Author: Jenn Azu
We were all finally assembled by his bedside at the hospital. It was much work to get the entire family members Papi requested at his sickbed but through teamwork and some sacrifice on the part of a few of us, it was achieved. By this time, Papi looked very weak and in much pain. We had been told he could pass on anytime.
Papi gently raised his right hand and held my youngest sister’s hand, Lola, as he spoke softly. She was his next favorite after his oldest girl, Adebisi.
As Papi spoke to Lola, I could only pick up a few of his words mostly because I was suddenly feeling sick. A heaviness settled on me that I could not shake. Almost at the same time, I started feeling pressure at the back of my head and tightness in my chest. Yet, none of those feelings afflicted me like the thoughts in my head.
Papi is our father who suddenly took ill a few months ago. Many resources have been poured into his health with the hope that he will recover but to no avail. Now, we are left with preparing ourselves for his death and everyone appear to be taking it well except me.
Dad took turn with each one of us kids giving his blessings and advice. He started with Jide, our oldest brother and although, he went in order of our age as he addressed us, he spoke to me, his second oldest child, last.
“Dan, take care of yourself and be strong for your mother. Always remember that I am leaving here to go stay with Christ until I can see you all again…” Dad took a break to gather his strength before continuing.
“My son, if you decide to give Christ a chance in your life, be rest assured I will see you again or else goodbye.” He concluded with a weak smile before turning his attention away from me.
At this, I felt weak as the pain in me worsened. I had had dad preach to me a million times but I couldn’t understand why his last words hit me so hard.
“Goodbye?” I thought “Why would he say that to me?”
A part of me wanted to brush my thoughts aside but I struggled greatly.
“Common Dan! This is a dying man saying farewell. How else is he supposed to say it?”
“Yeah, but he said goodnight to everyone else.” I continued to argue with myself.
I noticed the kindness in his eyes and the gentleness on his face which radiated pure love when he spoke to Jide.
“Good night Jide.” Papi had said to him. Jide rubbed dad’s arm almost tearful. They stared at each other lovingly and would have hugged but for the various tubbings connected to dad to sustain him. He showed similar tenderness towards everyone else too.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I moved closer to his bedside and snatched his hand away from Lola’s grip before falling to my knees. Surprisingly, no one attempted to stop me.
“Why would you say ‘Goodnight’ to everyone but say goodbye to me?” Why daddy? Tell me, Why?” I wept aloud. My heart aching from sorrow.
Papi started to weep as well.
“I shall see them again! I shall see the righteous again! But sin can never enter there! Sin can never never enter there” He said, with a loudness that somewhat shocked me.
How is his frail voice suddenly gaining strength? But then, he started to cough and my mom pushed me aside to attend to him. Almost immediately, his nurse entered and tried to stabilize him while we looked on helplessly.
I stood there watching fearfully, momentarily forgetting my pain but feeling overcome with guilt. The nurse managed to get him to stop coughing and advised that no one bother him any further till he can get some sleep.
Like the banging of our church bell, the pain in my head returned, this time worse. I could not bring myself to talk to anybody about my pain. I felt it could be part of my punishment for being a source of grieve. I turned around, pushed my way through the small mournful crowd and hurried out of the room and to the main entrance.
* * * * * * * *
A few years ago, I got tired of my family’s religious ways and wanted out. We are a family of six and devout Baptist Christians. My father was an elder at our church who perfectly fits the biblical qualification of one; a faithful husband, well behaved gentleman who has a well behaved family etcetera. At first, I was a good kid, in the Christian’s definition of “a good kid,” but my life was a routine that revolved around school, home and church.
My discontentment started when I was about 10 years old. At that time, I was just becoming self conscious and remember struggling with not fitting in at school and being bullied. Actually, I didn’t make much friends because my siblings and I were cautioned at home not to mingle with unbelievers. “They are bad influences.” My parents would say. The problem however was, it was hard to tell who was or wasn’t an unbeliever and the concept “believer” to me just meant people who lived life like my family did, so I didn’t talk to many people.
You could palpate my joy when I found out one day that my classmate, Sam, is from a “believer” home. You guessed right! I made him my friend but not for long. My mother dropped in at school the following week to say hi and I took the opportunity to introduce Sam to her. If it was to show off how well I was doing socially, I still can’t tell but she started questioning the boy almost immediately.
“Hello Sam, how are you?” Mom started “Doing very well ma’am.” He replied courteously.
“Where does your family stay?” Mom asked “We live off Governor’s avenue, GRA.” He said.
“Dan said your family are Christians?” Sam nodded to this while I stood aside beaming as mom continued her interrogation.
Her countenance had changed by the time she left school that day but said nothing to me. Alas! I had to end my friendship with Sam because he was from a believing denomination that did not share the same values as my family. Well, I obeyed my Parents but rebellion quietly grew inside me.
My siblings and I dreaded our dad. We had not tested his tolerance at the time but he was so stern with discipline that we imagined testing his patience will be hell. So no one dared push their boundaries by blatant disobedience or otherwise.
However, I found little ways to rebel. For instance, my family often scheduled quiet time once every week. It is a time for personal prayer and meditation. My siblings and I were taught early in life how to spend quiet times effectively but in my rebellious times, I would spend those times drawing pictures on paper to pass time and lie I was praying the entire time.
My stubbornness went unnoticed until my big break; it was the day I got into a fight at school. I don’t remember what lead to the fight but my parents were invited to school for it. They expressed grave disappointment at my behavior and asked that I be excused from lessons for the rest of the day since they wanted to take me home.
At home, Papi had a long talk with me about Christian virtues. To me, it all sounded like “41 reasons why you should be defenseless.” He went ahead to dish out punishments including withholding my school ride privileges for a month. On the inside of me, nonetheless, I felt elated and empowered because through that day’s fight, I stood up for myself at school for the first time and also broke the mold of rules at home.
“So, it was possible to not be crucified after such open rebellion as mine? Who knew!”
Unfortunately, I got into more fights. At first, I got into them to defend myself, but with time my level of tolerance dropped. It dropped so low that I fought at the slightest provocation. I knew I was losing my Christian virtues, earning myself a bad reputation and inflicting grief on my parents but I didn’t care. Not anymore.
Well, like the proverbial Karma, the consequences of my ways lurked around the corner. I was in grade 9 (J.S.S 3) that fateful Tuesday afternoon. Recess just ended and the last stream of students were making their way to their next lesson but I was going to skip that class. I was loitering and trying to evade the school’s patrol team when a junior student bumped into me. He gave me a jab to the jaw with his forehead and his books flew off his arm. Sincerely, none of us was looking but I blamed him for the accident. I picked up his books and smacked his head with them and went ahead to rip them before moving on. He cried as I walked away, but his agony brought me satisfaction.
“The worst he could do,” I thought to myself, “is report to the school authority. I am overly familiar with those folks now. I fear nothing.”
Unknown to me that the young boy had brothers, my seniors, in the same school. I was given the chase of my life at the close of school that day. That afternoon, I ran as fast as I could down St John’s street with three taller boys in hot pursuit when a driver suddenly opened the door of his car in front of me. I was running on too high a speed to break fast enough. I bumped hard into the open door and the force threw me backwards after the door reached the limits on its hinges and sprung back forcefully.
I was thrown onto the bunker of another car which luckily for me has stopped moving. I rolled from the top of that car nearly unconscious unto the hard road. I tried to get up but couldn’t then the sight of my own blood running down my arm pushed me over to unconsciousness.
I woke up in the hospital in pain with Papi at my side. He told me I had a few broken bones in both arms but that I will be fine. I was discharged two weeks later with some opioids after two major surgeries but Karma was not done with me yet.
My bone pain was the worse pain I ever felt. Healing was slow and the pain was intense. Overtime, I needed higher doses of my opioid medicine to achieve any pain relieve because I became quickly tolerant to an opioid type or dose. My groans were unbearable for my mother who would persuade my dad to do something to help even against our physician’s advice.
Soon, my groaning became more of a drug seeking behavior than it was a result of pain. I had become addicted! The thing was, anytime I took my medicine, it subsided my pain but also made me feel really good. Like an evil cycle though, the pleasant feeling goes away after some hours and I would descend very low emotionally.
My parents who were well educated but not medically inclined missed the early signs of my addiction and continued to find ways to provide me opioid through different doctors. It was too late by the time they caught up with my deceit.
It happened on a day a doctor was invited to examine my injury. I guess he sensed that something was amiss about my extent of wound healing and its correlation to my pain complaint. He gave me a tablet but not the real deal, this unknown to me, and insisted on watching me take the medicine. Few minutes after taking the medicine, I reported to the doctor that my pain is much less and thanked him. He smiled and called my dad away to another room to talk.
Frankly, I was no longer having such pain as to warrant strong painkillers like opioids but I wanted it for the ‘feelings.’ Nobody knew this but me.
Anyway, I waited for the usual euphoric feeling from the drug to kick in but it didn’t. I was too afraid to ask the doctor for anymore so I kept mute. My dad returned to my room hours later to announce that I am being checked into a juvenile rehabilitation center to get me help. I was admitted to one but ran away from it a few times. Those times were among the most difficult for my family. Finally, my father demanded I do not return home if I refuse rehabilitation and I swore never to return until 7 months ago when I received the news of dad’s illness.
* * * * * * * *
I sat there, on the stairway of the building where dad is admitted bawling and reflecting on my life when a hand rested on my shoulder. It was my elder brother, Jide.
“I followed you to make sure you’re alright.” He said. “Why did you run off like that?”
“Jide, Papi said goodbye!” I cried.
“Dan, if he could stay, you know he would.”
“But he said goodbye, Jide. Papi said goodbye” I repeated.
“Yes, he said that to all of us.” Jide replied looking confused
“No!” I wailed and rose to face him. “He said goodnight to everyone else. You only say goodnight to someone you hope to see again.”
Jide stared into my face speechless and confused.
“Why did he address me differently? Oh, I get it, I am the prodigal one.” I rose and faced him angry
“Are you doubting Papi’s love for you?” Jide asked calmly, staring steadily in my face. I looked away from him because I did not want to answer that question.
Truly, if dad has shown anyone much love, it was me. He has had to forgive me a million times more than any of my siblings. On one occasion when I was pinning away on a trash dump after running away from rehabilitation, it was dad who ordered that I be picked up, cleaned and brought home. He helped nurse me back to health.
I started back into the building and Jide followed me without another word.
It is suddenly clear that my anger is not against my father but myself. I am angry because I have finally come face to face with my greatest fear. I feared the day my father will give up on me. I suddenly realized that although I had been delinquent, my father remained a significant loving figure in my life. His final words to me were more meaningful because they are now tied to his mortality. Since Papi will no longer be here to love me unconditionally, I will have to face the emptiness within me alone.
The other thing about dad’s final words that strikes something in me was that I have known dad to be a man of truth and I fear those words could just be true. I mean considering his confidence in the face of death.
“What if there is truly a Christ?”
Suddenly, the memories of my childhood flashed before me and it were as if they connived with the pain of losing my father to convict me of waywardness.
They seem to accuse me of mistaking my dad’s method of raising his children to be based on mere religious fanaticism that kept me in bondage when it is in fact just connected to a reality beyond my understanding.
The favorite line of my father starts to echo in my head: “There is a way that seems right to a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death.”
Jide and I were half way through the hallway when the voice of my mom gave out a piercing scream. I froze. “Is it over?”
I turned to Jide. His eyes met mine with the same question. Just then, he took off as fast as his legs could go on the smooth floor. He almost slipped but quickly regained his balance and continued racing towards the room where dad lay. I wanted to follow him but my legs were non cooperative. I felt paralyzed with fear.
I bent over and cried “Dear Jesus, I am sorry. I am sorry for being such an ingrate. Please don’t let Papi die. I want to see him again. Here’s my life. I have made a huge mess trying to keep it. Here it is. Please let me see my father again.”
I don’t know how long I was stooped over in that position crying, but it felt like a long time. At first, I felt warmth wrap around me. Gradually, I realized that someone was hugging me. I looked up to find an older woman wrapping her arms around me. I didn’t know who she was but her embrace was comforting.
“Are you alright?” She asked.
I wiped my wet eyes with the edge of my sleeves and nodded to her question. It was then I saw clearly to notice her uniform. She’s a nurse.
“Is that your family in room 10?” She asked again. I stammered something incoherently because I was not exactly sure if that was the right number. She grabbed my wrist and pulled me up. “Come, your dad is still alive. His heartbeat stopped for a moment but we were able to revive him.”
It took a moment for what she said to sink in.
“Dad is still alive?” I thought to myself.
“Wait. Does that mean Jesus answered my prayer? Would he had listened to the prayer of someone like me?” My heart started to race as I began realizing the implication of what has happened.
“That means I can share the news of my salvation with my father!” At this my eyes widened in excitement. The day I accepted Jesus is a day my parents have longed to witness. Now, it was my turn to race down the hallway and this I did with some show of madness.