Eulogy

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Written by Tunde Oyebode

It’s December. Unlike London it’s a dry and sunny day in Lagos. From the podium, through the window I can see the blue sky. I can see hawkers carrying buckets and baskets on their heads. I can see them pushing wheelbarrows full of fruits. I can see them as they hustle.

Inside, the congregation stared at me. They fanned themselves with their funeral programs. Expectancy in their eyes they waited for me to say something. But I stood there and said nothing.

I looked at the cue cards I had prepared on the flight to Lagos. None of the words seemed earnest enough to be said. To reach into the deepest part of you is the hardest thing. And to pour out your innermost emotions so that it flows out audibly is even harder.

Father’s casket was open behind me. I turned to look at him in search of the perfect words. His face was pale grey. His skin had lost the glossy brown that he was often complemented on. I turned back and looked at the congregation.

Mother was sat in the front row, but now she was off her seat. She was the only one. Kneeling and looking up to heaven she asked God over and over again why he had taken her husband. Why he had been taken so tragically. She had always been so dramatic.

My younger brother Jibola, helped mother up to her seat and consoled her. She calmed down. He was always good at that. Doing only little, he could make my parents feel better about anything. He could make them smile and laugh with ease. He did no wrong by them. You couldn’t say the same about me.

For seven years I hadn’t seen or spoken to both my parents. I wasn’t what they felt was a good first son. That’s how father had put it, ‘you are not a good first son.’

And at some point the disappointment and anger we felt left us estranged. We felt no need to reconcile.

I looked again at him in his white casket. He still had a potbelly. I remember as a child, numerous times I ran into the softness and hugged him. He looked sad in the casket. I felt it too.

‘Many of you know for some time now I haven’t been back home.’ I said. They were relieved that I spoke. They expected an excellent eulogy from the first son.

‘That is because for a long time Daddy and I had been fighting. The fight involved a girlfriend of mine at the time. He didn’t approve of her.’ I continued.

‘But that does not matter anymore.’ I said wiping the sweat from my face with the sleeve of my buba.

‘He is dead now.’ I continued. ‘And my greatest regret is that I never had the chance to tell him that the fight didn’t matter. Love mattered. Family mattered. And I was too stubborn to pick up the phone.’

Uncle Segun staggered into the room. He had been drinking. He tripped on his agbada, which was too big for him. He looked skinnier than I remembered.

The man in the back row, who I recognised but could not name, helped him to his feet and onto his seat.

I turned and looked at father again and said. ‘I wish I told you I loved you often. I wish I told you that I appreciated your hard work. That I appreciated the days you slaved at work to give me the best education and opportunities in life. Opportunities that not all your children had.’ The tears came. I made efforts to keep them in. But they kept streaming.

I indicated to the woman sitting in the front row to join me. She got up from her seat and approached the podium with her child.

Uncle Segun fell off his seat. And everyone turned to look at him. He got up clumsily and brought out a bottle of Schnapps from his agbada pocket. It had broken. But he salvaged what was left of it.

‘Everybody has been wondering who this white woman is.’ I said. Their attention returned back to me. ‘You may have put two and two together. But if some people are still in doubt, she is my wife and he is my son. She is the reason my father and I fought. He didn’t approve of a white woman.’

Mother looked at me closely. I confirmed what her and everyone else suspected when I first walked into the room.

‘Mom, this is my wife Claire and your grandson Jamie. I know daddy would have been happy to hear that he has a grandson, regardless of what transpired between us. I am sorry that I never called. I am sorry that I never let you know all these years. God knows I am full of regret. God knows’—I wiped the tears from my eyes—‘I am sorry. May Daddy’s soul rest in peace.’

I returned back to my seat with Claire and Jamie. The Reverend began to pray and everyone lowered their heads. I looked out the window. A man was drinking a bottle of beer he bought from a kiosk trader. The green bottle glistened in the sun.

I wondered, was it on a wonderful day like this that father died? I hoped it wasn’t raining. Why had he been drinking and driving? Was it because of me?

The man finished his beer and he let the bottle fall. It smashed when it hit the ground. Then he walked away with a stagger until I couldn’t see him anymore.

I wanted to imagine that father hadn’t been drinking and driving. And that he wasn’t dead. I wanted to imagine that he hadn’t taken the lives of the passers-by along with his. I wanted to imagine that we had never fought and that if we hadn’t he wouldn’t have been drinking. But I couldn’t shake the thoughts. I couldn’t imagine anything else but the lifeless bodies of him and his victims.

Claire wrapped her arm round my shoulder. I turned to look at her and she said, ‘it will all be fine Olu.’ I looked at little Jamie. He was playing with an action figure. He seemed happy, as happy as I was on my father’s shoulder as a child.

I knew I had to be different for him. I knew I had to make sure his happiness lasted and treat him better than my father did me. But in 7 years I would have forgotten this moment. I would have forgotten Jamie’s happiness until it was too late.

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