(For Adekunle Suara and AFCS Ibadan Alumni)

Sometimes you can’t change

You can’t choose

Most of us were just children obeying our parents, trying to get some distance away from our homes, or happy to attend the same school as our siblings. The rest were probably just following some scripted fate- destiny, if you please. But after we got beyond those air-force blue gates, we were greeted by a sense of security, and we grew to know we would never be the same.

We were proud- an acknowledgement of our worth- and with good reason. We had the best of everything: academics, socials, sports, intellect, beauty, facilities, Nigerian Air Force (NAF) Directorate attention. If you never heard our anthem, the second stanza said:

Oh Air Force Comprehensive School

You are the model among such schools…

The giant of armed forces schools

Our Commandants had a hand in that pride. They said we were “jewels of the jungle”. It was almost literal. We were intelligent children in a clearing bordered by forests on the Ibadan/Iwo highway. Our troubles were many, as with intelligent children. But we made them proud all the time, I swear we did. When they weren’t bemoaning our “escapades”, they were beaming with pride. They liked to beam more than moan, so they subjected us to discipline. Lots of it.

You see, we could not choose to emerge from the ‘jungle’ less than conquerors. Disciplined, strong, intelligent, the best at good and mischief… a coven bound by years of tears, swears, punishments, victories, discipline, pride, optimism, confidence.

Sometimes it seems you gain

Less than you lose

A black BlackBerry messenger display picture on a Saturday morning by one of ‘us’ made no sense. Saturday is one of those gifts of God -and whichever tyrannt designed the work calendar- to man. But that Saturday was August 29, 2015, and there had been a plane crash in Kaduna, Nigeria. It had been a NAF Dornier 228, and the pilot had a disturbingly familiar name. Kunle Suara. That name resonated with the jungle none of us would ever forget. Hurried calls were made to our schoolmates in the Force.

Screams, frantic Google searches, arguments borne of disbelief, tears, hysteria, shock, speechlessness…

In the end, we were sullen faces gazing into empty spaces. We were seeing break dances on social nights, a peculiar sweet smile that had too many girls ‘tripping’, that pace of walk by which we knew him. Senior Kunle Suara. A seasoned NAF pilot trainer, promoted last year, immersed in flight safety by international training, partner in a 4 year young marriage with a beautiful woman. In our pain, on our different forums, we tried to understand, tried to analyse. I think we hoped we would come up with such answers as “it didn’t really happen”, or “it can’t be true”. Inevitably our thoughts drifted to others we have lost, others we would never forget: Adeyoola Adeshola, Lanre Sanu, Abednego Maiyaki, Amadi Kindom, Jennifer Iliya, Wole Ladele, Wale Lawal, Shehu Sabo, Dauda Bello. We remembered the little ones the jungle claimed: Mildred Ifeanyi, Nike… The officers: Uncle Tokunbo, aka Gboks, who said merry christmas and deserted us before we returned to say happy new year. We wondered the same thing, I think: why do the good ones go early?

ks2Our hearts felt constricted by pain, and breathing was a difficulty. Another jewel had left the jungle of life. We were less our number, another star shut down in its prime. Perhaps we should have been ‘ordinary’, not so intelligent, so we would be less exposed to risk? Perhaps? What the fuck was life about? Why the hell did we run the risk of hurting loved ones if we lived? Why? Why? In our haze, we asked many questions. No answers came.

Now we’ve got holes in our hearts

Yeah we got holes in our lives

We are left to patch the pieces, to fill the holes however we can. We bear the pain marked on our hearts, from where their memories would sometimes rub raw. A picture, a song, a voice, a slang, a ‘step’, a stranger in a  crowd who moves like them, a body that looks like theirs from a distance… Those times, tears would fall off our lashes, or sad smiles confuse our faces. Fear, hope, and excitement would war; and we would be bathed cold to reality with the memory of loss.

Our hearts are at half-mast, our faces downcast, our memories pierced. We have holes. Spaces of people who would no more be in pictures or at events. People who would watch us from the after-world and maybe wish we did not hurt so much. Perhaps they too would carry holes even as they greet themselves and seal previous holes. Perhaps they would think of our holed hearts, and wish it wasn’t so. I don’t know.

Let’s not get scared and wonder if perhaps we should not live so fully though. For what is life if the heart does not feel the chill of fear, bat madly in joy, pound in excitement, thud crazily in love, bleed in pain? Let’s listen to songs, close our eyes, feel the pain… then get up when we can, to face the duty of honoring them with our lives

Well we’ve got holes, we’ve got holes

But we carry on

p.s: Thank you for the lyrics, Passenger (Holes).