I couldn’t process the thoughts. It hit me hard and ricochet off nerve endings at every point. Like water hissing as it hit the base of a hot dry pot, it sizzles. For many persons, you invoke an eternity. It seems the only outlook. So when news of the death of Professor Harry Garuba began to come in. It was unexplainable. Grieving. Not until I saw a tweet from Nathan Suhr-Sytsma, did I finally come to terms with it.
Harry Garuba passed away, and with him possibly my dream. He wouldn’t know this. I will leave with this.
In 2018, at that year’s edition of the Lagos International Poetry Festival, being a guest of the festival, he was a jolly face among the throngs. I never had the chance, other than a brief greeting where we shook hands, to interact with him. But he was there. In the middle of it all. His name returned to my lips again a few months later in early 2019.
At a Bistro on Isaac John street in Ikeja GRA, Lagos Nigeria, Efe Paul Azino, director of the Lagos International Poetry Festival, was sitting before me. We are meeting, early in April, to continue to look at plans for the 2019 festival. Having walked in earlier, a half empty glass of smoothie sits on the round wooden table. He was on a call.
It was at that meeting, while digressing, that the professor’s name came up, for the first time after the festival. Earlier in the year, my sister had, in passing down a tested knowledge, told me that to be successful with my MA application to the University of Cape Town (UCT), I needed to check out the staff of the school. That was when Harry first came into the picture.
I spent hours combing through staff and their respective areas of interests. Narrowing the list down to two, I eventually settled for Prof. And I was glad. And that was what I now told Efe. He welcomed it and encouraged me to apply. Well, I am still at the application stage, not because I’ve lost interest in an MA Lit in Post-colonial studies, no, but more because I am reassessing.
So I was “shook” to learn of Profs death. All my dreaminess of spending time learning under him, us conversing and me listening and fawning, I will never realise. Maybe you do not understand. A final MA dissertation is a journey that begins with a perfect or almost perfect copulation of teacher and student. See, in an African home, the wash basin comes with clean water but it’s even prouder to hold after meals dirt water. The more oil, the better. I was that wash water. I wanted to get dirtied, and be delighted about it.
Since his passing, I’ve spoken to a few persons who knew him well. The weight of his loss on them makes me shake my head as I watch them talk about him. They’re all still trying to wake up from a common dream. This morning, one of them shared the content of an email correspondence. The email refers to an upcoming essay about him. It was from a very prominent scholar, and poet too. One of Prof’s fellow Thursday People.
I cannot quantify their grief and loss. I do however know that Professor Harry Garuba will continue to be remembered until that time when cold and hot water will continue to make edible eba. And every time I remember an MA in English Literature, he will come to mind. You will remember him as a friend, colleague, teacher, brother, husband and father. I haven’t come to a pivot on how I would remember him, however.