Memories from my past: My Grandpa Sawyerr aka Papa Yaba (pt 1)

Today I thought of Papa Yaba, my maternal grandfather. I thought of his toothless smile/laugh when he heard my mom’s voice calling out to him from the hallway before she even saw him “Papa Chief” …laughter, Papa Chief, more laughter.

He was over 90 when he died. His road to death started with a fall that led to a broken bone, hospitalization and death.

Papa Chief used to work for what I grew up calling NEPA( Nigeria’s power/lack of electricity agency). He travelled a lot for his job, mostly within Nigeria with a stint in London for about 5 years.

I remember him sitting outside his balcony with his walking stick, staring like though he could see what was going on, was more or else blind. What was he looking at? I regret not stopping to check on him on my way back from school. You see I went to school literally down the road from his house on Queens Street Yaba. So many times I would see him, sitting alone, in his usual spot on that balcony, in need of company I imagined, staring out, lost in thought. Was he counting his remaining days on earth? Was he content with the life he lived?

I wondered if he ever saw me wave at him. Probably not because his vision was poor. He could really tell out people by their voice.

As I reflect, what was I doing that always made me feel I was in a hurry to get either to school or get home from school. My only consolation was that Isaw him usually on weekends when my mom took cooked fish stew for him. Fish because it was the only protein soft enough for him to chew, he has like 2 or 3 teeth that I could see. We would all cram into his bedroom and he would ask my mom how work was, if she got a promotion yet, usual father child convo…..and he would also report all that his caretakers had done in the span of days or weeks that they last saw.


My mom and her parents (circa 1960)

When we were leaving he became sad. Many times he would ask my mom to stay over with him, she regrets not obliging his request.He would look under his pillow and in a cloth, he would ask my mom to untie and bring out a 10 naira note for I and my siblings to buy something.

I miss him, my mom misses him and my kids miss him.

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