He held on so tight. He had muscled all his strength, summoned all his courage, walked all by himself from the living room to the corridor that led to the front door. It was a cold wintry day, Ntafiong, the Mayor of Milton Keynes was waiting to ferry me to Heathrow. I must be at the airport by 9am to catch my midday flight back to the Arabian Desert. On the M1, anything can happen and one incident can slow you down for several minutes to hours, so best bet, give yourself ample time when travelling on the motorway.
He wouldn’t let go. That cling, that embrace, was like a foreclosure. None of us knew what the future held in store. We believed the best was in store and indeed the best was in store. A thought quickly crossed my mind. Son, you gotta go. You don’t want to miss your flight.
I dis-entangled myself from him. I watched those tears, drop from those big sunken eye sockets. He looked so lean and frail. He bent over. He was in deep pains. Every step he took was a pain, every move a pain, every twist a pain, life indeed was a pain. Eating became a chore and I watched him being fed. Each time that spoon was heading his direction, he turned his head away. I imagined he wanted to do it by himself. He wanted to be able to eat by himself. A man that once epitomized good health, now being fed? Life is fickle. Life is flimsy!
The phone was by my bedside. The last time the phone was by my bedside turned on, was before my mother exited planet earth to celestial plane. I needed to be reachable twenty four seven. When she took her flight, I would put my phone on airplane mode before nestling into my comfy bed for a good night snooze.
In the recent times, I have had to revert this mode.
At about midnight, Desert time, a message from the Mayor of MK, Mr. Ntafiong Udoadiamkpo, notified me that things were not getting any better in MK. We debated over the phone on all the likely possibilities and probabilities. We finally concluded that a trip to MK was inevitable. I sat up for the next two hours searching for flights. Kismet seemed to be my ally. I secured a seat on the massive big bird that hummed its way out of the Desert airport on a Friday, 2am. My itinerary was to arrive Heathrow circa 6am. Ntafiong would be there at the airport to receive me and dash me straight to MK.
Since in the Desert city, our weekends are Fridays and Saturdays, I needed to capitalize every day and make it count. Arriving Friday morning in England, gave me the whole day with Akaisang. Driving up the motorway with Ntafiong, the Mayor prepared my mind to the metamorphosis that had taken place in the body of Akaisang since I last saw him. No amount of preparation would have prepared me for that shock at the physical state of deterioration that I saw. I was astonished is an understatement.
Delight, ecstasy, joy, celebration are not enough to capture how he felt to see me. We have been best of buddies and brothers for years. We had traversed continents in Africa, Europe and Asia together. We travelled for meetings together. We were in the services together. We talked about the meetings together, we debated over topical issues together and though we differed in our approaches on numerous occasions, there was a fulcrum that hinged us together.
February is always a chilly month and would I dare say with chills as well. The last time I saw Akaisang was in the summer of the previous year. That summer was particularly pleasant. Even though the English weather can be dodgy, yet, we were able to make the best of it. What made the summer pleasant are the memories it holds for me. This was the last season I had full course buffet with Akaisang. We went on a pilgrimage to Old Trafford, we went to the meetings together. We drove through England’s loveliest countryside together. It was splendid. We went to farms, sat on swings and fed horses together, we played with kids together. Kids loved him and he loved kids. We ate our favourite food together and we chatted non- stop about our trips to different parts of the world. One memory we held in high esteem was the trip to Masai Mara game reserve in Kenya. Watching the great fight for life was incredible. The famous migration of the wildebeest from Serenghetti in Tanzania across the Masai River to Kenya awakened us the cruelty of life, the survival of the fittest. It was a tug of war.
Even though he had recuperated, I was still dazed at how poor his health had turned when I met with him that summer. The winter before when he left me in the desert, he was hale and hearty.
That dreaded word found its way into my realm – relapse. This time it was vicious. Medications had failed. We tried everything we knew of and it failed. One last hope was Zoe. We all clung on, to Zoe. Will it fail, has it ever failed? NO!!
Friday was spent with him, Saturday was spent with him and Sunday was my return day. This was my first time back to England on a winter. I have been gone for too long in the hot desert climate such that the mildest spring would be too wintry for me. This, being winter, was rather harsh.
Walking away from that embrace was so remarkable. Akaisang’s wife –Awanobongowo was an eye shot away, wiping tears from her eyes. I braced myself like ‘brace for impact’ command in an airplane and walked away. Walking out the door I waved to him.
On the way to airport with the Mayor, we reminisced over all the good times we all shared with Akaisang and anecdotes to keep our spirits high. At Heathrow, we ate an English breakfast from a café. Some tasteless fried eggs with toast and coffee. I couldn’t wait to return to Desert City where breakfast was such an enjoyable experience. I couldn’t wait to return to the desert where the nice weather awaited me. I couldn’t wait to return to the desert that has been my home for the past ten years. My home was also the home of Akaisang. My kids used to lie at the door like faithful dogs waiting for uncle Akaisang .
Three weeks later at about one in the morning, desert time, I received a message that Akaisang had made a final glorious exit.
Another trip to MK, another VIP treatment from the Mayor of MK and another cruel interaction with that long forgotten winter. I did not weep anymore because I knew he had gone to a better place. Where he was at, pain had no control over him, no more hospital visit, hospital staff would not see him anymore, the calls to ambulance had ceased, and ceaseless visits to the pharmacy had been concluded.
I keep feasting on those evergreen memories that are like pearls. The last summer travelling the landscape of England, the trips to Africa, the trips to Sir Baniyas Island, the trips to numerous fantastic restaurants, the conversation at Mrs B’s birthday dinner and the phone episode, the numerous drives to Dubai and Sharjah all formed part of that greenery that adorned my medulla oblongata. From cycling and swimming in the best hubs in the world to his not so famous talk about the shelf life of women are some of the memories I garland myself with about him.
I am sure you made the right choice to exit because you have turned Anwanobongowo to such a strong lady that values you more each passing day.