• Wednesday, May 29, 2024
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A life without leftovers

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Dateline: March 22, 2013. The day had broken up a bit slowly. The memory of the previous day’s stress at work came at me in a massive deluge. Moments later, I jumped up. Out of bed. I had a quick wash. Work was calling. A few minutes later, I was ready for the day. I drove through the early morning rush hour traffic. A danfo driver swerved in front of me in a reckless manner, shunting the car-queue. I feared my bumper might go but was lucky it did not. He missed it by whiskers. Glad. This is Lagos. I hope Lagos will see some improvements. We need more order. His bus conductor cursed while the driver bad-looked me. I thought it best to ignore them. I had other worries on my mind – a crucial task was awaiting me at work. Well, I have never liked the exchange of insults (curses) between motorists. It is stupid. A time and energy waster. Let’s reason it together – if a donkey hits one and one hits the donkey, aren’t both of them donkeys?

Just as I made it to Oniru Market, I saw two men in a fisticuff. One looked the fitter of the two. There was something about the other lad who seemed the more determined. A few blows left one man and landed on the other. And, vice versa. A crowd had gathered, urging them on. Some entertainments for the morning rush hour traffic. Worryingly, excitements and less anxiety filled the air as watchers hailed the fighting ‘bulls’. The dutiful traffic warden with some unsightly potbelly was gracious enough to pass us on when the more determined of the brawlers lifted the fitter one off the floor. I could not say if I truly saw the lifting but I heard the thudding that came a moment later. It was harsh. Some cheers broke through the air. Winning has its applauds, I thought.

My cell-phone vibrated beside me. Someone had messaged me. Consciously, I looked left and then right. I was looking out for the presence of any official of the Lagos State Motor Transport Authority (LASTMA). Honestly, these lads leave me with mixed feelings – sometimes they are some huge blessings to motorists. At other times, hmmm! I had been caught out before having a look at my phone. Not a discussion. I talked my way out of his tight clutching without greasing his palms. It was not easy, though. I was not up to another. Not that day. Slowly I took a peek. The news hit me hard. An author had passed on. A renowned author had gone. The colours, on that instant, ran out of my face. Paleness replaced them. I was rankled by many emotions, none of them positive – anger, sadness, etc. I remembered how he would have spoken of his passing – to be with his ancestors.

My bones witnessed some numbness. On the other hand, death is not new. It has been with us since we got life. It is our closest friend but not in the way we define it. It is the unwanted company we constantly have with us on every journey. It is beside us at night. Watching. Not to protect us but to take advantage of us. Our frail grip to life! We are always at its mercy. It has opposite feelings to ours. When we cry, it smiles. When we are excited, it is sad. When we find love, hate covers it. Death lives as our parallel. In the end, it is alive at its best when we are dead. We are its meal. Again, I wondered about death. This great man has died. Really? His passing ordinarily would have been like any other. But it wasn’t. He was a man amongst men.

My bones regained some strength and my memory ran through the roof. It ran to the day my father bought for me this author’s legendary novel – arguably the most widely read book written by an African. It was in the 1980s – a time teenagers competed with the number of books they had read. Not so anymore. Today’s teenagers bother about other things, other challenges. Not books. In three days, I had done with the book. I re-read it. I had problems with some of his characters. And, I fought them, I disagreed with them. On the third read, the characters fought back as I began to understand them even more. They became brilliant. They became products of the mind of a genius. A few days later, I bought more of his books with my own money. I had begun to enjoy his style – it was unique. It was so authentically African – so lucid and simple. This author became my own. And, I began to understand how he became our own. He truly was a genius among men. He and his peers stood out so strongly and stoutly in the crowd. They laboured so hard for they set the pace. They had mastered the white man’s language at a time when their mates battled so hard to understand its simplest part. They knew more than verbs, they knew phrasal verbs. They went many steps further than the rest. They were the extra-milers.

The late author was our champion for he told our tales to the rest of the world. Sometimes I felt he told them too honestly. He added something to us all – Nigerians. He added something to the black race. He added something outstanding to the world of literature. Someone once said he was a Nigerian with an Igbo thick-skin. So were members of his generation, I countered.

A writer’s place is assured. He converses with humanity. Sometimes, beyond his generation. With his pen, he sends across his thoughts and creations to many. For a writer, there is a moment. For great writers, there are many moments in wait for them. This man belongs to the latter class for generations would read him. Many generations would carry one-sided conversations with him. Let’s clap our hands; let’s celebrate his life for he gave us a diamond service performance. There was a man, Chinua Achebe. His was a life lived without leftovers.

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Tony Monye