In honour of a brother who fell in the struggle.
It was the eve of the Hallowed Day. It was my third year in the University of Colorado studying the African American experience in the United States from 1863 to the 21st century. The events of that night shaped my understanding of the essence of life; my approach to things.
During my first few months, being my first time away from my home country, I felt very lonely. I called it my “JJC Syndrome”. All that changed very soon thereafter. I found a friend in Elvander. Like every being out there, he was not free of his shortcomings but he was the most amazing talent I have ever seen. Above all, he was warm-hearted and very much forgiving. Like most Jamaicans, he loved good music. His talent was evident in how crafty and creative he was with the art of ceramics. In a mini-workshop he had carved out of his apartment, he would ‘serve’ himself reggae music and set to work. His ingenuity remains incomparable. He made a living out of his passion. Everyone recognised his talent and he became a grand star on campus.
As Halloween approached that year, the most anticipated event was the much-publicized Award Night which was now seen as a traditional show before bonfire. I was convinced that the most coveted award of “Colorado’s finest” which, usually, goes to the most distinguished student would go to Elvander. On that day, around 4pm, I called Elvander, teased him and congratulated him in anticipation of what I regarded as an open secret. He disagreed with strong conviction. He said “Leo, not me, it is something else.” I laughed it off. “Something”?
He came to the event in midnight blue tux. He looked graceful. When the time came for Colorado’s finest to be announced, I saw him, quite unusually, showing some nerves. I understood. I had felt the same way a year earlier when I won the award. Surprisingly, Mr. Blackstone, the event organiser, called Elvander to come on stage to hand out the award. It was even more baffling because that was my place. It was traditional that the holder would hand it out to his or her successor. Elvander was all smiles though. Mr. Blackstone then announced. He said:
“It has been a special year. Now to Colorado’s finest.” He paused, smiled and then started again
“It has been a landmark year for Elvander but this award goes to another. The winner is Elvander Smith.”
Convention had been breached in all ways; beautifully breached. Everyone who stood in the Alexander Dumbarton Hall that day was lost for words, for answers, for explanation as to how this beauty had come to be. It was a work of art beautifully made. The award had gone to a work of art made by Elvander. He called it Elvander Smith. It was his first name and that of his late brother. As it was unveiled, there was no sound of applause. We were all caught in that breathtaking moment of amazement. I joined Elvander on stage to congratulate him. I whispered into his ears, asking “Elv, why Elvander?” That question was as to why he would name the 8th wonder of the world after himself. It was a glittering oval ceramic structure. Elvander had been working on a secret project for months; there it stood. “You will get to know why soon” he replied. But “soon” came ten years after. Elvander took to the podium to deliver the acceptance speech which he said was on behalf of the winner, Elvander Smith.
“Elvander Smith represents my life; how we should see life. I….” As he said those words, pandemonium swept through the hall. Elvander slumped. The sorrow that perched on each person’s heart was palpable. That memory lingers in my head and brings agony. That day, I lost my best friend at an event where he was to be celebrated. I held on to it as further light was being thrown on how unfair life could be.
Upon the completion of my study, I travelled back home to Nigeria. It took me ten years to uncover the mysteries behind the last words of Elvander. That day, Mr. Blackstone had called me. The Association of Jamaican Students on campus, in partnership with the Elvander Foundation which I was one of the pioneer members decided to open a Museum in honour of Elvander. My pursuit of a legacy to immortalise the memory of a dear brother had finally come to fruition. I attended the opening of the Museum. It was located where Elvander’s apartment was. An excerpt from a copy of the speech he had prepared that night had been engrained on the wall just beside the waxed image of Elvander. In it I found my answer. It reads:
“…Elvander Smith is a beautiful piece now. I am pretty sure you all love it. But three months ago, it was lying as clay on the coast. As I packed it, a woman called it dirty. It was dug up from the ground during construction of a building in town and was thrown on the seashore. I made a tray out of it but it broke days after. I packed it up and deemed it not good enough until I thought to give it a better try. Through those three months, it took hard work coupled with ideas and intense fire from the kiln to get here. Now, it is a winner. It is not unbreakable but it would take added intensity than a mere fall before it gets broken. And if it ever gets broken, who says it cannot rise to be even better again.”
Tears rolled. I knew of his struggles. Those few words gave meaning to his life and I deciphered how I should perceive life. Of course, the cause of his death remains unfathomable, at least to me, as I could not make sense of all the medical terminologies used in the post-mortem analysis but his life gave value to my existence.
We all desire a better life. No, we desire glittering fortunes. If you ever need strength going forward, remember that, like Elvander Smith, you could be struggling today but with hard work, ideas and perseverance, you will surely get there. You need to be strong enough to not get broken by every fall because it is really going to be challenging out there. But if you ever get broken, a better end could be in the offing for you. You simply need to have the belief. To me, Elvander lives forever in Elvander Smith.
Soladoye Samuel Adeyinka
In honour of a brother who needed just one more year to become a lawyer, Fina Timothy Tosin. You remain palpable to us.