A beautiful specimen of a man was how I would define Ayo*, not his real name. We both attended the same university. I had recently transferred from another university. He was taking two laboratory courses in my department. We were matched as lab. partners by virtue of our peculiar situation. I didn’t know most of the students in my class; he was from another department, two years ahead….just trying to get enough credits to graduate. He was funny, easy going and always managed to attract a lot of female attention. Tall, dark…a real eye candy, he always seemed to juggle more than one girlfriend, at a time. Our relationship was platonic. We frequented the same circuits, had common friends. I would later introduce him to his future spouse.
He went on to graduate and as was customary with his older siblings, went ahead to graduate school overseas. I lent a shoulder to his girlfriend when their relationship suffered the attendant strains that come along with long distant relationships. I encouraged her to date; actively kicking against the double standards that exists between men and women in dating. I knew Ayo would be actively dating and didn’t think it was fair she should be left holding the short end of the stick. He would call me on the phone from time to time, asking how I was faring…then once he said:” I hear you are the one encouraging my wife to cheat on me, Mobs.” To which I quickly retorted: Ol’boy it’s not over until it’s over. He laughed, albeit strained. He made it home a year before I got married. His first couple of months back were riddled with series of conflict between them. I initially gave the altercations off as the adjustments they were both going through with his recent return. They argued incessantly. Once after a particularly bad blow out, she came to see me. I had gone to bed early that evening and remember waking suddenly to find her sitting at the foot of my bed. Her eyes bright from unshed tears. He was always drinking. When he drank, he was different. He became aggressive and vulgar. I was in shock. The picture she painted did not correlate with the Ayo I knew. I thought back to our early days together. I remembered the slurred speech I chose to ignore. The way his eyes were constantly bloodshot during our laboratory classes, the way his car perpetually stank of alcohol. I saw the signs but chose not to read them. I felt ashamed.
When I confronted him, he refused to accept responsibility for his actions. He wasn’t an alcoholic, he laughed me to derision. I was overreacting just like she was. He was under pressure at work. She wasn’t understanding, she wasn’t supportive. He went on and on. Every body was to blame for his choices. My head spun. When I pressed him further, he grew angry. He said I was part of the problem, putting ideas in her head, encouraging her to do away with their relationship. Like a volcano, I erupted. Words like molten larva tumbled over themselves over black ashes. There was heat in my anger and destruction in its path.The beautiful tapestry, that was once our relationship began to unravel. I was too angry, he was too proud.
At my wedding, he gave me a hug. He whispered his apologies in my ear. I held his face between my palms. All was forgiven. My friend he stayed-warts and all. Against her better judgement, she went ahead and married him. I hoped, no prayed starting a home would cure the restlessness that drove him to drink. There seemed to be a brief period when they were happy, when he seemed to settle down somewhat. When his eyes were clear and not cloudy, his face was not slack from drink. Then it all went to hell. The more he drank, the more he broke the boundaries of their relationship. It was one misstep after the other. He would pick fights with her at the drop of the hat. He imagined ghosts in their relationship. He grew paranoid and increasingly aggressive. She suffered three miscarriages and became increasingly embittered and disillusioned. Family waded in, it didn’t help none. I tried to speak with him, he refused to listen.It was his marriage, not mine. He drew an invincible line in the sand.
Finally, at the end of their fifth year of marriage, she left. She packed her bags and took a job transfer to Abuja. He was out of the country when she left. He came back to find their home deserted. She didn’t leave a note. He was devastated. When I saw him, I was shocked at what he had become. A shadow of his old self. He had lost weight, his trousers looked a size bigger, his suit was rumpled and he spotted a five o’clock shadow. Still, he blamed everyone but himself. He blamed his job. He blamed his family. He blamed his wife. He never once accepted responsibility for his choices. And so, that day, I knew there was no redemption without his coming to a place of acceptance of what he had become. I asked him at what point would he accept responsibility? “At what point Ayo, will you look yourself in the mirror and take ownership of your choices?’ He looked away and mumbled under his breath about how he knew I would always take sides with his wife. He struggled to get to his feet and swooned. I couldn’t believe he was drunk already. It wasn’t even yet noon!
She divorced him, moved again to South Africa and remarried. She started a family. Our relationship tanked, a casualty of her marriage to my friend. I guess she felt, she couldn’t move on- if she stayed friends with me.
The years of alcohol abuse eventually took its toll. He fell gravely ill. His family was distraught. I prayed. Every time my phone rang my heart would skip a beat. I wore my fear like a cloak. I had lost my Mum a few years earlier…..I couldn’t imagine loosing my friend, too. He eventually succumbed to his ailment. The day I got the text, his sister had tried to call me several times that morning and as usual, I had refused to answer-a premonition, I guess. I got in my car and drove to the Faculty of Science of the University of Lagos. I sat on our favorite bench. I cried till I was hoarse. “How did we get here, Ayo?” I replayed different sequences in my mind, each ending with him rising from the horizon…., not dead, forever silenced.
How do you move on from the death of a friend that sticks close like a brother?I don’t
know. I purposed to live for him, for all my loved ones who shared a common dream, a common path-way. From time to time, when my tears threaten; I deliberately focus on the good times, my fond memories of my friend. When he was whole, not hollowed out by his addiction. I prefer to remember him the way he was when I was strangely ensconced from his demons: tall, dark, witty and happy…. bent over the work bench in the Biology Laboratory while we swapped anecdotes and studied our samples.