Ifeoma Adibe(1972-2007): The Angel That Waltzed Through Our Lives!
It was one of those Monday mornings that looked ordinary and bland. I had no vigour for the week's assignments having had a stressful weekend of packing into a new office apartment with my colleagues. While I set-up my desk and tried to re-adjust my mind to settle into the new office milieu, my thoughts began to drift and take a flight to London and alighting in the apartment of a dear friend. For no reason, I became troubled and restless and my head began to throb incessantly to a tune so discordant. I tried to relax and calm myself down and shut out the voice of the harbinger of evil forebodings that seemed to have sneaked in to rob me of my peace that early Monday morning: 3rd September 2007!
Like I had regularly done for about two weeks, I picked up my phone and dialled Ify's line. Unlike her familiar voice that I expected to hear, I got a prompt to drop a voice message which I ignored. So I tried again. Maybe she's sleeping or needed rest from the many loved ones that had inundated her with a barrage of calls and text messages. At least she could hear my voice later, so I decided to drop the message: "Ify, this is Felix. just wanted to know how you are today.", but my voice quivered and stuttered and all I could mutter were words in a monotone. Bland! Incoherent! Plain Words!
An air of anxiety, like a bulwark encircled and pummelled my heart as I struggled to push back the wave of morbid fear that surged at my inner being. Fear lurked around like a villain on the verge of attacking and subjugating a hapless prey. I couldn't wait to ascertain the state of things so I put a call through to Ify's younger brother, Obi who resides in Lagos . Unknown to me, the news had flown in from London without caring for the pain it would subject our hearts to. The heralds did not have the courtesy of wrapping the news with an emotionally-insulating material that could shield our hearts from sorrow and make the landing softer. How could a news be so raw, inconsiderate and discourteous to people who had loved, cared and cherished Ify so deep from their hearts? That Ify died at 12:40pm on 3rd September 2007 in the arms of her dear friend and sister, Shirley may not be a breaking news headline for BBC or CNN, but to many of us who knew Ify deeply, that Monday was a sour day in our lives being 3rd day before the Nones of September (i.e. 3 September in the ancient Roman Calendar)
As text messages and calls from Ify's close friends in London corroborated the sad news, I couldn't do any meaningful work at the office thereafter. I had job deadlines and project reports to submit to my Japanese boss at the close of work and to him no excuse can ever qualify as a plausible reason for not completing a given assignment. But can an emotionally-distraught, and mentally-fatigued person ever be focussed enough to add value to any given assignment? My colleagues couldn't understand the depth of my pain and anguish when I announced to them the death of Ify, my dear friend, in far away London . So I acted as though I was okay and cool by putting up a façade that concealed the feelings that seethed on the inside of me.
It was with a sullen and sorrowful heart that I left for home at the close of work. And to drown the chattering of thoughts within, I got engrossed in an extended chit-chat and banters with friends in my Abuja neighbourhood .I tried as hard as I could to distil away the sorrow that brewed within but to no avail. At about 11pm, I retired into my bedroom to sleep, but could I? As I lounged on my bed thoughts of Ify, like a floating bubble in a boiling pot, simmered and rose up from the deeper depths of my soul and came to the surface. Pictures of her captivating and becalming smiles replayed before my mind's eye. Flashes of her clear and reassuring eyes beamed into my consciousness. Echoes of her velvety, captivating, loving and endearing voice bellowed and reverberated within me. Flashbacks. Imageries. Scenes. Segments of History. Memorable Moments. They all reeled past in my mind in quick succession like a movie being premièred for a select audience!
In that eerie quietness of my room, the bubble burst and I couldn't hold myself together anymore. My male ego left and I was not ashamed to wail out loud oblivious of who may've heard me for aren't walls fixed with ears? I groaned out of the anguish in my soul. Tears traced my cheeks but there was no one to console, comfort and lull my heart to become still. I paced around my living room like one who had been stung by an angry bee. I asked God questions and wished he could answer me with the sound of a thunder. When my voice had become muffled and tears had left tracks on my face, I quietened myself after a deep peace had permeated my entire being. It was as though someone had been sent to reassure and comfort me. It was such peace that can't be figured out easily and such that was as reassuring and caring as Ify's voice!
I did not cry because we had just lost a dear friend and sister. After all, she's not the first to die at a young age, and we'll all pay our own dues someday in the future. I cried because an angel who took up human form had waltzed through our lives and had gone so soon for good. An angel had seemingly stowed away from our grips and fleeted through our world without staying as long as we had desired. I wailed because I was too far away to witness her very last moments on earth. I groaned because I couldn't help to ease and soothe her pains in her hour of need. I had wished I had been at her bedside even for ones and held her hands to offer her some bit of comfort. I was disconsolate because the memory of our last face-to-face meeting was as stale as 2003 just before she relocated to London . I had hoped we'd yet see few months back save for the trip that was aborted. I had hoped we'd see soon enough but was oblivious of the plans by heaven to snatch her back to base!
Poets and writers often run the risk of sounding verbose, sublime and far-removed from reality because they often idealize the imaginary world of unreality. But for me, I care less about being tagged with the toga of vanity in my bid to eulogize Ify. For all who would pause to confirm its veracity, Ify was a true personification of her Igbo name "Ifeoma"- "The good thing".And at the risk of sounding loud and vain; Ifeoma Adibenma truly was a life-picture of the virtue of goodness and kindness. Ify as she was fondly called waltzed through life with so much vigour and energy, and in her wake, left indelible trails, enduring mementoes and emblems of love in the lives of people she had encountered in her life's journey. From Aba , to Abuloma, to Benue, to Lagos , and other sundry places in Nigeria , then to Spain , USA and UK , her life touched and impacted others considerably though she may not have been a celebrity of sorts that made headlines. She rather made 'heart-lines' in the lives of people who knew her and interacted closely with her!
When she was born on June 18, 1972 not many knew she was an angel on a mission to showcase love in its sublimely pure form. Like Jesus Christ, her messiah whom she loved and served reverently, she literally paced through life with the focussed poise of one sent on an urgent mission.
She was not enthused by the vanities and vagaries of this passing world, and neither did the fads and trivialities of this post-modern life entice her enough to have her focus derailed. She had sought and found God early in her junior secondary days at FGGC Abuloma in Rivers State , Nigeria , and like one passionately pursuing a treasure beyond the ephemeral; she clung and stuck to God wholeheartedly till the end both in sickness and in sound health. It was as though she knew life is a gift from God that is to be treated with all seriousness and a purpose-driven mindset. With same zest, she served God faithfully as a member of Living Word Ministries in Aba and that endeared her to, Bro. Emma Okorie, the senior pastor and founder of the largest Pentecostal church in Aba which has impacted the city spiritually and provided quality educational and health care services to the people of South-Eastern Nigeria.
But it was at Abia State University ABSU) Uturu that she blossomed into a living tree whose boughs sheltered so many others. To some, she was the model of an encourager who made them believe they can make it in life. She doggedly pursued her academics amidst lack of funds and deprivation. She had shared with me in the past how as an undergraduate; she squatted with different friends at different rooms because she couldn't afford to pay for a bed space then. Like many who 'use what they have to get what they want' Ify could have earned the largesse of the ubiquitous 'aristos and in-laws' that prowl university campuses for cheap pleasure that made many girls jettison their moral values. Rather, she held tenaciously to the Judeo-Christian values that had shaped her personality and was contented with the little stipend she got from her folks. But before she left ABSU, she not only had the honour of squatting friends at her exotic hostel room as a Students Union official, but also was the best graduating Industrial Chemistry student and valedictorian of her class in 1996/97 session. Her academic life and forays into students' activism didn't in any way dampen her zeal for God .For as an associate pastor of Showers of Grace Fellowship, she lived consistently as a true believer of the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and strengthened many in their faith walk through her life and example.
Ify never would accept to be cast in a limiting mould that stifles the free expression of her gifting and rare personality. She was one who multi-tasked, developed and deplored her innate talents and potentials. Though she ran quality control tests in the secluded laboratories of National Oil (now Conoil), she would not let the drudgery of laboratory work dull her creative instincts. To diversify and shore up her streams of income so she can meet the needs of family and friends, she engaged in personal business. Soon she began to model, design and sell clothes. The marketing and business skills she had developed as an entrepreneur overtime became handy when she relocated to London in 2003 after voluntarily retiring from National Oil. And before her death, through dint of hard work, she climbed the corporate ladder and rose to the enviable position of Senior Sales Director with Mary Kay Inc. in record time. That's the kind of stuff she was made of as she always aimed for lofty heights and reached for the top, not settling for the mediocre and average.
Though Ify was full of inner strength like steel, nevertheless, her independence and self-reliance were properly tempered by an unfeigned vista of love that flowed from her humanitarian, caring and loving heart which reached out to family and friends. Anyone who came close got smitten and wowed by her amiable and sweet personality. Ify was one person who cared for others genuinely and would sacrifice and give her last just for the sake of others in need and that made people feel at home around her. Her warmth and the disarming smile she doled out readily could thaw and melt the heart of anyone with a dour-looking mien for there's this palpable joy that bubbled and effused from her soul most of the time. She courageously stood up to trials and travails, taking up challenges in her stride without caving in to the emotions of self-pity at every point. Even in the midst of her challenging health, she cared genuinely for others, wishing she could do more to alleviate the sufferings and meet the needs of others. She never indulged in pity-party for she always would see the flowery side of life which shored up her faith always.
I remember in 2002 while she was recuperating from partial mastectomy operation and chemotherapy, a widower whose young wife had recently died sought to share a drink with her. Not a few men would resist sharing in the beauty and warmth of Ify's presence, but Ify declined the invite for her Christian moral values were high and she would not compromise by any means. When satisfied that his intentions were right, and through our nudging, she agreed to have a 'date' with this widower. She was glad she did accept the invite for after sharing her life's challenges and triumphs with this disconsolate widower, he became encouraged and found reason to live and hope for the best in life again. Her dogged faith in God and stoic disposition made this man reckon that confidence and certainty about tomorrow stemmed from the unshakeable belief in, and total dependence on the God that is unchanging, and whom she had known personally from childhood. And it was with excitement that she shared this testimony with me when she came back from the exotic Golden Gate Hotel in Lagos !
As I conclude this tribute to my dear friend and sister, tears have glistened and encircled the balls of my eyes threatening to seep out from their engorged sacs at the corner of my eyes. But doggedly I must strive to resist this urge to let sorrow and sadness come over me and spoil the pleasant memories of Ify that I have retained in my heart. For I have over the past few days moved from the state of mourning and grieving to one of hope and faith. Since Ify stood strong till the end, why then will I not self-talk myself into a state of dogged faith like she'd readily do? If she never lost faith in the veracity of God's word and His promises, then I have no grounds upon which despair and hopelessness can pitch their tent. If before she breathed her last on 3rd September 2007 amidst pain and facts that looked seemingly contrary to her share of divine health in God, yet she still proclaimed to her dear friend and sister, Shirley that "THE LORD, IS A GOOD LORD. HE HAS COMFORTED YOU, SO RELAX!", then we who are alive have a testimony about the utter goodness of God from someone who did not despair or lost out for believing in God. This is an anchor to hold unto when we face the inevitable challenges, trails and travails that often make many lose hope in God. Like Ify, we all must fight the good fight of faith, and victory is as sure as the rising of the sun when we know personally the God in whom she had anchored her unshakeable faith1.
Adieu! Beloved Ify.May your name, memories and legacy live on and we surely will miss you bunches!!!
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Obi Felix is a Physiotherapist and writer based in Abuja. He is a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, as well as Abuja Literary Society. The writer has written many articles, poems, short stories and essays which have been published in Nigerian newspapers and anthologies.
. He met Ifeoma in 2002 through a mutual friend in Lagos and had been a friend to her and her family since then. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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