It happens every January. I have what feels like a ton of bricks weighing me down, and sometimes when I wake up, I feel as if I have been sleeping under a trailer. As the month draws to an end, the feeling starts to lift, but it never totally disappears, till the next year comes. It is not that I do not feel this way at random times during the year when I am bothered about something, but what I go through every first month of the year is debilitating. Many people might be familiar with my story. I once referred to it in one of my Loud Whispers essays as ‘January Blues’. On January 2nd 2003, my father Pa Emmanuel Akinola Adeleye passed away. I am not sure if he died on that day, but that was the last day we saw him. He was a 70 year old retired civil servant who was enjoying the fruits of his labour. He was just recovering from a mild stroke and he seemed to be doing well. He told my mother we wanted to go and see his former driver who doubled as a mechanic, to come and help fix his car. My mother asked him if someone should accompany him and he declined saying he would be back soon. He never came back. We searched everywhere. The police told us they get a lot of reports of missing older persons. Some of them get hit by vehicles, and their bodies are hidden till they decompose. Some are kidnapped for nefarious purposes. Some end up in far away places. We took each lead and every theory seriously but it led nowhere. No matter how painful the passing of a loved one is, knowing that they are gone, why and how can not be compared to drawing a total blank. Closure should not be a luxury but in the case of my family, it has been.
This January has been particularly bad. 2023 makes it twenty years. It didn’t help matters that I went away for the New Year and came back with a bad cold, fever and cough which has taken almost ten days to get over. I felt like staying curled up right there under my imaginary trailer. My siblings and I have all found our own ways of dealing with the trauma. We have stopped talking about it amongst ourselves, as if our silence will lessen the pain. Of course, we have been deceiving ourselves. I have tried to raise the issue of a memorial twice over the past twenty years. The looks of unease on the faces of my mother and my siblings shut it down. Last year, out of curiosity, I asked my mother where she would like to be buried should her time come. I assumed she would want to be taken back to Ilara-Mokin her hometown in Ondo State, but I asked just to be sure. Afterall, you can’t shy away from asking a 79-year-old about putting her affairs in order. Without hesitation, my mother said, ‘Lagos of course, you can’t expect me to be buried away from your father’. I felt the weight of the ton of bricks again and the pain was unbearable. My mother was telling me that even though we never found his body, my father’s spirit is still with us. And she wanted to be buried right next to where his body would have been. So when the time comes, my mother will get her wish and they will finally rest together.
I was extremely close to my father. His love, affection and encouragement made me who I am today. I subconsciously looked for the qualities he had when it was time to decide on who to spend my life with. Unlike most of his peers in his generation, he was always open with his praise and pleasure in my accomplishments. I never had to struggle for his attention, and the one time when he was displeased with me for coming 6th in class instead of 1st or 2nd, I burst into tears and he was so alarmed, he was the one apologizing. This did not make me spoilt, it made me always want prove that his faith in me was not misplaced. When people ask me how I have managed to cope with this, I say that I focus on living my life in ways that would have made him proud. Apart from his work as an Accountant in the Federal Civil Service, he was committed to community service, through his many years as the Honorary Secretary of the Nigerian Boxing Board of Control. Our home was a meeting point for boxers and their promoters or managers ranging from the aspiring ones to the superstars. My father was their administrator, mentor and counsellor. He was wise, funny, kind, patient but very firm. He was very content with what he had and he took great pride in the fact that he lived within his means. He had three children and one wife and he was always teasing his friends who got themselves into ‘women problems’. When one of his friends impregnated a young lady barely older than me, my father said, ‘Can you imagine he will still be paying school fees long after you would have left University’.
Sometimes, I wonder what it would have been like if he had still been around. To see all of us grow older and our children too. I know he would have been happy that my mother has been taken care of. He would have been proud of all of us his children. He would certainly have been unhappy with how Nigeria has turned out over time, but he would have been pleased that people like ‘Gentleman Kayode’ as he used to call my husband stepped up to serve his people. My father would have been tickled at the evolution of my feminist politics, something he helped nurture by insisting that I had a right to a voice and a mind of my own. It came back to bite