In October 2005, I had missed the opportunity to be on the Bellview air crash only by the whiskers. October 2010, I was a few feet away at the Eagle Square, Abuja when a car loaded with explosive devices went off. As I was trying to look for my driver parked some yards off the site of the blast, a second explosion went off. And only yesterday (15th April, 2013) I missed being present at the 117th edition of the Boston Marathon only because I had deadlines at school, which I was determined to meet. I cannot say that I cheated death on these occasions as I only had the fortune of not being present at the wrong places.
For me, these three events and others not mentioned are reminders of the inevitability of death for every living being. Especially, I was reminded to scribble this tribute to a dearly departed mother, aunty – and one who had shown me love for each of the days that we had known each other. On instances like this, there are many ways by which people are eulogized, quixotically too. Only for a few people will the words flow effortlessly. Being that I am not one to flatter, or shower praises on people no matter how close they are to me or how lofty I hold such a person, I sometimes struggle with doing stuff like this. Quite often, I have realized that the small, usually token and unspoken actions make more meaning to me than the loud ones. Perforce and of principle, I do not accept gift from people. I can count less than ten people from whom I will willingly accept any item as present – Funmilayo Aduni Olayinka is one of such few persons.
In essence, when I got the call about the sudden death of Funmi (I have elected to use first name just so I can console myself further towards a predetermined closure – maybe it will work), I was almost for the first time, shocked about the death of anybody under the sun! Almost two weeks hence, I continue to experience momentary spasms of sadness in my suspended disbelief that Funmi is dead and I will not see her again. You mean I will not be able to hug Funmi again?
Yes, we were that close and we would always embrace as a cozy form of salutation almost every time we saw. She was brilliant, beautiful and bold at once. Quite very few of them come with such combined honours. She actually remains one of the few women I have met and loved at once. In what continued to seem awkward to me, we warmed up to each other quite easily quickly. What is more, despite the huge age gap, she honoured me for the entire period that we knew each other. Every time we have had to discuss serious, or not too serious issues, she will hardly call without putting “Mr.” before my name. That singular mellifluous voice that calls me “Mr. Egghead” is no more. Moreover, she relates with me with such candor but she will never dismiss my suggestions even if she disagrees. To think that only in December, to encourage her on the thankless work for Ekiti State, I’d bought her a copy of UAE’s Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s “My Vision: Challenges in the Race for Excellence”. She probably never got around to read that one.
Motherly Funmi, she knew I hardly eat so she would ensure that I had a constant supply of snacks, cake and chin-chin to be precise. When my biological mother – I have many of them now really – turned 60, I’d sent her number to two dearly close people to wish her well. Only, Funmi called her! For this alone, my mother who never met her in person, cried when she heard of her demise. Whenever she was too busy to attend to any pressing item in her email, she would call me to access her emails and treat. I was not her direct assistant but she welcomed me that much into her privacy. I am glad I never disappointed that much-reposed confidence.
Funmi would call me, at least once, every month since I left for school and even when she was not able to speak to me directly, she would leave a voice note or write a mail – always ending in “LOVE YOU”. Once, I was joking with her daughter and I’d said, “Please don’t tell your dad but I love your mom. Yes quote me.” We both laughed at it then, but it has now dawned on me that I meant what I said. Basically, I am not flippant with use of the ‘love’ word. A couple of months earlier, in an exchange of banter; a colleague had hinted to her that I was proposing to ask her daughter out (this was made-up joke) and that she should lock the lady away from my presence. She’d responded, “And so? It will be [a case of] two consenting adults. What is my own?”
That was the uncommon maturity with which I came to know and appreciate Funmi. Gaiety, elegant and meticulous, she is the reference point with which a dutiful young man will pray to have a woman in his life. I recalled thanking her for being an amazon and for her resolute support behind Kayode Fayemi. She was simply awesome. In fact, in my modest knowledge of Ekiti, I am not sure Kayode Fayemi could have had a better company in person or in personality. Funmi’s niche was super-exceptional. Yet, she will self-effacingly make it repeatedly bare that no one was indispensable. She scaled all the stereotypes associated with having female deputies or of women going into public life. She was more than competent in Kayode’s absence. She was aspirational and inspirational and she affected all around her with those spirits. She was genial but equally no-nonsense. In Nigeria’s fiery political scape, Funmi was a Deputy’s Deputy. She was adorable, lovable and affable. She was so sweet.
I really did not expect I would be writing you a tribute this soon. I will not have brought myself to write it but the force of pull of your spirit on me makes me relentlessly restless. Sadly, this prose will not bring me the closure that I longingly desired. I am incorrigibly endeared to you, ma.
Funmi Aduni, chin-chin!
Fellow, Harvard University
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