Out of nowhere, I felt two strong hands on my tightened grip and an accompanying baritone voice whispering into my ears ‘Calm down, release your grip and let me handle it’.
I released my grip a little and this stranger lifted the bowl off my head.
He stooped and pulled me to my feet and held me close and whispered again
‘You are safe now’.
He smelt so good and sounded so reassuring. I then opened my eyes and gazed at his face, masking my fear that the panic attack may return if I dared take my eyes away from his. He was dressed in a dark suit and a tie.
Clara tilted my head to look at her with one hand on my jaw and the other holding onto the load on her head.
‘What’s wrong with you Esther?’ Her voice miffed with concern, her probing eyes darting about in their sockets.
‘She’s acrophobic’. The man replied.
‘Ehn ehnnnn’ Clara exclaimed turning to face him looking confused yet acting like she knew what he meant.
‘I mean she has a phobia for heights’ he explained, apparently seeing the confused state of Clara’s face.
‘Can you walk’ he asked returning his gaze to me.
‘I will hold your hand, don’t be scared’. He said.
‘Ok’. I said surprised I could find my voice.
I fell into steps beside him, holding tightly to his hand and refusing to look around.
Hand-in-hand, we gently walked the remaining stretch and began to descend the bridge.
Safely perched at the foot of the bridge, he asked me to sit while he returned to the top of the bridge to get my bowl of rice. Shortly after, he re-appeared with the bowl perched on his shoulder. I thanked him and carried my rice and continued with Clara. And before I could ask for his name, he had disappeared with the crowd the same way he had appeared. I felt a tinge of disappointment that I couldn’t at least get to meet and know the name of this kind stranger.
‘Sorry o but why are you afraid of bridge na?’ Clara asked piercing my thoughts.
I thought about her question for a while. No answer came to mind, so I kept quiet and continued walking. I never knew about this phobia before now.
It was a phobia I realized I had to overcome or what other choice do I have? Try to dash across the busy road? That would be suicidal, I mused.
I was still pondering over my options when my slipper stepped on something soft that threw me into a sliding motion. I lost my balance and landed on my butt. My mouth flew open letting out a scream induced more out of the shock of seeing my bowl of rice upside down than the painful impact of my butt on the ground. There and then, the putrid smell of faeces hit my nostrils. I had tripped on a heap of feaces. My slipper and skirt were all smeared with feaces.
‘Oya help me’ Clara said, overcoming the initial shock she felt seeing me sprawled on the floor and I stood to help her drop her load.
‘Which kain wahala be dis today nau?’ Clara whined in pidgin.
My eyes shot daggers at her. Anger quickly took the place of the shock and pain.
Hot rage welled up in me at the messy sight of the yellowish feaces and the rotten smell.
‘Abeg don’t let aunty know o’ Clara advised me with a hint of fear in her voice.
After gathering what was salvageable from the wreckage, we resumed our trip to the shed.
Ah! Aunty, Esther was scared of the bridge o. It was God that saved her on top of the bridge just now o’. Clara said excitedly to Aunty Patience when she got to the shed.
‘She is a villager na’ Aunty Patience said laughing sadistically.
Hot tears scalded my eyes as anger welled up inside me at Aunty Patience’s cold and insensitive comment. Was it not this same Clara that said Aunty shouldn’t hear about the incident? Why is she now running her mouth as if she’s suffering from verbal diarrhea? I quickly dabbed my cheek with both palms. I wasn’t going to let her see my tears. She wants to ridicule me. I wasn’t going to give her the pleasure of seeing me cry. Slowly letting out a deep breath I maintained a stoic appearance.
Looking at both of them now as they stood there selling to eager customers, I couldn’t help but notice the similarities between Aunty Patience and Clara with an organism I had been taught recently- Amoeba. Once I had sat with Queen my elder sister as she pore over her biology textbook. I was trying to work on my homework too. Minutes later, she turned to face me with that satisfied smile lighting up her ebony pear-shaped face.
‘Have you finished now’? I asked.
‘Largely’ she beamed.
‘Ok tell me about your homework and then I will tell you about mine’. I said
‘My assignment is on Amoeba’. Queen said.
‘Amoeba is a shapeless unicellular organism’. She had continued spurred on by my curious look.
Gazing at my aunt again, I could so see the semblance with what Queen was trying to describe to me back then.
With huge breasts drooping to her stomach and complimented by layers of folds, her top half, a mass of flabby excess flesh seemed disproportionately in contrast to her bottom half. Her flat buttocks tapered off into thin legs. I wondered how her thin bottom half could support her excessive upper half. Yes, shapeless amoeba, a very apt description of Aunty Patience’s physique. I silently chuckled.
‘What is all this inside the rice?’ Aunty Patience shrieked, penetrating my line of thoughts.
My heart did a somersault…