She Always Will Be

Tomi Olugbemi on Loss

Dying does not hurt the dead but I fear it is different for Mummy. I often worry that she may be grieving too, floating about in some existential plane and mourning the absence of her husband and children. I chew on the meaning of rest in peace. Is it mere banality or is death a form of rest? Perhaps it affirms the belief that eternal bliss follows dying.

I was angry that barely two weeks after the funeral; a guest minister at church preached on God’s healing power. I was angry that many people believed her death to be God’s will: that He knew best, and Mummy’s time had come. I scolded myself for not coming home months before she passed and for believing that she was on a path to recovery. When Faith Evans voice came on the radio, three days after Mummy died, singing: every single day, every time I pray, I’ll be missing you; I closed my eyes, tightened my jaw, and wept on the inside, instead of telling the taxi driver to change the channel.

In Mummy’s death, I lost the only person whose personality traits perfectly mirrored mine. I took after her in the way she swallowed her pain to soothe others and in how she folded into herself and feigned wellness even when sickness or depression ate from her vitality. We loved alike, silently but on full throttle, often walking the lines between worrying about a person and loving them intensely. We remained quiet in the midst of strangers but could be extremely goofy around familiar faces.

Grief is not as persistent as it used to be; my life continues and I have to concentrate on things besides carrying the weight of sadness. These days, grief visits in spurts, like a houseguest rather than a tenant, revealing itself as sudden re-realisations of loss when I place my mother before things: Mummy’s key. Mummy’s car. Mummy’s dresser. Mummy’s cancer foundation or while watching a mother die in a film and remembering that mine died too. Grief is the sadness in Daddy’s eyes masked with a smile when he abruptly interjects her name, Funke, while telling an anecdote about her. It showed on my brother, Dami’s, distraught countenance as we shot his graduation photos sans Mummy. And my other brother, Tofa’s wishful thinking on Twitter that heaven had visiting hours.

Like all the tragedies that have befallen me, I do not know that full recovery is sure. I do believe however, that in time, we adapt to regain normalcy by holding on to the love of, and for the departed; and conjuring their pith by drawing from past events. Thus, memories become more profound, more precious, like little vials of moonlight set aside for the days when the dark feels too present. Because even though they are dead, they breathe in reminiscence.

In losing Mummy, I am reminded of love’s eternal pursuit, its limitlessness, and how it travels beyond the boundaries of physical contact. That not even death can quell its power.  I have learned to still love what is no more. I have learned that loving another person is a life-long endeavour and that loss is not the end.

I hope that like Mary Elizabeth Frye, in her poem, Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, Mummy is wearing a glinting smile, saying: do not stand at my grave and cry; I am not there. I did not die. Although she no longer is, she always will be. Rest in peace, Mummy.

© Tomi Olugbemi 2017

Tomi Olugbemi is a poet. He spends his free time fretting about words and recovering from pessimism. He blogs at tomiolugbemi.com.

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tea-rose-corolla-caf%C3%A9-book-teapot-1871837/

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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More Than the Sum of All That

compass

My aunt is wearing a striped tube dress with spaghetti straps. When she sits, love handles circle her tummy like three rubber tires. “Timi, where have you been?” she asks, but does not expect an answer. I am there and it is enough. She sucks me in a tight embrace, her warmth spreading over me, her smile wide. 

The years apart are too many to fit into an evening. We make small talk highlighting the events that count. Did I hear what happened to her son? Only God could have saved him. And what about me and my hopes for tomorrow? I do not burden her with sad news; there is no need to slow down the tempo of the music we are making. Soon we are silent, each of us locked in our world, making sense of words.

When my sister says, “Aunty you look as young as ever,” she returns to the present.

“No o. I am old.”

My sister counters, “You’re looking young. No one would believe if you tell them your age.”

“Please don’t deceive me, don’t give me false hope,” she says like a woman who has been lied to and preyed upon. She pats her Halle Berry wig and looks at me with a small smile.

She is seeking corroboration from me. I cannot just give it, mouthing empty words. I do not know how old she is. I have no compass with which to navigate true north, therefore I cannot tell if she is indeed looking young. Having not seen her for years, in which I harboured memories of her younger fashionable self, she is in fact looking old to me.

My sister and my aunt continue the cycle of compliments and weak rebuttals. I fight within myself. Where is true north?

“Things separate from their stories have no meaning. They are only shapes. Of a certain size and color. A certain weight. When their meaning has become lost to us they no longer have even a name. The story on the other hand can never be lost from its place in the world for it is that place,” Cormac McCarthy wrote. 

My aunt’s husband is long gone; one son is far away, the other closer by, and her only daughter died too early. She has forged a whole life for herself apart from them. Her carefully made up face—thin black-pencilled brows, two large dots of muted raspberry rouge, and red lips that complement her hazel skin—is like a photo from another era. She has weathered storms and raised many children that are not hers, including me. I sense her hunger to be seen and admired as I too have on occasion hungered to be seen and admired.

I stop fighting because I have conquered myself.

“Aunty,” I say, “You look young and beautiful.”

It is not false hope; it is true. I remember learning that a (magnetic) compass almost never shows true north. True north is different from magnetic north, which changes depending on local magnetic variation. About a million years ago, the position of magnetic north even wandered closer to the geographic South Pole.

I had planned to ask my sister how old my aunt is. But when we leave, I let the question die in my throat. What does it matter? I am in charge of my compass. Moreover, she is more than the sum of all that.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/compass-magnetic-orientation-801763/

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Love is a Beautiful Thing

love-beautiful

As I grew up, it sometimes seemed that my parents would throw invisible daggers at each other and the knives would miss, hit the wall, rebound, and lacerate my heart. I thought they might do better apart rather than together, but my mother was adamant that she stick things through, as if she were glue.

Close to thirty years have elapsed since those turbulent times. In war more than elsewhere things do not turn out as we expect. Nearby they do not appear as they did from a distance (Carl von Clausewitz, On War). Perhaps because my parents now speak of their departure like something imminent in the distance, they invite my sisters and me closer, and I see what I did not see then.

My parents tell us about their lives, the things we do not know that they think we should.

We ask my father how he met my mother. His story is like him, adorned with few words. He says that when he met my mother, she was suitably impressed with his house; he had a very nice house in Sapele. When he left Sapele for Lagos, my mother followed him there.

My mother protests and interrupts. She admits that although he had a fine house, she never ventured inside, did not even heed the catcalls of the boys in the area, who said, “Lady, notu you we dey call?”

We shush her gently and assure her that her turn will come. When it does, she counters his story. She says that on her way to school, my father and his friends would peep at her from their house. “I used to be very pretty,” she is matter-of-fact, “everybody struggled to talk to me, but I would just ignore them.”

When my father came to look for her, he was always well turned out in a suit and tie. Because she was afraid of her mother finding out, she met him at the corner and it was, “Hello, hello, by the window side.” A shy smile creeps at the corners of her mouth at this recollection. “But,” she says, “I did not give in for a moment.”

At this, my sisters and I laugh. We make jokes about standing at the corner. My mother laughs. My father laughs. It is a while before we collect ourselves to continue, lost as we are in our memories of teenage love and desire.

“I left for Lagos because I had a strong urge to succeed in life; Sapele was too small for my dreams. I did not leave because of your dad, but to find greener pastures,” my mother says.

“Okay,” my sister smiles knowingly and says, “he was your greener pastures.”

My father chuckles, “She pursued me to Lagos.”

My mother rolls her eyes in exasperation, “I said I went to find greener pastures!”

They bicker over the details of their romance, each wanting to come up tops, but it is playful, weighted by tenderness processed and matured over time. I do not point out that both their stories have holes they have not filled. Maybe they want to bring my sisters and me close enough and no further.

Young people often imagine, as I did, that the fires of romance in older people die out, their candles burnt and spent somewhere in their twenties. In my forties, I know this to be untrue. Watching my parents, I know that it will still be untrue in my sixties, seventies, and way beyond.

Love is a beautiful thing. 

©Timi Yeseibo 2017

 

Photo Credit: https://pixabay.com/en/tic-tac-toe-love-heart-play-1777859/

 

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Seven Colours from My Life

colours

1.
Amber is the colour of HB pencils. One morning, in the year I was five, I returned from our neighbour’s house where we grind beans for akara and moi moi and sketched the grinding machine I saw there. My dad’s sister raved about the drawing and adjudged it an excellent reproduction. She rewarded me with two HB pencils and one eraser. These were not the last accolades I received for my art.

 

2.
Baby blue is the colour of my mom’s cooler. On a Visiting Day in junior secondary school, I took some of the jollof rice my mom brought for me to the hostel. My five friends flocked around and in-between jollification and smacking of lips, intoxicating praise for the jollof streamed into my ears. Three of these friends lived in Lagos. Zaria was too far-off from Lagos so their parents never honoured Visiting Day. The next term, my mom journeyed from Kaduna by bus with her big cooler of jollof rice for me and my crew. The image of my mom walking with the cooler on her head, and a Bagco Super sack of provisions clutched in her hand, stays with me.

 

3.
Brown is the small scar on my mom’s palm. Books, television, and the sound of music made me a wandering kid who always yearned to recreate something wonderful. Many evenings bloomed and withered as I combed garbage dumps for milk cans and precise colours of slippers, from which I fashioned wheels, Ludo seeds, and hockey balls. I ended my quests, each time, looking scruffy, and spankings by my mom’s palms remained the consistent punctuation to homecomings. In my mid-twenties, my mom revealed the real reason behind her anger. It wasn’t her supreme aversion to uncleanliness. Each time I strolled home looking like a pig, I reminded her of her days as a little village girl.

 

4.
Copper is the skin tone of my girlfriend. We were whatsapping one day and then:
*Ping* Why do you like me?
You pinch me. Sometimes. And it hurts until I laugh.
 I typed the last of nine answers to her question.
She replied with thirty reasons why she likes me. I have emailed them to myself for safekeeping.

 

5.
Yellow is the colour of egusi. The day we overcame our reservations and ate at Mama Favour’s spot, we sat in the open air, on an unstable bench, battling impolite flies and smoke from smoldering firewood. Her pounded yam and egusi was delicious. Incredibly cheap too. So cheap that we did the math three times to make sure we weren’t short-changing her. Two years on and Mama Favour has two roofed bukkas now. My best friend and I, and the other friends we have shared the gospel with, are still her customers.

 

6.
Porcelain white was the colour of Aunty Ramatu’s teeth. To the delight of my parents and we kids, her visits to our house were seldom without a jerrycan of kunu and sticks of sugarcane stuffed in a Bagco Super sack. In September, I visited Aunty Ramatu at the hospital. Her only surviving child laughed at a joke I cracked, revealing white teeth. I marveled, turned to her mother and discovered, as she too laughed, weakly, that her teeth were also white. Aunty Ramatu was discharged from the hospital two days later. In October, after contending with a terminal illness for more than fifteen years, she ascended from our realm. Your kindness and laughter will always be remembered, dear aunt. Rest in perfect peace.

 

7.
Red is TED. “Did you read Chimamanda’s 9K words essay?” read Mimi’s IM on WhatsApp. I hadn’t. She whatsapped the link. I read and found it articulate, inspiring, and instructional even if I didn’t agree with a number of Chimamanda’s admonitions. The waves of my doubts crashing against the shore of my convictions steered me towards Google. There, I discovered Chimamanda’s TED talk We Should All be Feminists. These days, I wonder if the women in my life will not live richer, fuller lives if we all became feminists. Maybe I am slowly becoming a feminist. Maybe not. Only when I marry, beget and rear a daughter will I really be certain.

© Samuel Okopi 2016

Samuel Okopi loves to sing, design, and fantasize about the future. He believes there is no end to learning and so, for him, every tommorrow is pregnant with new opportunities to inch closer to perfection.

 

Photo credit: nbostanova/ https://pixabay.com/en/pencils-coulored-red-blue-yellow-1654051/

© Timi Yeseibo, 2016

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Named For Love

name

1.
Dad idolised his grandfather, Olutade. He was going to name me after him but his mother thought against it. Dad then opted for the longest rendition of the name: Oluwatomilade. He also named me after himself: Adebayo. Grandmother did not object. And thus, I was called Junior till I turned seven and began to—in retrospect—cringe-worthily inform the adults in my life that I was a senior.

 

2.
Oluwatomilade translates to, God is my crown, or God is enough for me as a crown. As far as spiritual connotations go, it is a compelling name. To wear God or his identity on one’s head should be a marvellous thing and I suppose it is. But I am more enthralled that Dad named me Oluwatomilade because he loved his grandfather, that perhaps he saw him in me.

 

3.
The answer to the question, what does your name mean to you, is it means more to my father than it does to me. That my name means more to him is what my name means to me. That I was named in and for the sake of love.

 

4.
I inherited my great-grandfather and father’s names, mum’s temperament, and grandfather’s head. In my younger years, I was also called Ori as a not-so-subtle ode to the size of my head. My uncle, Sammy, used to sing a song, Ori nla, nla nla, Ori. Big head, big big, big head. At home, at school, at church, three names accompanied me—Tomi, Junior, Ori.

 

5.
My friend, Arike, is obsessed with names. We have spent many minutes of many conversations pondering about the beauty of names, their language forms, meanings, how they roll off the tongue, and so on. She has a substantial list of names locked in memory, to be withdrawn when she brings forth children to this mad world. I think about names too. I like long names. Studying in a foreign land, long names like mine tend to punish the tongues of lecturers. I usually interject with, “Tomi!” to put them out of their misery. They always apologise. I am never offended. In fact, I secretly look forward to it.

 

6.
My brothers call me Tomi but sometimes, Lade. The story of Lade is this. In my senior year at boarding school, one of my roommates farted (I swear it wasn’t me), and as usual, accusations diffused around the room with the rancid sulphur. Ever the introvert, I remained silent, causing a friend to say, “It was Lade.” Lade has stuck since. I like Lade. It reminds me of boarding school, of the times I loathed school and how I grew to love it in the end.

 

7.
When she was still here, mum called me Tomi. But when she wanted to hail me, like Yoruba mothers tend to do, she called me by one of my other names: Bolu, from Moboluwaji. It means I wake up with God. To wake up with God means that God is there in my sleep, shielding me from the terror of night. It means that God is always there when I open my eyes—bad breath, crusty eyes, and all. This is magnificent but Bolu carries the weight of mum’s love. And it is heavy. And yet, ever so light.

© Tomi Olugbemi 2016

Tomi Olugbemi is a poet and student of International Politics. He spends his free time fretting about words and recovering from pessimism. He blogs at tomiolugbemi.com.

 

Photo credit: condesign/ https://pixabay.com/en/board-slate-blackboard-chalk-1614646/

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

A Space Too Little Explored [4] Broken

broken

Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.

Broken

When I look back on my childhood, one word sums the hours spent playing football, riding my bicycle up and down our street, studying for exams, wincing as iodine was dabbed on a grazed knee, wrestling with friends, and fighting with my two brothers and only sister; carefree. My childhood was carefree because my parents, my father in particular, were careful to make it so.

Although he travelled a lot, my father always spent time with us whenever he was home. He was fun, rolling on the carpet with us, not a disciplinarian like my mother. I am the last-born. Deemed my father’s favourite by my siblings, I was the emissary who always obtained from him the favours they made me present to him as my idea. I wanted to be just like him when I grew up.

When I was sixteen, I returned from school to find my mother sitting atop a trunk box, as we called those silver rectangular chests with black trimmings, not attempting to hide her tears as she welcomed me home. A couple of my aunts cooed encouragement to her like mourners. My heart raced. Had someone died?

At my prodding, in a moment of weakness I suppose, my mother spilled the details of my father’s affairs. Nearly every family in our neighbourhood lived with the evidence of polygamy or infidelity: half-brothers, half-sisters, second and third wives, and aunties, who were really girlfriends. Although these educated and wealthy families had a veneer of sophistication and cohesiveness, their children, my friends, let me know that the glue that held their blended families together gave often.

I took pride in my family of six, one father and one mother and four children. The glue that held us together did not give way, until that day, that day when my dad stopped being my hero.

My childhood was no longer carefree.

My mother’s belongings were in the trunk box. She had been waiting to say goodbye to my older brother and me, the only children who still lived at home, before she left.

“Who will look after you?” She asked when I insisted that I, her last son, could take care of myself so she should pursue her happiness.

In the end, my mother decided to stay. Life at home was routine again with one change, I stopped talking to my father. I could barely look at him talk less of greeting him. The ball of anger in my heart grew larger and larger. To keep from hitting him, I avoided him altogether.

I felt betrayed by my mother. As she served my father’s food and they laughed at the dining table, I could not understand how she forgave him. But I could not hold a grudge against her for she reached out to me and asked me to forgive her for involving me in something that was not my business. Still I could not do the one thing she wanted from me: forgive my father and reconcile with him.

My father stopped paying my tuition or giving me pocket money because he said that he would not support any child who disrespected him. I still lived at home, and my mum and older siblings picked up where he left off so I was never in need. I grew to resent my father even more.

At nineteen, I met a youth counselor who took an interest in me and we grew close as we talked about various subjects including my father. He nudged me to forgive my father. I said that I could not forgive my dad, the hypocrite. To the charge of hypocrisy, he gently insisted that I was no better, pointing to the evidence in my hostel room of days and nights spent with different girls. I was in the university, changing girlfriends the way I changed my clothes.

“But,” I protested my innocence, “I’m not married to any of them!”

Yet, his words haunted me. Was I no better than my dad? Had I become what I despised?

It took three years of encouragement from the counselor, three years in which I left university and moved out of my parent’s home, for me to forgive my dad and accept that I would have to be the one to reach for reconciliation.

“Yes,” my dad answered, the first time I called him, “who is this?”

Had he forgotten my voice or was he pretending? I told him I just called to say hello and then he said okay. I listened to his breathing, heavy as though he was waiting for something more. Or was it my own breathing? My heart, beating rapidly, obscured my hearing. I hung up, exhaling euphoria like a deflating balloon.

But, the next phone call was easier as was the next one after that. Eventually we settled into a routine without awkwardness, conversing about the present and the future. We do not talk about the past, that five-year window when we became strangers. When you bury something and pack dirt on it, then stamp it with your feet, sometimes plants grow above and you cannot tell where you buried it.

The only reference we have made, if I may call it that, to the past, was when my wife and I needed a babysitter to fill in for our nanny’s three-month absence. My dad, who was visiting at the time, mentioned that his friend’s daughter, just out of secondary school and waiting to gain admission into the university, could help. We welcomed the offer.

My dad said, “Please she’s my friend’s daughter. I don’t want any stories . . .,” his voice trailed off but his eyes did not waver from mine.

I was tempted to share some wisecrack about his philandering days. Instead, I said, “Dad, you don’t have to worry.”

There were no stories three months later.

Discovering that underneath my father’s superman cape lived an ordinary human broke me. Forgiveness mended me.

 

Broken pieces actin’ like we ain’t cracked
But we all messed up and can’t no one escape that
… Broken hearts inside of a broken soul
… And we all need grace in the face of each other

– Broken, LeCrae feat. Kari Jobe

 

Broken, is an amalgamation of conversations I had with people who were willing to tell me their stories but reluctant to write for this series.
©Timi Yeseibo 2016

 

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

A Space Too Little Explored [2] No Scorecards

no scorecard

Every man is trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes.

No Scorecards

My father married my mother after the death of his first wife. That marriage produced a son I would know as my senior brother later in life. My father and mother moved to Lagos from his village in Yenegoa around the late 1930’s. They lost their first son, who would have been my elder brother.

My father joined the army and participated in the second world war of 1939 to 1945. I was born around the beginning of the war. After he came back from the war in 1945, I came to know him as my father. My two junior sisters were born in quick succession. Arrangements were made for me to attend primary school. My left arm was raised over my head to see if it could touch my right ear to determine my readiness for school.

Sometime later, we moved to my father’s village. There, my father built a house for my mother and her children. He did not live with us. He married another woman and from that point on, he neglected my mother. She moved to her village with my sisters because she could not accept the situation. Since I was in school and my father was paying my fees, I could not leave with my mother. I stayed with my grandmother, who cared for me. During the holidays, I went to the farm with her and I went hunting with an uncle.

After a few years, my father said he could no longer pay my school fees, so I left his village where I lived with my grandmother and went to live with my mother. During this period, my uncle who worked at UAC in Burutu requested someone to assist him at his home. I was chosen as the only suitable candidate. However, once I arrived Burutu, he left me with his mistress who was a trader. I again attended school and went to her shop in the market after school. My uncle spent weekends with her, which were the only times I saw him.

He moved from Burutu to Sapele and then to Warri because of his job, and his mistress and I moved with him. When I gained admission to Government College Ughelli, my uncle said he could not afford my tuition. His mistress, who had now become his wife, persuaded him to continue paying. He did. However, when I reached class 3, he stopped. I looked for sponsors to no avail. I wrote the resident, as governors where then called, in Warri intimating him of my plight. Although I did not receive a reply from him, the school asked me to return. That was how I completed my schooling in 1958 without paying any further fees.

Is every man trying to either live up to his father’s expectations or make up for his father’s mistakes?

So much time has elapsed that it is not now easy to put in proper perspective what my reactions were at the time and how they may have affected decisions I have had to make subsequently. I did not see my father after I left home. My uncle with whom I spent most of my adolescent years was a disciplinarian who was not easy to please. He was relieved when I finished school and did not hesitate to mention that my training up to that point was the legacy he was bequeathing to me.

In those days, not educating a girl child was normal. So a father’s decision not to send his son to school was regarded as his business and not subject to any misgivings. Polygamy features in Nigerian society, even today.

Against this backdrop, I want to accept that those who raised me, particularly my uncle, did their best. Because we lived in close-knit communities, role models were not difficult to find. In the twilight of my life, I am not keeping any scorecard. From a young age, I meant to take my destiny in my hands. The challenges I faced served as vehicles en route my destination.

At the time my wife and I had children, it was the vogue for parents to train their children to whatever level they could attain. We were reasonably well-off and ensured our daughters received a good education. Although I do not see numbered dotted lines linking the trajectory of my life as in a colouring book, perhaps, subconsciously, for I do not remember thinking this way, I was trying to do better than my father had done. Posterity will tell.

 

Aeneas carried his aged father on his back from the ruins of Troy, and so do we all whether we like it or not, perhaps even if we have never known them. – Angela Carter.

 

A.C. Yeseibo is a retired banker. He makes his home in Port Harcourt with his wife and enjoys spending time with his children and grandchildren.

P.s. I am honoured to share my blog stage with my dad. Years ago, he wrote me a letter that has frayed at the ends and torn at the fold. Reading and rereading the letter through the years, his writing style became my own.

 

©Timi Yeseibo 2016

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Timi Yeseibo and livelytwist.wordpress.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.