The day had been dull from the moment she awoke; funerals just weren’t her thing. Then again, it was time to say good night. Black everywhere was all she saw as she glanced around her intermittently: the suits, trousers, skirts, shawls, glasses cum shades; even the nail polish on feminine hands were all black. Black is beautiful, but certainly not today, today black is cold, black is tears…black is simply black.
Seated in a pale green and army green parlour, musing over her thoughts, the dull atmosphere hung heavily all around the furnishings, not even the fragrance of the fresh gardenias could dispel it. From the candle stand with the lit candles to the silence that hung heavily, to the drawn faces of sympathisers, marred with droplets of tears every now and then, the loss of one so dear left a deep ache in Gigi’s heart.
The dust to dust had been the hardest part she had to play in all of this; it signified the finality of his death.
As a river flows, unstoppable by rocks, stones and broken branches to their big mother sea, tears rolled down her face without warning; looking down at her hands to conceal her tears, she thought, when was it that I first met him?
It was a cool day, bright skies, no trace of the sun, cool wind raced all around. The breeze played on her hair and flaired skirt leaving the brown hair in disarray. Birds chirped happily as they flirted in and out of the trees every now and then. It sure was the Lord’s Day; everyone had come out to rejoice it seemed, the park was filled with people: families, friends and strangers as everyone basked in the serene weather, sharing it with loved ones or their thoughts as she did.
A little boy of about 2 years caught her attention in the midst of a group of children playing. A smile tugged at her mouth as she watched with amusement as the little boy in brown knickers make a determined effort to play with the bigger children at the slide and keep up with their pace. The picture he painted was hilarious, chubby legs running as fast as they could muster, kicking up sand in his way, eyes soft brown were wide with excitement as he took each step, with arms spread like he intended to fly, which helped maintain his balance. She let the smile give way to a body racking laugher.
So taken up with the scenario, Gigi didn’t notice the young man in the blue faded jeans, with a black t-shirt, with a camera up against the fruit tree she sat under. “Hey pretty”, a deep male voice whispered in her ears, Gigi jumped and spun around so fast, she threw him of balance… “Wow! Easy” he exclaimed.
The first thing she had noticed was the amusement in his eyes which cast a grey shade on his pupils. His height seemed just right, 5’9, chocolate brown skin with a soft look, hair a dirty black, probably weighed about 70kg, cute nails she thought as she blurted out, “Your contacts are cool, but it’s really rude to creep up on people.” The reply was a rich laugh from deep within…he was Odafe Joshua O’tega.
He went on to explain that he wore no contacts, it was his eye colour. They had a lot of common interests, she discovered, and the day rolled by as they sat gisting; the park was being stripped of the populous crowds as dusk had begun to fall…this was a friend alright. At her taxi, they exchanged addresses to keep the communication lines going. He would be on the move for a while and she would be returning to university.
“Gigi would you like to share with us about OJay?” She had been pulled back in time by Ejiro who she fondly called ‘Ji…’ was OJay’s first sister, her age mate in the O’tega household.
“Yes, I’d love that,” she said. “O’Jay was my friend…the best friend I had with skin on….it was last month we celebrated three years of a wonderful marriage and five years of a beautiful friendship.”
I would share the memorable moments I could share because God had taught me through OJay just how to. My name is Oghenero Oghale O’tega nee Tosan, fondly called Gigi by family and friends, the last of three children and the only girl.
“I met OJay five years ago and we fast became best friends. He always had a smile for everyone. His word was his bond.” Sighs of ‘yea’, filled the parlour.
I remember my convocation day celebration, it was also a day the heavens decreed rain, and had no plans of closing up. My day was ruined for sure, I had thought. The much planned for party had ended before it could start as no guest made it to my house. Through torrents of rain, which were unrelenting, OJay showed up at my door. “Heavy storm,” he apologised for coming late, “Just had to drive really carefully.” That would be one of the many promises which would go unbroken throughout the years we shared.
Of course there had been so many other incidents like that day, but none stood out as the day I begged without yielding to be taken for a concert in town; for 10minutes straight I talked of nothing else… “Ok!” Ojay had said with his hands up in the air, “I give up, be back for you.”
“Yippee!” I smiled.
I proceeded to entertain Gloria a friend of his, I was hosting in my place for the weekend. Forgetting all about him, we got comfortable on the floor making conversation and chewing on cabin with juice. She had come to my campus for a program and OJay had asked me to room her.
3 hours later, we heard footsteps on the floor running lightly then two taps on the door, “Hey girls, I’ve hired a taxi, let’s go,” I heard OJay’s voice announce.
My confusion was real…(hmm! I smile now…) “to where?” I inquired opening the door: I was a sight to behold: messy hair, crumbs of cabin on my hands, with my indoor clothes still in place.
“Concert,” he said as sweetly as he could muster.
“Yie! Ok… give us 5…no make it 25 minutes to get dressed. You know I didnt meant it, just wanted to be a bother,” I muttered sheepishly.
As I looked on the faces of all those gathered today to celebrate the life of OJay, I realised that each face told a story of the big heart of OJay. From BJ who sat stiffly on the couch, nursing a pot belly, he had been OJay’s pal right from secondary school, marriage had done him good. His wife Nkeiru held his hands, their kids: Femi and Feyi almost 3 ran round, not fully comprehending why the adults were not fun playmates today. Then there was shy Ikas, she had met OJay during the musical chorale preparation.
Angie, his baby sister gently wiped a tear from Mama’s cheek, she was holding on a lot better than I had imagined. Mama May Efe O’tega had aged gracefully, her hair all silver with no trace of the golden brown hue, hands still strong but for the slight stoop; she still looked younger than her age.
There was Nina on the rocking chair, holding on to six months old baby May, named for Mama May. The story of her and OJay was a blur in my mind’s eye. With eyes red and bulging from tears spent, she gently held on to her baby. Nathan her husband was behind her, leaning on the bronze cupboards. Ray Dee stood looking out the window. He had been OJay’s pastor for well over ten years; today he looked a bit older than usual. He had just conducted a burial ceremony of a guy who was not only like a son but also a friend.
“We are all family, we were all part of OJay’s life,” Ejiro said: “I don’t want us to gather, cry and go back without sharing memorable moments of him together. For though the hurt is deep and the loss irreplaceable I am sure he would rather we celebrate his life.”
Tears filled Gigi’s eyes; “Odafe Joshua would not…” she choked on her tears, “So ‘Ji you can continue…please share, can you?”
“You know, OJay loved to write mails,” Ejiro said.
Through the veil of my watery eyes, I smiled as I whispered “Uhmm”; for I had been a recipient of his mails for a little over four years. Looking at Ejiro, “I still have all the mails he sent me right from 2001,” I said as I twisted my wedding band. I could picture the box where I kept all our correspondence…a simple wooden box, decorated with little pin up notes we had written to each other over the years. His writing barely missed receiving the ‘fowl scratch’ award, I chuckled. “He also loved writing stuff: poems, articles & essays,” I pitched in.
“I looked forward to his mails,” Ejiro was saying…
Funny, I mused, OJay wasn’t anything close to perfect; he had days it seemed some demon plagued him. It had a lot to do with his temper I guess. He worked real hard to tame that temper of his, he had actually stated he’d let God be God over that issue.
Yet some days it seemed to raise its head from some hidden place and keep me frozen with shock for a few minutes which usually lapsed into convulsing laughter at his predicament. Some days I thought, it must have been the temper which he could not tame which kept him hooked strongly on God… for the side effects of that seemed way beyond his taming abilities.
And he sure could get on my nerves some days, as his lecture on the power of words seemed to have no end. But OJay taught me to speak my words with wisdom; “They are power and life,” he would always say.
I smiled, as my eyes locked with Libby’s. Surrounded by family and friends, and a couple of colleagues, the gathering was nice, only the reason not pleasant.
Yet, in his own little way and short stay here on earth, yeah, a really short stay, he had affected a number of lives in ways, he probably never envisaged. The beauty of his life lay in the fact that he knew he wasn’t perfect, and that made all the difference. To me he was an ordinary guy with a strong desire to live for God, who I had for a gift in ways no other would ever know.
“You move me,” I hummed, the words of Susan Ashton’s song which we had danced to three years earlier during our wedding reception. In some way, that was the story of everyone here. A glance at the doorway revealed Joey, he was O’Jay’s last disciple, just turned 15 a few weeks back. He was one of the kids from Sunday school. He had met O’Jay during the kids biscuit party, where he had been a guest. The restless spirit of teens had held the young boy, and kept him unfocused. Though the change not complete, under Ojay’s guardianship his future looked up.
The young one within kicked, I placed my hand on my bulging abdomen, though not physically touched by his dad, I truly hope he’s a boy, I mused, it would be a great keepsake from my best friend of five years, and husband of three years.