By Basil Chiji Okafor
The text was terse and sharp, as the point of a needle and jolted me to the very depths of my being:
“So sorry, she’s gone.
I’m her brother, Christopher.”
The message came in on Tuesday, the 10th of November, 2020, at exactly 7.35 pm. Although I’m not in the habit of usually checking my Facebook Messenger inbox, as I do the WhatsApp, I suddenly felt compelled to look in there because I actually hadn’t done so, nearly all day. I quickly logged in and there was Stephanie’s chat-box, right on top of the row, a message having just arrived in it.
Her older brother had picked up her phone and decided to contact her friends that were prominent in her chat-box, to intimate them of her death. According to him, she had passed away last week, Wednesday the 4th, exactly eight days ago. But as you can see from the screen shot of my chat box, she was active on the 6th of November, a good 48 plus hours, after she was supposed to have passed on! Absolutely intriguing! Could it be some kind of a software malfunction? You can also, actually read my message to her that evening:
“Hello Steph, how’re you doing? I am happy to see you here. So eager to know how you are doing, yet so confused and embarrassed to reach out when one can’t make any meaningful input to alleviate your situation.”
She was online after I typed that message for about a little longer than it would normally take to read such short text (or so, it seemed, as the three little dots that indicate typing at the other end, kept bobbing up and down). I tarried awhile, expecting a reply but suddenly, she went off line. Then, she surfaced twice again for two brief, separate moments, before finally going off line, for the last time.
I took it that she probably wasn’t too happy with me for being out of touch with her for several days, at a go, knowing her condition. Of course, I would have loved to stay in touch by the hour, but of what value would that have been when I could not provide the means to support her regular dialysis, let alone the several millions required for a kidney transplant? So, I hovered between and betwixt disturbing a very sick person and adding to her problems with just a mere, “hello”, or “sorry” and just letting her be.
I first met Stephanie Anams on Facebook, through an article I wrote back in 1990 and first published in the Guardian (Nigeria). I republished that article on my wall, on May, 27th, 2017. Titled, In Search Of The Jimi Hendrix Legacy, it told the story of my search for the family of guitar legend, Jimi Hendrix, in the United States.
Stephanie reached out to me after reading the article. She had shared it on her wall, she said and also told me she had actually been following my work for quite a while. Thus, began a very deep friendship, based on mutually shared interests and values, in a wide variety of subjects, particularly the literary and visual arts, history, music, extraterrestrial intelligence and the paranormal, to mention a few of them. Above all, we were both ardent fans of Jimi Hendrix.
Her interest in writing was no surprise to me, as she later told me that she was an English graduate. But beyond being an English graduate, was her eclectic taste. Her thirst for knowledge and voracious reading appetite was quite rare in these parts, especially for a young woman of her generation. I was simply fascinated by the depth of her intellect, the breadth of her knowledge and the wisdom and power behind the analytical mind of such a young woman, only just 42, at the time of her death.
When I told her I was starting a Website on history and asked if she could write for us, she most enthusiastically took up the challenge and made a substantial input into the project when she introduced her column on ancient history, which we aptly named, Stephanie Chronicles. She pursued this task with great zeal and up to the time of her illness and death, never asked for a kobo, for all her contributions. She was confident that the publication would grow and so worked hard to help grow it.
To date, my box is still littered with several of her yet to be published articles. She was that prolific and that also highlights one aspect of her that stood her out from most people – her extreme kind heart, dedication to duty and eagerness to be on the side of human progress and to drive things, whichever way she possibly could.
The lady had class and great integrity and carried herself with dignity. And if she had any failings, it was in these great strengths that what one might term her flaws, also lay. Stephanie could hide things, even from a friend, especially when she felt that sharing certain troubles with you, meant being a burden to a friend.
We never met, physically, so during those long, late night hours of brainstorming and bouncing ideas off each other, we talked about how great a day it would be, when we would finally meet, face-to-face. It was during one of those nights, only last October, that she told me she would be coming to Lagos in just a matter of days. I was naturally excited. I asked about where she would stay and she gave me an address in Victoria Island.
Of course, she arrived promptly and notified me, accordingly. But when I asked for when we could meet, she drew a blank. Well, you never quite know with women, I thought, so I kept my cool…and maintained my distance. Four days later, she got in touch from Benin. I was perplexed and didn’t know what to make of it all, so I continued to maintain my cool. You can then imagine my shock when, a few weeks later, she sent me documents and photographs of herself in a hospital bed, undergoing dialysis! She had been dealing with renal failure and this was what brought her to a Lagos hospital and subsequently, took her to the University of Benin Teaching Hospital. I was devastated.
Among the documents she sent, was one of friends, organising a Go-Fund-Me fund raiser for her. She needed several millions to be able to continue to fund her twice-weekly dialysis and ultimately, a kidney transplant. She had drained her accounts and sold virtually all she had, to sustain her treatment but the condition only deteriorated. In my frenzy, I did what I had never done before in my life.
I have had a personal policy of keeping my distance from old friends and acquaintances, once they got rich, or got appointed to top government positions. But to help save Stephanie, I called an old friend I hadn’t been in touch with for a while and whom I know could shell out thrice the total required amount of money, without batting an eye lid. I also called him because Stephanie said she knew him and I thought that mentioning her plight would move him.
I shall never forget that phone call till I take my last breath. Why did I even try, I asked myself? I ended up sending this gentleman an apology on his WordsApp, for barging into his space and disturbing his peace. I hope he has forgiven me. I later called up Stephanie to tell her my experience with that call and how scared I was to try another person. Poor girl! Courageous and kind, as she always was, it was even she, in that state of severe pain that offered me words of comfort.
And so, we most painfully watched Steph, die a slow and agonising death, as the life-force slowly ebbed out of her, finally flickering off like the classic candle in the wind.
On the 28th of October, 2020, she sent me what was to be her last set of messages:
“(sic) Went to the ladies this morning. Fell. Notice right side of leg loosing motor functions same with hands.”
“(sic) Early set of stroke seems to be setting in.”
“(sic) Brother now carries me literally can’t walk at all.”
“(sic) Unfortunately was to see the MD n consultant n of course do my dialysis today. No funds so on Gods good graces as it is now.”
Stephanie’s body is being interred in her grave, about now, as I write. My heart goes out to her innocent eight year-old son, Aden, who is yet to feel the import of what has happened – I was exactly his age when my own father passed away, many years ago. My heartfelt condolences also go to her heartbroken mother and the rest of the family, the offspring of late football coach, Michael Malagwu, of Kwale, Delta State.
To Christopher, her brother, I say, thank you. There is no treasure in this world, greater than a good brother, or sister and friend. Thank you for being there, for a good woman. Thank you for having the presence of mind to notify me and for feeling free to share further information about my good friend and her family that I didn’t have. I look forward to meeting you in person, for the first time, when the grief and this whole nightmare can be managed. God bless you.
Today is a very sad day for me, bringing up to a final anti-climax, a season of deaths and burials. First, it was an old friend of nearly four decades, Dr. Yima Sen, who was also an old friend of Stephanie’s. In fact, it was a heartbroken Steph that broke the news of Yima’s death to me, from her sick bed. This is also the week of the burial of one of the greatest reggae singers that ever lived – Frederick ‘Toots’ Hibbert, frontman of the legendary group, Toots and the Maytals, whose great fan I have been for several decades. In fact, it was Toots that gave reggae music its name, with his hit song, Do The Reggay, a version of which the great Bob Marley, also performed.
Indeed, in the words of the great English poet, Thomas Gray:
“The curfew tolls the knell of parting day,
The lowing herd wind slowly o’er the lea,
The ploughman homeward plods his weary way,
And leaves the world to darkness and to me…”