The light dimmed. The camera stopped. And action ceased days ago for Biyi Bandele. All of a sudden. But years before he ceased breathing he began the journey of not dying, of being alive forever. He wrote a book, then another and then another.
One of them titled The Sympathetic Undertaker and Other Dreams is a novel narrated by a nameless man who has a brother named Rayo. We are introduced to Rayo at the start of his insanity, when he had “entered” the market.
When the narrator is told about his brother’s condition, his immediate reaction is to burst into laughter.
Their mother had come knocking on his door with the announcement that Rayo had gone insane.
She tells him: “Mama Titi and our neighbours in the backyard have just returned from the market. They saw him there. He was stark naked. Right in the middle of the market.”
The narrator had got home late the previous night. He’d been out on the town until well past two o’clock and had come back with a friend. He’d had no sleep until she left. Half an hour later, their mother comes bearing the news.
“Have you gone there to see him for yourself?” asks their mother as his head clears and he begins to register the shock.
What really shocks him isn’t the fact that Rayo had finally gone over the edge, but that he had gone to the market to do so.
Their mother replies that she had not seen him, “That’s why I have come to wake you up. Or, don’t you think we should go together?”
Rayo is a rebellious soul, one who considers it his responsibility to rid the world of evil people, including corrupt leaders.
In secondary school, he tricks a senior student who is fond of extortion. Senior Toshiba is offered a drugged wine, which he describes as ‘”another token of appreciation of your lordship’s protection”.
Toshiba drinks it declaring: “It’s a source of great joy to one to be told that one’s hard, self-denying work is appreciated by at least one or two reasonable people.” He adds: “I must say, my dear man, that this gesture of abiding loyalty and great devotion shall not go unrewarded.”
After tasting the wine, he declares: “Uumh Great wine. Real vintage ’55 Burkina-Faso, I must say. Last time I tasted wine of this quality was when my father went to receive his seventy-seventh chieftaincy title in Tangalawaja. Or was it when he was made Grand Patron of the Koma? Anyway, this wine is of rare pedigree. And I say that in all earnestness.”
He oversleeps after that and Rayo and his gang use a cart to drag him to a cemetery and leave him there naked. By the time he returns to the hostel, he is looking like a mad man and would have been taken to an asylum had Rayo not confessed.
Bullying stops in the school after that and Rayo escapes expulsion.
He would fight other battles after that. But then he loses his head.
He had always been crazy. When he is going to be circumcised, he tells the doctor: “Doctor, I was wondering, this business about being put under anaesthesia while the surgery was being done… I was wondering – what if I wanted to watch it, what if I didn’t want to be fast asleep while it’s being done…’
“Don’t listen to him, Dr Dakwa,” says Mother, pulling Rayo’s ear. “He doesn’t mean it.”
Rayo insists: “On the contrary, sir, don’t listen to Mother. I do mean it.”
Rayo gets his wish but Bandele’s friends and family do not get to see him live beyond his 50s and well into his 90s.
They would have wished
that Biyi would have lived to see his adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s Death and the King’s Horseman premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) and on Netflix.
They would also have wished his novel, Yoruba Boy Running, his fictional account of the life of Samuel Ajayi Crowder will not be published posthumously, that he would be here to answer questions about the process and procedures of getting such a work of art done.
Sleep well, Biyi. If wishes were horses, we all would have ridden.
-Olukorede S. Yishau is the author of In The Name of Our Father and Vaults of Secrets