Flash Back – Brown and my memory.

I do not have a good memory for people and their faces. This failing in my nature has often embarrassed me especially when I travel to my hometown, Ndikelionwu, where some people, especially the older ones, accuse me of being haughty. They say, is this not the son of so and so, how can he not remember us? But villagers are like that. Everybody is supposed to know everybody. But the truth is that this is how I am created. In the village anybody can visit without notice. Luckily for me, my wife remembers faces and is always conscious of my ‘failing’. She sees the visitor coming and nudges me and tells me the person’s name and all goes well. Otherwise some of these people take offence.

It seems my brain chooses to store what it likes and ignores other things or people. One event from that store, when I was about two years old, in 1941, was my mother coaxing me across a wooden girder over the edge of the River Niger at Onitsha that showed slivers of the mass of water as we went to board a boat bound for Baro in present day Niger State on our way to Zaria where my father lived and worked as a Railway carpenter. I was very much afraid of the water. I am still afraid of large masses of water.

In Zaria we lived in a house in G Line. Next door lived the Okpalekes, natives of Ndiokpaleke in Eastern Nigeria. They had a son, Brown, about my age. We got on so well and played all day long. But that did not last too long. I came back home with my mother and I missed Brown so much.

Then in 1979, thirty eight years on, I was on leave from my job in Lagos and travelled home to Ndikelionwu. One day I was in Enugu for something and while walking along Okpara Avenue I saw a well dressed man coming from the opposite direction and, vividly remembering him, I suddenly stopped in front of him and called out, ‘you are Brown!’ I knew he was the Brown I had played with as a child thirty eight years ago. It was instinctive. How I recognised him I cannot say till this day.

He stood and stared at me, a frown on his face. I said eagerly, ‘Brown, you have forgotten me? We lived and played together in G line, Sabon Gari, Zaria, when we were about two years old. Surely you must remember me.’ The frown never left his face and without saying a word he passed by me and went on his way. He never looked back even once until he disappeared into a building. And I just stood there feeling sheepish as I stared at his back. Then I turned and continued on my way, thinking, I am sure that was Brown. But how did I remember a child with whom I used to play on the sand nearly four decades ago? Then I said to myself, silly you. How do you expect him to remember you? He probably thinks you are a con man after something. Surely, no grown man can remember a child he played with as a two year old nearly four decades later. It is not normal. Well, normal or not, I said to myself, I am sure he is Brown.

In 2008 I met Brown again. I was the chairman of the organising committee for the coronation of our Traditional Ruler, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike. As the protocol lady was introducing me to the royalty present and as we got near Brown I said aloud, ‘I know him but he doesn’t remember me.’ I greeted I greeted Eze Brown Okpaleke with a broad smile and reminded him of our encounter in Enugu and ch ildhood friendship in Zaria. He was polite but obviously he was not over enthused.

A few years later we met again. As the Traditional Ruler of Ndiokpaleke, his home town, he was celebrating an occasion. I was in the small entourage of our own Traditional Ruler, Professor Chukwuemeka Ike, that attended the event. He entertained us lavishly but did not pay any special attention to me. Last year I heard Brown had gone to rest with his ancestors. And I said, may his soul rest in perfect peace!

Till today I still remember Brown. How was it possible for me to remember a child I played with when we were both two years old and, since then, never heard from him or about him or seen him until I ran into him thirty eight years later? Who can explain this?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *