08 Oct The Explosion
… Forever changed. That’s what my life will be. Charred, bruised, and scared.
I still hear it in my dream. All of it; the screams, the gunshot and the explosions.
I still feel it on my skin; the heat from the inferno and oil in the tunnel latching on to my skin.
For weeks on ending, and I scrubbed my skin with vigour until I would bleed. I thought peharps, if I scrubbed harder, then it could all go away. The only outcome were the sores that now cover my skin- my penance for surviving.
I turn all night in my bed, sleep eluding me. I should have died instead of Deji. I can still hear him scream my name to run for safety as the police men shot at him endlessly.
The day started like every other day. No, I don’t mean that. It started like the day should for a bride. The excitement to be getting married, to wear a beautiful tiara and a wedding gown that cost a fortune.
It began to go bad when at 10am, my make up artist had failed to show up. I began to feel a brooding sense of bad omen. I either had to make do with just powder and my characteristic red lipstick or wait for her to show up. The later would mean delaying the church service but rewarded with a beautiful look and lovely pictures.
If that was the only hurdle, Deji would have still been alive.
We had borrowed Ifejika’s car. After 20 years of friendship, that was the least he could do for Deji. We knew he wasn’t reliable but he was our only hope for a decent ride for our wedding.
As we waited for Ifejika to pick us up, Deji and I busied ourselves with small talk and with a slip of the tongue as he called it, he let me know he had previously been married. This wasn’t my first marriage either. I had told him all about my first marriage. To find out he was married on our wedding day was a betrayal I found too bitter to swallow.
We argued back on forth and he tried to get me to see reason with him. I loved him dearly so cancelling the wedding was not an option. We would have to finish our fight after the ceremony.
With no sign of Ifejika, we were sure to trek to our wedding. The Lekki-Epe traffic had built up with cars moving at a snail pace.
It was then Deji saw it. He worked with the downstream regulatory agency so he knew all about petroleum products and the danger they posed.
Opposite where we stood was a fuel station under maintenance. A 33,000-litre truck was parked inside the station dispersing products to the underground tanks. He could see the outlet hose had some leakage and the PMS escaped making a hissing sound.
He quickly grabbed my hand meaning for us to run the length of the traffic. I didn’t see the possibility of it not with my shoes but when I saw 2 other trucks laden with fuel on the gridlock, I knew I had little choice.
I held my shoes and tiara in one hand and with the other, grabbed my gown.
We had run for about 10 minutes when we saw a group of people run into a tunnel. It was a relic of the civil war and connected to another side of town.
Without much thinking, we joined them and continued running to safety- or so we thought.
The next 30 minutes were the longest 30 hours in my life.
Out of nowhere, the police and army came and started shooting at the boys in front of us. My Deji turned his back on them and asked me to run. I swore I would never leave him. But he insisted and pushed me on. At first, I stood there and looked on, but as their footsteps became closer, I started running.
As I ran, I could hear them questioning him.
He tried to explain it was his wedding day and was trying to escape the impending explosion on the expressway.
I hoped for a miracle. That they would let him be with a stern warning. The first gunshot stopped me in my track. Then the others rained on him. The more they shot, the faster I ran.
At the entrance of the tunnel, I saw a group of boys milling around. They were contemplating whether to go through the tunnel or not. I beckoned on them to lift me out. As they pulled, the wedding gown ripped simultaneously with the explosion of one of the fuel tankers.
The sound was deafening and the impact of the vibration threw me to an abandoned rail track. Everyone began to scamper for safety. Cars were burning, children and mothers screaming while the men tried to lead their families away from danger.
I stood there, glued to the ground and unable to move. I tried to move my legs but it was as though they had forgotten how to function. The smell of burning fuel and flesh mixed with the air.
I woke up 3 days later at the hospital. They say I am suffering from shock. My first thoughts were of Deji pleading for his life. Then I think of Ifejika and how Deji’s life would have been spared if he was punctual. I think about the senseless deaths in Nigeria as a result of police brutality.
Lastly, I think about widowhood. Will I be permitted to mourn as Deji’s widow? I should have been the one in the tunnel and not him!
PS: This fictional piece is dedicated to the thousands of people who have died of avoidable causes in Nigeria especially victims of police brutality.