“Come here and swear, you this adult, that you never were a troubled youth,” Iya Oyo said, when I told her the story of my friend, Gift Krani-Rijal. Her comment is a Yoruba proverb that says, “Àgbà wá búra péwe ò ṣe ọ́ rí.”
Being young is probably the most dangerous thing anybody could experience.
Youthfulness is so dangerous that only a few people survive it unscathed.
The life of a young person is a story of near-misses, direct hits, hardship, harrowing experiences, and in many instances, death.
If you make it out of your youthful days, you must look back and give thanks for being a survivor.
I will tell you the stories of a couple of my friends, starting with Gift.
Gift Orakpo, (aka Gift Krani-Rijal) was an artist only slightly older than me.
When he arrived on the campus of the University of Ife in the middle of the 1970s, I was an undergraduate studying art.
Gift was not a student, faculty or staff. He just appeared on campus one day.
He seemed to have dropped from outer space.
He looked so different from everybody else.
He wore his hair in dreadlocks.
Mind you, in mid-70 Nigeria, it was a totally rare sight to find anyone wearing their hair in dreadlocks.
A few aladura prophets wore dreadlocks, but one dismissed them as dwellers of the land of insanity.
Those who were not aladura but wore dreadlocks you sort of regarded as amugbo, especially when they were self-taught artists, such as Gift.
But Gift was not an amugbo. He had a ready and sweet smile, though there was a far-away stare in his eyes.
Gift also was a bodybuilder. His stocky physique of about 5’ 8” was athletically built, with bulging biceps and tight stomach muscles configured in a six-pack ab.
He was hanging around the European architects, engineers and technicians constructing the buildings on the University of Ife.
Some people were spreading rumors that he was gay; but the rumor was unfounded because I knew his girlfriend, a young and strikingly beautiful African American woman who came to Ile Ife to study Orisa spirituality and culture.
After I graduated and returned to the university to teach, Gift was still around with his beautiful girlfriend, still building his body, and still not an amugbo.
He used to hang around many artists who smoked Igbo in those days, and I asked him why he didn’t do it like the others.
He told me that he was into Eastern spirituality and smoking would defile the purity of his body, and spoil his meditation.
“I meditate to make my art,” Gift told me. “I want nothing to spoil my meditation and art-making.”
Gift did not touch alcohol either. He only drank water, plenty of water. He was always exercising, meditating and making art.
One evening, Gift came to my house, totally drunk. I was surprised. He entered my room, a bottle of gin under his armpit, and I asked him what was going on.
“Moyo,” he said, “have you been f—cking my girlfriend?” His eyes were bloodshot.
I couldn’t believe him. I didn’t even know where to start defending myself.
“Just confess now,” Gift insisted.
I carefully explained to him that he had nothing to worry about from me. I had not touched his woman.
Gift said, “I believe you. But someone told me you are one of the people messing with my woman. She has left my house. I know for sure she is sleeping with Dr—–. She is nothing but a slut!”
I assured him to take it easy on the alcohol and go home. “If your girlfriend doesn’t want you anymore, there is nothing you can do about it.”
That was when he said he was sure I was one of those messing with his “wife.” I reminded him they were not yet married, and my statement only infuriated him even more. He asked me to step outside so we could fight.
“Look, Gift, I can’t fight you,” I told him. “Look at all those rippling muscles on your body! Even in professional boxing, they don’t match a flyweight with a heavyweight. Am I crazy? And it’s not as if I would win any money for fighting you! Just for free? No way.”
He relaxed. Then he grumbled something and left. A few minutes later, he was knocking on my door again. “Hey, Moyo,” he said after I opened the door. “You know where I can get some igbo?”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Why not go to Bloody Kevin at the bukateria? They say that’s where people get it.”
The following evening, Gift was back. He had a bottle of gin. I opened the door and let him in.
He was drunk and was staggering.
He sank into the wooden chair, reached inside his pocket and brought out a stick of Igbo. He lit it and took a deep drag.
“Gift,” I said, “you have changed a lot. You now drink and smoke igbo. Have you made some new paintings recently? You can’t let the loss of your girlfriend destroy you.”
“Moyo, know what?” Gift said. “I haven’t painted in about a month. Since she left, nothing. But, you know what? A secret. Just between you and me. I am seeing someone new. Sandra X. A white woman.”
“But that’s someone’s wife,” I said.
“I don’t care,” Gift said with a drunken drawl. “Someone took my wife away from me. I still don’t believe you don’t f—ck her. I caught you one day looking at her funny.”
“You are crazy, Gift,” I said. “Go home and sleep off your alcohol.”
The following day, someone was banging on my door again. I thought, “Must be that guy, Gift, again.”
I opened the door. It was Segun.
“You heard what happened to Gift?” Segun asked.
“They found his body by the dam in the agric farm,” Segun said. “The police said he shot himself in the head. Blew off his own brain, that bloke. They found a pistol next to his body.”
“What?” I asked, shocked. “Where did he get a pistol to shoot himself?”
“Sandra’s pistol,” Segun told me. “Sandra said Gift borrowed the pistol saying he wanted to draw it, and she gave it to him. And then he went to the dam and blew up his head.”
“You believe that story?” I asked Segun.
“I don’t know,” Segun responded. “Something doesn’t add up.”
“That’s what happens to you when you are playing around with another man’s wife,” I told Segun.
When I narrated the story to Iya Oyo, she said, “Young people don’t know what to do with their youth. Every adult was once a troubled youth. Àgbà wá búra péwe ò ṣe ọ́ rí.”
No ailment is as bad as youthfulness. May Olodumare guide young people>
The painting posted here is by Gift Krani Rijal Orakpo. He was such an incredibly talented artist.