant besides writing fictive love stories about my primary school crush and other romantic interests. I only knew that she was there when we wanted her to, especially when we were about to get a deserved beating from either mum or dad, to intervene, and pacify them. I surely wasn’t prepared for her departure, having known her for such a little time.
Today, I remember my grandmother. It has been twenty years, and the vivid, and often distant memory of her remains with us, especially – I’m sure – her son, whose birthday today will always be a day to remember, and the celebrate the extraordinary gift of life, and love. Here’s to two extraordinary people in my life whose blood runs in me and whose stories I carry, and who by being themselves gave me a tremendous opportunity and mandate to always, always know, and discover myself. Because of who they are, here I am. It is a circle of life.
Happy birthday father.
I remember you Mama.