Hush Hush: A Tribute to Dr. Abiodun Oluwatoba
Three times in close succession, the grim reaper has rung the bell of the University College Hospital. This third, I couldn’t help it when my mind rummaged through the records in my memory. It withdrew the lyrics of a Beautiful Nubia song from the stack that reads thus in Yoruba: Ẹni rere wọn ò kí ń pẹ́ lọ, ẹni burúkú wọ́n pẹ́ nílẹ̀ (The good ones are quick to leave while the bad ones tarry). But “Hush, hush”, I said to my mind, “a mortal doesn’t have the moral ground to wish death on another mortal”, but before you judge me, hush, hush. The tantrums of a child that lost their most-priced toy might be misguided, but that doesn’t mean that feeling isn’t valid. If you don’t understand that, perhaps it’s because you are not Dr Abiodun Oluwatoba.
Dr Oluwatoba got her first degree from the University of Ilorin, Kwara state in Zoology. Subsequent master’s degrees as well as her doctorate degree were gotten from the University of Ibadan in the field of Cellular Parasitology and Epidemiology. Up to the point of her demise, she was a senior lecturer in the department of Medical Microbiology and Parasitology.
Dr Oluwatoba was a highly-prized jewel. In an institution that has been likened to the military, she stood out as one of the soothing balms whenever we returned with sprains from hopping over and dodging the hurdles in the College of Medicine, University of Ibadan. She understood our tantrums and was there to be that strong conduit to direct them to the right course. The first time I met her, I threw one of those sacrilegious tantrums. Our class was recently informed of a new development that will mandate any student who fails a compulsory course to repeat a class. We were desperate for intervention and when I saw her, I impulsively stopped her in her tracks by calling out, and I told her I would like to see her. She must have read the apprehension on my face when she responded, “What if you didn’t see me here? Don’t you know my office?”. It was stern, but not scolding. Rather than a reprimand, it was an instruction, and it said “Hush, hush, you can trust me” to all my apprehension.
The second time I met Dr Oluwatoba, it was her pen signing “Hush, hush” on my answer booklet in the exam hall. Apparently, she had overheard me grumbling. It would take a serious plea for me to explain to her that I was only complaining about the heat on the 4th floor of Akinkugbe’s Clinical Science Building that was about to kill me – not examination malpractice. That is who Dr Oluwatoba was; highly principled, yet very kind and humane in enforcing discipline. The third and the last time I saw her was another Medical Microbiology and Parasitology examination that took us only 30 minutes to revise for. Like a mother who understands all the babbling of her infants and all the syllables lost in the “gugu gaga”, she understood the pressure we were under and took it upon herself to ease the tension. For someone that wouldn’t allow a whisper in the examination hall she is invigilating, she spoke out loud in the hall, “In the last exam your seniors wrote, they said ‘e choke’ don’t be like them”. She repeated “They said e choke”, obviously fascinated by the new youth slang she had just learned and when she made eye contact with me, I whispered, “Ma’am, this one is chokest”. She laughed so hard I could visualize her diaphragm contracting.
Is it not weird then when the convention of the English language mandates that we speak of the deceased in the past tense? The same person that I saw beaming with cheer just “yesterday”? No, those furrows in her brows as she waltzes through “4th floor” in her elegant gowns will always stay alive in my mind. Even though she whisked silently through the door that leads to the great beyond with no heads up, her time with us remains memorable. Hush hush, mummy. Keep resting.