I used to think that an evil foreboding shrouded days in which any tragedy was to occur; maybe lightning at the crack of dawn, or the downpour of rain that hinted at the anger of the heavenly beings. Or at the very least a ghastly dream from my mother, that would leave her drenched in sweat and crouched in furious prayer.
But it was all very normal. The way we sat together on the cracked pavement that divided his mother’s stall and mine, our shared lunch spread out on a crumpled newspaper page between us. The sun dripped its scorching liquid on us, and we had long stopped trying to shelter ourselves from its burn. His mother had given him some of the Boli she was roasting, and mine had given me drinks. So we ate, laughing , watching the cars pass by and revelling in the warmth of our friendship.
“I want to buy some biscuits” I had said as we finished off our makeshift lunch. To this day, I don’t know what kind of wretched gluttony descended upon me. I never realized the expression “na food go kill you” could have any meaning.
“Ahn ahn, you’re not full ni?” He’d asked playfully and I’d pouted and smacked his shoulder.
I had waited to cross the street, but I had gotten increasingly impatient as the cars kept on coming. He’d urged me to forget the biscuits but I’d ignored him. Wasn’t this the same street I spent my whole day on? I could handle it. So I crossed, even though I could see the red truck coming along, dangerously close. I crossed, knowing very well it was potentially fatal.
It all happened in a second, but I felt every moment of it. I in the middle of the street, frozen. The truck getting closer and closer. My legs rooted to the floor. People’s attention piqued. They looked on with apprehension and sadistic excitement. With palms to their mouths and heads. My mother’s voice piercing the icy afternoon heat “Egba mi o!”
This was the point where I was supposed to see my life flash before my eyes or see a a bright shining light but instead a powerful force pushed me out of the way and I skittered to the barrier that divided the road. Bruised, safe.
I was alright, but people were still screaming. I couldn’t understand why everyone was still gathered around, horror in their eyes. For a second, I thought I was a disembodied spirit, looking at the events around me unseen. Till I looked and saw, lying in the middle of the street, the lifeless, crumpled body of my friend.
“No!!!” I had screamed, or rather my mouth had. I seemed to have lost control of my body. I didn’t even notice when tears started gushing out of my eyes. I couldn’t understand the horror that had occurred in the space of a few seconds. I was knocked down with anguish, the impact greater than any truck could have made.
At the thanksgiving service in church, where my mother and I went up to give our “testimony”; in school; anywhere the story was told and even to this day, I’ll never forget his mother’s eyes, furious, cold, unforgiving as she held on to her son’s lifeless body.
His life in place of mine. Just like that. He made dying for me look so easy. As if, there’s anything more valuable about my life. As if, his dreams weren’t just as vivid a mine. As if I wasn’t the greedy one.
I don’t understand why he didn’t just let me die. People say I should just be happy to be alive but they don’t understand. This cold empty feeling in my spirit, this unyielding guilt that pierces through my being daily, this recurring nightmare that gives me sleepless nights, living with this cloud of sadness that robs me of any semblance of joy is a fate worse than death.
Now I carry the burden of living for two. I live a safe, small life and I have sworn that never again will I put anyone in that position. I tread softly, knowing that my life is undeserved. I cheated death, but still it’s found its way to seep into me and it’s buried itself in my womb. Happiness is something that existed before that day. And if by chance, I ever hear find myself sitting idle, staring into space in splendid isolation, I hear it; the unspoken question in all their eyes, his mother’s cold accusing voice.
“Did Uwo die for this?”