A Love Letter to the Graveyards || Taofeek Ogunperi

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A Love Letter to the Graveyards

by Taofeek Ọlálékan Ògúnpérí 

In memoriam: Joshua and Esther, two of my coursemates with whom I started my studies at Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, but without whom I now must graduate; no thanks to death.

Dear ones,

SOMETIMES I wonder what the length of a lifetime is. I marvel at the instant trick that our minds play on us: that a lifetime is a constellation of years, some happy years in which life is a bed of roses. Perhaps what we actually want, what we always want, is just to simply be able to wake up the next day, to be able to pick up this fantasy of a lifetime again and try to exert some reality on it. And yes, that is rather simple, only that it is now a luxury neither of you can afford. This inability breaks my heart like the way that when an artifact is broken you feel a heartbreak yourself for being at the genesis of its material absence. You mourn its legends from its accumulated wins against the generational chaos it has survived and its death in histories to come.

SOMEBODY I cannot particularly remember now said that our times are our lives, that whoever you let waste your time for you wastes your life. I almost disagreed. Until I remembered you both. You both, who would be alive and happy and living if this year was not 2024 but 2014.

You, Esther, you would be beautiful as always. You would be giving beauty and unreal finery. There would be a couple of boys crowding differently in your DM, each one trying his luck to be your one and only lover upon whom your beautiful eyes set. Some of them would use pirated pickup lines and cliches to ask you out. And you would be brilliant enough to know that to love any of these invalid boys would be to insult yourself. And you, Queen, you would not insult yourself. You are classy. You are genuine and you only do authentic, intentional people.

You, Josh, you would be somewhere grinding. Or you would be somewhere chasing girls. Or you would be somewhere being a lively, comic character. You would be there telling someone why they should pursue a career in music but never should they attempt releasing any EP let alone an actual album. That would be a waste, you would say to them, since their entire career would only ever make sense to their immediate family. And they would attempt “clapbacks,” but even tens of attempts in, you would win the moment. You would know it. They would know it. And you two would laugh, the way that humble people laugh at their own funny fallibility.

If this was 2019, in April, you both would be on OAU campus, two of the many sea of fresh heads admitted to the legion of brave minds to dare to come to a challenging place like Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife. You both would know that you were coming to a department where to graduate with a First Class was rare. But you would have your eyes on that record anyways. Or you would pretend like you do not really care to make it. But, deep down in you, you would know that if you graduated with 4.5 CGPA or more you would have a sense of pride in you that would not be easily caught in words.

If this was 2020, you both would be at different places, trying to make sense of the world under a lockdown. Josh, you would be there throwing memes on WhatsApp and I would call you a fool. You would throw me a sticker. I would feel encouraged to tell you that you graduated from being a fool to a compound fool. I would send a sticker immediately after. And you would find a rare sticker to send, one that suggested that I had been just as foolish as you. I would say it. You would say you did not say such, that I said it myself. You would send a sticker, and I would too. We would throw more stickers in.

You Esther, you would wonder why it was so that our world was that plagued. You would recall that you read a poem of mine, Why We Grieve Today, and everything happening reminded you of the words and lines of the poem. I would say to you that poets have the misfortune of being right about some tragedy, that the muse lends itself into the future and leaks things to poets. You would laugh and you would put a blushing emoji at the end of your sentence. I would ignore the emoji and go ahead to burst your brain and share my disappointments at Nigerian universities where innovativeness was so dead that students had to be out of school as though the world was not advanced enough for virtual learning. I would ultimately blame the government, that things could have worked if they funded education properly and encouraged research optimally. We would end up with personal talks. I would wonder how you were doing; and you would for me too. Instead of texting, we would do a video call. And there you would be with so much radiance like you just found a lost treasure of yours.

THE problem with 2020 and years after was not only that COVID defined them, it was also that they never included you two. Not the way that you wanted to be. You, Esther, were on and off and fighting for your life. In August 2020, you died. And you, Josh, about a year later, you would be fighting for your life only to lose it. There would be too much grief in those years. And such would be the actual lives of you; the one that rakes my heart in a silent yet tangible way.

If this was 2014, Esther, you would have 6 more years to live. And, Josh, you would have 7 years left. The scary thing about this mathematics of mortality is that you did not know this in 2014, otherwise you would live perhaps more differently. Maybe you would not get to meet me and the rest of the class. Maybe you would lose interest in life entirely. Maybe you would end it before the actual end— and how interesting it is to decide an end yet never wanting things to end. If there was a third option to life and death, I suppose many humans would take it. But life is life and death is death; we have between them the metaphors that redeem us or scorn us but we are either here or not here. Either dead or not dead.

We all say we only have time, understanding that we really do not have time. What should nudge us on even in the light of this unsettling understanding is that to settle for grief because a life could end sooner than expected is to end that life before it actually ends. I crane my neck writing you this now, measuring your years knowing someone would measure mine for me one day. Someone would see where my lifetime ends, whether that is sooner or later. Someone else would see that of another, and so on. The same will apply to that other person. This is how it has always been: òkú ń sunkún òkú, akásọlérí ń sunkún ara wọn.  All of us indeed only have time. That is why we must not waste it or let anyone waste it for us.

(Dear Josh, this part may not really be for you, since you would find me boring or too serious talking this way; it's a record that you follow up to this point.)

BUT in the real sense of it, wasted might just be one of the right words to describe this generation. Wasted in two senses. First, wasted in frivolities, even with our mounting achievements in tech and other trendy spaces. Evidence abound in club houses and on Snapchat. (Esther, I know you would hate Snapchat and wonder what in the name of God I am doing there. But I assure you, nothing dey sup.) Another essence to being wasted in this generation is the unceasing limitations around a normal life. As you must be aware, the class is yet to graduate. After we lost you we lost time, we lost some of the hopes we came with, and we lost our actual graduation year. It is 2024, and we are holding on with bated breaths that this would be that year. That year that we become graduates.

(Josh, you can rejoin us now)

DEAR ONES, these days, nobody cares about grades anymore. At least, not in the extreme ways of freshman year. We all just want to graduate. Many are ripe for marriage. Many are set for business and work life. All of us are ready to leave. And of those who want to leave, there are many jápa candidates. Even I am one. If the experiences of the past few years, especially since COVID and #EndSARS (which you saw, Josh; which you did not see, Esther) — if these experiences matter, it is for the fact that to leave this country even if momentarily is to escape a difficult matrix of abnormal existence. Many leave every now and then, with only few desirous of actually coming back.

See, if I leave this country, I should come back. I am not sure when, however. That may not entirely be because I no longer love my country or want to be back. I highly suspect myself these days. And the idea of home has become too fluid for me now. Whenever we are on a break and I go home these days, I feel like I am a guest in my family house. What keeps me going is the opportunity to see family and walk old terrains.

Home has become an idea for me, and if I am settled in a place, undisturbed, chanced to contribute to my society and worship Allah, I may refer to that place as another home. Even in addition to that, these years back have witnessed what you can term universal angsts. COVID was one, wars from ears and throats of the world are some— Palestine is burning, Ukraine nurtures wounds. What occurs to me these days is that our lives have some patterns, and regardless of some radical and racial differences, some things are of universal pleasure and some others are of universal pain.

Love is of universal pleasure, and who finds it finds a transcendence of some sort. Love is so enigmatic that one person can have the opportunity to carry the interest of another soul on in their body, to root for them, to care for them, to fight for them, even to commit crimes for them. Not so many things are common in this highly individualised world but love remains one of the few left. We envelope it in many delicate, obvious, subtle, tangible things. A way of loving for me is to spend time with who I love. If time is then life, for me, I want to spend my life like I spend my money on whom I love. It is rather unfortunate that I cannot spend my time with you both but it is redeeming that I can write this, allotting a time to do it, to you, for you, of you. This is my memorial of you. This is my regard for you. This is my love letter to you. Even in your graveyard.

And that is also to say that death is something of universal pain. But perhaps what is more difficult about death is not the actual manifestation of mortality, the coming to an end of the breaths. What exactly we mourn is the life that we do between these fragile thumpings on our chest, the events that confer some consciousness to each and all of us— the classes we have together, the jokes, the adventures, the meals, the trips, the hangouts, the dates, the sports, the mere silent but looming substance of our beings even when we don't talk, the chance that in space and time we exist to do many things. These are what we actually mourn, these things that cease to be at death and leave a vacancy in a conscious environment where the one we know (and, maybe, love) used to be.

SOMEONE said death is beautiful because it is just. I agree that it is just, but that it is beautiful is what I do not know. When I see rows of well grown flowers, or a gently flowing expanse of river or a fall of it, or a nifty Hajia who has the smarts in Deen and passionable other things, I know that I have seen the beautiful. But I also understand that sensuousness and beauty go; that a voice could be beautiful, an action could be beautiful, a thought could be beautiful. Here, beauty becomes a superordinate term for what is sonically well expressed, what is acted well, and what is poetically reasoned.

Maybe death is somewhat otherworldly beautiful. Perhaps that is what the person meant. What is certain is that in its unbiased nature, death happens to everyone. That is fair. The degree of such fairness or justice as in death may be questioned when long dreamers like you live short lives, unlike some aged fellows who are so lucky they live long and actualise their dreams. And that is why cemeteries are the biggest stores of the best ideas, death being their anchor. But do not be worried, dear ones, where you are. The world is coming to meet you, one or more deaths at a time.

Cheers, or whatever in the language of the dead can convey the warmth I want you to feel, if you can feel.


— T.

Taofeek Ọlálékan Ògúnperí is a Nigerian writer. A multiple award-winning student, Taofeek is a Part 4 student of Literature-in-English at the Department of English, Obafemi Awolowo University Ile-Ife. His works have been published by Kreative Diadem, Kwara Pulse, Muse for World Peace, Armistice, WriCon Quarterly Journal, Àtẹ́lewọ́ Pẹlẹbẹ, Parkchester Times, Muslim Community Reports, African Rubiz, The Scribe Post and elsewhere. Tao, as fondly called within student leadership and political spaces, served as the 2021/2022 Public Relations Officer of Great Ife Students’ Union. He is currently the Head of Communications, Reboot Creative Hub. He tweets @TaofeekOgunperi.


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  1. Death and beauty get lost in relativity. We never can tell what the dead feels, maybe they finally find the TRUTH and love being late or they can see all below and miss being left out.
    Maybe they feel unfulfilled and like the Yoruba myth, they stay forever, at strange doors, knocking and whispering, "I'm here".
    Speculation is all we have, but somehow it usually feels they are better without these walls.
    And to Josh and Esther, I say you rose again, not with voodoo but the power of the written words.
    Maybe if they find the chance to raise a smile (even if they can't do cheers), they'll be happy knowing the graveyard finally has a long epitaph of sort.
    Maybe that's a word I can use, maybe not.
    All we have is a bunch of MAYBES.

    1. Taofeek Ọlálékan ÒgúnpéríMarch 26, 2024 8:52 AM

      You're right, Matthew, there's a bunch of uncertainties around death and the dead.

      Thank you for reading and for commenting.

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