Saturday, July 19, 2008

One for Niyo and a note on Cyber Mourning....

I lost another friend last week. A classic case of a candle in the wind, another young one gone too soon. Niyi Williams, the most easy going, happy-go-lucky chap you could meet. I have not known Niyi for long but when I moved back to Nigeria, he was always with my cousin Deoye when we hung out. So we also ended becoming friends and ,in our own way, we bonded.

The thing about this chap, just like the other friends I have lost in about ten years, is that they never took themselves too seriously. While all of us where running around in our orgy of vanity, they seemed to look at us like wise old bards observing the futility of the frenetic commotion we call life. Its almost like they knew something we didn’t. Also, they were extremely nice people. They had this generosity of spirit that was difficult to comprehend. A strange humility that made them extend unusual kindnesses to the most undeserving of us. These types, oddly, are the ones that go first. They are the good ones, in some cases, the very best.

Second to the last time I saw Niyi, he had come to my surprise birthday dinner - masterfully orchestrated by SM. From there we all went for a shake and a swig at Caliente in Victoria, Island. Then, a situation arose with Deoye and some other bloke and I wondered why Niyi did not rise to his defence. He just stood there and watched and I had to jump in and intervene. In retrospect, its like he could see that nothing bad was going to happen and he did not need to intervene and secondly, its like he could tell that his intervention could lead to worse things. When we were back in the car, I furiously read him the riot act on how friends must always look out for each other and stand up for each other. He listened to me with little protest and apologised very calmly . Later that night we made up and I apologised for going off at him, he said “no worries”. It was only later that I heard from Deoye that he had a heart condition and that he could not get too excited, hence why he did not intervene. I felt stupid, but was glad that we had made up and I had apologised to him as well. I learnt a lesson: be slow to castigate, try more to understand.

The very last time I saw Niyi. It was at Bacchus a busy buzzing bar on Awolowo Road, Lagos. We had gone to Number 10 ( Jay Jay Okocha’s bar) and then decided to wind down in the wee early hours of the morning at Bacchus. Bacchus was unusually empty. Few people that day. We mostly had the bar to ourselves. We chatted, we laughed and did some guy bonding stuff and then Deoye and I, who had begun our night much earlier at Boat Club decided to head on home. I needed one last drink and Niyi insisted on buying. Strangely enough it was the first time, he ever bought me a drink. I had a quick swig and hopped off the bar stool. Deoye shook his hand and said ‘later’. I shook his hand and strangely gave him a warm hug. “Later man and thanks for the drink”, I said. “No worries Dapo, later”, he said. I walked out with a temperate alcoholic buzz, but when I got to the door, I paused and looked back. He was sitting on the barstool, just him and his drink at his side of the bar. Anyone who frequents Bacchus knows that never happens, the bar was always overcrowded, but not tonight. Usually we all leave together and I thought to myself, strange that this time he stayed behind. Maybe he had an ‘agenda’ I thought, better leave the man to his wiles. I smiled and headed on home and that was the last time I saw or spoke to him.

A few weeks later I am having a lazy day in Fulham, London, doing my bookshop and cafe thing, when I got online and for some reason went to his page. Then I started seeing strange things. No, no, no, not little funny people, but postings on his wall saying “RIP”, “will miss you” and “nooooo...”, amongst other deep expressions of love and loss. There were pages and pages of eulogies to Niyi by people who knew him in the US and Nigeria where he had both lived. I was in shock. My hands literally began to tremble as I confirmed what I read. Niyi was dead. I wept.

I would like to make two key points from this blog entry. First is how transient life is and how we relate with people thinking we have a whole life time to understand each other, to appreciate one another, to apologise to each other, to make each other happy, to show each we care about one another or simply to show kindness to each other. That is all vanity. Who told us we have tomorrow? All we have is now, today. On Niyi’s Facebook status on 9th July he wrote “yesterday is history..tomorrow is a is a gift thats why its called "present", enjoy today like there’s no tomorrow”. How true his words were and still are. Now I sit here and think of how much I need to say to so many people that I have not said, and that perhaps I should. Nothing tells me they will be there forever, nothing tells me I will be here forever. What about you? How much time do you think you have?
The second point really is how Facebook has changed everything even mourning! We can now ‘cyber mourn’ through Facebook. And we can do it en masse from everywhere in the world. Hope this is not the end of funerals. Hope we don’t end up having Facbook funerals! Today people are saying all they wanted to say to Niyi by posting their feelings and thoughts towards him on his Facebook page. They could not mourn him in person nor in spirit, so they 'cyber mourn' him. Me included. I see how therapeutic and cathartic cyber mourning can be but its also slightly strange to see his page and see things he wrote to people just a week ago. I wonder if he will log in from where he is. I wonder if there are Facebook pals in the other life. I wonder if his Facebook page will grow feathers. I wonder how you bury a Facebook page, when its owner passes on. I wonder what Niyi would have thought about all this. I wonder, I wonder, I wonder.

Adieu Niyi, thanks for the friendship, for that last drink and for the last lesson on the value of the 'present'. Your heart may have failed you on earth, but it never failed us. Check your Facebook and you'll know what I mean. You were so loved, because you loved life and you loved others: all in the 'present'. See you tomorrow, when ever that is...

Fleet Street, London, July 08