Keniebi Okoko, go in peace
Keniebi- literal translation – one more is good enough. Yours was a life of impact. You gave. And then gave some more. And then gave yet some more. Koks, I must warn you, there is no coherent way to write this article, no sensible word to say, so pardon- I may ramble a bit but I promise to write to the end.
On the 14th of April, when Deniye called and I rushed out of my house to the hospital, my mind refused to process the news. I did not see any need to mention the dreaded “D” word. I got to the hospital entrance and I saw Ketlam crying. I asked him stupidly, why he was in tears and followed up with another stupid question-if he was serious. He did not respond. I entered inside the hospital and in a few minutes came face to face with you, lying down, covered with a blue cloth, eyes slightly open and a tiny mischievous smile playing around your lips. I saw Ihuaku weeping. I saw an elderly man looking overwhelmed.
Sometime in February, dad had health challenges. I recall how upset you were when we were taking pictures. Pictures I would jokingly refer to as – “when we were three”. No spouse, no nephew or niece-just three of us.
I wondered what the issue was. “Why are you so upset?”
“Eriye, we are taking pictures as though we do not expect Daddy to come back alive,” was your curt response.
I apologized and said that was not the intention. When you got into the car with mum and dad, I was overwhelmed with emotions and looked at you and gave you the sign. You nodded in response, words were not uttered but I knew you understood that you had to bring daddy back alive. Dad and mum came back alive and I intend to do a portrait of the picture for their house. I do not know if it is a wise thing to do but I will go ahead anyway.
All of these were playing in my head as I kept whispering into your ears- “What do I tell daddy and mummy?”
As though on cue, my phone started to ring.
“Eriye, have you heard from your brother? We are hearing funny stories about him,” mum said over the phone. I was still staring at you. Hoping to see a tiny jerk. A sneeze. The slight smile grows bigger into a grin.
I stepped out to respond.
“What are you hearing? Do not worry about anything mum, I’m on the way to his house and would let you know. Go and sleep. Is daddy close by?”
I relayed the same message to my dad. By this time, we had got in touch with an uncle to go over to his house to formally break the news the next morning. It was now a race against time and social media that no one would call them over the phone with a tone of finality.
Eventually, I told daddy you were involved in an accident and you were in a very bad condition, but the doctors were trying to get you stable.
He asked several questions at once in military fashion. I gave him the same rehearsed answers, careful not to say too much and betray any emotions. By this time, an enervating feeling had set in.
The hospital prepared to take you into an ambulance to the mortuary. I watched as they carried out the activity, in spite of them asking me to step outside and allow them to do their job. It is the most surreal experience I have had to go through in recent times.
Mum called me again-someone had called dad from the UK offering his condolences. I told her to ignore everyone as I was going to stay in the hospital till about 4 a.m. with you so I could give her a minute by minute update on the situation.
Between going to the mortuary and getting home, social media went on overdrive. There was Elvis Donkemezuo who surreptitiously took pictures of you and even the statement initially issued by the doctor and the mortuary scene and sent it off at about 4:00 a.m. with a cryptic WhatsApp message -FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.
Koks, with that singular damaging, tasteless and insensitive act, it was as though they killed you twice.
I understand social media thrives on content. Dead bodies, mutilated, gory, body bags, bloody shots-these images make news and sell like pure water. But it is as though someone painstakingly removed the word Private and etched the word “Public” in the dictionary. Private matters are strictly for the public. As though we forgot the basic rules of decency and how to mourn. As though the new acceptable and dignified form of disseminating information with respect to the dead (regardless of their loved ones) was through blogs. In Vancouver, the sun was just setting when Ebiye saw a video of you in the hospital on YouTube. He called me with a tremor. “Aunty tell me this is not true”. We reached out to YouTube to assist with taking down the video and they helped us out on time. We have not been fortunate with other social media handles. I have for the main part stayed off social media. A friend sent me a text- “Sis, how do we stop the picture of Keniebi on the net? It is painful and it is wrong”. Some blogs even put your Bayelsa-State expression of interest gubernatorial form alongside the statement from the doctor as though mockingly defiant.
We have been able to put a tight watch on dad and mum’s phone just to be sure no one sends any pictures to them.
But this was just the beginning Koks. By Wednesday morning, dad and mum had been officially told at their house. You know daddy- he was upset with me for deceiving him and I apologized and told him I had to do what I thought was in his best interest especially with respect to his health.
By this time in addition to the feeling of enervation, it appeared an unseen hand directed my movements. Unable to sleep, I woke up and got ready to go to the morgue. Your aunties were already at home with mummy.
I got to the morgue if I recall, just before 12 noon. My phone rang. It was one of our aunties. “Eriye, tell us the good news, we hear Keniebi has woken up from the dead.”
Before I could respond, mummy took the phone from her- “Eriye, they say he is alive. Have you spoken with him? How is he?”
Koks, I’m not sure which cut me- the excitement in mum’s voice or the fact that I was also hoping for a miracle but there was no noise from the mortuary attendants to show that something miraculous had happened or was happening.
“Mum, I’m here now. If there is anything, I should be the first to know and tell you. Relax and take care of yourself please.”
And then congratulatory messages poured. I got website links with news of your coming back to life. I stared at you again and waited for you to sit up and look round wondering what you were doing at the morgue. Mum kept calling to find out if you were alive. I told her with all the strength I could muster that I was looking at you. I could not tell her you were resting. I could not say you were still asleep. I told her we would pull through as a family. For some seconds, I stared at you and allowed my mind to wonder about social media. The ache people go through because sites need the traffic to thrive and stay socially relevant.
The next day, she called me. “Eriye, is your brother all alone in the morgue?”
I rambled a response. I’m pretty sure I did not say anything sensible.
Remember aunty Chris? Can you remember the picture of her at the hospital when you were born with a bowl of pepper-soup? She’s been a pillar of support for mummy.
David looked at his bed some days later and said- “See daddy. Daddy is happy.”
Koks, we had plans for 2020. You would not be around for dad’s 80th. You would not be around for my book launch which I have had to put on hold because of COVID-19.
Your Harvard alumni have put together a lot of tributes. And a million others as well. I am sure the women in
the village will ask about their Christmas rice this year. You touched so many lives.
Koks, go in peace. Doo Mo Mu.
Onagoruwa wrote from Lagos.
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