I was trying to rush down my breakfast because I nearly late for work, when my brother came to stand beside me with a song I couldn’t make out, playing on his phone.
“Do you know I’m listening to the original version of Easy,” he said. “Lionel Richie wasn’t the original singer.”
I pushed the food away from me, my brother knew he had declared war and I didn’t want my precious breakfast to be part of the collateral damage.
“Ikenna, who did you say sang the original version of Easy?” he had moved to a chair across the room from me at the time.
“Sky Ferreira!” He was laughing with most of his teeth shining against his face.
“Sky wasn’t even born when Lionel wrote the song!” I struggled to keep my voice even.
His shoulders were shaking from laughter and I realized that the young man had planned the whole thing. He chose to blaspheme my favourite song on a Sunday morning of all mornings!
“But Lionel didn’t sing it first, he wrote it for a group before he sang it in the 80’s” he chipped in, holding his hands above his face to protect it against my wrath.
Easy has been my favourite song for more than half of my life, before Easy, Hello by the same artist was the former favourite and before that, Lionel Richie’s triad of Love O Love, Dancing on the Ceiling and My destiny were my joint favourites. Do I still need to add that Lionel Richie is my favourite singer, songwriter and producer of all time?
I think Easy is the most perfect song in the world, apart from the awesome guitar magic on the song, the lyrics strike a chord in me that no other song can match. Or maybe it’s because if you had to describe me with a song, it would definitely be Easy, it would always be Easy.
“He wrote it when he was in the Commodores,” I said calmly.
“He wrote it for a Motown group!” he challenged
“At that time if you were a black artist, you had better be signed on to Motown”
“He was with them before he left and became the superstar we know today, but you know the funniest thing? Even with all the hits they had with Lionel, the only Grammy they ever won came when he left the group. They won it for Nightshift”
“I don’t know the song” he replied and for the second time in less than ten minutes, my brother had raised my heart rate.
“Oya bring my tab”
I turned my attention back to my food while he brought the tab, I selected Nightshift from my playlist and waiting for the opening bars to kick in.
“They sang it for Marvin Gaye and Jackie Wilson- the guy that sang To Be Loved, the song Eddie Murphy was dancing to in Coming to America,” I said as Ikenna’s fingers moved across his phone’s screen with dizzying speed. I smiled as I remembered how the story of Jackie’s life and his women, I didn’t add that Jackie was rumoured to have been responsible for at least ten pregnancies by the time he was seventeen, Ikenna is too young to know all that though.
“I still don’t know it” he said as the chorus ended and the second verse began, he was clearly unimpressed by the song.
I smiled because like my brother, I had once thought the song a little bland. All that changed on the second day of January 2015.
Between December 2014 and January 2015, I worked in a community pharmacy that was two or three kilometers away from my house. It was a fifty-naira bus ride or one-fifty okada ride or twenty-minute leisurely walk, I did all three regularly. If you want to become a writer, the best place to find inspiration is a community pharmacy, you will find any kind of character you want to hinge your stories on and you will hear stories that make Joro and Amanda’s stories sound like nursery rhymes.
A couple of guys came to the pharmacy nearly every evening to buy toiletries and cough medication, they worked in a betting shop nearby. One of them was boisterous and you could be sure of ringing laughter in every minute he was in the store, the other one was quiet with big eyes that reminded me a little of my father’s undergraduate days pictures. I got to know they were Ghanaian from the odd way the quiet one said ‘because’, his accent was pronounced unlike Dennis his friend who had been in Nigeria for three years and could speak Nigerian pidgin better than most Nigerians.
Godfrey- the quiet one, had a cough that had refused all medication and he was using the expectorant prescribed by the doctor with a tired resignation that it would fail like the others. I liked talking to him and it was a pleasure to find that he had a lot to say, like most ‘quiet’ people do when you make the effort to engage them. He missed Ghana, it was there in the lilt of his voice when he talked about his family, his home and his beloved Ghanaian dishes. His displeasure with Nigeria bubbled in the barely hidden disgust with which he talked about the rowdiness of Nigeria. I would tease him about getting a Nigerian wife and falling in love with Nigeria and his answer was always “God forbid.”
On the thirtieth of December, they bounced in as usual and we laughed a lot. I told them that my birthday was the next day and I was expecting a big present from both of them.
“Your boyfriend will buy you a car” Dennis said while Godfrey smiled wanly, it was obvious he was very tired.
We opened for business on the second of January after staying home for New Year’s Day and when I resumed for the evening shift, Dennis was one of the last customers to walk in. It was strange that his voice did not fill the room before his body did and it was doubly strange that he wasn’t with his shadow- Godfrey.
“Where’s my boyfriend” I asked.
“He’s dead, he died yesterday”
“On the first of January!” Amina the IT student gasped.
“You’re lying” I said flatly.
Dennis brought out his phone and showed us pictures, his body would be buried in Ghana, his beloved Ghana. No one spoke as we locked up the shop, in silence we all found our way home.
I never walked when I was going home, we closed at 10pm and most of the shops on the route home were already closed. That night however, I couldn’t imagine being close to anyone, I decided to walk. As I made one of the many turns that would take me home, I heard the faint strains of a song that sounded a little familiar. As I walked closer to the source of the song- a bar on the street, I realized how fitting the song was for that point in time. Godfrey had started his own nightshift and the pains he had lived through at the end of his life had fallen away.
Since 2015, when I listen to the song, I think of Marvin Gay, Jackie Wilson, my Ghanaian friend, Godfrey and a sad smile plants itself on my face.