by Daniel Nkado
My grandmother passed away today.
Oh please don’t say sorry to me, I’m not that very sad.
She’d died a fulfilled woman.
Two months before her eventual passing, I sat beside her on her bed and asked her what she really was missing most.
To my surprise, she smiled her crooked smile and said to me: ‘Nothing.’
‘Nothing?’ I said, surprised.
She told me she was very happy not because she was able to do all the things she’d set out to do in life—she doesn’t believe anybody actually could—but that she was able to do all the things that mattered to her.
The things that made her happy.
‘My father, your great grandfather,’ she said to me, ‘died regretting.’
‘Why, Nne?’ I asked her. ‘People say he was very successful in his time.’
Grandma nodded. ‘Yes, he was a very successful man, and also quite famous too. But he’d only done the things people expected of him to do. He’d spent all his life fighting all his enemies. Counting all his yams, and goats and chickens and cows! Screaming at all his wives and children, to keep them in order. Setting great targets for tomorrow, tomorrow that never ends! Tomorrow that he lived in constant fear of! Tomorrow that he dreaded so much!‘
‘He left a huge accumulation of unfulfilled dreams behind. A backlog of travels he could have made. All the places he could have visited. People he could have hung out with. Smiles and laughter he could have had. Photos he could have taken. All what was in his wooden box at the time of his death were things he didn’t have that much connection with. Things that felt foreign to him. Things that mattered to others, but not to him.’
‘And just then,’ Grandma continued, ‘was when I decided I was never going to be like my father.’
I shifted closer to her now.
Grandma held my hand before continuing. ‘I will see the world, I decided.’
‘I will dance naked in the lake while I still can.’
‘I will eat my favourite dishes and braid my favourite isi owu.’
‘I will do all the things I love and not bother if people sneered, or gossiped or hissed.’
‘And while doing all these things, I will take enough photographs, like I have done now, so that when a time like this eventually comes, and I always knew it surely will, I will remember those fun things that I have done and smile on and on!’
‘So are you fulfilled, Grandma?’ I asked her. I could feel some trembling in the nerves of her hand.
Grandma managed to show surprise. ‘Do you dare to ask?’ she said. She slowly lifted her wrinkled arm, intending to point. ‘Pull out that drawer,’ she said. ‘Bring out my album and have a look at all the fun that I have had!’
I reached for the drawer, pulled it out and carried the heavy collection of photos, most of them undersized and in black and white.
I didn’t finish looking at all the photos.
I stopped when right as it hit me that in my over 35 years of life, I actually have no photos of my own to show.
None in my album, none in my head.
I stood and told grandma to allow me to come.
‘Where are you headed?’ she asked me.
I inhaled deeply. ‘To create some memories of my own!’ I told her.
At the door, Grandma called me: ‘Obiageli?’
I turned. ‘Nne?’
‘In this deficient world where being sad is extremely inexpensive, do not trade your source of happiness for anything, my dear!’
I nodded. ‘Thank you, Nneoma.’
And off I went, into the world!
I allowed people to stare at me. I waved at a few and winked at some.
And when the tender covering of the night came, I finally said to Obinna, ‘I am ready!’