Making children of very young age to understand the concept of death will forever remain elusive and hard to weigh just as it is difficult to explain.
My two little kids caught me twice dabbing my eyes with a piece of handkerchief, in a futile effort to push back the warm tears rolling down my already itchy cheeks.
Although, I managed to force a smile to camouflage my emotion, but my red eyes gave me away.
If it were during my seasonal allergy, I would have simply pushed the blame on that, but it’s just the beginning of summer, no pollens to cause any discomfort to the eyes.
I was caught off guard – their posture as they stood before me while I was seated on the edge of the bed, was that of adamancy – they wanted to know the reason behind my tears.
Although I planned to tell them at a white time using the white words but I must confess I wasn’t ready for it. So, I subtly spilled it out.
Dear Alhaji Garba, It’s me – “Malam Mudi” as you used to call me, it’s exactly a week today since you returned to our creator after a hard fought battle which you succumbed to because Allah has destined it that way.
I pray you are resting well.
Your departure has left a deafening silence, a huge vacuum and an atmosphere thick enough for one to slash a knife through it – but all for good insha Allah as we pray and continue to believe you are in a special place in Jannatul Firdaus.
Your jana’izah was held at the Jos Central Mosque which is just behind our main house because “Layin Audi” could not even contain half the mammoth crowd that attended your funeral.
It was all an emblem of who you were – a good man.
“Ai Alhaji Garba mai jama’a ne,” my mother used to say even when you were alive – yes, you were man of the people because people from within and outside Jos trooped to register their condolences.
Every time I remember that I wasn’t there to at least say a final goodbye or probably see your affiliative signature smile, I feel a painful hard knot in my throat.
But that is how Allah destined it.
You were the third in the family while I am the tenth, but despite the wide gap that separated us, most of my childhood memories are dotted with your guidance and mentorship in addition to the foundation laid out by Baba.
Your room was the first in the boy’s section during your bachelor days, and you were the first Baba will wake up for the Subhi prayer after which we gather for a one hour Qur’anic recitation session.
I remember when you finish your own part, you always reached out to us to give you some pages to help us read, so that we end the session in unison.
When I was growing up, we used to emulate your mode of dressing – I personally like the part where you used to pull up the sleeves of your cardigan up to elbow point.
I still remember vividly a dashing picture of you in your room with a light blue cardigan with that style of dressing.
You lived a simple life that was full of joy and happiness, making many people around you happy.
Your style of generosity was ubiquitous and knew no boundary. You touched the lives of many people and communities in different ways.
You died fighting other peoples’ battle especially for your siblings, trying in your own best way to ensure we all have a permanent smile on our faces – that attribute made many to put you in the realm of our aged father and an undisputed successor of his vast kingdom.
During my undergraduate days in BUK, I always looked forward to the day you will visit Kano to meet your business associates.
You always told me ahead of time that you were coming. And whenever you landed in Kano I always went back to the hostel with a wide smile on my face.
“Wannan kanina ne, yana karanta Mass Communication a BUK.” You once said when you introduced me to your business partners who would as generous as you were, dip their hands in their babbar riga to top up whatever amount you gave me.
Sitting in another different hemisphere of the earth, I tried so hard to conjure up different shades of pictures as to what the atmosphere had been back home during the long battle you had with your illness – the relapses, series of laboratory tests and hospital switching. But we are of the belief that Insha Allah all those hurdles, were not in vain.
“Alhamdulillah, jiki da sauki, Malam Mudi,” You always said to me every time I called to inquire about your health status – Allahu Akbar!
The last time we met was in 2018, – Allah Sarki – I saw no sign or had any premonition that I was bidding you a final goodbye when I left. You were healthy and full energy.
Many of your contemporaries and football lovers in and around Jos between early 80’s and early 90’s called you “Garus Lee,” a name you earned for yourself when you reigned as the football gladiator of your time at Convent, LSB, Township, Bukuru Stadium and a host of other popular football pitches in the city.
I cherish many moments when I used to hold your football kits while you were playing for “Greater Tomorrow” – a football club (now defunct) in Jos that nurtured many young talented players under the tutelage of coach Alade.
At that time, you were playing alongside equally talented players like Robert, Alhaji Meku, Dantala and a host of others.
I remember the match you played against “Greater Tomorrow” prior to joining them where you beat them on their turf (township) – the match that stole coach Alade’s heart because of your wow skills which made him ask you to join his team. I held your football kits that match day.
You also enjoyed a good ride with the “Flying Horse” club playing alongside star players like Ummaru Maggi, Ummaru Dangaye, Aminu Acid, Baban Kano Zico and others too numerous to mention.
I always wonder why you didn’t make it to bigger clubs like the Mighty Jet or its equivalent at the time you were at your prime but never had the chance to ask.
You were in the world of your own when it comes to “barkwanci,” – sense of humour, many who visited you on your sick bed testified that you were still at it before the illness got the best out of you.
Many believed it was an effort you were making to encourage your loved ones and people around you – giving them the Insha-Allah-I- will-be-fine-assurance.
Ya Rabb! Your servant Alhaji Garba Lalo has returned to you – Ya Rabb! we pray to you to in your unbounded mercy forgive him and reward him with the highest rank in Jannatul Firdaus and to bless and protect what he has left behind. Amin Allah. Allah ya jikan ka Alhaji Garba. Amin.
I’d like to use this opportunity on behalf of the Lalo family to express our immeasurable appreciation to each and every one of you – those near and afar, for standing by us during this trying period. We pray that all those who came from the farthest to the shortest distance have all returned home safely.
I would like to personally also say thank you to all those who reached out to me via emails, text messages, calls, social media and those who relayed their condolences through a third party.
My colleagues at VOA, who all rallied around me to cushion the effect of this loss, my former colleagues from Daily Trust, RFI, BBC and DW as well as my former classmates from BUK who all reached out in their magnanimous way to say one or two comforting words – Thank You! Thank You!! Thank You!!!
Lalo is a journalist