She went out and was never seen again. Few weeks ago, Iyanda published The Marriage Diary where she touched on the matter.
However I was jarred by the simplicity of her narrative in The Theory of Death. If you missed it, here’s the gist: it is an imaginary chat between present day Funmi and the mother she lost at 14.
Her mother left home and was never found again. Not her, not her corpse. She simply went out and never returned.
If you cannot read everything at once, you’re not alone. I couldn’t. Every other paragraph, I took a break to pause and sigh.
It is a brave, sad, moving tale of loss and resignation. Brave because talking about things this personal takes a fair bit of courage to do (and we know Funmi Iyanda has plenty of that).
The sadness of it need not be explained – a 39-year-old mother of eight vanishing from the lives of her family is not what most people will experience in their lifetime.
And it will move you because it is not normal, and children had to resign to embrace their maddening loss as the new normal.
Below, we highlight some of the most haunting lines from Funmi Iyanda’s hypothetical heart-to-heart talk with her literally departed mother. She’s referred to by her given name, Yetunde and her replies are italicized.
So, Did you die?
That’s a relief; I spent too long thinking you may be lost.
So, how did you die?
Yetunde: I was just, no more.
You‘d had eight children by age 39. I used to be sure I’d not make it to 40 either so l did everything like time was ticking away.
How did you die maami?
Yetunde: What does it matter?
It does because it drove me mad imagining how you may have died.
Through my teenage years I wondered what it was like to be burned alive, seeing so many lynchings on the streets in Lagos didn’t help. I used to stand by and watch mobs set some randomly accused young man ablaze, I never saw them lynch women. I would watch the doomed man struggle then go limp as he loses the futile plea with the flames. The gnarled blackened corpse always seemed to point upwards accusingly.
Yetunde: What does that have to do with my death?
No one ever explained what may have happened to you. Everyone thinks children are stupid, I did something similarly thoughtless.
I have explained that intellect is not male or female, it just is. I told her that it’s ignorance or deliberate mischief that make people assign masculinity to clarity of mind and forthright speech in women. I let her know that intelligence is taught, as is ignorance.
Yetunde: So who eventually told you I had died
Nobody did. As a child you sort of eavesdrop on adult conversations, to be honest you don’t even have to because they just talk as if you are deaf. I imagine we must have been the last thing on anyone’s mind in the circumstance beyond ensuring we were fed, cleaned and sent to school. School became different because I was the kid who’s mother’s picture had been published on the missing persons’ page of the Daily Times. The teachers were kinder and the kids crueller, nobody was normal.
Yetunde: Who told you I had died Aduke?
They said you must have been in the Molue that caught fire on that functionally useless bridge in Jibowu, adjacent to old kalakuta republic. They said the driver had a jerry can of fuel in his compartment and had struck a match to his cigarette causing an explosion. A few people escaped but most others were burned beyond recognition. Nigeria has been problematic for a long time.
All these I pieced together listening to the adults talk. It was a theory I sensed they didn’t fully believe because the search for you went on for another year with many false sightings yo-yoing our sanity. By the way, we never got your insurance pay-out because they didn’t believe the theory of your death.
I now prefer the explanation of ancestral consciousness in epigenetics. Ultimately it is me. I have no real interest in religion, you didn’t seem to too.
Yetunde: No l didn’t. I was Christian but I visited seers, Muslim Alfas and Babalawos, you probably remember me taking you to a few.
I have often wondered if you and I would have got on, had you not died. I don’t know if you would have continued with your open religious fluidity because things got really difficult in Nigeria and almost everybody’s mother became deeply religious and polarised as a survival requirement. With you dead, I grew up without any female influence or pressure to be female in any particular way. I also made my own belief choices without coercion. I wonder what you would have made of my choices and how many of them I could have made without going into loggerheads with you.
Can it be said rather morbidly, that I’m lucky you died?
Yetunde: Yes you turned out to be a bit of a one off. I don’t know what l may have become had l not died but you are remarkably similar to me in many ways.
Do you like who l became?
Yetunde: Yes, I am proud of you.
Thank you maami. One of the other things I remember from before you died was a sense that you had high expectations of me, you always treated me like I was intelligent. All those years when I wasn’t sure you were dead, I wanted to be sure I met your expectation in case one day you walked back into our lives. It never occurred to me not to go to university or make something worthwhile of myself. I was not going to become a teenage mum or anything stupid like that as I used to say.
Yetunde: Do you like being alive?
Yes, very much so, it took facing the possibility of death to show me I really like living, mostly I like being alive. So now, at the worst moments I do have a deep emotional pool to draw from because I am convinced of my love of aliveness and desire to keep living creatively and intelligently.
Yetunde: So did you accept the theory of my death?
Yes and no. It’s rational and I’ve always been attracted to rationality, primitive thinking annoys me. On the other hand, I didn’t want you to have suffered death so I hoped you might still be alive.
Yetunde: Death is not a suffering, life is.
Yes it is harder on those left behind but I meant that l didn’t want your death to have been painful, for you to have suffered before death.
That’s why the theory of your death was difficult because it involved suffering. For a long time I’d visualise you trapped in that bus screaming. I’d see the flames burn your face and your head explode, it was physical agony for me.
After I had Mo, I took on the pain I sensed you may have felt at the realisation of certain death, knowing you had young children at home. I often thought I heard you cry to God to have mercy on your children.
Yetunde: You were always very imaginative. Would it help if l told you it happened very quickly and l didn’t suffer much?
Yetunde: I didn’t. I died quickly from smoke inhalation so l couldn’t feel anything else that happened to my body.
The impact of the explosion didn’t give me enough time to think so my spirit did not agonise the way yours has for so long my love. Death is not a suffering, life is and only to make us alive to living.
So you did die in that bus.
Yetunde: I think so my darling, it’s a very good theory but we know nothing for sure.
But you are dead, right?
Yetunde: Yes I died but I am not dead. I am here talking with you. I was always here whilst you were away. I will always be with you.