Sunday, May 10, 2020, was an unusual one. Life at home began with the usual religious programmes on the television and various digital platforms. But it became boring afterwards. Every one was indoors. The usual family, town or religious meetings that usually characterised Sunday life were absent, no thanks to the raving COVID-19 pandemic.
For me, the mood was dull. I could not easily rouse myself to do anything, whether domestic or official. It took me up till about 4 p.m. before I freshened up. Moments after that, I asked my wife if she was free to join me for a drive around Ikorodu. She accepted with lots of enthusiasm. “Give me just five minutes and I will be ready,” she said excitedly. Immediately, she ceased all she was doing. Moments later, we drove out to the biggest shopping mall in that part of Lagos, Justrite. Unfortunately, they were shutting down for the day’s business as we approached the gate.
You could imagine the expression on our faces. Disappointment filled our hearts. She had planned to use the opportunity to pick up some important groceries, she confessed. To satisfy her, we quickly drove to another neighbourhood supermarket by Ikorodu Grammar School. Luckily, it was still open. She picked up some items. Noticeable among them were cans of sweet corn and other salad ingredients as she planned to prepare salad for the family’s dinner. We savoured the salad amid discussions that centred on some important family plans. Unfortunately, I never knew that that was going to be her biblical “last supper” with me.
Before I left the house that black Monday, there was nothing that betrayed any looming sorrow. If anything, there was joy, there was peace, there was love. Absolutely, nothing suggested that I was seeing my wife for the last time. She was very healthy, calm and hopeful for a good life in the week. Interestingly, she bade me the usual corporate compliment, “have a nice day,” as she lay in bed that morning. She equally laced the greeting with a short prayer, “God will go with you.” She was full of life and blood; she exuded hope of a better evening when we usually take analysis of the day’s outing, both on her business and my job. I recall we talked on phone almost consistently to review our plans as the day progressed.
We kept discussions alive until the evening when we scheduled to meet at a place, about one kilometre from the popular Agric bus stop, just before Ogolonto, outward Ikorodu. Amid heavy flow of traffic, which the Mile 12-Ikorodu Road was noted for, particularly at that time of the day, we had agreed I should pick her up at Oak Hospital, where she planned to wait for me. She told me that her business supervisor, Lekan, had driven her to the point where she would cross to the other side of the road, by Nipco filling station. She consistently made calls to me, inquiring to know how close I was to enable her to walk across to the other side of the road to join me.
Specifically, at 7.14 p.m., she called and I told her that I had passed Owode spare parts market with an assurance that I would be with her soon as the traffic seemed to be improving. I ran into another traffic build-up as I approached Majidu bridge. I called her at 7.31 p.m. and got the usual network response: “the number you are calling is not available.” Shocked, I called her business supervisor who confirmed: “I just dropped Mummy at Nipco filling station for her to cross over.” After several calls to her lines gave the same answer, I thought her phone batteries were out. Another instinct told me that she must have changed her mind and gone back home.
As I approached our agreed meeting place, I saw a huge crowd at the other side of the road. I thought the police had begun to stop people from driving out of Ikorodu as it was close to the 8 p.m. curfew time. I got to Oak Hospital and did not meet her, so I decided to call my daughter to find out if she was home already. But my instinct failed me. She was not. My daughter screamed at the other end of the line: “Daddy, please go to Agric bus stop now. Somebody called me to say that a BRT bus killed a woman there.” This prompted many questions from me at the same time. “What are you talking about? How do you know it is mummy? Which number did the person call you with?”
“The person said they called her with mummy’s number,” she screamed, crying. Quickly, I raced back to the scene I passed earlier and thought it was a police checkpoint. And, behold, the lifeless body of my wife was lying in a pool of blood.
“Nkem! Nkem! Darling!” I yelled without response. I rested my left ear on her chest to know if she was responding. But she was gone. The relationship of over 30 years was suddenly ended by a reckless BRT driver. My expectation to pick her up alive ended in tragedy. Instead of riding in our car with me, lively chatting and laughing as couples would usually do, there was a sharp separation in less than 30 minutes after we spoke. She rode cold to the mortuary. Instead of driving home for dinner, she ended up in the morgue, sleeping with other saints, while I drove home empty. Her journey of life ended abruptly, leaving pain and sorrow in the family. The story of our marriage was suddenly re-written by the violent death caused by the carelessness of a BRT driver, who turned our joy into mourning.
The dreams we shared together flew away. The tragic sight of seeing her lifeless body and picking her up with the assistance of some Oak Hospital staff and a policewoman was the trauma I will live with forever. Hard to believe that her sun had suddenly set at noon. There was no goodbye!
Lekan was to explain later that “mummy” told him to close and drive home as she was going to buy a loaf of bread before crossing the road. Indeed, she picked the bread, but could not eat it. I could only wish she did not go for the bread but crossed in the presence of her supervisor. Maybe she would have avoided the evil BRT bus. I could only wish she had allowed Lekan to take her across the road, no matter the time, maybe she would have arrived home alive. I could only wish she did not go out that evening, maybe I would have met her at home. Honestly, I could only wish, but destiny seems to be waiting to be fulfilled. Her time had come to meet her Creator.
The tragic death of my wife, Mrs. Grace Chibuzor Okeleke, has taught me a lesson about life. Life is a huge market. People go to the market at different times. They leave at different times. While some leave the market as early as noon, others leave late in the evening, apparently fulfilling the natural injunctions of the Creator of the market. One good thing about this market is that any time a trader enters the market is his morning.
My dear wife, you joined others in the market in the morning with lots of enthusiasm and expectations to leave in the evening. But it is difficult to believe that you left so soon without fulfilling some of your expectations.
For over 30 years that we both began to navigate this market, I found you to be an exceptional wife, mother, partner. You were the woman I cherished, an epitome of womanhood. Your love and care were second to none. At the incipient stage of our marriage, you tolerated me – a young man from a very poor family. You were glued to me while I struggled to make ends meet in Lagos where our household income was a pittance. You kept faith with me in the one-room face-me-I-face-you apartment that we shared together, believing that one day, the sun would shine. You encouraged me to work harder and supported me in all the decisions that I took, albeit risky, to improve my life.
You were the rallying point in the family. You were our planner, our builder, our encourager, our organiser. Without your support, I may not have been where I am today. You were kind to a fault, a complete giver to the family, relations, needy, and to the work of God. Your spiritual and material support to the things of God was phenomenal.
Amiable, warm, self-sacrificing, accommodating, passionate; words are not enough to describe your disposition. You were my heart, you were my legs. With your exit, I feel a stab in my heart and my legs have lost strength to carry me on. Nkem, as we fondly called ourselves, I can’t believe that you have left me and our children in this market at this noon time. How do I navigate the evening alone? An evening full of loneliness, tears, fears, emotions!
Since that dark Monday, May 11, 2020, when the evil BRT bus snuffed life out of you, I have been devastated; loneliness has taken your space in my life; thoughts have filled my heart; sleep has disappeared; and I am alone with the children in this evil world. Your exit is a mystery, but I am grateful to God for your salvation. I will miss you; your children will miss you; relations, Christian fellows will miss you so much. But our consolation is that you are resting in the bosom of the Lord, until we meet to part no more. Forever, you will remain in my heart.
Goodbye, my Nkem!
• Andrew Okeleke, husband