My sister got the call.
The 3 of us were in a room, getting dressed for our grandma’s burial.
"Tell your mummy to start coming to Lagos", he said.
"Daddy, but today is ma's burial, she can't start coming to Lagos".
He hung up.
About an hour later, my sister got a call from his number again.
This time it was my cousin. She mumbled some words into the phone.
I turned to look at her.
And I knew.
I knew from the expression on her face.
He was gone.
We just sat in silence. Then, she said, "Abiye, we can't tell mummy till after ma's burial, have you heard? Junior, don't tell anybody".
My brother was 9 at the time and immediately, he took up responsibility as the father of the house. He warned us not to cry, made sure we were okay, then, went downstairs to read the 1st lesson for our grandma's burial.
I watched him smile & greet people on his way with courage. Like he, a 9 year old, didn't just get the news that his father had passed. Like he isn't supposed to break down in tears like every child would do.
But he was strong & his strength gave me strength.
I thought back to a few days ago, when daddy called to tell us how he felt much better, would resume work soon & would come back to PH to see all of us. He sounded so happy just 2 days ago.
So, why is he dead?
I called my cousin. Surely, she doesn't know what she's saying.
"Check him well, Tamunoene, maybe, he's just unconscious". She couldn't even hear me, she just kept wailing.
It can’t be true.
After ma’s burial, I'll warn Tamunoene to stop giving false alarms in situations like this.
Daddy can't die.
But I knew, deep down, I knew I wasn't going to see him again. I knew he had gone to a better place. I knew the pains would stop and he would be a lot happier in death.
But I refused to accept. Denial was bliss, better, easier.
So, I went about my activities, unbothered, thinking at the back of my mind that Tamunoene will soon call and say "sorry guys, he has woken up"
Mummy didn't know till 2 days later when she was preparing to go to Lagos because, well, none of us had the courage to tell her. We would lie that we've spoken to him, he went for dialysis that's why he hasn't been taking her calls.
Then, Aunty Rose came over.
You see, Aunty Rose knows everything about everybody.
[She knows who is cheating on who with who in church, she knows whose husband beats his wife on a daily basis, she knew when & why Tekena left Babcock. Years later, she knew about my engagement before my mum did, & she knew when my sister got pregnant before my sister herself found out. Lmao]
So, it was no surprise that she knew about my dad's death before my mum. She came to give her condolences, and broke the news in the process.
My mum lost it.
She went from tears to resentment to denial to guilt and to the realization that she was suddenly gathered by sympathizers and the death is the reason why her phone wouldn’t stop ringing. She wasn’t going through the 5 stages of grief in the right order the psychologists propounded. She was in total grief.
But, suddenly, God provided strength. The strength which comes with the realization that she had become a single parent of 3 children who hadn’t gone far in their education, the sole provider and the pillar of the family.
I had to go back to school some days after to face tests. The right approach, or so I thought, was to keep my sad news to myself till after the tests because I didn’t need anybody’s pity. I hate pity.
Besides, I was still in denial.
It was on visiting day I broke down. I curled into a ball on my bunk bed and cried for 3 whole days. The tears wouldn’t stop. The acceptance of the death as final as it was left a sharp pain. That’s when the whole QC knew I had lost my dad some weeks ago. My friends were shocked that I kept the news away from them.
Sarah was my bunkmate at the time. She shared her jollof rice with me, hoping I would feel better, I still remember the confused look on her face when I wouldn’t stop crying. Lol.
I cried because he visited me on my last visiting day, brought his legendary signature jollof spaghetti and meatballs. He said he woke up very early to cook it for me. He brought so many provisions, I was shocked. I noticed he couldn’t stand for long when I ran to hug him, so, we sat under the tree facing Admin Block and he told me to read my books and make him proud. He said I should stop coming 11th in class but should be part of the 1st ten students. He called my mum to tell her “your daughter is growing taller than me o”. His laughter and happiness seemed so genuine.
That was the last time I saw him.
So, this particular visiting day, nobody came for me, my daddy didn’t come with jollof spaghetti, he didn’t bring pocket money in crisp notes like he always did, he wasn’t there to measure his height with mine and proudly say ‘you’re still not taller than me’, he wasn’t there to tell me to go and cut my scanty hair, there was nobody to make jokes about my big nose.
So, it hit me.
The tears kept flowing.
The worst part was Amie had graduated and there was nobody to hold my hands and wipe my tears in school. I was on my own, and I needed to be strong for myself by myself.
So, after 3 whole days of nonstop tears, it stopped as abruptly as it came.
I think I picked myself up and healed so fast because that’s what he would have wanted. If he had seen me crying in school, he would have said, ‘If you like, don’t read your books, suck your hands and cry till you come last in class, you hear?’.
My very good friend, Chinyere, lost her dad recently, and I did not know how to explain to her that the pain of death is something you have to deal with for the rest of your life. Times you wish your father was here to look at all your achievements & see you’ve made him proud, When you want to walk down the aisle & you need your father by your side, Times when you need your whole family to be complete, For great memories made in his absence; your thoughts still wander towards him and the wave of sadness hits you all over again.
Nothing prepares you for death and nothing, absolutely nothing, hurts the way the death of a loved one does.
It’s been 10 years and I remember every detail about him up to his death. In these 10 years, we, my mum & siblings, have become closer, grown stronger, wiser and deeper in our faith in Christ. Death doesn’t faze me anymore, it only brought room for maturity and the thought that nothing lasts forever.
We now laugh and talk about him fondly. Even though we miss him so much, we do not spend our time thinking about what could have been. God did not forsake us, he was with us all through the way, just like he promised. And because He keeps fulfilling his promises, we know there won’t be any tragedies in our family again.
So, Daddy, thank you.
Thank you for all the times you tried to be a disciplinarian with me and Amie, and you made us read books, and watch CNN when we just wanted to play or sleep. Thank you for teaching me how to write like you. Thank you for making us listen to Majek Fashek, Rex Lawson, Bob Marley and the other reggae music you made us fall in love with. Thank you for being ‘Ololo’ himself because we can’t disappoint you in public. Thank you for those times when you sat on your favorite chair and read your Bible nonstop for almost 24hours. Thank you for your spaghetti. Thank you for your sense of humour, for pretending to sleep when we asked for money, for giving us N100 to cut our hair when we asked for N5k to fix weave, for the notes you left on the table with money before going to work, for genuine laughter and happiness. Thank you for your kind heart and for always putting others before yourself. We remember it all.
I’ve become a lawyer just like you predicted, and your name keeps opening doors for me in court. I constantly hear ‘I’m not doing this for you, I’m doing it because your father was good to me’. Amie has become a brilliant hotshot Engineer, she and mummy are the O & G babes of the family. Lol. Amie has 2 kids, the 1st born has your family’s skin colour, while the 2nd one looks like Mummy. Junior will soon graduate from the University, he’s studying Law too but wants to be a Custom Officer, like you. (I’ve been trying to discourage him). And Mummy, she has trained and raised us right, made us a close knit family, sacrificed a lot for us to be where we are today. She has indeed been a mum and dad.
I still have your Customs name tag placed by my window, Junior has a framed picture of you which he carries to any room he moves to, Amie has your passport in her wallet. We make sure we carry pieces of you around & memories of you fondly in our heart.
We miss you, and we pray you continue to rest in peace.
RIP ADOKIYE ABIBO (OCT 23 1952 – MAY 6 2006) forever in our hearts - Abiye Abibo