They say you should never judge a book by its cover.
When people look at me, all they see is my wild hair, my nose rings, my black lipstick; crop top and my high boots.
They can’t see that I am still hiding. I am 20 but still that little girl of 17 years who lost her doting father suddenly to a freak accident. They don’t see that I need help.
Around this part of the world, when a man dies, like when a father dies, everyone is concerned about his property and his wife. Nobody pays attention to the children. It’s as if children who lose a parent are somehow meant to just cope with the loss, sudden or not. No one is mindful of the fact that young as we are, we also grieve, we feel a palpable loss, an emptiness, pain that just refuses to go away…I find it difficult concentrating in class during lectures for instance. All I see are images of my dad; I see his back as he retreats from me all the time. I want to pull him back, to say Daddy stay…but I can’t.
I can’t summon the zest to do my assignments, like I used to, I don’t like contributing to discussions during lectures like I used to…and when you can’t deal with that sort of pain, a pain that has no name, just a numb emptiness, you try to fill in with what you think will help relieve your pain.
I am not on drugs. I’m a final year student of Computer Science at the university and I am the only daughter of my father, the last born.
My father and I were close. We enjoyed a rare kind of bond that I guess, well, only daughters and fathers understand. My father taught me so many things boys are usually taught, like changing tyres.
He called me ‘Babe’. He would say ‘Babe, you must learn how to change your tyres; God forbid you go out and get stranded, are you going to wait for a man to come along?’
He taught me to drive at 14, he said, ‘Babe, God forbid you go on a date and the boy is drunk, will you now be stranded at his place? Take his car and drive yourself home safe,’
(Uber wasn’t on our radar then).
During long vacs, Dad encouraged me to learn a trade. I chose fashion design even though at that time I was already in my first year at the university studying computer science, he said, ‘Babe, God forbid you lose your job, are you going to depend on a man to feed and clothe you?’ At that time, I confess I didn’t think it was a bad idea to let a man take care of me, after all, he took care of my mum. He made sure she had everything she needed, so why shouldn’t I have a man like him, too?
When I was much younger, he taught me to ride a bike, just like my brothers and every evening back in the day, he would play music and he and I would dance. My mum always said my father was a cool dude dad when he was much younger and he loved to dance. He always gave cash prizes to the best dancer in the house.
My dad loved his family, he was a man in the true sense of the word, a father my brothers looked up to, a man my mother loved infinitely…and me, he was my world. There was nothing I didn’t think I could do because he taught me I could do anything I wanted to do. I felt safe, secure, loved, content with life, until…
It was Christmas period, and as is usual with us from the east; we went home for the festive season.
Ok, let me tell you one more thing about my father, if we had to travel as a family, either within Nigeria or abroad, my father never ever lets us all travel in the same vehicle. So, if we were flying to the UK for instance, my parents would divide us the children; my mother would travel with two children on one flight, my father with two of us on another fight. Yes, dad was such a man.
So, when we went home to the east, we went with two vehicles; one with my dad, me and our eldest brother, my mother with a driver and the two others in another car.
Everything went well at the village; and we were meant to return the first week of January; because school had resumed on the 3rd anyway.
As usual, my father asked that my mother go ahead with us this time because schools had resumed, he said he still had some business to finish in the village and that he would join us two or three days later.
The other thing about my dad is that he never liked to drive at night; so if dusk caught up with him on the road, he would stop at the nearest town, check into a hotel and continue his journey the following day, he always said, life was too short to risk driving on Nigerian roads at night.
Three days later, we waited for dad to return but there was no word from him. Nothing unusual because my dad can be very funny. He could just spring up on us like that.
I went back to campus but I called him to find out if he had got back, my calls rang through, no response, I figured he might still be on the road, so I didn’t bother again… serious lectures had begun.
Then my second eldest brother called me the following day, he asked me where I was, I said,’ School, where else would I be?’
He said I should wait for him that he was coming to pick me. I said for what? He said mum asked him to come get me. I kept asking, for what? But he wouldn’t say. He came and even when I pestered him repeatedly, he just drove us straight home and as soon as we turned into our street, the hair on my back stood on end, I knew there was trouble. I knew someone had died, I thought I had lost my mum.
Is mum dead? Did mum die? What happened to mummy? Tell me! I kept screaming but at this time, he too was crying, he said, ‘Mummy is fine, she is inside,’ but I didn’t believe him.
I was crying too because he was crying. It had to be mum, then I asked, ‘Is Daddy back? Have you called dad? Is he home yet?’
My brother cried harder, came out of the car and ran inside. I followed him into the house, I saw my mum on the floor in tears…it wasn’t mum after all, it wasn’t any of my brothers either because there they were seated around my mum, the person that died was my father.
How come I didn’t know? I didn’t sense it? I felt I already betrayed him by not being sensitive enough to even know he had died? When? How?
How did daddy die?
No, it wasn’t a road accident, like I said before, my dad doesn’t like driving at night, so he had left the east a little later than he planned and stopped over at Ore. He wanted to pass the night at a hotel there and continue the following morning.
Unfortunately, at the hotel, the following morning, he slipped in the bathtub and hit his head on the floof. He must have broken his neck in that fall or smashed his skull, because we were told there was so much blood when he was discovered at past 12 in the afternoon by the manager.
He ought to have checked out at noon. So when they didn’t see him, they went to knock on his door and had to break it open to see his dead body in the bathroom.
The rest of the detail is still too painful for me to recount but I have never been myself again since then. I have simply become someone else to hide my pain. I don’t even know if it is pain but here, where my heart is, feels hollow, feels like there’s nothing there. only recently when I began to read about grieving and loss have I begun to understand what I feel.
Now I understand why I am like a rebel on the outside but inwardly, I just long to have my father back so we can dance again.
(series written and edited by Peju Akande and based on true stories)