I was once pretty, Samira with the brown skin, luscious brown lips and big dark eyes. Now I looked like a skeleton coated with flesh. My eyes had become small with small bags underneath. My over stretched skin could feel the starchy hospital bed sheet. The white walls of my small hospital rooms, was a reminder of my lonely existence. I smelled death in the strong antiseptic that drifted to my blunt nose. My lips were two dry blue narrows lines.
My parents stood at opposite sides of my narrow metal bed. I have no memory of them together. They were divorced before my birthday, at exactly six months of my conception. They moved on to different spouses but I was left alone. In the middle of two enemies, a reminder of memories unwanted. My mother remarried when I was two. She left me alone with my maternal granny, until she died at after my sixth year. She loved me I am sure, but she left me friendless. I was shipped to my paternal granny ,she was old and grouchy . It was like uprooting a plant from a nice garden and planting it on a dry strong land.
I discovered cough syrup at fifteen. It was a school day, school had closed. But I was loth to hurry up home to an empty old house with only my granny for company, we had fifty years of differences between us .Two of my class mates hurried in, I was invisible to them. My skinny frame, took no space I guess. They were holding a bottle each. I couldn’t move from my sit in front. They sat down laughing happily. The two of them, their faces looked like they were caught in euphoria. One said she could fly. The other was giggling helplessly. They looked a little mad. I was entrance; I couldn’t remember the last time I had anything to laugh about. I was a skinny girl who hardly ate, I had no appetite. I was always alone, in class observing the people around me. I wanted happiness too. I had a right to be happy too, but why were they hiding. Drinking a bottle of cough syrup is wrong . I can’t remember my reasoning, but the next day I saw myself in front of a patent medicine shop buying a cough syrup for 200 naira.
Samira, said my mother, sorry. I was coughing, slightly. I stared at her with pinpoint eyes. I was beyond emotions except pain.
My blue lips moved a little, she bent down to listen. I say ’’do you care’’. She raised her heads up stunned.
That fateful day, I met my friend codeine. I chased happiness in a cough bottle. I was always happy; sure I was always drowsy in class. My teachers never noticed, but in a public school with over one hundred students in class. They hardly noticed missing students let alone students that are drowsy.
The first time I drank cough syrup. I had hurried home and waited for my granny to sleep. We lived alone in an old fashioned house, in the city of Kano. My house was faded and old, it once had paint, but the house had forgotten the colour. The front door was made of wood on the door was the title ba shiga .It led in to a passage way that opened in to a compound. The compound had three rooms, arranged linearly , a shed made of aluminium roof, supported by four wooden poles where we cook. It held a bundle of six firewood. I was lucky; our neighbour sold firewood. Our street had no paved road, the sand was loitered with half buried white and black narrow nylon leather. On harmattan days, the nylon danced in the air .I entered my room, sat down on my mattress and drank. At the first sip, my conscience told me ’’Surely it is wrong’’. I ignored her, where was she when I lie alone, at night wondering if I have space in the universe. My mum has no time for me, her husband hated to be reminded of my existence. My dad loved his wife and children ,and I was a reminder of a mistake.
I gulped down the whole bottle. Suddenly, was filled with happiness, my body wanted to burst with it. I was free of my loneliness, I felt like bursting wings from my hands and flying.
My mouth coughed up blood, my parents rushed to get tissues. Tears sneaked from my eyes unwanted. They rolled down my bony cheeks and drenched my soft pillow. Why, I didn’t want to cry. The doctor said I was dying.
I am seventeen, I don’t want to die. But I am here now. I pray that God forgives me. The past keeps tormenting me.
How can cough syrup be 700 hundred naira. I said to myself, where will I get the money to buy it? I decided to sell my silver chain and ear rings. There was no hope for it. I got twenty thousand. I drank twenty thousand naira worth of cough syrup. Slowly it was affecting my body. One day I woke up, my eyes became smaller. I was always drowsy and a bit dizzy. My skin was always itchy. My granny always warned me to stop keeping late nights. I smile at her and say’’ I will try.’’
Samira, the faceless doctor said, your parents said you were coughing blood. Sorry he said, my mum was cleaning my mouth. The memories came flooding back, I needed money. Twenty thousand finished early, I was taking two bottles per day. I told myself you need to stop. The tremors started , my body ached. I couldn’t stand the pain so I decided to steal.
Doctor, she is shaking said my mother, what can we do?
There is nothing we can do, he replied. Cover her up with blankets. Apparently my liver was damaged.
I was shaking seriously my skin cold, how am I going to steal. It is better to tell granny that I have fever. She wanted to give me traditional medicine and I refused. She called my father. He sent money. Trembling I convinced her to allow me to get the medicine at the patent shop down the street. I hurry up buy two bottles of cough syrup. I had no restraint .I drank a bottle there. The owner of the shop said, I thought you were responsible. I looked round at the small square shaped shop. On the four rows of white shelves attached to the wall. The first two rows where filled with cough syrup. I looked at him, and laughed, “you are just like me’’.
What did he look like?
I opened my eyes. It was the hospital room. My parents still stood by my narrow bed. I looked at mother; she looked like my old self. She had tear streaks on her face. I longed to see her soul, I didn’t know her; I never would. All I could see was a lady in black abayah , and a black scarf I looked at my dad, he was still slim. His dark ebony skin still shone, he had a big belly. He was still young. He had me at age 24. My mum was 17.I found myself softening.
I wanted to hurt these people.
I asked for my favourite drink. I said even if it is only a sip. They asked, what is your best drink, I prayed in my mind. Is this the end? They left to get my drink.
I drank the second bottle yesterday. Was it yesterday? I had a terrible headache. I took aspirin. My liver sickened. I fell in to blackness. Woke up today, to see myself in the hospital bed. Cough syrup was a bad friend. I fell again. My heart stopped, completely.
*Ba shiga [no entry}
*Abayah [long black Arabian caftan]