Ever since Toyese was small, he could remember his grandmother playing the piano. He would go to her house during holidays and find her playing the classics, smiling, enjoying life. And he would go back home and say to his parents, endlessly, “Grannie is not a normal Nigerian woman.” But today was different; today lacked that exotic charm of melodies. His grandmother invited him over all the way from law school to dinner to discuss something with him. It had been years since they saw each other. He knew it had to be bad because she sounded quite serious, and she was making his favorite meal: spicy fried chicken, smashed yam pottage, vegetable casserole, and toast bread.
A strange assemblage of breakfast and supper he had grown up eating. Moreover, upon arrival, he noticed she wasn’t at the piano. She was always there. And she loved that thing. She had said once before that it gave her a sense of peace, that the keys allowed her deeply buried emotions come out in the music. He walked out to the kitchen to look for her. She was there turning the thick smashed yams, crushing the cubes against the insides of the pot. She looked up immediately he entered the kitchen, and put the wooden spoon down to extend her arms to him. “My Baby! I’m so glad to see you. I missed you.”
They hugged; Toyese pressed his body to hers longer so she could inhale all the spices his nose had missed for year. “I’ve missed you, too,” he said. “It smells great in here. I can’t wait to eat.”
He dug his finger in the pottage and licked it with a protracted hmm. “What can I help you with?”
She laughed. “Help me put all this stuff on plates and in bowls, and bring it to the table.”
Within minutes, they were digging in. Toyese repeated that hmm. “It tastes just like I remembered. It’s so good.”
“It is, isn’t it? I made dark chocolate brownies with peanut butter chips for dessert.”
Toyese shook his head. “I’ve always said it, Grannie. You no be Nigerian woman.”
She playfully smacked his head. “Hey, talk better about us Nigerian women. We are not all gauche, you know!”
He giggled and apologized.
“In fact, I sometimes wish I was a real Nigerian woman, you know, the one who can cook all this sweaty and spicy meals, the one who can pound yam and make edikang ikong.”
Toyese detected a trace of sad wistfulness in her words, and quickly steered the conversation away.
“You always knew the way to a man’s heart. So, Grannie, what is it you wanted to talk about?”
She did not even pause. “Well, since you asked, I need you to write my will. I have been diagnosed with kidney disease. In a couple of months, I will need dialysis. I’m not doing it. I’m ninety years old. It’s not as if I have a lot of time left anyway. I want you to have my piano. And I know how much it meant to you. I want to give it to someone who will love it as I did. You’re the only person worthy of receiving my cherished treasure.”
The spoon dropped from Toyese’s hand. It hadn’t occurred to him, the possibility of him no longer seeing his grandmother, no longer listening to her on the piano in the space of forever. He took her hand across the table, tears welling up in his eyes, and said, “Of course, I will help you write your will. Are you sure you won’t reconsider dialysis?”
“No honey, don’t be sad. Without my Obong around, what’s the point? My grandkids and children have their own lives. I can’t have them rushing me back and forth to dialysis. I lived a long life. Believe me, it was a good one. It’s time to see my Obong. Say you’ll take my piano.”
“I will, Grannie.”
They held hands. He was starting to weep when she laughed loudly and told him to stop being so soppy. She dragged him to the piano and sat down.
“One last tune,” she said. But she played many tunes far into the evening, and he sang through his tears, all the songs he had wanted to sing for many years. As he lay in bed that night, his mind flickered endlessly. It was a jumble of thoughts, reflections, reliving, but amidst it all, he could feel something specific: He was glad he could help his grandmother die in peace.
The kidney failure progressed faster than anyone anticipated. In one month, she was given a bed in a private hospice. She passed away four days later. He couldn’t believe how generous his grandmother had been dividing her assets. She gave him forty million naira and the piano, while the remaining ten million naira and her house were given to her three children. He took the piano home. It was a beautiful Steinway. It looked great in the living room.
Not that he could play.
Soon after bringing it home, however, he awoke every morning to a hauntingly familiar melody. At first, he got up to see who was playing the piano. When he got up, he found that nobody was at the piano. He thought, rather inanely, it must be on automatic play, but when he saw that the sheet music was open to “Angel of Music” from “The Phantom of the Opera”, he knew it was a sign from his grandmother, as it was her favorite song from her favorite opera. A sign that said, “I’m okay. I’m all right. Don’t worry about me. I have my Obong. With him, there is music everywhere.”
Relief and peace filled him, his eyes watered, his lips parted. What better way was there to honour his grandmother than accepting the piano, even if he had no clue whatsoever how to play it.
For a small moment, it was like a medium. It helped his grandmother communicate with him. That feeling alone—the feeling of completeness and companionship—made the piano the greatest gift anyone could have given him. A gift he would always treasure.
Read also Last Message
-AKINSANYA ADENIYI AYOSOJUMI