One Day, Cock of the Walk

Ifeanacho MaryAnn
9 min readApr 11, 2023

A Tribute to a Literary Icon

Late Obinna Charles Emeka

On April 1st, a friend sent me a text laughing about the lack of pranks on Fool’s Day.

“Nothing dey funny this period,” I replied. When I heard the news of your demise three days later, I had hoped it was a delayed April Fool’s joke. A prank, anything but reality.

Because of your passion for this self-inflicted suffering called writing, I was surprised when you told me you’d only write one book. You’d said the book was taking so much from you, and you had taken a year to write it to prove you could. I told you that you’d write more books. We were in this writing thing for life. We might say this would be our last work, but once the credits roll, we chase down another idea and repeat the process. You had laughed at that. You told me Stephen King always said the same thing, that the current novel would be his last. And we both knew — even if he didn’t — that King wasn’t stopping anytime soon.

You sent me a screenshot a few weeks after completing your debut novel. It was an excerpt from Ayomi Adebayo’s interview. Apparently, it was always better to start working on your second novel before the noise and fanfare from your first novel drowns out new ideas.

“Maybe I’ll write another one,” you replied, the hope evident despite the crackly quality of the WhatsApp call. On this note, you were starting another book and teasing at some short story ideas.

We both disliked the poverty porn peddled as African stories. Of hungry-eyed children in perforated shirts, playing swell to the sound of gunshots and knife stabs. This was not our reality. Yes, things weren’t all good. But it wasn’t as bad as those works made our African reality seem. That was why you liked Remy Ngamije and how his writing pushed away the poverty and refugee nightmares. The way he gave the African child in us the space to dream. You called him “a breath of fresh air.”

We wanted to write stories like that. Stories that mirrored the middle-class African childhood we had and the comforts and fun it brought. Of having private lessons, being driven to school every day by either of our parents, and owning toys. Another shared comfort of our childhood was having parents who loved us and, like good writers, showed that love instead of telling us. I still remember you laughing when I told you my mom had replied to my “I love you” with an “Amen” and how I told her I wouldn’t cut the call till she said the right thing. You knew, just like I did, that our parents loved us even if they didn’t articulate it in words.

“During birthdays,” you said, “I may send them a text with something like ‘remember you are loved’ or ‘We all love you.’ Saying it bluntly like you did will be awkward for them.’

Obinna, for you, love was peppery food and your mom’s Indomie and beans. For me, it is my father’s orange shirt. I hate orange, but my love for my dad’s clothes trumped my hate for the color. I took it when he hung it to dry. He had laughed and said orange looked better on my complexion, anyway. I hate orange, but each time I wear that shirt, orange becomes the color of love. A gift from a father who barely used the L word but showed it by allowing his daughter to rob him of his best shirts.

It’s been nearly ten years since I got that shirt and a little over six years since my dad passed. The shirt is full of holes thanks to multiple wash cycles. Each time I wear it, I look like those poor African children from those stories we both hate. But that’s how I am. I hold on to things I care about. I hold on even when my hands are raw and bleeding. I wear a shirt thin because it is a daily reminder of my father’s love. And now, each night before I sleep, I replay your voice notes and reread old messages, unwilling to let the idea of you go, convincing myself that this is just a nightmare and all I have to do is wake up.

Sustained release.

You told me it was a practice in pharmacy where little doses were administered over a long period. Laughing, you said that’s what you did when you sent me little bits of information at a time.

“You know you’re an old woman. I don’t want to overwhelm you.”

Old woman.

That’s what you called me. Because of how I would forget everyday things but remember the most random things. Like how you told me you were “a structure and movie buff.” Stories and storylines were great, but you loved experimenting with structure. That was how Life in Two and a Half Chapters was born. It was also the reason you loved TJ Benson’s The Madhouse.

“Old Woman!”

That was your reply when I told you I hated suspense. That I shouted at the screen when characters were not acting right. That I always went to read a few pages ahead just to know if a character had died because I couldn’t handle not knowing. Ngamije’s Eternal Audience of One was your current fave. Because of you, I read many of his short stories, and like you, I liked them. So it was easy to get me to read the Eternal Audience of One. You wanted to tell me what you liked and disliked about it. But I refused. For once, I didn’t want to be an old woman. For once, I wanted to go in without knowing. I was halfway in before you died. I don’t think I‘ll finish it, Obinna. There’s no point in doing so knowing I cannot send screenshots of the parts I liked and the sections I found confusing. I can’t finish it because I cannot bear the suspense of never knowing what you liked and didn’t like about it.

Encouragement was your middle name. I always knew you helped other writers, but I am only now discovering the extent. During our earliest conversations on LinkedIn, you asked me for a sample of my work. I sent you the manuscript for Redeem and Blues.

“You know, when you are getting to know a writer, and you want to read their works, one of the things you hope is that they’re good so you wouldn’t be put in an awkward situation of saying I didn’t really like it or having to lie… So thank you for being good at this.” I have gotten many compliments on my writing — from you and others — but Obinna, this one from you stayed with me.

Thank you for being good at what you do. Thank you for making an honest man of me with your skill.

It is said that he who wants to go quickly should go alone. But he that plans to go far should go together. And you exemplified this. I have been at this writing thing for longer than you had been, but because of your hunger and ability to connect with people, you had many miles on me. You encouraged me to send my work to Brittle Paper. We laughed about the back-to-back rejections I received. You suggested African Writer Magazine, Kalahari, Afritondo, Olongo, Agbowo Art, and many other names I had never heard of. Thanks to this encouragement, my stories were picked up by African Writer Magazine and the Kalahari Review.

In a sector renowned for gatekeeping information, Obinna, you were a writing Robin Hood, always willing to help the less knowledgeable. You always had an answer, a link, a tweet, an IG post, a Jerry Jenkins video, a novel, a short story, and a webinar for every writing question. During the final stages of my M.A., you happily read my script and critical analysis. The cinephile in you loved the idea of screenwriting. That’s how scenomaniac was born. You said in one of your alternate realities, you transitioned from novelist to movie producer. You liked the script and gave me suggestions for improvements. You were an inexhaustible fountain of encouragement through your words and actions.

“There’s a rejection mail I got that I added to my folder of ‘Writing Wins.’”

I did not understand how a rejection could be a win, but although you liked sad endings in stories, you always were optimistic about everything writing.

One of my biggest fears was of Nigeria happening to any of the people I cared about. So on Saturday, 25th February, the day of the presidential elections, I was understandably scared. Although I was in England, my entire heart was in Nigeria — and you knew it. During the heat of the voting exercise, no one was picking up my calls. Not my friends, not my brothers, and definitely not my mom. I was worried; I hated not knowing what was going on. I knew how things in Nigeria could go from zero to a hundred, and Twitter was feeding the embers of my overthinking mind. You called, and that was what calmed me. We stayed on the call for over two hours, only cutting when my family and friends returned from their polling units. This old woman had been worrying again for nothing. On 4th April, after seeing the news of your demise, I called Benzy to confirm. As the phone rang, I hoped and prayed that they were wrong, that this was one of those times when my worry was for nothing.

You never really know how intensely someone has permeated your life until they are gone. Sometimes, I will see something — post on Reddit, a photo with a writing tip, a book quote, and a weird meme only a kindred spirit would understand — and start to send it to you. Halfway into copying the link, the cold realization that you are no more pricks me, but my mind still refuses to accept it.

I miss you a lot. I miss hearing you laugh when I call Chimamanda’s new children’s book Ichafu Mama. I miss you calling my IG a bot page because I don’t take pictures. I miss not being able to send you photos from what I’m reading with captions about how the greats were abusing adverbs (again), writing huge swathes of texts without a single full stop, and telling, not showing, without a care in the world. I miss having you complain about my questionable movie choices. Of you randomly asking, “Madam, how far the novella.”

The first and only time I saw my father cry was when his immediate younger sister died. In the storm of his grief, he said he would have preferred it if she fell ill instead of being kidnapped and killed the way she was. That way, he would have had weeks and even months to prepare for her demise. I was eighteen then and thought it was just the pained ramblings of the grieving. But rereading our chats and replaying your voice notes, I finally understand him, Obinna.

“One day, cock of the walk. Next, a feather duster.”

The opening words of your manuscript. A succinct explanation of how life can change in just an instant. Obinna, the suddenness and the premise of your demise were painful. I hate how quickly a life so full of purpose as yours was summarized. Like the Solomon Grundy rhyme, you were alive on Saturday, and by Monday, you were buried.

But at least Solomon fell ill. His death was inevitable.

Yours shouldn’t have happened. Yours could have been prevented at different points. In the thousand alternate realities in my mind, you survived your accident. The hospital had an X-ray machine, and you are still here asking me for the hundredth time to go and read The Madhouse and watch The Office. Unfortunately, Nigeria had to create the one reality where you didn’t make it. Had Nigeria been the giant it claims to be, you would still be here replying to my long voice notes with even longer ones. It pains me that Nigeria happened to you. That this country claimed yet another promising life. It pains me that a star as bright as you was snuffed out right before its inception. You had so many dreams. Dreams that will never be lived because of our murderland, Nigeria. However, I will be like you. Ife melu emego. What happened has happened. Despite the sad circumstances surrounding your demise, I will take comfort in knowing your works and impact will outlive you.

Goodnight Obinna.

Gaa nke oma, my friend.

Rest easy with the greats till we meet again.

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Ifeanacho MaryAnn

Storyteller, Long Distance Cat Mom. A quiet voice rambling in an isolated corner of the internet. I write on psychology, films, books and my random thoughts