The moment of my departure to America, “land of milk and honey” was at hand. Instead of basking in the sun of jubilation, my grandmother was wallowing in tears. She shook her head with regret and announced, “You will never see me again…”
Time is fleeting and tomorrow is not guaranteed so what we do today for a loved one may be the only thing that matters. I used to put off what could be done today until the unexpected happened and shattered my system of taking things for granted. The realization of my expensive mistake has prompted my decision to write this article to divert people from stumbling on the same lesson I learnt in a painful way.
The moment of my departure to America, “land of milk and honey” was at hand. Instead of basking in the sun of jubilation, my seventy-two year old paternal grandmother was wallowing in her rain of tears. I never saw her cry so much. Unable to imagine the reason for her present state of sorrow, I put my hands around her frail neck, my ears by her lips waiting for an explanation. In the midst of choking sobs, she confidently revealed to me that it was the last time I would see her alive. “God forbid mama, I will be back” was my response. She cried the more, shook her head with regret and announced, “You will never see me again”. I stood there in disbelief till my father bailed me out of the momentary confusion by reminding me elderly people behave like babies when as they get older. He assured me she was just being emotional and with more words of encouragement, I left my grandmother to catch my flight to Atlanta, Georgia. This scene of my weeping grandmother, my observing father and my confused self has haunted me till this day. Had I known, I could have made that day a very memorable one.
Three months after I arrived America, I got a long distance call from my mother. She informed me that my paternal grandmother had died in a plane crash on her way for an eye surgery in another state. I was devastated and spooked that her prophecy of doom had manifested. It hurt to know that my grandmother did not receive anything from my sojourn in America before she died. The truth is I was still in the process of settling down in a foreign land. I called to console my dad, her first and favorite son. He took the news like a typical African man by concealing his emotions in his breaking heart. I could not attend the funeral but was on the phone with my siblings the day she was laid to rest. My first question to my sister the next day was “did you see tears in daddy’s eyes?” Her answer was an excited yes and she admitted that she too had wondered if our father would cry so she watched him with eagerness till she saw a stubborn tear push its way out when the remains of his mother was lowered into the grave. This made me smile knowing how hard it is to see an African man cry let alone my dad!
He was a softhearted man, a firm believer of living life to the fullest with an arresting sense of humor. I remember as a little girl, my dad convinced me that if I ever used laundry soap instead of bathing soap to wash myself, I would turn to a piece of clothing. I believed him for the longest and stayed away from bar soaps or detergents.
Out of sight was definitely not out of mind for my dad and I though we were continents apart. We fattened the accounts of the telephone companies with our frequent international calls. My father kept me informed of current happenings in Nigeria. I always listened with so much eagerness. How can I forget the times I telephoned and heard him instruct someone with so much pride “bring me that chair to sit on, my daughter in America is on the phone”.
During my next four years in America, my father visited Toronto, Canada on three occasions. They were always brief visits with a promise to find the right opportunity to spend quality time with me in Atlanta, Georgia. I did not mind because my mother and siblings visited often. His third visit towards the end of my fourth year was an interesting one. From the day he arrived Canada, we started our telephone conversations and I also started buying gifts to send him. I always bought my father a bottle of cologne but this time I wanted to buy him a variety of gifts. I started with some shirts and a bottle of cologne and decided to get a bigger box, buy more things and send my darling father a box of goodies. One day, he called to inform me that his doctor diagnosed a problem with his heart; he needed to cut his trip short and head back home. Although I was taken aback my father convinced me it was nothing serious by saying all he needed was the right diet and regular exercise. The next day I mailed the box first class to Canada. He was scheduled to leave five days later. I was sure the box would get there in two days as promised. On the fourth day, the box had not arrived. I panicked and checked with the post office. I was told he would get it the next day before noon. My dad’s flight was at two that afternoon. By noon he was still waiting for the box. It did not come. He left for Nigeria without the products of my labor in America. I was so disappointed. The days leading to his departure, I was anxiously waiting for the phone to ring and to hear my father thank me with so much excitement for what I sent him. That was not the case. A week later the box came back to me, returned for no apparent reason. There and then, I made up my mind to upgrade the box to a suitcase. My plan was to start getting together stuff for my dad till everything fitted into the suitcase and then send it through someone departing for Nigeria. I wanted him to receive a lot of things from me at once as opposed to sending one item every other month.
My fifth year in America was a year that changed my perception of time a great deal. It was 1995 and my father was scheduled to turn sixty on the 6th of November. His anxiety was unimaginable. From the beginning of the year, he started making plans for a very big 60th birthday party. He had called relatives all over the world and personally invited them for his special occasion. When we spoke on the phone, he unfailingly reminded me to attend his bash. I wished I could but that was the same year I was scheduled to take entrance exams to law school and also my travel documents were not ready. For some months, I did not have the heart to break the news of my inability to attend. When I finally told him, he was very disappointed. I could not understand why he took it so hard. After all there were many more birthdays to come or so I thought. When he got over the shock of my absence he asked me to send him a very special birthday gift. That was not a problem. He was going to get a special gift and also the special suitcase I had been adding stuff all these months. I was sure my dad would be more than compensated for my absence.
As October, drew near, my father’s zeal for his birthday party mounted like crazy. He made it a point of duty to remind everyone about his forthcoming occasion. He already bought the drinks and some food items for guests attending. My younger brother who is his first son was bombarded the most with calls from my dad about his special day. Although, they were in Nigeria together, they lived in different states but maintained a close relationship. My dad wanted my brother to chair the occasion and be in town three days before time to help him prepare. The truth is we were all getting fed up of our dad bothering us with his upcoming birthday plans. The last straw that broke my brother’s patience happened during another reminder call from my dad. This time they got into a minor argument and my father said, “If you like, do not come for my party, even if I die you do not need to attend”. My brother was upset but understood my dad was just being anxious about his big day. Luckily, I found a friend scheduled to travel to Nigeria a few days before his birthday so I started getting together everything I planned to send to my father. In one weekend I had the suitcase packed and ready to be picked up. The only thing left to buy was his special birthday gift. I was torn between two gifts.
Two weeks to the d-day, my dad woke up in the morning and sent for his best friend. They both went visiting close friends. Later that afternoon, I was told he came back home and said he was going to take a nap. At seven in the evening when he had not come out from this unusual nap, curiosity reigned in the minds of those in the house and they decided to check on him. It was too late; he had slept on to eternity. My father, my friend had died!
Unknown to my brother, he called to make up with my dad and gladly inform him of his plans to come four days before time to help him prepare for his birthday. His call came a day too late. To this day, my brother wishes they never had that argument. Initially my brother wondered if my dad died upset with him but one evening he saw my dad in a dream and he told my brother he is a lot happier where he is. He also said the roses there are very big, the streets are really beautiful and we should rejoice and not mourn for him. It seemed my father was happy where he was.
Almost ten years later, I have gradually crawled out of the shock that caged me when I heard the news of my father’s death. I can still remember my blood seriously bubbling in a pool of denial. I was devastated; so devastated that as I write my eyes are full of tears. It was not the case of him leaving Canada and coming back again. He left earth and I was never going to see him alive again. He left without any thing special from me. If I had known, I could have sent whatever I had on hand instead of foolishly putting stuff into the special suitcase he never got. The suitcase eventually got home and was shared among other relatives. His funeral date was set for his birthday. He had made more than adequate preparation way before time. I bought his burial suit which ended up being the special gift he had repeatedly instructed me to send to him. It was sad to know that the only suit my father ever got from me was the one he was buried in. Most of the relatives he called to attend his birthday party came for his funeral. It was an occasion that no one still likes to remember because of the pain of regret that entered our individual hearts on receiving news of his death. Years later, his personal physician informed my sister that my dad really had a bad heart condition and knew he had a few months to live but decided to keep it to himself. What a man!
On that day I was leaving for America, if I had known that was the last time I would see my grandmother and father alive only God knows if I would have left Nigeria. I have learned to give people (young and old) their flowers no matter how small when they are alive. It is always too late when they pass on to the great beyond. May the soul of my father Dr. A. A. Oyairo continue to rest in perfect peace, Amen!
ã 2004 May Esohe Olusola, Dallas, TX