Death and all her friends
I froze on the streets of Lagos, It was one of those moments where someone was going to tap me on the shoulder and ask “Aunty, what are you looking at?” I was looking at the sky, my eyes were watching God, I had questions for her.
Death feels so cold, it isn’t real until it is real, it feels distant until it becomes so close. I was at the Ojota bus park for Ondo state travelers, that’s where the burial would be happening, at the big family house we had all grown up in. I remember the first time I came to the house; My father had just relocated outside the country and my mom was busy with law school in a different state, so the best option was for my sister and I to live with family, Mr. P and his wife at this point was already raising five kids, two of theirs and three of another distant relative, although it seemed like an imposition they welcomed us with open hands. It was a decent six-year stay, to say the very least they treated me with more kindness than most people would offer during my tumultuous years as an unruly teenager.
As I boarded the God is Good bus, there was a girl with full jet black natural hair. It took me back to the days I couldn’t manage my hair and would bawl at anyone that made a comment about it until I finally chose to chop it off. It was too full, too black, wouldn’t relax, and wouldn’t be styled, Mr. P took me to the barbershop even when he repeatedly told me the hair needed me to be more patient with her, she was just like me and would bloom gracefully when the time comes. In addition to cutting my hair to the skin, I shaved off my eyebrows, I looked strange but people had always been a little scared of me and my strangeness, not Mr. P though, he taught me that eccentricity was the first sign of giftedness, he always said to me ‘Your weirdness is there because you are covering up a lack of confidence in your talents’.
The car had taken a stop at Ore, to eat and possibly refuel, I took a spot at the rundown sizzlers restaurant, eating the badly made meat pie I had bought. Skimming through faces and looking for something interesting, I overheard a conversation between a father and his daughter, she was telling him about her school experience, the teachers, the girl drama, and the time a boy kissed her. He listened with rapt attention, not judging her and only offering advice when she asked for it, it was beautiful to watch.
The refusal of the part of parents to teach their girls about sexuality makes the girl’s transition into sexual maturity difficult. I would forever memorialize an edifying conversation with Mr. P about my preferences, he truly listened and took under advisement my explanation to him that Girls liking boys who also like boys could be yet another sign that we are living in a brave new world of gender, sexuality, and sexual attraction where there is more blurring of the labels male and female, gay and straight.
Ondo happened slowly, like a migraine. First, we were driving through the countryside, the occasional town became a low suburban sprawl and the sprawl became the city. The house looked just the same, sizable and brimming with belongings like they were in a hurry to nail a photo, a painting, several shelves somewhere and anywhere. Nothing says welcome home like a bottle of bubbling and a scandal bubbling, I sipped on some and immediately went to the master bedroom to deliver my condolences to the widow, I was told she would not be receiving me, if this was intentional I wouldn’t know but I caught a glimpse of her, and our eyes met, she looked pale, she was probably tired of wailing and screaming so she sang which in some way was much sadder. As I moved away from the room, I wondered “what do you do when you’re not allowed to be angry at God?”
I walked up to Victor my favorite cousin who gave me a warm but distant hug, it was expected, he had questions. He was the one that broke the news to me weeks ago, that Mr. P, His father, the Patriarch of our extended family had died a lonely man, in some sketchy hotel on the Island, 10 minutes away from my house. he helped with my luggage to the room, He brought out a coke, and after he had some, he passed it to me, I had mine with a straw…. with my nose. It was going to be a long weekend.
The first time I noticed Mr. P smile, it looked really strange, like he had learned how to smile from a manual, it had no shred of humor or happiness, just hard and plain. When I saw his lifeless body I choked on my stifled tears, he was smiling, peaceful and genuine but also in shock, I have a theory that everyone is surprised at the moment of their death, You can see it in their eyes, thinking ‘this has to be a mistake’ that they are special to the very end. The world felt cold and distant, the void felt was eternal, I was a lost soul out of place, it is true what they say; something dies in you when someone you know dies.
It seemed Mr. P had spent his entire life gathering guests for his funeral, they were a lot and they came pouring, left almost no room for the family to mourn in peace, there was always one tribute to be said, as though they knew him better than his nuclear unit, If Mr. P was alive he would clamor that Eulogies are wasted on the dead, It’s the living who need to hear nice things spoken about them. One thing that stuck with me was how people quickly replaced his name with ‘him’ or ‘the body’, They say you die twice, the first time when you’re buried, the second time is the last time somebody mentioned your name, Life is so strange, I hope no one forgets my name when I’m gone. I sobbed silently, I wasn't just mourning an individual, I was mourning the grand narrative of life itself.
After the burial proceeding, The lawyer read the will, there were gasps, deathly stares, and loud whispers. Mr. P had left control of his entire estate to me, save only the house in Ondo and the shopping complex he owned to his wife, to his two children he gave them the sum of one million naira each but to me, the rough estimate of what I had inherited was about 400 million. No, I wasn't shocked.
Mrs. P finally broke her silence to me, “At first, it felt like a childish prank but seems you got crueler with age, indeed everything truly wicked starts from innocence. I curse the day you were brought into this family” She threw a glass cup as she plunged at me but she was held back by Big mummy Ondo, who spoke next, “you keep resurrecting to drink a sip of the mud you’ve used to bury this family in shame. why would you do this to your family? why did you even come back here, don't you have any sense of shame? ” — They had no chance of successfully interrogating me, they simply didn't know what they did not know. The truth was so far away from any of their suspicions. Aunty Toyin, one of the cousins that lived with us, spoke with certainty that she knew, at the time, that something was wrong in my relations with Mr. P but was dissuaded by Mrs. P from saying anything — not because they approved of any such relations but because they didn’t want this stain on the family. She even claimed she recalls when Mr. P kissed me on the lips as I was sleeping, in shock and outrage, she vowed to tell my parents — but never did so. I remember that night, I spent the whole day at an outdoor engagement with Mr. P, I had cried about the unfortunate turnout of my visiting day in school and the creeping realization that I had managed to push everyone away with my horrible attitude, no one cared enough to come through for me not even him, I slept off as we drove home in silence, he carried me to my bed, tucked me in, and whispered in my ears “There would be peace when you are gone” then he gave me a light kiss with his lips barely brushing mine and that's what Aunty Toyin saw.
My face was filled with guilt holding a secret behind my lips. I wondered if Mrs.P deserved a bit more of the truth if she and the others were hurting every time they asked me the wrong questions and I gave them my careful answers. ‘No ma, there was no sexual relations between us’ ‘I have no idea why he died close to my house’ ‘I don’t know what I would do with the money yet’ ‘The last time we spoke was about six months ago’ ‘No, I don't have a secret love child’ ‘He did not defile me as a child during my stay’. I want to tell them that they were not prepared for the answer, the same way I was not prepared, that it will hit them like a truck, spilling its load over their chest and crushing them. What was I going to do?
The answer was a cruel shrug in a hundred fleeting moments. The sneer on Aunty Toyin’s face when she called me a homewrecker, Cousin Victor punching me in the face for betraying his trust, The accusation on everyone’s face as I walked past them with my luggage and the documents. Victor followed me to the junction, I tried apologizing “ I am so sorry Victor, I really am, I swear on everything in the world, please know there was no sort of sexual relationship at any point between your father and I” with disappointing eyes he said to me ‘I know you are deeply sorry, I do. I know how sorry you are but damn you are the one person I depended on the most and you have just let me down in a way I cant even describe and I am having a hard time forgiving and forgetting over here. I honestly don't think there is anything you can do that can take us back to how we were” he waited till I boarded a bus and silently informed me that the family would be contesting the will.
On the bus to Lagos, I remembered everything, admittedly there were good days, I always knew it was going to be one of those when I woke up to the smell of pancakes cooking. Mr. P uses this red Apron that says world best cook and I would be laughing, singing along to some bad top 40 songs from Rhythm FM on the radio, and everything would be right in the world but then he would go out and the Apron would go back in the drawer, and I would wait for the next good day. Until there weren’t anymore, until he became a bad man, in ways that defy description. There are way worse things that could have happened than sex and I hope people know that.
Everything is the same in Lagos, same hustle and bustle. People breezing past me, wondering why I was not moving with hastiness, Is it really Lagos if everyone isn’t busy with a sense of urgency? I wanted to scream that they should stop, everything has changed. After this, there was no normal to go back to, there was just before and after. The documents in my hand were like a box of darkness and it would take me years to understand that this too was a gift.