Almost Alive, Almost Dead

They beat the pulp out of me that night of the 30th day of September this year. It was the eve of the National Independence Anniversary, which for 50 years had been trailed by mixed feelings. This was in spite of the general atmosphere of green-white-green that descended on the country.

I had almost passed by the boys sitting beside their rusty Volkswagen ‘Beetle’ a few kilometers away from mine when a careless log tripped me; I crashed into one of the boys with the load I was carrying. The oozing blood of the load touched this boy with an angry face and he raised an alarm the way he would had he seen ’a thief that killed and stole the only goat that belonged to an entire village’ – he was certain of an instant response. “Hey, blood”, “Catch am”, “He Kill am”, “Na thief”, “Na robber” and all sorts of hazy descriptions of me filled the air while strong but unknown hands descended on me.

Cynthia and I had set out on this journey from Ohafia in Abia State about four days ago, not on foot but in our own car. I have maintained an average speed of one hundred and fifty kilometers an hour until I got to the outskirts of Lagos at an area just less than a few kilometers away. My speedometer read zero and have remained so for four days since we arrived here.

Too many cars plying too few, too tiny and too crooked roads resulted in this protracted traffic jam that will certainly prevent the passage even of rats. For four days, we have been holed up like rats blocked out of life in their holes waiting to be smoked to death. “With a bomb blasting our heads off tomorrow, it would be the second successive fatal explosion of such in just two years of the two years of our reigning President,” I had thought to myself that eerily ominous independence eve.

The expressway has become garage to many cars and home to car-owners, too many of them heading to Lagos in a way that told their dissatisfaction with their home villages. Lagos must be home to all, fair-skinned, tanned or beige, rubicund or even without but tall, short, meaty or the lack of it with flappy wings for ears and the bespectacled. There were even those with bulging eyes that wouldn’t accommodate spectacles. They were all crammed on the road leading to Lagos; the traffic was hectic and all cars were static.

My new neighbourhood was an improvement of everyday-Lagos traffic jam. There had been no movement. Car owners and passengers have assumed friendly relations, coursing into one another like long time relatives. Those who were already resident or had friends in Lagos would trek whatever distance they had to just to lay their bodies on a secured bed, while the others especially the new immigrants who knew not a soul in the infamously famed city would go out to make ends meet but always return to their vehicles. When they told their neighbours they were strolling to visit a friend, usually it was an acquaintance somewhere holed up in the same traffic. Everyone has become a friend to the others so much so that when one returned from work or a visit, such one would greet the others like you do co-tenants in a face-me-I-face-you arrangement. The usual responses also became ‘Wetin you buy come na?’, ‘How that side?’.

The raucous exchanges at different points must have reached the ears of the ever-responsive Lagos street-hawkers, who swarmed our neighbourhood like patronizing bees. It was from them, especially the newspaper vendors amongst them that we regularly got our bits of information about what was happening in the fiscal and political worlds of Lagos. Albeit, they didn’t come alone; with them were also petty-thieves, rogues, fraudsters who would sell off your car without you suspecting only later to remember there was no way to drive free. Hence, car-theft wasn’t a lucrative venture but petty-theft; at some point, it was even the tenants at the neighbourhood that stole from the robbers since the robbers usually brought in more money than the neighbours’ fast-running-out purses contained.

It was an interesting Lagos that I had to finally settle for up to that eve of the Independence Day when things became a little sour. Almost alive, almost dead but quite unknown to me, Cynthia watched with the corner of her droopy eyes as I paced to and fro the steaming pot that perched delicately on an improvised stove bought from one of the hawkers, who sold cooking utensils, by the grassy side of the expressway.

Cynthia, reclining on the passenger seat of my old Peugeot inheritance, regarded me as proud though knowledgeable; so, when I caught her stealing a tired look at me, I felt she must be pleased that my three-piece suit, which I had planned three years earlier to garb this day and glaze the face of ‘that’ mysterious Lagos with, had been blemished by the tear occasioned by a jagged firewood. What I didn’t know was that Cynthia was distressed; she couldn’t bring herself to talk and was trying however to get my attention by pricking my heart with her mind’s language which she thought I should sense. Rather than sense this, I was turning over the thoughts of my wife happy that my expensive suit was blemished.

Cynthia was heavy with bad fat and a pregnancy that was almost term, precisely two and a half-month to delivery, when ‘the thing ‘happened. I preferred the simplicity of ‘the thing’ to other tags used by co-tenants, with medical leanings, who came not to take action but to propose a number of action-steps, when my wife finally gathered voice to grunt my attention to her. She was bleeding heavily that I wondered how I missed that red smell of her monthly ooze. I imagined it was because this wasn’t the regular monthly ooze, which had ceased about six-and-a-half months ago but a one-off misfortune.

While those good-for-nothing medical impostors argued about the likely causes, nature and whether to pray or act, mouthing tags like ‘incompetent cervix’, ‘premature labour’, ‘government ineptitude’, ‘bad roads’, ‘drugs, not available’ and so on, fearfully I lifted Cynthia and balanced her on my back. I paced quickly away from the maddening crowd, whose ranks kept swelling with increasing interest.

As I walked by the many vehicles lined-up on the road that night with rather clumsy gait, I noticed that the world was silent and had been silent for a while without my realizing it. For a long time, I had cared more about myself than my other half, who had become used to suffering all by herself. I would argue without being shamefaced about the world we lived in, the insecurities in the land and especially how the government had neglected her services to her people. In doing this, I didn’t notice how much I too have neglected my services to my other half until now when the world seemed to be silent and all that existed was either Cynthia and I or the rest of the world. Cynthia was writhing in some pain I could only comprehend now that I decided to set my heart to it.

This was her (nay ‘our’) first child which is nearing being lost. The nearest hospital is barely less than fifteen kilometers away. Even motorcycles could not traverse the spaces where I had to squeeze Cynthia and I through; earlier, motorcycle owners have had to lift their Machines literally on their heads only to realize there were still no roads for them after walking with their burdens through kilometers. Many of them had stopped and taken resting positions on the road just like vehicle owners.

She was still bleeding, she was alive and I was drawing closer to the Hospital. I saw the Sign of the Mother & Child Hospital shone by the flickering light of a generator-powered bulb as I walked closer to the junction. The colossal chest of the Hospital however came alive as I turned to negotiate the junction; but that was when Cynthia’s rhythm seemed to flatten-out. She stopped writhing and my mind fluttered between contemplating her recovery or an aggravation. In thinking I had a choice, I haven’t decided which it would be when that senseless log on the floor tripped me and made me crash into those creepy boys. They descended on me, tore my flesh and badly pawed my jaw while I stole ill-starred looks at Cynthia who was writhing (nay having a spasm) again on the floor where she was carelessly shoved. I didn’t know whether to be happy or sad; this time, her writhing could be recovery or an aggravation. I didn’t know what to think again; not with the many blows, ringed with steel, that were striving to snuff life out of me. The blows kept coming, but in an instant of relief and yet extreme grief speechless as it was, the blows withdrew and the boys, all inhabitants of the neighbourhood – car owners, motorcycle owners, passengers, street hawkers, petty thieves and their victims, gathered around the lifeless body of Cynthia. I couldn’t move my body parts, just my sight and my thoughts.

18 thoughts on “Almost Alive, Almost Dead” by Lakunle (@lakunle)

  1. “The oozing blood of the load touched this boy with an angry face” This sentence is confusing. Please clarify.

    “was heavy with bad fat and a pregnancy ” why the use of ‘bad fat”? Is there any such thing? I think ‘fat’ or some other qualifier would have sufficed – something to show the MC’s disapproval other than bad.

    The whole story is kind of disjoint. It kept taking me back and forth – as though maybe the MC is confused. But a confused reader is a different thing altogether.

    I dunno…that’s how it read to me though.

  2. “The oozing blood of the load”, the load here refers to Cynthia that is revealed only much later in the story. And there was one of the boys the protagonist crashed into that first felt the stain of blood. ‘Bad fat’ is medical. You can have good or bad cholesterol. as with disjointed, I reserve my comment

    1. What comment are you reserving?! That’s why some people don’t like to comment on some people’s post – they just can’t help but take stuff personal.

      All I did was speak on how your story read to me. I think I made that clear. So…wetin happen?

      Na wa o.

    2. You wouldnt have to call every reader and start explaining. The idea here is that simplicity is the key! As much as it depends on you, ‘Avoid ambiguity’.

  3. I got your story but the read didn’t flow so well for me. It probably had to do with your long sentences.

  4. @eletrika, long sentences huh? Well, life itself isn’t straitjacket. Sometimes, it is short when a young boy dies and at other times, it is long as when an old man dies. It’s the ambiguities in life that make life more intriguing, no?

    1. yet, story telling is about providing information, educating, arguing a viewpoint that should be understood by readers. If as Eletrika said, long sentences lead to less clarity of the writers viewpoint then the objective of the story is defeated. Remember that what may be clear to the writer, may not be so clear to his audience.

      Commercially, long sentences that are confusing may turn off readers, and lead to poor performance in the market place.

      1. Gbam! Gbabe!

  5. @seun, i appreciate your comment and the fact that you brought up pertinent points. For instance, ‘bad fat’, you asked if there was anything like that. In life, no one knows it all. It’s just like coming up with a new name for a shade of colour in writing. I believe there’s no literary piece that can sufficiently capture the varieties in life. Life is just too multi-faceted and it’s my interest top capture many, obviously not all, of these faces. That’s why for me, life is all kinds of funny thing to many people. It is sweet, sad, lovely, for and against, depending on where you stand. As a matter of fact, life is disjointed to some, don’t you think? So, if a writing is disjointed, i think it has done well to represent an aspect of life. Just saying. If a piece of writing is poorly written, even if not deliberately so, don’t let us forget that sometimes, some people have the scripts of their lives poorly writing and perfectly acted out. It should not be all about good life and good pieces. No art is good, no art is poor. Art is Art!

  6. During the course of reading, I had to start piecing it all together myself which ought not to be. The story line was kind of going back and forth and I particularly didn’t understand what happened at the end. Does “her lifeless body” mean that she either died or became unconscious? and so on. In all, I commend you for writing because the little I could piece together made sense to me. So I will implore you to make your works clearer for easy understanding.

  7. @joy, at the end, i think i’ll be more comfortable if you tell me what happened. And with regards to making my piece easier to comprehend, I’ll work at it. Tx

  8. I like this story. Hope you can develop it into a sort of story on challenges that the modern Nigerian family faces on a daily basis.

  9. This is one of the best stories I have read on NS. You are a very good writer.

    Guy, but I didn’t like your replies. Especially to the elder musketeer.
    If you don’t want comments, there is provision for that.
    Stop arguing.
    I understood your post because I am familiar with books that are quite hard to read. But they were mostly written by masters. You can’t write like this, not until you have multiple awards and aged 90.
    You are not a master.

  10. @kaycee, thanks for the lashes. I’ll take to correction!

  11. @kaycee is funny.

    The story has promise but requires a makeover. I didn’t mind the back and forth but the long sentences and the lack of clarity. What is monthly ooze? You mean period? At that stage was she bleeding from a miscarriage? You used ooze at least three times, couldn’t you find another word? You say bad fat but does the character really know all about cholesterol, is he a doctor? Remember that he’s the one narrating, and not you the author.

    Keep writing.

  12. @Lakune i think you will do well a lawyer and keep arguing your points through. I like you for that but i hate the fact that you tend to want to defend visible flaws instead of admitting to work on them. You have a story there!

  13. @Myne, Monthly ooze refers to the ‘period’ thingy. Not miscarriage because a miscarriage cannot happen after a few number of weeks of pregnancy but maybe premature labour, stillbirth, and stuff. You are right about the bad fat. I just felt that since a number of patients are very much aware of the social health issues eg hypertension, diabetes, cancer, good and bad cholesterol and stuff, I should hint at the increasing knowledge of modern day patients. Not trying to justify that anyway, I’ll surely work on such ambiguities in subsequent stories. Thanks a bunch, Myne.

  14. @Lakunle, the narrative in this story did not flow smoothly because of the confusing way you used words. So even now, I am not sure exactly what happened in this story – I think it was a story of a man who journeyed to Lagos because his wife was pregnant, but I am not sure.

    A few examples (my comments in bold):

    Too many cars plying too few, too tiny and too crooked roads resulted in this protracted traffic jam that will certainly prevent the passage even of rats. don’t use ‘certainly’ here if you do not intend for this statement to be taken literally. For four days, we have been holed up like rats blocked out of life in their holes waiting to be smoked to death. This statement is too clumsy – I would just leave out ‘blocked out of life in their holes’? “With a bomb blasting our heads off tomorrow, I don’t understand this – did the narrator know that a bomb was going to blast his head off? it would be the second successive fatal explosion of such in just two years of the two years of our reigning President,” I had thought to myself that eerily ominous independence eve.

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