We Often Confuse A Mere Dwelling Place For A Home -By Muyiwa Adetiba

This month makes it two years since my mother died. As it often happens during some anniversaries, the mind wanders.

And as it wanders from one incident to another, from one happenstance to another, the latent philosopher in us emerges. We ponder with hindsight on the insignificance of things which were seemingly very important ten, twenty years ago. For example, my mother had always wanted to build a house solely in her name and probably would have felt unfulfilled in life had she not done so. The prayer of her time – and possibly beyond her time- in Yorubaland was that one would achieve enough in one’s lifetime to be able to build a house and buy a car (wako’le, wara moto).

Along with having responsible children, it was the ultimate fulfillment of the time. The house which she moved into after her husband died gave her a new lease of life and was her home for almost four decades. Today, the house is forlorn and empty. The things she had kept and guarded so jealously over the years; some of which she often boasted were older than even the oldest of us, have been locked up unkempt and disregarded in dusty, moldy rooms. Now, stripped of sentimental values, they will be handed over – along with other belongings – to her church and poor neighbours. Only she could say what was in her mind as she acquired and kept those items through seventy, eighty years. Items nobody had missed let alone coveted in the two years since she died.

I lived in Festac Town for almost three decades and lived through the period when it was a quaint, beautiful and sparsely populated Estate to when it became densely populated and bursting with people. I was a witness to the growing disregard for its planned lay-out by people who were trained to know the consequences. Despite its gradual deterioration, the place had a hold on me. Inside it, was my home and the place my children grew up in which had, over the years, been customized to taste. Loving hands planted coconut, palm nut, grape fruit, banana and mango trees alongside vegetables and pineapples.

Diligent hands nurtured flowers including a Christmas tree. So deep was my connection to the place and the friends who had been companions over those years, that I never thought I could be three months away before visiting. To my surprise, I found reasons to procrastinate. The state of the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway didn’t help matters. The ‘physical and emotional treasures’ I had of the place were suddenly not that important to warrant enduring the excruciating traffic. Neither were the old haunts that important anymore. I had as it were, outgrown my ‘home’ of thirty years. My wife and I recently had cause to visit the place for the funeral of a close friend. I was surprised at the changes which had taken place on the Orile-Badagry Expressway. In fact, I almost missed my turning into Festac Town; something I would instinctively have made in the days of yore. The estate itself had changed. The setback had disappeared in places making the roads to seem narrow. There were also lots of ‘ youths’ loitering around.

And our close? It looked the same, yet different. Some buildings had been altered by new owners. The open space directly in front of our house had a transformer and some NEPA installations during my time. Now, it housed a massive building. The gate to the house was open which could never have happened in my time. I entered. The fruit trees had disappeared leaving only the coconut and palm nut trees. The plants and flowers had become malnourished shrubs competing with weeds and grass. What was supposed to be a nostalgic homecoming turned out to be anything but. My home has now become home to other people.

Talking about homecoming, a very close friend left this temporary dwelling place for his eternal home last week. Regular readers of this column would remember my visit to a classmate in the UK in May. Well, he passed on in the early hours of Saturday morning due to some post-surgery complications. Bolaji Williams and I have been friends since we met in Form One at Igbobi College. Many classmates might not remember this but at the end of that first year, a Class Master of Caucasian descent did a poll to choose ‘The person most likely to succeed in life’. The lot fell on ‘Willie’. It was like a prophesy as ‘Willie’ virtually led a charmed life thereafter.

He was good in academics and sports representing the school in athletics and soccer. He was popular – the only student I know who was allowed to drive the Principal’s car. To no one’s surprise, he ended up as the Senior Prefect. His latent leadership qualities were honed. Since then, there was no association he was part of – from church to social and business groupings – that he did not end up taking executive positions. His wife Seyi, to whom I indirectly paid tribute in the earlier article, was also hewn from the same wood of born achievers.

She retired as Head of Service in Lagos State, having served as Accountant General and PermSec Finance. Bolaji and I lived in Surulere as young adults, lived in Festac as married adults, and moved to the Island about the same time. Yet we were different. He was extremely sociable and outgoing; I am the opposite. He was good with figures; I with words. Yet, we stayed, not just connected, but as good friends who remained part of each other ’s important moments. It helped that our wives were of the same age – six weeks apart- and the same Accountancy profession.

Seeing the condolence register last Saturday morning brought the sad reality home and tears to my eyes. My friend has gone to the real home. He was a consummate engineer and entrepreneur who built a multi-billion Naira company that ended up employing expatriates. He was a passionate philanthropist who gave time and money to help people and causes. He was called when it was time to relax and enjoy the considerable fruits of his labour. His untimely death questions again, the sense in earthly acquisitions. Not one favourite belonging was he allowed to take with him to his new home.

We have to accept the reality that we can be bursting with life one minute and be snuffed of it the next. And that nothing goes with us when it is time to go home. All the hassles and hustles we engage in as if our lives depended on them, will not go beyond this temporary dwelling place.

Adieu, Bolaji. You are gone but you will not be forgotten.

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