The news of Elechi Amadi’s demise has left me a little deflated. All I have now are my memories of the only close encounter I had with him, and my regrets of the opportunity I missed to share my work at our little gathering of writers. As well as the chance to take a picture with him. I should have taken the picture. Good grief!
As a member of the Association of Nigerian Authors, Port Harcourt Chapter, Elechi Amadi had hosted our bi-weekly meeting to mark his birthday. All I knew, on that fateful Sunday, was that the venue of our meeting had been changed last-minute and I was to come towards UniPort, which was quite a trip considering where I lived (I’m glad I didn’t decide to abandon the meeting). You can imagine my shock when I got to Choba and called a fellow ANA member to find out his exact location, and was told to ask anyone around the area for ‘Elechi Amadi’s residence’.
At the meeting, our host was all smiles, and ready-for-a-laugh. He has a disarming personality, a very simple man. His inner child shows when he speaks about his love, writing, and it grows on you. I must say, he is very difficult to dislike. And in very good health for his age. He is older than my father, but even my father never looked so young in recent times. I have never seen my father’s pulchritude light up with such youth, such mirth. I guess that’s what happens to you when you discuss your passion (with people almost as passionate)?
Mr. Elechi Amadi read us a chapter from his recent book, a story about a local wrestler–I can’t remember the title now. The story was set in the days when our forefathers were still heathens. During the question-and-answer session, the questions led us into mythology–the Ikwere mythology. I remember being amazed to learn that the Ikwerre people had a rich mythology that was similar to, but distinct from, the Ibo mythology in the names the deities bore. Mr. Elechi was all grin and chortle, recounting his youth, as his novella took him back to his youth, when local wrestling events were the talk of the town, how he and his friends would wrestle for fun (he was a bad wrestler, by the way).
I had to leave the meeting before it ended because it was getting late, because Choba was long a distance from home, and because I didn’t have a ride and didn’t know the road well–reasons that seem trivial to me now. I rued my unpreparedness to meet Mr. Amadi and prayed there would be more opportunities. There was one more. It took a place at an auditorium at UniPort, and there was a large crowd there (the place was brimming with people), again to mark his birthday: his 80th. It was a grand event with lots of activities lined. I never again had the opportunity to interact with this great literary mind at an occasion that was so informal, and so closely-knit, with everyone making wisecracks.