By Uche Amunike
I was already half way through my proposed article for the week, but something made me change my mind and write something else, just this morning. It was shortly after my morning prayers. I picked up my jotter from my bedside table to note down all my activities for the day.
It is a daily routine for me. Having done that, I casually made a mental note of what to wear to work, sorted them out, turned off the light, lay back in bed with a fulfilled mien, reached out for my cell phone and got ready to go through chats.
It’s funny when you think of how much you do certain things over the years and they become unbreakable habits for you! Anyway, after going through my emails and replying same, I went to my WhatsApp groups as usual. It was in the group I belonged to with my siblings that I saw a very moving article that made me decide to leave the article I had almost completed, to write this very one, in order to call your attention to one thing most of us do without knowing how much damage it does, both to us and our friends, families and even neighbours!
The article urges you and I to get in touch with people we have not heard from in a long while because, for all you know, they might either be very ill, in trouble or even dead.
I’ll tell you about it. It is the story of a beautiful young woman, Joyce Vincent, who died right inside her flat where she lived alone in North London and rotted away without even her family or neighbours suspecting she was dead. Nobody is sure of the cause of her death, but they suspect she had an Asthma attack.
Her television was left on. Her mails continued to be delivered. Because her rent was set up to be automatically deducted from her bank account, even after she died, her bankers didn’t suspect anything.
They assumed it was business as usual. Days rolled by and no one noticed she was gone. Those days turned into weeks and the weeks into months. Months indeed turned into years.
There were large trash dumpsters on the side of the building next to her unit, so the neighbours never thought much of the smell emanating from her flat. The floor was full of noisy kids and teenagers and no one questioned the constant thrum of television noise in the background. Eventually, her bank account dried up. Her landlord sent her letters of collection.
These letters, like the others, simply fell into the stacks scattered about her floor. They went unanswered. Finally, with more than six months of overdue rent, the landlord got a court order to forcibly remove her from the premises. It was when the bailiffs broke down the door that her body was discovered. By then, it was January, 2006, more than two years after she passed away.
In that period of time, nobody ever came looking for Joyce Vincent. Sad, but true. No family. No friends. No co-workers. No neighbour knocked on the door to see if things were all right. Nobody called. Nobody checked in. She was 38-years-old when she died.
This story is jaw-dropping in its social implications. It feels unfathomable that entire years could go by with no one noticing a person has died. Yet, these sorts of stories happen frequently. Chances are you’ve seen a news story similar to the one about Joyce Vincent. And they are all the same.
You see people living alone. They lose touch with family and friends. They never meet their neighbours. They stay shut in with their television, computers or even cats for years at a time. The world moves on as if they are no longer there until one day, they are gone.
Gone as quietly as they lived.This story is true life and happened in far away London, but the sad reality is that there are so many ‘Joyce Vincents’ here in our country Nigeria and our dear continent Africa. And that’s the part that makes me really sad. We are not like these Americans or Britons. We are Africans, known to value family and the very concept of family. We believe in communal living.
We are so different from them. An American can live in the street for 30years without knowing anything about his next door neighbour. Same thing goes for the Briton. To them, it’s a way of life. To us, it’s bad blood. That’s why they call 911 when they are in trouble.
They call the hospital when they are sick. Almost everything is seen not having a human face, unlike us who call our neighbour on the phone to drive us to the hospital when we are in labour even if it’s midnight. We, who check on our neighbour when we hear that armed robbers broke into their homes, the night before.
We, who check on our neighbour in the hospital when we hear they got sick and are on admission. We, who hear that our neighbour died and go to spend time with the widow or widower and console them regularly until they have been buried.
That is the humanity in us at work. That’s who we are. That’s what defines us. I therefore wonder why all these can change because we adopted the Oyibo mentality of being aloof. Most times, this adoption comes as a result association or nationalization or sheer arrogance.
Either way, it just doesn’t seem right. Makes no sense to me. American kids wake up in the morning, see you and say ‘hi’. That’s even if they’ll talk to you. My nieces and nephews gave me the shock of my life when they came to Nigeria years ago and in the morning, they’ll wake up and ‘ignore’ you. At least, that was how I perceived it. You now have to be the one to talk to them and they manage to say ‘hi auntie’.
I almost had a fit! I was born and raised in the city of Lagos where yoruba people attach heavy importance to being respectful. I lived all my life unconsciously genuflecting while greeting my elders. Girls genuflect while greeting. The boys prostrate! I had to patiently teach my American relatives that year how to greet the Naija way. They found it outrageous, if not funny at first, but they learnt. Today, I’m proud of them.
Yes, because even though they are Americans by birth, Nigerian blood flows in them. Pure Nigerian blood, unadulterated. This means that they have feelings and emotions wrapped around their minds and hearts. They can’t afford to be aloof like core Americans with American blood flowing in their veins.
What am I driving at? We need to keep reminding ourselves of the need to be our brother’s keeper. It’s not only a biblical injunction. It’s a heritage. Our heritage. We believe in family. We should not remove that part of our lives that respects and values humanity.
It’s Valentine Season, yet again. Love, humanity, forgiveness, sense of family and friendships are all intertwined reasons for this season. This is a time to work on ourselves and train our minds on how to live unconditionally. It is perhaps the time to think of at least, three people we haven’t seen or heard from in the past six months or more and check on them. You never know, they might be in trouble.
Joyce Vincent might probably still be alive if just one person had checked on her. Her neighbours heard her television but assumed she was the one watching it. Her Landlord kept receiving bank alerts without knowing she was long dead and rotten in her apartment.
Even when the stench from her decomposed corpse was perceived by neighbours, the all assumed it was from the dumpster next to her building. My question remains, how come nobody found it strange that she had not been seen entering or leaving her house for over 2 years????? The answer isn’t far fetched. Nobody cared, probably because she cared about nobody as well.
It takes two to tango! How do u intend to spend your Valentine’s day this year? Do u have plans already? Is your plan going to add value to a life, or even lives in any way? If yes, God bless you. If no, can u kindly make this your plan for the season? Think really hard about people you haven’t heard from in years. Call them on the phone if they live far from you. Ask them if they’re okay.
Have a nice conversation with them and make them understand that you called just to know how they’re doing because it has been a long while and you wanted to know if they are okay. Believe me, it will add great value to their lives. If they need help, give them what u can. If they are okay, just let them know you’re thinking of them and u care a great deal.
I hope this won’t be too much to ask. Love is a good thing. It should also be practical. Point is, everyone deserves to experience it. You might be the one to make that person needing love to feel good this season. If your heart tells you to show love, don’t hesitate in doing so. Love is life. To love is to live. Remember, love is the reason for the season. Happy Valentine’s day in advance!!!