About this time, a few years ago, I woke up in my hotel room, in faraway Chicago, feeling very happy. It was a Monday morning and instinctively, this song came to my lips and I began to sing,
“Oh what a beautiful morning,
Oh what a beautiful day,
I’ve got a wonderful feeling,
Everything’s going my way.”
I was happy, actually overjoyed. Why? I couldn’t really say. But not long after, the telephone in my room rang. Guess who was calling? I couldn’t believe my ears! “I am Bill Gates,” he said, “And I am on my way to see you?”
Did I hear “Gates” or something else? My heart beat ran a race. I could hear my heart pounding with excitement. Bill Gates coming to see me? Why? What have I done to deserve a visit from such a renowned billionaire – a philanthropist per excellence, who gives meaning to money by his practical actions? Within five minutes of the call, the receptionist called my room.
“Dr Ben, a friend of yours, Bill, is here to see you,” she said. “Please, tell him to come to my room,” I replied. I quickly tried to tidy my chaotic room.
I didn’t have much time before the doorbell rang. I opened the door without the usual precaution of looking through the peep hole. If I had done, I probably would not have opened the door. Now, entered a handsome, modestly built black man. Bill Gates is a white from the pictures I see on the web and in the papers.
The man was smiling and as if he knew what was going through my mind, speedily blurted out, “My name is ‘Biliamiyu Gato’ but everyone calls me Bill Gates. I am a medical doctor.” My attention had already vaporised. I had lost interest. “He’s not Bill Gates! What right has he to call himself Bill Gates? Isn’t that fraudulent?” I thought, resenting his ‘assault’ on my intelligence. “I was your student in the Medical School,” he said. That jolted me back to reality.
“Please, sit down,” I said, offering him a chair, my interest in him gradually rekindled. After telling me how he got to know my whereabout, he proceeded to state his mission. “I got to know about your projects, the Eleta Eye Institute and the Eruwa Cancer Centre and I would like to help.”
Now, I was all ears. “This is interesting,” I surmised. He made promises of assistance for the projects that I could hardly believe. And he would solicit the support from his friends in his absence. He didn’t quite put the last part that way. I missed the exact sentence as I allowed the first part to overshadow it.
Only on deeper reflection over his words, after he had left, did the true meaning of his words strike me. I remember he said, “I may never be able to come back to Nigeria again because “I have just half a heart.” I had ignored the tiny twist of sadness on his face as he quickly showed more concern for my own health and implored me to ensure I looked after myself. The full meanings of his words dawned on me. It looked like he was bidding me farewell! And that was when the combination of his words struck me like a bomb.
I became pensive and sad. As I struggled with my emotions, I saw this unusual poem I had composed and sent to a friend. I consoled myself reading it. It helped to change my mood.
“There’re days you feel very low,
And you’re really low.
There’re days you feel high
And are really high.
It’s only a sign you are alive.
Only the living can feel pain,
The dead feel nothing.
Only the living can be happy,
For the heart beats faster in joyful mood,
And slows down when the mood’s low.
But if it were to beat no more,
Then it means only one and only thing – death.
The only difference between happiness and sadness,
Is the way you look at things.
If you see your glass as half empty, you’ll be sad.
If you see your glass as half full, you’ll be happy.
What has changed?
Nothing, except your perception.
So change your perception today,
To see the better side of life and be happy.
Remember, it could have been worse!
Hard times are good times,
That help us appreciate the goodness of God in our life.
Bili Gato’s heart gave up soon after his visit. A friend’s lost! But since, then several friends we started the bus journey together many years ago have since disembarked at their destinations, known only to the bus driver. He rang the bell, stopped the bus and each alighted without question at his destination. Who is next? John Donne said, “…Never send to know for whom the bells tolls; it tolls for thee. While you are still on the bus, do something to make life better for the other person.
This article was first published in 2017 in honour of some of my friends who alighted from the bus a few months’ before. On 27th March 2018, Mrs Olubunmi Ayodeji Sanya, the wife of the Executive Secretary of the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria also alighted from the bus. May her soul and the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace. Amen.