I didn’t know I had dreaded this visit, had no idea that the motivation for finding reasons and excuses was fear. This fear was the type that crippled, the type you couldn’t taste or touch- as transparent and weightless as air. You live with it, you’re not even aware of its presence and importance. Like wind, it will hurl you when it’s strong enough, it will leave destruction in its path.
I finally ran out of excuses, one year is enough to detach even the clingy, persistent illusions and delusions. Death dealt the final blow, that respecter of none had left me without shield. My godson’s grandmother had died.
I left home that morning only when I’d run out of things to do, despite the distance I didn’t hurry, I wasn’t even bothered by the thought of traffic. I should have known then that I was afraid, that my tardiness was covering a seething mass of fear, anger and pain coiled and glistening like serpents in a narrow basket.
While waiting for to the bus to fill up, I read a beautiful story from one of the best writers I know. His story fills my thoughts and our WhatsApp conversation gave me a permanent smile, I didn’t even curse all the government officials and politicians who had the porthole ridden road under their jurisdiction. My heart rate quickened and my nerves danced when I saw the monstrous edifice that is the Synagogue Church of All Nations, the unease I felt wasn’t normal. I liked seeing the church, it never failed to remind me of a Buddhist temple. I’d love to visit one of those and see the monks and hear the bells, it’s supposedly peaceful there. One of my favourite books as a child was set in Tibet, it was about a girl and her golden Lhasa terrier. She embarked on a horrendous journey to find her stolen dog, and her fierce determination struck an answering chord in me. Daughter of the mountains is a fine book for any child to read, it even won the Newberry Award in the 1940s.
I didn’t even remember the people who’d lost their lives in that compound, who’d died when the guesthouse crumbled like a deck of haphazardly stacked cards. On my return journey- yes journey! That’s the only way to describe a two hour trip right? I saw the shambolic, unplastered super structures perched on the elegant buildings, you can tell those additions were not planned for when the building was designed. I remembered that the state government had declared that the builders and contractors were culpable in the collapse of the building. So many people who had come for salvation, healing and deliverance had met death at its foulest, the one that comes with fear and pain.
I was still thinking of Tibet when the bus drew to a stop in front of a filling station- in the middle of road in true Lagos style. I was the last passenger off the bus and the buses that were headed for Iyana-Ipaja caught my attention, I looked at them for a while and remembered the days I’d spent at the NYSC camp there. I reluctantly shook off the memories and crossed the road, fifty or so metres later; I saw it. It was then I knew why it had taken a whole year for me to come here again.
My gaze involuntarily went to my left leg, to the tiny depression that has scarred my leg. You wouldn’t notice it if I didn’t show you, even then you wouldn’t consider it a defect until I showed you the right leg. My left leg seems prone to attracting injuries and scars; on my calf is tiny black mark caused by the jagged edge of a danfo seat, on my shin lies a very very faint scar from a fall when I was five years old and on my knee are three tiny scars that look like incisions. They must have been as a result of incidents that have escaped the intricate web I store my memories, on my left hand are two tiny incisions, one of them is almost microscopic, and the bigger one I got from a gas cylinder when I was ten. I remember wishing for a bluish-black scar because Akunna in Buchi Emecheta’s The Bride Price had one too and because like her, I had caramel skin- whatever that means
Last July I attended my friend’s wedding with a cousin, the wedding had held at Igando and we had go home through Ikotun. It was the easiest route to our houses and I had to see my godson at Agbaranje which is after Ikotun. That day the traffic extended for several kilometres and when we had exhausted our patience, we walked the rest of the distance. At Ikotun bus stop, there’s a two storey building on the right side of the road. There’s a gutter in front of it, a narrow gutter that is covered with a metal railings.
When I was a child, I hated gaping holes. I was afraid of the WC toilets refused to use one until my cousins spent six months with us and teased the living daylights out of me for using a “Po”. I never crossed gutters with such railings, not even the sturdy looking one at Mr Apollo’s house. If I’d been ten, this scar on my leg wouldn’t be there. I was an adult when I fell into the gutter, an adult who’d decided to step on the railings.
I can’t remember what happened, I only remember being helped out of the gutter by my cousin and picking up my watch that had been ripped off my hands by the fall. My cousin was the one who saw it happen, he’s the one who remembers. He watched my left leg sink into the gap in the railings and he leapt to save me. He was too late to stop the descent but if he hadn’t held me, my whole leg would have gone in. My slipper fell into the shallow gutter and my blood coated the railings. He brought me out, all one hundred and seventy pounds that I weighted at the time and even brought the slipper out. I had worn a pair of heels to the wedding but changed out of them immediately I left the venue, I was glad I wasn’t wearing them- people would have said my shakara made me fall.
We bought sachet water and I washed my leg while he gathered the apples that fallen from my hands when I fell, apples for my godson that I’d bought only two minutes before. People sympathised with me when they saw my bruised and bloody legs, Nigerians will never fail to smother you with sympathetic words- it’s action they have problems with.
We still went to see Enyichukwu- the little boy who owns my heart, I even have pictures of me carrying my godson that day. I wasn’t even limping and the pain was bearable, I didn’t even need the painkiller my mother insisted I take that evening. By the next morning, my leg was almost twice its normal size. In my fourth year Clinical pharmacy class, Dr Arigbe-Osula taught us the signs and symptoms of inflammation- redness, swelling, heat, pain and loss of function and their Latin names. I couldn’t help remembering Rubor, Tumor, Calor, Dolor and Functio laesa when I woke up that morning, and remembered his description of the increase in blood flow that was responsible for all that . Lifting that leg was unthinkable and I didn’t walk for days. This memory left a bitter taste in my mouth every-time it rose from its bed and the taste was more pungent this time, I was where it had all began.
Should I take a picture of it? I thought. I decided not to, I’d already been jostled and almost shoved in the one minute I’d stood there. Lagos people remind me of driver ants, hordes of them rushing to do nothing. Taking out my phone to take a picture would be tempting fate. As I’d been looking at it, something moved in my heart, racing through the corners and crevices and leaving flames in its trails. This time I knew what was, I recognised the bubbling of my boiling blood and the singing in my ears that only came from rage.
When my youngest brother was a toddler, he liked to run. Perhaps he thought walking was boring, perhaps it was because he didn’t walk early. He who runs often will fall often and he will cry often too. When he cried, our father would ask him to point to where he fell and the little boy would beat the ground. He’d beat the stupid, nonsense and foolish ground that made him fall, with our father telling the ground off for making his baby fall. Sometimes we had to join in the ground bashing, using our slippers to punish the ground for “falling” our brother.
I wanted to rip out the decrepit railings and hit them on the ground over and over and over with an intensity that The Incredible Hulk would envy. I’d gather up the broken pieces and put them in a 1000oC furnace. I'd then get the ashes and...
I decided to let it go, to forgive the miserable scraps of metal. I had no choice, you see; the jostling had intensified, the people selling things in front of the building were looking at me with budding suspicion and most important of all; I had a godson to see.