WHEN I was in primary school in Warri, my best friend was a very beautiful girl named Agnes. Her second name was Orojitomayidiogba, meaning, you’re only a champion or a strongman until you hit adversity, or put another way, the one that has not been hit by unpleasant situations or circumstances is the strongman. A lot of African names have very deep meanings and my friend’s name was as deep as they come. We all called her ‘Toma which was easier to pronounce and definitely more fitting for such a pretty young lady. Nevertheless, I used to ponder on the meaning of her name; it made me think of something my father used to say half in jest when we were younger and full of mischief. When anyone got into trouble and the others laughed or whenever we were careless with anything of value, he would shake his head, and say, “another man head na garawa”. The two phrases above mean more or less the same thing. The speaker of English would say it like this, “Who feels it knows it”. I am waxing philosophical today because I realize now that in some way, I have been rather insensitive without meaning to be.
I have had my share of pain and loss and had reached a point where I felt I could use a break. When I saw comments on Facebook newsfeeds about people who died, I would pause only briefly and then carry on. I didn’t want to dwell on death or anything like it, we were travelling on parallel roads and that was good enough for me. Until this week; I was in the printing press struggling to get some work done, the heat was pushing rivulets of sweat into my eyes and the noise was causing me to strain in order to hear my thoughts. As usual there was no public power supply and all the diesel generators were competing for the title of “noisest machine of the year”. I noticed by chance that my phone’s backlight was on and a number was blinking, I snatched it up without checking who it was and started screaming “hello, hello?” the noise in the ‘hood had almost rendered me deaf and I was reacting like one hard of hearing. Unlike me though, the person at the other end was calm and gentle and in a few seconds, the normalcy in her tone brought me back to my senses and I recognised who it was on the line. I tried to sputter some sort of explanation for my uncouth way of answering the phone but she went on with her pleasantries. This was a dear friend I didn’t hear from very often and I was a bit piqued that I wasn’t in a place where I could enjoy this call thoroughly. Pleasantries over, she dropped the bombshell, “ what did they say happened to Efere? I saw something on Facebook and was shocked, blab bla bla…“She didn’t bla, but my ears bla’d and my brain bla’d. “No it is not true o! Nothing like that happened, no it cannot be, I was chatting with Maero, a few days back bla bla bla…” I denied and denounced the possibility of it being true like a child caught stealing meat from the soup pot. I ended the call with very little idea of what I said to her and tried to log on to Facebook. The network was not in the mood, my phone was not in the mood and I definitely was not in the mood.
Finally, gradually, I went online and confirmed what I had dreaded and denied. Efere Ozako, fondly known as Zakilo was dead. I felt like an idiot. I was angry at the friends who were sending condolences and writing comments. I felt it was premature, way too soon for them to accept it just like that. I felt like we should wait a bit, debate the matter a little, fight it somehow. How does Efere die in the morning and you begin to write RIP, shortly after? It didn’t add up, I didn’t think Zakilo would accept to just “siddon look” or in this case, “lie down die”. It was out of character for bow- legged, tough Senior Efere. Hours passed and I couldn’t bring myself to accept it. I was too far away to cry with anyone and the phone was too impersonal for all the things I wanted to say. RIP was too lame and too tame and defeatist. I couldn’t think of a single prayer to pray or song to sing.
It’s been four days and my mind is full of thoughts of Maero and Makaino and all the other Ozakos that we know and love. I’m thinking of Efere’s wife and kids and what it must mean to lose such a dear one. I don’t want to think of Efere or write a poem or a dirge or a song as I often do, maybe another day, but not today. Today all I can do or want to do is think of Maero and her siblings and share in their agony from miles away. I’m thinking of their beautiful Mum and wondering at the heartrending pain she must be feeling. I’m wondering at the suddenness of this thing that took Efere away; and realizing that it takes people away all the time but because they are not my friends and family, I could continue scrolling when I saw the notices on their timelines. Now I stare at Maero’s wall and feel the squeeze she must be feeling. Indeed, orojitomayidiogba!