‘Here Lies a Man who Lived’. For as far back as I can remember, this has been our usual joke with Edwin Anyanga Noballa also going by the names of Edu, Nobs, Etweeny (blame this on his Luhya heritage) and Moreno Lopez.
Sitting, mostly late into the night, we would weigh in on the the journey we have traveled and we both agreed that if one of us goes before the other, then the remaining one would write an epitaph with those words. In remembrance or more aptly in celebration of the triumphs and failures we’d seen.
Words have a way of bobbing up to the surface, however long buried they are. So last Thursday as I stood at a room near the chapel at the Mater Hospital viewing Edu’s body, these words came back to me. Powerfully so.
‘Here Lies a Man who Lived’. For the more than 20 years we have been uttering these words, they seemed far away. An abstract of sorts. But this Thursday they were no longer empty words, said like a diviner consulting an Ouija board, but ringing true and real. Connecting the bubbly Moreno Lopez with the man lying on this hospital slab was proving a bit difficult. If anything, I half expected Etweeny to raise his head and ask his signature question, “Oba (for Obasanjo, the name I acquired years ago), what’s the plan?”
‘Here Lies a Man who Lived.’ Our friendship with Edu started right from our days at Moi University but cemented after graduation. I was two years ahead getting my Bachelor of Education degee and being carted to far away North Eastern Province to cultivate young minds. On graduation Edu got posted to Kericho Teachers College as a Tutor.
With time we would both quit teaching- I headed to the newsroom while Edu went to the corporate world in a path that would see him work as a banker, a programme officer, part time lecturer and logistician.
Our weekend meetings would be colourful, both of us being storytellers. Then the arguments that never ended. In his final year in school at Aquinas High Etweeny was voted one of the best football players in Nairobi province, until a serious leg injury put him out of the game forever. So when debating football Edu always had the knowledge of a former player.
At the university Edu took Mathematics and Economics, subjects he later taught. Many are the times he tried to get me interested in Maths but I would roundly dismiss him saying it was a tad too late in life to learn Maths.
However, our fiercest and querulous arguments would be on religion and philosophy. Being a certified insomniac, whenever Edu visited I too had to shelve sleep because I always knew we would have a long night ahead chatting and quarrelling. We disagreed on Socrates and Plato. We spent time comparing and contrasting the liturgical ways of the evangelicals and as he called it, the Holy Roman Catholic Church.
Being a former seminarian who had set out to join priesthood, Moreno Lopez was deeply passionate about these matters. Of course he would always win the arguments and in surrender I would tease him, “You know Edu, were it not for your huge appetite for the things of the world, you would have made a great priest and possibly a Cardinal.”
To which he would retort, “The problem the church is facing is pagans like you who have no understanding of the scriptures. You can serve God in whichever calling. You can serve God as a teacher, a banker, a soldier etc. You can also serve God as a good husband or wife.”
Talking of wives and one day Edu surprised me. it happened that he had had some disagreement with the wife Nduku Muema. I can’t really recall what it was all about but they both called me at different points (I am friends to both). In my role as a mediator I actively listened and in my best Solomonic voice I declared Etweeny to be the offender. Upon which the good man went down on his knee and apologized to the wife. Right inside the packed restaurant as the rest of the diners watched in amazement. Of course some of the ladies in there applauded but I could see the men seeing a traitor of the male gender in Edu’s action.
‘Here Lies a Man who Lived’. A party was never a party until Etweeny showed up. It didn’t matter if he was known to the master of the banquet or he was tagged along by a friend of the party owners, Edu would soon have the attendees enthralled with his stories.
Although a diehard AFC Leopards fan, Etweeny loved attending Gor Mahia matches if for no any other reason but for the carnival atmosphere. Of course he would never support Gor and anytime Gor scored he would whisper to me, “What a lousy goal!” A real fifth columnist if there ever was one!
‘Here Lies a Man who Lived’. That Moreno Lopez had way above average IQ was never in doubt. Although he spent his time in Maths and Economics classes, this never prevented him from helping his friends with their political science and history lessons.
This brilliance would play out one day when Edu went for a job interview. After hours of being asked questions, Edu felt that the panel was not well versed in the field. As is often at interviews when he was asked to ask anything about the firm, Edu went ahead to lecture the panel on the subject matter as well as how they could carry the company forward. Of course he never got the job!
Then we had our hilarious moments. I remember this Friday when Etweeny calls saying we need to meet as he had something urgent to discuss. I hurry to the place and we find early risers busy on their breakfasts.
Before we fully settle, Edu sees some fetching beauty seated alone at a corner, and he announces, let me go say hi to her. I bury myself in the newspaper and Edu coms back on a quick trot. “She is a man,” he almost yells and I start laughing at him. We later invite him/her to our table. Says name is Eric which has since changed to Erica. He/She has a long tale how the boyfriend cheated the previous night. The expressions are way exaggerated and I am deeply convinced we are in the last days.
This happened towards the end of the year and in my New Year text message I tell Edu: May you meet many more Ericas in the New Year.” Two weeks later he calls, he ran into Erica in town with his (Edu) new . Erica was all over with hugs and pecks and the new colleagues gave Edu a worried look.
‘Here Lies a Man who Lived’. If there is one thing Etweeny developed into an art then it was making disappearances. You would be, say in South B then Edu ambles away like he’s receiving a phone call. An hour later he would call saying he has rushed to Kitengela. It used to be annoying at first but we finally accepted that it was part of him. We called it, ‘Doing a Lopez’.
So it came to pass that last Wednesday night as I checked with Nduku how Edu was holding up she was very upbeat. All the signs were okay and the doctor had assured her that by weekend Edu would move from ICU to the general ward. There were even plans of a /mbuzi’ in the pipeline once he left hospital. His kid brother Taabu Noballa is even ready to read Etweeny the riot act over his poor eating habits which heeds to improve.
Little did we know that Edu was on course to ‘Doing a Lopez’. A major and final one. Come Thursday morning and I get the news from his brother in law Masangya Muema that Edwin Anyanga Noballa stepped outside. Never to return. The sneaky fellow!
Fare thee well Moreno Lopez…….