Toyosi Oni, Yes! That’s one of the names that should ring a bell in your head whenever you think about one of the rising African voices to look out for. As an undergraduate of the University of Benin (UNIBEN), his works have been published on both local and international platforms.He tells the stories untold with such magnificent touch, taking you right to the scene you had never seen or even imagined.
It is said that the African story has been told myopically, but I can boldly say that with the hundreds of Toyosi(s) we have today, our stories would be rewritten the right way. Making the world realise, inspite of the fact that the continent has been tagged with darkness, struggle and pain, we have our strength,our zeal, our will and the creativity to thrive beyond all odds.
The Symbol of Death written by Toyosi is a story about an old woman who tells the bitter story of her life with so much strength and tenacity. She is someone I describe as an epitome of resiliency.
Here’s the full story: ‘The Symbol of Death’
She looked at me and showed her gold-brown teeth. Since I started this conversation with her, she had never ceased to spice her replies with a smile. Her smile was enthrallingly sparkling. Even at seventy-eight, she still understood what hearty laughter was.’What of your children, mama, where are they?’ I asked.She looked startled at my question, her wrinkled, rumpled face radiated with pain. She looked down at the cloth in her hand and pressed her teeth together, revealing a bulge at the side of her cheek, a little beneath her ear. I smelt that my question seemed out of place and I quickly segued.’You were not born and raised in Lagos, right?’She squeezed the clothe in her hand and pressed it so hard I started to fear it would tear. I knew exactly what she was feeling. That burning anger against the unknown. I was however sad that I ignited that anger.
‘I heard your first question, my son’ She said.I knew she did. I was almost pushed to ask why she did not answer but discarded the thought as soon as it came.’Sit down’ she ordered.I lent my hand to grab the nearest stool. Something inside me wanted to go. Another thing told me to wait.
‘You see’ she started. ‘I got married at a very early age.’She looked towards the sky and bit her upper lip.’I had my first son at the age of eighteen. He was indeed a bouncing baby boy. I remember how happy I was that day. I had been walking around with my big tommy for nine months. My mum was the happiest for me. I was happy that she was happy. So, I named him ayo’. She smiled as she pronounced that name.I adjusted my buttocks on the surface of the stool and told myself that I must listen to her till the end.
‘Ayo’ she said and kept quiet for a while.’Ayo was a brilliant boy. Right from his young age he had always shone with brilliance. At age four, Ayo was my calculator. He’d calculate the expenses of a customer to the awe of others’. She smiled.I stared at her blankly wondering where the whole story was headed.’Today, Ayo is no more, he died during a car accident on his way back from work.’ She said this with a big smile crested on her lips. I was left in total wonderment as to how she could say such a sad story and still keep her smile.’I’m so sorry, mama’ I said.
‘My second son came four years after Ayo, although I had a girl in between’. I looked at her and wondered how she expected me understand that.’His name was Ibukun, he was just like his brother, bright. Haha! He’d always cry to be in my hands everyday. There was a day he cried for four hours, just because I refused to talk to him’ she laughed aloud. I replayed her joke in my head and damn! It was boring.’Ibukun went to school in a country called Cyprus. You know, his tuition fees were not paid by me, because he was on a scholarship’ I made a silent hmm and nodded my head wondering what was going on in her mind.’Last year, Ibukun was sentenced to fifty years imprisonment in Cyprus. They said he killed someone, my Ibukun killed someone. Hmmm.’ As she said this, her face was blank. She squeezed the clothe
‘My third son was born in 1961′. I tried to do the math and realized how dumb I was at calculating.’I named him, Ife. And of course you know what that means’ she said as if to ask.’Love, I believe’ I replied enthusiastically.’Yes. Three months after Ife was born, he started walking, of course with the aid of things’ She paused and squeezed the cloth in her hand.’I remember Ife’s primary school days. He would wait in front of his wooden school, while I prepared to take him home’ She laughed. This time louder. So loud I began to wonder what this woman called funny.’Ife gained admission like his brother but he was in Nigeria. He was loved by his classmates, he loved playing football and was killed during one of his football matches’ she said as she smirked her lips. Tears were trying to come out of my eyes as I realized that she was talking about the death of her third son.
‘My fourth son. He was the conservative type. He hated crowdy areas. I remember how he angrily left his friend’s graduation party. When the celebrant’s mum told me. I simply told her that he just used that as cover. He hated crowdy places. I told her how I forced him to come to that party’. It was at this point that I started to notice a line from the side of her eyes.
‘Two years ago, sometime in October, he slept and never woke up’. She said this and I could filter the pain from her voice. She paused for a while and looked straight at me. Her lips moved as though she was muttering something.
‘I named him Kokumo’ she said as she squeezed the clothe.I paused and replayed the sequence of deaths. The first, second, third and fourth. I was creating the perfect line to console her in my mind. Her voice broke the silence.’My fifth and last son was named Malomo. After I gave birth to him, that happiness that accompanies childbirth was absent in me. I was scared and prayed seconds after he came out that God gives him a long life.’ I was scared and prayed silently that she would not squeeze the clothe.She looked at me and saw it. That fear. That shock.She threw the symbol of death away and smiled. At least I was happy that she was not going to squeeze it anymore. I expected her to say something but she was quiet.’Where is he?’ I asked with a somewhat faint voice.’OK’ she said.’I mean, where is he?’ I asked again.’He is… ‘ She said as she blinked her eyes.At this point she could not fight back her tears. I could not either. We both cried. Something popped into my mind. What of their father? I closed my eyes and decided that I was not going to ask that question.
‘Please say something.’ I said and this time my voice was loud.’He is… ”Yes?’ I asked.’He is… d… d…’ she said.I was staring at her waiting for a reply.’He is… what?”I saw him yester…’ she said.’OK?”He is dead’.The last hope was dead.I cried. I cried really hard.
~…Toyosi is driven by passion and constantly seeks to grow in knowledge. For leisure, he listens to reggae music, read novels and play games.