By Muyiwa Adetiba
We probably met just two or three times in the past twenty years – this friend whom I used to see virtually every week in those golden, olden days. Even at that, those two or three meetings were fleeting and were in the company of friends.
But we kept in touch on and off through the ubiquitous WhatsApp platform. It was through this medium that she sent a message recently. She had something to sell and thought I would be interested. It was something I was not sure I particularly wanted or needed. I agreed nonetheless because I wanted to patronize her.
The next question was when to deliver since I now go to the office about once a week. The initial intention was to use one of the many courier services that compete for such a delivery. This was when curiosity got the better of me. I urged her to bring it herself so we could at least see after so many years. There was a little hesitation. Then she agreed. Logistics of timing took another two weeks during which I sometimes thought of what she would look like and how much would have changed about her person.
Then we met. She was conservatively dressed in a boubou with a scarf of the same fabric. No surprises there. Her mode of dressing reflected her age and religious bent – according to her, she is known in her neighborhood now as ‘Alhaja’. I found her glasses were no longer for reading only. They were now permanent fixtures with the familiar tell-tale dent on the bridge of her nose. Her head tie didn’t allow me to see the colour of her hair. But I would not be surprised if her hair like mine, had more grey than black. Boubous are comfortable wears. But they also hide fat which is probably why many African women wear them. In her case, she did not appear to have put on weight as far as I could tell. She in fact looked good for a woman in her mid-60s and I told her so. She thanked me and talked about exercises and long walks. She also complimented me in return. My compliments were genuine. I can’t vouch for hers since I sometimes don’t recognize myself in the sallow, sunken face and grey-haired head that stare at me in the mirror these days.
The conversation was easy and it flowed. She has always been witty and we changed topics easily – from children, to grandchildren, to politics up to survival in an environment where life has become short and brutish. Soon, it was time to go. A couple of hours had flown by. We lingered by her car. Neither of us asked when we would see again. It was like we left it to fate – or another delivery. The meeting was genuine and affectionate. It could be our last in which case, the parting was ‘well made’ to quote Christopher Okigbo the late poet after he parted with Wole Soyinka, his bosom friend, for the last time just before the ill- fated Civil War.
Would it be cynical and negative to say, judging from the number of times we met in the last two decades, that the chances of our meeting physically again have become particularly dim in today’s Nigeria with the pandemic taking its toll and banditry claiming its victims in spite of our wishing otherwise? This is the havoc this year has wrought on us. It has been a year of deaths and bereavements. Every physical encounter with anybody who is not in my daily or weekly orbit has now become meaningful because it could be the last. The two big Cs – Cancer and Covid19 have been particularly nasty to people in my age bracket. While the former is a slower death that allows for goodbyes, the latter denies such a luxury. Both are unforgiving for any septuagenarian who happens to become their prey. 2021 has been a year like none other. I lost my mother during the year. The fact that she was old enough didn’t make the loss any easier. It was my first Christmas without her in my entire life. The only person to greet me with my ‘oriki’ anytime she was on the phone is gone. I lost one of my most faithful readers. He too was old enough. But that won’t stop me from missing his one line comments. Then it gets more painful. A friend of over four decades and a regular squash partner passed on a few months ago.
His presence will linger every time I enter the court. So will another player who also doubled as my doctor and a go-to guy whenever I had a police issue as well as being my mid-night telephone companion at the U.S Tennis series. The ‘Amala Group’ comprising of very old friends has not been the same since one of its founding members who doubled as our regular DJ passed on earlier in the year. At least four classmates passed on during the course of the year. You sometimes get the bizarre notification of the death of a friend or an acquaintance when an active participant on a WhatsApp group becomes strangely quiet. This happened a couple of times in the year. All of these have taught me to take life by the day and live life in compartments or clusters.
I am not in any way suggesting that this experience of bereavement is peculiar to me. In fact, there are those who had it worse in 2021. People who for example, lost more than two family members at once. Or those who lost their parents at once. People who fell into depression. But then, there are people who never had it as good as what 2021 offered them. People who made stupendous business deals. Or people who simply found love. That’s life. Or c’est la vie as the French would say.
But whatever our experiences, 2021 has ended. It is time to reset as we plan for 2021. In doing so however, we must never forget the lessons the year taught each of us. One big lesson is that life is fleeting at best. We need to make the moments count. Another is that science doesn’t have all the answers – 2021 for example, was a year of two vaccine doses and a booster dose. Yet Covid19 continues to ravage the body and depress the soul. This leads to the lesson that bigotry and discriminations still rule the world as shown by the vaccine apartheid despite protestations to the contrary. Coming nearer home, the year has also further shown the duplicity and dishonesty of our leaders with funds – be it COVAX funds or budgetary allocations.
In spite of all these, my resolution is to try to be positive whatever life brings. It is to believe that Nigeria is capable of greatness if we all do our bit – from the Civil Servant in the office to the driver on the street. To change the country, we must change ourselves. It starts from being accountable for our actions. It starts from seeing the long term consequences of whatever we do. It means we should stop the blame game which has led us nowhere except to distrust and fractionalization. I wish us the best as we plan our resolutions. Happy New Year!!!