Saturday, June 07, 2008
‘Fading away like the stars of the morning
Losing their light in the glorious sun
Thus would we pass from the earth and its toiling
Only remembered by what we have done.’
So last Thursday, Jinta and I, set off on an expedition to see the last resting-place of our father who left this world for a better place 13 years ago. It was a small plot, somewhere in Ikoyi. We stood quietly, mused and looked at that grave, the end of all men, that final equalizer. I had never seen my brother that close to tears.
Our father, Olu-Okun also known as ‘Supremo’ by members of his club; a name fastened upon him by his children when we got to hear of it. ‘My Supremo, may you never die’ was the clarion call whenever he appeared where his friends were.
Olu-Okun, whose forebears were known as ‘Omo Ol’ofa (Son of the Archers), a man of many parts, like most men; some very good, some...well...but he was my father. There were many tales...his humour...his doggedness...his temper...
And I remember those who were his friends and family- Frank Okoisor, Joe Oladimeji, Joe Mensah...
And the relative who cried as she told me of his kindness- ‘Broda mi paid my rent for this place I moved into, when times were very hard for me’
I remember him when I was about 9 years old, as I stood outside, just looking out on to the street, an adult Christmas party going on in the house...He, with that cologne that was his trademark...Old Spice... giving me part of the meat in his hand. I remember him playing scrabble with us at the back of the house, and that word, ‘Qua’ which I met for the first time. I remember the many nights we all would just sit at the back and sing on dark, dark nights... ‘My ship is on the ocean, ‘twill anchor by and by...’. The late-night picnics at the beach at a time when Lagos was a safer place. I remember his Opel Rekord, and then the Toyota Crown.
I remember going by train from Lagos to Kaduna when I was ten, with him and the Lagos State Sports contingent. He was a sports administrator then and I sat in his cabin and watched the rail tracks, a thing of wonder, and tagged behind the sports men who filled the whole train, entire communities cheering as we went by. I felt like a part of the team, decked out in Lagos State colours, a little runt the boxers on the train called Ghaddafi, for some unfathomable reason. I loved the name. And the early, early morning electric lights of the city of Kaduna as the train entered, a beautiful sight.
I remember tales from my mother of a time when I wasn’t born, when Supremo had an exchange of words with a taxi driver who didn’t know when to leave well off, and the taxi driver following him all the way home, still calling him names, and my father getting out of his car and flattening the taxi driver on the bonnet of the man’s vehicle and the taxi driver yelling out, ‘I surrender’. And an old rival whom my father when in his 30s, thought winked at my mother on Broad street. The man didn’t do any winking for a while after that.
The electric train set he bought me, tracks and all, which operated on batteries, and the smell of the plastic of the train..the ‘Noddy’ books he gave me, the ‘Der Spiegel’ book on the 2nd World War from UTC when I was eleven. I remember him buying the jerseys for my football club, X-20, not that it helped us play better.
The books from his library, Mutiny on the Bounty, Black Beauty, Lord Of the Flies, Treasure Island, Tom Brown’s School Days...hundreds of them...Books that gently but effectively led me to the vocation I have chosen now...I would enter the world of those books and walk and walk, and on those sojourns, he never called me back. I will always be grateful for that.
Supremo, who was a member of the Lafiaji Boys Club, who chose boxing as his sport of choice, and boxed his way through secondary school, and then schooled abroad on a sports grant. In secondary school, he was a self-styled ‘Billy Oguns’. I laughed myself silly the first time I heard that name.
I remember entering puberty and not remembering the good times...The clashes...the confrontations...the sadness
I remember him saying off-handedly, ‘Wole has a photographic memory’. Tension in exam halls later made me doubt the total accuracy of that statement, but that confidence in my abilities kept me going through many, many tricky situations.
I remember driving him to work one day when his official driver didn’t show up, and seeing branches with leaves, stuck on car wipers as we passed Western Avenue. Me asking him, whether I should do the same, and he nodding a ‘yes’. And then coming down the bridge onto ikorodu road and realizing there was a full scale riot on the expressway, thousands of people charging towards us holding weapons, the still-smoking remains of charred vehicles everywhere. He beside me quietly saying, ‘Wole, turn...turn’. Me turning the car on that expressway, a tight turn for a large car...other cars trying to do the same as the rioters charged, baying for blood... finally succeeding in turning and accelerating away, both of us laughing in relief. He still went to the office that day. We used a different route.
I remember becoming a man and realizing all men make mistakes and that forgiveness is an essential part of life and I remember stretching a hand of reconciliation back to meet his outstretched hand. I remember leaving Ife, when I was in final year at the university there to go meet him at our home town’s annual celebration in Oyo, the Aawe day, and his happiness as I walked through the gate. I remember him calling my full name that evening as I walked in...Oluwole....the first and only time I can recall.
I never told you this, but I loved you, Supremo. And because memories of you live in the hearts of me and yours, you will live forever.
Aiye l’ajo, orun ni ile wa*
(*Life is the journey, heaven is our home).