The story should have been up on Sunday. But I was busy. I’m busy through this week but I wanted to conclude this today. Strap yourselves in. And leave me loads of juicy and adoring comments afterwards! 🙂
He was watching me watch Iris. I could feel his eyes studying me. Usually whenever anyone stared at me too long I would burst out laughing. More often than not, they turned their eyes away immediately. Don’t pay too much attention to that one. She’s crazy. Come to think of it, who said loud laughter is a symptom of madness? I’ve never seen a mad person laughing before. The ones I usually see are naked or filthy with matted hair and terribly chapped lips. Bunmi used to tell me stories; of people sleeping with mad women and mad men raping women. And I would shudder with discomfort. The thought of the filth of a mad man, those teeth more usually unbrushed for weeks and slowly rotting coming close to me irritated me beyond belief.
He was still staring.
I waited him out, eyes drifting from Iris to my book and back again. I wasn’t sure why he was looking, I felt comfortable with him but still I felt a frisson of fear every time I remembered Mr. Nwude who was known to us as Mr. Oyeyemi. Soon though, he left. I hoped he wouldn’t go drinking. The last time he did, last year, my mom, myself and Amara had to hold him down so Iris wouldn’t see him like that. I knew she worried about her father. Seeing him like that would have made her worry more.
I brought Iris for her monthly medical check-up. Bunmi had braided her hair while Amara and I made lunch the day before. She looked like a Nubian princess. I pointed it out to her yesterday and she turned to me and stared. It broke my heart. I could echo the questions in her head, mostly because I woke up at nights asking the same questions.
I was currently in my second year studying psychology at the University. Iris had not graduated from Secondary School. She was all set to graduate the day she had a Cerebrovascular Accident. At least that’s what I tell all the classmates Iris had kept in touch with when they call my phone. And the question, “when can we speak to her?” is always met with dead silence and then a blatant lie. “Iris is in the bathroom now, I’ll tell her you called.”
“Iris? She travelled abroad for further treatment. You remember how protective her father was”
Tolani was the only person other than Kelvin who had seen beyond the lies.
Iris had had a cerebrovascular accident, that much was true. But not many people realised that “cerebrovascular accident” is simply another name for a stroke. And Iris had had a serious stroke. It left her unable to sit unless propped up, unable to stand unless helped up. She couldn’t talk, hence the lies and she had to wear adult diapers. I changed them twice everyday. The last nurse Iris had, had once left her to sit in her urine and excrement for 3 days when her father travelled and I had been writing exams. It had taken the grace of God to stop me from killing her the day I came to the house to see Iris on the floor; hungry, dehydrated, weak and filthy. I beat her so badly she had to be taken to the hospital herself. My mum had slapped me senseless in return. But that day, it was settled. I would move into the Aghotures’ house, start studying part time, taking counselling lessons with my pastor and taking care of Iris.
Kelvin came by once in a while. He made Iris laugh. Despite the fact that she couldn’t talk, Iris still had a vibrant laugh. Seeing them together this way made me regret my former jealousy. Kelvin used to have a crush on Iris. Iris used to have a crush on Kelvin. I used to have a crush on Kelvin. And the green eyed monster had almost permanent residence in me. Seeing them giggle and practice nascent flirting skills with each other used to irritate me so much. And she had picked up on it, cornering me one day. I had been so angry with her, with them then. Now, seeing them together, smiling with one another, I was relieved. Relieved that at least one of her former friends was determined to be here for her. Relieved that I had stepped aside and let them be friends with each other without the added burden of my anger. Relieved that I had not staked my two best friendships on the false belief that I was in love when in fact it had been a 3 month crush. Kelvin and I had been and were still good friends. Kelvin and Iris were good friends as well. It hadn’t been love for them either. Just a six month “relationship” that consisted almost solely of going to the movies and holding hands. Still, he had made her feel so much better when she found out she was to repeat SS2. And he always made her laugh. I was grateful for that. Tolani’s reaction was still weighing on me. It hurt. Even I who had not been close to her was hurt. The day she came over, she saw Iris lying on the bed, body emaciated, eyes sunken and unfocused. When Iris spotted her, she smiled widely and beckoned with her left hand, the stronger one, and we both watched as Tolani ran out. I had to watch as Iris’ face fell and a tear slipped out. I wasn’t sure I had it in me to forgive her for that.
Amara had finished Youth Service and she took Bunmi and I to a restaurant to celebrate while my mom watched Iris. When we were seated at the restaurant two things struck me:
Today was Iris’ birthday and I was so relieved to be out of the house.
In our friendship Iris had always been the strong one. Nothing and no one could faze her. If she wanted something, she would get it. If i wanted something, more often than not, she got it for me. When she began to regularly miss school, I saw a different side to everything. I made some new friends and did much by myself that we used to do together. I recognised that I wouldn’t have Iris to protect me forever. It was scary but freeing as well And it cast me in the role Iris had occupied unopposed for so long- Leader. For 2 years, I had not cried, not in front of Iris, not in front of anyone. But when I opened my wallet, a birthday present from Iris, when it dawned on me that I was losing touch with the very person I was trying so hard to help, I burst into tears. Bunmi and Amara kept offering platitudes so I ran into a toilet stall and locked myself in. When I was about done crying, someone passed me a box of tissues. I accepted it, mumbling my thanks while noisily blowing my nose. I wiped my nose, cleaned my face thoroughly but I still wasn’t ready to face anyone.
“Are you okay, Ebube?”
“I’ll be fine”, I said, thinking one of my sisters had come to check on me.
I blew my nose a couple of times, blinked to clear the tears and took several deep breaths to clear my head before I unlocked the door and stepped out.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
I had been wrong. It wasn’t Amara, wasn’t Bunmi. It was Tolani.
When we got back to the house, it was late. The generator was switched on so our approach was muffled. When we entered the house, I checked on Iris first while Amara and Bunmi went into the kitchen to drop the food we’d brought back. She was sleeping. I dropped the birthday card and her gift on the bedside table. We would talk in the morning.
I went to find my mom and Iris’ dad. They weren’t in the kitchen, or in the store. Or in the basement that housed the huge refrigerators. I scanned the parlor and was about to leave when I heard a noise. I quickly switched on the light while beckoning my sisters who were in the doorway to come closer. What we saw made us smile. Apparently, my prayers of so long ago had worked. My mom had her arms around him. They had tear tracks on their faces, they were fully clothed but their embrace was distinctly “loverlike” and they were sound and safely asleep. I put off the light. My sisters would sleep here today.
Another day, another pastor. I laid there while he shook and jumped about, binding and casting the demons that supposedly held me bound. I knew this routine very well these days. He would bind and cast for about 30 minutes more or as long as he felt it took to “earn” the money he would then ask my dad for. I wanted to tell him it wasn’t demons, it was a stroke but of course, I couldn’t talk. I could roll my eyes and I did, hoping he would leave and soon too.
The year I turned 15, my faith walk staggered to a stop. I felt betrayed, hurt beyond words by God. Even before my birthday, I had been rushed to the hospital 10 times, I had bled and had to be transfused. I had been given so many injections that once, they had to be given through my legs. I was tired. I was very tired. And I was angry. Ebube and I once had an argument about it. She even read to me from Ecclesiastes 3. Still, I wanted an explanation. I wanted to go to school, to meet people, to be around when Kelvin and I had matured enough to have a successful relationship that would lead to marriage. I wanted to take deep breaths without hurting my lungs, to bite into suya without having it cut into little pieces first. I wanted to wear high heels again. I wanted to be free from painful massages and infrared heat lamps. I wanted so many things. I used to pray constantly then. I knew it was borne of fear but I couldn’t help myself. Then I had the first stroke. Then the second. Then Uncle Ferdinand, the man my dad had hit, told me he was travelling with his family, then I had a massive stroke, then Tolani ran away. I decided it was too much pain believing in God’s plan. It was painful. I suspected Ebube knew I no longer considered myself a Christian because she made a point of reading Bible passages aloud to me every blessed day.
My personal favourite was “I am beautifully and wonderfully made”. I knew the verse said, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made” but she paraphrased it for me. A couple of times, I would find myself thinking on that verse. “What’s so beautiful about me?”, I would think.
There were no mirrors in my room. But still, when I went for my monthly check up, I had the opportunity to see myself. And I was a husk.
There’s nothing beautiful about me.
The pastor was still praying when Ebube came in with my physiotherapist. After some more prayers, he and my dad left my room. Ebube sat on the bed, taking one of my hands and squeezing it before letting go. Today was Tuesday. She read a book to me while the physiotherapist massaged me. When the physiotherapist left, she fed me a contraband sausage roll and akara. I smiled my thanks. I was confined to custard, pap and soup with lots of vegetables. 90% of the time she fed me exactly that. But on Tuesdays, she fed me other foods- pastries, fried plantains, rice, ice cream.
That evening, we had a surprise visitor- Tolani. I looked steadily at her, she didn’t run this time. It was a short visit. She came to say that she was sorry and to give me a couple of audiobooks in a cassette player. I smiled and nodded. She smiled. And I felt some of my frustration ease. Maybe God did have a good plan after all. Maybe I can trust Him.
Iris was dead. I had woken up suddenly around 12AM, nudged awake by something I couldn’t explain. Her eyes were open, she was smiling, her hand extended to touch me. But her body was cold and she wasn’t breathing. I immediately called her father. And my mother. A neighborhood doctor confirmed it. After 4 years, Iris was dead. Her father carried her and rocked her and cried. My mother looked from me to him wringing her hands. I stood there in a state of shock. My legs buckled. I started hyperventilating. She was supposed to come out of this. She had added weight. She was supposed to be my maid of honor. She had started writing. She was supposed to finish school. She told me she loved me yesterday. She was supposed to be the godmother to my children. How could she die? She had a tutor. She took the GCE exams last month. She had started praying again. And laughing regularly. And bossing me around. How dare she die?
My sisters and Kelvin came later that morning. Tolani too. She hugged me tightly. She had become a good friend, not only to Iris but to me as well. My mum was with Iris’ dad. He was still holding her and sobbing. I do not know how to make it better for him. He was very close to his daughter. He was interested in each of us but his daughter was the light of his life. We all knew that. He didn’t let her go until later that evening. He composed himself, went to take a bath. He wasn’t there when the mortuary attendants came to take Iris away.
My mom went to check on him. I was relieved when he came out. I had been afraid he was going to kill himself. The burial was arranged for the next day. His family members came. Family members of his late wife were there. My father came. Old school mates of ours were informed of the funeral. The church was packed. The ceremony was short and beautiful. Tolani and Kelvin gave moving eulogies. We went back to the house.
It hit me then that there was no reason for me to live here anymore. Iris was dead. I wasn’t going to be taking care of her anymore.
In the week that followed, we all stayed in the house, I knew my mom especially was worried about Mr. Aghoture. He wasn’t sleeping. Dark shadows covered his eyes. He looked disheveled.
Then one day, I noticed a change in him. He had obviously made some decisions. Two days later, he called all of us together, he gave Amara a plot of land for her baking business which she had continued and which had snowballed into something much bigger than we all expected. He gave Bunmi a percentage in his business which had grown under her supervision to become a conglomerate and to me he gave a monetary sum that made me gasp aloud and automatically refuse and Iris’ ring which I also refused. He smiled and gave them back to me.
To my mom, he gave a smile and the same envelope he had given her so many years ago. I hadn’t realised she had returned it. He travelled that evening.
I finished University later that year and I decided to take a year off and travel. I certainly had the money to do whatever I wanted. Amara met a guy, he was nice, he cared about her and whenever she baked for him, he paid her. Bunmi started a business of her own in addition to her job. My dad’s wife left him.
One day after I had been away for 2 months, I got to my mom’s house and met her talking animatedly with Iris’ dad. It took them 3 years, during which they went for pre- marriage counselling, Amara got married and Bunmi found someone she liked and trusted enough to get engaged to.
I’m serving food at the wedding reception and so many people are telling me that it’s my turn next. The urge to roll my eyes is so strong, I go somewhere to sit down and do it in peace. I haven’t even turned 24, you would think they’d leave me alone. I sit down behind a stacked wall of plastic chairs. Amara sees me and sticks her tongue out. I make a pleading gesture. She smiles and prances off. Tolani is somewhere in the crowd. She and Kelvin are flirting with each other so I knew to get out of the picture. Bunmi is with her fiancé and my mom is feeding her new husband cake. For the first time in a while, I miss Iris. I wonder if she would have read nursing like she’d planned. If she would have been happy to know I call her father “Pabby”, if she was relieved that we were stepsisters at last.
Someone is staring at me. It’s a young man. I’m not sitting on the stacked chairs, I’m sitting next to it. I’m not in the mood to laugh so I turn to look at him fully. Defiantly. Everyone says this it’s my war face. He smiles and extends his hand. I shake it. I feel a jolt and when I realise we’ve been shaking hands for a while without saying anything, I introduce myself.
“So nice to meet you. My name is Boma”
My best friend’s Dad is sixty percent a true story.
Some of the facts are fiction, others are real life experiences.
Iris’s medical problems are similar to that of my younger brother. He’s dead now. His name was Nebolisa. We nicknamed him Bobo (BohBoh not Bawbaw, by the way). He was a clown and he could make the most serious people laugh. I remember beating someone in primary school because he had beaten my brother. Luckily I didn’t get suspended. He used to have convulsions and get sick very very often. He had a stroke at age 9 and then he could no longer talk or walk. He died on December 9, 2007 at age 12. His birthday was on Sunday. Rest in peace sweetie.
This story originally started as a way to eulogise him but along the way it became a way to eulogise a lot of people who have recently passed on from this world to the next.
Joshua Ayalogu, Ogechi Atuonwu, Nneoma Atuonwu, the victims of terrorist attacks in Syria, France and Nigeria.
Rest in Peace!
Chineke, biko me ka ga noduzie n’ulo gi!
Na ha Jisos.