As usual, Laja is going on his evening run. She is drinking again. The woman who used to be his mother is now an empty shell; her vivacity having been devoured by the bottle she now values above all else. He has to escape. Slamming the door behind him, Laja begins to run, as if for his life. He runs faster and faster, suppressing the rage that is threatening to engulf him. All the energy he can muster was now in his legs. And they are taking him away from his sorrow.
Naima is walking aimlessly through a part of Lagos she does not recognise. A cacophony of Yoruba, Ibo and Pidgin surrounds her; yet she hears nothing except those words. They flash in her mind like strokes of lightning.
“I’m sorry. There’s nothing more we can do.”
The doctor’s voice reverberates in her mind as she takes one step, and another, and another. She is drifting. Her core, her anchor, her heart… He is gone. Numb and confused, she had walked out of the hospital she had called home for most of the eleventh year of her son‘s life. Now, she has no one.
A sudden pain seizes Laja’s left leg. His contracting calf muscles can no longer support him and he falls to the ground. He is blinded by pain, gripping the source of his agony tightly. Then he realises that he knocked somebody over. As he composes himself, he catches sight of his unlucky victim. She is more beautiful than any woman he has ever seen. Skin like caramel, hair like silk- Laja is lost for words. Then his eyes fall to her legs, exposed from the fall. They are long and graceful; lust begins to course through his veins. He catches himself staring and begins to stumble through an apology. Yet, she says nothing. He moves to help her up and pull down the boubou which exposes her flesh. Still, she says nothing. The beautiful stranger stares into space, unresponsive to the man trying so awkwardly to help her.
Some young boys are playing by the roadside, waving a Nigerian flag. They notice the spectacle and their curiosity is aroused. They look at one another with puzzled expressions on their faces, whispering and gesturing to one another before walking over to the odd couple. One of them cocks his head, and speaks.
“Ahn ahn, aunty… Why so sad now? Today is Independence Day…We dey celebrate!” He is no more than ten years old.
Naima bursts into tears. Seeing her weep so terribly breaks Laja’s heart. He has never met this woman but feels a sense of responsibility towards her; a common sense of pain and loss. He holds her as she sobs violently while the confused kids look on. This day is one neither of them will ever forget.