By Muyiwa Adetiba
I recently received an email requesting for some information on Tunde Agbabiaka, the man we his friends used to call ‘Afroguard’ after one of his publications.
I had written a short tribute to him and Victor Ogundipe when two of them died within a couple of weeks of each other. This must have caught the attention of this guy who was trying to compile a stuff on him. Tunde, a serial entrepreneur, operated before the now pervasive influence of the internet, so a lot of his contributions are probably lost or in some remote archives. This request, and the underpinning awareness that ‘but for the grace of God goes I,’ is the reason I am revealing a little part of me today.
It is in the hope that it will be useful to someone, somewhere, sometime. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy now, for example, for those interested to know the ‘when’ of my second coming as a columnist. But the ‘why’ will be more difficult unless I push it out.
If, as it is said, that journalism is a bit of history in a hurry, then ‘columnism’—apologies Prof Dare—is like an auto-biography in a hurry because every columnist leaves something of himself behind with almost every article. This article is a slight departure from this norm because it is more of myself.
I consider myself a fit person because I have been playing squash fairly regularly for about 45 years. But this auspicious day, I was in court with a younger man. I didn’t like the fact that he was winning; or the fact that he was picking up points so easily. That pricked my competitive ego and I decided to go for almost every ball to prove some stupid point. I was going for one of such balls when I suddenly found myself on the floor.
Neither of us knew what happened because I felt no pain. It was when I wanted to get up that I realised that my right foot was no longer co-operating. Fortunately, an experienced doctor about my age who is also a friend, had just finished playing. He was quickly called in. He traced the line at the back of my foot and asked for my driver. I told him he had been released. ‘Call him,’ he said ‘because there is no way you would be able to drive home.’ He quickly administered first aid and called a mutual friend on the Island. Between them, they arranged for me to have a scan the following morning.
Later in the day, again through them, I met an orthopaedic surgeon. By the end of the day, my leg was in a cast up to my knee. It turned out I had damaged my Achilles tendon. I was to be incapacitated for two months. A friend sent a walking stick to me the following day to replace the umbrella—and a friend’s shoulder—that got me home. The ‘squash doctor’ friend sent a pair of crutches during the week. About a week later, the surgeon who had attended to me came visiting with another pair.
So I had one at the foot of the stairs and another at the top. This was because I found it easier to use the walking stick and hand railings to climb the stairs. My experience in those two months would be revealed someday when the spirit prompts me again to reveal another part of me because there is a lot to tell. Suffice it is to say that a sedentary lifestyle, forced or not, has health implications and I am still struggling to grapple with mine.
Two months of incapacitation over, I was advised to go for long walks to strengthen softened muscles. Slow walks turned into brisk walks until I was able to break into sweats during my walks. It was good. But before I returned to squash, I was again advised to try a few weeks of gym. It was an advice I wished I didn’t take. I don’t know whether it is about gyms generally or the one I chose, but I did not meet anybody older than I. So what I saw was what I was 30 years ago, or put more truthfully, what I wished I was 30 years ago. I saw bulging biceps and six packs that fitted smugly in stretch T shirts. I saw glistening sweats gliding off toned skins. I saw youth. And I must have looked like an old man looking for an elixir to them. As out of place as an old man dancing ‘shaku shaku’ in a nightclub.
Anyway, my days of incapacitation were progressing nicely when my friend, mentor and teacher, Uncle Sam of Vanguard came visiting. He had heard of my injury and typical of him, had decided to stop by. After pleasantries, he asked how I was going to pass the time. I pointed to the books I had planned to read, my Samsung tablet, and the remote of my TV set. Suddenly, he said, ‘this is as good a time as any to start a column.’ I protested vehemently. Going back to writing had been a sore point between us over the years. This time he did not argue.
He simply picked up his phone and presumably called the Editor. ‘You know Mr So and So’ he said ‘he is starting a column with you so create space for him.’ I was speechless. If it was any of my contemporaries, I would have known what to say. But Uncle Sam is, like I said, my teacher. This conversation was six years old this September.
How has my second coming been? I love writing. But I have lived off writing for so long that it has seized to be fun. My task has been to make it more of fun than work which is another reason I am indulging myself with this article. I am however elated that my friends round the world get to read me unlike the pre-internet years. I am elated when older people I respect meet me to say they enjoy my writings. I am elated when Uncle Sam calls to discuss a column. It reminds me of the Punch days. What made my day however, was the day I got an email from Prof. Olatunji Dare.
It said my column was two years old when he heard I had gone back to writing. He not only went back to previous ones, he had, according to the mail, not missed a single column since then. Let me put this in context. Prof. Dare is one writer I truly, truly admire; right from his days as Chairman of the Guardian Editorial Board. I have always found his clarity of thought and simplicity of style very endearing. His comments served to make my second coming worthwhile.