The Dearly Departing

© J. Francois Barnard - 22 December 2023

It was a hot December night in Johannesburg at our year-end function. All the speeches were over, and I took Mr Agbani by the arm. "Let's go outside. It's getting too hot inside here."

Agbani was a newcomer to the firm from Nigeria. He would only start working in January but moved early to South Africa so that he could settle in.

We found Morne outside, staring out over the city with a drink in his hand. I introduced them, telling Morne that Agbani was a new arrival.

"Oh?" said Morne. "Just when I am leaving South Africa, you arrive."

"Was it something I said?" Agbani quipped.

"No, I have better prospects elsewhere," Morne smiled wryly.

"That is what I said when I left Nigeria. Why are you leaving South Africa?"

"Too much corruption, too much crime, and a pale face like me is persona non grata in this racist nest."

I knew about Morne's sentiments and could not blame him. He was a recent victim of a hijacking and was still traumatised. I watched Agbani's face as he absorbed this information.

"I do not think you could get more corruption and violence in South Africa than what I saw in Nigeria."

"That is why I am moving to Ireland and not Nigeria."

"Ireland? Have you not heard about the Troubles of Ireland?"

"I have, and I would not mind thirty years of Irish Troubles. It cannot be worse than the thirty years of South African violence and corruption."

"How long have you been in South Africa?"

Dublin"What do you mean 'how long have I been here'? I was born here. My history spans three centuries in this country. My family has been in South Africa for longer than most American families have been in the USA. I have a recorded lineage and can tell you who everyone was down the line - from the original Morne Oosthuizen who arrived in the Cape of Good Hope in 1710 up until now."

Morne seemed exasperated, and Agbani was shocked at his sudden outburst.

"My apologies. I did not mean to upset you."

"It's alright." Morne seemed ashamed for raising his voice at the newcomer. "What are you drinking? I'll get us some refills."

With Morne at the bar, Agbani said softly: "He really seemed upset!"

"I know, but he has his story, as we all have," I replied.

"He has a lineage spanning three centuries! I know we all should have it, but no one in Africa could record it. How did they do it?"

"Christian births, christenings and marriages have always been recorded in churches for hundreds of years, and the government kept a record of ships arriving at the ports, and who debarked from them."

"It makes sense. Most Nigerians would not know their lineage for longer than three generations."

"Not just in Nigeria, but in most African countries."

Morne returned with full glasses. "What are you talking about?"

"How many generations were there since your forefathers set foot in Africa?" Agbani asked.

"Eight on my father's side and seven on my mother's side. Some of those old goats had thirteen or more children!"

"Poor women!"

"Yes, and sometimes the mother would die after six or seven children, and the father would remarry and have more children."

"In my village, men would have a wife, but also an 'other woman' with whom they had more children. My mother was an 'other woman' for three men, and my two brothers and I each have another father, but we do not know who these fathers are," Agbani revealed.

Morne and I absorbed this information in silence.

"You grew up fatherless," Morne remarked.

"Yes, but my mother's brother was like a father to me. He helped me to study, and if it were not for him, I would not have been here today."

"Then you better honour him like your real father."

"I do!"

"Let's drink to that!"

"To real fathers!"

They clinked their glasses and sipped their whisky slowly.

"Morne, let me finish my three-year contract in South Africa, and if it has become as bad as Nigeria, I will join you in Ireland."

"Just stay in touch, man!" Their glasses clinked again, and I excused myself from the party.

I later heard that they were the last to leave that night. I was not surprised when Agbani cut his contract short after three months. He left for Ireland.


Editor's note: The above story was the result of an assignment done in the Creative Writing course, Section The Craft of Character, at Wesleyan University.