A Painful Exit
By Adeleke Adefioye
Death is a fearless, rude, and disrespectful guest who visits without a notification, wreaks a great deal of havoc, and quietly departs afterwards leaving behind an uproar of excruciating agony. Death does not request for an approval from its victims before he strikes. He does not discriminate. Race, ethnicity, age, height, gender, socio-economic status, affluence, poverty, religion, and formal education are no barriers for death’s service delivery. Death is real. It is tragic. It is sudden. It is a debt. It is inevitable.
In a determined bid to exhibit its suddenness and inevitability, it struck recently and claimed Sina Agunbiade – A friend like no other. It is exactly 30 years ago that we met and became inseparable afterward. As young adults kicking-off our careers with the Ministry of Commerce and Tourism, we bonded like blood brothers. We did almost all things in common and got acquainted with each other’s family members. Our bond eventually brought our both mothers together and they became friends as well.
We soon discovered we wanted more than civil service careers. We eventually quit our civil service jobs and ended up as roommates in an apartment with a strategy to explore Lagos opportunities. We complemented each other in more ways than one. We dealt with everything life threw at us together. From work life to personal life. From family peculiarities to aspirations. From collective plans to living individual dreams, and from dating to making life-partner choices.
Talking about dating, Sina met Helen. Their relationship gained traction in no time, and they began to have serious discussions about life together. Sina confided in me as a friend and sought my opinion about Helen. ‘Do you think I should do this with Helen?’ He asked. ‘Ore, it is not my duty as a friend to tell you who to spend the rest of your life with. However, it is my duty as a friend to support you when you make that important decision,’ I responded, trying to be as logical as I possibly could.
‘OK. Fair enough.’ Sina continued. ‘What is your assessment of Helen?’ He rephrased his question. I then told him I could do that assessment perfectly well. At the time, I had studied Helen from a distance and related with her closely as well. I couldn’t come up with a single fault. Without hesitation, I told my friend what I had observed about Helen. She’s nice, kind-hearted, selfless, ambitious, generous, friendly, hard-working, enterprising, and very independent. In addition to all these great attributes, she has a great sense of humor.
Days rolled into months, Sina and Helen got married. I had moved out of the apartment when their wedding plans were underway. I was the single guy, and it was a lot easier to move and let my soon-to-be-married friend enjoy privacy with his new bride.
Sina was a nice guy. He was very selfless. For the most part, he thought about others before himself. However, just like the rest of us, we are all mere mortals. There is something we suck at individually. Sina was not an exception. Unfortunately, our friendship suffered a devastating setback. It was about a statement he made that a third party informed me about. That infuriated me and instead of keeping it to myself, I confronted him and expressed my disappointment. That incident threw a clog in the wheel of the progress of our friendship.
I later relocated to the United States, and we lost contact completely. It has been several years, and I had forgiven him from my heart as I thought about his good side and refused to let that one incident define who he was. I thought about all the good times we spent together. If my calculation is right, we had lost contact for about 17 years before I stumbled on Joy’s phone number. Joy is one of Helen’s friends. We met through Helen and became friends before Sina and Helen got married.
I called the number and to my greatest surprise, Joy still uses the number. We exchanged pleasantries and I informed her that I had lost contact with Sina and Helen over the years. I requested to know if she could connect me with them. Joy immediately sent me Helen’s phone number and with excitement, I put a call through.
It was such a pleasant conversation. We laughed heartily and shared some old memories. However, when I requested to speak with Sina, she informed me they are no longer together. I knew what that meant, but I refused to give it the right interpretation as I was not prepared to take any devastating blow. ‘How?’ Why?’ ‘What happened?’ I queried rather incoherently.
By the time our conversation was over, it turned out that my friend, for some reason, had abandoned his wife and two kids for years. Fourteen long years before he showed up. Fourteen long years of the wife taking care of the kids all by herself. I had missed my friend for so long and I immediately became furious and curious at the same time. Furious about the abandonment story and curious to know his reasons for taking such an action.
I requested Sina's phone number after my conversation with Helen. The next day or so, I put a call through to Sina. It was one of the most ecstatic calls I ever made. It was magical. Apparently, Helen had informed him about the unexpected call she received from me, and he obviously couldn’t wait for my call.
‘Stupid big bro’, Sina yelled at the top of his voice. I was a ‘little’ older than him and sometimes he would tease me with that informal prefix, and I will respond with ‘stupid kid bro.’ As full-blown adults, we still did the same thing on the phone and we both laughed out loud uncontrollably. We talked about how time flies, people in our lives, challenges of life, success stories and everything in-between. We also talked about his statement to a third party which eventually tore our friendship apart. He apologized and I told him I had forgiven him a long time ago. We both laughed about it and literally picked our friendship up from where we left off.
Eventually, when the dust of our magical pleasantry and ecstatic reunion settled, I queried him. ‘Bro, what happened between you and Helen? My friend’s mood changed immediately. He was silent for a moment as if he was looking for the most appropriate chord to strike and launch a pitch. At the end of the day, his story did not convey any message that Helen did anything wrong. At the same time, he sounded more like he was not proud of what he did on one hand and came across as a man who wanted his family back on the other hand.
I volunteered to help him achieve that if he really meant it. However, he didn’t give an immediate affirmative nod. He wanted us to evaluate a personal challenge of his together before I delve into the reconciliation task. I had to respect his personal preference and looked forward to when he would be psychologically ready.
Two years had gone by since we reconnected. I had discovered something different about Sina from our intermittent conversations. He had become somewhat religious and spiritual at the same time – more than he used to be before we lost contact. At this point, I was planning a surprise visit. Unfortunately, one evening as I was preparing to hop on a personal project, I received a very devastating message. The message had been delivered at about 7:25 PM Central Standard Time and I didn’t see it until 11:25 PM. Being a night owl that I’ve always been, it was a perfect time to pick personal tasks having expended time on work-related tasks in the earlier part of the day. The message was from Helen – ‘Good morning. Just to let you know that Sina died yesterday.’
By the time I was done reading the message, the first thing I remember very vividly was that I lost balance. It was more like something sparked-off in my brain that adversely affected the cerebellum, cerebrum, and the parietal lobe all at the same time. I couldn’t make sense out of the message as it sounded more like Spanish or one strange language I didn’t understand. Like a pack of cards, I dropped to the floor in my home office area. My heart skipped a couple of beats as my eyes were completely tear-filled. By the time I blinked, my wife had rushed out of the bedroom and already joined me on the floor requesting to know what had gone wrong with me. It was then that I realized I was not only crying but wailing like a baby.
It took me forever to break the news to my wife. I just sobbed and cried each time I tried to open my mouth. It was not only devastating, but it was also extremely excruciating. By the time my wail streak reached a temporary terminal, I placed a call through to Helen, she didn’t come to the phone, so I left her a voice message. It was more like a cry message. Then, I grabbed my phone to make sure I didn’t misread her message. After confirming I read the message right, I responded with some incoherent responses – ‘Jesus!!! What happened? How? Oh, my goodness! What is this?’
Then, I began to reflect on our last conversation just about four days earlier when he reached out to know how my niece was doing. He had noticed in our earlier conversation that I was not too happy, and he requested to know why I was in such a mood. To satisfy his curiosity, I shared with him that my niece terribly hurt her finger in an accident. It turned out that Helen’s message to me was a sequel to a call she too received about the tragic passing of Sina. It was a medical emergency of a sort, and he breathed his last while they were still trying to stabilize him at the hospital.
It took me weeks before I could call his mom. ‘Who was going to console who?’ I thought. What would you tell an old woman who lost two sons within a couple of years? How would you console her? Sina had shared with me how he tragically lost his kid brother shortly before we reconnected. Eventually, I called Sina’s mom. It was the most traumatic and emotional call I ever made. We both cried uncontrollably on the phone.
There are certain things I have learnt over the years:
· Life is so short. Literally.
· Forgive and learn not to be vindictive.
· Be friendly with your friends and lend a helping hand to your perceived enemies.
· Do not hold any grudge against anyone.
· Do not argue with someone who is more interested in winning an argument than making a valid point.
Barely two years after reconciling and reconnecting with my dear friend, he’s gone. Sina was a friend you would call if you needed to laugh out loud and heartily too. For some reason, I still hope that I will soon receive a call that Sina’s death is a prank.
Those who are living are not necessarily smarter than those who are dead. Those who have died are not necessarily unfortunate, it just happens that they paid the death debt earlier than those who are living. Life is a gift. There is a need for us to cultivate a habit of expressing appreciation to Almighty God, the giver of life as we triumph over travails and vicissitudes. Life’s race is not for the swift or the strong (Ecclesiastes 9:11).