Sunken Ships is a Zikoko series that explores the how and why of the end of all relationships — familial, romantic or just good old friendships.

Debo* was Bola’s* older cousin and closest friend. When Debo’s mum — Bola’s favourite aunt — died, they both had different responses to the loss, and their relationship never recovered from it. Here’s Bola’s story:

Bola: I’ve known my cousin, *Debo, all my life. He was 13 when I was born but was somehow the closest cousin to my age. I think that’s what made us so close. 

He was the one the adults put in charge of me and my younger siblings. I spent a lot of my childhood at his house, and he was basically my senior brother. As the firstborn, I had to take care of my siblings, but having someone look out for me felt nice.

He’d be the one to pick me up from boarding school, and because most of the seniors had a crush on him, they never punished or bullied me if it wasn’t a general punishment. He was an advocate for my enjoyment, and I loved every moment I spent with him.

What Changed?

Bola: When I was 14, his mother died. She was my favourite aunt and the whole family took a big hit. I tried to talk to him about it because nobody else really understood how I felt, but he wouldn’t pick my calls or talk to me. Now, I realise he was dealing with it in his own way, but I wish we’d had a conversation first. 

The next time the family got together after my aunt’s death was when I was 16. I was done with secondary school and had developed quite an attitude. I felt like I was better than everyone. I stopped hanging out with Debo because he smoked marijuana, drank and was unserious with his life, and I didn’t want to turn out like him. I was extremely judgmental. 

How did that affect the relationship?

Bola: Eventually, I got over myself, and Debo and I started talking again. Not like we used to, but for a while, things were better than they were right after my aunt died. That’s why I was shocked when one day, he video-called wearing a hoodie and there was snow all around him. 

And that was how he told us he’d travelled abroad. I get that we can be superstitious as Nigerians, but he wasn’t that kind of person. I thought he would’ve at least let me know before he moved continents. That didn’t stop me from being happy for him though. He seemed excited, and by extension, we all were too. 

RELATED: Sunken Ships: My Cousin Grew Up

That sounds good?

Bola: For the first year or two of him being out of the country, we were fine. We’d talk over the phone, he’d comment on my WhatsApp status, like my pictures on Instagram; we were good. In fact, during one of his calls, he told me he heard I needed a new phone and sent me some money to complete what I’d saved for it. 

But from that moment on, when I call, he’d start hinting I wanted to ask him for something, and it was very off-putting. Then he got married even though he had already three daughters in Nigeria, and that annoyed me even more. So, I blocked him everywhere. We haven’t spoken since. 

How long has it been since you spoke?

Bola: Five years. He still calls my parents and siblings, but he never asks to speak with me. So, I don’t think he wants to. 

Do you want to speak with him? 

Bola: I don’t know. Last year, I unblocked him because I thought I would send him a message, but I never did. I also wanted to see if he would reach out, but he never did. He also didn’t act like he noticed I’d unblocked him. 

Have you tried to reach out?

Bola: No. I’m still hurt because of everything that happened. I’m annoyed he left his three daughters here to marry another person and start a life with them. It’s not like he doesn’t take care of his children, but they’re just going to grow up without having him around. 

I’m hurt he didn’t reach out to me before he travelled because I wish he had. 

I’m also hurt he implied I only spoke to him because I wanted something from him. I’ve never asked him for anything before, even when we were younger. He’s the last born in his own family and was the one telling us who to beg for things. I don’t understand why he was projecting on me.

What about your aunt’s death? Did you ever bring it up? 

Bola: I never did. So many years had passed since the death; bringing up the hurt I felt about him not talking to me during that period would’ve just opened up old wounds. My aunt meant so much to me. She was basically my second mum. I thought he’d get it and understand my own pain. He was older, and I needed my big brother, but it felt like I could no longer have that. 

Plus, it put a huge strain on our relationship. We don’t talk to each other the way we used to, so there was really no way to mention it after. 

Do you think you might’ve had a hand in the relationship crumbling? 

Bola: We both had a hand in it. I could’ve been a bit more understanding and he could’ve been better at communicating how he felt.

Don’t you think it’s a bit selfish to have expected that from him when he was probably grieving too?

Bola: I’m older now, so I know people deal with grief differently. I shouldn’t have expected him to try to heal with me. I was a child and a lot more immature than most kids my age, so of course, I was hurt. Maybe it was selfish that I wanted him to be there for, but it’s what I wanted. 

I never told him or made him feel bad about it. I just felt that way in my heart. Now I know I should’ve given him space to take as much time as he needed, but our relationship is still damaged. A lot has happened without him, there’s so much physical distance between us and only so much opening we’re willing to do.

Will you ever reach out to him again? 

Bola: I will. Maybe when I learn to be the bigger person, but I’m currently not. So we’ll see. 

RELATED: Sunken Ships: There’s Not Much I Need My Father For Now


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