I shouldn’t have picked that call. I’d not been answering my phone all week, but today, I was expecting response from a firm I applied to. I was eager to push the green button when the phone rang, without dialing the number on my second phone to find out who was calling. I’d been waiting all morning and my hope was flagging like plucked flowers, in the afternoon sun.
“Tunde was in an accident this morning, it’s all over the internet” Mabel’s voice came through the speaker in that cracked, haggard tone that people develop after crying for long hours.
Tunde is a friend I know like the mole on the right side of my nose. We went to the same primary school, the same secondary school and finished from the same department—Physics—in the University. It was in the department that he met Mabel, his cat-eyed girlfriend of four years, and I met her friend Bisayo. The four of us were at the top of the class. They used to call us the Fantastic Four. We’ve double-dated in every eatery in Ibadan and we had plans to do so again in the recently opened Dominoes Pizza once Mabel found a day off from her work in Lagos. The girls are employed, we boys were not. They—Mabel and Tunde—were engaged to be married while Bisayo and I still dodged the issue like kids playing hide and seek in an open field.
“Tell me exactly what happened. Where did it happen? How?”
All she did was sob over the phone. I couldn’t get any other information from her, so I cut off the call. I checked Facebook and saw a link to an accident at Mokola roundabout posted by one of those gossip websites that place OMG before everything: from gorgeous bride, to molested teenager, to mob-lynched old woman.
He called the white-shirt-red-tie combo his lucky outfit but he died in it—the irony.
The link preview had stated that the pictures were gory, but that did not prepare me for the sight of a skull cracked open like a coconut hit clean with a sharp machete. His body was mashed and mangled like an acrobat’s contortion gone awry and his dreams and ambitions leaked from the shattered head like a road kill. I couldn’t even read the story. I went to his Facebook wall and saw a picture of him taken at our final year project defence, posted by one of our over-enthusiastic classmates. #RIP TUNDE was written across the picture. It had amassed 30 likes and 26 comments. The stiff white shirt and patterned red tie he wore in the picture is the same as that of the gory image on the gossip website. The white was already a mixture of red and oil but I couldn’t miss it. I have the same shirt dangling from the hanger in my wardrobe. They were products of a day’s sojourn in Dugbe market in preparation for the defence. He called the white-shirt-red-tie combo his lucky outfit but he died in it—the irony. I switched off the cell phone and slept through the afternoon.
As my mind tries to grapple with the reality of Tunde’s demise… Praahh! A streak of lightning crashes into my room, makes a touchdown on the light switch and sends the room staggering into darkness. I stay glued to the bed, hoping for the arrival of wind, the pelting of rain, or the echo of another thunder. But there’s nothing more. It’s just a lone lightning, contriving to transform a bad night into a worse one.
I peel open the blinds, lower the louvers, unplug and place the rechargeable fan on the bed beside my head. The fan buzzes away, the only sound in a still night; but despite its best effort, my back begins to go moist and I feel sweat start to pool under the sheets.
Cold breeze, billowing binds, the rain makes landfall. There’s a viciousness to the rain, a feverish determination behind its long threads as they whip the roof. I want to sleep, but the rain keeps my eyes open—an unwilling audience to its rhythmless song.
As the deluge gathers momentum, my mind goes off key and I start to think of the bleak uncertainty that hangs over every man like the blade of a guillotine. One swing of fate and all his hopes and aspirations are gone. I think of many who have lived with an assumption of their importance to humanity; confident of their place in the arena of greatness, only to be shown the folly of their grandiosity by leaving life without pomp or pageantry, like a lantern that goes off in the middle of a city of lights. Perhaps, people who take their lives are the only ones in control of their fate. And that is if they don’t choose a stupid way to die: like jumping from a four storey building only to discover they’re alive and the only thing that’s dead is their spine and everything below it.
The rain has steadied, its music reduced to a background noise that ushers me into that purgatory between sleep and alertness where vivid and wet dreams thrive. I see Tunde on a platform, his mother and mine cheering as he, dressed in blue overalls, holding a spanner and dangling it above his head with the chutzpah of a toddler, sings:
I’m an engineer in my country,
some people know me well,
if you look at me, up and down,
you will know that is true.
Our mums are on their feet, clapping and hooting as their son flashes his trademark smile—lips stretched upward without parting, eyebrows reaching for his hairline and cheekbone pronounced. It’s the same smile on that Facebook picture. I turn and begin to wet the pillow with tears.
The morning sun pushes me off my bed and I head outside. Winged termites are fluttering around the fluorescent bulb above the front door. Their cousins with half wings and fully shed wings crawl off in pairs. Some of these pairs will start colonies, some will end up in my neighbour’s belly (he’s already gathering them from the large bowl filled with water on his front steps), and others will die–just die. I don’t know why seeing these insects go through the circle of life gives me hope of a better day. But it does.
This is to everyone who knows the pain of losing a loved one.
Photo credits: Jeremy Pierce https://www.flickr.com/photos/uncle_jerry/