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African Writing Archives

Current A.W.



Ayobami Adebayo



Ayobami Adebayo

Adebayo writes short fiction and creative non-fiction. Her short story Shadows of Eclipse was published in the Weaverbird Collection by Farafina. She currently lives and works in Nigeria.



 A Family Affair

'A man's dying is more the survivors' affair than his own.'
Thomas Mann (1875 - 1955)


Aunty Labake thought the funeral was a success.

'Your Father was a good man,' she said opening a wrap of iru and shoving a handful into her mouth. 'He was a good man O! You just look at the number of people who came for the burial. The governor! Committee of friends from London, London O! He was a good man … '

I walked past her into the house where Apostle Iye was sprinkling holy water on everyone. Mummy and my brother, Tuyi, were on their knees. Apostle shouted words that sounded like the ones he had been chanting when Mummy and I visited him for the first time some months before.


We had visited the Apostle at his Holy Cathedral of Jesus’ Saints. On that day as we knelt for prayer, I could not resist a peek as he shouted words that sounded suspiciously like Yamaha Suzuki Yamaha Suzuki. I watched with one eye half open as he danced to his own energetic clapping, he pranced about, dribbling saliva into the holy water, which he sprinkled on Mummy and I at intervals. He nearly tripped over his white cassock. I closed my eyes as he staggered, and smothered my laugh with a cough.

'Sit', he barked suddenly breaking out of his trance.

Mummy dragged herself up into the wooden pew behind her. I stood up and tried to steady myself, the strong smell of the incense that pervaded the room made me dizzy. I flopped into the pew beside Mummy. 'I have prayed, and God has answered,' the Apostle said.

'Amin Amin' Mummy interjected fervently.

'But there are more things for us to do … Yamaha Sadrekum!'

The Apostle’s body jerked as he began to chant strange words again. Mummy pinched me and I began to say amen, not caring whether the man was cursing us. For the next few minutes, Mummy and I chanted amen, then the Apostle stopped shuddering and began to speak English again. ' … madam yes the Lord said to me that this sickness of husband is an attack from his family.'

'I said so, I said so,' said Mummy, shaking her legs so hard that her iro slid open.

'But there is nothing our God cannot do. Nothing. We must have a prayer vigil for him. We must have the vigil as soon as possible. Other men of God and prayer warriors will be there to join us in prayer. We will need seven red candles, seven blue candles and seven yellow candles. We will also need seven yards of white linen and seven thousand naira for Holy Ghost appeal. If we do not make the Holy Ghost appeal there shall be no breakthrough.' Apostle Iye’s gaze made a sure descent from the ceiling to the black thigh that Mummy’s iro had revealed.

'I will bring all that tomorrow. When will the vigil be?' Mummy asked rubbing a finger on her bare thigh.

'Today is Thursday. We shall have the vigil tomorrow night.' The Apostle replied , standing to his feet, a signal that it was time for us to leave. More people waited in the back pew desperate to see him.

'Thank you Apostle, we will see you tomorrow,' Mummy said. She knelt down and gave some money to the Apostle.

'Oh Lord bless your child who has blessed me,' The apostle began to jerk in his white cassock. The prayers continued for some time, while the Apostle sprinkled holy water on us with palm fronds.


We met Aunty Labake in our house. She hugged me and I held my breath. She always smelled of iru. 'How is he?' She asked.

Mummy sighed, sinking into a chair. 'No change at all, no change.'

'I brought some black soap for him, I went to Oyo to get it, there is a baba there, people say that the man is very strong. If your husband bathes with the soap …'

I left them in the sitting room and went to the room my parents shared. His illness had confined him there, keeping him from his endless travels. I entered the room and sat down gently on the bed beside Daddy. Above the blanket that covered him from waist down, his body was bare and his collar bones jutted upward.

He was still sleeping when Mummy joined me in the room. She stood at the foot of the bed with her hands folded above her bosom. I watched as her eyes roved over his body, her eyebrows slightly raised.

'Is this not my great husband?' She said rubbing her palms together. 'So it is possible to see him everyday like this? I did not know that the world economy would not collapse without his business trips.'

'Maybe he is not asleep,' I said glaring at her.

'Get me the soap from Labake,' she hissed.

Mummy took Daddy into the bathroom to bath him with the black soap. After I took the water in for her, I sat on the bed. My armpits felt wet despite the air-conditioning and I wished I was back at school. The splashing stopped and I knew Mummy was towelling him dry.

'Monisola, come and help me,' she called after a while.

I went into the bathroom; she had dressed him in a pair of boxers. We helped him back to the room slowly, his arms round our shoulders. He was about to lie on the bed when the boxers slid down his legs. His coughing subsided and I tried not to look at what lay beneath his shrunken stomach. He tried to retrieve the boxers, but Mummy snatched it first, pulling it back to his waist while he was still bent over, trying to reach for them.

He began to cough again, this time the trickle of blood that dribbled from his mouth was mingled with tears. He clutched his boxers at the waist, shrugged off our hands and collapsed into bed. A drop of sweat rolled from my armpit down the insides of my arm. I had never seen my father cry, I had never imagined that he had ever cried, even as a child.

Silently, Mummy lay beside him on the bed and wrapped her arms around him. She held him close to her, gently. Mummy raised her head above his shoulder and mouthed to me 'Start boiling rice for dinner.'


The next day, I went with Mummy to the vigil. There were seven other white-robed people, five women and two men. When we arrived they were singing soft hymns and swaying gently like palms in the breeze.

Onisegun wa nihin
Jesu abanidaro

Everyone except the Apostle stopped singing when we arrived. One of the women handed us white robes; we were to change into them. I stared suspiciously at my robe and wondered how many had worn it before me. 'Monisola! Put it on!' Mummy said.

I pulled the gown over my head. It smelled faintly of fish.

We settled into the business of the night. We prayed for four hours: no songs, just prayers. By the time we finished around two am, I was sweating. At a point during the prayer session, feeling particularly energised, I launched into a strange speech of my own, Yamaha! Yamaha! Yamaha! Suuuzuuuki! I screamed, till my throat was dry.

I believed the Apostle when he said Daddy would walk to the door to open it for us when we got home. I even nodded when he said to Mummy, 'Your daughter is a prayer giant.' This time when the Apostle gave instructions on how many candles to light and what time to sprinkle the incense, I listened.


That morning, Mummy was away visiting an Imam for prayers as we ate breakfast on the dining table. Tuyi blurted suddenly, 'Daddy is going to die, abi?'

I checked my hand in midair as I made to slap him. 'What silliness is this? What sort of talk is that?'

He stood up from the dinning table and pushed back his chair. It toppled over with a loud crash. 'You are both liars, you and Mummy, deceiving yourselves. Can’t you see? He is dying. Daddy is dying.' he whispered, jabbing the dining table with a knife.

I stood up and went to Daddy’s room. He was sitting up in bed, he looked better. I opened the windows and drew the curtains aside. 'How are you today?' I asked, sitting on a chair beside the bed.

'Fine, what do you expect?' He rasped, 'I plan to be around when you get married, so don’t start getting strange ideas. I want to hear your husband’s words of gratitude to me for raising a daughter who remained a virgin until she got married. I plan to be around for a long time. '

'Of course Daddy' I smiled and held his bony hand.

I had decided I didn’t like sex after my first and only sexual encounter with my first boyfriend in part one. Then I met Tale, my next boyfriend and decided I liked it too much. Yet, for a fleeting moment in that room, I wished was a virgin. He went on and on about girls of nowadays who had no respect for their bodies, while my mind wandered to Tale’s body. I left the room convinced that Tuyi was wrong. Daddy was getting better, he was going to live.


His health declined again in a few days. Mummy brought Apostle Iye home and we held a prayer meeting in their room. Apostle, Mummy, Tuyi and I. One hour of shouting ourselves hoarse at the witches and wizards tormenting him. I didn’t close my eyes this time. I focused on Daddy’s shrivelled body and screamed louder than I had screamed at the church. A smile played on Daddy’s face as his eyes darted from Mummy to the Apostle. After the prayers, Mummy saw the Apostle off to the door telling me and Tuyi to wait in the room.

When she came back, she sat on the bed near Daddy’s feet. 'Your father wants to speak to us,' she said sliding her hand over the lightly sheathed bones that were his feet. I glanced at her for some clue of what was to come, but found nothing. Tuyi shifted uncomfortably beside me and he sat on the rug. I followed suit, feeling queasy.

'I want to thank you, especially you…you have been my wife, my pillar. I thank you particularly for bringing your Apostle here to … er, pray for me,' Daddy wheezed, smiling. Mummy removed her hand from his leg. He went on and on, giving this vote of thanks. He even said thank you to his dead mother for bringing him into the world. I was starting to scratch my back when I heard him say, 'this sickness of mine is AIDS, I have AIDS.'

I sat there staring at him, waiting for him to continue, then his words finally penetrated. I almost laughed; I looked at him and took in the sunken eyes, the bony arms and the shrunken body, ‘Of course it is AIDS,’ a part of me said. Yet I felt as though I had just woken up from sleep. I went to my room, bolted the door and slept.

When I woke up, I returned to their room. Tuyi was sitting on a chair beside the bed. I stood there quietly for sometime.

'How is he?' I asked.

'Mummy has gone.'

I glanced at the open wardrobe across the room, it was half-empty, and the dressing table was empty: no powders, no lipsticks, no perfumes… empty.

'Why?' I asked staring at Tuyi, he was chewing his nails.

'He knew he had AIDS since he was admitted, the doctors tested him and gave him the results, he never told her until now, so she left… because she feels……I don’t know,'

AIDS, that word again. 'It could still be HIV,' I said, scratching my head.

'This is AIDS.' Tuyi hissed, looking at me for the first time since I entered the room. My brother loved reality too much and I was beginning to hate him for it.

I sat on the rug and lay my head on the bedside cabinet. It was dark outside. I couldn’t think; definitely not about AIDS. It was something that happened to people in warring countries where hunger would have killed them anyway. Not to Daddy, not to Daddy. He woke up at some point in the night and Tuyi gave him a little water. He slept again. We sat there silently, watching as he drew each laboured breath, dreading that each was his last. I slept. I woke to the sound of the door opening. Sunlight filtered into the room from an open window. Mummy walked in.

'Go and bring my things from my car,' She said quietly. We left to do her bidding, too tired for questions.


The following week was another frantic time of running around for help, this time to the hospitals. I became Mummy’s driver after she drove into a ditch two days after Daddy's announcement. Tuyi stopped school to stay at home with Daddy. We went from hospitals to doctors, from doctors to clinics, explaining Daddy's condition and summoning the doctors home to examine him for a fee; he was now too sick to be moved.

The doctors showed up at our home in the evenings. They would look at him — the pack of bones that was left of him. The verdict was always the same. A shake of the head and I am sorry, it is too late, this is why we tell people to test early … ', or a deep sigh and Madam, you have to be strong. Or, It is too far gone, let the family be careful, madam, and please take the HIV test as soon as possible. Okay?'

The ASUU strike was called off. I packed my things and headed back to school in my Starlet. When I went to say goodbye to him, all he said was my name, my oriki, 'Agbeke,'

'I will see you when I come back,' I said to him.

He began to shake his head, I grabbed his hand in a tight grip. I could feel the bones in his hands.
'I will see you when I get back,' I repeated, again and again. My grip tightened on his hand until he nodded.

Mummy called me a month later, 'Monisola, the burial is in a week.'

I asked Tale to drive me back home.

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