17 Apr November 1977, O Brothers (Part 3).
“On their way back from Ijaye,” Grandma added, “some of them needed to use the toilet, so all the cars pulled over to the left shoulder of the highway, the Abeokuta expressway. There were two cars and one pickup truck. Your father’s brother, Bayo, drove the first car. He was the only full-blood brother your father had. He was also one of the only two with children amongst all the boys. The other five were from the other three wives of your grandfather. There were two women with Bayo in his car. One of them was one of his two wives”.
“Toro’s mom?” I interrupted. “We’ve never met her!” My father adopted all three of my late uncle’s children, and Toro was the only child of the three without a biological mother. A woman often visited the other two, Tola and Tope, from time to time, sometimes bearing gifts for them. She was their mother.
Grandma nodded and continued the story. “The second woman was my sister. My only sister. The other five brothers and three of their friends were in the next two vehicles, four in the second car and four in the pickup truck. The truck was fully loaded with empty bottles and plates from the funeral. Some of them exited their vehicles, trying to decide where to piddle, while others were still trying to make their way out of the car. An eighteen-wheeler from the other side of the road lost control and crashed into the three vehicles. The first car was completely crushed so that you couldn’t tell if there were human bodies left in it. Your uncle, his wife, and my sister were still in this car when the truck crashed into them. The impact on the first car continued into the second car and the pickup truck. Two of your uncles and a friend standing in front of the second car also died instantly, squashed between vehicles. Unfortunately, the last two of the three friends died in transit to the hospital. Only three of your father’s half-brothers made it to the hospital alive. They would die three days later from undiagnosed internal bleeding.”
As the clock ticked;
In the solitary idleness of my mind,
Wished that I could take one more glance,
But I couldn’t.
Wished that I could wipe my tears,
Withal they fell on my heart.
For every step closer to my sanctuary,
Distance crawls in-between.
Thought that I found a new home,
But how do I survive a new love?
Don’t blame my fragile heart for growing in sorrow,
For my hope was taken away from me long ago.
“A tanker lost control, and killed all those people?” I asked. “What happened to the driver? You know, Grandma, he didn’t have to kill all those people. He could have done something to avoid such calamity if he was experienced enough to drive a tanker!” I imagined what the driver could have done and what he couldn’t have done, like I had control over the tapping steps of fate and time. Nonetheless, Grandma often had real answers to my questions.
“You know, Ramon. Before we talked to the boys at the hospital, many people prematurely accused your late uncle of the accident, especially the other three wives. They imagined he must have pulled over too close to the highway, readily conceivable because he was the one leading the group. However, one of your father’s half-brothers would prove them wrong before he died at the hospital.”
Grandma often called me by my first name, Ramon. However, most of my friends called me by the short colloquial for my middle name, “Deji” as to “Adedeji” or simply “Dejavu” several years later.
One of the brothers explained that Bayo wasn’t responsible for the accident. He pulled over because some of them needed to use the toilet. The tank driver must have lost control, maybe he was drunk. He came out of nowhere, probably from the other side of the road. It all happened so fast, no one had time to think. Bayo, his wife along with others, died instantly. Only three people survived because they were in the rear vehicle, the pickup truck. The doctors said they were in shock from the accident but could go home in a week. The boys showed no visible injuries. It almost seemed like they weren’t in the accident.
“So, what happened to him? The driver? Did he go to jail?” I asked.
“Nothing, Ramon,” Grandma said with a sad smile on her face. “Justice is pretty hard to find around here. It’s all about socio-political status and who you know. Besides, what difference would it make? Whatever we do to the driver won’t bring back the dead. We let him go. It was for the best. He will find a much bigger war to fight with his conscience.”
“Conscience? What if he doesn’t care?”
“Trust me, son, what happened wasn’t an easily forgettable thing for any man. A few people may try to prove stone-hearted sometimes, but I know a man with a conscience when I see one. The accident will haunt the driver for the rest of his life for almost wiping out an entire generation of a family. You know, your uncle’s first wife was four months pregnant with his only son, your cousin.”
“Tope!” I quickly interrupted.
“Of course, he’s the youngest, and the only boy of the three.” Grandma mockingly replied at my unimpressive display of wit, very much acceptable for my age. “Imagine if she had gone with them. Bayo wanted one of his wives to stay with the kids in Lagos, so he insisted she stayed because she was pregnant. She could have been in the first car.”
Looking back, and picturing grandma’s composure, I still cannot comprehend how much faith it took to accept such a catastrophe. How do you move on from the loss of a husband, a son, five stepsons, a sister and a daughter-in-law, as well the accusation of a slain son by those he loved the most – all in one day? In fact, besides Grandma, who mustered enough courage to unfurl the tragic story to her grandchildren, I can’t recall any Ayoade that ever talked about the incident. It was my family’s best-kept secret.
“So, Ramon, this is how all your uncles died on the way back from grandpa’s funeral, a tragedy that will linger forever in the hearts of the rest of us. It also explains why your father never allows any of his children to visit his hometown.”
“How did my father get the news, since no one knew of his whereabouts?” I asked.
“Unbeknownst to us, he started a new life in Kaduna, the northern-western part of the country. His then girlfriend read about the accident in a newspaper. She didn’t know much about your father, but she thought his last name was the same as the family reported to have suffered such a great tragedy. The resemblance between your dad and grandfather was indisputable, so, she knew as soon as she noticed the picture on the newspaper page.”
“So, he came back.”
“That’s right. Your father came back home. News of losing his father and brothers brought him out of seclusion and back to Lagos, but the damage of this loss would haunt him for the rest of his life.
He was devastated. It’d been seven years, and no one had seen him until following the death of his father and six brothers.” He knew all the friends and relations who died in the accident as well, especially his favorite aunt who was Grandma’s only sister. A childless woman whom my father often claimed his best years were those he spent under her nurture.
It was the first time I saw him shed tears in the many years that I have known him as my son. A very bold and brave boy, but the loss of his brothers broke him.”
Although my father was quite young, he quickly learned to assume responsibility for his stepmothers, female siblings, nieces, and nephews.
“He promised never to leave his family again,” Grandma said.
As tempting as it can be to conclude that my dad’s impulsive behavior appeared to have continually yielded to his incredible instincts, it might sound premature, because there was no proven record of havoc that he might have evaded. His perturbing decisions preserved his life from the accident that would have wiped his entire generation from existence. There is no doubt that he would have traveled in the same car with his brothers.
So, I often wander through the maze of my father’s life and how thrilling it was. Did he have instincts as an unreligious prophet that he was too young to understand at the time? It was probably safer for him to be alone than to be with his loved ones. Who knows? Maybe he knew, or maybe he steadily yielded to the unwavering convictions he had no control of. All I know is my father always knew something was coming way before it actually did.
Cold winds, runny noses,
On still pavement I stand.
Miles, I traveled,
But here I stand.
Where have I placed my will?
This day isn’t mine,
But I promised not to remember yesterday.
However how bad,
However how sad,
This scar in my heart must heal.
To be continued …… Look out for the last installment!
Copyright © Deji Ayoade 2020