I felt a sharp pain on my waist and jumped up with a start. It was that common, consistent pain I felt from my waist down to my left leg which was severely bound in a cast for quite a long while. The pain was so indescribable it left me numb all over. When I opened my eyes, I didn’t recognize where I was. Everywhere was so strange and unreal that I began to fret and fidget. My eyes turned from narrow to wide as I shivered violently and flailed my arms. I wanted to run away but my legs failed me. So I shrieked out in fear, my breathing so laboured with each movement while my heart pounded mercilessly that I could hear my beat and liken it to a pestle hitting cassava in a mortar. The novel, Under Bridge by Immanuel James, which lay on my chest fell to the floor with a loud thud. My whole body hurt all over, including my head which was heavily wrapped in a bandage. I couldn’t move because I couldn’t feel my legs. I didn’t know why my left leg was in a cast or why my head was bandaged with bruises on other parts of my body covered in brown and white plasters. I was restless and terrified. I screeched for dear life.
Someone started to hold me still. It was a woman, an extremely light-skinned woman with a face covered in make up. I didn’t know her. She wore a red turban on her head that matched the fitted red sequined mermaid gown on her body and red lipstick on her lips. Her hands were as strong as a vice gripped on my shoulders and with each forced movement forward, she pushed me back to the soft couch to keep me locked in. Her long, gold earrings jingled loudly as did her bangles. She was a complete stranger to me.
“My child… It’s alright. I’m here,” she said after a pause, still clutching my shoulders in a firm grip. I pushed her arms away, then held my waist and screamed out. My waist hurt terribly. It felt like a sword sliced my body apart. She tried to placate me by holding me close to her bossom and rocking me back and forth, saying all kinds of things to bring my hysteria down.
“Be still,” she continued. “Be still. It’s me, your mother. It is me, Onyeka. I’m here.”
I stopped wrestling and stared at her face while she sat on the small space left on the couch beside me. I was struggling to catch my breath and heaving violently while at it. She started to breathe slowly and loudly with her palms on her chest, demonstrating for me to do the same. She placed her hands on my chest and she measured her breathing with mine. I was totally confused. I didn’t know why she called me her daughter or who Onyeka was. I placed my bandaged right hand on my chest and when I thought my breath had slowed to a steady pace, I moved my hands to my throat. It was dry, as were my lips. She moved over to a small side stool I didn’t know was beside the couch and brought a glass cup filled with water that lay on top of it. She brought the cup to my lips and urged me to drink the water.
After I took two large gulps she paused for a moment and then put the cup away. I cleaned my wet lips with the back of my bandaged hand. I groaned as I tried to balance my sitting position. She began to fuss over me, placing the back of her palms on my forehead, my cheeks and my neck, drawing my hair backwards, adjusting my left leg and helping me to get into a sitting position. She was just touching and inspecting every part of me that had an injury, an act I found absolutely ridiculous. I did not like her doing that to me.
“Onyeka,” she started to speak after heaving a sigh. “You know me and recognize me, don’t you?” I continued to stare at her blankly as her long eyelashes fluttered with anxiety. She was too beautiful to be true.
“Your name is Onyekachukwu Okafor and I am your mother,” she spoke mechanically like a robot trained to answer in a specific way to its master. “You were involved in an accident five months ago at Allen Avenue, Ikeja. A young man ran into you with his car. You sustained injuries on your leg which is why there is a cast on it. You also sustained other minor injuries on your body and hands. There was a major contusion on the right side of your forehead from where your head bashed into the windshield of the car and you also suffered a concussion in your head. The doctor said your brain went into a state of traumatic shock such that when you woke up you couldn’t remember anything and he was so surprised because you had been in coma for two weeks. We had hoped you would make it alive. Now we have to deal with the amnesia which is way better than death. He said everything will be fine because you are recuperating fast and gradually starting to remember things quicker thanexpected. My own daughter is a lucky survivor.
“I brought you home after the surgery. The doctor assumed the shock affected your mind and made you slightly crazy. But you are not. As a matter of fact, you have been responding to treatments. You’re alive and doing well. You know me, Onyeka. I am the only one you’ve been able to allow feed you, the only one you’ve attempted to speak to since the accident.”
I watched her as she spoke. She looked exhausted and worn out even with the make up on her face. Her eyes got watery and she seemed a tad bit too desperate to prove herself. Out of nowhere, she automatically flashed a picture on her mobile phone right across my face and pointed to an older woman who looked exactly like her which she identified as herself and a younger woman who looked like the younger version of herself she identified as me. I stared long and hard at the picture. The faces seemed to appear familiar and after acquiescing it as a striking resemblance, I nodded my head at her. She breathed out a sigh of relief.
I looked at the floor to see Under Bridge lying carelessly on the marble floor atop the long pair of silver crutches meant to support my foot steps. Its holder had fallen off at another angle underneath the crutches. Mother bent over to pick them up and hand them back to me.
“I’m so sorry, darling. You just had a trance,” she continued after waiting for me to speak with no response in return. “I should never have left you on your own. I was almost scared out of my wits here. You’re probably still experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, but you are fine. We are going to get through this.”
She sniffed and stared down at her long, manicured fingernails. Everything she said didn’t make sense to me – the accident, the injuries, the amnesia, the cast. I couldn’t fathom out anything plausible save for my name. I turned away to survey the room instead and gather my thoughts together to recall the little that was revealed. It was annoying to think that I could not remember anything. The room was well furnished with large, abstract paintings hung on light cream walls and black couches arranged in an L shaped format. There was also a loveseat at an adjacent position to where I was seated. The two windows had what looked like taupe Parisian eyelet curtains with floral gold embroidery that were spread out and held by gold holdbacks on either side to reveal light curtain blinds with the sun’s rays streaming through. A large, flat screen TV was fixed to the wall directly opposite where I sat with the CNN channel on but at a very low volume. A large Victorian chandelier hung at the very center of a sparkling white, complex POP ceiling with it’s bright orange light glinting in the daylight. The room was somewhat too serene and too neat, with the air-conditioning on at close to roomtemperature.
“Where am I? What time is it?” I asked Mother in a very low and quiet voice.
“At home, in Lagos. It’s 5.30 pm.” she responded in an even much quieter tone. I focused my thoughts on the television before me. Anthony Bourdain, whose name and whereabouts I only knew because it appeared on the screen, was walking about the streets of Ankra in Turkey, talking to some people as he did. The area looked like a desolate village with very narrow streets and walkways.
“Onye,” Mother resumed, breaking into my thoughts. “There’s someone here to see you in the main living room. He’s been here awhile now and many times in the last few months. Now, I know you’ve said you didn’t want to see anyone other than me or the doctor who comes to check up but it’s been 5 mo–” I shook my head rigorously, interrupting her speech. She looked at me in disbelief and rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
“It’s been five agonizing months!” she continued sharply, her artificially drawn eyebrows slightly moved down together in a small frown. “For God’s sake, Onyeka, you have to break even. I know you can speak. The young man is insistent on talking with you and he won’t leave until he sees you. So, just… give the benefit of doubt even if you don’t know him and get yourself together.”
She touched her palms to the bandage on my head, drew them down across my face and with a salient kiss on my forehead, she smiled and stood up. After adjusting her gown, she carefully walked out of the room, her flip flops slapping carelessly on her heels one after the other with each measured foot step. I felt dazed and light headed. I didn’t want to see anyone. I didn’t want anyone having some kind of stupid pity for me for being in this kind of unfortunate state.
“In case you didn’t know,” she stopped and turned back to me at the doorway. “He’s the one who came to your rescue minutes away from your death and paid for the surgery and all the hospital bills down to the penny. A little appreciation would do.” She closed the door behind her.
I reluctantly grabbed my crutches from the floor and having set them to standing position, I tried to stand up myself to head to the main living room. It was a laborious effort not to scream so I groaned out and gritted my teeth instead. Gently rubbing the left side of my waist with my palms, I had made up my mind to tell this Mr. Charity guy off. I didn’t need pity or the likes of it. I didn’t need anyone looking down at me or trying to fuss over me. I hated myself for being in this condition since I couldn’t remember how I got myself into this. I had taken the first three agonizing steps forward, my underarms pressed against the crutches as I held the handle on both sides, my left leg raised while my right leg did the walking and wobbling. I began to sweat in my underarms and pant like a dog taken out for a run when someone walked into the room.
“Hi,” a young male voice spoke up. I looked up from the ground to stare at the stranger who was now standing a few inches away from me. He was beaming with a bright smile when he said “Hi” and was still smiling even after. I was struck with surprise and transfixed that I didn’t reply back.
My eyes took in extra effort to drink in this stranger. He was taller than 6 feet that I practically had to raise my head up to look at him like I was looking onto the heavens, which made my 5’8″ feature seem dwarf-like. He wore a very dark navy blue – almost black – double-breasted suit that was unbuttoned. A couple of buttons of his white shirt beneath the suit jacket were undone, leaving behind a small patch of hair on a muscular chest. His skin looked like glazed caramel, a very striking colour of light brown glinting under a mixture of daylight and the chandelier light on the ceiling with an even creamy tone and his beard game looked so deftly shaved and thinly carved across his chin. He had narrow, smiling, brown eyes with a slightly pointed nose. His perfectly sculpted lips were a daring colour of nude beach it set my hormones on a wild rage. My stomach began to do a silent lap dance while the hairs at the back of my neck stood on end. My pulse worked it’s way into a steady rising beat and I vaguely became too conscious of how exposed I was before him in a sleeveless tank blouse that barely covered my breasts with a generous amount of cleavage and mini shorts that revealed a lot of flesh on my thighs. His physical appearance was unnerving and brought tingly sensations of adrenalin to my spine and my down below.
“I am Jesse. How are you doing, Onyeka?” he continued to smile with his eyes but I could not concentrate on his words. I stared at his lips for a while, vaguely wondering where I had last seen them, whether it was in my wildest fantasies or in reality. I knew I had seen such lips before. I just didn’t remember where or how. I couldnt remember much of anything, as a matter of fact. He stretched out his right arm to shake mine but I left it hanging and continued to stare. I was short of words. His rigid presence seemed to intimidate me.
My gaze shifted to the rest of his face. There was something wrong about this man I couldn’t quite place even though he appeared too smart or dapper with a pretty face. He stared directly into my eyes this time. Instinctively, I knew I had seen this man before. The mesmerizing heat waves from his brown eyes were so piercing I could scarcely bring my thoughts into focus. They arrested the faculty of my brain with reckless abandon. There was a small, round, dark spot just inches away from his left eye and an identical spot on the right side of his upper lip, very close to his nose. My head began to throb harder as I looked at the birth mark while he searched my face. It felt like some invisible electric sparks were shooting across from his end to my end and vice versa. The longer I stared at that particular birth mark above his lips, the more my mind got automatically transported into a flash of oblivion.
“You… Stay away from me…” I blurted out. My heart beat was steadily rising to its crescendo. I had just noticed the small gold necklace resting on his clavicle. The layers of the necklace were intertwined into an intricate design with a central piece that bore a set of initials. I struggled inside my head to figure out how familiar that necklace looked to me. He took a step forward and placed his right arm on my shoulder but I moved back away from him and raised my hand up to stop him. One of my crutches gave way and fell to the floor as I held my head and reeled myself into my past.
He was saying something but it sounded like a faint rap to my ears. My mind spun as I shook my head and shifted on my right leg to steady myself. Images and scenes began to jar up in my head, creating a kaleidoscope of colours that rapidly flashed before me faster than the speed of light. Different series of white and neon lights appeared and disappeared rapidly. Everywhere became so noisy on Allen Avenue with cars honking, people screaming and police sirens screeching. Just then, I noticed the bright yellow head lights of a car flash right before me with a loud horn. The tyres forcefully scratched against the road surface as the car effortlessly tried to come to a halt but it was too late for me to move as I lifted my hands to shield my eyes. Something sharp and metallic hit my waist and then I saw myself rolling over the hood of the car.
I screamed as I saw my head forcefully collide head long into the windshield of the car and bounce back, leaving behind a broken windshield with red liquid dripping from the wide hole in the glass. In the twinkle of an eye through that hole, I noticed a striking gold piece of necklace on the driver’s neck and a dark spot above his lips. The rest of my body followed suit and rolled over the windscreen, this time increasing the magnitude of the cracks and breaking more than half of the windscreen. The back of my head hit the outer rear view mirror on the driver’s side and like a log of wood dumped into a lumbering factory, my body rolled and fell face down onto the hard, tarred road surface. I tasted my warm blood as it flowed from my head to the ground in a pool of red.
When my mind eased itself back into the present and the scene behind my predicament became crystal clear, I did not know when I screamed and lost my balance. In a monumental flash, I fell backwards, hitting the back of my head on the edge of the sofa. I heard the sound of the cup break unceremoniously on the floor.
Just as it was on that ill-fated day of the accident, this man with the pretty face and a gold necklace held me up and shook me in a hopeful attempt to revive me. I watched him forlonly as he called out words which sounded like a faint echo to my ears. As he checked my pulse just beneath the central focus of my clavicle, I tasted my warm blood again dripping from my nose. Only this time, it was warmer because the heat from his body intoxicated all my senses. It was this heat that managed to keep me awake long enough against my volition to stare into his eyes.
He hunted my senses just before I passed out.