Monday 18 October 2021

Feyike: 5 years on and the memories

My kidulthood was over

You were the reason mummy called me into her bedroom one late evening to have our first adult conversation, she was probably in her second trimester with you when I, totally oblivious and that is strange having been schooled in noticing when girls get pregnant with the whitening of their eyes and their constant spitting, along with the morning sickness. Maybe it was the familiarity, for apart from my immediate sister, I had never really noticed when my mother was expecting, the babies just arrived after a few days away.

Anyway, the conversation went along the lines of, I am an older woman now, as she was just shy of 40 and I 17, exactly a month after her landmark year, well, our birthdays have always been a month apart in and out of leap years. Yes, an older woman having a baby, and this was unexpected, but we now have to pull together and recognise that some responsibilities would fall on us over time.

My deception was complete

Much as she felt that this information should be shared with me, I was not having the best adolescence, my first year at Lagos State College of Science and Technology was going to be an unmitigated disaster doing Chemical Engineering, my performance was woeful, it was not even good enough to be asked to repeat the class.

Meanwhile, I had pulled a switch to Yaba College of Technology (YabaTech for short) for Electrical Engineering where the faculty had to be given proof that I was still 16 when we had the admissions interview, the underlying issue that many would call unseriousness and was patently clinical depression, carried along into that stint, I just rarely understood why I was in a class, the new beginnings for mother and child too divergent for concern or consideration.

My situation was dire

What would a nursing mother do with a child who is supposed to be smart but cannot understand anything going on in his lectures? I had never used drugs, that was not the problem, I just had a fog in my head that I could not clear, that religion became the steadying rail for my mental health until things began to clear up was the background in which Feyike arrived.

That week in which Feyike was born was when I moved into the YabaTech hostels, I was a parents’ nightmare, for when my mother was in hospital I had stolen money out of the kitty in her wardrobe and then had to face an inquiry against the conviction that she put aside some money and it had somehow disappeared, indeed, I was a nightmare, everything I could do wrong, I did.

My behaviour was atrocious

For the hostel, I snagged that by writing to the accommodations department that I could not stay with my uncle, even my parents found a copy of that letter when I did not arrive home on time having been on the new students’ jaunt to Badagry and Cotonou. I guess I was excused serious punishment that my father was always ready to mete out when I explained the situation.

I did not attend Feyike’s naming ceremony and for that, I faced the full wrath of my father, this weedy kid against the brute force of an angry and menacing bully, I asked for it and I got a lot, I never escaped being a child. Some encounters with my father in those times have so defined the quality of our relationship since then.

My religion was unhelpful

As I was rarely home, I did not know much about the illness that put my baby sister in hospital many times, and sometimes for weeks. I returned home once to lift her and there must have a dislocation in her arm, we soothed her with lullabies and lulled her to sleep. Many times, I prayed fervent prayers for her healing, hoping for a miracle and much else, but there was a radical change in our family unit.

Medicine only seemed to provide temporary outcomes, my mother’s inclination was she was in deep spiritual warfare for the soul of her first son and the life of her last daughter, she found a prophet that had some answers to whatever ailed all of us and got stuck in. My father with all pretensions of rationality hated religion even if he did the basic church attendance and community group activities, he could be persuaded to do the full fetish rituals, which had the accoutrements of the macabre. I saw a lot and said very little.

My knowledge was deficient

Invariably, I never knew how ill our Feyike became over the years for most of the time I visited home, she was in remission from another hospital visit or bout of illness, everything I know I have learnt mostly after the fact.

When I was told that she had fallen very ill some years before her passing, I made enquiries through some doctor friends of mine on Twitter, they found the medical notes and history that for her apparently chronic illness she had not been adherent to her medical regimes.

Probably, a trait in our family, we hate medical regimes, it took a medical emergency for me to face up to the reality of my own situation, and now, I have been on at least 3 pills a day for over 12 years. It is just part of my life.

My mourning was early

She had end-stage renal disease requiring dialysis thrice-weekly dialysis and consequently needed a kidney transplant for hers had stopped functioning. I saw a medical abyss ahead, and began to mourn, long before we knew much more, the system in Nigeria, I did not think could sustain her dire medical needs and my sisters put everything they had into trying to keep her alive.

We were somewhat in a losing battle, and towards the end, Feyike herself was donating money raised for her own treatment to others. On the morning of the 18th of October 2016, my middle sister called, Feyike had left us.

My sister was my daughter

The way our story was intertwined seems to be much more around what I was going through than what her own experiences were because I had left home in the second year of her childhood and everything else I know of her is through conversation than observation. Yet, she to me felt more like a daughter than a sister, she would have been the sole beneficiary of my estate, it was her name on the life insurance policy I took out when I bought my apartment in the Netherlands in 2001.

Maybe, I was something like an absent father, one she knew was somewhere out there in the periphery, not intruding but interested, I cannot tell. I know I miss the snatches of conversation we used to have, the hopes and dreams that seeped into the ever-present sense of hopelessness that something might just change for the better.

She lived her life and when she died, it was a great release from lifelong suffering and disease, a baby, a girl, a lady, a woman, a person who touched our lives in immeasurable ways, some difficult to put in words, but time becomes a store of the fondest memories that can never be forgotten, recalled for sombre occasions like this.


Oluwafeyikewa, 4th November 1982 – 18th October 2016.

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