When I was a little boy, my siblings and I, we walked miles to school. Secondary school.
Wearing the green uniform and brown sandals (or barefoot if your sandals tore on the road), we walked to and fro, on a road tarred in the early sixties and now overused and descrated by potholes.
We loved the walks, we would engage in walking and jogging contests some mornings,with me starting out too fast and ending up lagging behind Joe and Jeremiah when I ran out of breath.
It was on one of such walks that we stumbled on the baby.
A thrown-away child.
She was dumped by the side of the road. In a little refuse dump by the bushes. She had no arms and no legs from the elbows and knees. Just stumps where growth should have been.
Her mother had thrown her away. She didn’t belong. She was a part of the MOMs class. Mutants, Orphans and Misfits.
Something about that helpless and bawling child tugged at my heart. Other school children crowded around us as we stared impotently at her naked frame.
For the first time, I was grateful I couldn’t hear. I was grateful because I knew if I could hear the baby’s bawlings, I would keep hearing the sound in my head like an echo. I would never forget.
My siblings and my friends walked away and I followed suit. The next morning when we passed, the child was still there, she was no longer crying but she moved her stumps and stared at us with unseeing eyes. I tried not to let my mind think of the vipers, mambas and cobras we sometimes saw scurrying from the bush.
I tried not to think of the armies of soldier ants that sometimes frequented the dump, drawn by spoilt food and oily waste.
I walked to school and made myself forget. At least I tried to. It was that day that I started to think of death and the long black train.
And when I passed there a third time, I was relieved to see she had died.
Growing up, despite being heavily protected by my parents and siblings, I had my share of death-would-be-a-mercy moments. Lots of them.
And more narrow escapes than Cobra fucking Joe.
I don’t know, I guess I have the curse of wrong-place-wrong-time. I remember running across the road to fetch a football for throw-in, not hearing the squeal of brakes, feeling something heavy press against me, losing sensation, seeing faces crowd around me. Seeing a red car.
I remember fetching water from the well behind Mama’s shop at Ogun state, not looking at what I was doing, just pouring and pulling, pour-dip-pull-pour. I don’t even know what made me look at like the sixth try, but I did just in time to see the snake with head upraised, forked tongue flicking out….the striking posture.
I had already put forth my hand to grip the rubber pail and pour out the water. The creepy thing was just inches from my hand!
I gave a shierk and dropped the pail. And I fled from the well. Joe never let me forget that act of ‘cowardice’ for a long time.
There was also the time we moved to a new house in another part of Ogun. There was this building behind our house. One morning, fresh from secondary school at fifteen and looking for adventure, I waded through the bushes, pretending stupidly I was an explorer of some sorts, looking for strange plants.
I came upon a clearing I had never seen before. The clearing had maize and beans.
I walked right through it.
And into the metal trap hidden underneath.
My mama would later say she had never heard my voice boom louder than when I screamed then. And that badmouth Joe would tease me mercilessly for a while.
Well, I walked into one of those really mean traps with pincer-like edges. The kind that if it catches an animal, trash, trash, trash all it wants, there just isn’t any hope. The trap my Yoruba friends call Opari. ‘It is over’.
But not for me.
At first I thought a viper had fastened its fangs on my ankles. I jumped and tried to get out but the shock was paralyzing, it was when I looked down that the truth hit me and I started to scream, ”Mama! Mama! Mama! Mama!”
it was pure miracle the pointed double hooks of the trap went through a hole at the back of my left ankle, narrowly missing the bone.
Still, like the car issh, it took me a very long time before walking become easier. It took even longer to get rid of my limp.
My sister laughs when we talk about it now. About the blackouts and tortuous eyes. I laugh along with her and agree God must love me a lot. I agree about the narrow escapes and the near dark trips on the long black train.
But my sister doesn’t know everything. I never talk to her about the scariest and closest shaves of all. October 2014’s early morning electric death dance.
Maybe one day, I will.
You never know