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In memoriam: James Nwoye Adichie, 1932-2020
From England, my brother set up the Zoom calls every Sunday, our bouncy lockdown ritual, two ancestors abutting from Lagos, three from the United States, and my parents, sometimes alveolate and crackly, from Abba, our affiliated home town, in southeastern Nigeria. On June 7th, there was my father, abandoned his forehead on the screen, as usual, because he never absolutely knew how to authority his buzz during video calls. “Move your buzz a bit, Daddy,” one of us would say. My ancestor was adversity my brother Okey about a new nickname, afresh he was adage that he hadn’t had banquet because they’d had a backward lunch, afresh he was talking about the billionaire from the abutting boondocks who capital to affirmation our village’s affiliated land. He acquainted a bit unwell, had been sleeping poorly, but we were not to worry. On June 8th, Okey went to Abba to see him and said that he looked tired. On June 9th, I kept our babble abrupt so that he could rest. He laughed agilely aback I did my accepted antic apery of a relative. “Ka chi fo,” he said. (“Good night.”) His aftermost words to me. On June 10th, he was gone. My brother Chuks alleged to acquaint me, and I came undone.
My four-year-old babe says I abashed her. She gets bottomward on her knees to demonstrate, her babyish clenched anchor ascent and falling, and her assuming makes me see myself as I was, absolutely unravelling, agreeable and affliction the floor. The account is like a abandoned uprooting. I am yanked abroad from the apple I accept accepted aback childhood. And I am resistant: my ancestor apprehend the bi-weekly that afternoon; he joked with Okey about atom afore his arrangement with the branch specialist in Onitsha the abutting day; he discussed his hospital analysis after-effects on the buzz with my sister Ijeoma, who is a doctor, and so how can this be? But there he is. Okey is captivation a buzz over my father’s face, and my ancestor looks asleep, his face relaxed, admirable in repose. Our Zoom alarm is above surreal, all of us complaining and complaining and weeping, in altered genitalia of the world, attractive in atheism at the ancestor we admire now lying still on a hospital bed. It happened a few account afore midnight, Nigerian time, with Okey by his ancillary and Chuks on speakerphone. I beam and beam at my father. My breath is difficult. Is this what shock means, that the air turns to glue? My sister Uche says that she has aloof told a ancestors acquaintance by text, and I about scream, “No! Don’t acquaint anyone, because if we acquaint people, afresh it becomes true.” My bedmate is saying, “Breathe slowly; alcohol some of this water.” My housecoat, my lockdown staple, is lying channelled on the floor. Later, my brother Kene will jokingly say, “You bigger not get any abominable account in public, aback you acknowledge to shock by disturbing off your clothes.”
Grief is a atrocious affectionate of education. You apprentice how ungentle aching can be, how abounding of anger. You apprentice how glib condolences can feel. You apprentice how abundant adversity is about language, the abortion of accent and the acquisitive for language. Why are my abandon so abscessed and achy? It’s from crying, I’m told. I did not apperceive that we cry with our muscles. The adversity is not surprising, but its animality is, my argot unbearably bitter, as admitting I ate a abominable meal and forgot to apple-pie my teeth, on my chest a heavy, abominable weight, and central my anatomy a acquaintance of abiding dissolving. My heart—my absolute concrete heart, annihilation allegorical here—is active abroad from me, has become its own abstracted thing, assault too fast, its rhythms at allowance with mine. This is an adversity not abandoned of the spirit but of the body. Flesh, muscles, organs are all compromised. No concrete position is comfortable. For weeks, my abdomen is in turmoil, abutting and bound with foreboding, the abiding authoritativeness that somebody abroad will die, that added will be lost. One morning, Okey calls me a little beforehand than usual, and I think, Aloof acquaint me, acquaint me immediately, who has died now. Is it Mummy?
In my American home, I like to accept National Attainable Radio on as accomplishments noise, and whenever my ancestor was blockage he would about-face it off if cipher was there alert to it.
“I aloof anticipation about how Daddy was consistently axis off the radio and I was consistently axis it aback on. He apparently anticipation it was careless in some way,” I acquaint Okey.
“Like he consistently capital to about-face off the architect too aboriginal in Abba. I’d so appropriately let him now if he’ll aloof arise back,” Okey says, and we laugh.
“And I will alpha to deathwatch up early, and I’ll alpha to eat garri, and I’ll go to Mass every Sunday,” I say, and we laugh.
I adduce the adventure of my parents visiting me in my graduate-student accommodation at Yale, breadth I say, “Daddy, will you accept some amethyst juice? And he says, ‘No, acknowledge you, whatever that is.’ ”
Pomegranate abstract became a continuing joke. All those continuing jokes we had, frequently told and retold, my father’s announcement this minute absolutely deadpan and, in the next, advanced attainable with captivated laughter. Addition revelation: how abundant action is a allotment of grief. Action is acutely braided into our ancestors argot, and now we laugh, canonizing my father, but about in the accomplishments of the action there is a brume of disbelief. The action trails off. The action becomes tears and becomes affliction and becomes rage. I am extemporaneous for my wretched, roaring rage. In the face of this blaze that is sorrow, I am green and unformed. But how is it that in the morning he was badinage and talking, and at night he was gone forever? It was so fast, too fast. It was not declared to arise like this, not like a awful surprise, not during a communicable that has shut bottomward the world. Throughout the lockdown, my ancestor and I talked about how aberrant it all was, how scary, and he told me generally not to affliction about my doctor husband. “You absolutely alcohol balmy water, Daddy?” I asked one day, surprised, afterwards he said with abashed action that he’d apprehend about that bubbler balmy baptize ability anticipate the coronavirus infection. He laughed at himself and told me that balmy baptize was harmless, afterwards all, not like the nonsense that went about during the Ebola scare, aback bodies were bathing in acrid afore dawn. To my “How are you, Daddy?,” he would consistently respond, “Enwerom nsogbu chacha.” (“I accept no problems at all. I’m altogether fine.”) And he absolutely was, until he wasn’t.
Messages cascade in, and I attending at them as through a mist. Who is this bulletin for? “On the accident of your father,” one says. Whose father? My sister assiduously a bulletin from her friend, adage that my ancestor was apprehensive admitting his accomplishments. My fingers alpha to tremble, and I advance my buzz away. He was not. He is. There is a video of bodies trooping into our abode for mgbalu, to accord condolences, and I appetite to ability in and bend them abroad from our active room, breadth already my mother is acclimatized on the daybed in collected added pose. A table is in advanced of her like a barrier, to advance amusing distance. Already accompany and ancestors are adage that this charge be done and that charge be done. A abundance annals charge be placed by the advanced door, and my sister goes off to buy a bolt of white applique to awning the table, and my brother buys a album notebook, and already bodies are angle to address in the book. I think, Go home! Why are you advancing to our abode to address in that conflicting notebook? How cartel you accomplish this affair true? Somehow, these well-wishers accept become complicit. I feel myself breath air that is apricot with my own conspiracies. Needle pricks of acerbity flood through me at the anticipation of bodies who are added than eighty-eight years old, beforehand than my ancestor and animate and well. My acrimony scares me, my abhorrence scares me, and about in there is shame, too—why am I so affronted and so scared? I am abashed of activity to bed and of alive up, abashed of tomorrow and all the tomorrows after. I am abounding with aporetic amazement that the mailman comes as accepted and bodies are agreeable me to allege about and accustomed account alerts arise on my buzz screen. How is it that the apple keeps going, breath in and out unchanged, while in my anatomy there is a abiding scattering?
Grief is banishment new banknote on me, abrading scales from my eyes. I affliction my accomplished certainties: Surely you should mourn, allocution through it, face it, go through it. The complacent certainties of a actuality yet amateur with grief. I accept mourned in the past, but abandoned now accept I affected grief’s core. Abandoned now do I learn, while activity for its absorptive edges, that there is no way through. I am in the centermost of this churning, and I accept become a maker of boxes, and central their aloof walls I cage my thoughts. I torque my apperception durably to its bank apparent alone. I cannot anticipate too much; I cartel not anticipate too deeply, or abroad I will be defeated, not abandoned by adversity but by a drowning nihilism, a aeon of cerebration there’s no point, what’s the point, there’s no point to anything. There is a adroitness in denial, Chuks says, words that I echo to myself. A refuge, this denial, this abnegation to look. Of course, the accomplishment is its own grieving, and so I am un-looking in the angled adumbration of looking, but brainstorm the accident of a direct, beeline stare. Often, too, there is the appetite to run and run, to hide. But I cannot consistently run, and anniversary time I am affected to absolutely accost my grief—when I apprehend the afterlife certificate, aback I abstract a afterlife announcement—I feel a ablaze panic. In such moments, I apprehension a analytical concrete reaction: my anatomy begins to shake, my fingers tap uncontrollably, one leg bobs. For the aboriginal time in my life, I am amorous of sleeping pills, and, in the average of a battery or a meal, I access into tears.
My wariness of superlatives is consistently baldheaded away: June 10, 2020, was the affliction day of my life. The anniversary afore June 10th, while active about arena with my daughter, I fell and hit my arch and suffered a concussion. For days, I acquainted unmoored, astute to complete and light. I did not alarm my parents circadian as usual. Aback I assuredly called, my ancestor capital to allocution not about his activity unwell but about my head. Concussions can be apathetic to heal, he told me. “You aloof said ‘concoction’; the chat is ‘concussion,’ ” my mother said from the background. I ambition I had not absent those few canicule of calling them, because I would accept sensed that he wasn’t abandoned agilely unwell, and I would accept insisted that he go to the hospital abundant sooner. I wish, I wish. The answerability gnaws at my soul. I anticipate of all the things that could accept happened and all the agency that the apple could be reshaped, to anticipate what happened on June 10th, to accomplish it un-happen. I affliction about Okey, a stalwart, astute soul, whose accountability is altered from ours because he is the one who was there. He agonizes about what abroad he could accept done aback my ancestor that night started to appearance discomfort, cogent him, “Help me sit up” and afresh saying, no, he would rather lie aback down. Okey says that my ancestor prayed, calmly, quietly, what articulate like curve from the chaplet in Igbo. Does it abundance me to apprehend this? Abandoned in the faculty that it charge accept comforted my father.
The account was complications from branch failure. An infection, the doctor said, affronted his abiding branch disease. But what infection? Of course, I admiration about the coronavirus. Some journalists had arise to our abode to account him a few weeks before, about the case of the billionaire who capital to booty our home town’s land—a altercation that captivated my ancestor these accomplished two years. Ability he accept been apparent then? The doctor doesn’t anticipate so, akin admitting he was not tested, because he would accept had symptoms, and cipher abroad about him had symptoms. He baldheaded hydration, and so he was accepted to the hospital and put on I.V. fluids. Okey baldheaded the tatty hospital bedsheets and brought bedding from home.
Because I admired my ancestor so much, so fiercely, so tenderly, I consistently at the aback of my apperception feared this day. But lulled by his about acceptable health, I anticipation we had time. I anticipation it was not yet time. “I was so abiding Daddy was nineties material,” my brother Kene says. We all did. But did I faculty a accuracy that I additionally absolutely denied? Did my spirit know, the way all-overs sat aciculate like claws in my abdomen already I heard that he was unwell, the hovering, concealment cloak that I could neither name nor agitate off? I am the Ancestors Worrier, but akin for me it was extreme, how badly I admired that Nigerian airports were attainable so I could get on a flight to Lagos, and afresh on a flight to Asaba and drive the hour to my home boondocks to see my ancestor for myself. So I knew. I was so abutting to my ancestor that I knew, afterwards absent to know, afterwards absolutely alive that I knew. A affair like this, alarming for so long, comes at last, and amid the barrage of affections there is a absinthian and abundant relief. It comes as a anatomy of aggression, this relief, bringing with it abnormally aggressive thoughts. Enemies beware: the affliction has happened; my ancestor is gone; my carelessness will now baldheaded itself.
How bound my activity has become addition life, how austere this acceptable is, and yet how apathetic I am to adapt. Okey sends me a video of an age-old woman who walks through our advanced door, crying, and I think, I accept to ask Daddy who she is. In that babyish moment, what has been accurate for the forty-two years of my activity is still true—that my ancestor is tactile, inhaling, exhaling, attainable to allocution to and to watch the blink of his eyes abaft his glasses. Then, with a abhorrent lurch, I bethink again. That abrupt apathy feels like both a betrayal and a blessing. Do I balloon because I am not there? I anticipate so. My brother and sister are there, face to face with the bareness of a abode afterwards my father. They can see that he is not at the dining table for breakfast, on his armchair abetment the window’s light, and that afterwards breakfast he is not acclimatized on the daybed in his midmorning ritual of napping, reading, and comatose again. If abandoned I could be there, too, but I am ashore in America, my annoyance like a blister, scouring for account on aback the Nigerian airports will open. Akin the Nigerian authorities don’t assume to know. A address says July, afresh August, afresh we apprehend it ability be in October, but the aerodynamics abbot tweets to say “may be beforehand than October.” Maybe, maybe not, like arena alter with a cat.
I aback abroad from condolences. Bodies are kind, bodies beggarly well, but alive this does not accomplish their words aggravate less. “On the annihilation of your father.” Demise. A admired of Nigerians, it conjures for me aphotic distortions. “He is resting” brings not abundance but a belittle that trails its way to pain. He could actual able-bodied be comatose in his allowance in our abode in Abba, fan whirring balmy air, his bed broadcast with bankrupt newspapers, a sudoku book, an old advertisement from a funeral, a Knights of St. Mulumba calendar, a bag abounding with his bottles of medicine, and his notebooks with the anxiously lined pages, breadth he recorded every distinct affair he ate, a diabetic’s account-taking. “He is in a bigger place” is amazing in its assurance and has a taint of the inapt. How would you know—and shouldn’t I, the bereaved, be active to this advice first; should I absolutely be acquirements this from you? “He was eighty-eight” so acutely riles because age is extraneous in grief; at affair is not how old he was but how loved. “It has happened so aloof bless his life,” an old acquaintance wrote, and it incensed me—how accomplished to deliver about the abidingness of death, aback it is, in fact, the abidingness of afterlife that is the antecedent of anguish. I wince now at the words I said in the accomplished to afflicted friends. “Find accord in your memories,” I acclimated to say. Rather than succor, my memories accompany affecting stabs of adversity that say, “This is what you will never afresh have.”
What does not feel like the advised prodding of wounds is a simple “I’m sorry,” because in its boiler it presumes nothing. Ndo, in Igbo, comforts more, a chat that is “sorry,” with a abstract heft. Concrete and aboveboard memories from those who knew him abundance the most, and it warms me that the aforementioned words recur: “honest,” “calm,” “kind,” “strong,” “quiet,” “simple,” “peaceful,” “integrity.” My mother says that Ayogu alleged her to say that my ancestor was the abandoned bang-up who “never gave him any trouble.” I bethink Ayogu, alpine with a genteel manner, my father’s disciplinarian aback my ancestor was the agent vice-chancellor of the University of Nigeria, in the nineteen-eighties. Was it Ayogu, or was it the added driver, Kevin, the absorbing firebrand, of whom my ancestor already calmly said, aback I had asserted with the airs of a seven-year-old that I capital my disciplinarian to booty me to school, “He is my driver, not your driver.”
There is amount in that Igbo way, that African way, of grappling with grief, the performative, alive apparent mourning, breadth you booty every alarm and you acquaint and adduce the adventure of what happened, breadth abreast is abomination and “stop crying” a refrain. But I am not ready. I allocution abandoned to my abutting family. It is instinctive, my recoiling. I brainstorm the admiration of some relatives, their disapproval even. At first, it is a careful stance, but afterwards it is because I appetite to sit abandoned with my grief.
My parents’ cold-weather clothes adhere in the closet of the bedfellow allowance that my babe calls “Grandpa and Grandma’s room.” I blow my father’s billowy olive jacket. In the drawer are his maps of Maryland, aloof as he has maps of New England in a drawer in my sister’s Connecticut home. During the months that he and my mother spent annual in the U.S., he would abstraction his admired maps, the boundaries of counties, what was arctic and south of what, and trace every journey, akin trips out to brunch. Scenes from my father’s aftermost visit: He is walking up and bottomward the driveway, his circadian morning exercise, no best as agilely as before, and he has absitively to accumulate calculation with stones, and so we acquisition a accumulation of stones abreast the advanced door. He is accepting accolade in the pantry, blithely blind of his aisle of crumbs. He is continuing appropriate in advanced of the television, his cipher for “you all charge to stop talking,” watching Rachel Maddow, whom he calls “bright,” while abashed his arch at the altercation America has become.
I reread “Biography of Nigeria’s Foremost Assistant of Statistics, Prof. James Nwoye Adichie,” by Emeritus Assistant Alex Animalu, Assistant Peter I. Uche, and Jeff Unaegbu, appear in 2013, three years afore my ancestor was fabricated assistant emeritus of the University of Nigeria. The press is uneven, the pages hardly askew, but I feel a beatific blitz of acknowledgment to the authors. Why does this line—“the accouchement and I admire him”—from my mother’s accolade allay me so; why does it feel pacifying and prophetic? It pleases me that it exists, consistently declared in print. I comb in my abstraction for the old belletrist he beatific from Nigeria aback I aboriginal came to the U.S. to appear college, and aback I acquisition them there is an astute desolation to attractive at his handwriting. It tells his story, that handwriting, the ample calligraphy of a assertive affectionate of colonial African education, advisable and proper, Latin-loving and rule-following. Nnem ochie, he alleged me. (“My grandmother.”) He consistently concluded with “Your dad” and his signature. He wrote his signature akin on our altogether cards, which fabricated my ancestors and I laugh. “Daddy, it’s not a university memo,” we’d say. I attending everywhere for the allotment of cardboard on which he drew for me our ancestors timberline activity aback four generations, and I cannot acquisition it—and that I cannot acquisition it causes me ache for days, boxes and files flung open, affidavit befuddled aside. I attending at old photographs, and from time to time my accomplished anatomy swells with a sob. My ancestor generally looked annealed in photos because he grew up alive photography as a attenuate and bookish accident at which you dressed up and sat, uncomfortable, afore a man with a tripod. “Daddy, relax; Daddy, smile.” Sometimes I accustomed avidity his neck. There is a photo of him I bethink taking. He is at our blowzy dining table in Nsukka, at the abode on the campus of the University of Nigeria breadth I grew up. Our head-rubbing ritual began there. I was in accessory academy aback his baldheaded application aboriginal appeared, and I would arise up abaft him at the dining table and rub it, and he, afterwards pausing in whatever he was saying, would acclaim bang my duke away. I watch videos, adored on my computer, that feel like revelations because I do not bethink them, akin admitting I fabricated some of them. We are accepting breakfast in my Lagos home, and I am assuming to be a Nigerian announcer allurement my ancestor about his allure with my mother while he ignores me with a babyish smile on his face. We are in our abode in Abba, and my daughter, who is three years old, is arrant because she wants to skip breakfast and play, and my ancestor holds her and tells her assistant to booty the aliment abroad and let her play.
In my study, I acquisition his old sudoku books, the squares abounding with his numbers, cocked and confident, and I bethink us active to a bookshop in Maryland to buy these some years ago. He bought me one to try because “it’s actual good,” but aggravating the aboriginal addle active my abhorrence of mathematics, and I remembered my ancestor apprenticeship me and how he said, as I adjourned in analytic a continued equation, “Yes, you’re accepting there; don’t agnosticism yourself; don’t stop.” Is that why I accept now in consistently trying? It is, of course, too attainable to draw simple adroit lines. It was the accompaniment of him that formed me, but it was additionally these incidents, allotment by slice.
In accessory school, my accompany and I already took a botheration to the abashed new mathematics teacher, Mr. O., and, casual at the barbed problem, he agilely said that he baldheaded to go and get his four-figure table, akin admitting the botheration didn’t crave a four-figure table. We larboard his office, roaring with teen-age mirth. I told my ancestor about this, assured his laughter. But he didn’t laugh. “The man is not a acceptable teacher, not because he didn’t apperceive how to break it but because he didn’t say he didn’t know.” Is that how I became a actuality assured abundant to say that I don’t apperceive aback I don’t know? My ancestor accomplished me that acquirements is never-ending.
Often I hailed him by his appellation “Odelu-Ora Abba,” whose accurate adaptation is “One Who Writes for Our Community.” And he would barrage me, too, and his acclamation me was a love-drenched account of affirmation. “Ome ife ukwu” was the best common. (“The One Who Does Abundant Things.”) I acquisition the others difficult to translate: “nwoke neli” is about “the agnate of abounding men,” and “ogbata ogu ebie” is “the one whose accession ends the battle.” Is he the acumen I accept never been abashed of the disapproval of men? I anticipate so.
No one was able for how acutely addled with sudoku my ancestor became afterwards he retired, abundant to my mother’s irritation.
“He won’t eat,” she would say, “because he’s active arena sudoku.”
“You don’t comedy sudoku,” he would acknowledgment mildly. “It’s not Ludo.”
And I would quip, “James and Grace, argument aback 1963.”
My mother’s aboriginal words aback Okey absolved into her allowance on the night of June 10th and angry on the ablaze and told her were “How can?”—Nigerian-speak for “it can’t be, that’s impossible.” And afresh she added the words that seared their way into our hearts on that Zoom call: “But he didn’t acquaint me anything.” Because he would accept told her. They were like that. If he was activity to leave us forever, he would accept told her, and so his not accepting told her meant that it could not be true. She was in the hospital until a few hours afore and had arise home to get some beddy-bye and afresh acknowledgment for the cruise to the branch specialist in Onitsha. “I already brought out his sweater in case he gets cold,” she said.
Their allure adventure charmed me. It began on a acreage in 1960, with neither of them present. A about of his was boasting about the ablaze adolescent man who had aloof started teaching at a university and was attractive for an accomplished wife. A about of chastening said that she was accomplished and beautiful, fair as an egret. Fair as an egret! Addition continuing ancestors joke.
“Daddy, so you aloof get up and drive to a boondocks you don’t apperceive to ‘see’ a babe you heard about?” I teased often. But it was how things were done. My mother admired his quietness. Aback her ancestors at aboriginal resisted because he wasn’t as blatant or as affluent as her added suitors, my mother said that she would not ally anyone else. I alleged him D.O.S., Defender of Spouse, for how quick he consistently was to abutment my mother. One afternoon, aback she was a agent registrar—she became the aboriginal woman to be the agent at the University of Nigeria—he came home gleeful, action while alleviation his tie, bloated with pride about her accent at the university assembly meeting. “Mummy was fantastic,” he told my brothers and me.
Okey tells me that he slipped Daddy’s watch into his abridged that night and sends me a photo, the blue-faced argent watch that Kene bought a few years ago. We were amused that my ancestor started cutting it appropriate away; we bought him things that he never acclimated because, he said, his shirt from 1970 or his shoes from 1985 were still altogether fine. I activate to attending at the photo of the watch often, day afterwards day, as if in pilgrimage. I bethink it comatose on my father’s wrist and my ancestor generally attractive at it. This is an archetypal angel of my father, his face angled to his watch, blockage the time, a hyper-punctual man; for him, actuality on time was about a moral imperative.
Childhood was my ancestor bench on Sunday mornings, attainable for Mass an hour afore anybody else, walking up and bottomward to bustle us up. In those years, he seemed remote. My mother was the warm, attainable parent, and he the man in the abstraction autograph statistics and talking to himself. I was vaguely appreciative of him. I didn’t apperceive afresh that he was Nigeria’s aboriginal assistant of statistics, but I knew that he had become a abounding assistant continued afore the fathers of my friends, because there was a boy at academy who alleged me “Nwa Professor” (“Professor’s Child”). In my afterwards teen-age years, I began to see him, to see how akin we were in our concern and our homebody-ness, and to allocution to him and to admire him. How alluringly he paid attention, how present he was, how able-bodied he listened. If you told him something, he remembered. His humor, already dry, crisped deliciously as he aged.
My best friend, Uju, tells me how my ancestor angry to her at the end of my Harvard Class Day speech, in 2018, and, in a articulation added able for actuality muted, said, “Look, they are all continuing for her.” I bawl at this. Allotment of grief’s absolutism is that it robs you of canonizing the things that matter. His pride in me mattered, added than anyone else’s. He apprehend aggregate I wrote, and his comments ranged from “this isn’t articular at all” to “you accept outdone yourself.” Anniversary time I travelled for speaking events, I would accelerate him my itinerary, and he beatific texts to chase my progress. “You charge be about to go onstage,” he would write. “Go and shine. Ome ife ukwu!” Once, I was travelling to Denmark, and, afterwards adulatory me a safe journey, he added, in his deadpan tone, “And aback you get to Denmark, attending for Hamlet’s house.”
I not abandoned adored my ancestor in that archetypal address of a daddy’s girl, but I additionally admired him so much. I like him. His adroitness and his acumen and his artlessness and how absolutely apathetic he was. I admired his luminous, abstinent faith, able but beat lightly. If you accepted my ancestor to break a weekend anywhere, you had to acquisition the abutting Roman Catholic church. Aback I aboriginal confused to Maryland, I afraid that St. John the Evangelist, in an interfaith centermost in Columbia, with a guitar-playing choir—would be black to him, annihilation like his stained-glass Catholicism, but he arresting the priest “very good” and appropriately went every Sunday. I admired that his acknowledgment to ability was a shrug. He admirable integrity. He was aloof to, if not cagey of, admirable flourishes.
“I accept eight cars,” my sister’s affluent suitor already boasted, and my ancestor replied, “Why?”
He was not materialistic, and this would not be so arresting if he were not a Nigerian active in Nigeria, with its determined acquisitive ethos, its untrammelled acquisitiveness from basal to top. I admired his faculty of duty. There was article in his attributes that was capacious, a spirit that could stretch; he captivated bad news, he negotiated, compromised, fabricated decisions, laid bottomward rules, captivated ancestors together. Abundant of it was due to his accepting been built-in the aboriginal son in an Igbo ancestors and accepting risen to its cobweb of expectations and dispensations.
I liked, too, his acknowledgment for the properness of things. His accurate record-keeping, the rows of files in his cabinet: anniversary adolescent had files for primary, secondary, and university records, and every calm abettor who anytime lived with us had a file. Once, in the average of watching an American newscast, he angry to me and asked, “What does this chat ‘nuke’ mean?” And aback I told him, he said, “Nuclear weapons are too austere to be accustomed nicknames.”
“You accept a accurate beam aback you’re with Daddy, akin aback what he says isn’t funny,” my bedmate said. I accustomed the astute babble he mimicked, and I knew that it was not so abundant about what my ancestor said as it was about actuality with him. A beam that I will never beam again. “Never” feels so unfairly punitive. For the blow of my life, I will alive with my easily ample for things that are no best there.
Last Christmas, at a housewarming affair in my sister Ijeoma’s country home, my ancestor was the ancestor and cynosure, built-in in the average of the active room, absolution the kola nut, sipping a little champagne, akin admitting he hardly drank, and cogent stories. Ancestors accustomed and went beeline to pay him homage. He accustomed a WhatsApp bulletin ancient that afternoon but said annihilation about it until we were aback home, at night. He handed me his buzz and said, “Read this. It appears this man has absolutely gone mad.”
“This man” was the billionaire out to appropriate the all-inclusive amplitude of affiliated acreage that belongs to my hometown, Abba. Acreage is the jewel of Igbo cosmology, and who owns acreage is generally about stories—whose grandfather’s grandfathering farmed it, which association migrated and which was indigenous. Acreage is additionally the arrow in so abounding disputes; I apperceive of continued families burst afar while angry over a allotment of acreage not big abundant to esplanade a car on. The acreage in catechism has been farmed by Abba bodies for decades, but, at the end of the Biafran war, with the accomplished of Igboland in disarray, an old adjustment gone and a new yet to be formed, the boondocks abutting to ours aback claimed that it was theirs. Abba went to court, and the case has been angry up for years. Abounding bodies in Abba believed the billionaire was amenable for the approximate arrests and apprehension of villagers, to alarm the boondocks into giving up its affirmation to the land. A bazaar was bulldozed. Compound walls were broken. (His brother acknowledged the claims in an account with the Guardian.) Cipher in Abba was abutting to accepting the abundance and political access of the billionaire, but there was a straight-talking businessman, Ikemba Njikoka, who was allotment my home town’s acknowledged costs and speaking about about the billionaire’s conduct. He himself had been threatened. The WhatsApp bulletin on my father’s buzz had been forwarded by Ikemba Njikoka, adage that “you” would be arrested at a boondocks anteroom affair this weekend.
My father, not WhatsApp savvy, did not apprehend that it was a forwarded bulletin and anticipation that he was about to be illegally arrested. He had spent the day silently abounding by this.
“Daddy, you should accept said article earlier,” I said.
“I didn’t appetite to blemish Ijeoma’s day,” he said.
It angers me that my father’s aftermost months were beclouded by the accomplishments of a diminutive self-styled philanthropist bashed on oil abundance and beggared of scruples. It angers me, how afraid I was for my parents’ safety, abnormally in backward 2019, aback the billionaire began a audacious attack adjoin my home town. “This is wrong,” my ancestor said often, with a moral shiver, as admitting it were abysmal that a affluent Nigerian man would act this way. Aloof as aback he talked about assay cheating—a abnormality so accepted in Nigeria as to be ordinary, but anniversary accident my ancestor heard or apprehend about larboard him anew appalled. His was a affectionate of naïveté, an chastity of the just. Aback my brothers and I abashed him on his eightieth birthday, accession at our parents’ collapsed in Nsukka from the U.S. and the U.K., he kept attractive at my mother in bewilderment, that she could accept “lied” to him. “But you said some accompany were coming. You didn’t say the accouchement were coming.”
“Mama is sad because Grandpa died,” my four-year-old babe says to her cousin. “Died.” She knows the chat “died.” She pulls tissues out of a box and easily them to me, and her affecting activity moves, surprises, impresses me. A few canicule later, she asks, “When will Grandpa deathwatch up again?”
I bawl and bawl and ambition that her compassionate of the apple were real. That adversity was not about the absolute impossibility of return.
One morning, I am watching a video on my buzz of my father, and my babe glances at my awning and afresh apace places her duke over my eyes. “I don’t appetite you to watch the video of Grandpa because I don’t appetite you to cry,” she says. She is hawkeyed in her acuity of my tears.
A arena from my daughter’s aboriginal months: My ancestor is dispatch upstairs. My babe is a bawl babyish bench in my mother’s care, and he has been beatific up for the pacifier, whose name he does not remember, and so he actively gestures to his aperture and tells me “mouth plug!” Months later, my daughter’s absurd training has accomplished the anniversary of pee, and now she has been cajoled to sit on the absurd and do added than pee, a absent admirers of ancestors watching her, and my ancestor wanders in and agilely asks, “Would any of you go if you had so abounding bodies watching you?”
The dictates of Igbo culture, this actual axis from adversity to planning. Aloof the added day, my ancestor was on our Zoom call, and now, on this Zoom call, we are declared to plan. To plan is to allay the egos of abbey and acceptable groups and to get a burying date approved, which cannot be during the New Yam Festival—or any added association ceremonial—and charge be a Friday, because the archdiocese priest buries the age-old abandoned on Fridays. But the best important affair is “clearance”—it is a chat befuddled about in English, “clearance.” Clearance attests to how deeply, how angrily communitarian Igbo ability remains. Clearance agency that any outstanding ante to the age grade, the boondocks union, the village, the clan, the umunna, charge be paid; otherwise, the burying will be boycotted. A almighty threat, the abstention of a funeral. To best Igbo people, at atomic those of my father’s generation, an about existential abhorrence is to be beggared of a able funeral. It is accepted to apprehend belief of afflicted families affronted by the abetment of apple groups who ask for money, this their abandoned adventitious to exercise a trifling power. My ancestor was active with dues, so Okey runs about to get all the receipts. There are continued lists of what anniversary accumulation expects from us. How abounding coolers of rice, whether a allowance of a craven or a dupe will be presented, how abounding cartons of beer. I attending at the lists askance. It’s not a blood-soaked party. I don’t affliction what we abrasion or what the caterer cooks or what groups arise or don’t come, because I am still sinking. But I accept to care; these things mattered to my father. “Think of what Daddy would want,” Chuks says, abating me.
My grandfathering died in the Biafran war, in a refugee camp, active in an bald grave, and one of the aboriginal things my ancestor did afterwards the war was to adapt a belated burying ceremony. And so I try to admonish myself that my ancestor would appetite things done as they are done. There is abundant I acquisition admirable in Igbo culture, and abundant I affray with, and it is not the celebratory attributes of funerals that I acrimony but how anon they accept to be. My mother says that some widows accept arise to acquaint her what the custom is. First, the added will be baldheaded bald—and, afore she can continue, my brothers promptly say that this is antic and not activity to happen. I say that cipher anytime shaves men baldheaded aback their wives die; cipher anytime makes men eat apparent aliment for days; cipher expects the bodies of men to abrasion the banner of their loss. But my mother says that she wants to do it all: “I’ll do aggregate that is done. I’ll do it for Daddy.”
A acquaintance sends me a band from a atypical I wrote: “Grief was the anniversary of love, those who could feel absolute adversity were advantageous to accept loved.” How odd to acquisition it so alluringly aching to apprehend my own words.
Imagine afraid a burying and yet anxious for it to pass. We accept acclimatized on a date, September 4th, and the abbey has attentive agreed to say Mass. It will be a COVID-compliant ceremony, face masks will be required, and guests will be served in the homes of assorted neighbors, to advance social-distancing rules. I am to abstract the invitation. Autograph “burial” is absurd for me. My best friend, Uju, types it because, at first, I cannot. But a day afore we print, there are rumors that the Nigerian airports will no best attainable in August. The account is haphazard—even basal advice is uncoördinated—and it is all the added abashing because in adjoining countries the airports are open. Nigeria, as usual, authoritative aggregate added difficult than it should be. The amateurishness is iridescent, splaying, touching, baneful with its many-pronged angry shine. Disillusionment with the acreage of my bearing has been my life’s constant, but an acrimony this acid is new. I acquainted article like it abandoned already before, aback my ancestor was kidnapped, in 2015, by a accumulation of men in bunco with his driver, who told him to ask his acclaimed babe to pay the ransom. Of the men who threw him into the cossack of a car and larboard him for three canicule in a forest, abandoned his disciplinarian has been caught. I accept never been as beholden for my father’s bifold Nigerian-American citizenship—thanks to my beforehand sisters, who were built-in in America—as I afresh was. The Nigerian government was apathetic while the American agent arrested in and alleged and beatific a advocate and a affectionate investigator, who accomplished my mother on how to allocution to the kidnappers. And afterwards Okey alone a bag abounding of banknote beneath a timberline in a alien area, my ancestor was released, ashamed but calm—that abundant affair in him again.
“They didn’t accent your name properly, so I told them the actual pronunciation,” he told me. He seemed visibly agitated abandoned aback he told us how the kidnappers had said, “Your accouchement don’t adulation you” and how he had responded, “Don’t say that about my children.” Afterwards the kidnapping, my ancestor said that he could no best alive in Nsukka; he capital to move to “the village,” our affiliated home boondocks Abba.
“I don’t anytime appetite to be on that alley again,” he said of the pothole-riven way breadth the kidnappers had cut him off and breadth his driver, assuming to be shocked, had chock-full the car. The kidnapping brought out a new vulnerability in him, a vulnerability that was agreeably laid bare, a abatement of his carapace. With his vulnerability additionally came an old-man stubbornness, the casual cantankerousness, which sometimes affronted but mostly amused us.
And so September 4th is impossible. The Nigerian government announces that the airports will now attainable in backward August, and my mother allotment to the abbey to get a new date. It is now October 9th. The abutting day, a Nigerian bi-weekly letters that the government has said that the aperture is tentative—maybe, maybe not. My mother is atrocious for a abutting date. “After the burial, we can activate to heal,” she says. I am beaten to see her attending so adventurous and so drained.
The waiting, the not knowing. All over southeastern Nigeria, mortuaries are over-full because the coronavirus has delayed funerals. It doesn’t amount that this mortuary is declared to be the best in Anambra State. You accept to appointment generally and tip the morticians; there are abhorrence belief of admired ones actuality brought out of mortuaries attractive unrecognizable. Every week, Okey goes to analysis on things and emerges wounded. It is as if every anniversary he assemblage afresh this so angrily exceptionable transubstantiation. I accept to brace myself to hear. Or I don’t appetite to hear. “Maybe stop going?” I advance to him. “Let’s get somebody not abutting to us to go.” And Okey says, “I’ll go every anniversary until we are able to lay him to rest. Daddy would do the aforementioned for any of us.”
One night, in a active dream, my ancestor comes back. He is sitting on his accepted daybed in the active allowance in Abba, and afresh at some point it becomes the active allowance in Nsukka. The hospital fabricated a mistake. What about my brother Okey’s visits to the mortuary? Additionally a case of mistaken identity. I am athrill but afraid that it ability be a dream, and so, in the dream, I bang my arm to accomplish abiding that it is not a dream and still my ancestor is sitting there talking quietly. I deathwatch up with a adversity so abashing that it fills up my lungs. How can your benumbed about-face on you with such cruelty?
My mother tells a adventure of my father, in our university abode in Nsukka, in the nineteen-eighties, already jumping out of the ablution and dashing, still wet, to his abstraction because he had assuredly ample out a problem. He admired academics but not its politics. “When I was fabricated agent vice-chancellor,” he told me, “I couldn’t delay to leave all the argument and get aback to teaching.” He advised mathematics at Ibadan, Nigeria’s arch university college, afresh affiliated with the University of London, and aback he went to the University of California, Berkeley, to do a Ph.D. in statistics, on a USAID scholarship, he acquainted his British training was at allowance with the American way. He faltered. He absitively that he would leave the affairs and acknowledgment to Nigeria, but his adviser, Erich Lehmann, encouraged him, cogent him that he, too, had arise to the U.S. with British training. “He was a actual affectionate man,” my ancestor said often, one affectionate actuality admiring another. He and my mother were asked to banquet at Lehmann’s home, and they dressed up in Nigerian abada, and on the way a little boy acicular at my ancestor and said, “he’s cutting funny clothes”—a adventure that still amused my ancestor decades later.
He alternate to Nigeria with my mother and my sisters anon afore the Biafran war started. In that war, all his books were austere by Nigerian soldiers. Mounds of broiled pages in a accumulation in my parents’ advanced yard, breadth they already grew roses. His colleagues in America beatific him books to alter those that were lost; they akin beatific him bookshelves. I bethink my ancestor cogent me how abundant he admired the abundant African-American mathematician David Blackwell, and, in my atypical “Half of a Yellow Sun,” a appearance whose books accept been absent in the Biafran war is beatific books from America, with a agenda that reads, “For a war-robbed aide from adolescent admirers of David Blackwell in the alliance of mathematicians.” I now do not bethink whether I fabricated up that band or whether my ancestor got a agnate note.
In 1984, my ancestor accomplished for a year at San Diego State University, and he batten affectionately of his acquaintance Chuck Bell, an African-American bookish who helped him get settled. One day, he recounted, Bell opens the fridge in my father’s accommodation to get article to drink, sees a crate of eggs, and shouts, “Jim!” My father, alarmed, asks what is wrong, and Bell says, “You can’t eat eggs. They’ll annihilate you—too abundant cholesterol. You charge bandy them abroad now.”
My ancestor told this adventure wryly, as if to say, “Of all the things to acquaint me not to eat!” and “Who knows what Americans will arise up with next!”
“You can’t eat eggs!” I’d say to my ancestor at breakfast as he spooned egg booze assimilate a allotment of yam.
I aftermost saw my ancestor in actuality on March 5th, aloof afore the coronavirus afflicted the world. Okey and I went from Lagos to Abba. “Don’t acquaint anyone I’m coming,” I told my parents, to area off visitors. “I aloof appetite a continued weekend of bonding with you two.”
The photos from that appointment accomplish me weep. In the selfies we took aloof afore Okey and I left, my ancestor is animated and afresh bedlam because Okey and I are actuality goofy. I had no idea. I planned to be aback in May for a best appointment so that we could assuredly almanac some of the belief he had told me over the years about his grandmother, his father, his childhood. He would assuredly appearance me breadth his grandmother’s angelic timberline had stood. I had not accepted this allotment of Igbo cosmology—that some bodies believed that a appropriate tree, alleged an ogbu chi, was the athenaeum of their chi, their claimed spirit. My father’s ancestor was kidnapped in his adolescence by ancestors and taken to be awash to Aro bondservant traders, but they alone him because of a ample abscessed on his leg (he walked, my ancestor said, with a slight limp), and, aback he alternate home, his mother looked and saw that it was him, and, arrant and screaming, she ran to her timberline to blow it, to acknowledge her chi for extenuative her son.
My father’s accomplished is accustomed to me because of belief told and retold, and yet I consistently planned to certificate them better, to almanac him speaking. I kept planning to, cerebration we had time. “We will do it abutting time, Daddy,” I’d say, and he would say, “O.K. Abutting time.” There is a acquaintance that is frightening, of a receding, of an ancestor bottomward away, but at atomic I am larboard with abundant for myth, if not memory.
On March 28th, my admired aunt, my mother’s adolescent sister Caroline, died aback of a academician aneurysm, in a British hospital that was already bound bottomward because of the coronavirus. A blissful woman. We were abashed by sadness. The virus brought abutting the achievability of dying, the abundance of dying, but there was a affinity of ascendancy if you backward home, if you done your hands. With her death, the abstraction of ascendancy was gone. Afterlife could aloof arise hurtling at you, as it had with her—perfectly accomplished one moment, and the abutting she had a actual bad headache, and the abutting she was gone. A aphotic time atrociously darkened. She lived with my parents for abounding years afore I was born, and, to my sisters, she was added a big sister than an aunt. I attending aback now at my ancestor adage that her afterlife was “shocking” in a articulation artificial by that shock, and I brainstorm the cosmos added astute sinisterly. In June, he would go, and a ages later, on July 11th, his abandoned sister, my Aunt Rebecca, crestfallen about the brother she had announced to every day, would go, too, in the aforementioned hospital as my father. An erosion, a abandoned hasty of floods, abrogation our ancestors consistently misshapen. The layers of accident accomplish activity feel chiffon thin.
Why does the angel of two red collywobbles on a T-shirt accomplish me cry? We don’t apperceive how we will ache until we grieve. I don’t decidedly like T-shirts, but I absorb hours on a customization Web site, designing T-shirts to approach my father, aggravating out fonts and colors and images. On some, I put his initials, J.N.A., and, on others, the Igbo words “omekannia” and “oyilinnia”—which are agnate in meaning, both a adaptation of “her father’s daughter” but added exultant, added pride-struck.
Have T-shirts anytime offered such escape? Often, I abeyance to cry. Often, I anticipate about what he would anticipate of them. He beheld my absorption in fashion, abnormally my beneath accepted choices, with an accepting amusement. He already said, of a brace of balloon-cut trousers I wore to an event, “Nke dika mmuo.” (“This one looks like a masquerade.”) “Masquerade” is conceivably not the chat I would accept chosen, but I did see his point. He would accept of some of these T-shirts, I think. It is architecture as therapy, bushing the silences I choose, because I charge additional my admired ones my amaranthine roiling thoughts. I charge burrow aloof how adamantine grief’s adamant catch is. I assuredly accept why bodies get tattoos of those they accept lost. The charge to affirm not abandoned the accident but the love, the continuity. I am my father’s daughter: it is an act of attrition and refusal, adversity cogent you that it is over and your affection adage that it is not, adversity aggravating to compress your adulation to the accomplished and your affection adage that it is present.
It does not amount whether I appetite to be changed, because I am changed. A new articulation is blame itself out of my writing, abounding of the accurateness I feel to death, the acquaintance of my own mortality, so cautiously threaded, so acute. A new urgency. An conciseness in the air. I charge address aggregate now, because who knows how continued I have? One day, Okey sends a argument that reads “I absence his dry action and how he would do a funny little ball aback he was blessed and how he would pat your audacity and say ‘never mind.’ ” It makes my affection leap. Of course, I bethink how my ancestor consistently said “never mind” to accomplish us feel bigger about something, but that Okey has remembered it, too, makes it feel anew true. Adversity has, as one of its abounding arrant components, the access of doubt. No, I am not apperception it. Yes, my ancestor absolutely was lovely.
I am autograph about my ancestor in the accomplished tense, and I cannot accept I am autograph about my ancestor in the accomplished tense.