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Wayfarer, do you hear me now? (for Pius Adebola Adesanmi)

 

Dear Payo,

when it hurts, that you do not feel the hurt

that you stoke in the hurt,

that you are the vigil of hurt.

 

It’s been a week now I have not heard from you.

No missed call. No voice message. Not even a text to let me know how far things are generally. I am sorry I missed your call on Friday; but I returned the call on Saturday, 2.00am Nigerian, and was to follow up on Sunday evening, until Mike Eshiemokhai, your friend and brother in Canada put a call through to me. I missed that call too; that WhatsApp call was followed with a text: "Please sir call back when you can. Thanks.” Call back when I can? My family only gets to speak with Mike when you are together. I was driving back to UI campus, so I parked immediately and hit the phone number. As you know, using WhatsApp for intercontinental calls from this end is usually a frustrating mess; in the middle of that mess, the next message took the blood away from my knees: “its about the crash in Addis.” I knew you were heading to East Africa that weekend. Mind raced back to the missed call of Friday, March 8 and all that we had discussed in the days leading to that sunless Sunday. Strange because you rarely get to return calls in most cases, but once you do, talk can last up to one hour or more at a stretch. But that week, you called me practically every day, Monday to Thursday, and we touched on almost everything we had missed since you returned to Canada after that ghastly car accident along Ogbomoso-Oyo road in July 2018. 

I called Mike three times and Nduka Otiono two times in the spate of thirty minutes. I had a copy of your itinerary, your travel tickets of that fateful journey, from Ottawa to Addis Ababa via Toronto. I rushed into the Senior Staff Club. (I dared not go home and inform my family about that Addis error). I was in search of some anchor, somebody to tell me it was April 1, waiting for you to call again and tell me it’s all one of those Pius Pranks. I found Tolu Oniyitan at his computer and begged him to run through the web for any information to contradict what my ears had just heard. The young man obliged and set to surf. First, someone whispered that the crashed plane happened on Saturday the previous day. "But Pius was to fly on Sunday, nah.” Tolu recalled the flight details again, and in a moment that was like an eternity, he said, ‘it’s like the plane oh!” I held my breath, or I thought I levitated into a blob of agony. ET 302. Boeing 737 Max 8, heading from Addis Ababa to Nairobi. In between, Nduka Otiono had told me everything was under control, they were yet to get any further information about your whereabouts. Then at 7.10pm, Mike sent me this letter-bomb: “It’s been confirmed. So sad.” Now we’ve had it, I replied in zombielike manner. 

No tears yet, I lost my voice. They said I was just mumbling. I had gone to your Facebook page to find what seemed to be your last post, the psalm about flying, in deep sea and being held by the right hand of the Lord. So, I scribbled my pain, "Your right hand, oh Lord.” I don’t remember you, Payo, write or quote any Bible line directly, talk less of post it. But you did. So, what were you trying to say then? All around me, in the past seven days or so, there has been a deluge of tributes, homilies and reminiscences to a Pius Adesanmi that died. Nonsense. I have taken a walk, they called it candlelight march, with fellow friends and compatriots, in your honor; I have organized meetings, and taken calls of commiseration from Canada, South Africa, the US and Kenya, and from within the country, about what they called your transition. Your trusted friend, Abimbola Olujide and your kindred spirit and big sister, Bamidele Ademola-Olateju have been a wonderful pair who I run to when I want to know about you. Mike has been a great helpmeet. Olumuyiwa, your wife, has been strong. Yet I held on to an inveterate optimism, an obdurate denial of your death. Death? In spite of all that had been organized by Benson Eluma, Rotimi Babatunde, Ropo Ewenla and Sola Olorunyomi, and in spite of the condolence register that we put in the Department of European Studies in UI, obduracy in optimism has been my savior. With that, the deluge of love shared among the teeming population of Nigerian and pan African netizens, all have stilled my mind to believing that you still live, in a different realm, away from mortal reach.

In the months leading to your car accident, we had some misunderstanding that tried our friendship. But it wasn’t friendship; you called it brotherhood. After Solape resolved the issue, we kept our secrets and returned to the fraternity of plans, assignments, errands and other anticipations. We used the whole month in which the national and state elections in Nigeria occurred to discuss and discuss, and discuss. In the days leading to March 8, 2019, we had the opportunity to catch up on a number of things we had not touched upon for a long time. 

Do you remember how you recalled the day Olayombo once embarrassed you as a child some years ago when my young family visited you in your one-room apartment inside NISER Estate? After the bachelor lunch, Yombo had asked you brazenly, “Uncle, why don’t you have table mats in your house? You served us food without table mats!” I don’t remember how you responded, but ten days ago, you reminded Yombo and told her: “Now I have more than table mats! Egbon, don’t worry, it’s time to take care of Yombo. Go and rest joor… A ma ma discuss in June.” Yet, you worried about the recent spate of deaths in the family. Isanlu was always on your lips. You wondered how Mama would be feeling each time her home was turned into a place of refuge by the bereaved…

It was my turn to tell you not to worry.

Were you trying to pass on a message cryptically? Did I miss a sign? Did we take certain things for granted? Why did you make all those calls, and give me advice and assurances like a priest does to a supplicant or initiate? So you see, since you have not concluded a number of those assignments, it would be foolhardy of me to believe that you had left this world. Wait a minute. Was I interviewed and the journalist expected me to speak about you in the past tense?

Do you recall what you wrote when Chuma Nwokolo asked some of us to pen our own epitaphs, what we imagined playfully as textual memorial after our mortal remains? In 2013, you wrote:

“Here lies Pius Adesanmi who tried as much as he could

to put his talent in the service of humanity and flew

away home one bright morning when his work was over.”

Et tu, Pius, practically?

Payo, this past week has been a flop of automatic actions and responses. I have been following all group actions that bear your name, and will post anything that bears your name. They said they were organizing a church service for you in Ottawa. I saw pictures. Lagos, Ibadan, Abuja, Pretoria, and I hear Lokoja, Ilorin and Isanlu, your beloved town. They are all standing for you. You have stood for all before, and you promised you would always. So where are you, Payo? If I can guess right, you will say “Egbon, e ma worry…!” Sleep has been a fugitive company, never liked her anyway. Once, I saw you dressed in your usual din of a laughter, in a nightmare, so short and long at once that I woke up in a fit to ask if there has been any latest information from you. Nothing. Just tributes, revelations, gasps, and commiserations. I have not spoken with Harry Garuba in one month now. I want to know if you also spoke with him incessantly the way we did in the last mortal week together.

Do you remember how and when we met on the campus of University of Ibadan? It must be sometime in 1993 or 1994. I was completing my doctoral thesis under Garuba’s supervision and you were arriving from Ilorin for graduate work in the Department of Modern European Languages under the watch of Prof Aduke Adebayo. But it was outside of the classroom, in the informal conclave of writers, philosophers and critics where Garuba was High Priest that we bonded. You did not marry yourself to slogans. You were precocious, wiry and playful, almost already made when you arrived in Ibadan. But the Ibadan cultic literary spirit brushed your rough stone into a diamond that you finally became. Odia Ofeimun predicted it sometime in 2000 during his 50th birthday: that you would grow to be a very important voice in the Nigerian literary firmament. He did not know that that would be an understated prophecy. You left Ibadan for British Columbia for your doctoral program, then to the US to teach at Penn State University. Later, I was the one finger that sent you the information about the open-ended announcement for the position of Director of Institute of African Studies at Carleton. You arrived in Ottawa with a plan not only to make a difference but to be the difference. But as we say, no bi today!

Do you remember 1997?

Do you remember what we did to revive the tradition of disputation that led to the establishment of the Critical School called “The Premier Circle” which was warehoused in the library of the French Institute for Research in Africa (IFRA) in the University of Ibadan’s Institute of African Studies? Do you remember what we discussed three weeks ago about returning to that School in a more programmatic way, with the kind of leverage and facility at our disposal now?

You are always interested in what your friends are up to. You are always ready to connect with old friends and make new ones in the speed of light. Magnetic and ebullient, you will call me to do this or do that for you. I was always happy to carry those errands as you were wont to do for me too without conditions.

Do you remember how hysterically happy you were when you learnt I was in Cambridge about the same time that Paul Tiyambe Zeleza was to be keynote speaker at a conference in 2006? You ensured that the two of us met. And when I had to go to Berlin, you recommended that I find Abdourahman Waberi of Djibouti/France, who turned out to be great company around town. In all the other places, you always had someone or some place of interest to connect with: Stockholm, London, and Pretoria where you opened the door of your cousin, Dr Kunle Akanbi’s family, to my wandering feet. It is your nature to help others. You have touched so many lives with your unconditional love for our humanity. 

i have called your name many times, alone

all we have are sighs and echoes of our many memories

master of repartee, best of the finest pens,

confidant extraordinaire, my plinth of secrets to be kept forever.

 

Do you remember 2012?

Do you remember our days in Uyo when I convinced other members to have you deliver the keynote address to the largest body of writers on the African continent, the Association of Nigerian Authors? You made me proud with your delivery of the lecture, “What Does (Nigerian) Literature Secure?” and came away with a horde of admirers many of who were just encountering your brilliance first hand.

Do you remember 2013, 2014 and 2015, our Ake Festival Years, which Lola Shoneyin arranged with great panache, bringing Africa and the rest of the world to Wole Soyinka’s rocky homeland? You know we still have unfinished business and grand expectations.

Do you remember how you insisted that I write more on the theory of postproverbials of which you were so proud and willing to press into North American academic circles. “Egbon, this your conservative way, I don’t know o!” For this, you agreed, without second thought, to headline the international conference on postproverbials that I was organizing as convener for the Department of English at Ibadan in June 2019. That was one of the many things we discussed last week: how you were going to buy the flight ticket and would get refunded in Ibadan; how we were going to stomp Ibadan and visit our familiar places; and how we would return to our secret project with a new kind of boldness. Do you remember? But I missed your call on Friday, and still wonder what you wanted to add to our to-do list. Don’t you know you still have assignments to do as much as I have errands to run for you?

I was a witness to your mission of making meaning of and challenging the meaning of what it is to be Nigerian, African. Your radical, street credibility style of writing in social media belies your deep intellection which many will yet find in your academic writings. You are the stormy petrel, thunder in the kidneys of corrupt tradesmen and marksmen who call themselves politicians; you are the ikuuku, slapstick punch in the guts of mediocrities. Yet in academia, I do not know of any other scholar of my generation who has captured the angst of the postcolonial question in our literature like you. My students must return again to the profundity of your essay which Oyeniyi Okunoye and I chose as the flagship article after Prof. Biodun Jeyifo’s essay, published in The Postcolonial Lamp, in honour of Prof. Dan Izevbaye’s retirement from the University of Ibadan.

Payo! Payo!! Payo!!! How many times have I called you? You have survived the turbulence of this world, leaving in your trail narratives and acts of kindness, of love and prophetic testimonies, of rambunctious laughter that comes from the belly, a unique kind of giggle that is both guttural and honest. 

Who should we blame then, that we will not have the chance to meet again as mortals? What should I forget, or remember? Who should I ask? Why did I take those last calls of yours for granted? Or are you one of the unnamed buffaloes in my scary “Seventh Sense” poem?

One week after that heartless Sunday, as I remember all these things, leaving others unsaid, I hold on to the words of the second verse of the hymn book, Ancient & Modern Songs, number 326, composed by William Cowper (1731-1800):

"What peaceful hours I once enjoyed

How sweet their memory still!

But they have left an aching void

The world can never fill.”

And as I wait upon the comforting hand of God, praying for His Grace upon Mama Adesanmi, Mama Oyelude, Muyiwa, Tise and Damilare, and other members of your family, I believe that you are renewed as a comet, now become the envy of a host of angels, your soul in light perpetual. Amen.

Wayfarer, do you not hear me now?

Remi Raji

Ibadan

17/03/2019

 

Published on:: 
March 18, 2019