If the saying goes true to be in the thoughts of one’s loved ones is to be alive forever is true, then I know someone who would never die – no, not Mrs. Whitney Houston, though I know she lives on too. Mr. Charles Ayede…
Wan bagu is the first thing most children who grew up with Mr. Charles Ayede would remember. He was a disciplinarian and strict man who never compromised his relation’s wellbeing for anything. All of us who had the privilege of his personage would never forget that. At the age of three, I can remember being flogged. Dadi, yes that is what we called him, never compromised honesty for anything. Who could forget that ‘Or naan too ve na nem gala’ song…he never completed singing it ever.
I grew up knowing Dadi as one great man who was always there once you called. From Taver, Ngodoo, Gabriel, Theodora, Sever and Mlumun to me and the others, it was always a full house. There were always pluses and minuses at different points. Dadi was always there for us all and it is amazing how he did it. He was working at NTA, Abuja and would travel to several places looking for different avenues to ensure that there was something to eat and take care of bills. He was into land, he was into this, he was into that and much more. And he always found time to come back home and ensure we were all well behaved. He made time to lash discipline into our lives. Who can forget that telephone cable? IT was like hatred. Dadi’s car horn was something we dreaded and every time it sounded, there was pandemonium which ended in silence at his appearance. Did you read? Did you watch news? We always had to give analyses.
We grew up with Sefa, Fanen and Shien-Av joining the picture to make the clan bigger. I don’t remember the house ever being empty. Doowuese, Henry, Ver, Kwaghlu joined at several other points. The amazing part? Dadi always kept being there for each and every one of us. HE made sure that he also made provisions for those in the village; also for paying the fees of several other relations; doing community development and a whole lot more.
I should mention here that I am someone who takes birthdays very seriously, near sacredly. For those whose birthdays I have known I keep them dear. This is in tribute to the day the earth birth another great one to the world. It is my way of thanking Aôndo for the special essence of that person. Who knows I might not get the chance to celebrate that person some time else. Who knows maybe it is the same thing with most of us and the reason why we celebrate Christmas more than Easter long in supposed celebration of our Lord. But back to me, the birthday issue has come to be more with passing to glory of special ones. I remember Aunty Nyiekula Pat Aondo-Iorpuu whose birthday I found out in a certain year, 2002. I promised to get her a birthday gift but she was too sick to know what was happening. It pained me as November 22nd passed that year without my being able to acknowledge her in any way. She passed away on January 3rd 2003. I decided not to let something like that happen to me.
With Dadi, there was a special reason. Like all the reasons above, we – the children kept thinking of ways to celebrate Dadi. He had grown to become a friend and someone we all deeply loved despite his stance. It was same with his sisters, Nguamo, Ngunan and his special birthday mate, Mbatomun a few years older. Yes, there’s another sibling, Shiga who made it threesome.
Every year we all tried our best to send our love to this man who had come to be the focal point of the Ayede clan. Many times he tried his best to run away and was hardly ever around on his birthday. We did this because he was a loving man who always tried to remember dates such as anniversaries and birthdays. There were times when he would just call someone on impulse and discover it was the person’s birthday.
My special celebration of him increased when I called him on one of those birthdays of mine in service. It was morning and I told him it was my birthday. He was shocked and asked me what I planned to do for the day. Like I had done on different occasions when I was little, I nodded my head meaning I didn’t know. He must have understood even as he didn’t see me. We chatted a bit more and ended the call. I went about my day normally with a few calls. IT had been like that for most of the times. People simply called for a few seconds and offered empty ‘Happy Birthdays’ in the simple ritual of wishing me luck. I knew most of them would not call back till the same day next year – if I didn’t call them. In the evening, I settled backto our Corpers’ lodge after accepting greetings from a few friends. I got my things and headed to town. Visited a cute friend and was forced to call Sefa and her friends who made me feel special – while my credit balance went flat. I despaired at the fact that I wouldn’t be able to make any calls for a very long time. My allowee was not enough to take care of basic eating needs talk less of call credit. Then Dadi called. There was some mechanical toy singing something in the background. I had to look at the phone twice to be sure it wasn’t a mistake or that he wasn’t joking. His voice soon came through:
‘U ngu ungwan kpa?’ I nodded. He put it again and later when his voice came on, it was filled with laughter and cheer like that of a child who had played a prank. He was excited and told me the toy was for Shien-Av. We spoke lots and he said, he had just called to wish me well and all on my birthday. I didn’t know how to respond. Okay, he had tried. ‘Anyway,’ he continued as he tried to end the call, ‘M ngu tindi we a recharge card.’ This time the excitement couldn’t be hidden. I laughed shouting ‘Thank you Dadi severally.’
‘Ehn, u ngu Wan Bagu’ He laughed at me for not being able to say thanks at his stressed effort to be comic and sing me a birthday song with the use of Av’s toy – Now, Dadi loved music and humming but couldn’t sing a full song to the end. He eventually sent me a thousand naira recharge card. I was humbled and overwhelmed. Who wouldn’t? This is me who hardly ever had presents. The closest before this was some groundnut and mineral my mum had given me some money to buy on my birthday which I shared with someone I can’t remember several years ago. To be honest, I was mostly in school at birthdays and Mother tried her best always reminding me of how special I was on each anniversary in a love no present can ever equate.
Dadi made it a ritual to be hidden at his birthday. He was never around at his birthdays. Till date, I wonder how he was caught to celebrate his sixtieth birthday! After the compulsory youth service, I became his personal assistant and we travelled to several places but there was always a reason why he would be somewhere else on his birthday. This had started long before my resolution at service. I made it a ritual to more than any other thing celebrate Dadi’s birthday no matter where he was. The man loved keeping in touch with people and making calls. So, I ensured that I always sent my ‘mite’ to him. It was usually in recharge cards. The interesting thing is when Dadi eventually came back, he never mentioned he had gotten the credit or said thanks. Strange man. The only way I would find out he had received it would be when the same credit refused to load on my phone after some trial, only minutes after I had done the texting. It was almost as if he was always ready to recharge it!
It continued up to last year, February and like many other times, though both of us were in Benue, he decided to go to Ajio or somewhere to do some politics. I did the usual. Many others did too I believe from Aunty Ben to Aunty Mbadzuan, to us all the kids, his siblings, I would believe Uncle Adaa and several other friends. IT must have been really touching because he spoke about it to me later. He wasn’t the type to be too mushy. But he began to appreciate such things like that. He told me of how he had never really paid attention to the love people had given him but was beginning to be honoured and grateful to Aôndo for everything. He spoke of his elder sister, Mbatomun as he simply called her who he compared himself with talking of a few things. She had been born on the 12th too and since his entry into the world, she had always had someone to smile a new birthday with – her immediate younger brother who many acknowledge shared several traits. He spoke of his other siblings, general family members and all the children. He confessed that it wasn’t because he was good but in his words ‘Aondo has been good to mo.’ The Almighty had been good to him. He was proud of the unity of the children. That he was a grandfather even made him far more excited. To think he was expecting another grandchild soon! More, he was proud of where he was at the moment and excited that he was doing all he was doing. We got to speak a lot more on several things largely emotional.
In the end he chided me for sending him only small denominations of recharge card. I smiled. Okay, maybe I could have sent more. I made a mental note to make amends.
May 13th 2011 came swiftly. It was my big brother, Gabriel’s birthday. I was expecting him the next day and we had planned a few things we would do. Dadi was travelling to Benue for big brother Henry’s traditional wedding. Time kept calling and we didn’t know what was happening. At night, we got the news – he had passed on to eternity. As soon as Aunty Mbatomun confirmed it, I went back to a well where I had been washing. I let out a wail and the rains started, weeping with us all. We were generally confused but like most things of life, came to accept things as they were. Life had changed forever. There was a quick family regrouping and lots of tears from all corners. I lost my voice but insisted on going to see him at the St. Theresa’s morgue. He was smiling. He died with a smile and I wondered how many people would have that honour. I began to wonder what it would have been like if he didn’t take certain bold decisions that many question till date. Perhaps he might have lived to be over seventy which is the normal course of the Ayede blood. The question is how would death have found him and what would have happened? I thought it an honour and had to be grateful to Aôndo that the man who had brought so much cheer to people’s lives would die with a smile at his lips no matter the circumstances.
IT is February 12th once more. This time Aunty Mbatomun and Aunty Shiga celebrate once more, alone for the first time since 1950. Most of us try to send those text messages or send presents to Dadi who once more has played the disappearing act! Like many others in the family, Nguamo thinks of a message and doesn’t know how to. She said no matter what I should have this published in some newspapers. I went to the papers but there is here too. Through this, she also sends her gift like every other year. Sefa is sending a post; Fanen, everyone else…who knows?
The absence doesn’t matter, you know. Yes, it does not matter. Like all those times, we would keep sending the presents in hopes that Dadi is having fun as we knew he always was even when worrying for us. We are sending the messages more this time in hope that he would have finally found eternal rest which he truly deserves.
Wherever you are ‘Hapi Birthday Dadi. Lu dedoo.’
P.S: Happy birthday Aunty Mbatomun; Happy birthday Aunty Shiga: We love you much and are happy that you are still here to colour our days. May the earth always honour you great women who have sacrificed much for your children. Live long and you always find happiness, joy and love in all you do. We honour you.