8468788107_bb6c21b0e4_kBack then, in secondary school, when we were less judgmental of others and cared less or were naive of the outside world, Mary was my close friend.

In the beginning, we never identified as “friends”—just “classmates,” that general name we’d be compelled to use a few years after graduation, after a long period of non-communication.

Mary liked that I smiled a lot and had an innate sense of humour (I often wonder if I still have some left), and I, too, liked that she laughed a lot, even at the teeny-weeny driest joke of all times. We were both undergoing punishment when we first become friends—me doing frog jumps, Mary kneeling on her soft knees, on an afternoon bright and sunny, with the sun playing mock attempts at drawing sweat from our young skins. I misread a sentence in Yoruba. Mary laughed. Her affable laugh was infectious, so I laughed. The gravity of our punishment was increased, but we didn’t care. What was important was this: Mary and I had become good friends.

Mary died on the day on which the sky rumbled over my head.

The news of her death was not like the news of the death of a politician publicly announced on various mass media, or like the news of the death of a loved one transmitted over a long distance through a simple phone call.

The news of Mary’s death was digitised.

It first came to me on BlackBerry Messenger, then on Whatsapp, then on Facebook.

Nobody told me of her death. In fact, I would never have found out, and would I ever be blamed if such news never reached my ears? Of course. Perhaps, I would be accused of modern ignorance, or laughed at, or asked if I live in the 14th century. But for that effortless step of switching on my internet data and wandering around social media and having to read of Mary’s death in this manner:

“R.I.P Mary. May God rst ur soul. We luv u bt God luvs u most.”

“Oh God. Why? Mary, d news of ur deth stil shcks us!”

“She ws a tru gem nd a gud frend. Til we mit again.”

Having read three or more updated statuses like these, I was left in shock.

I messaged a mutual friend to confirm, and she replied thus: “Mary died 2day. They sed she slept nd did nt wke up. It so sad.” On Facebook, there were also well-wishers, bidding their final fare-wells to Mary:

“I don’t knw u in person wen u are alife,but am really touched by al dis comment abt u so so sad am crying reading tru all dis comment,rest in peace u are a great icon”

“May your soul rest in peace. So sad u left us in dis earth. May u continue to sleep in d blossom of thy Lord”

“Gud night frnd may ur soul rest in pafet peace..”

Mary was gone.

In a few minutes of scrolling and clicking and tab closing and screen brightening, my memory recorded a sad truth—the death of Mary. For me, only a few hours of mourning and sober reflections followed. Maybe it was the long distance that fell between Mary and me or those long years of silence. Or was it that effortless discovery of a death that made the loss of a person less appalling? Less seething?

It was the likes—those small thumbs pointing skyward to nowhere—on the Facebook posts about Mary’s death that jarred my mind for days.

Was the death of a person so likeable, deserving a whooping hundred and forty-eight likes? The line under a Facebook post saying, “148 people liked this,” made me wonder: had humans really liked the news of a DEATH or had Mark Zuckerberg created ghoulish robots to serve the purpose of liking DEATHS? (I am a technologist, I know such robots don’t exist; they never will.)

Throughout my thirty-minute perusal of Mary’s timeline on Facebook, it became clear to me that heartbreaking losses like death have been reduced to likes and abbreviated comments. The whole message leapt from the brightened screen of my android phone and punched me right in the face: We now live in a world of likes and abbreviations, no more, no less.

What if Mary were alive today? Would she have enjoyed reading such R.I.P messages typed out in bloated grammar, queer abbreviations, funny emoticons—hints at disrespect, unworthiness?

Would Mary have questioned the fact that the picture used for the obituary and the message attached had amassed an incredible number of likes?

If given a second chance, would Mary have deactivated her Facebook account or would have she accepted to live with the realization that we now live in a world of likes and abbreviations?




Post image by mkhmarketing via Flickr.

About the Author

Portrait - OKafor

Okafor Emmanuel Tochukwu was born in Lagos, Nigeria. His work has appeared, or is forthcoming, in The Kalahari Review, Bakwa Magazine, African Writer, Flash Fiction Online, StoryMondo, Unbroken Journal, Image Magazine and Pilcrow & Dagger Literary Journal. A participant in the UNIBEN ENL Creative Writing Workshop, he divides his time between Lagos where he resides, and Benin-city where he studies Electrical/ Electronic engineering at the University of Benin. An MTN and Etisalat scholar, he won the Comptroller Charles Edike Prize for Outstanding Essays (2014), a second prize in the Earthplus Essay Competition in celebration of World Environment Day (2015), and a Festus Iyayi’s Award for Excellence for Playwriting (2015). Most recently, three of his stories were shortlisted for the 2015 University of Benin Literary Prize for Poetry and Short Stories. Still looking forward to opening his literary blog, he can be followed on twitter (@phenomenaltoch), or on Instagram (@tochukwu_okafor).

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I'm finishing up a phd at Duke University where I study African novels, which I believe are some of the loveliest things ever written. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

6 Responses to “Death In a World of Likes and Abbreviations | Okafor Emmanuel Tochukwu | An African Story” Subscribe

  1. Pearl Osibu 2015/09/10 at 6:20 pm #

    I cannot say how much I connect with this story. I lost my closest friend last November. I got off a plane and received the news via facebook messenger. Yup. The one person in the world i would die for without a thought. A facebook message before the family could get to me. Let me tell you what hurt me maybe as much. His birthday was ten days ago. It was sad to go on his wall and see automatic birthday messages from people who have not even noticed that for ten months he’s gone. It made me livid. Sigh. I love this piece. I love this piece.

  2. Ainehi Edoro 2015/09/10 at 6:39 pm #

    Thanks Pearl. Your comment is so meaningful. So sorry for your loss. It’s the same thing I felt when I received this story and why I had to publish it. Love that Okafor does a good job of capturing how we always manage to make a mess of mourning on social media.

  3. George 2015/09/11 at 1:14 am #

    I can totally relate to this. And there are so many truths in this piece. It reminds me of a co-worker I lost a year ago, and the way social media made it look so trifling. More persons should read this and talk about it. It’s very well captured. The writer is simply brilliant.

  4. Oluwaseyi G. Abidoye 2015/09/11 at 8:35 am #

    There is nothing likable about death. Social media, facebook in this place have not developed a well equipped platform for meaning in emotions and sometimes expressions. Maybe (but I stand to be corrected) tech has no capacity or have well developed enough intelligence to convey people’s emotions of grieve, loss, even love and so on.

    There is the obvious need for quickness, short cuts and ‘no time’, so for someone to rather take his/her time, minutes maybe to write a message about how sad the news about or the death of a friend, he just clicks the like button on the post and hope that people will understand that he is just as sad as the person who wrote the post. Maybe, No time.

  5. Ainehi Edoro 2015/09/11 at 8:45 am #

    I love the connection you make between digital/social media technology and mourning. I do disagree with you on the expression of love. social media is great with expressing love. It allows people to perform love and make a spectacle of their romance. There’s just something about death and grief that social media is unable to capture.

  6. imakuh success 2015/12/25 at 11:04 am #

    woo… its a nice piece… its very rich.. there is a break in communication at some point, the transition of the happy times and her death wasn’t all smooth… buh boy, this story is fuller and truer than anything av read in a long time..

    you are a great writer…

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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