“What happened to him? Who did this? I said who?” – Arrow of God, Chinua Achebe, 1964.
That was Ezeulu when the corpse of Obika was brought into his obi. I read this in 2005 or 2006 and I couldn’t keep the tears from falling. I loved Obika and he was a mere fictional character.
On Sunday, 9th July 2017, a phone call brought the news about Ebenezer. Eben is dead. One phone call, one sentence, less than ten seconds, and a man full of life, fun, wit, intelligence, fairness, humility, respect and optimism was reduced to a man who was now gone from this life, a man who would now be addressed in the past tense. I can’t keep the tears from flowing. I loved Eben and he was a great man.
I am crying.
I met Eben in 2010. He was in 300 level, Literature. I was in 100 level, same department. He became my coach and mentor; and my friend, despite the disparity in age and level; and my brother, despite the difference in tongue and tone; and I called him baba na–my father.
I am devastated.
Eben was a guru, a legend. We would argue among our study group and defend our point with Eben said this, but Eben didn’t exactly mean that. I would block him in front of the dean’s car park, in the library, in front of the Senate, in the Social Centre, before the Main Gate, anywhere. I would block him and ask him about a novel, a critical theory, an era, an author, a lecturer’s temperament, anything. And he would answer me in his analytical, witty manner with laughter in the edge of his mouth. He was never too busy for me.
I am confused.
Eben was Zaria-based. So when he left the university he remained on the campus. Like a small tree planted near the base of a mighty tree, I grew up under the wings of Eben, my raw academic ability shedded by Eben’s magnanimity and refined by his intellect, experience and nuanced worldview. In my final year, Eben got admission for his master’s degree in the department. His presence on the campus was solidified. I was in ABU Zaria for four years and Eben was the constant. His presence assured me, challenged me and favoured me. When he graduated I inherited his reading materials. I was his heir. Now he’s gone.
I feel cheated.
It didn’t end there. Ebengbasky, as he’s also called, fondly, remained my friend. On Twitter, on Facebook we fought, argued, shared jokes, swapped sarcasm and banters. We agreed on plenty fronts and disagreed in many. He was an Arsenal fan, like me, he was a wailer, like me, he lived online, like me. But I am irritated with the antics and personality of Trump while he enjoyed the drama of Trump, telling me to focus more on “Change” happening in Nigeria. I wanted Wenger fired but he preffered a gradual transition for Wenger. We disagreed and in the midst of our disagreement, our comradeship prospered.
I am heartbroken.
My friend is gone! Just three weeks back I was teasing him to go and get married. I said I must eat his wedding rice. He would ask me not to let the devil use me and we would start series of funny back and forth exchanges that, I believe, entertained our mutual friends. Suddenly Eben died. Just like that, mid-life, mid-wit, mid-school, mid-banter.
And the entire staff of English and literary studies mourns with me.
English and literary class of 2007 mourns you.
English and literary class of 2008 mourns you.
English and literary class of 2009 mourns you.
English and literary class of 2010 mourns you.
Federal College of Education Zaria mourns you.
Charity and Faith Church mourns you.
Federal Government Girls College Zaria mourns you.
Edo State mourns you.
Arsenal fans mourn you.
Wailers on Twitter mourn you.
Eben, where are you?
Your friends on Facebook are crying. Your family is lamenting. Your sons and daughters are lost, shocked, like breastfeeding kids forcefully taken from their mother’s bosom mid-suckling. Your paddies are calling one another on phone, to confirm you are really dead, willing someone to deny it, willing the whole story to become a joke, fatal, expensive, but a joke we’re willing to accept with a heavy sigh of relief.
I remember earlier this year, I said, half-jokingly, that if Nnamdi Kanu’s extreme agitations lead us to another war I would be unable to resist fighting but I would be killed in the war, and Eben would, one day, write a book Don’t Let Kingsley Okechukwu Die, like Achebe wrote for Christopher Okigbo. Eben was going to write my memoir, keep my memory alive. But today, in a sunless morning, I sit on my desktop to type “Rest in Peace Ebenezer”. I can’t believe I’m doing this. No, I never saw it this way. Not in my weirdest nightmare. We had an unspoken pact Eben and you didn’t keep it.
One day, God’s words being true, we would meet again and I would approach you and ask one question, just one question. I would say, “Eben, why did you leave us without saying goodbyes? Just like that.”