Thursday, April 23, 2020 2:15 am
By Bayo Adeyinka
I was eager to get on my journey. It was 1999 and I was about to start my National Youth Service. Rivers State was destination and I was at the Sango, Ibadan park of Ifesinachi Transport to board one of their luxurious buses to Port Harcourt. My heart beat with excitement as I got on the bus. My destination was an unfamiliar terrain so I wondered what the future held for me.
As I was trying to get comfortable on my allotted seat, I looked out of the window and I saw him. We were set mates and graduated same year but we were not friends. We even took a few courses together especially in 100Level but no, we didn’t see eye to eye. Campus politics divided us bitterly. Banji was outside the bus with a travel bag slung on on one of his massive shoulders. Banji had a rotund frame . He didn’t make any attempt to enter the bus. I wondered what he was up to- so I called his name. His face lightened as he heard his signature nickname- an adaptation of his surname. He hailed me and told me he was posted to Rivers State also. He didn’t have the complete transport fare so he was waiting for the bus to be fully boarded before they will start taking on extra passengers. Those extras were people who had incomplete fares but they had some kind of wooden seats that was put on the aisles for such passengers those days. Very uncomfortable but you’re sure of reaching your destination.
I couldn’t bear him going through such discomfort so I told him I’ll make up his fare. I did just that and he sauntered in and sat beside me. We engaged in chit chat all the way to Port Harcourt- not willingly but by the force of circumstances. I recall that our bus was attacked by armed robbers around Ore that night. Both of us cowered as our security escort returned fire for fire. As bullets flew from our bus into the surrounding bushes, so did loud smelly farts erupt from different unfathomable areas in the bus. People are cowards! Banji and I had good laugh after the episode when I told him I suspected that he farted.
That was how our friendship began. At the NYSC camp, we were together and later we were joined by Akin Akintola. Akin is the junior brother of one of our lecturers on campus and though he graduated from another school, his face was unmistakable the moment we saw him. So the three of us- Banji, Akin and I became inseparable at the camp.
On the last day of camp and after everyone had received their letters of posting to their primary assignments, we felt it was time to depart. However, Banji asked Akin and I to follow him to his uncle’s place in town. Since we really had nowhere to go, we followed him. Banji’s uncle worked with a major parastatal of the Federal Government then. We located his house and met a very pleasant man and his family. Banji introduced us as his good friends and when his uncle asked us if we had anywhere to stay, we said no. To our surprise, he asked us to spend the NYSC year under his roof.
You won’t understand what a big deal that was- Akin and I were total strangers but this man took us in to live with him because of a recommendation from Banji. But that’s not all- Banji’s uncle had 3 kids, a long time friend of his who also came to hustle in PH, a nephew and a niece living with him already inside that two-bedroom bungalow along Choba road in Port Harcourt. That made it nine of us- apart from himself and his wife- in that house. The man’s heart was far bigger than his abode. Furthermore, he fed all of us at least once a day. We could enter anywhere in his house. We were treated like family and I even used to accompany the man to Uniport for his master’s lectures in the evenings.
Here’s the kernel of my story: our sleeping arrangement was such that all the guys slept on a mat in the living room including his kids. The elderly friend slept on the sofa while the niece and his female daughter slept in the second bedroom. Of course, the man and his wife slept in the other bedroom. However, our bags were kept in the man’s bedroom. Whenever it was time to sleep, we would all take our bags from that room and use them as our pillows. Then in the morning, we would return our bags and re-arrange the living room. There was just a small snag- Banji’s uncle didn’t have doors at both bedrooms. There were just patterned curtains at their entrances.
I woke up one morning and observed that Banji, his uncle, Akin and the elderly man were hunched together at the backyard. They discussed in low tones but I could sense that the subject of discuss was serious. I saw that Banji was highly animated and shook his head many times. Since I wasn’t called into the conversation, I decided to ‘dey my dey’. As I brushed my teeth, I noticed that the wife was crying. I was worried but carried on since no one invited me. After what seemed like a long time, Banji shouted at his uncle and I could hear very loudly, ‘I know him. He can’t do that’. With that he shouted my name and asked me to come.
I ran to the backyard and to my disbelief, Banji asked me what I went to do inside his uncle’s room while everyone slept. Aghast, I struggled to find words to deny the accusation. Then, I looked at the wife who had been weeping for almost an hour and suddenly, it dawned on me. Banji looked at his uncle again, in a manner I’ve never seen him do before, and told him he should just plainly ask us to leave if he wasn’t able to accommodate us again. He said he has known me since our undergraduate days and though we were not close on campus but he knew me sufficiently enough to say I could not do what was being insinuated. His uncle looked at me and said he saw me tiptoe into the room while he slept, called my name and I answered. He said I later left the room but he didn’t know what I came to do. I denied it outright.
Still in a state of shock, I struggled with tears as I looked at all the men. Akin was bewildered but Banji stood firmly in my corner. At a point, I was asked if I suffered from somnambulism (sleepwalking). It was an experience I will never forget. As this discussion went on, the nephew who also lived there but wasn’t part of the conversation walked towards the house. It was his duty to wash Banji’s uncle’s car every morning. The car was parked on the adjoining street because the road to the house at that time wasn’t motorable. As if by instinct, I called out to the nephew and asked him in front of everyone if he entered his uncle’s bedroom after we all slept. To my relief and everyone’s utmost surprise, he answered yes. He now added the clincher that his uncle even asked, ‘Abayo, is that you?’ and he said yes. Well, his name is Abayo (short for Abayomi) while I’m Bayo. That was where the confusion stemmed from.
With that confession, I broke down in tears and wept like a baby. Everyone apologized to me. Banji was livid. You would think he was the one who was accused. I entered the house and packed my bag. Banji’s uncle pleaded. He even called a friend of his to talk to me. I left for Ibadan that day and explained what happened to my dad. My dad asked me to return since the truth had been revealed. I stayed for about two weeks and returned to Port Harcourt. When I stepped into that house, I was welcomed with such pomp that I forgot that traumatic episode.
Many years after, Banji’s uncle and my dad became good friends. I’ll leave that angle for another day. I became an adopted brother to Banji’s uncle- I even became closer to him than Banji.
Moral of the story? Real friends don’t wait for you to defend yourself- they defend you especially when they have known you well enough to be a judge of your character. True friends don’t watch people malign or misrepresent you when they had the capacity to change the narratives. True friends don’t wait till you’re dead before they start to write eulogies and show pictures of books you gave them while alive. Real friends don’t do Nicodemus- come to you by night and stand aloof during the day. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Fight for you. Respect you. Include you. Encourage you. Need you. Defend you. Stand by you. According to Oscar Wilde, ‘True friends stab you in the front’. True friends they are not who only come out to say great things about you when you’re no longer here to hear them.
This has been my meditation since the passing of Abba Kyari and the deluge of eulogies from fiends who claim to be friends. I would rather not have friends than have those who now struggle to out-do themselves after Kyari’s passing. I cherish the friendship of my friend, Banji Haastrup so much and that was why I wept bitterly when he passed on last year but the memories of a true friend will last me for a lifetime.
-Mr. Bayo Adeyinka, a banker, writer and motivational speaker, writes from Lagos