I was only 11 years when I met Princeford. Believe me, in that JSS 1 class, he did not only have the longest name, he was also the fattest kid, and of course he’d always walk funny. Stanley Gli loved to play with his behind, something he would not risk doing these days without earning suspicious looks. Without doubt, he was the smartest kid in the class, well, I have to admit that considering he came first in class more than I did.
I’m not sure how we became best friends, but I guess I am too likeable a guy not be friends with, what else? Well, all right, no silliness, I’d confess that I badly wanted to be friends with him, because in my mind he was the coolest kid ever. Goddamit he knew every country in the world and its capital city. Who wouldn’t want to sit at the same lunch table with him! Even the skinny weirdly popular but fragile Nyanyano boy, was his friend, so I figured it was only natural that the stout bigheaded me completed that triad. You could label us the fat, short and skinny crew, but we called ourselves the A Team: him, Raphael and me, us. We were fancy too, Princeford called himself Captain John Smith, Ralph was Marco Polo and I was Monsieur D’Artagnan. I know, it was silly, but we even had our sacred book called the A Team Diary, and in it we had images of our personalized swords, drawn masterfully by Princeford. We were serious!
The last time I saw Princeford was in December, when I last came to Ghana. If you only knew him from University then you would be well accustomed to his listless taste in personal appearance, often sporting faded t-shirts, distressed jeans and a well-travelled ahenema. Somehow, his wide foot was always covered in dirt, but he could care less. When we met, over some fried yam and forgettable shito, we argued as we always do about everything. He was doing great stuff, with his writing and cinematic ventures, and I was excited for him. He reminded me as always that I was throwing away my acting skills and that he was writing a role for me [he always said that but I never got to see it, that sneaky dude!]. We laughed about our lost dreams; he had wanted to be a pilot and I had wanted to be a lawyer. Dreams! But he said he was proud of what I had become and what I was doing, and it meant the whole world to me. Believe me, he of all people, had the utmost right to claim pride on me. He did!
You see, when I met Princeford 14 years ago, I was an avid reader, but I had never written anything in my life. He had written a ton of novels and poems. He became my mentor, editor and to be fair, my bully-critic! He would tell me if what I had written didn’t make sense. He’s the reason why Raphael and me are pocket poets today. We had a challenge of reading a book a day from the library so we could see who was the fastest reader. He gave us fantasies, because it was he who snuck us to his home [I was not allowed to watch TV then], after Saturday classes, and showed us all the childhood animations from Pocahontas to Mulan and Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, alongside some boiled cassava and kontomire stew. He had chickens that he kept as a pet dynasty, and had names for all of them, with a well-sketched family tree, which he updated often. By his unabashed freedom to hold crazy fantasies, we too believed we could hold same, and we did.
Why did I go to Achimota School? Because Princeford told me to, and despite my dad’s best persuasion to get me to go to Adisadel College, there was nothing more I wanted than to go to the same high school with my best friends. Before I met Princeford, I had never heard of Achimota School, and yet my best school memories were made there. I was glad I listened to him. Oh of course, my broke self would often trek to Livingstone house to “steal” food from him when I run out. He’d let me “steal” his food, and then call me names afterwards. I told you he was sneaky. As if you would know it, we went to the same University. We stalked each other to the very end.
When a young man dies, the loss is profoundly felt. He was only 26, and he had so much he wanted to do. I know this! But it is amazing to me, how much anyone can achieve in 26 years! Not all the things he wrote, for he wrote much, not all the things he said, he liked to talk too, not all the places he went, his feet had been places, but the lines he wrote into the script of my life. I have asked myself what would I have been if I had not known “Efo Agudz” for the last 14 years, and I am profoundly indebted to what his friendship, bullying, arguments, encouragement, persuasion, teasing, generosity, brilliance ad occasional stupidity meant to me. I envy him, I envy him so much, for what a pillar he had been for me, and for the many others who mourn him. I celebrate him!
It is dangerous to lose the fear of death, because then one may take life for granted. But it is an enviable place to value life and not fear death. For it is every man’s place that one day we shall die, and death does not share his roster with anyone. He likes the surprise punch. Princeford’s passing has reified in me the belief that it’s not the length of our days, but the breadth of our days. It’s about how many have smiled because we have lived, how many have had reason to live because we lived. If I die young, I don’t want to be mourned. I too want to be celebrated like my dear friend, for there is no pain in a short life, only a wasted life. His was well lived!
The first novel I wrote was set in New Orleans. Of course, then I had never been to New Orleans, but Princeford, who himself had never been, drew a detailed map of the city for me which I used in my novel; he was smart like that. Incidentally, the first day I arrived in New Orleans was the day he passed away. The first novel Princeford gave me to read was Phillip Margolin’s Gone But Not Forgotten. So are you my sneaky friend, gone, but not forgotten.
Princeford Amenyo Agudzeamegah! Fare thee well, my friend!