I knew her for about a week at the Nigerian Academy of Letters creative writing workshop. We had breakfast and dinner in the PI Hostel’s dimly lit restaurant. Once we sat on the same dining table with the other workshop participants. A couple of times I sat across from her during lunch at the University of Ibadan staff restaurant. We never really spoke. Only greeted and exchanged compliments and opinions (actually, she’d said that ‘Why Women Won’t Go to Heaven’ was a loud title which overrated the book’s content. And she was right). Once, I told her she was a theatre queen. Not in those exact words. I wish I had used those exact words to describe her performances because she made poetry performance one of God’s most innovative inventions.
Omalicha lights up the stage with her smile, her unique hair-do and her authoritative voice: especially, when she says that her breasts nursed the greatest Egyptian kings; and her sneeze shook the earth to its foundations; and her catarrh formed the crude oil deposits. She is a natural. When she swings her hips to the drumbeats and shakes the ichaka, our hearts beat and pound and shake rhythmically.
At the time, she was a post-graduate student of Theatre Arts at the University of Ibadan (She later rose to the position of Lecturer). I told her I admired her courage and her ability to follow her dreams; and for doing what she loved best. She smiled an enigmatic smile: like someone who knew a secret I might never discover. But that was what made Ify Omalicha the strong, independent woman that she was.
A few months after the workshop ended, she published her book. A collection of poems titled, ‘Now That Dreams AreBorn‘: a book she dedicated to her soon-to-be-born son. Then, just last week, she passed. Ify Omalicha, with all her talent, all her energy, all her beauty, died in an auto crash along the Abuja Expressway.
I remember the shock and horrification in Osemhen Akhibi’s voice as she told me about a certain facebook status – an elegy to Omalicha by Segun Adekoye – that she’d ‘liked’. And I remember thinking how the grave would swell, richer with one more genius in its belly. I wanted to hold my head, scream and grit my teeth. But I was so forlorn that I could only battle with guilt. All I thought about was how I’d kept procrastinating about calling her, procrastinating about sending her an email, procrastinating about buying her book… Procrastination is a terrible moral weakness.
We will never see her dance or sing or recite poetry. She will be sorely missed. Her talent; her smile; her profundity; and her strength.