Lilian Ozigbo was my friend from secondary school, we started being friends precisely from SS1 when fate brought us together in the same class with her desk next to mine. From then on our friendship started slowly, grew over time till we became like sisters, inseparable. She was a Christian then and I was a Muslim, it did not matter. Fate separated us when we graduated and it will be about 15 years later when fate brought us together again.
Are you Lilian?
On a fateful day in 2003, as she was coming out of the arrival gate of Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, my brother, a young man of almost her age, approached her and said “Excuse me…” Lilian, being the chaste and responsible woman she was, turned to look at him briefly and moved on briskly, not minding him. After getting to the car park and looking everywhere to locate the “driver” sent by me to convey her home and not finding anyone, she turned again only to hear that same young man saying, “Excuse me, are you Lilian?” Relieved she quickly answered “Yes, I am sorry”. From that day, whenever my brother meets her, he first says: “Excuse me, are you Lilian?” and they both will laugh. But, will you blame her? Lilian died at 43 but did not even have any boyfriend nor did she go out with anyone while she was with us.
Re-united after a decade and half
The joy of meeting my dear friend again knew no bounds I was ecstatic to meet with her again. Though we had become mature adults, went to different higher institutions, made other friends, she was single and I was married, we reunited and hit off.
You see, Lillian was Igbo from Anambra State but born and brought up in Lagos State, thus she was Igbo and Yoruba rolled into one while I am a Hausa from Katsina State. Our differences did not separate us, we understood and respected each other, embraced our differences and our friendship fostered, leading to her visiting and eventually living with me in my matrimonial home. She was with me through highs and lows, through turbulent and quiet times, she became family. My family, my husband’s family, friends and acquaintances knew, appreciated and loved her.
Why should they not, how could they not? She was an exceptional and selfless person, she was warm and accommodating, everyone was drawn to her.
Lilian becomes Yasmin
With her generous character, objective attitude and loveable relationship with all and sundry, coupled with the fact that we already had an Igbo lady living with us who had converted to Islam, it was not surprising when Lilian decided to embrace Islam and chose the name Yasmin. Both Lily and Yasmin are names related to flowers in English and Arabic, respectively. It was as if the lovely nature of Lilian isn’t just in her character, it was part and parcel of her.
Yasmin in Mecca
On October 12, 2006 I was opportune to travel to Mecca with Yasmin, my mother and my aunty in the company of my uncle and we stayed for 12 days performed the lesser Hajj (Umra), prayed in the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina and visited the tomb of the Prophet SAW (Ziyarah).
In Mecca, one thing we all vividly remember is that, apart from the natural awe and adoration that overcomes anybody visiting the Holy Mosque in Mecca for the first time, Yasmin was specifically attached to the nightly Salat (Tarawih and Tahajjud) to the extent that almost everybody else will be looking forward to a break or a rest period between the prayers, while Yasmin will just keep performing Salat and Tawaf at the Ka’aba.
Yasmin, a rare gem
She had this rare gift of being able to mingle with every one. She was “Aunty Lily” to all and our house was termed ‘Gidan Aunty Lily’. It was normal to hear children chanting her name whenever we walked in our neighborhood, because she gave them sweets, visited homes in the neighborhood and was friends with all, regardless of financial status or position. She was loved, immensely. I would often joke with her and say ‘were you to contest as a councilor, you would win’, and she would laugh.
Yasmin was creative, she was very good with her hands, she was neat and organized, she was also a great cook! She loved interior decoration and sewing. Friends and family will always ask her to help them sew particular cloth and she will go to the market, select the material, design the patterns and take it to the tailors but supervise them to ensure that it is done in the exact manner she designed it. She knew and visited every house which had a sewing or weaving machine in the neighborhood and patronized them. She would cut clothes, take it to the tailors stay with them till they sew them and come back home with the finished products by evening. She was meticulous and did not like mistakes or tailor disappointments.
Yasmin goes to Lagos
We travelled quite a few times to Lagos together, on which occasions some of her friends and family will visit us at the hotel or lodge we were residing, but all of these trips were by air.
In actual sense, she was afraid of the roads and didn’t like travelling, I however traveled often. Thus, she would be with me to help pack my suitcase and I would travel without any thoughts or concerns about the running of the house.
That may partly explain why in all these years she stayed with me 2003-2018, she only travelled home twice. In the first instance, her mother was sick when she went. I also took a flight to Lagos, saw the mother in the hospital and even paid some of the bills. Unfortunately the mother died and Yasmin waited for her to be buried before returning. The second was when she attended to a sick aunty and she returned in early 2017.
Yasmin falls sick
On Thursday July 26, 2018, Yasmin started complaining about stomach pains and phoned to tell me she had called a family friend to take her to hospital. She came back home in the evening, but later that night she complained about the pains again and asked to be returned to the hospital early morning on Friday. Several tests were carried out and the doctors decided she had to be operated upon the next day, she agreed.
I was surprised she was not scared, she hated needles therefore was scared of injections. I said to her ‘Lilly you surprised me, you don’t look worried’. She replied ‘Maama wallahi I am not scared, I am at peace.’ I was shocked! Lilly not scared! I asked her to call her family and inform them. She called her junior sister, Emmanuella, and told her, I also spoke with her sister and explained further. I also told her to call her father, but she said she didn’t want to upset him and I said just call and talk to him, she said she would. We arranged two pints of blood against the surgery.
The next day after morning prayers my husband and I set out to the hospital, waited until the doctors asked for her to be brought in, a stretcher was brought and she declined saying she would walk. What! Walk!! We were all surprised, what happened to her fear of needles? She walked to the operations theatre and said bye to us. We waited, scared, hopeful and praying. The operation was finally over, she was okay and we were overjoyed.
When she was brought out of the Operations Theatre, one of the nurses asked, please who’s Maama? I said I am the one, why? She told me that under the influence of anaesthesia, Lilian kept saying “Please tell Maama not to worry, I will be Okay.” The nurse asked what my relationship with her was and when I said she’s my friend, she said, I wish I could have a friendship like yours.
When she recovered from the anesthesia, we talked for some time, after which I called and informed her sister she was okay and saw to her needs. I left the hospital around 9pm.
‘Maama you didn’t pray for me’
The next day was a long one, with friends, relatives and well wishers trooping in to see her. She was fine all day. It was a Sunday, thus I and my husband were with her throughout the day and we kept receiving visitors till around 6pm.
When we were about to leave, my husband entered the room, stood by her bedside and prayed for her as he used to do every time he visits her. He turned to leave and I followed him, but Lillian held my hand and said, “Maama you didn’t pray for me” and my husband immediately responded: “Yes, Maama pray for her very well” and he left me in the room praying for her.
‘I am going’
I called the person attending to her around 6am on Monday morning and was told that she was okay. Then a call came in around 7am to say she is not so well and my presence was needed. I rushed out to the hospital; my husband joined me, his sister also followed. I was told that she had complained about severe chest pain, started sweating profusely and she was saying: “I am going, I am going”. Nurses were called and doctors notified. They came rushing. I called her sister and notified her. Three hours or so later, she stabilized but was placed on oxygen and we were told to keep an eye on her. After a while, her breathing pattern changed, we called the nurse but shortly afterwards she breathed her last.
Gone indeed you have my sister and dear friend, Yasmin, but forgotten you never will be. My heart bleeds furiously. My tears flow ceaselessly. As the Arabs will say, laysal laziy yajriy minal ayni ma’uha, walakinnah nafsun tasilu fataqturu – it indeed isn’t tears that are following, but rather it is my soul melting and draining away.
Some footprints cannot be erased. Some vacuums cannot be filled. But, we say nothing but, Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaihi Raji’un. May we meet in Jannatul Firdaus.
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