His 70 year old voice crackled rustily through the phone. It was filled with a mixture of loneliness and longing. “Rotimi, I know you are very busy. I still remember my time at the University College Hospital, Ibadan. But do you think you can take the weekend off to see your old father?”
You could not remember your father requesting anything from you so keenly. Ever since your mother died in that ghastly car crash five years ago, a part of him had died with her. It was apparent to you. He’d truly loved her. He never fully recovered from her passing. As a retired pensioner, he spent his days indoors, running his business from home. He only left home when necessary, and when Mr. Femi, his childhood best friend, came to take him to the games. Sometimes the two of them stayed indoors together, spending quality time reviewing newspapers and playing ayo.
You couldn’t refuse him this one request. Life as a medical student was too busy. But hey, your father probably didn’t have much time left. As his only child, you were the product of a late marriage, twenty-five years ago. And now that Mum was no more, Dad was all you had left. You couldn’t say no to going home to see him.
So you packed a little bag that Friday afternoon, and soon, you were Lagos bound. Dad’s driver was at the park to pick you up and drive you home. The house loomed as the driver pulled up before the gate. Sometimes, you wondered how Dad could live in the big house, with just his stewards and pets. Even when Mum was alive, the house felt empty, was empty with rooms that were barely used. And she hadn’t always been around; always traveling for this conference or that TEDx Talk. Mr. Femi was the only regular visitor.
You dropped your bag in your bedroom. The room smelled damp. You hadn’t lain in your bed for several months now. You pulled back the drapes and opened the window to permit the proper inflow of fresh air. You quickly changed into a pair of white shorts and a flower-patterned button-down shirt. You rummaged through your wardrobe and retrieved a pair of flip-flops. Then you went downstairs to the kitchen in search of the best red wine in the cellar. You didn’t find anything vintage. Instead, you took a bottle of Castillo, two wine glasses, a wine opener, and returned upstairs to the big balcony overlooking the garden and some really nice parts of Ikoyi. Dad was there waiting for you.
By the time you two were halfway through the bottle, you and Dad were laughing and bantering. It was just so much fun. Nothing else mattered in the whole word in those moments. Not your medical degree or your girlfriend.
Speaking of girlfriends, you thought briefly if this was the right time to talk to Dad about Halima.
When you and Halima started dating shortly before Mum died, you’d brought her home one weekend. You could still remember your parents calling you into Dad’s bedroom to vent their disapproval of your relationship with Halima. Harping on religious sentiments, ethnicity and incompatibility, they made you promise not to see her anymore. You couldn’t bear to disappoint them, so instead you lied. Not only did you continue seeing Halima, you two started living together in school. And presently, she was in her final year, and three months pregnant. As you nodded at a joke Dad was telling you, you permitted yourself a smile upon the intrusion of the memory of Halima telling you she was pregnant. She’d been afraid, but you’d allayed her fears with your exuberance at the news. You were young, yes, and the news had taken you by surprise. But you were anticipating fatherhood. You wondered now if you should tell Dad about Halima, about the pregnancy, and about your intention to marry her. You thought about how he’d take it.
Then you stared at him, taking note of his rheumy eyes with the gentle light in them, the delicate crisscross of wrinkles on his well-worn face, and the sedateness of his gestures. His laughter rumbled at his joke, and the sound filled you with some warmth, the old people smell coming from him wrapping you with some comfort.
You shook your head inwardly. This moment was too precious to disrupt. You dismissed your thoughts of telling him. And you two continued bantering, eventually moving from the balcony to the dining room at the wink of twilight, when dinner was served.
Then Dad’s phone rang. And less than a minute after he answered it, you saw his eyes dew over, and tears begin to dribble down his drawn cheeks. You were startled. You rushed over to him, dropping on your haunches beside him, wanting to know why he was suddenly distressed.
He looked down at you, eyes filled with tears, lips trembling. He was thoroughly shaken.
“Daddy, what is it? Please tell me. I am scared,” you begged.
He heaved a sigh, moved his eyes away from your concerned gaze.
“My friend is gone…” he said in a low, husky voice. Pain echoed in every timbre of the voice. “He didn’t make it.”
“What are you talking about? Who? Mister Femi?”
He nodded. You felt a welling of sorrow on his behalf. You straightened a bit so you could hug him comfortingly. He was heaving with sobs, his anguish reminiscent of when Mum died. You tried to imagine how he was feeling. It must really feel terrible, losing his best friend of almost sixty years.
When he calmed down a bit, he dried his eyes. He asked you to accompany him to his room. You held him close to you as you two walked down the hallway. As you moved toward his room, he told you that Mr. Femi had gone to London at the insistence of his children for a heart surgery which had taken place in the morning. He obviously didn’t make it.
All of a sudden, you were afraid for your father. He had the same heart condition.
When you got to his room, he held you tightly and kissed you on your forehead.
“I love you, my son,” he said, his voice paper-thin. “And remember this. Always find your joy in this world if you can.”
You stared suddenly misty-eyed into his face. Always find your joy in this world if you can. You wanted to tell him then, about Halima, and about how he would soon be a grandfather. You opened your mouth to tell him. But he forestalled you by asking to be left alone. So, you kissed him goodnight and returned to your room.
The sun rays burning through the window woke you up. You got up, stretched and yawned. The massive erection straining through your boxers pushed a memory of Halima into your mind. You smiled. You missed her. You made up your mind. Today you would tell Dad about her, and with some insistence, encourage him to meet her again. You were sure he’d love her this time.
In the next few minutes, you showered, threw on some fresh clothes, and went out to check on Dad.
You rapped three times on his door, and there was no response. Perhaps he was still fast asleep or had gone out early to the tennis club. But you had to be sure which it was, and you didn’t want to start looking for a steward in the big house to verify if he had gone out already.
So you pushed open his door. You breathed a small sigh when you saw him lying supine on the bed. He was still asleep. Remembering the loss he suffered the previous day, you walked over to him. You stood over his bed, looking down at him and loving him.
Then your brow furrowed when you noticed something. His chest wasn’t moving up and down with respiration. And there were no soft snores or sounds of breathing coming from him. Feeling panicked, you got close to him, sat on the bed next to him and placed your hand on the hand that was lying on the bed beside his body. It was cold and had the stillness of death.
A great surge of pain welled up inside you. You didn’t scream for help. You didn’t wail his name. You simply sat there, shocked, feeling rivulets of anguish stream through you.
And then, as you blinked back the tears that started to prick the backs of your eyes, your gaze fell on the small, square sheet lying on his chest, over which his other hand was placed. You picked out the sheet. It was a photo. It was the photo of two men with afro hair and boot-cut cotton pants. It was clearly a picture taken in the seventies.
You recognized your father in the picture. You were slightly surprised to identify the other man as Mr. Femi. The photo had an inscription on its back, written in ink. It read:
14th Feb. 1975.
Femi and Babatunde
Together and forever in love
Three hearts were drawn beneath the writing.
Your hand was shaking as you stared at the evidence of your father’s love for someone other than your mother. You couldn’t control the tears now. They fell unrestrained. Suddenly, his last words to you began to make sense.
Always find your joy in this world if you can.
You wondered if he found his before he passed away. Something told you he did. Through your tears, you made out a small box beside the bed on the floor. You picked it up and opened it. In it were letters, dated years back and bearing declarations of affection from Mr. Femi to your father, and countless more photos of the two men together – Femi and Babatunde.
Always find your joy in this world if you can.
More tears were falling as you sat there and stared at your father, loving him still, as it dawned on you. Dad and Mr. Femi had loved each other even until death.
Written by Masked Man